The illusion of free will

My dear friend,

Do you ever get the feeling that you don’t understand how the world works? Do you just watch the news channel and scratch your head? Do you hear and see a thousand contradictory things about an event? Are you confused and searching for the truth? Who is right in a political debate or even a scientific discovery?

You can only decide who is right based on the information you have. If you don’t have the right amount and quality of basic information, you may be right, but your truth will not represent reality.

Answers are always sought in the present—but you know, my friend, there are no permanent truths in the present. Truths are produced for us through the perspective of the past and the expected future. The notion of truth and untruth, right and wrong, is merely a judgment—which we try to validate in the present.

The right of free will is more ancient than the constitution of any nation. This will help you to find your truth! You can use your free will to decide whether something is right or wrong. 

The following example may help you see through the legal veil that covers free will.

Every millisecond of our lives is driven by a purpose. Goals are always achieved through processes and means—these are simply called means. I will ask two questions in which the goals and the means to achieve those ends are clearly distinguished.

  • Why are you angry at a poor man who takes your phone and sells it to make his life easier?
  • Why are you not angry at the state when it takes your money in the form of taxes and gives it to what it thinks is a poor person to make their life easier?

As an independent individual, you have not empowered the poor man or the state to take your value, your money, your potential wealth—I, myself, for example, have never signed such a document. Yet in both cases, it happens that your value, your money, is transferred to someone else against your free will.

But what could be the reason why one of these actions results in a feeling of loss of freedom, while the other results in the recognition of society? Yet the cause and effect are the same in both cases. We need more here to see a fuller picture.

Let’s add justice and law to the process.

In the 1500s, Saint Ignatius of Loyola discovered a correlation by which any action can be justified as a positive or negative action. He put the goal first, while he saw the means and the way to the goal as a necessary process. The unwritten law was born, which has since become the justifiable determinant of life and death. It reads, “The end justifies the means.” Now, this is really bad news for the poor man in our example and very good news for the state.

Because if I say that the poor man is taking my phone to buy drugs or to drink in the pub, the purpose of his action will be negative. Since the end justifies the means, the action becomes negative.

If, on the other hand, I say that the poor man takes my phone in order to buy food for his child who is on the verge of starvation, the purpose of his action becomes positive. Since the end justifies the means, the action becomes positive.

If I say that the state takes my money because it will be better for my country, the purpose of its action will be positive. Since the end justifies the means, the action becomes positive.

Notice how the end goal masterfully modifies the subjective attribute of the act!

In the end, everything becomes feasible if we set an appropriately positive or negative goal, because we can use basically any means to achieve our goal, and we can do so without any consequences in terms of means. Perhaps an analogy could be drawn with a kitchen knife: if I use a knife to cut bread, then the knife is a good and noble instrument, but if I use it to take a life, then the knife is bad and evil. Of course, it’s the same knife in both cases… and it’s just a kitchen knife, neither evil nor good.

But the poor man’s purpose, according to our laws and beliefs, can only be to spend the money from the mobile phone he takes on drugs or to go to the pub to drink, while the state’s purpose with our taxes can only be to make the country a better place. Thus, one act is punishable by jail, the other by recognition. That is the law.

What’s more, our world is made of laws. One of the characteristics of laws is that they are binding rules; that is, if the outcome or goal of a process is determined to be positive or negative, then it is not acceptable to question the outcome of that process as to whether it is beneficial or harmful. In these laws, others defined the ends, endowing them with subjective characteristics—good and bad, free and unfree—and thereby also sanctioning and legitimizing the means used to achieve them.

A few statements I think you’ll agree with:

  • If you kill a man in war, you get a medal. If you kill a man in a convenience store, you go on trial.
  • If you drive an electric car, you’re environmentally conscious. If you drive an old diesel, you’re harmful to the environment.
  • If a food is said to be unhealthy, you don’t eat it. If it is said to be healthy, you eat it.

These are very easy thoughts to identify with. Did you notice anything? None of these are your thoughts! They carry the will of others, yet you consider them your own.

It never occurs to you that it is possible to create a world where no one has to die, where there is no war. You have no information about how much of a problem electric cars will be in the future, so you cannot judge their usefulness. If a food is said to be safe, you are more likely to eat it.

My favorite related story happened in Victorian-era Britain and the United States, where extreme tragedy occurred related to fashion, due to the extreme popularity of arsenic-painted wallpaper, at a time when the truly beautiful color green had not yet been created from safe and familiar materials. The manufacturer knew what was in the product, but the people who touched it in their homes didn’t. Many people died. If they had known, they wouldn’t have bought it, but at the time, the key issue with wallpaper was not health, but beauty.

You see, we make judgments without having any idea of the real purpose or result. At best, we only notice the paths to the goals and try to determine the nobility of the goals from them. Basically, we know nothing about the tools and processes used, because it is the goal that will give the tool a positive or negative characteristic. When we only see the processes and try to determine if it’s right or wrong, we are being led astray.

When you watch news reports, what do you see? The clear end goals, or the means and processes that lead to those goals?

The next time you encounter an interesting or reprehensible act, think about what the perpetrator’s end goal might have been, and in light of that, whether that particular act was positive or negative! By doing so, you will better understand the way the world works, unravel sometimes very complex processes, and find hidden truths in abundance.

“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

My next post will be about the pandemic. First of all, I am not interested in the present, because that has already been decided in the past, through the perspective of the future. I am looking at the future; that’s what interests me. What about you?

Author: Attila Pergel
Edited in Hungarian: Krissz Nádasi Writes KNW
English translation: Bence Kovács
English copyeditor: Book Helpline

Recommended book
THE BOOK THAT HAPPENED – Is Reality but Sheer Coincidence?

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