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Is free will an illusion?

I installed the COVIDSafe app on my phone a while ago Something made me do it. I didn’t have to use my will power.

Now that it is done, the best thing I can do now is to simply forget about it.

Who is the boss?

Of all the choices available to me last Saturday night, I flicked my TV onto Netflix and watched ‘The Irishman’. I seldom get to control what I can watch on TV – I am a reluctant passive viewer.

So, why ‘The Irishman’ last Saturday?

I have a dream.… What if I could take away the will power of all drivers and have them default to zombies who only know how to drive safely? What if their vehicles had the Tesla “Full Self-Driving Capability”.  I can safely ride on any road and not worry about a driver unwillingly (or willingly) running me over. The Tesla computers have no road rage in their algorithms.

But I am awake to the fact that we all want to be the boss of our own destiny. The urge to take control to achieve an outcome has been nurtured from our infant days and linger on until we die.

I turned Netflix on last Saturday without any pre-planning. I suddenly felt like it. And as I sat engrossed into the story, the three and a half hours flew by. The last 30 minutes is the one of the best bit of film making I have ever seen… The De Niro character finally resigning himself to the fate of every human being: Living in the illusion of total control and finally waking up to powerlessness as impending death erodes the will.

When it was over, I asked myself in wonderment “who exactly turned ‘The Irishmen’ on – to allow the sublime experience to be had?”

“Who is driving the bus?”

How does a human function?

We are alive because we do not consciously take much interest in the functions of out body and mind. If we had to take control of every life sustaining bodily function, our limited brain would go into meltdown almost instantaneously.

Our bodies have an autonomic nervous system. This means that virtually everything associated with living operates automatically and we cannot ‘WILL’ it to start or stop.

One of the most enlightening periods of my life was to watch my mum and dad die. Old age had got to them and they chose to stay home for their last days.

I don’t remember them talking much about their regrets. All I remember most from them were these two statements.

Mum: “Why can’t I just die? Have I done something wrong?”

Dad: “…it is so hard to die”

Just like having no control over our birth, there is no controlling of when and how we will die.

Between birth and death is a period when we think we have control.

But I reckon that If I was to lose what free will I have, my zombie self would still fit into society quite well.

We have robots slowly taking over the jobs of humans and they do quite well without ‘will power’ in their programs.

So, can human beings get along in life with no will power?

Is free will used as a weapon against us?

Free will is like the front door into the house of control. There is the assumption that every house has a front door – and once you use it to get inside, you are home safe.

But free will is a form of entrapment. The only reason that our justice system works is because we accept that what we do is entirely our responsibility. We did it – so we will have to pay for it.

We need the illusion of free will for society to be able to pass laws to control things. And the only excuse is if we were mentally incapable (no free will) – then there is a case for no punishment.

Imagine if suddenly we are permitted to act in society with no punishment and just use the excuse “the devil made me do it…”.

There will be pandemonium.

I like breathing. I can control it. It is about the one function of the body that I can take a hold of and create some sort of pattern. Meditators use this to good effect.

But reality is that I can only control my breath so far. If I hold my breath and say: “I will stop breathing!”, my body will soon tell me different.

Knowing the difference between ownership and responsibility

The first thing my 4 year old grand daughter does when she comes to visit… is to grab my hand and say “Let’s play…”

Her game has no rules. It is about making things up as we go…

She demands my full attention and I need to be ‘in the zone’.

Then she says “Let’s play something else…”

Change suddenly happened. But I didn’t do it.

I have done many things in my life. My wife says that I should be responsible for everything that I have done (and she will not let me forget it!).

A century ago, my granddad provided the sperm and set off a stream of ‘unintended consequences’ that made it possible for me to tap a piece of glass and install something called the COVID-19 app on a device that would have been totally alien to him.

I don’t hold my granddad responsible for what I do now. But I would like him to take ownership of being the link between all my previous ancestors and the events of the last century.

My little granddaughter is of my doing – yet at this young age, she likes to show me who is the boss. When I was finally able to accept that my place in her life was to just provide her a tool for her journey of discovery, I let go of the sense of responsibility.

I own her but I don’t expect her to ask me to be responsible for her actions.

Are we totally incapable of changing our future?

Our bodies cannot ‘time travel’. But our minds can.

We constantly travel back along memory lane and fret about the future. Now is sandwiched between the future and the past… and appears so fleetingly – before it is gobbled up by the past. But ‘now’ is all we have to work with.

‘Now’ is the only place where ownership can happen. By doing something right now, the future is forever altered.

The future is not determined by a board meeting inside our heads trying to chart the best course of action and figuring out how to execute it. And re-convening to point the finger when things don’t go according to plan.

Just do something, take ownership of it, and move on. The future will change – but not the way that you have any control over.