There is nothing metaphysical or magical about free will. I’m quite okay with the idea that my consciousness and will are a part of how nature works. It fits within physical, chemical and biological schema as a ‘property of the brain’.
Even if free will isn’t ‘metaphysical spookiness’ working on matter, it still has relevance to my experience of myself as a conscious agent with power to choose.
Free will can be seen as social. It is the power within me to differentiate myself and my life from the society within which I am embedded, without defying natural laws.
I can either conform myself to the conditions of society, fitting into its boxes, or I can define my own life according to my own values instead of ones imposed on me by the expectations of others (more often than not, it’s actually somewhere between these extremes).
This is why I am no longer Christian. It’s why I live abroad with people that aren’t of “my country”. It’s why I can choose a lifestyle and career that doesn’t simply follow the dictates of cultural conditioning or social pressure.
I question the authenticity of what I hear called “individualism”. It seems to be a way of atomising responsibility to ignore social issues. I call that faux individualism, or even infantilism. A mature person doesn’t use their individuality to negate real social issues.
Individualism is about psychological autonomy, which can (and must!) go hand in hand with social responsibility. It’s what allows a person to reject conformity to the past and create a new future. The individual is not a self-contained atom floating in a vacuum, it is a social and ecological entity in relation with the world. Individuality is about taking responsibility, not a rug to sweep it under. Anyone that has to do this is not sufficiently individualised.
As a new born did I, or anyone, deserve to inherit history as it it? No, we didn’t. But as adults, if we ever want to come to terms with our individuality, we must acknowledge the world in which this individuality is embedded. It’s what exists and we have to do something with it, as empowered individuals.
Authentic individuality knows it position in the world, how it influences it and how it is influenced by it. I have the freedom as an individual to not identify with certain parts of history and choose something different, but not identifying does not mean rejecting the responsibility I have to grasp it and change it for the better.
Ever have that feeling that ‘you know’ something, without reasoning, reflecting or having experienced it before? It’s something that happens every day. There’s a sense of certainty not based in reasoning or proof.
It’s often called intuition. However, there’s something else that involves the same sort of feeling: prejudice. But how to distinguish them?
The human mind contains an internal model of the world we experience, that helps make predictions – an energy saving strategy that cuts down on thinking to facilitate immediate reaction. If this internal model matches the world, we call it intuition. When there’s discrepancies, we call it prejudice.
In some ways, prejudice may just be outdated intuition (dangerously outdated in some cases). But the world is always changing, so this model must be continuously changed or fail in its function.
The path I took from supernaturalism to naturalism wasn’t through scientific scepticism, as might be expected; it was actually something more mystical or philosophical, and most certainly inspired by environmentalism.
Somewhere on my spiritual journey, I rejected the duality between matter and spirit, soul and body, the Divine and Nature – I could see them as conceptually distinct, but not separate. They are two sides of the same coin.
Matter is spiritual, and spirit is material. The body is the outer expression of the soul, and the soul is the inner experience of the body. Nature embodies or expresses divinity, and any conception of the Divine over and above Nature detracts from the experience of divinity within Nature. A key phrase that influenced this was “as above, so below”.
My thinking was that separating the “sacred” from the “profane” was at the root of our environmental crisis, and that any movement seeking the reconciliation between humanity and ecology would have to embrace this, as I certainly did.
I rejected literal interpretations of “spiritual realms” distinct from this material realm, as I did of disembodied souls or spirits. They are metaphors that reflect the non-rational and intuitive relationship the human psyche has with the world or lack thereof.
This still remains a defining aspect of my thinking to this day, but it’s something so well integrated that I barely give it any thought. Spirituality was not shorn off, just because I embraced a more materialist view of the world.
The three imperatives of co-existence: communication, consensus and collaboration.
I’ve been quiet on this blog, but I have been somewhat busy on social media, especially TikTok, where I’ve been sharing my poetry and explaining a bit about my writing experience. Right now I’m trying to integrate my presence on various platforms together, so below I share some links. The first one is my link tree where I have listed all the relevant links, or you can go straight to the relevant social media platform and find me there. I will create another page on this blog with this information, but for the moment I’m publishing it in blogpost form.
God walks among us. Each one of us is a concrete manifestation of the divine spark we carry within us. It may seem paradoxical, but the perfect and abstract finds its home in the imperfect and concrete. In dualistic thinking, this is impossible, the two sides cannot be reconciled. In non-dualistic thinking barriers between the limited human and the unlimited divine are illusory, as the limitless is inclusive of the limited (but not vice versa).
It serves nothing if “God” is limited to one person in one place and one time. The “son of God” is not unique but is the birth right of all humanity. The abstract divine may be perfect, but it is meaningless and useless if it does not take on human proportions, if it does not ground itself in the corporeal and personal perspective of being human, i.e. the “imperfect”.
Far from the idea that “unevolved” beings must climb the ladder of spiritual perfection, the Incarnation talks of abstraction being grounded in concrete experience. The undifferentiated becomes differentiated; formless ore finds itself pushed through the forge of creativity into sensual and personal reality.
If there is anything I take away from the doctrine of the Incarnation, this would be it.
For thousands of years civilisation had an energy “ceiling” that limited and shaped its activities on this planet. The amount of energy it had access to was subject to a year’s plant growth. Whatever civilisation could harvest annually from plant matter for burning, eating or constructing was the limit of its activity. Occasionally new technology would help speed up the process, but civilisation moved slowly and was fairly sustainable.
But now this ceiling has been broken. For the last few centuries, the annual limit of plant energy has been bypassed, and civilisation has received an extra boost. Reserves of energy were discovered under the ground in the form of fossil fuels, which didn’t give a massive boost immediately, but things really took off once the Industrial Era began and the appropriate machinery was invented, along with improved techniques of extraction and processing. The level of civilisation’s activity increased until we reach what we have today. Many people can travel and communicate vast distances at high speeds. There is mass production and global trade. This is civilisation on steroids; everything seems quick and easy, but we are also ever busy. Can this last?
Fossil fuels have their limit and are being depleted – faster and faster in fact. Our source of energy is experiencing its own ceiling, and civilisation will have to cope once again with an energy ceiling. Possibly a higher one, as various sources of renewable energy have been invented, like wind, solar, wave and geothermal. This will certainly give us more energy than what we received from a year’s plant growth, but not as much as we have received from fossil fuels.
The future, it seems, will be slower than the “steroid-powered” one we have now, but faster than feudal times or before, and with access to electricity. What sort of political and economic systems will be allowed by this? What sort of lifestyle choices and career paths will people have the freedom to pursue? These questions will become more and more pressing as the depletion of fossil fuels becomes more acute.
As I have mentioned in another blogpost, the future will be sustainable, either by accident or design.
I’ve said before that (roughly speaking) atheism is how I think and pantheism is how I feel. That’s describes my intellectual and sentimental positions, but I thought of a third one: pragmatic (and a fourth – see below).
It seems to me that, in practice, I am a polytheist, as we all must be. I don’t mean to say that there is a pantheon of metaphysical or elemental beings controlling or influencing our lives. What I mean is we are surrounded by multiple forces that we must constantly navigate and negotiate with. There are of course the natural or non-human ones embodied in the powers of sky land and sea, and the flora and fauna that inhabit them. There are also the psychological forces that embody themselves in the mass psychology of humanity, influencing and structuring our choices and behaviour. Then there are the cultural, social and economic forces we must contend with, embodied in a multitude of institutions, organisations, corporations, moral values, abstract principles, symbols, rules and laws, traditions, trades, industries, arts, sciences and technologies.
There are multiple “tendencies” in the world that have, or seem to have, a life of there own. With all that, can anyone honestly call themselves a monotheist or atheist? I must say, I have my doubts. It seems futile and impractical to reduce the many powers in our lives to one or nothing. We are naturally polytheistic, whether we call it that or not. We don’t have to take the myths of ancient polytheistic religions literally to understand that the complexities that they represent are very real.
So that’s pragmatically, so how about spiritually? I would say that all theology, from monotheism to polytheism, from pantheism to atheism are all inadequate in representing what we might call the divine, sacred or numinous. Maybe there’s “something” and maybe there’s not, we’re just playing with concepts that can’t reach that far.
Underneath the layers of conscious thoughts there are, apparently, layers of thought that represent “what I really am”. In times of trauma, stress, drunkenness or exhaustion they may arise, revealing the “true me”. In my experience there tends to arise a rather thoughtless animal that knows how to use words for offense, defence or silliness, but there is no cognitive coherence to these thoughts, just a visceral reaction. Is this me? Well, this is me as well.
As an animal I am endowed with instincts, but I have the power to reason and elucidate. The “real me” can craft an elegant architecture of words and reason, but it can also collapse that architecture and take any words that may best serve its brief and instinctive purpose. Neither is more or less sincere (in their respective moments). The test of sincerity is what thoughts I allow to flourish, which ones I choose to persist with and live by. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed, but I always persist.
Years ago, in a New Age book shop in Canada I bought a sign with a quote saying “don’t believe everything you think.” I’m not in the habit of trusting all of my thoughts; I can easily be wrong. On one side I may have beautifully crafted and coherent thoughts, but they may be too abstract and have no practical value in life. They aren’t “real thoughts”. On the other, I may fail to reason and “fall back” on thoughts that have no rational coherence to them, just instinctive reactivity. These aren’t “real thoughts” if I don’t allow them to flourish beyond the brief moment they manifest. What I “really think” deep down is that thoughts aren’t what I really am; their function is to serve as an abstract reflection of the life unfolding before me.
My thoughts, whether instinctive or reasoned, may indicate something of who I am, or at least my abilities and limits, but I am not them. They may partially reflect who I am, but I am the thinker, not my thoughts. To put it another way, I am what I think in the present moment. The present moment is always changing, and so are my thoughts.