(Following a comment from 'David' yesterday...)
There seems to be a contradiction between the idea that we are all agents - with free will, able to make up our own minds etc; with the observation that we cannot control our own thoughts. in other words, we observe that thoughts come to us unwanted, intrusive thoughts - and that we cannot hold our attention onto things for very long, but our thoughts drift away onto other subjects.
The apparent contradiction is that agency seems to require control of thinking, yet we are not able to control our thinking.
My understanding is that this apparent contradiction arises from a false and incoherent model of thinking. 'Control isn't the right word' (because if thinking is controlled, then it is not free) but in this contradiction, we are assuming that freedom of thinking requires that consciousness always has full control of what we think (else it would not be free, but just controlled).
We are falling into a false dichotomy: either thinking is controlled, in which case it is not free; or esle thinking is not controlled, in which case it is random, purposeless. Or perhaps we are saying - either thinking is controlled and unfree; or else it is just epiphenomenal mental activity that just follows chains of inner association - in which case it is hardly 'thinking' at all.
Modern thinking allows only two options - caused/ controlled or uncaused/ random - neither of which is free.
Can I do better? Well, first - we are not always free agents; but we may sometimes be free agents. It is pssible for the human organism to be unfree in its behaviour (and thinking); or to be free.
But what is free, agent thinking?
That which does the free thinking is the Self. That which is conscious of the content of thinking is Consciousness, and Consciousness is different from the Self. Consciousness 'observes' thinking that is 'coming-out-of' the Self.
The Self is a divine entity, a Being - in physics terms the Self it is a self-generating process. (A process that generates itself.) That process is real thinking, free thinking.
Because the Self is self-generating, thinking is Not merely a product of external influences.
We cannot know what is going-on 'inside' the Self. If we could understand its 'inner workings', it would not be the Self, and it would not be free. Analysis must stop at the Self.
In other words, Beings are primary units of reality, ultimate units that cannot be further analysed. Reality is made-of Beings (among other things). Beings think (among other things).
Therefore the 'control' of thinking contradiction, arises from a distorted expression of our knowledge that the thinking of Beings is a primary reality, and that thinking is the primary manifestation of Beings.
Chris Langan address this topic on page 5 of his paper:
"Determinacy and indeterminacy...at first glance, there seems to be no middle ground. Events are either causally connected or they are not, and if they are not, then the future would seem to be utterly independent of the past. Either we use causality to connect the dots and draw a coherent picture of time, or we settle for a random scattering of independent dots without spatial or temporal pattern and thus without meaning. At the risk of understatement, the philosophical effects of this assumed dichotomy have been corrosive in the extreme. No universe that exists or evolves strictly as a function of external determinacy, randomness or an alternation of the two can offer much in the way of meaning. Where freedom and volition are irrelevant, so is much of human experience and individuality.
But there is another possibility after all: self-determinacy. Self-determinacy is like a circuitous boundary separating the poles of the above dichotomy...a reflexive and therefore closed boundary, the formation of which involves neither preexisting laws nor external structure. Thus, it is the type of causal attribution suitable for a perfectly self-contained system. Self-determinacy is a deep but subtle concept, owing largely to the fact that unlike either determinacy or randomness, it is a source of bona fide meaning. Where a system determines its own composition, properties and evolution independently of external laws or structures, it can determine its own meaning, and ensure by its self-configuration that its inhabitants are crucially implicated therein."
@Otto - Yes, he's talking about the same thing. Nice to have it endorsed by him!
The thing is that we each know this from inside (or can know it), but allow our direct experiential knowledge to be over-ridden by the external scientistic model of modernity. But of course, this is exactly our Big Problem.
BC: "Modern thinking allows only two options - caused/ controlled or uncaused/ random - neither of which is free."
This is largely the result of an incomplete modern materialist understanding of "random". "Random" simply means "not controlled by any pattern discernible from inside the physical world" -- and thus not predictable by the System! This is exactly the way we would expect agents which fundamentally exist outside the physical world (including us!) to exert influence on the inside. "Random" events are indeed uncaused by entities *inside* the physical world -- the true cause of these events is *outside* somehow. (but see Important Disclaimer below)
BC: "That which does the free thinking is the Self. That which is conscious of the content of thinking is Consciousness, and Consciousness is different from the Self. Consciousness 'observes' thinking that is 'coming-out-of' the Self."
Yes, this is essentially correct. The C'han Buddhist explanation of this is that what we normally think of as Consciousness (which they refer to as the 6th and 8th consciousnesses, used for mundane cognition and memory) is not the same as the True Mind / True Awareness, which is analogous to your use of the term Self.
A key C'han strategy for discovering the True Mind is to use meditation to watch where thoughts come from, so as to trace them back to the "generator". This is normally very difficult because we have long chains of causal thoughts where most of the links in the chain are reactions to external stimuli or the result of mechanistic cognition. Meditation decreases the noise level to the point where directly observing the generation of truly free thoughts becomes practical.
BC: "The Self is a divine entity, a Being - in physics terms the Self it is a self-generating process. (A process that generates itself.) That process is real thinking, free thinking."
Yes, The True Mind / True Awareness / Self is the "generator" of both itself and ultimately all free thinking. In C'han, it is described as the only class of entity that transcends the Law of Impermanence. What is not clear to me yet in my study of C'han is *how many* True Minds there are: in one sense everyone's True Mind has perception not limited by time or space (and is thus universal?) yet in another sense everyone's True Mind is also independent.
BC: "We cannot know what is going-on 'inside' the Self. If we could understand its 'inner workings', it would not be the Self, and it would not be free. Analysis must stop at the Self."
We certainly cannot know what is going on "inside" the Self using biological cognition (or any other form of physical computation or analysis). Luckily, since we are not physical systems this is not a fundamental limitation!
Our major problem as sentient beings is our ongoing tendency to confuse the True Mind with the False Self / Ego (referred to in C'han as the 7th consciousness), which is an algorithmic model of ourselves. Since the True Mind aspect of a person cannot be "captured" by any model, the Ego is a huge source of delusion. Note that the scientistic model of modernity is essentially an attempt to make a mechanistic, deterministic model of everything, including human behavior -- analogous to a civilization-spanning Ego. This strategy is non-empirical, physically impossible, and internally inconsistent, and thus can only end in disaster (as we have seen).
Important Disclaimer: In C'han, it is a mistake to consider one's True Mind as being separate from the physical universe in a dualistic fashion. Instead, the True Mind is intimately connected with all matter, energy, consciousness, and beings across all time and space. This is also consistent with what we would expect of a fundamentally Divine being of creation.
-- Robert Brockman
Bruce, this is a terrific insight to a valuable distinction: thanks. I hear the inward hounds of my hunt for truth baying in excitement at the spoor, and my blood rising in response. Otto (& the redoubtable Mr. Langan, with whom I have ever and always found myself in agreement, as if he were speaking my mind for me) and Robert, I thank you also for your contributions; the horse it seems are catching the spirit and the noise of the chase.
I think immediately of the guardian angel, of the True Adam, and of the Jungian Self. The idea rings true, fell, solid. It is gratifying to find the Buddhists – those radical empiricists of phenomenology – resonant in their agreement.
I find I have however a reservation, not as yet fully formed, but nonetheless: it would seem that the data of a given occasion of action – of thought – are completely definite and, so, thereby completely given and inalterable; it would seem also that the laws of thought likewise are given and inalterable - or else, thought as such would be completely up for grabs from one instance to the next; which is to say, random. Whence, then, any freedom of thought, either for the ego or for the Self who is the one doing the thinking that the ego merely apprehends?
My immediate response – a not altogether confident response – is that the laws of thought might allow for a range of valid conclusions to any particular aesthetic problem posed by a given set of actual data. This seems right. One of the really potential – i.e., really logical – conclusory options must be best; but many of them might be very good indeed. And the routine achievement of the best option might be practically impossible for creaturely occasions of merely finite computational capacity. Perhaps only God, whose computational capacity is infinite, can see which of the several (several hundred? several quadrillion?) valid and good solutions to every aesthetic problem predicated by actual data is the best. Such indeed would seem to express the notion of Divine Providence.
Been reading here over a year, but rarely comment. Weekly, I find many of the things written and discussed on this blog ideas I have recently been thinking. Bruce puts up a post, and distills those thoughts into better clarity. So a question: Is this happening to anyone else and if so, why do you think that might be?
@Kristor - Thanks!
You would need to develop this idea in the very different context of your metaphysical assumptions - I don't suppose it would be something that could simply be taken from my pluralistic and developmental reality and put-into your Thomistic one!
@Brad - This happens 'all the time' to readers of this blog - in the sense that I often get comments and e-mails telling me that this kind of 'synchronicity' has been at work in people's lives. I try to do my best to work *with* this 'process' (or destiny) - but (this being mortal life) often I fail (which is why it doesn't really happen *all* the time, only sometimes). Nonetheless, that's what keeps me blogging.
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