Free Will – Best to Understand it

imagesVictor Frankl was imprisoned in an unspeakable concentration camp for many years. He wrote a book about it. Basically, about free will. His book, Man’s Search for Meaning, (link below) is probably one of the most important books I’ve nearly read cover to cover). One of my clients bought 100 of them to give to everyone he could corner. The premise of the book is amazing. Frankl watched his life long and sometimes prison term long, friends die of disease, exhaustion and emotional surrender. He didn’t. He, as a psychologist, watched and wondered and made little notes about it. And in the end he wrote something like “they can take everything away from a man, his dignity, his body, his freedom, but they cannot take his freedom to think.” And this, he concluded, saved his life and cost the others theirs. They gave up thinking, surrendered to the horrible situation, gave up hope, compassion, and the belief in human nature. It’s a moving book, and not for those who prefer to think of themselves as victims. And, it puts a lot of what we call “first world problems” in context. Like “oooh, what will I eat today, paleo or not?” or “oooh, what time is best to go to bed tonight?” It really does make you feel somewhat pathetic for the worries that can so easily make you feel like your world is coming to an end even as you drive your fully licensed nice car, down a fully made bitumen freeway to earn more money than your job is probably worth to then choose what food you’ll eat that’ll take you months to detox from your body in the gym because it’s full of sugar that makes you feel good inspire of the worries about which tv show you’ll watch tonight at home in the house you’re buying that’s gone up 35% this year without you even doing much to help. Keeping your mind in a context of “lucky FKR” is certainly what Frankl might be suggesting in his beautifully written and sometimes very hard to stomach, explanation of survival in the worst situation imaginable.

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Article Extract below is from Scientific American …full article here

Dennett calls free will “an evolved creation of human activity and beliefs,” which humanity acquired recently as a consequence of language and culture. Free will is a variable rather than binary property, which can wax and wane in both individuals and societies; the more choices we can perceive and act upon, the more free will we have. Dennett’s most subtle, profound point is that free will is both an “objective phenomenon” and dependent on our belief in and perception of it, “like language, music, money and other products of society.”

We, in turn, are dependent on free will. The concept of free will underpins all our ethics and morality; it forces us to take responsibility for ourselves rather than consigning our fate to our genes or a divine plan. Choices, freely made, are what make life meaningful. Try telling prisoners in Guantanamo or Syrian civilians fleeing bombs and bullets that choices are illusory. “Let’s change places,” they might respond, “since you have nothing to lose.”

Freedom, Dennett asserts, can be “studied objectively from a no-nonsense, scientific point of view.” The nonprofit organization Freedom House does just that by charting the ebb and flow of freedom around the world. Freedom House defines a nation as “free” if it meets two criteria. First, it must “elect representatives who have a decisive impact on public policies and are accountable to the electorate.” Second, the nation must allow “freedoms of expression and belief, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy without interference from the state.”

According to Freedom House’s 2014 annual report, 88 of the world’s 195 nations, representing roughly 40 percent of the global population, are free; another 59 countries are “partly free.” People are “not free” in 48 countries, home to 35 percent of the global population.

Although freedom has declined lately in certain regions of the world and scarcely exists in others, since the end of the Cold War humanity has been much more free than in any previous era. Forty years ago, only 44 countries were free, and 69 were not free. And remember that just a century ago, women still could not vote in the U.S. and other leading “democracies”!

So there you have it. Not only does free will exist. We have much more of it now than our ancestors did. If we keep believing in it and insisting on our right to it, maybe someday we’ll all be free, in our own imperfect, confabulating way.

Postscript: A couple of bloggers have responded, one more critically than the other, to my post. I want to emphasize, again, that you are not necessarily evil or stupid just because you see things differently than I do. But I do sometimes dream of a world in which all people–even my girlfriend–agree with me all the time, because that, indeed, would be paradise. Now I choose to forget about free will for a while while I celebrate New Year’s Eve with loved and quasi-loved ones. Happy New Year!

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