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Archive for December, 2009

‘Free will’ requires of course a ‘willer’.

Who or what in the context of human consciousness is that ‘willer’?

Having a ‘willer’ seems to suggest that there is an entity that is independent, independent of the consciousness and having its own will, that is, a soul. This entity would then ‘run’ consciousness as it were, running it like a machinery. Such a ‘soul’ is stable and above the fluctuations of the consciousness and has some ‘superconscious’ power that gives it this power to have a ‘will’.

But it is not at all necessary nor is it logical to suggest such a ‘superconscious’ soul.

As I have discussed in my book, “The Circle of Fire“, the concept of such a soul runs contrary to logic and science.

Instead, it is our consciousness itself, our minds, in which resides this ‘willer’. Here we have named that which wills as the Buddhi. So we may ask, what is this buddhi?

In this context, we have first to ask, what is consciousness?

We know that consciousness is somehow generated in the neurons of the brain. This consciousness is generated, not in the cells or their processes, the axons, but in the signals which are transmitted between the cells. The cells, the axons and the signals are all only elecrophysical substances, but it is in the interplay of information which is intensely relayed within this collection of neurons which generates consciousness. We can foresee an alien species which has silicon chips for cells and fiberglass cables for nerves, and light signals in place of electrical signals, but which could still generate the same consciousness as in a human. It is not in these material things that consciousness resides but in the interplay of information. It is this information flux which is consciousness.

Of this information flux that resides in our brain, there is only a part which is conscious and the rest is unconscious. During any particular moment of being conscious, we are accessing only a part of the huge information pool that subsists in our brains. We are using only a very small part of the memories, for example, which resides in our brains at any given moment and the vast part of our memories remains unaccessed, or subconscious. Yet they are always within reach, so to speak.

So of the information flux that generates our individuality, we can discern at least two parts, a part which is conscious and a part which is unconscious. Now how much is which is something that can be known only in the future. We can hazard various guesses regarding the relation of the conscious part of our individuality and the unconscious part. The conscious part may be, for example, only like the display of our computer screens while the larger and main part of our individuality lies unseen working behind this display. Or it may be that consciousness is somewhat larger, like the tip of an iceberg, but the larger part of our individuality is still formed by our unconscious part. Again, we may say that consciousness forms the major part since those memories for example, which are not being accessed at any particular point of time are still accessible to the consciousness, and hence within its realm.

All these things are very much within the realm of future cognitive sciences, and at present we can only hazard a guess.

Similarly, regarding the buddhi also, we can hazard many different guesses. The buddhi is the part of the information flux that generates individual actions and plans which are independent of previous templates. How much of this buddhi is conscious and how much is unconscious is impossible to say right now. This buddhi can be said to lie entirely within the consciousness part, partly within the conscious and partly within the unconscious parts (most likely) or  entirely within the unconscious part (much less likely).

The thing is, it doesn’t matter. As long as we can define an entity that can generate free will, it doesn’t matter whether it lies within our conscious part, our unconscious part or the more likely guess, (more…)

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The question of free will is an age old question in philosophy and vast amount of speculation has gone into it. All sorts of issues from dualistic Gods, determinism, randomicity, etc. has been brought into it.

It is pertinent to note that these discussions are for those who like philosophical speculation only. Society at large has since time immemorial settled the question firmly in favor of everyone having a free will and the ability to make a decision on their actions, and thus being responsible for their actions. When we catch a murderer, we immediately produce him in court hoping to punish him. We are sure that he has killed on his own decision, and want to punish him for it. The judge also does not pontificate about free will but imposes a stiff sentence, considering him fully responsible.

Not just the criminal justice system but virtually all our institutions like marriage, government, companies, etc. depend on their functioning for this assumption that the persons involved in that institution have free will and can act on their own judgment.

Even those who indulge in such speculation do not actually believe that there is no free will in their practical lives, as they are also part of the same institutions and support them without question. Such speculation has no practical basis and exists merely to serve its own end of giving us something to speculate on, a ‘time-pass’ activity as we say in India.

Arguments about the absence of free will are rather like arguments of Mahayana Buddhists – Yogachara or Madhyamika, when they make their solipsistic arguments that the whole world is a dream that we are dreaming. We know right at the outset that they are completely wrong, even though we realize that we may have a hard time proving that they are wrong.

The basic problem with all arguments about ‘free will’ start from the use of the terms ‘free will’ itself. This is because we cannot really define ‘will’. What actually does it mean? Does it not mean our ability to do anything we want? In that case, what does ‘free’ indicate? The word ‘will’ should by itself convey the capacity of ‘freeness’. Again, other questions arise like where does will originate, etc. Any definition of will must rest on a clear definition of consciousness, and since we cannot define consciousness exactly, we cannot define will also.

Most of the confusion about ‘free will’ originates from here. Contemplating deeply into the question ultimately brings up the basic problems of these terms, and hence ensures that we remain muddled up forever.

Hence it is better to start off by trying to define this more exactly.

We must avoid definitions of free will which include words like consciousness in the second term.

In the future the question will undoubtedly arise whether a particular computer has free will. In these discussions, (more…)

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My first post

Hi, This is my first post on my new blog.

My book,”The Circle of Fire” has finally been published by North Atlantic Books and is now available on Amazon.

I was very happy to get two five star reviews by Dennis Littrell and Alan Jacobs, both of whom are very knowledgeable in this field.

Here’s hoping for more success in the days to come!

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