What is the relationship between a subjective sense of free will and a subjective sense of being real?

In answer to Quora question "What is the relationship between a subjective sense of free will and a subjective sense of being real?"

Thanks for the A2A and clarification Jeff.

I believe they are intimately connected and have equal "illusory" potential. They both can be experienced, defined or described via four primary drives (to exist, to express, to effect and to adapt), but they are also subjected to perceptive/cognitive errors and distortions. With delusion, apophenia and hallucination at one extreme, and willful ignorance, confirmation bias and a high tolerance for cognitive dissonance at the other, the sweet spot for "accurate self-awareness" becomes just as rare as for "accurate self-contextualization." This is why I believe it is important to include multiple input streams - rational, intuitive, somatic, emotional, spiritual, social - into the experiential frame and processing matrix, because we cannot construct truly multidimensional objects (be it our autonomous agency or the "I am") without multiple dimensions; they won't feel "authentic" if they aren't completely fleshed out in both their felt sense and any proposed objective metrics. I think this is a rigorous but necessary discipline.

And of course the validations of intersubjectivity are IMO absolutely critical - and across all dimensions as well. But probably the most persisting errors here are either overemphasis of just one or two input streams, selective reinforcement by limiting who we include in our validations, or both. It's hard to remain vigilant while holding all perception-cognition lightly and welcoming all new information in a neutral way - *really hard*. But that is what we must do to get closer to both freedom and reality as flowing and persisting states, and avoid illusion as best we can. Even then we may just be enacting a variation of Zeno's dichotomy paradox - with the myth of the given, Chalmer's hard problem and Sartre's nausée all hovering in the wings, ready to ridicule our felt sense or snatch it away entirely. By maximizing the breadth and depth of ALL input streams, "all things being mediated by mind" becomes slightly less disruptive. Well...unless you're a Buddhist (just a little epistemological gallows humor).

And yet in the day-to-day all of this is automatically and reflexively constructed. We can exit that stream via meditation or peak experiences, gaining a brief foothold of consciously directed attention in the matter, but most folks will of necessity or preference quickly revert to a less awake/aware survival mode where agency is substantively less free and many aspects of "reality" are a long way from what actually is. Why is this so? Because the illusion of free will and the illusion of being real are just as viable to routine, conformist operationalization as "the real thing" - perhaps more so, as they tend to become a lot more comfortable through collective reinforcement (mass delusion though it may be) over time.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Jeff Wright: "This is a well-thought-out answer, more like 4 dollars than 2 cents.

You've referenced a variety of worthwhile perspectives. I'm more or less on-board with most of it, especially the multiple streams / dimensions principle (and Wilber's AQAL stands as an overly stylized version of this idea).
I think they all more or less revolve around the question of the concept of "real" (vs "illusion") and its various implied philosophical purposes.

It's hard to remain vigilant while holding all perception-cognition lightly and welcoming all new information in a neutral way - really hard. But that is what we must do to get closer to both freedom and reality as flowing and persisting states, and avoid illusion as best we can.

Do you have a synopsis of what you mean by "real" vs "illusion"? With a multi-dimensional, multi-perspectival framework such as the one I think you're proposing, perhaps the best we can expect is that something is "more real" to the extent that it is robustly comprehended by more dimensions. I like to think this is an escape from the oversimplifying and reducing influence of Ockhams Razor, because it's proposing an intrinsic complexity to reality. One could say this is a pragmatic and epistemic basis for defining "real". Or maybe one thinks there are only certain types of "dimensions" and they can be classified according to a fixed ontological schema. Many traditions prefer to assume a unifying foundation and say there's actually another level and it's ontologically simple and unified.

About the theme of the "vigilant self" that stands apart and neutral and wields its attention in support of moving into freedom and reality -- I suppose this is a good way to employ such a being, illusory or incomplete though it might be. At the same time I think it propagates certain Eastern and Western dualist transcendental traditions -- packages of metaphysics and moral ideas we might be better off moving away from, at least under the current historical circumstances. I see these as the basis for high modernism in various current (and fading) expressions, such as overly cognitive and overly individualistic accounts of language, meaning, and (maybe less frequently noted) ethics. Where these ideas inform ethics and virtue they create a kind of person, a self-willed and self-made moral agent whose relationships with others are mediated by rules and abstractions. It gets caricatured into extreme individualism and political philosophies such as neo-liberalism in which the cost of a nominal "freedom" is that whatever happens to a person is considered his/her own fault, and help and sangha invalidated.

There's no doubt this all looks better in more refined and mature states of "development" but I think it's worth considering the overall collective ethos that is created by its embodiment at all levels.

My 1.5 cents.

My response to Jeff: Thanks Jeff and I agree. My language is imperfect here but what I'm getting at is a "reality" that not only includes multiple dimensions, but also integrates and harmonizes them (in both its representation and its felt experience). And yes one of the more fluid expressions of this is a unitive perception-cognition; a nondual consciousness. But that is not the end of the road, and a participatory, intersubjective element would be a prominent feature of the multidimensionality in both conception and praxis. This is both calculated (intentional), inherent and emergent - which is where the differentiations of language you've touched upon come into play I think. Individualism becomes collectivism becomes the One as a matter of developmental altitude - but this, too, is part of a multidialectical arc and synthesis; complexity is revealed and integrated over-and-over until the "neutrality" becomes the only non-illusive state (albeit in a subjective sense). Thus fixations on any stage or state are the "illusion," IMO, but are nevertheless operationally pragmatic. Along these lines, I like to use the term "provisional semantic container" or "useful placeholder" in describing consensus-generated realities. In a way you could say that any simplification is, inherently, an illusion, but that's how the mind mediates complexity; that tends to be our most reliable form of self-affirming sanity. To "let go" of simplified certainty is frightening...it takes time, practice and courage. And that is where my word-fingers are trying to point - this is not the moon of course, but a process whereby I believe the moon (i.e. reality) can be intuited. And such a process certainly involves community, relationship and, perhaps most importantly, the relinquishment of ego to agape (not Wilber's definition, but the traditional one), which can, as you well know, only be authentically "practiced" in the context of non-individualistic interdependence. I hope I haven't muddied the waters...but perhaps words always muddy the ineffable, and clarity can only be achieved through stillness...?


Trackback specific URI for this entry

This link is not meant to be clicked. It contains the trackback URI for this entry. You can use this URI to send ping- & trackbacks from your own blog to this entry. To copy the link, right click and select "Copy Shortcut" in Internet Explorer or "Copy Link Location" in Mozilla.

No Trackbacks


Display comments as Linear | Threaded

No comments

The author does not allow comments to this entry