Mind Shadows

12/4/03


Home_____ Albert Einstein on free will & Ramana Maharshi on freedom & destiny

"If the moon, in the act of completing its eternal way around the earth, were gifted with self-consciousness, it would feel thoroughly convinced that it was traveling its way of its own accord on the strength of a resolution taken once and for all. So would a Being, endowed with higher insight and more perfect intelligence, watching man and his doings, smile about man's illusion that he was acting according to his own free will." Albert Einstein

Scientists in general accept that the universe is a closed system, deterministic and explainable by physical processes involving cause and effect. Yet we all experience the feeling that we can choose between option A and option B.

Does a conflict exist between the non-volitional view of science and our view of having volition? Or is it merely an apparent conflict? (See Daniel Dennett, the 15 December article, Daniel Wegner, 12 December, and the 8 November article on Benjamin Libet's experiments.)

Consciousness and freedom have a curious habit of eluding science. Three centuries ago, Leibniz said that we could not find consciousness or free agency even if the mind could be expanded to the size of a mill so that we could walk inside. Today we know we would find an expanded model of billions of neurons and pathways. We would observe physical events obeying physical laws. Whatever we observe always remains an object to us, not the subjective that is consciousness. Similarly, we would not find the point where a decision is made.

This is partly because we assume it to be a point in time and that we could intervene at that point. (See the 20 November article on Peter Lynds and time.) If we think in terms of time (past, present,future), why not instead assume that things happen gradually, that they build up as a result of something called intent? (See 8 November, Fait acompli and Daniel Dennett, 15 December.)

Of course, Ramana Maharshi had a wholly different take on time, one in which it is merely another concept, which is to say, an illusion.

He answered the question by saying that there is neither freedom nor destiny.

What did he mean?

Consider what he said in 1936 to a physics lecturer visiting Arunachala. The visitor asked about free will and destiny:

Maharshi: Whose will is it? "It is mine," you may say. You are beyond will and fate. Abide as that and you transcend them both. That is the meaning of conquering destiny by will. . . . I was in the past and I shall be in the future. Who is this "I"?

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