(‘Free Will’ is largely illusionary in nature)
The decisions we make, the way we behave, and the choices we make have profound impact on our future.
Though our decisions are influenced by a complex blend of external and internal circumstances, we are still capable of making free, logical, and rational choices based on the available information. However, this is not an easy task. Very often our decisions are impulsive, automatic, and based upon our conditioning. We are imprisoned in our own inner world.
When our behaviour is driven by unconscious and conditioned mind, that behaviour and the decisions we
make are commensurately unconscious. In that scenario, we have no internal locus of control over life. To create destiny of our own choice, not only do we need to have control over our mind, but also the ability to manage the outer world to whatever extent is possible and prudent. Most of the time, we are not aware of the mental and physical state of a person taking action. We take their action at face value, unaware of anything more.
The emergence of thoughts, intentions, and, subsequently, the choices that we make is basically a mysterious process. Thoughts arise out of the void in an unexplainable manner. German neurobiologist and geneticist Martin Heisenberg further explained that due to random processes in our brain, much of our thought could be considered truly “self-generated.” Suppose we close our mind and start observing it in a very relaxed manner.
No thinking. Just let the thoughts flow freely. Within a few moments, we have no idea what thoughts might be coming next. So, based on the thoughts that come in that particular moment, we make choices.
Throughout the day, we keep on making choices — small choices, such as whether I should take a drink, to bigger choices that directly impact our life. These are conscious choices, but at the same time, at the unconscious level, our mind is making an incalculable number of choices all the time. These very choices have direct and indirect influence over our decision-making and the consequent actions we take. All thoughts,
words, and deeds eventually determine our future, the destiny that we may design. The conscious mind is what we know to be at work when we are attentive. We use this mind for making choices and decisions after interpreting and analysing the information available with us. It makes us aware of what is happening in our outside world.
The conscious mind communicates with the outside world and with the inner self through speech, pictures, writing, physical movement, and thought. It is like the pilot of a plane, giving out orders to the crew that will ensure a safe trip. Generally, the conscious mind concerns things that we are either at that particular moment aware of or thinking about them. Within the ambit of short-term memory, our conscious mind works. Our conscious mind is described as our objective mind because it deals with the outside world through our senses.
Our conscious mind is continually observing and categorizing what is going on around us.
Behind the conscious mind, we have the far more powerful unconscious mind. The visible tip of an iceberg is like the conscious mind, while the hidden part is the vast unconscious. It’s the storehouse of all memories and past experiences, including those that are repressed. It’s from these memories and experiences that our
beliefs, habits, and behaviours are determined. The unconscious mind is always running its innumerable programmes, like an autopilot. When we are not consciously present, we are in a “default mode” in which the unconscious mind is completely absorbed in internal dialogue. The mind is occupied by its own thinking process and we are not consciously aware of those moments.
Over millennia, to ensure the survival of mankind, various specialised processing areas have been developed in the brain. These regions work incessantly behind the scenes of our conscious experiences. We are in fact completely unaware of such unconscious processes, which are responsible for our conscious thoughts and
intentions. This is why this powerful hidden part of our mind is as important as the conscious mind. Moreover, our unconscious mind is the seat of our emotions, beliefs, past memories and experiences. If we have a repository of self-limiting beliefs, negative memories and experiences in the unconscious mind, they will be reflected while making decisions on those matters. We therefore need to establish a harmonious relationship between both parts of our mind. Destiny is a result of active participation of the conscious as well as the unconscious mind.
Similarly, American neuroscientist and famous author Sam Harris, in his Free Will, arrived at the conclusion that “thoughts simply arise in the brain. What else could they do? The truth about us is even stranger than we may suppose: The illusion of free will is itself an illusion.” He further argued that in addition to having no control over the genes we got from our parents, neither did we choose the environment in which we were nurtured. This all contributes to unconscious neurological conditions that are responsible for our thoughts and beliefs. We feel we are the author of our conscious decisions, but these decisions are greatly influenced by our lifetime experiences, which differ significantly from one individual to another.
Though most of us feel that we are completely free when we consider options and then make a choice, the reality is that unconscious factors influence the process of decision-making. The assumption that we are the conscious author of our thoughts and actions does not hold well. Our decisions are made on the basis of thoughts generated at that very time. First, we have no control over the thoughts that come into our mind, and second, the thoughts are greatly influenced by many other factors, such as past experience and belief system.
Sam Harris has intriguingly concluded that “We do not have the freedom we think we have. Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.” It’s therefore clear that the decision-making process is highly complex because of the involvement of so many processes/factors relating to both realms of our mind. How we make decisions depends on our perception, attitude, behaviour, and preconceived notions. Likewise, we judge people on the basis of our unconscious thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. How we interact with others also depends on our beliefs, behaviour, past experiences, background, etc.
We always have a doubt as to whether the decisions and the choices we continue to make are really conscious and fair. In fact, we need to fine-tune and synchronize both conscious and unconscious processes in designing our destiny. If we want to become master of our own destiny, we need mastery over both the conscious and unconscious mind. Otherwise, the free will about which most of us are so confident and dead sure is merely an illusion.