jump to navigation

Existentialism and Freedom November 27, 2010

Posted by ekarlpierson in 26) Existentialism and Freedom.
add a comment

PARTICIPANT: I’ve done some reading on existentialism. The authors seem to address some of the things you speak about, but they have a different spin on things than you have. They talk about free will and chaos, but they say the chaos is inescapable. What’s your take on that?

WW: You hit the nail on the head about a different spin. There are a great many differing views among existentialism advocates, but there are some common points among them. One of them is that we’re essentially entirely free. They say that we have free will and make free choices. We certainly make choices all day long, but I can hardly see how those choices are free. The awareness function is, for all practical purposes, withered and useless, and the trolls are making the choices. What would it be like if you had a couple of people standing beside you all day long that were making your choices for you while you were in a hypnotic trance? Could you say that you were making free choices? I assert that we have allowed the trolls to stand beside us and make choices, self-destructive choices, while we have been lollygagging because we thought that the trolls were we. How could there be free choice? If we take a serious look, we can see that instead of free will, we’ve had robotic reactions. The trolls on each side of us often argue with one another about the best decision to make to become non-disturbed. No matter which one we choose, the one on the left or the one on the right, it’s still the programmed habit of some ideology trying to achieve the ideal.

We may have to make a choice, but it isn’t free. If you were free, why would you choose turmoil, emotion, and regret? If you were free, why would you want to struggle with choices? The human condition is one of near constant emotional turmoil. We have become insensitive to ourselves.

PARTICIPANT: But isn’t it a basic part of freedom, to be able to make choices?

WW: Why do you think we are so concerned about this idea of freedom? We have the excruciating job of making choices in order to serve our slave master—the urge to eradicate disturbance. We think about freedom, we talk about freedom, we have ideals about freedom, and for most of the contemporary world, we have social freedoms that were unheard of in previous millennia. As I’ve previously said, I could have been imprisoned and tortured just a few hundred years ago for carrying on this talk. Yet, with all of these ideas of freedom, with all of our physical world freedoms in a modern society, we still have a slave-master that demands our full attention.

Freud said that we were born as slaves to the urge to gain pleasure and avoid pain. I think it would be more accurate to say that we were born with that propensity, then made repeated decisions to turn it into the purpose for living. It really doesn’t make much difference which one of us is right, Freud or me, because both views are just an explanation for the phenomenon. Were still stuck in a position of having a purpose of living that needs to be reevaluated, regardless of where it came from.

PARTICIPANT: Does that mean that you are on the fence when it comes to the “nature or nurture” question?

WW: No. I don’t care which one it is. If I have a self-destructive tendency, I want to get it handled regardless of whether I learned it in so-called adulthood or childhood or if I was born with it. I still need to look at it regardless of where it came from. What do you do if you have a broken wheel on your lawn mower? Do you sit down and fuss about the cause, or do you go to the hardware store and pick up a new replacement wheel and repair the mower? I like the pragmatic approach. It really doesn’t make a difference whether operator abuse or cheap manufacturing of the wheel was a factor in the equation, that’s just something of a curiosity that we may look at.

PARTICIPANT: I still think that freedom has to be a component in the human condition or human experience. In your own analogy of the planetary rover, you said that the engineer designed the rover to be semi-autonomous and have volition. That volition will require decision-making, which implies freedom.

WW: Does it make you free when you make a decision? Aren’t you just faced with another problem and another decision? We see with the fragmented view that resistance is bad, which we see as a problem, then we fight with the decision-making process in an effort to get a fix for the problem.

PARTICIPANT: But I still maintain that freedom and the decision-making process must go together.

WW: Indeed they do, but you are not free. You are an automaton just like the rest of us. You just think that you are free. Why not first find your way out of the mess of ideologies and then see if you need to do something with the decision-making process? Perhaps if you saw the world differently, you would find that there is a diminished need for decisions.

That’s a hypothesis for you to check out later. If a person accepts or rejects that hypothesis without a trial, it will become another belief that is stacked atop the rest of them.
As long as we do have to make decisions, let’s take a look at what we expect from those decisions. Suppose that a man is going down the freeway and he is trying to decide whether to take lane two or lane three. He decides to take lane two, which bogs down to a slow crawl while lane three moves the traffic right along. The man believes that he has made a wrong decision because he is unable to break into lane three. He misses his freeway exit because he is unable to change lanes and he likely will be late for work. As he finally approaches his workplace from the opposite direction than usual, he sees a major collision has taken place at the intersection through which he usually goes. The collision must have just happened moments before because the emergency vehicles have not yet arrived. He stops and wonders for a few seconds if that would have been he that was in the collision had he not been held up in traffic. The thought passes quickly, and on the way home he again gets caught in a traffic jam. He wishes that he had taken a different route home, not once considering that his supposedly wrong decision earlier that day may have saved him from a serious collision.

ED: But we don’t know that. Maybe he wouldn’t have crashed at the intersection. Maybe if he got to work just a few minutes earlier he would have met someone in the public parking lot and end up making a big sales deal for the company he works for.

WW: Quite correct, that’s exactly my next point. He can’t know. He’ll never know. None of us can ever know the complete outcome of events regarding our so-called right and wrong decisions. The most minuscule decision could end up having huge results, but we can never know. A minor decision today may have results that don’t show up for years. The best we can do is to make a decision on the very limited information that we have on hand at the moment, then move on and see the adventure unfolding before us. It’s a mysterious journey into the unknown, where the full outcome of our decisions is unknown. You can see that as an adventure, or see it as chaos and have a sense of insecurity. If we could have control over the future with our decisions, then we would just be living in a movie that we have seen over and over. That would not be living at all. I understand that they now have interactive movies and a person can make decisions that affect the outcome or direction of the movie. That’s what life is. You make a decision and see the adventure movie take place.

PARTICIPANT: But surely not all decisions are lost to time. I mean …there are decisions we make that we can see the effects of.

WW: But only for the moment or only for a narrow fragment of space. No one can see the full ramifications of events or decisions. Look, it either has to be one way or the other. I have to be dogmatic here; we can’t have it both ways. Either we can see and control the future completely, or we cannot. Either we can see the full ramifications of our decisions and be gods, or we cannot. There is no middle ground.

This very view is one of the disagreements I have with existentialism. A tenet of existentialism is that the world is chaotic and indifferent. If we can have it one way at times and another way at other times, then indeed the universe is a chaotic place and the existentialists are right. I think this can be demonstrated with one of Galileo’s experiments. Since the time of Aristotle, the theory was put forth in the higher institutions of learning that heavy objects fall to the ground faster than light objects. Galileo purportedly went to the leaning tower of Pisa with several objects, each having a different mass relative to their size, and dropped them off at the same moment. They all hit the ground at once, which, by the way, pissed off the church officials that operated the universities. You just can’t have some objects falling faster than others on occasion and then have them all fall at the same rate on some other occasion according to some willy-nilly, capricious rules. Either all objects fall together with one another or they don’t. It is a non-chaotic law. It’s the same law here and now and it’s the same everywhere.

As far as I can determine, the decision-making process is a crapshoot for the future, but that doesn’t mean it’s chaotic. We live in an inter-reactive adventure movie. The chaos comes into play in the minds of those who believe that they must make the right decisions. I admit that this is a tough nut to crack, but the unknown is what makes life worth living. You just can’t turn decisions into concrete and have life. A tenet of existentialism is that decision-making is a curse, but to me, that would be like saying that resistance is a curse. It’s only a curse to those who make it so. Although it’s difficult to see, resistance and decision-making are blessings in disguise, even if we see them as unpleasant.

PARTICIPANT: I’m confused.

WW: As I said, this is a tough nut to crack. Work on some of the other things and we’ll discuss this in further length on another occasion, or give me a call and we’ll look at it some more.
As long as I’m picking at beliefs regarding choices and the future, I’m going to pick at a school of thought in theoretical physics. That would be the idea that the future is set in concrete. Suppose that a ball on a billiard table is on a collision course with another ball. If the balls can be precisely tracked prior to colliding, it can be shown mathematically that upon impact, they will move a certain direction, for a certain distance, with a certain rate of motion relative to other objects. Therefore, according to this theory, the future truth of the event has already been determined by the consistent laws of physics. When this logic is extended to every force, particle, or object in the universe, the entire future of the universe is predetermined, including human experience and behavior, as we are made of forces and particles. I’ve wondered what one of these physicists would do if he were to walk across a street and see that a speeding car was on a collision course with him. Would he hurriedly try to jump out of the way of the car or would he allow it to collide with him?

Meanwhile, let’s look more at freedom. Does freedom mean to be free to do as we please? How can that ever be? No matter how much freedom we get, in that context, we’ll never be able to break the laws of the universe. My favorite quote again: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” If we really had freedom to do what we wanted, we would be as gods; time lords, changing what is into something that we see as good. That is an impossibility. The fact that we are denied that freedom, I assert, is in truth, a blessing.
What about another idea of freedom? Does it mean to be free from something? Does it mean to be from domination, to be free from work, to be free from embarrassment, to be free from pain? Isn’t that type of freedom one of the basic tenets of the hippie philosophy? If that’s the idea of freedom, then we’ll never get there because we’ll always have a thousand things from which we’ll be running. If that’s our idea of freedom then, by our own definition, we must be in constant bondage until death. That view of freedom is a complete fallacy—an illusion. It’s no more than a source of self made conflict and struggle with what is. The fact that we are denied that freedom, I again assert, is another blessing.

So then, what of freedom remains? What possible freedom can we experience if freedom to do as we wish can never be fulfilled, and freedom from something is an illusion?

PARTICIPANT: Apparently then, we are just subject to whatever happens to us. We are just pawns in the greater scheme of things. It seems like that would be a hopeless existence without volition. Why should we even try?

WW: Subject to whatever happens to us? No! No! Let’s finish with this idea of freedom and then we’ll certainly come back to the idea of being subject to what happens to us.

How about being free to experience the adventure? The unknown is constantly rolling in on us; we can’t stop it. This isn’t chaos rolling in on us unless we manufacture a sense of chaos as an inner state because of our fear of the unknown, because of our misunderstanding of the way life operates, our gaggle of nonsense ideologies. The unknown is the resistance that comes to play in all of our endeavors, all of our drives. Resistance must come into play and bring about the unknown. This isn’t chaos; it’s a fantastic design that can be no other way.

PARTICIPANT: This is becoming difficult for me to understand.

WW: Okay, what part of this hard to understand?

PARTICIPANT: This entire business about freedom and choices and chaos and the unknown. I see some of your points and understand it intellectually, but it’s hard to grasp in its entirety.

WW: You are right, this is difficult to grasp because it is so counter to the way we have operated for our entire lives. When someone expresses an idea that doesn’t fit in with our natural frame of reference, it’s like trying to drive a square peg into a round hole. As with so many things, there is a silver lining to this story. The fact that this is a difficult thing to make sense of means that perhaps we’re moving into territory that we have not looked at before. We really wouldn’t want this to be without resistance, now would we? If this all simply fell into place and made everyone feeeel good then it would be the same old tripe all again, wouldn’t it? This would just be another popular self-improvement course whereby you would feeeel good and I would get rich. Does that make a little more sense?

PARTICIPANT: I’m a bit relieved, but I’m still lost.

WW: As I am lost. I’ve been working on this for 40 years and have not yet arrived at the idyllic place. It’s an illusion. The challenges to understand become greater, not smaller. The silver lining is that the discoveries become more valuable.

PARTICIPANT: Yeah, but I want Nirvana. (Giggle)

WW: You might try doing as I’ve done. Concede that you’re just a hedonist, just like everyone else and forget about Nirvana. Nirvana is an unknown. Let’s leave the struggle for Nirvana, the ideal of Nirvana, up to the Buddhists. Any spiritual experience is just a fleeting gift. You can’t earn it.

PARTICIPANT: As I’m sitting here, thinking about the trolls and freedom, I can see that I want to be free from the trolls. Am I not committing the same act, trying to be free from something?

WW: Now you’re getting it! That’s exactly what it is. You’ve just now identified one of the trolls, disguising itself as a noble cause against his brother trolls. Congratulations. Those little boogers can sneak up on you as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

PARTICIPANT: But if we’re not to be free from the trolls, then what are we to do?

WW: We will always have to work on being aware. We can never be free from the potential to fall for the trolls; however, perhaps, maybe, as a hypothesis, we can be free of their influence. That’s not a play on words, free of instead of free from. Free from is just another attempt to escape. As long as we are trying to escape, then by definition, we cannot be free. Freedom can only come about when we’re free to let be those things that come to us. After all, once something comes to us, it can never be turned back, even though for our entire lives, we have tried to do so. Perhaps to be free to, will lead us to be free of.

PARTICIPANT: I see what you’re saying, but I’m not free to experience what comes to me.

WW: Now you’ve got it! You just made the observation that you’re not free! People usually go their entire lives thinking that they are free. Here’s the irony. A key to freedom is to freely observe that we are not free. To see that we are living in a collapsed little world is to be free of that. Celebrate your observation, don’t try to change it or escape from it. After we get done with this, I’ll buy you a beer!

There was one more thing that came to mind about existentialism, but now I can’t remember what it was. Maybe it’ll come to me later. What was it that you asked about and I answered that we would certainly come back to it?

PARTICIPANT: You were talking about freedom and I suggested that we are pawns, subject to whatever happens to us.

WW: Right, subject to what happens to us. What is the setup that gives us the view that things are happening to us? Why not simply see something as an event that’s happening? What would our view be like if the self was diminished, so that nothing was left but an awareness function? …Let me start over. An infant sees itself as the center of the universe and consequently it sees events as happening to it. As we get older, we get glimpses of the idea that we aren’t the center of the universe, but essentially, we still see ourselves as the center and that things are happening to us. What if, instead of seeing ourselves as the center, we saw the self as insignificant? What if we saw the self and its trolls as having no importance? What would happen if there was a moment with no emotion at all? Therefore, the self was not interfering with the function of the awareness? What if there was no center? Do we really need to look at a passing car and see it as an event that is over there, while we are the center?

This reminds me again of Galileo. When he and the mathematicians proved that the Earth was not the center of the universe, the Pope was really pissed off. The Pope saw himself and the Earth as the center. That was his security. That was his power. Perhaps the Pope wasn’t so bad because we’re doing the same thing he did. We’re after security with our center. We think we would be powerless without the center. Here’s the irony. When we are the center, we then see events as happening to us. Since we don’t see the four elements, but instead we see cause and effect, events are seen as the cause and we are seen as the effect. Virtually every event that we see or hear is filtered through the center, the me, and is then evaluated according to the idea of happening to us. Our effort to become powerful in our own little Papal kingdom brings on the weak condition of being subject to events. We have a result that’s exactly what we didn’t want. The world controls us. It doesn’t matter if it’s outside events or our view of and reaction to those events. We have become the pawns of our own ideas.

We’ve spoken about the inside world and the outside world as being one and the same. The world is all about perception. I’ve stated that I’m not interested in concentrating the awareness, but instead expanding it.

What about the extreme? Have you ever been around any persons that were seriously impaired from mental illness? If you have ever been around them or spoken to them at length, you can see that that their concocted world has collapsed around them. Their trolls have become huge and, conversely, the awareness function has collapsed into a small prison. Their concern is the past, the future, and what is happening to them. They want to be free from what they see as happening to them as opposed to being free to meet the adventure transpiring of events. Events will unfold whether we are free to meet them or not.

PARTICIPANT: When you talk about expanding the awareness, you sound almost like an old hippie talking about mind-expanding drugs. Is there something similar in that? Have you tried the mind-expanding drugs?

WW: Fortunately, I’ve never taken any mind-expanding drugs. I have read about the experience and I’ve been acquainted with a few individuals who have talked about their experiences. A friend of mine took LSD over many years and he spoke of the self as becoming meaningless or insignificant. He sometimes had a drug-induced experience whereby he was totally unconcerned about the world ideas that we have gone over in these talks. Consequently, as the hippies say, the mind expands. My friend used the term “animal trip” to describe a particular LSD trip. He described an experience whereby people appear to be somewhat like programmed animals, totally subject to their training and genetic code. I told him about the experience of seeing people as puppets with recorded voices and programmed ideas, acting out a script that was written by someone else. He said that he’s had LSD trips that were much the same. I wouldn’t argue that the LSD users are having an extreme and possibly similar experience to what we’ve talked about here, but it has been done through violence to the system and at a very high risk. A “bad trip,” as they like to say. I also wonder if the drugs have possibly destroyed their ability to ever legitimately go beyond the world of the self. It looks to me that my friend has levels of fear he may have to live with for the rest of his life. I don’t see how he can ever experience life without the trolls in control. It’s not such a big deal, I suppose, because I’ve met very few other people who will ever live a life that’s not controlled by the trolls.

That reminds me of the last point I wanted to make about existentialism. One of the tenets of existentialism is that the only escape from anxiety is death. In a sense they’re correct. The attempt to escape from anxiety, is anxiety. The attempt, as we have discussed, is futile. The failing point of this tenet is that it doesn’t consider the possibility of dis-identifying with the ideologies of self or seeing the fallacies of self. I would assert that it’s a worthwhile endeavor to see if this can be done. Is it possible that we need not spend our lives in a near constant state of anxiety? Is it possible to see differently? Is it possible that anxiety is the result of perception rather than the result of what we see as an event? Where does the event occur, is it on the inside or the outside? Perhaps I’m all washed up.