Saturday 2 February 2019

Our proper goal is intuitive knowing of what is best and correct; and not the 'freedom to choose'

We cannot get what is offered [by the Creator] if we try and snatch it for the wrong reason, because the reason is part of it... Mankind's leaders and guides are those who are able to interpret to us the values that our nature needs in order truly to become itself. Only those values are sufficient which our nature is designed to employ; and wrong values must be rejected by our real-self recognising that they are indigestible. How these higher values come to us through certain people can be very complex. Sometimes the process is conscious and sometimes unconscious or mediumistic... To become free-will individuals in this complex world is much harder than we think. In fact, freedom is not really what we want. What we are really in need of is more like fulfilment. 'Freedom of choice' should not exist except in unimportant matters. Real freedom is freedom from the need to choose by being fully aware of what is best and correct. 

Edited from the Summary to Chapter 10 'Conditioning Factors', from The Geography of Consciousness by William Arkle (1974). 

The above passage, and the relevant parts of the chapter following, have been lodged in my mind for a few years; as I gradually understood them.

Arkle initially focuses on the 'leaders and guides' to whom we turn for understanding (religious leaders, philosophers, poets, composers, scientists, inspiring political figures...). He notes that some combination of the 'great artist, scientist, philosopher, mystic and political leader' could be seen as an approach towards the ideal towards which we unconsciously strive - and towards which we ought consciously to strive.

Arkle then notices that 'leaders and guides' typically claim that their material 'comes to them' by processes that are - to some extent - 'unconscious or mediumistic'. A composer or poet may say that a great work 'came to him' and his job was not in 'inventing' - but accepting it as valid, then communicating it as best he could (which is usually stated to be somewhat incomplete, or unsatisfactory).

In other words, that which most deeply motivates these Great Men is partly external to them, somewhat unconscious, and therefore not wholly (although it is partly) consciously constructed. 

The implication is that if free will is being conceptualised as consciously making choices from known alternatives; then this understanding misses-out much of what we would regard as the best and highest of human attainment - therefore there is something wrong with this ideal of free will. 'Free will between choices' does not capture what we most need (and - implicitly - what we most want.)

What then do we most need and want? The last sentence puts it: we want to become 'aware of what is best and correct'. At that point of understanding, there is no 'choice' - because we know what we ought to do, and what we need to do.

Any other choice would be just-plain-wrong. We neither need nor should strive for the 'freedom' to make wrong choices!

Arkle does not use the word intuition; but it is a shorthand for the conclusion of the final words in the chapter (edited): 'The ability we must develop is the ability to sense the whole of the situation in which we are involved, and then to take the best course available. Freedom is not in choosing; it is in seeing the irrelevance of choice.'

In other words, the ability we must develop is intuition of reality, of truth; and when we intuitively comprehend the situation, we will know what to do. Any idea of of 'freely' choosing-between-choices simply does not come into it.

And this is the ideal, the divine state. A god does not wrestle with choices, because a god knows what should be done - and does it.

The 'real' meaning that 'free will' tries to capture is that we are each (primordially) a Being with a self that is a primary (i.e. uncaused) source of motivation, purpose, and thinking. These come 'from within' us, and constitute our unique contribution to God's creation that we inhabit.

This situation is just 'a fact'; or rather we can metaphysically assume it as a primary aspect of reality. And as young children this was the situation - although we were not aware of it.

When we become fully conscious this fact does not change, but we become aware of the situation. As awareness increases we see what we call 'choices', but these choices are merely the consequence of our lack of understanding of reality - because properly understood there is no choice: there is just the right thing.

Our task is to get to the situation when we can intuit the right thing. And that is fulfilment. 


Anonymous said...

As I understand it, the real creativity comes from God; as God is the only one who can create (make something out of nothing). All human creativity, both good and bad (!!!), is thus inspired by God.

As for free will, the greatest free will human have is that to be able to choose between Good and Bad; towards God and away from God. This is the only important kind of free will.
(Humans also have a free will to choose in small matters, such as whether to have potatoes or rice for lunch, or whether to do something right now or five minutes later).


Bruce Charlton said...

@LC - My understanding is that we all live in God's creation; and we are all his children which means we have a share in divinity, and can also (potentially) create, *really* create - within and in harmony with God's primary creation.

Anonymous said...

@BC - That seems to be in conflict with what you wrote in the article - if our task is to do what God wants us to, where is the room for the individual creativity?

Bruce Charlton said...

This is confusing but I shall give you the benefit that 16.16 Anonymous is the same as LC... No conflict - because I don't say, nor do I believe, that "our task is to do what God wants us to". But if you want to understand my theological beliefs... well, I can't explain them in a comment - that is what the blog as a whole is intended for.