Jan 05 2018
Sartre and de Beauvoir
Nov 9 2017
Does Free Will Exist?
Do you make things happen, or does things happen to you? Do you control yourself, or are you being controlled? Historically we've put free will in a religious context; human beings placed on a planet called Earth, totally free to choose and do what ever we want, but the responsibility of the freedom is too heavy, so we need God to control it. But since God cannot be ‘the controller’ (because then he’s not pure Love), human beings need to turn to God with their own free will (a tasteful free will-dilemma in itself). But in our time, without the religious context, we’re left with this; human beings placed on a planet called Earth, totally free to choose and do what ever we want. Hm.
The french philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre expressed his thoughts about free will in the 50’s. He claimed that man was condemned to freedom. By that he meant that we had to create an identity and opinion of life on our own, through our free choice alone. Our free will was total and absolute. This was a load counter opinion to the conform age in which he lived, as a rebellion against the routine life, gender roles, the strict social structures of society. And there was also great social shame if you broke free from the traditional expectations. In our liberal age with more personal freedom and less social shame than ever, Sartre’s idea of total freedom is still inspiring us as well as haunting us.
Kaja Melsom is a Norwegian philosopher that has written a book called ‘The damned freedom. A settlement with today’s tyranny of self-realization’. She puts the spotlight on Sartre, and says we have exaggerated and perverted his idea of free will, and we now find ourself in our own cage of total freedom. Melsom says Sartre (even if he’s dead) must take responsibility for the fact that many people today feel ashamed just by living ordinary lives, within the social structures, within the daily routines, within the freedom of limitations. She claims his idea of free will is causing a whole lot of stress and anxiety in people.
So, I'm a fan of practical philosophy (is this idea useful for me being happy?), and if an idea causes you stress and anxiety, I’m suspecting the idea is incomplete or faulty. As the nature of all philosophical ideas: a very smart and rational theory that points in an interesting direction, but still an inadequate explanation of the totality of our existence.
So. Let's try to look into another field of knowledge: psychology.
I just got to know a man called Jordan B. Peterson (through youtube:-)). He sees the countless psychological underlying structures of our existence as more or less un-controllable. All the biases of human behavior, our traumas, the fears and anxieties, the ever unpredictable love, our unconscious desires, our strange dreams and visions. What is all this structures that we seem unable to consciously control? Is it God? Or is the idea of God simply a metaphor of something deep deep inside the human mind, that we need to listen to and try to explain in a new rational way without having to discard the poetry and mystery of it? Peterson works as an psychotherapist and teaches at an university in Canada, and I’ve just finished two of his 13 (puh!) lectures upon the Significance of the Biblical Stories, where he examines the ancient ideas of existence in the Bible.
Peterson is not religious himself, but he sees the Bible as an enormous source of knowledge about human beings, something important that he will try his best to decode with his rational mind. It’s interesting that our rationality also can be used in trying to understand the things that are not seemingly rational; without concluding with the exhausted phrase ‘we are only humans and do not know’ - but rather ‘we are humans and we know a lot and even if we don’t control it in the way we often think we do, using our rational minds and being aware and conscious of our state of being is very important, and we should use any source of knowledge to try to figure out things as we go on living’. So regarding the concept of free will, I think Peterson wants to expand it, without saying we are either robots or absolute independent free individuals. He draws up a very broad and considerable idea of the human mind; a cosmic large web of structures and biases and unconscious motives, historically explained by the idea of God, and probably somehow simplified on the way of making a religion, but the idea of God does not need to be flushed down the toilet by that reason. Peterson just kind of moves the idea of God into the depths of our own minds to try to explain what drives us.
So if we can imagine combining the idea of controlling and being controlled into one (if we just had the verb to explain that kind of united dualisism..), I think we're on to a more interesting and wider concept of free will. And we see that we don’t nesecarily need to ask the anxious question: ‘do we have absolute free will or not? Do we control ourself or are we being controlled’. Maybe we inhabit both ideas, or neither. Maybe the concept of control or free will is not the way human minds nor the universe works at all.
Oct 13 2017
First, this is not a movement. And I’m not inviting you to join. This is a short existential stream of thoughts, as a reaction to tendencies in our time, to which I am a witness. The tendencies are something like this:
- we seem to live in a certain Age of Busyness where we see our productive capacity as identity and value.
- we have this weird idea of spare time as an effective way of relaxing.
- we're somehow neglecting the importance of exploring the nature of being.
I'm approaching these tendencies from the counter point of view, through the idea of a German philosopher called Martin Heidegger:
I'm examining this idea from my own point of view, but just briefly I've understood Heidegger like this: the state of boredom, in it's revealing depth, is an important background structure of existence.
I've tried to observe myself: What happens when I have a lot of spare time with literally no productive plans at all? Well, there's numerous things, like: restlessness, loneliness, constantly scrolling instagram for a short illusionary state of renewal, being bored, shame of not being productive, shame of being lazy, I just can't figure out what to do with myself and I’m usually totally overwhelmed by my own thoughts and feelings about my thoughts. And that’s uncomfortable, right? I don’t want to feel all of those things. But they are part of this stillness, obviously, and they seem very very difficult to avoid. What if the reason behind some of these uncomfortable feelings are the three tendencies I just listed? They could be pretty serious symptoms of confusing identity and value with capacity of busyness and neglecting something important. But still, the practical question is also this: if I need to handle the symptoms, can I do it? If I can't, the only solution is to go back to what I did before; being more or less constantly busy with a lot of productive plans (or go crazy). And maybe that's just how it is. But there’s something else. When I have a lot of spare time with literally no productive plans at all, I also observe this: finding myself exploring the nature of my own being (sometimes including self-revelations that really aren't very pleasant, and also thinking a lot about death), feeling free (which indeed is a frightening feeling with a lot of uncomfortable responsibility), and if I last long enough I find myself grasping for something obscure I call truth. What ever that means.
Yes tell me about this thing you call truth
I mean truth in an existential way (and remember you can still be a hardcore rationalist and use the word 'truth'). Maybe we can simplify it and say that an existential approach to truth is a different type of science. You use words that become questions or sentences that try to reach for something inside the words, just like you use numbers in math that try to reach for something inside the numbers. Words and numbers are two very different explanatory models of course, words are not directly measurable, and questions are not really answers - but numbers are not really answers either. Anyways. My point is that grasping for truth in an existential way is a seriously playful and productive activity as any types of science, and more pretentiously I think it's a crucial thing if you're planning to live on into the excitingly confusing future of mankind. (Remember this is not a movement, And I'm not inviting you to join).
So. Profound Boredom
is a natural uncomfortable state of being, where I have a lot of spare time with literally no productive plans at all, where I have to dwell in my uncomfortable restlessness (something like giving in without giving up), where an important background structure of existence arises from below the surface and make me question my own idea of productive capacity as identity and value, and I kind of slide into exploring the nature of my own being and grasping for something obscure called truth. What ever that means.