Freedom and Freewill, or Tyranny? Part 2

Kevin Sharpe

Science & Spirit 7(4) Winter 1996-1997

Does freewill exist for us humans and, if so, what does it entail?

In Part 1 of this column, I discussed the freedom of the universe to do its thing under its own laws without arbitrary interference from the Divine. Now to the larger question, Does freewill exist for us humans and, if so, what does it entail?

My perspective on freewill starts with evolution: will, including freewill, emerges as an evolved property. As such, it’s natural. It forms the human face of the freedom of the universe and its parts to follow the laws that apply to them.

Biology influences and directs our minds to believe in our autonomy. Is freewill, then, illusory? No; we do possess a degree of freedom. We can choose freely. I chose to edit this column. But freewill partly exaggerates this sense because other factorssbiological, cultural, genetic, coincidentalsinfluence and sometimes determine how we act, feel, and think. I feel obligated to finish this manuscript before my deadline. I experience freewill; how to understand it is another matter.

The Principal of a seminary I attended told me that freewill appears when we decide to apply mental energy to a brain process. I was concerned that freewill had no place in a universe whose every event science could predict. The Principal’s argument failed to resolve my problem. But I could soon inform him that quantum uncertainty offers space for freewill. We can’t predict the outcome of a quantum state of possibilities, so a free choice could pressure the state to become a certain actuality. A free decision somehow coerces one outcome of a quantum event to occur over other possibilities. This happening then causes another event which causes another, and so on up through the levels of nature until finally the decision becomes a reality. My choice right now to push the key $ on my computer unleashed a chain of events: the decision influenced a quantum event in my brain to go a certain way, neurons fired, messages passed through my nerves, and muscles in my arm and fingers moved to push $.

Ian Barbour thinks this approach misses the mark. The uncertainty of the quantum universe bears little or nothing on free decisions. Human freewill involves the whole person, and this lies at a level that soars high above quantum events. Too many levels intervene between it and human experience. None of the quantum events that allow my computer to operate, for instance, influences the train of thought you read here. So, Barbour concludes, indeterminism doesn’t lead to freewill. To think otherwise mixes apples and oranges: quantum events have nothing to do with free decisions.

I proposed in a previous column that nonlocalitysa quantum effectscould offer a range of options and information to our brain for its decision making, and hence could help explain freewill. Freewill includes creative decision making which involves nonlocality. Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff also suggest that nonlocality plays a role in the quantum processes of the brain’s microtubules and hence in consciousness. Freewill exists in the brain’s operations if we construe it as a whole because of nonlocal correlations; a property of the whole brain emerges, associated with mind and freewill, that exceeds its parts.

Freewill therefore builds from a quantum effect to carry the freedom of the uiverse and its constituents a step further. This scenario side steps quantum indeterminism to call upon nonlocality whose significance lay out of reach when Barbour wrote his critique and I discussed such matters with my Principal over sherry.

I could describe nonlocal activity as more divine-like than other phenomena because it draws more upon the wholeness of the universe than any physical thing we know. Perhaps, with our freewill, we especially mirror the Divine.

We reflect the Divine for another reason too. My series of columns has developed a model for the Divine which unfolds certain of the huge number of possible states of the universe into existence. We do the same because, with our freewill, we decidesin a more limited scope than the Divineswhich potential outcome of a process unfolds. I decide whether, at the end of my train of thought, this sentence starts with “I” or with “We.” Thus the Divine shares the creator role. When we participate in the activity of the creator Divine and reach into it for an outcome, humans and other beings help create the universe. The Brain/Mind of the Divine includes our brains/minds. Philip Hefner calls humans in this role, “created co-creators.”

The above speaks only about decision making. We lack the power to provide reality to our choices. Deciding to raise my hand and thinking I am raising it, doesn’t raise it. A choice doesn’t achieve anything in the universe; deciding on “I” rather than “We” falls short of typing it out. The Divine supplies this power. This is a sneaky point because, like me, you instinctively think that when you do something you actually do it. I think my internal “I” pushes the mental equivalent to a button to start a chain of electrical and mechanical steps that endow reality to my intention. My “I” doesn’t. I think something. I decide to do something. I think I’m doing something. But I’m not. It’s the Divine that furnishes reality to my willing when I act on it. The Divine unfolds everything. It’s the Divine that unfolds whatever humans choose to do and then do.

The Divine possesses Freewill, almost by definition. What happens is what the Divine unfolds into existence, including every event in the universe and everything a human wills and does. No power competes with the Divine’s. So if the Divine owns a Will, everything that happens agrees with it. The Divine has ultimate freewill.

But does the Divine possess Freewill (the divine, transcended form of freewill) to follow sacred wishes when the universe and we carry on as we like? Is the Divine free to impose the Divine’s Will on the universe while the universe can follow its own laws? To add weight to this question, remember that the Divine allows the universe to run with its laws. Worse, the Divine produces the universe running on its laws.

Several points push the confusion further.

·      The Divine doesn’t meddle in the universe but unfolds it consistently. Does the Divine mindlessly produce the universe in the same way hour after hour, day after day, like a production line for dressmakers’ pins? Can the Divine feel so obliged to follow the rules of the universe the Divine set up and operates by, that the Divine can’t force things to happen a little differently now and then?

·      From the Divine everything that happens unfolds, including what we humans do. And what occurs enfolds back into the Divine. What transpires in and to the universe thereby affects the Divine: the pots influence the potter. This creates a vulnerable divinity. Perhaps the limits and dependency of the Divine bind divine Freewill.

·      As human freewill exists in relation to the determining body (partially determined by genes, environment, and so on), maybe the Divine’s Freewill exists in relation to the determining universe. The Divine exercises Freewill within the constraints of the universe, just as we exercise freewill within the many factors that constrain us.

·      Perhaps, then, the Divine is self-limited. Perhaps the Divine chooses for whatever reason to follow the rules. Surely, though, the Divine will overcome all self-limitations to rescue an overloaded ferry from sinking, or a town from massacre, or a child from rape and murder.

To continue this line of reasoning won’t resolve this quandary. Rather, we need to revise one of its assumptions without denying that freewill applies to us.

The conflict between a free universe and a free divinity that unfolds it only erupts if the Divine can say to heck with the laws and consistency. The confusion requires a resemblance between the Divine and a human being, it assumes the Divine holds purposes and values that conflict with what we choose to do or with the side of nature that blows ferry-sinking winds. We traditionally and uncritically project onto the Divine the human capacity to value and hold purposes. The disparity between Freewill and freedom alters when we realize this. As the universe participates in the Divine, the Divine enfolds and thus includes human willing. But Freewill transcends freewill. Divine wholeness engulfs the transcended version. It becomes unrecognizable. To think of the projection too literally winds our minds up in knots: we understand little of the Divine, too little to know whether the Divine chooses where and how to act.

Further, freewill assumes actions in the future, but the future holds no power over the Divine. The idea of freewill derives from the flow of time and pertains to the universe we experience rather to the Divine. Thus, in the Divine, neither freedom nor determinism hold sway because their tension registers only in the universe of our experience.

To inquire about the Divine’s Freewill is inappropriate, a category mistake, like asking about the pointedness of flatness. It doesn’t exist as we normally understand the term.

The two articles, of which this is the second, try to understand freewill given that the Divine unfolds everything. The wholeness of the Divine produces and respects the freedom of the universe and of each of its parts to be itself, but disallows freewill for the Divine.

Copyright © 1996 by Kevin Sharpe.