After completing my first book, Body Over Mind, I was propelled into research around the findings of neurophysiologist Benjamin Libet who in 1983 discovered that a volitional signal for action shows up in the brain before a person is conscious of the intention to act. This moved me into exploring the neuroscientific studies that have evolved since his revelation. Additionally, while expressing my own awareness that our body’s actions manifest regardless of the particular thoughts in our head, leaving me to conclude that all of our behavior is involuntary and completely beyond our control, I was carried into the dialogue regarding free will.
My concern for this topic at the moment is less about philosophy or reforming the criminal justice system, for example, than it is in addressing the glaring fact that many of us struggle with feelings of being wrong about how we act. The degree of relief I have acquired as a result of the confirmation that I have no choice than to act as I do, makes me want to share my insights.
Most of us fear that if we let go of the belief that we are in charge of our behavior and the events in our life we open ourself up to the potentially dangerous inability to protect ourself and our loved ones from being human. What we leave out of this scenario is that we also cannot prevent good things from happening. It is a recognition that anything we do, or that happens to us, occurs naturally. Acknowledging that our felt control is only an experience of effort and not a cause of action can release us from the inner pressures we assume necessary to live our life. Our familiar effort is only an illusion of power that we do not need to value or look to for guidance. This removal of pressure does not change the events in our life, as they will be what they are, but it can leave us feeling blameless, compassionate, and curious to what nature has in store.
Though my own contribution to the field of inquiry, i.e., questioning beliefs and subordinating them to reality, has been awareness based, it has been enlightening for me to encounter so many eye-opening resources in the fields of naturalism, determinism and the natural sciences. The commonalities among eastern, scientific and philosophical observations land on the ground of no self, i.e., the understanding that our sense of a voluntary self that makes free choices and decisions is mistaken. I personally support the phrases, “illusion of self” and “illusion of free will” because I can see that we are tricked by our own thoughts and efforts into believing we are causal agents. My interest in developing this body of work is twofold: firstly, to point out the futility in believing things that are not true, and secondly, to help those like-minded to ease their physical and mental efforts. I hope to promote compassion toward ourself and others by acknowledging that as a human race we are collectively powerless beyond the luck and resources life naturally provides.