Tag Archives: Thought

The Free Will Debate Part I

The free will debate has existed since ancient times. Anyone can read the various ins and outs of the debate as argued by various people. I think what is more important is the debate that goes on inside the individual.

On the surface, if I do not think about it too deeply it does feel as if I have free will. I can choose to turn left or right. I choose to make the moral choice (as I understand it) or not.

But it is conceivable that I am only experiencing the illusion of free will. When a thought pops into my head I take ownership of it. I claim the credit of my creativity. But if I think about it, I really have no idea where this thought originated. Perhaps someone, somewhere sitting at a computer is implanting these thoughts in my head and I assume they are of my own doing. In this model of consciousness there is a “me” capable of observing but that “me” is under the illusion that the thoughts I think are my own. But even under this model I seem to have the choice of choosing whether or not I will take ownership of these thoughts. But then again, this choosing could also be implanted by the guy sitting at the computer.

So I am stuck in the position where I cannot prove or disprove that I have free will. My religion teaches that God endowed man with free will. My hunch tells me I have some degree of free will but it is probably less than what I assume it to be without thinking about it too much.

Recently a white-supremacist who has been regularly commenting on my blog made the argument (if I understand him correctly) that “God ordained free-will” (his term) means actually having the limited choice between choosing to do God’s will or choosing not to do God’s will. See the comments to my blog post Procrastination When Writing is Essentially Laziness Only More Complicated. I am sure if I misstated his theory he will correct me in the comments to this post.

The question that arises in my mind is this: How can I know what is God’s will in order to properly exercise my God Ordained Free-Will in order to make the correct decision? From a Christian perspective the answer is that the Bible is the word of God and tells me what His will is. The only problem with that is the Bible says a lot of things that are open to interpretation. So I am still stuck in the position of not actually knowing the will of God.

This white-supremacist commenter also argued that the opposite of exercising God Ordained Free Will is the exercising of Radical Autonomy (his term). He goes on to say that Radical Autonomy leads ultimately to Self-Annihilation (his term yet again). Again, I am sure he will correct me in the comments if I am misstating his position. From my perspective, there are a great many hoops he needs to jump through in order to square his theories on, God Ordained Free Will, white-supremacy, and Christianity not to mention Radical Autonomy and Self Annihilation.

Of course this white supremacist has the free will to respond or not respond to this post in the comments. If he does respond (which I suspect he will) I assume he will believe his choice to respond is an exercise of “God Ordained Free-Will.” The debate will then proceed from there.

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In meditation you can’t always get what you want.

Sometimes when I meditate and I do not achieve the levels of peace and centeredness that I desire. I expect to not get what I want all the time in waking life. I want to more interesting job. I want more money. I want to do more interesting things in my free time. But I meditate (at least I think this is in part why I think I meditate) so that I can take refuge from the disappointment of waking life. When I do not find this refuge there is the sense that I have failed or am wasting my time.

The obvious solution to this problem is to treat the desire and disappointment as just another thought or feeling and  that when they pop into my consciousness I observe them non-judgmentally and return my mind center. But returning my mind to center does not necessarily always bring me happiness or satisfaction the way I want it to.

I can treat this as a question of discipline. To maintain a meditative practice takes effort and sometimes it is difficult. Dissatisfaction can be seen as just another stumbling block. But there is the space within this where the question arises why am I doing this at all? If meditation does not bring satisfaction, why do it? What is the point of abiding in the present moment if it does not bring me peace? Of course this sense of pointlessness can also be viewed as another stumbling block. Just bring the mind back to center again in the face of it.

Because it is the mind and ego that wants a point to all this. It is the mind and the ego that feels disappointed when it does not get what it wants. The true self is whole and complete already. Or so I have been told. I cannot know that for certain. But I can be certain that thoughts and feelings are temporary. They change so quickly and easily and for reasons that do not seem to entirely warrant them changing. They elude rationality. To hang my identity on thoughts and feelings seems a little like playing the lottery and even if I win the lottery the next moment is another spin of the wheel.

In this context, bringing the mind center seems to be a rock in the midst of a stormy sea. It is not defiance because that is ego. It is not putting myself above the stormy sea because that is ego. All labels are ego. All judgment and comparison are ego. And there is nothing wrong with ego. Judging ego is also ego. Bringing my mind back to center and abiding in the present is akin to coming home to myself or simply being myself and not being tossed about by thoughts and emotions. It is choosing not to play the lottery. If I do not feel at peace or centered when I do this I can take refuge in the knowledge that it is a temporary situation.

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My thoughts are not your thoughts

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.


As the heavens are higher than the earth,
 so are my ways higher than your ways
 and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

In a similar way that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, the thoughts of my true self are not the thoughts of my ego. When I meditate this becomes more apparent. As I mentioned in a previous post I think of my true self inhabiting this reality by wearing “reality spacesuit” which consist of both my body and my mind. I think of the mind as a computer built into the spacesuit itself. The spacesuit’s mind is my ego. Because my spacesuit has a mind, it thinks for itself. When I am not aware, I mistake these thoughts of the spacesuit with myself. But really, its thoughts are not my thoughts.

When I meditate I can observe the spacesuit’s thoughts in action. With practice, over time, I begin to see this distinction in my every day life. Without practice I cannot distinguish between myself and the thoughts of my spacesuit. This realization carries with it two conclusions. First, the “I as observer” is different from the thoughts I observe. Second, if I must wear this spacesuit to inhabit this reality, then this suggests I am not indigenous to this reality (otherwise I would be able to naturally inhabit this reality).

I suppose my true home is heaven. For some reason I have forgotten what heaven is really like and I do not know the reason why I have forgotten this information.

My ego (the mind of the spacesuit) is bound up with my reality spacesuit. It identifies with the spacesuit. My ego wants my true self to remain asleep so that there exists the belief that the reality spacesuit is the real self and this reality is all there is. As such, my ego is inherently dishonest and perpetuates falsehoods constantly.

By contrast my true self is inherently honest but has a tendency to fall asleep within the reality spacesuit. Perhaps inhabiting the spacesuit is taxing to it because this reality is not the reality it was designed to inhabit. Regardless, meditation seems to be a way to wake my true self up and keep it awake. Regular and continuous meditation develops this muscle of staying awake. The stronger the muscle the better able the true self can maintain awareness.

But then again, this is all speculation. I do not know for certain that any of this is an accurate depiction of the underpinnings of my experience in this world. Parts of it seem to make sense at times. Meditation, however, does not go down the road of speculation. It abides simply and clearly in the present moment. It observes. That is all it does. There is a beauty in this simplicity.

Where did I come from? What was it like there? Why am I here? As for these ultimate questions, it seems that I can never know the answers while I inhabit this reality. Again, I can speculate but speculations without confirmation seems to be of limited value.

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Michael Voris and Shame Based Criticism

I’ve been watching videos posted by Michael Voris who is a Roman Catholic apologist and a self-appointed lay defender of the faith. Here is one of his videos:

In this particular video Michael Voris talks about a movie released on the life of christ.  I have never heard of the movie he reviewed and if I had I probably would never have gone to see it. What I found interesting was the message he drew out of it and how he went about explaining his point of view.

In his review he talks about the differences between Catholic and Protestant theology. He talks a lot about the “real presence” in the consecrated bread and wine during mass and how Catholics believe this and Protestants do not. He seems to imply that a Catholic who does not fully believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not a real Catholic.

Voris talks about how this movie appeals to emotions and not the intellect. He goes on to say that this is emblematic of the Protestant view of Christianity. I don’t know whether this is true or not. What I find interesting is that Voris, like Admiralbill (the conservative on the Star Trek message board I used to torment and documented in my ebook “Shame and Internet Trolling“) has to make his points by criticizing other people. In his analysis Voris takes an “I’m right. You’re wrong” approach and then criticizes his opponents to make his point. He then says that he does what he does for the good of the people he is mocking.

Voris argues Catholic truth appeals to the intellect whereas Protestant truth appeals to the emotions. There is the sense in his argument that emotions are not authentic or important. He says “emotions do not save … often times they deceive.” Admiralbill once typed, “WE THINK YOU FEEL” as a response intended to convey his belief that thoughts are more important than feelings and conservatives base their views on thoughts whereas liberals base their views upon feelings.

It is interesting to me that Michael Voris argues using the shame playbook just like Admiralbill. He claims to be motivated by saving souls but his method of argument (ie, shaming those who disagree with him) and the hostile energy he emits suggests to me that his real motivation is to shame others to make himself feel better about himself. This is what shame-based people do.

I am not commenting on the substance of his arguments. That is a question of faith I would suppose. He seems to have faith that Roman Catholicism is the one true faith. I am a Roman Catholic, I will make no argument with that. I am really questioning the motives he claims to be striving for. If I am being honest, if his true motivation is to assuage his shame ego then his arguments seem to carry less weight to me. Perhaps this is valuing feelings over thoughts on my part. But I am not entirely convinced that feelings should be weighted less than thought.

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Am I Responsible for my Thoughts?

You have heard it said … “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  But I say to you that anyone who so much as looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matt 5:27-28

At first glance it would seem that what Jesus is saying in this famous passage is that a man is responsible for the thought of lust that passes through his head at the sight of a beautiful woman.  Presumably this man is responsible for all his other thoughts as well and with this responsibility comes shame and guilt if the thoughts are wrong.  That is certainly the way I understood the passage growing up.  This is a very shame-based way of viewing the mind and places a heavy and unnecessary burden on impressionable minds.

This is true because the mind is constantly churning forth thoughts.  Anyone who has meditated quickly figures this out.  This is especially true for someone who is new to meditation.  Sitting still with closed eyes, trying to concentrate on a mantra or trying to clear the mind is a very difficult task.  Seemingly random thoughts will sneak in here and there and you will follow them until you remember that you were supposed to be meditating.  This will happen over and over again.  Performing this exercise will reveal how difficult and how much effort it takes not to identify with these thoughts.

Meditation will also reveal the several layers or parts to the mind.  There are at least three.  The first is the part that churns forth ideas without morals.  This is sometimes called the id or the ego or monkey-mind.  Sometimes this is associated with the limbic system or the primitive, reptile brain that seeks pleasure and tries to avoid pain.  This part of the mind lives in the moment and does not think ahead.  The second,  is the part of the mind that chastises the self for the lust, envy, anger that the first part thinks about.  This part is sometimes called the super-ego or conscience.  This is probably associated with the prefrontal cortex or modern brain that can think ahead and moralizes and judges.  Finally, there is the part of the mind that observes the other two parts.  This is sometimes called the true-self, the atman or perhaps the soul.  Most of the time the observer is asleep or identifies itself with one of the other two parts.  Meditation, is a way to keep the observer awake but that is a topic for another blog post.

In the shame-based universe, a person is responsible for their thoughts.  But how can a person bear the responsibility for something he has no control over?  Would it not make more sense to say that a man is not responsible for the initial thought but is responsible for how he reacts to that thought.  After all, it is possible to reject a thought or not act on a thought.  When this happens, this is the observer part of the mind not identifying with the thought churning part of the mind.  Adopting this way of looking at one’s thoughts takes practice in order to believe the truth of it but it does alleviate a great deal of unnecessary guilt and shame.

 

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