Loose ends

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Fri Oct 3 12:49:39 CDT 1997

On Fri, 3 Oct 1997, Jonathan Bricklin wrote:

> Vidyasankar Sundares's example of free will, was, as Gregory Goode ably
> demonstrated, an example of what is commonly believed to be free will,
> but which introspection reveals to be otherwise.  I had posted (June 2, I

The objective of my example was to say that notions of fate and free will
have a practical use only.

> believe) William James's "meditation" on will, to which
> many of Gregory's comments make a nice commentary.  As James's
> "data for an entire psychology of volition" shows:
> 1. Thoughts arise.

>From where? In what?

> 2. They have an impulsive power of their own, a direct link to our motor
> operations, and do not require a super added willforce to explain their
> efficacy. And
> 3. The feeling of will and effort is derivable from the interplay between
> opposing thoughts.

If each thought has its own impulsive power, and thoughts oppose each
other, then the absolute reality is an infinitude of thoughts. There can
be no one-ness here.

> A few loose ends that I feel were not addressed in the debate that ensued
> between Vidyasankar  and Greg.  All the ">'s" are V's:
> >Nobody can doubt his/her own existence, whether in the waking or dream or
> >sleep state.
> So says Descartes, but surely you are not invoking the Cogito here?  He got
> it wrong, agreed?  What then is your warrant for this statement?  If you
> mean "consciousness can not be doubted out of existence" that is a
> different claim than "nobody can doubt his/her own existence."

Descartes's cogito, ergo sum is an inferential argument, that "proves" the
existence of the individual. I am saying something very different here.
The *I* cannot be denied, for there has to be an entity that denies. In
some ways, I would say "sum, ergo cogito."

> >I would like to reiterate that where there is conventional reality,
> >including the conventional jIva, there is both fate and free will.
> In no reality can there be both fate and free will.  Whether or not you

Highly debatable. The jury is still out on this one, as it were. I
remember you quoted Stephen Hawking once. So I would like to point out
that when a scientist says things are deterministic, he is talking of
physical reality. The same scientists are now starting to talk of chaos
theory, and moreover, no scientist is still close to one grand unified
theory of the physical universe. The non-physical world of human
experience is still outside the gambit of the physical scientist.

I would also like to point out that a scientist believes in the reality of
transformation, at an ultimate level. Scientists are eminently practical
people, and they do not all subscribe to a uniform philosophy. Any
quotation of a scientist in a philosophical debate concedes the ground to

> accept the validity of precognition, if fate (as viewed through
> conventional reality) is real then some very specific action at some very
> specific time "must" take place.  Otherwise what is meant by saying "there
> is fate"?   Admittedly, up to a point, it _is_ possible to imagine fixed,

See, you are absolutizing both fate and free will, so that you see that
both cannot co-exist in an ultimate reality, and you opt for fate. My
entire point is that words like fate and will are purely relative in their
meanings, with practical uses. There is no point is making them into
absolutes, and there is no point in saying that everything is fate nor
that everything is free will. Rather, in an ultimate reality, there is
nothing that can be called fate and there is nothing that can be called

As an aside, although many vedic statements model creation as an act of
will on the part of brahman (saH akAmayata, thereby putting kAma
(will/desire) as the cause of the universe), advaita denies that such will
really characterizes brahman. Obviously, we cannot say that brahman is
fated to produce the universe as we perceive it around us.

> >Where the absolute is known, there is neither fate nor will. There is no
> need to
> >bias one's judgment and raise either fate or will to an absolute level.
> Free will has, for me, the status of an illusory existent. The
> _non_-reality of free
> will is not a bias of one's judgment but a
> conclusion based upon introspection.  It is not a raising but a lowering, a
> deconstructing.   Fate, on the other hand, as substantiated by
> precognition, is not so much raised to an absolute level as already
> existing there.  Precognition substantiates many physicists beliefs,

Why don't you deconstruct the precognition too? Maybe your own
introspection would let you know that fate is also an illusory existent.
The belief in an overriding fate is as erroneous as the belief in an
unrestrained free will. Both are only beliefs, unsubstantiated by good

> including Einstein's, that "this
> separation between past and future has the value of mere illusion, however
> tenacious."  Einstein wrote an introduction to a book on parapsychology.
> Cambridge Nobel physicist, Brian Josephson, has a whole web page devoted to
> it, because, as he puts it, Science "perhaps will need to overcome its
> current abhorrence of such concepts in order to arrive at the truth."   I
> can understand Western Science's "abhorrence" of the concept of
> precognition.  I can't understand an Advaitin's.

I may not be an Einstein, nor a great advaitin, but I would like to point
out that Einstein is not infallible. (There comes the dreaded word again!)
As for my statements about will, I arrive at them by introspection, and I
was greatly pleased to find that the teachings of a great advaita teacher
coincided with what I thought.

Secondly, the statement about the separation of past and future being
a mere illusion does not necessarily mean that everything is fate. In the
physical universe, yes, things are deterministic, but to attribute
everything to physics is not very sound. Current philosophy of science
takes a very reductionist approach, in which all human experience is
biology, all biology is chemistry, all chemistry is physics, all physics
is mathematics and there is nothing beyond mathematics.

A related joke about people who lead these fields - all good biologists
are chemists, all good chemists are physicists, all good physicists think
they are God, and God thinks he is a mathematician. The joke captures the
basically flawed nature of the above reductionistic approach.


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