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Free will and Determinism

Free will and Determinism physics 


A. Is the free will of man not just an illusion?

Each one us possess an intuitive certainty that “I exist”. “Cogito ergo sum”- it is I who thinks. It is I who speaks, and it is I who acts. So, intuitively, we all think we are doing what we want to do, thinking what we want to think, or saying what we want to say, not something forced upon us. This indicates that from the point of view of intuition, man is free.

Also we all possess a sense of achievement. If we made a good speech, or if we have produced a work of art or literature, we feel that it is we who have achieved something. If we fail, we feel frustration. ‘There was never yet a philosopher that could endure toothache patiently, however much they have made a push at Chance and Sufferance and writ the style of gods’. The deterministic thinker still has a sense of personal achievement in the publication of a thought-system where everything is causally determined, where there is no place for personal achievement. A student once attended a philosophy course by one of the great philosophers of today, who regarded freedom as a complete illusion. He argued a great deal with his lecturer, who eventually called him into his office and said: ‘Why do you keep on arguing with me?’ He answered: ‘according to your theory, a person is predetermined and cannot help it if he asks questions. According to your view, he is surely not free at all? You cannot blame him.’ Of course, the lecturer got more upset.

We similarly know that without accepting free-will we cannot accuse anyone of sinning. Even the biggest criminal is causally preconditioned and has no freedom. There is no such thing as sin, virtue, or penitence. Crime has to be regarded as a mental illness. One cannot distinguish between a lunatic and someone who commits cruel murders whilst in a sane state of mind. Just as the former is conditioned by a severe mental illness, the criminal is similarly conditioned by heredity or environment, for which he is not responsible.  


B. What is the Biblical attitude?

The Bible is filled with commands, prohibitions, rewards, punishment and calls for penitence. None of these have any meaning if man is not free. “G-d said, Behold, the man, Adam, has become like one who from himself knows good and evil…”(Genesis 3, 22). He was punished and driven out from paradise because he chose to eat from the forbidden fruit.

When Cain was angry with Hevel, G-d said to him: “If you will follow virtue, then you will be accepted and elevated by G-d. If you do not follow virtue, then sin crouches at the door of your heart, to tempt you in order that you should control it.” (Genesis 4, 7). You have been put into this world for a test. Are you going to follow vice or virtue? That is entirely up to you.

            “See, I have set before you this day, life and that which is good. And death and that which is evil”. (Deuteronomy 30,15). Although a person commits evils and still survives and lives for a certain time, he cannot gain eternal life, except through the pursuit of virtue. As Jeremiah declares in his book of Lamentations 3, 38/9 “Out of the mouth of the most High, both good and evil do not come; why then does- living man complain? Let him control his sinful inclination” The evil inclination is sent so that man can grow in virtue. For if there is no potential opportunity of doing evil, there would be no virtue in doing good. A person only has only himself to blame if he receives punishment for his sins.

C. Does G-d not control the behaviour of man?

On the one hand, the Bible emphasises the freedom of man. On the other hand, it teaches us that G-d is omnipotent. “Whatever G-d wishes, He does in heaven and on earth” (Psalms 135, 6).

“The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,

Moves on: and not all your piety nor wit.

Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,

Nor all your tears wash out a word of it”.

How can man have freedom if G-d is the Master of destiny? To some extent, this paradox illustrates the different approaches to life in the West and the East. The West tends to go in the direction of the pragmatic power of man. Man is able, through his own skill and power of mind, to control his life, this planet and attempt to control other planets. On the other hand, the Eastern world follows either faith in the gods, in one G-d, or Fate, the Inner Spirit of the universe, as that which controls life.

The answer to this question is given in Deuteronomy 10, 12: “What does the Lord your G-d require of you, but to fear G-d, and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul”. This is expounded by our Sages:- ‘Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except the Fear of Heaven.’ which includes all aspects of virtue, They declare: before a baby is born, it is already decided in heaven whether this person in their life is going to be strong or weak, rich or poor, wise or foolish. That is predetermined. But whether that person is going to be a saint or a sinner, is left entirely to the person himself. Which means that strength, wealth and wisdom are G-d given predesigned tools: but a person has complete freedom to use them for good or evil purposes. This is the concept referred to by the Kabbalists as a limiting of the Divine presence. Just as G-d declared that the laws of nature should apply to the mineral, animal, vegetable world, and the physical aspects of human existence, so it is also the wish of G-d that man should be free. Man with his unique soul is able to develop his spiritual and moral potential only if he is given free-will.

D. If G-d has foreknowledge of the deeds of man, how can he be free?

Here we have a paradox referred to by the Sages in the words ‘Everything is foreseen, and yet, freedom of will is given”. As it says in Psalm 33, 13-15: “G-d looks down from heaven. He sees all the sons of man. From the place of his dwelling, he looks upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He who fashions their hearts together, He considers all their deeds”. G-d created a Universe in space and time. Human beings live within the limitations of these dimensions of space and time. Therefore for us there is a difference between experience of the past which comes through memory, experience of the present which comes from immediate sensation, and awareness of the future, which is unclear. ‘The past is history- the future is mystery.’ Sometimes men have a premonition or a dream of what might happen in the future, and are able to predict events. A prophet is able to foretell exactly what will happen in the future. The conscious mind, is definitely limited by time. But the subconscious mind is sometimes able to enter into a dimension above time. Just as we can know what happened to people in the past by looking at films, without having any control of their actions, so also knowledge of the future does not mean control. With the swift development of science, science fiction is transformed into scientific fact: The Time Machine has been described in fiction. If you enter this machine and travel into the future and then come back, you will also be able know what happens in the future without controlling it. G-d is beyond time, so He knows the future, without controlling human behaviour. This is expressed in the words of this Psalm, “He who sees their hearts together”: G-d is the Creator of all the minds of human beings. He is able to see what they do, telescoping past, present and future, seeing all together. A person who is traveling in a car along a road and does not know the turnings and roads ahead, but the helicopter or satellite above knows which path the car will follow. So G-d Whose Mind is above Time sees the future also in the present. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways… For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts”. (Isaiah 55, 8-9). G-d the creator of Space and Time transcends the human’s mind which is limited by time and space. So just as the hand which is physical cannot grasp the higher dimension of thought and feeling, so the human mind cannot grasp G-d.

E. Does the law of causality not contradict free will?

It would appear superficially that every event has a cause. However, today modern science recognises that there is a random element in Nature. Although there is an overall principle of cause and effect, there is also a Principle of Indeterminism. Popper, a leading philosopher of science, wrote: “The old- time physical ideal of absolute certain demonstrable knowledge has proved to be idle. The laws of science are today regarded as hypotheses” including the law of causality. It is still popularly assumed by many to operate, even in the sphere of sociology and psychology, according to which, the actions and thoughts of man are determined by antecedent chance causes. This would also apply to the thinking of the scientists, which therefore loses its claim to truth. Eddington wrote ”we must beware of imposing our intuitive apriori principles, which desire to connect all the data of the Universe upon the empirical world”, The philosopher Hume declared that succession of facts is no proof of relationship. These elements in modern science destroy the basis for applying the law of causality human behaviour, which is known to be unpredictable.

However, we do experience causality in an outward, limited fashion. So just as to the existence of the ego, though it is not an object of sense perception cannot be denied, it is in fact the subject of all perceiving, so can free choice which is an inward consciousness not be denied, although it is not apparent to the causal view.

So we have two approaches for analyzing human behaviour – one from inside from which we seem to be free, one from outside which seems to have a causal connection. A person’s behaviour seems to follow inherited question, his home, educational and social environment. Or the other hand, when he acts, he feels he is acting out of free choice. Both aspects are true. Modern science has established the Principle of Complimentarity, based upon the Quantum Theory. Light upon deeper analysis reveals itself to have properties which are akin to particles- Corpuscles- (Newton), but also exhibits itself as waves in an ether (Huyghens). Logically, it cannot be both, but empirically it is both. Scientists explain that both have to be accepted as truth. If even in the world of physical nature there are paradoxes, so in human behaviour there are also paradoxes. A person knows there are antecedent causes to his behaviour, but deep inside he knows he is acting as a free agent. This is described by the Sages: “Everything is in the hand of Heaven, but for the Fear of Heaven.” The options of what to do are to some extent predetermined by G-d who also works through causality. But what we do, which option we choose is our own inner decision. There is a way to balance these two paradoxical principles: freedom teaches us moral responsibility; causality teaches us to seek the cause of all creatures until we find the First Cause of the Universe, who also created Causality.

What are the parameters of free-choice? For example, a kleptomaniac, who has a sickness of picking up objects belonging to others, and is analyzed by psychiatrists as one who has a genetic failing from a family of kleptomaniacs and robbers, is understood to require psychiatric treatment rather than prison and punishment. The same actions done by someone who is in control of their behaviour, is considered a criminal. Many criminals claim they are unable to control their actions. Where do we draw the line between these two? Jewish Law as well as other legal systems set up objective criteria. On a deeper level Jewish thinkers make a distinction between potential and actual freedom. All men have potential freedom in the area of morality, and could grow in saintliness and godliness. But actual freedom is limited by range of knowledge and experience. For example today, most civilized men are conditioned by heredity and upbringing not to murder or rob. Their acts are a far below our range of choice. We also do not have freedom to reach the level of the greatest Saints, using every minute for loving kindness and the service of G-d for that is above our range. We have free-choice where there is a balance of forces, when facing a temptation.

F. The Sin of Adam

The question is asked: if Adam, before he ate from the Tree of Good and Evil, had no knowledge of good and evil, what evil did he commit, and why was be punished if he had no freedom? So he must have had free-choice. “G-d formed Adam- man and breathed into him the soul of life” (Genesis 2, 7), means He gave him the ego, the conscience - the spiritual power through which he could free himself from just following his natural instincts. What was added afterwards to the nature of his soul when he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? So ‘knowledge’ of good and evil means ‘experiencing’ the evil. Before eating the forbidden he had an awareness of the existence of evil (The serpent in the gardens of Eden) without experiencing it. When he ate the forbidden fruit the poison entered his nature and produced conflicts. Once man has experienced evil, then he is faced with temptation. If he repeatedly gives in to temptation his nature becomes evil and he can lose his free choice.

There are different levels for each individual. The actual plane of free choice is the meeting point of the good and evil inclination, with constant variations. It is this man’s freedom of choice, which is “the Image of G-d” (Genesis 1,27). Man has been granted liberty in order to avoid license, which is an abuse of the power of freedom using it to enter into vice. By using the power of freedom to enter into virtue, man perfects himself and perfects the world. This gives meanings to commandments and prohibitions, reward and punishment.

G. Responsibility = Freedom

The awareness of responsibility is very important in dealing with addictions. A person who has an addiction to gambling, drinks or drugs, thinks to himself, I cannot help it, it is my nature. One should tell him: “In your inner self there is an awareness of responsibility. You have the power to transform yourself”. This applies to all our moral conflicts: we have to make the choice ourselves. It is important today for each individual, nation and the whole of mankind, to remember the survivors in Deut. 30, 15: “See, I have set before you this day, Virtue and Life, Vice and Death.” It does not only refer to the World to Come. It also refers to this world. Because if the moral values, based upon the inner freedom of man will not be emphasized in all parts of the world, if we allow the powers of evil, hate, destruction and greed to take over the lifestyle of mankind, it will lead to death. In our times when mankind is faced with the nuclear crisis, the ecological crisis, globalization and demoralization, each one of us who will choose to spread the teaching of true freedom and responsibility, through the Code of Ethics based on the Bible, will help bring about the free happy productive life for mankind: –

‘Choose Life’.

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