Handel on – Free Will

Alcina – Meghan Lindsay and the Artists of Atelier Ballet. Photo by Bruce Zinger

Alcina – Meghan Lindsay and the Artists of Atelier Ballet, Toronto. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

Driving serenely Eastwards towards London in the middle lane of the M4 amidst dense, though well-ordered, traffic, I listen to Arleen Augér sing an aria in Alcina – Handel’s oft ignored but exquisite opera, and one with an amusingly bizarre libretto. Juggernauts dourly and stately process their tonnage along the slow lane to my left, whilst eager, besuited deal-makers, along with those for whom time runs too fast today, speed past upon my right at a steady, metronomic tick. A Toyota cocooned I, sandwiched, fore and aft, port and stern, in the middle lane, sail contentedly along. Hundreds of minds doing precisely what were required to remain safely within reach of their goals. A taut calmness holds, whilst all rests upon fine judgements, an invading bee, or the inopportune, nerve-vibrating alert of an anxiously awaited text – carnage, staved off, for now. So, sing your honeyed song, evil sorceress; though your spell enchants, I animate for now; just for this now.

A towing truck begins to drift in front of me – a well-judged, if impertinent, call by its driver; or rather one which may have been deemed so had he not forgotten that he was once again towing, and the length of his charge was double that which he had assumed. Brain takes over: get out of the way Hariod; I need to be driving this thing, not you. Brain calculates that hard braking is too risky, and anyway, the Toyota would still get broadsided by the dumb, forgotten trailer. Three, maybe five, 360 degree rolls to follow? Arleen continues oblivious. No option but to drift into the fast lane, hoping amidst insufficient certainty that the oncoming deal sorcerer and his Audi’s stoppers can help Brain save the day – vorsprung durch technik! Save it, that is, for Brain, and much other grey matter besides. Hariod knew none of this silent, synaptic work – axons, dendrites, quantum vibrations in micro-tubules silently orchestrating. Bravo! Enter Hariod stage left, as the driver.

Whither Free Will in all of this? We believe we have agency, meaning we feel we have autonomous, volitional control over events. It feels almost as if a guiding homunculus – or is she a mythical sorceress? – resides benignly within our craniums, directing matters, dutifully thinking our thoughts for us, experiencing our experience, driving our Toyota, cursing careless truck drivers, and appreciating Handel. Most of us consider ourselves largely free to choose as we wish the course of our decision-making, and by thinking of ‘ourselves’ we relate back to this imagined sorceress, or homunculus. Those who may object to this imagery must describe exactly what this agent of Free Will is, or conclude – most counter intuitively – that there is no such thing at all. We exist as embodied, thinking persons, as individuated social constructs or social selves, but not as the agents of Free Will we imagine ourselves to be in our own private La Fenice, our personal operatic myth.

The Songs of Handel's Alcina - Published 1735

The Songs of Mr. Handel’s Alcina – First edition, published London, 1735

Why and how do we experience the illusion of agency and Free Will? The short answer is that we are subject to what psychologists call a Postdictive Illusion – a post hoc mental fabrication of events which reinforces a sense of agency and selfhood; the latter likely being artefacts of evolved survival means. In any situation, an array of possibilities exists as to how we might respond to our current or envisaged environment. What happens is that subconsciously felt predispositions incline towards one particular option, and so motor action of the body initiates accordingly. Following both such occurrences, some or all of these options appear in consciousness, and a postdictive – meaning an explanation after the fact – illusion of choosing appears to be made ‘now’. In fact, the apparent choosing occurred after its consequences were subconsciously felt and after motor action initiates. A sorcery of the mind has tricked us; so let’s get back to Alcina in the Toyota.

This incident struck me so because there was no prior deliberation of how to deal with the situation, no thought of ‘shall I brake, or veer to the right?’ Everything happened far too quickly for any conscious thinking, and I was left with a clear sense that it had nothing to do with any ‘me’ as one might normally think of oneself. This happens frequently in daily life; just try thinking – as you do it – of how to dance, or strike a tennis ball, or tie a shoelace, and see how the whole process becomes impossibly convoluted and clunky. We get a proprioceptive sense of ‘me doing something’ as we throw our shapes, drive that backhand, or tie the laces, and this feeling feeds recursively into a sense of self and agency, just as does the apparently willed choice to have initiated those actions. In fact though, we are devoid of self-agency, just as Arleen is uninhabited by a sorceress called Alcina. As a great artist, she inhabits the role, yet her script has already been written.

I hope not to have dwelt overly on dry technicalities; it being far more fun to be dressed-up on the stage of life acting out our dramas, is it not? Still, when the curtain falls, the bows being taken, we then return to the dressing room to wipe away the make believe in the mirror of self-reflection. If the mirror is perfectly clean, what we see is no longer the sorceress willing so freely, or the homunculus determining things on our behalf. We instead see ourselves as links in a vast and beginningless ocean of interrelatedness. In Handel’s opera, Alcina the sorceress is a wicked seductress, casting spells upon many lovers who, spellbound, arrive upon her mystical isle. After using them, she turns them into stones, animals, waves or trees. Finally, Alcina comes truly to love, and with it her powers dissolve; she sinks into the isle’s ground – way out in the vast ocean – and it is seen that both Alcina and her isle were only ever the illusions of her now reanimated victims.

173 thoughts on “Handel on – Free Will

  1. The video I include in the article above is a selection of scenes from the latest international production of Handel’s Alcina, one produced for the 2015 Aix-en-Provence Festival. I think it rather ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, and in the lead role far prefer Arleen Augér’s voice to Patricia Petibon’s. Here is Arleen for those interested in a comparison:

    • Thanks very much John; your generous encouragement is most welcome and hugely appreciated. What does it mean, you ask? It means that we’re kidding ourselves; there’s no more a little homunculus-like agent in my head than there is a unicorn in your back yard. You don’t feed the unicorn, do you?

      • They’re self-sustaining, farting rainbows then consuming them like the colossal Ouroboros-succubus’s they are. It’s how they remain concealed.

        So, we’re in a simulation. That comment the other day on Noel’s post inspired a short story. Just got to get TOOAIN Two out of the way, then I can get to work on filling in the notes I’ve already made.

        • Then the analogy seems ever more apt in that case. Now, who is Noel? I seem to recall you referring to Mak as Noel, or am I going crazy? And what comment are you referring to? TOOAIN Two – splendid news! As you could tell from my Amazon review, I was so mightily impressed at both the quality of the writing and the depth of thought you put into Volume One. Time to give up the day job?

          Readers, please buy John’s very great book – all proceeds go to an animal shelter:

          • Noel = Mak.

            Weren’t you on his recent discussion regarding free will? Maybe I’ve lost my mind. It’s not inconceivable.

            TOOAIN Two, although much shorter. More a fairly long paper. I had intended to have some second-thing out ages ago but I’ve been pretty preoccupied with these menacing unicorns.

            And yes, I am still reading your book. Seriously, I am, but its so heavy I’m taking it in installments between my usual staple of sci-fi. One day, one day I will get to the last sentence.

            • Ah, well I’ve no idea why Mak is Noel, but he is. I used to call him OM – from Onyango Makagatu – after asking him if that was okay, but eventually changed to what everyone else was calling him – Mak. And now he’s Noel. I can’t keep up. I may not have been in on his Free Will posts, as the subject drives me crazy – *points up and looks bemused* – and you perhaps have had the exchange with Swarn Gill, if I recall correctly?

  2. As I read Hariod, I willingly and excitedly went to YouTube to find Handel’s Alcina. I wanted to experience your easterly journey into the bustling throws (claws?) of London, but to my non-agency was offered many choices! Thus, in my agency – or bound servitude to Alcina’s carnal sorcery I should think – I selected this, or rather something did:

    Yet, as I read further, to my pleasure I scrolled down and upon the good Hariod’s selection of Patricia Petibon’s operatic voice! Ah, I now seem to be experiencing fully what this deeply eloquent blogging-author intended I experience. It was not I, but themselves! I click ‘Play’ on their musical video precisely as intended, and alas, I am no longer myself!!! Was I ever!?

    Then, to my astonishment, I find another musical video said blog-author intends I listen too with even more sweet pleasure. I say to myself: “Self, is it so good to enjoy so much!? Pffft! Can I even stop!? Has this clever author beguiled and bewitched me so that I know not what I do nor hear!!!?”

    [shocked, big-eyed face!]

    Like the soothing honey-nectar of the woman’s sculpted silhouette in the initial image – where even Fall’s foliage worship! [grumbles] – I am lost I tell you! Quite lost in a determined vacillation.

    [big grin & wink]

    • A quite exceptional and perfectly exquisite response to my humble offerings, dear professor. Never before, in the history of humankind, can greater pleasure have ever been derived from such remorseless and unmerciful a teasing; and never before can that same have been more welcomingly inflicted upon its unsuspecting, yet fully deserving, recipient. More than this, you have alerted the aforesaid well-flailed one to something of additional exquisiteness, to wit, Ms. Battle’s rendition of ‘Ah! mio cor’. Oh! my heart, indeed, professor! I was almost in tears at the beauty of Ms. Battle’s performance, marred as it was – or at least as seemed to me – by a rather flaccid orchestral accompaniment. That Sir Neville clearly needed a little blue pill to enliven his rather limp baton methinks.

      • Bwahahaha! Hariod, you have caused me much pain upon my ribs – I cannot stop laughing at your fine reply! I should beg mercy, but I cannot catch enough breath to utter such a surrender! [wink … and then passes out!]

              • You are always courteous in the extreme, professor, and feel certain you shall be able to forgive the ‘giggling site administrator’ – a.k.a. the little homunculus within – for their prudish intervention. Besides, it is always worth leaving one’s most ardent admirers wanting more, a position I doubt neither you nor Alcina would contest. And yet, what’s this I see in unwilled seeing – *swiftly dons tights and breeches, leaping onto the stage at The Globe* – is this a comment which I see below me, the professor’s handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible to feeling as to sight? Or art thou but a mighty Texan sword of the mind, a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? Let us explore the matter with the intrepid psychonaut . . . *exits stage left to a hail of rotten tomatoes from the unappreciative rabble in the audience*

  3. Discussions of free will are always fraught with definitional issues. I see the mind as wholly existing in this universe and operating according to the laws of physics. But I also think social responsibility remains a coherent and useful concept.

    A key question is, is consciousness in control? I think we all know that often it isn’t. Honestly, I’m not sure it ever is, but I do think it has causal influence, much in the way that a newspaper might have causal influence of a city’s policies, even if it doesn’t have outright control.

    Consciousness is slow, it takes time. In quick situations, there isn’t time for it to exert its influence. But does that absolve us of responsibility for how we respond on those quick instants? It depends. Did we earlier situate ourselves, when we had time to consciously work through things, in a way that was reckless? Or did we do it in a way that made an accident a low probability?

    It isn’t always easy to figure out the difference afterward. Often we can’t even be sure of it for our own actions.

    • I know Mike, and a large part of me thought it really rather foolish to attempt a necessarily space-constrained overview of such a stubbornly unresolvable matter. The idea here at this place is just to open up some elementary thoughts for discussion and gentle further consideration, not to make attempts at setting forth definite theories on anything, even were I to be capable of doing so. Everyone is free (or are they?) to have their say and argue positions.

      Yes, clearly consciousness – meaning the selective endogram that presents to itself reflectively – is causal in a downwards trajectory too, meaning to the unconscious level of mind. The whole thing is a loop (Hofstadter’s strange loop, perhaps?), with recursive feedback helping generate this sense of self and agency, amongst a host of other things besides – the assigning of stored (unconscious) percepts to (conscious) experience, for example.

      As to your idea of responsibility, then who or what is being absolved or held accountable? I know, the tricky question of selfhood and what it constitutes. It was hard to convey in the anecdote quite how removed the sense of self was from the situation. I just said to Jana White (see below), that it felt like I vanished and was replaced by a coldly indifferent robotic driver, and there never had been any past instance where I could, as you said, “consciously work through things”.

      I appreciate your interest, Mike, and also your valued engagement in response.

      • Hariod, I didn’t mean to imply any criticism of incompleteness. Blog posts are definitely something where we can only lightly touch on just about any topic, unless we’re prepared to write 4,000 word posts, few of which would probably ever get read. So I understand completely. I always see the posts themselves as just conversation starters.

        I think ‘loop’ is the right way to look at it:

        1. We quickly perceive a wide range of information unconsciously.

        2. Consciousness is constantly gathering selected information and making it available to the rest of the system.

        3. We act with input from 1 along with semantic and skill memory, and sometimes from 2, but only if 2 had enough time to work. [2 may pull information from episodic memory.]

        4. Loop back to 1.

        One of these days I need to read Hofstadter.

        I know what you mean by feeling completely disconnected from the action. I’ve been in that situation myself a couple of times. But I think how you react in those situations is, at least sometimes, a reflection of all the experiences in your life baked into your system, much of which you were able to consciously choose to have.

        Who’s being held accountable? I’d say the whole system. Self emerges from numerous sub-systems in the brain working in concert. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio calls it the orchestra conductor that doesn’t exist until the orchestra is already underway. Crucially, self is composed of non-self: the brainstem, limbic system, thalamus, cingulate cortex, neocortex, etc. None of those components are alone the self. Only acting together do they form it.

        • Thanks Mike, and I of course know that you weren’t being critical; I was merely getting my defence in first, as they say, given that I expect a fair bit of opposition to my posited rejection of the notion of Free Will. As you so rightly say, it all hinges on definitions, and even then there’s still much to dispute. Your four-stage schema certainly looks about right to me, though I suspect your definition of 2 is perhaps not quite as you worded it so briefly here. What I mean is that consciousness itself is not doing the gathering of selected information, but is the result of that collecting and gathering – not to mention the result also of some time-shifting, misrepresentation, censoring, prioritising, memory confabulation, emotional moderation, and so forth, all of which necessarily occurs unconsciously. I think this is something like what you mean by 2, yes?

          • Thanks Hariod. You’re right in that there is a distinction between the information and the mechanism. Our experience of consciousness comes from the information, the executive summary, the newspaper put out by the mechanism of the news organization – in Michael Graziano’s terminology, ‘the attention schema’. The underlying mechanism has been called different things; Michael Gazzaniga calls in ‘the interpreter’.

            From everything I’ve read, the site where the collection happens may be the temporal parietal junction. That seems to be where most neuroscientists end up focusing, although locations in the recticular formation, thalamus, and other locations are also involved. Although the pulvinar in the thalamus and frontal cortex appear to be heavily involved in using that information, those areas seem quite capable of acting if the information isn’t available, which is possibly what happened for you that day on the road.

  4. This is an incredible post, Hariod. I love the example you used and how you wrote it. Reading it reminded me of two of my own experiences. There was a time when I was being pressured to coordinate a big workshop. I kept saying no, but they kept asking. I would have felt comfortable continuing to say no, but I woke up one morning knowing I would be coordinating the workshop and feeling good about doing it. It was the first time I remember wondering who was in control of my mind! It clearly wasn’t ‘me’.

    I also remember someone asking my daughter, when she was in her early twenties, if she thought there was Free Will. She said that she didn’t think Free Will existed but that we were supposed to act as if it did. I thought that was incredibly wise, and I often remember her words. Amma teaches us that our job is to put in the effort and let go of the results.

    • Thankyou so much for your warm words of encouragement, Karuna; I greatly appreciate your interest and generous reflection. The anecdote you outline is an interesting one, and may possibly be answered by some recent research showing that the mind, during sleep, tends to form far more abstract connections than it does in its fully awake state. So, whilst your awake and conscious mind may have rejected the notion of you doing the workshop, due to the more obvious baggage it brought to the party, then in its sleeping, but still active (REM) state, it may have seen connections that made clear the benefits of doing so. Your conscious self wasn’t responsible for the change of heart, and with it being out of the way, your mind was free to wander into uncharted territory and explore potential outcomes. This is obviously all just a theory, but the latest studies show there may well be some truth in it. By the way, your daughter sounds like an extremely wise young woman! Thankyou once again.

  5. “Everything happened far too quickly for any conscious thinking, and I was left with a clear sense that it had nothing to do with any ‘me’ as one might normally think of oneself.”

    Yes, and musicians — especially classical, I would think – will tell you that conscious thinking is a bad idea mid-performance. You’re in trouble when you start thinking: “Whoa…what you’re doing…that’s really…really…hard. How is this possible? Are you sure that you’re getting this right? What about the next part?” And then you find yourself unable to do what your body already knows.

    “This happens frequently in daily life; just try thinking – as you do it – of how to dance, or strike a tennis ball, or tie a shoelace, and see how the whole process becomes impossibly convoluted and clunky.”

    Exactly. But at one point these activities were conscious (possibly to varying degrees). Remember how difficult it once seemed, this activity of tying your shoelace?

    As for thinking about doing one of those now-mindless activities, I can tell you how hard it is. Right now I’m learning the castanets and I have to count to eight, then ten. “Right left roll, roll” x 8, then something else, then “right left roll, roll” x 10. Sounds easy. But when you really have to think about that number instead of just rattling it off thoughtlessly, it’s a different sort of mental activity. The mind wants to space out. The mind wants to get lost in the rhythm, to enjoy the music. The mind wants to think about tone, about getting the flick of the wrist just right to hit the castanets directly in the middle for the ‘choque’ that will come soon – to get that bright, crisp sound. The mind also wants to think about someone else’s shoes. But once that happens, you find yourself asking, “What was that last number?” One minor itty-bitty drift of thought can ruin the whole sequence and you can’t get back until you’ve heard the music many times. I actually have to force myself to concentrate on counting to the point where I must sometimes close my eyes and imagine Sesame Street numbers (bubble numbers in various shapes and colors) to keep my mind active for that long. Ridiculous! Why is it so hard to count? Because it’s terribly boring to focus on counting to ten very slowly.

    The mind hack I’ve come up with: Count to four two times, then count to five two times. Shorter sequences feel more natural to musicians, especially “one, two, three, four”, and that counting can recede back into the subconscious somewhat – back where it belongs. Five is a bit trickier. I find myself counting to four, then beginning with one again, but that’s easier to correct than finding yourself lost at seven or eight.

    What all this has to do with ‘me’ is unclear. In any case, I can see a sort of feedback loop that mostly goes one way, but can go the other through hard work.

    • Now this castanet business rings a lot of bells. Well, not so much rings bells as crashes cymbals. I used to own a recording studio and, when no one was around at the end of the day, I sometimes would go and sit at the grand piano and make a fool of myself, or clamber aboard a drum kit and thrash around for a while. Now, after some many such thrashings, there began to emerge the faint possibility of holding down a groove for a few bars – we’re not talking Dave Weckl or Omar Hakim here, you understand. When this first happened, there was a strong sensation of being outside of myself, and a large grin appeared. Then panic set in: “wait, what am I doing, I just stole a snare beat and need to give one back, or have I already? Aaagh, I’ve forgotten what pattern the hi-hat’s playing! Wait a minute, who the hell’s playing it anyway! Oh no, where am I?!” You know the score, I feel sure, Tina. And they say drummers are the stupid ones. Well, maybe you have to be so as not to be in danger of thinking about playing triplets across a second line groove? Drummers, eh? Speaking of which . . .

      Deep in the African jungle, a safari was camped for the night. In the darkness, distant drums began a relentless throbbing that continued until dawn. The safari members were disturbed, but the guide reassured them: “Drums good. When drums stop, very bad.” Every night the drumming continued, and every night the guide reiterated, “Drums good. When drums stop, very bad.” This continues for several days until one morning the drumming suddenly stops and all the natives panic and run screaming. A camper asks the guide what’s the matter? The guide, looking very frightened, says: “When drums stop, very, very bad!” In response, another member of the safari asks “Why is it bad?” The guide replies, “Because when drums stop, bass solo begin!”

      Apologies to our mutual friend Tal Wilkenfeld.

      • Ha! The bass solo, yeah, I get it. Sometimes it’s just a bad idea. You have to be pretty amazing to pull that off.

        So, that’s the deal with drummers! You’ve put it all together for me, thank you. The rest of us need beta blockers, but drummers don’t have to worry about thinking. So funny – you’ve just reminded me of someone I knew in college. The guy was absolutely nuts in life and on the drums, but it worked for him on the drums. He was a jaw-dropping spectacle when he played. Philosophy, however, was not his forte.

        • I once met the musician Joe Walsh, and asked him what he was up to, who he was playing with. He mentioned a drummer whose name I recognised, and I asked Joe what he was like – “solid with the sticks, alright, but no arms in the poncho.”

    • Thanks Jana, and yes, it is about reflexes, but it’s also about the impromptu making of calculations of various kinds, without which no reflex response can be made, of course. Strangely, I didn’t feel any adrenalin surge, and it just felt like I’d turned into some cold and inanimate robotic device – doubtless made by Honda or Toyota – that had completely taken control of the situation. This happened just last month, and is still quite fresh in my mind. Tis a fine path we tread between existence and the unknowable unknown.

      Oh yes, the soundtrack to it all was absolutely perfect, and would’ve been my choice of theme to die to anyway. I once was at a performance of The St. Matthew Passion in Bath Abbey here in England, and an elderly woman dropped dead just across the aisle from me halfway through the performance. A part of me considered her rather blessed to go in such a stylish way, and within such an auspicious a situation and setting. Far rather that than to fade out to the soulless beepings and flashings of a hospital ICU.

  6. Phew! Where to start! Where to start? Where to start . . .

    I feel I have opened a door and am in the Upper Sixth. Far too grown up for me but rather exciting to observe. Thanks for the YouTube recommendations. Great stuff, and as someone else did, I have listened to them whilst re-reading your blog and replying to it. So, it’s been far too long. But the wait was worth it. Now, are you sure you didn’t perform an oxymoron in conjoining ‘serenely’ and ‘M4’? A contradiction if ever I saw one. 🙂 The rest of the piece was wonderful to read and absorb. Free will? Who cares, it was a bloody good read and I have some new music to listen to and enjoy.

    Many thanks.

    P.S. I don’t feel qualified to make any comments on Free Will and the train of thoughts or events.

    • My goodness, a perfect ellipsis as an opening statement of intent – I am honoured. Seriously, I’m really pleased you enjoyed galloping across this terrain, and I’m also most grateful for your kind words of support and encouragement. It’s lovely that you appreciate the soundtrack too, which is very much a favourite piece of mine. I certainly get what you mean about the seeming incongruity of my M4 references, though I think I also did say that “a taut calmness holds”, and which more or less reflects what you’re alluding to. There is a certain sedate orderliness that runs alongside the otherwise seething undercurrent of tension. Every time I head into London it seems to get worse, and I can barely imagine driving in every day as I used to for many years. Presumably, you commute on your horse, do you? Many thanks, LB – Hariod.

  7. “We get a proprioceptive sense of ‘me doing something’ as we throw our shapes, drive that backhand, or tie the laces, and this feeling feeds recursively into a sense of self and agency, just as does the apparently willed choice to have initiated those actions” – I wonder whether Free Will really exists or not. We think we are acting on our conscious volition, but it’s often, as you’ve said, a staged acting. We have gone through the experiences so often in the past that we just are supposed to do so again, correctly.

    “We instead see ourselves as links in a vast and beginningless ocean of interrelatedness” – I especially liked this observation. Is there anything in this world that’s absolutely autonomous? I doubt it.

    A profound article, wonderfully framed as always, Hariod. 🙂

    • Thankyou very much indeed for your interest and insightful reflection, Maniparna. I think the question you posed as to whether Free Will exists or not very much depends upon how we define the phrase. I personally take the notion of Free Will to mean the freedom to will consciously, for only then does the expression make sense to me. In other words, Free Will is to know through introspective insight that one has exercised volition. Here is where it gets quite problematical, not only due to introspection being an unreliable witness to itself, but also because the process of willing consciously is itself a Postdictive Illusion – an explanation after the fact – as I explained in the essay above. Some insist that Free Will does not depend on conscious knowledge of the will, of the mental volition itself, but I ask myself where the sense is in that – where is the freedom to will when one has no conscious knowledge of any willing? I agree with your position whole-heartedly, Maniparna, in that personal autonomy is very largely illusory. We can only be truly autonomous if we in effect are closed systems, isolated from external influence and conditioning, and that seems very far removed from any understanding of the human condition.

      Thankyou once again for your most insightful, kind and generous engagement, Maniparna. 🙂

  8. What an excellent post, Hariod. That’s only the second time I’ve ever read the word ‘proprioceptive’. The first time was in the work of Oliver Sacks. It’s good to have my mind stretched. Thank you.

    • Thankyou very much indeed, dear Ashley, for your kind and generous words of encouragement to my efforts here. And yes, the word ‘proprioceptive’ is rather uncommon, so I felt it best qualified initially in the piece by explaining it was the sense of ‘me doing something’. I don’t recall the term in Sacks work; was that the wonderful The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, may I ask?

      • Yes, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. What a great book that is. There was a woman who lost that sense [proprioception] – amongst other things – so that she could only move her legs if she was looking at them. It had never before occured to me that such a sense existed.

        • I think I recall that, Ashley, but it’s been so long since I read it. I should probably do so again in fact. Since I began blogging two years ago my reading of books has reduced dramatically, I must say. I love the interactivity of the blogosphere, though as I say, it really has eaten into my book reading time hugely. And now, like you, I’ve taken up photography – well, I’ve bought a camera – and I’m wondering when I’m actually going to be doing any!

  9. Hariod,

    Simply, straight from my heart: I confess that I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts. That goes for your published book as well.

    I love the cerebral exercises your writing causes for me – ‘Free Will’? What a delightful exploration set to Handel’s Alcina and the M4! I find such joyful paradox mixing Free Will with/on the M4 and so many other drivers – who also seem to have Free Will! Hahahaha! It then begs the question: “If everyone has license to ‘drive’ freely (another paradox on controlled highways & roads with laws governing!), then where does Free Will go and how does it behave when as we drive our contraptions, reacting and avoiding potentially unfavorable outcomes from other Free Willers!? How is it possible!?” [scratching head with perplexed look]

    And see, you Hariod, have sent my thoughts a fluttering like a kite in the beautiful blue sky when I should be keeping my eyes on the road ahead! [wink]

    A splendid post, my friend! Thank you.

    • Professor,

      Your words humble me, and I am very grateful to have one so learned and quite obviously cultured as yourself express an interest in the offerings of my untutored mind. And so, from my heart too – thankyou.

      Is there such a thing as Free Will? It depends how we define the terms, does it not? For myself, I take the expression to mean (if it is to have any sense) the freedom to will consciously. In other words, it is to know through introspective insight that one has exercised volition. Now, here is where it gets very difficult, not just because introspection is an unreliable witness to itself, but also because the process of willing consciously is itself a Postdictive Illusion – an explanation after the fact – as I explained in the piece. Some argue that Free Will does not depend on conscious knowledge of the will/volition, but where is the sense in that, where is the freedom to will when one does not know one is willing? More even than this, precisely who or what is doing the willing? ‘Me’ is not a coherent answer.

      If I understand your motorway-related question correctly, then you are suggesting that we never can be entirely free to do as we wish as we are always constrained by the world – by the allegedly free-willed exercising of others’ minds. I agree, and more than this, we also are constrained by our own past conditioning, and whilst in the incident described in my piece I could (in another world) have sailed along in the fast lane to my right – which in fact was an altogether safer option – it is not in my nature, due to past conditioning, to be a habitual law-breaker. [An immediate disqualification from driving occurs here in England if clocked by radar proceeding in excess of 100 m.p.h.] So, my will, such as it is, is constrained not only by others’ apparent will, but by my own past, in which I am forever confined, in some real and practical sense.

      What say you, professor, are you in bondage to Alcina the sorceress, and to your past, or do you have Free Will to escape her enchanted isle?

      With my respect and gratitude, always,


      • As I began to further understand physics as it relates and works with atomic and subatomic worlds, in conjunction also with genetics – human or otherwise – and how remarkable they all intertwine and influence the other in a neverending fluidity of motion – sensed and unsensed by human neuro-receptors – I began to become extremely humbled and even more grateful.

        I exist because of an infinite amount of events [having occurred] prior to my cellular conception! ‘Conceptions’ going eons back in linear time, way before my parents meeting each other – on a blind date, no less!

        Just comprehending all of those specific events which had to take place in a very specific manner and timeframe, quickly forced me to embrace my larger lack of Free Will. [chuckling] And from conception, through my 10th. or 14th. birthday, if it had not been for my parent’s care and a plethora of other life-sustaining factors, at any given moment in those weeks, months, and years, I could have no doubt stopped existing as an embryo, fetus, infant, toddler, or adolescent Homo Sapiens.

        I’ll stop there because Free Will begins morphing into a differently perceived concept into our 20’s, 30’s, etc., until our late 50’s and beyond.

        Literally, I came into this world well beyond any ‘will’ of my own [a gross understatement, indeed!] and soon enough I will once again, hopefully in my late 80’s or 90’s, gradually return to a state of total dependency until my bodily death, or total cognitive malfunction, whichever comes first! Ironically two states or conditions once again determined, at some level, by others! Hah!

        Free Will? Pfffft! Seriously? As a soothing coping mechanism for our true place in this Multiverse and all of its ‘known’ forces – from the subatomic to the macro-cosmic – the human game of Free Will is a useful temporary tool (a veil, a curtain?), quite familiar to the Wizard of Oz. [grin & wink]

        What say you, professor, are you in bondage to Alcina the sorceress, and to your past, or do you have Free Will to escape her enchanted isle?

        My direct answer might bend or cheat the rules of your question: “Yes and no.”

        For me, Hariod, I find my existence/consciousness is much more pleasant, peaceful, exciting, and liberating when I go with the flow, with all the systems and mechanics of this Multiverse, if that makes sense, rather than fight it or distort it. The reality is throughout all known time, coming and going, that I am a microscopic sub-atomic piece in an infinitely measurable and immeasurable cosmos. Period. Tell me who isn’t? [chuckles]

        • Magnificent professor! Once again, you have inimitably set the matter right in providing the most clear and rigorous explanation for the befuddled yea-sayer. Alcina may be a seductress, yet she cannot abed you sir! “Ah! mio cor”, she pleads longingly with you, but still you stand most firm! More than this, you declare yourself a “a microscopic sub-atomic piece”, but . . . *quickly dashes off to don tights and breeches once again* . . . but professor, what a piece of work is a man such as you, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!

  10. Hi Hariod,

    What a wonderful post and very erudite discussion! I loved reading all the reflections, and though mine may seem a little modest I would like to share.

    One of the wonderful gifts, implicit in our souls, is that we have Free Will, and how we use it depends on us. We lose it if we get too carried away by societal pressures; if we exercise it only then do we become individuals of some substance. All creativity germinates out of Free Will.

    I don’t think Free Will is illusary; some situations may make us skeptical, which is very natural, like the movement of traffic so well elucidated by you. Free Will was demonstrated so well by the first man who chose to eat that forbidden apple and face the consequences!

    Thank you, dear friend, for a very thought-provoking post and such lovely musical suggestions.

    With regards, Balroop.

    • Hi Balroop!

      I anticipated that, with this offering of mine, there would likely be a range of views expressed as to whether Free Will exists, in that it does appear to do so in our common sense intuitions, yet no one seems able to definitively prove the matter in objective evidence. I hopefully put forward my own stance fairly unambiguously in drawing forth these varied opinions, and it is of course far from being my place to say which are closer to the truth. So much hinges upon our definition of the term, and specifically whether we mean Free Conscious Will, as against abstracting the notion of conscious involvement in will and volition.

      Some views also depend on our cultural or religious biasing, above and beyond any common sense intuitions, or perhaps disregarding the findings of neurophysiology and a vast lineage of diverse philosophical conjecture stretching back over 3,000 years. If we think of ourselves as closed and autonomous biological systems (not that such a thing ever existed), then we can happily infer that we enjoy Free Will. Or, if we are happy to discount the external conditioning influences we all experience in life, then again, we can say Free Will exists.

      So, as I suggest, I think it fair to say that much hinges on how we define our notions of Free Will. One is almost tempted to say we are free to choose in our beliefs, but that would rather be a case of QED, for if we are, then which belief is true – that Free Will exists, or that it does not? Another conundrum!

      With much appreciation for your interest and lively engagement here, dear Balroop.


    • Too kind, inspired one – a buck fifty’s worth, eh? You’re rich man, rich beyond my wildest dreams! *wanders off with pockets turned out and chin slumped morosely upon sternum* Good to see you my lightening-bearing friend. 🙂

  11. This is superb. I agree with most of it. Let John not confuse you, just stay with Mak. I will have to check out this particular piece of Handel when I get a chance.

    • Thankyou most heartily, Mak, and all views are most welcome, so freely express your own most learned ones (of that I am in no doubt), if you so wish, and should time permit.

    • Thankyou very much, Sylvia; I enjoy the odd pun, I must say, and you’re the first to remark upon it. I thought I might get a few readers telling me I’d misspelled ‘Handle’. I don’t know whether you’ve been reading the comments, but I did mention to another reader that if I were to exit this world with some music of my choice, then Alcina would quite likely be it – or maybe something from The St. Matthew Passion. Thanks once again for your interest and kind words. All best wishes to you, Sylvia – Hariod.

  12. First take: I’d love to see naked ballet. The ballet-dancing body is a miracle of movement, grace and precision.

    Second: Riding my bike today, I saw a fallen egg with the wee body of a developing bird, baking in the sun.

    I’ve had death all around me, these days. What else to do but write ‘about’ it.

    But this, this bird, flashed into awareness that the flow that is creation, life, God/dess, whatever, will simply flow through another ready vessel. This force simply cannot help itself. New body, new bird. Dead body, no problem. Bird or human, and on it goes. And on.

    Only we make death a ‘problem’. I cannot say only humans grieve, because after losing our beloved hounddog a couple of months ago, our Lab immediately and significantly and rapidly began a downward spiral. He’s old enough to have died a hundred deaths by now, but this one did him in.


    I used to wonder if I with the open, soft heart was really hard-hearted. Half my family perished within a very few years, and I barely shed a tear. Perhaps part of me really does know it’s all temporary anyway, right down to my cells. Will I ‘see my loved ones in heaven?’ I really don’t give it much energy. For if we are, then we shall always be.

    I do miss my good friend Lea though. Yet a couple weeks after her untimely death, I’m back in the flow.

    What does this have to do with Free Will?


    Love to you. Great post, as always. ❤

    • Insightful reading, Bela. I suppose I could have called this one Who Cares More About Death – Brain or Hariod? You seem to be seeing mortality permeating life currently, and yet that’s entirely accurate, because it is, of course. At the time described above on the M4, Hariod was pretty insouciant, not even bothering to curse the truck driver, nor being concerned for itself – after all, it’s just a spell that casts itself upon the stage now and then. Brain was far more concerned about it all, grabbing the wheel and pedals, and guiding itself and Toyota to safety. It didn’t give a damn about Hariod, who by then had largely sunk into the distant ocean along with Alcina’s enchanted isle.

      I felt grief very deeply almost five years ago when my grandson died. It lasted close to 18 months, and was physical, visceral. I also felt perfectly contented that the grief was there. That may sound both shocking and paradoxical to many, but perhaps not to you? Okay, we can substitute ‘totally accepting’ for ‘perfectly contented’, and then it makes more sense. But in fact, the two are the same in meaning, and we can’t truly accept if we’re not doing so contentedly. Partial acceptance isn’t any kind of true acceptance, in the way that partial contentedness or partial pregnancy are contradictions too. Which takes us to your point: does the ‘flow’ or ‘force’ of creation (as you term it) care about death, meaning does it truly accept it?

      Of course it does; it cares about death in the sense that it’s dependent upon it as part of its own self-existence. More than that, death is its very nature. [Heraclitus: “every pair of contraries is somewhere co-instantiated; and every object co-instantiates at least one pair of contraries”] I wonder if you would agree, Bela, that we mirror this in our aging, as we (to generalise) become increasingly accepting of our mortality knowing that our offspring, or the legacy we leave through our past, continue to live on? I watched this process very carefully in my dying mother, who went from an extreme and relentless anxiety (she did her best to suppress it) about her body’s knowledge of its imminent demise, to a euphoric acceptance of the fact. She asked me what had happened, why was she feeling so euphoric? It wasn’t any medication (I checked very carefully), it was purely the release of the anxiety into acceptance, into contentedness. It was utterly amazing to witness.

      To echo your closing words: what does this have to do with Free Will? Nothing. Though I sense you may have a different take. Do feel free to argue, dear Bela, Hariod is away under the ocean for now, and Brain is more than willing to hear from, and to learn from, one much wiser than it.

      Much love, and great respect, Hariod.❤

      • Thanks, dear one, for your own insights. I am first so sorry that you lost a grandchild, for this surely is devastating. Death of innocence is difficult to separate from the death of a precious one.

        I do not disagree with any of your points and agree that acceptance and contentedness are, in their essence, the same. And I meant my comment absolutely to refer to Free Will without insisting upon a position, one way or another. We witness. Life, death, fear, sorrow. Life Is. Death Is. Being human, we feel their impact. For me at least, accepting all of it is visceral, I do not separate mind from brain from body. Life experience has taught me that they are One, much as All are One. This Ultimate purview keeps making itself manifest to me of late, thus the story of the baby bird.

        To my deeper understanding, Free Will is nothing but a dogma proposed by the Patriarchy’s religions (truly, with no disrespect to those who find religion comforting, even necessary), to order a chaotic Universe. First, “I am that I Am”. [“Oh, ‘I’ exist!” insists the uninformed mind.] Then this ‘I’ that ‘I Am’ must emulate this discrete God – “Well, of course I can! Who is stopping me? God wants this war, God gives me a hundred virgins in the hereafter, so how could He object to me having what I desire, here and now? I’m going to make some presumptions here, because I can, and assume I have Free Will to carry out most anything I desire. Lookee! God didn’t strike me down!” – which has led to all sorts of twists and turns in human behavior, ‘good’ and ‘evil’, guilt, remorse, and shame. The birth of fear seems inherent in the animal body. The birth of terror seems to arise with the death of illusion (that we have no control, after all?). Is death the price we pay for all this ‘free’ stuff? 😉 [Being totally flippant, here.]

        How different, then, the spell cast by Alcina? For whatever creation myth we subscribe to eventually breaks down the “stones, animals, waves or trees” we have coimagined before we, if lucky, dissolve into that vast ocean of Oneness – call it ‘Love’, sure, feels like that to me. Either way, all belief/illusion is cast asunder with the intercession of the truck or a child’s death or my hand automatically reaching out as I type this to fulfill my body’s demand for hydration. Free will?

        Aloha, and peace on this brilliant day. ❤

        • Mahalo nui loa, Bela, as regards your kind consideration of my grandson Alfie.

          I am of the same view as regards religion, and the emotional solace it provides to many who suffer or are oppressed so terribly, perhaps in ways that we comfortably privileged types can barely conceive of. I am not religious myself, but neither am I anti-theistic. I argue this point with my brother, who is indeed anti-theist, almost to the point of militancy. I once reminded him of the Chilean miners [‘Los 33’] who were trapped underground in 2010 for 69 days, as you may well recall. When interviewed following their rescue, almost all of them said that what sustained them for those 69 days and nights (though they could not tell which was which) was their belief in God. My brother said that God did not rescue them; it was engineering that did, which is true. But it was God, or rather their belief in God, which made those 69 days bearable for the 33 men, not faith in engineering. I once heard a related expression of this idea many years ago: “Non-believers don’t talk to God until the plane’s going down”. At some point in life, it seems, the healthy mind comes to think beyond self-centricity, in one way or another. You and I choose to go down the non-theistic path, so would find silent ways of falling from the sky, or perhaps talk only to those seated next to us.

          So yes, Theological Determinism, and as widely formulated in patriarchal religions in its ‘Hard’ formulation, would not be our chosen form of rejecting Free Will. But the whole thing’s shrouded in veils and wriggles of various kinds, such as Erasmus’ belief that God created human beings with Free Will, and Spinoza’s position that Theological Determinism held, but that God was none other than nature – i.e. Classical Pantheism. How we conceive of Free Will, dictates how we support or reject it. It was perhaps a foolhardy thing to write a blog post about, in some respects, especially as I outlined my own position so simplistically in just one of the already paltry six paragraphs offered. Still, it does no harm to stick one’s neck out on occasion, and discover who chops one’s head off most efficiently. [I am here to learn.] To my surprise, no one has yet brought the axe down; though I dare say Brain would continue chattering to itself as it bounced its way down into the basket!

          “Experience teaches us no less clearly than reason, that (wo)men believe themselves free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined.”

          – Baruch Spinoza.

          • Yes, so interesting you should mention ‘silently falling from the sky’ – for sure that thought has crossed my mind. Much like a wild animal that knows it’s done for (it runs like hell ‘until’), it calmly surrenders, back into the flow. I do think I’d provide grounded comfort to those nearest me. But surrender to the inevitable just feels right and comforting. Panic has never been my thing, I’m far too curious for that.

            I cannot dump on belief, for it kept me alive during a very rough childhood. I talked to God every day until it seemed I was having a conversation with a part of myself, at which time words evaporated into energy and peace settled into my core. This took many years, of course. My whole family is fundamentalist, so it would be cruel to rob them of their illusions, and to what purpose? Whatever works, then it works, for however long it holds up. You and I could spend endless hours in conversation, no doubt, with many stories to banter back and forth.

            I studied Spinoza and other philosophers quite a bit back in college. I love anything that stretches one to think outside the box. Explore until all seems both useful and useless, arriving at one’s own existential realizations.

            I love your bouncing brain, great image – reminds me of the Miyazaki film, Spirited Away, with its bouncing heads. If you’ve not seen it, it’s fabulous work.

            Off to farmers markets, then – enjoy your weekend! Aloha.

  13. You know that sentences have a habit of jumping out at Esme wrestling her to the floor and then calming down for a nice cup of tea? Well, this one did just that:

    “A Toyota cocooned I, sandwiched, fore and aft, port and stern, in the middle lane, sail contentedly along.” – Not perhaps one that most would see to be at the core of this post, and they may well be right, but I like it very much, boxed as you are, nay cocooned, a well-packed Hariod afforded only a modicum of oxygen in a tin can on wheels (no aspidistras being cast so far as the quality goes, honest miss/guv/furry-one), yet sat contentedly within, though in actuality you are both ‘without’ and ‘within’ these constraints, for ‘Hariod’ is driving on auto-pilot – manoeuvring, calculating, considering gears, etc., whilst the lackey – Brain – is dragged in from its tea break as a sudden move from an idiot truck driver means all hands on deck! Or some hands. It depends on the actual spread of workload here, and I think that probably differs incrementally per person, but for the most part there’s ‘Brain’ and ‘Self’ within, juggling all life throws at us. Some people have more than one ‘Self’ in there. It can get crowded.

    Free choice. Sometimes, yes. The rest of the time . . . the Gods are taking the piss. And the sauceress [sorceress] of course.

    This is deliciously composed Hariod, and a joy to read. Esme is no fan of opera, I’ll hold my hands up there, but that is not to say it isn’t entertaining sometimes. I’ve checked out the clips, and there’s sauce for the sauceress in there too. *laughs*

    This, is brilliant:

    “Still, when the curtain falls, the bows being taken, we then return to the dressing room to wipe away the make believe in the mirror of self-reflection. If the mirror is perfectly clean, what we see is no longer the sorceress willing so freely, or the homunculus determining things on our behalf. We instead see ourselves as links in a vast and beginningless ocean of interrelatedness.” – I love it. And I’m very glad that between ‘Brain’ and Hariod’ you came out of the described close shave intact. Very glad indeed. x

    *is very impressed with herself for not saying anything about getting a Handel on a free willy*

    – Esme, esmyself, and esmy upon the Cloud

    • I am glad you enjoyed my post, Esme, and that you weren’t put off by its length and what came out of it all. I think it was bound to stir a few expressions to the contrary, and indeed it has, as our apparent possession of Free Will seems so intuitively correct. As I’ve mentioned to others here, it depends how we define Free Will, and whether we mean conscious and unconstrained volition (which to me is the only logical definition), or whether we take it to mean a choosing within a whole plethora (not a strange little half plethora) of limiting factors including, not least of all, our life-long conditioned predispositions. How can we ever escape our innateness, what we’ve become? We can’t. It’s like a rod that runs right through our life, and as my experience on the M4 showed, it can turn out to be a hairy one at times.

      Anyway, let’s put my post away for now, and talk about opera, and maybe a bit of sauce. I always dismissed opera as being a confusion of the arts, sort of thing, it never quite being pure music, or theatre, or story-telling, and seeming to be overly dressed up in an attempt to conceal it being neither this nor that. I thought this until I went to the ENO one night in London during the eighties, and there was a modern opera on which changed my opinion of it all. The leading lady spent much of her time singing to a vacuum cleaner, which some say might suck, but it was a metaphor for her wanting something, something she could touch and feel – not a God – to take away her troubles. I’d better not go into detail about the appliance’s hose, and how it was used, save to say that it was quite saucy. But then this was the ENO and they were making a name for themselves at the time, and in the quickest way possible – controversy.

      Alcina is indeed a very saucy sauceress, Esme, and she dates back to The Frenzy of Orlando – an epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto dated 1516. In fact Ariosto’s work itself was a continuation of an even earlier piece published in 1495 by the renaissance poet Matteo Maria Boiardo. So, sauce is old, as we know, older even than Lee and Perrins, and much older than the ENO or the current and currently controversial Aix-en-Provence production. The montage shown in my piece above is itself very much edited for modesty, and whilst the hidden sauce doesn’t suggest anything more than suggestibility, so not quality per se, the production would I think be quite a spectacle to experience live. I prefer other voices to Petibon’s, such as Augér, Sutherland (La Stupenda) and The Professor’s pick of Ms. Battle, but still think it would be a great night’s entertainment. I wonder if witnessing it might sway you in the way that that night at the ENO did me?

      In closing, then I too was impressed with myself for not once mentioning Free Willy, so I’m in good company with you, dear sauceress. Now, I’ve turned my spell-checker off, so grab the wand and work your magic, you saucy thing you.

      Hariod ❤

      • Hahahahahaha. I’m open to seeing anything in the flesh Hariod, so far as the arts go that is. *laughs some more*

        “It’s like a rod that runs right through our life, and as my experience on the M4 showed, it can turn out to be a hairy one at times.” – I’ll be laughing at this for hours. Thank you, for both your considered response here, and the plethora of chuckles erupting forth from upon the Cloud. ❤

        – Esme absolutely convinced she's a bad influence on everyone in the universe, upon the Cloud

        • –- Esme absolutely convinced she’s a bad influence on everyone in the universe, upon the Cloud

          [*places thumb and forefinger together making the hand/finger motion of a checkmark after Esme’s final closing remark!*] Mmmmmmm, indeed. 😀

            • Mmmm, I cannot argue with you, Hariod. As I have many times tried to tame my Bohemian beast and failed — making such beast only stronger and wiser — in my feeble efforts to conform or be conformed by such judgements, I find with each throw of the dice, or raising of the veils, beauty can ironically arise in colorful decadence of both!

              Yes, I would consider myself “over all that” too. 😈 ❤

              • Good, or do I mean bad? Either way, then what we’re agreed upon is that Esme’s ‘bad influence’ is a good thing, and which I think was the point you were making in your approving disapproving, professor. I am reminded of a particular magisterial and quite unforgettable musical work of that collective of maestros, to wit: Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich:

        • Well, then you must allow me to accompany you to a night at the opera should Alcina come to town, Esme; it would be my privilege to attend with you, and, it goes without saying, to treat you to this new experience.

          • I’d like that very much. Maybe the Cloud will set me free for a day, one day, and Esme shall join Hariod at the opera! Stranger things have happened. *nods*

            – Esme waving her antique opera glasses upon the Cloud and smiling

            • I’d actually love to see that Aix-en-Provence production, even though it is questionably provocative, a bit Eyes Wide Shut, perhaps – “A dead-serious film about sexual yearnings, one that flirts with ridicule yet sustains its fundamental eeriness and gravity throughout.” [NYT review] The Aix-en-Provence Alcina has had very good reviews too on the whole, and the set looks quite sumptuous and dramatic. I think it would indeed be a night of high drama, Esme, and doubly pleasurable for the esteemed company of the original smiling sauceress with her antique opera glasses!

  14. Wow, Hariod, I had two rather distinct reactions, whether a result of Free Will, or something entirely different. First, this is an excellent, thoughtful write, and secondly, another reaction: I was pleased my sandals had velcro, not laces. ☺

    • Thankyou so very much, Robert, for your interest and kindly supportive words – I appreciate both greatly. Yes, laces are something of an anachronism, it seems, and why we persist with them is something of a mystery to me. I recall as a 3 or 4 year-old being quite befuddled at how first to tie a lace in the correct manner. And now that I’m old and arthritic I think it perhaps finally time to make the switch to Velcro! How are you, my friend, and what is your whereabouts, may I ask? I have heard of nothing on your blog for many weeks; has that taken the back seat whilst you travel?

      • Hi Hariod. I have been in a state of suspended creative/constructive thought, which might be good, actually. In New Orleans for the summer, already wondering where next. Belize? Panama? Also, I have to travel some distance for Internet, so have limited availability. ☺

        • Well, I hope you are able to post occasionally from wherever you are, Robert. There’s a chap called Jim who subscribes here, and who has a lovely blog about his life in Panama, and the environmental aspects of the country in particular. It looks to be a fabulous place, and Jim says the people are so easy to be with. Stay in touch, my friend. 🙂

  15. As always, dear Hariod, your posts bring into view something we think we know about ourselves, yet with a new perspective. Our instincts often kick-in well before our brain’s engage, which calls into question how our mind’s operate – and it’s also why I so dislike motorway driving.

    I so loved your addition of the operatic video, which was fully engaging.

    I know from my own experiences of living within this matrix, that our choices are often already made for us; like the fact that my computer recently had to have major surgery – another lesson the Universe sent for me – and so freeing up more ‘will’ to garden. 🙂

    Love and blessings, and it was lovely to see this post in my email box today.

    xxx Sue ❤

    • Thankyou very much, dear Sue, for your continued interest in, and reflections upon, my offerings here – your presence is always a delight and most warmly welcomed. I must say, it is odd how computers in particular almost seem to behave as if nudging us somehow or other. A couple of times over the past month or so, when I’ve been under the weather with laryngitis, I’ve gone to post comments that somehow didn’t feel quite right – they weren’t sitting comfortably in some subtle but palpable way. On both occasions, the comments disappeared before I hit the ‘post comment’ button. I wasn’t so unhappy that I would’ve rewritten them, and there was just the thought at the back of my head that I didn’t quite feel happy enough with what I was saying. But then – poof! – gone. Who knows what caused this? Either way, it certainly wasn’t me, but maybe computers have Free Will? 😉

      Love and blessings to you too my dear friend, and thankyou once again for your always lovely presence.

      Hariod ❤

  16. Dear Hariod,

    Another splendid and thought-provoking piece in abbreviated form. I very much liked the line that Esme drew our attention to in her first reply about the clean mirror and our place in a vast and beginningless ocean of interrelatedness – and appreciate that your writing is always considered and succinct, while being simultaneously fulsome, which is never an easy combination to achieve.

    I’ve had experiences quite similar to yours not only on the freeway – how’d it get that name? – but also quite frequently when I played sports. In fact, in a competitive sport there is an immersion that occurs into these states, where movements occur continuously and that lie outside of seeming conscious control. But to Mike’s point above, there is a great deal of practice and training that is consciously undertaken to put oneself in a position to respond appropriately at the speeds and with the coordination required. This I think is a very good example of the chains of pre-conditioning that result in particular responses. What is most amazing about these moments is when they yield a moment of un-premeditated perfection – a high speed movement of one’s own limbs that floods with sweetness as the tumblers fall into place, when in so many previous instances of similar movement they did not. It has a visceral feeling to it. A joy. And it is a joy, I think, that stands apart from the awareness of agency. It is almost as if the agency arrives quickly on the scene to do some reporting, and you hear yourself say, “Wow… that happened…” Then, as the flag is placed into this new frontier: “I… did that…”

    I think this quote from ‘A Course of Love’ will show just how close you and I stand on matters you may think we do not [emphasis my own]:

    “As you observe your body, also observe its actions in terms of the choices it makes. Ask yourself, ‘What choice may have led to this situation or event?’ For choice is always involved before the fact. Nothing happens to the Son of God by accident. This observation will help to put the responsibility of your life back into your hands, where it belongs. You are not helpless, nor are you at the whim of forces beyond your control. The only force beyond your control is your own mind, and this need not be. When you begin to ask yourself, ‘What choice might lead to happiness instead of this?’ you will begin to see a difference in your body’s response to what appear to be external events, and then a change in the external events themselves.

    I bring this up because I think when we hear about the illusion of Free Will, one idea we stand to lose with the loss of the concept itself is the notion that some aspect of our nature has tremendous influence upon the experiences of our lives, and those of others, and that we directly relate to and influence the expression of this nature — not perhaps through the exercising of an illusory agency, but in the expression of the particular qualities and factors of the ocean of interrelatedness that emerge in our awareness. What I might say is that in a certain sense the ocean is will itself, and while no truly separate agents of will exist, and all our interrelated, this does not preclude a wave from being wet, or from crashing into things.

    I am not sure if this paradox of the particular and the universal may be resolved satisfactorily in the arena of words and concepts, but I do think personally that beyond the intellectual tickle of demonstrating that Free Will does not exist because there is no one to exercise it, we ought to be careful to avoid the conceivable corollary that the loss of Free Will as a result of loss of self necessarily means the loss of freedom, or the loss of will. We might wonder who is there to enjoy them, if they exist and we do not, but this of course has always been the question. I would suggest we remain interrelated even after we discover we do not exist, and thus we each have considerable flexibility in the manner and extent to which we influence the whole, and those around us.

    As always, thank you for tolerating my digressions. 🙂

    Peace and Love,


    • Thank you so very much, Michael, for taking the piece in and for deepening the whole perspective. I was hoping for the same here in the below-the-line comments, and you have not disappointed in the least, my friend.

      I certainly take your and Mike’s point about the pre-programming issue – the prior learning of behavioural responses and bodily motor actions. I studied this a bit when I undertook The Feldenkrais Method, which is a means of training in new ways (neural pathways) of bodily movement and posture. Still, given that these rehearsed motor actions are not, once learned, initiated volitionally in consciousness, then it still seems fair to ask where Free Will comes into the matter. Where is the freedom in the body initiating learned-by-rote behaviour? Where is the exercise of conscious volitional autonomy? As you so correctly say, it’s a preconditioning. Even if the preconditioning was consciously willed, the exercising of it in Real Time is not, and which itself seems to me quite far from any expression of freedom. I think we agree on this, notwithstanding your subsequent insistence on the greater concept of Freedom.

      Thank you also for the splendid and most pertinent quote from ACOL, Michael. There seems to be concurrence there with my position that seeming Free Will is a Postdictive Illusion – an explanation after the fact. ACOL puts it the other way ‘round grammatically, in saying “choice is always involved before the fact”. But this is indeed purely grammatical, as in the Postdictive Illusion, the ‘fact’ is the unconscious disposition/‘choice’, whereas for ACOL the ‘fact’ is the proceeding action that follows the ‘choice’. The meaning is the same in either case.

      And yes, sticking with the ACOL quote, I don’t see the whole business as being purely (pre)deterministic – a helpless Fatalism. Through exposure to the good or ill (accepting for now such distinctions), we can determine in mind new dispositions – e.g. ‘I shall cause no harm’. What disposes us to follow the path of good or ill remains a mystery, I think, once we strip away the following of cultural and societal influencing. I don’t suspect any one discipline can throw too much light on that, whether it be genetics, neuro-physics, social sciences, or be it what may. Whatever causes this disposition to good or ill, the disposition itself acts upon us and nature as a whole, for we never can stand outside of nature. In that sense, and amongst several other not terribly helpful labels, I’m an Ontological Naturalist – I don’t see myself or any part of me as standing outside of nature. If it turns out there is a God, then s/he too would be within nature, or maybe we could say s/he is Nature itself, as Spinoza posited? Still, there is individuated consciousness, or conscious mind, and it seems to me to follow a particular trajectory that is itself self-determining, in large part, and insofar as the trajectory is a process of apparent individuation. I don’t think we can call that strict Fatalism given the individual mind’s role in forming new dispositions along the course of that trajectory, and which certainly does occur as we mature.

      If I’m missing some key point that you wanted to highlight, and which I’ve rather skated over, then please do come back and set the matter right, Michael.

      Much gratitude, respect and love, as always,


      • Hello Hariod,

        You’ve given a most enriching reply. I think what most interests me in this particular discussion, as I try to understand the weight of various positions in your thinking, is the notion that on the one hand, we can form new dispositions – in response to experience perhaps, to the reflections of our own mind perhaps, to the feelings of the heart perhaps? – and that on the other, there is no agency or will of the mind in question. I have a hard time writing off entirely the notion that we do not have some role to play in this process of forming new dispositions through our conscious thought, but I readily and wholeheartedly agree we do not do this in a vacuum from all the interrelated factors we’ve discussed before.

        I sometimes think that perhaps the one thing ‘we’ can do – and this is analogous, though perhaps at a stretch, to Libet’s research that you have told me about – is to make a choice to dis-identify with the normally unceasing train of our conscious thought. In other words, it feels like perhaps the one choice we must make, affected as it may be by our experiences and previous predilections, is to accept that what is taken for granted is not what it seems to be. I think there is some importance in this moment, and in the commitment that we bring to it. Commitment is something we’ve not discussed much, but it feels important to the process – however we wish to describe it – of healing modes of perception that do not accord the authentic nature of things.

        To say ‘authentic nature of things’ is loaded, and there isn’t perhaps space here to provide much insight into what I mean by that. But I hope you will understand what I mean when I say particular modes of perceiving tend to result in the suffering of ourselves and others, and to cause disrepair to the world as a whole, even if we cannot always see directly how this is so. And though we approach this issue from varying starting points, I do think we agree that without navigating the shift in how we perceive and interpret events, phenomena, and thought, we will continue to blunder into difficulty, both individually and as a species. So this notion of choosing to align one’s dispositions in a new way, and of bringing honest commitment to bear upon the matter, seems important.

        It is only that I wonder how you see this as occurring in the absence of some sort of individual will, that I have gone on so long! Ha! And as a closing point, I readily accept the dismissal of Free Will as you have defined it, and particularly enjoyed the insight – the ‘aha’ moment – that came from reading that a Free Will would have to be truly free, insulated from and unaffected by any interrelatedness, which of course cannot ever be so.

        Thank you for your time, dear friend.


        • This is great Michael, and important too. It’s just gone three in the morning here, (though I see WordPress don’t do British Summer Time) so shall return to it tomorrow following sleep and coffee, to react and respond, if that’s okay.

        • Thank you, Michael, for taking up this challenge with me, and exploring the matter more deeply than I have within but a fraction of the post, itself. It is a controversial area, admittedly, and what we might call the Phenomenology of Agency can embrace will, intentionality, memory, predisposition, conscious veto, moral and cultural sensibilities, and so much more besides. Arguments can and do stand on either side, with no ultimate conclusions being arrived at, save to say that the neuroscience of Free Will largely dismisses the concept as one might commonly understand it, and yet without falling prey to Fatalism or Hard Determinism. Let me at least take up the points you raise, to see where any weaknesses may lie in my current thinking.

          You object, quite reasonably, to the idea that as individuals new dispositions are formed within us as time passes, yet that no agency is involved in the matter – according to my position. If we take my own perspective on opera as an example, then as I said to Esme elsewhere here, this was radically changed once I went to a performance of the ENO. A new disposition was formed as regards modern opera, and opera as an art form generally. Someone gave me a ticket; I attended, and was suitably impressed. Thus began a minor exploration of the form, and the arrival at a point decades later when I am currently writing about Alcina. We could say this was a process philosophers might call Determinism, as one can see clearly the links in a causal chain, and that the causal chain itself has no genesis, least of all it being ‘me’ (whatever that is).

          Now, you go on to say that you intuit we have some role to play in the forming of these new dispositions. To be clear, and without wishing to put words in your mouth, then you mean by ‘we’, the ‘whatever it is’ I just mentioned. Okay, the individual exists as a morphing physical embodiment, and as a flux of mentation, but it is never possible get back to any enduring single, or even multiple, phenomena which may carry forward the power of agency, is it? What is agency without an enduring agent? Is it correct to regard a state of flux (of physicality and mentation) as an agent? Surely, the agent, if it exists, must have some ongoing temporal instantiation? Yet all we have are fleeting phenomena, and an erroneous intuition that this somehow constitutes an enduring autonomous agent, a freely willing self that somehow folds into, or constitutes, ‘my life’. The only constant in this flux is awareness (the illuminative aspect of consciousness), it seems to me.

          That said, is it right to conceive of the process as wholly deterministic? I think not, because we (or rather consciousness does) do appear to be able to exercise a conscious veto upon apparent choices. Studies show this veto needs to be exercised within 200 milliseconds of what Libet termed the Readiness Potential – the pre-motor action potential of the motor cortex, and which is itself unconscious electrical activity which prepares the mind-body system to perform an action. In some sense, then, a degree of freedom is exercised, though I argue that it can hardly be deemed Free Will when the only conscious aspect is that of the veto – as others have called it, it is more akin to a Free Won’t than any Free Will.

          Getting back to my example with opera, then consciousness vetoed the past disposition to be emotionally put off by the term, such that when I heard opera being performed on the radio, I would no longer give in to the impulse (which momentarily still appeared) to tune into another station. New channels opened up in my life, and which would not have had the past wholly determined the future. I was not born with a fate to despise opera. Still, there was no agent initiating the new disposition. I wonder if what, in your second paragraph, you refer to as a dis-identification is in fact the same as this conscious veto? Still again, we must be careful not to attribute what intuitively feels like agency here, to any enduring agent. Okay, call it a ‘commitment’, and one which carries forward in time, and in memory, but not in, or as the command of, any agent – unless we are able to identify what this agent is.

          Over to you, my friend, if you have the will, that is – feel free!

          • Dear Hariod,

            Thank you once again for offering such a thoughtful and illuminating reply. In part you made precisely the leap I was hinting at, which is that perhaps the conscious veto is a degree of freedom that provides the localized consciousness a role in accepting/forming new dispositions.

            But I must say, on the whole, I feel something is missing from the track down even which this leads, for the technical-minded aspects of my being do not believe that just because the consciousness arising from the brain has a chance to second-guess itself, that it is a degree of freedom and a way out of what appears to be a form of determinism. I am confused to put it plainly, but in a good way I think, as I feel that resting with this will lead to further understanding. So, I will spare you the thousand word reply, as it will go nowhere fast I’m afraid. I must stew in this and let something emerge from it.

            Much love,


            • I well understand the unsatisfactoriness inherent in feeling intellectually tied to what seems like a concept of a deterministically induced fate. This is perhaps where the whole matter links back to the possibility of there being a Natural Law of Karma, or Kismet, or even for a great many, Divine Providence; and moreover, quite what it is, or what constitutes the subject, acted upon by these Natural Laws.

              If such Natural Laws exist, if indeed each individual is following some particular life trajectory which itself is influencing beyond the sphere of genes, of current will, or of circumstance, would it be so bad that our fate be determined in part by such a trajectory? What part of the individual would seek power to control life to the extent that it is free from such influence? Would not such power corrupt, as it always seems to do?

              Self-cogitating here, my friend.


  17. I find this post and the discussion that followed fascinating. I don’t have any wisdom to add really, but in my own subjective experience, I occasionally exercise Free Will – or mabe it’s just an illusion – and other times I don’t. I have been in several situations in traffic where my experience has been very similar to what you described here, and in many other types of situations, where it wasn’t ‘me’ acting. Afterwards, we tend to analyze such occurrences, trying to make some sense out of them. But I think I prefer some mystery; it is not necessary to understand everything; as if we ever could. 🙂

    • Thankyou for your interest and contribution, Helen; I’m pleased you found something of interest here, above and below the line, so to speak. When I write in this piece about Free Will, I mean acting volitionally with conscious and unconstrained aforethought. Other people put different meanings to the term, though for myself, the word ‘free’ only has one meaning. If we consider the mind-body – what we are in totality – to be a closed system, not one conditioned by or dependent upon current and past externalities, then logically we can say we have Free Will.

      But of course, we all are subject to past psychological conditioning, and to current environmental, cultural and social influences. Then, at the level of brain function and associated motor action, we now know that what we think of as conscious choosing, is in fact an explanation after the fact, and that we’d subconsciously felt a disposition to one particular choice from an array of them. None of that is accessible to introspection, to consciousness, and what we see played out in consciousness is purely a Postdictive Illusion – an explanation after the fact.

      Many thanks once again, Helen.

      All best wishes, Hariod.

    • That’s brilliant! And so fitting. He says (at 1:05) that he’s a rock – a human having become a rock. That’s what Alcina makes of her victims once desire is done with. The soundtrack’s instantly recognisable as Jon Brion, isn’t it? I saw this on Wikipedia:

      David O. Russell [the Director, Producer, and Screen Writer] while working with Brion, had come across Brion’s first solo album, ‘Meaningless’. Russell has mentioned that Brion’s album asks similar questions to the ones Russell was trying to ask with ‘I Heart Huckabees’. In particular, Russell notes that the questions on ‘Meaningless’ are closer to the questions directed from Caterine Vauban’s negative and dark point of view.

      Great link Jessie – I must see the film!

      • It really is a fantastic film. A modern day meditation chamber, the bag with zip, in which you enter and defragment your mind. Existential detectives. What more could one want, to understand the universe?

        Do you think Caterine Vauban’s point of view was dark and negative?

        Ill have to check out that album, cheers for the info!

        • I’ll run with your powerful recommendation, Jessie, assisted with a following wind of Jon Brion’s soundtrack. I just quoted the New York Times review there as regards Caterine Vauban’s ‘negative and dark point of view’; although not having seen the film, I couldn’t comment, but maybe it’s ambiguous, as you seem to disagree with the reviewer? It sounds like the kind of film that could have a fair bit of ambiguity, which is no bad thing at all. I don’t want it all laid out on a plate too obviously. I watched Magnolia three or four times to get a handle on what was going on. And David Lynch’s films seem just like non-narrative meditations, and actually don’t work at all if you try to find a linear narrative, or sometimes any kind of narrative at all – e.g. Inland Empire. Anyway, Amazon, here I come, for I Heart Huckabees.

          • I have indeed, pushed this recommendation, hey? I don’t know, it just is really good and the soundtrack of Brion’s really, really fits. The film is ambiguous, as is all life? In terms of view point, I sit, as with most things, somewhere in the middle, agreeing with parts of that, and parts of this. The pointlessness resonates, yet so does the profound beauty of this whole thing.

            Non-narrative meditations. Nice, I shall use that terminology.

            Don’t get lost in the jungle – here is some mosquito repellent.

  18. “We instead see ourselves as links in a vast and beginningless ocean of interrelatedness.” I love this post Hariod; and though I know next to nothing about opera, the video reminds me of Federico Felini’s work! Out there! From another dimension. 🙂

    About the Toyota and the towing truck: Where and how does this happen, and what or who makes it happen? How does this consciousness, or awareness, live within us? I have no idea, only guesses. From my experience, it seems like there is a moment of complete clarity. It’s as if all the pieces within and around me fit perfectly together at this exact moment in time. Maybe like being one with everything around me in a precise moment. When, for a nanosecond, or two, or three, I unconsciously, without thought, let go of the illusion of being in control and surrender to the vast and beginningless ocean of interrelatedness and oneness with every particle around me, it’s like being taken over by, or surrendering to a higher self. I experience this is as beyond the realm of Free Will and choice, which are in the human realm, and more in the realm of the divine.

    • I appreciate your interest and kind words of encouragement greatly, Arati – thank you. The questions you ask are seemingly impossible ones – ‘imponderables’, as the Buddha might have had it. Does awareness “live within us”? We can say consciousness does, it being brain dependent; but the illumination of that consciousness – what I call ‘awareness’ – I would say is non-local; wouldn’t you? At times it apprehends itself as such, in seeing itself as itself, not as an object cognising itself such as a representation in consciousness. This hits at the heart of Nondualism, don’t you think, Arati? When you write of it as “like being one with everything around me in a precise moment”, you seem to be saying the same, because the subject/object dichotomy dissolves and with it the point of centrality formerly regarded as being yourself does too. Am I reading this intuition of yours correctly?

  19. Ah! Hariod! I want you to know that I read this post last week and could not respond immediately. Since then, it has entered my mind on several occasions. First, I am happy that it seems you (or whomever was ‘really’ driving the Toyota) were able to deftly avoid the (******* oops!) driver who had no idea what he was doing! At least it sounds like you were okay and for that I am grateful!

    Next, I want to say ‘bravo’ for the wonderful way you expressed this phenomenon. I loved that you brought up tennis; I have been on the court and played an entire match in this state – I think they call it being “in the zone”. I have also been in the zone and thought about it too much, and guess what, the ‘me’ who wasn’t in the zone took over – bummer!

    I can’t say that I understand how the brain works (and some days it seems it doesn’t!), but I love this article and it gives me more food for thought; though I’ve a feeling I will need to think about it some more. 😉

    Hope you are well. Much love. ♡♡

    • Thankyou very much, dear friend, for coming along and lending an ear as well as your ever-insightful perspective. Actually, the tennis reference was very much a conscious nod to you as I thought of what examples to give. And yes, that expression of being “in the zone” is one we’re quite familiar with over here in England. It’s not used in musical circles, I don’t think, but it very much applies there too. For ensemble playing to work, there has to be that sense of somehow being absent and yet fully present with the playing – I imagine this is what it feels like for you when you’re on top of your game on court. I hadn’t thought of the analogy when I wrote this piece, but you’re perfectly correct to bring it up. It was the sense I was trying my best to give when saying: “Brain takes over: get out of the way Hariod; I need to be driving this thing, not you.” And yes once again, I know very well that sense of realising in an instant that one is suddenly out of the zone, looking back into what was going on in there so effortlessly and feeling woefully incapable of emulating it. The curse of thinking!

      Much love to you, dear Lorrie. ❤

      • Yes! Oh, you have done such an amazing job explaining this feeling, Hariod – “there has to be that sense of somehow being absent and yet fully present” – and then to add that the minute we actively try to insinuate our thinking mind we lose that spark, that seemingly elusive part of us that very much feels like a part of us and does not, all at the same time. Is it ‘us’, I wonder?

        Have a brilliant week, Hariod. ♡

  20. You and Arleen give lie to the stereotype of opera singers with large bellies. My operatic nudnik-ness is showing, I know.

    As always, I love your words. A favorite: ‘proprioception’, and also, ‘juggernaut’, which I just learned is not only an immovable force and a Hindu deity, but where you live, a truck. Sorry – a lorry.

    To counteract the brain-science (for dummies) books I’ve been devouring, this week I am reading a Seth Speaks book, which I anticipated disliking, but am enjoying. Your vast and beginningless ocean of interrelatedness fits right in.

    Thank the universe for connecting to your rapid reflexes, saving you and the Toyota, and allowing the play to continue on this plane. Cheers.

    • Thankyou for appreciating the words, Julie; I like to slip one or two unusual ones in just to annoy the skimmers – how dare they! You’ve had me looking at the etymology of ‘juggernaut’, which appears to derive from the Sanskrit ‘jagat’, meaning “the world, men and beasts”, or quite literally “the moving, all that moves”. As to lorries and trucks, then it seems the Americanised version is slowly winning out over here, ‘though we’re yet to adopt the term ‘semi’ over our oft cumbersomely articulated ‘articulated’.

      I think I too would ‘anticipate disliking’ the Seth books, Julie, and your approval comes as something of a surprise. That said, you’re reading it and I’m unfairly prejudging it. I tend to be rather dismissive of these retakes on older and often classical ideas – like Neo-Advaita and ACIM. They feel too much like a watering down and a pandering to the quick-fix, consumerist mentality, looking in from the outside as I am; but that may well be grossly unfair. Still, why not go to the uncorrupted classical texts, rather than purported channelings? [Rhetorical]

      Yes, on the rapid reflexes. I just have no idea where they came from. Some, here in the comments, such as Mike at Self Aware Patterns, tell me that my brain has rehearsed what to do in such situations, and that’s what got me off the hook. I can’t help but think that much of it was real-time processing though, and I know for sure that I’ve never encountered a similar situation to the one I describe and such as could’ve acted as any conditioning. Still, it was a brain thing, I’m pretty sure. Unless Alcina the sorceress was channelling her motor skills to me?

      Many thanks for your interest and kind reflection Julie – cheers!

      • On classics: Of course. Plato to Nietzsche to Vyasa. There are no short cuts.

        On Seth: I’m skeptical of channeling. It’s a nice device for Jane Robert’s actual or sub-conscious self to get her ideas into the world. There are more honest marketing techniques, but this was pretty effective.

        On the subject matter: I struggle for words when it comes to framing my perceptions, and Jane Roberts provides useful language. Yes, this is perceived as a quick-fix, New Age, superficial book, but I don’t need quick fixes, and am just interested.

        On reflexes: Will check out Mike’s blog. Sounds like my kind of guy. What you call “real time” in brain terms can be a lot quicker than conscious thought. We have pretty cool brains and bodies.

        Best wishes, and here’s to motor skills in both senses.

        • Yes, Mike has a great blog, and he puts up with my contrarianism most admirably. Much of it is about a computational theory of mind, and the possibilities for AI and machine consciousness – the latter being where my contrarianism fires off; I just can’t buy into it given how feeling is intrinsic to consciousness. But anyway, he’s a lovely chap, open and very accommodating of others’ ideas, even those as wild as mine sometimes are. And yes again, I get the problem of talking about “real time”, given the temporal displacement that occurs in producing the endogram of consciousness, and psychological time as against clock time. In the context I used the expression, perhaps “live improvised” might be a more applicable term?


          • Thanks Hariod! Very much appreciate the link and kind words. And I actually love contrarian ideas, particularly when they’re presented in the thoughtful way you always do. The really interesting discussions aren’t the ones where we all agree, but where we explain to each other why we hold the views that we do.

            • That’s lovely of you, Mike, and I’m always happy to recommend your most excellent blog, from which I’ve benefited greatly. I’ve no idea how you became aware of my referring Julie to you, and can only presume she made reference to it on your site. All best wishes, Hariod.

      • P.S. Gave up on Seth. The first seventy pages were fun, lots of talk about how our essence is much greater than the here-and-now we can perceive, hints about the importance of meditative activities. After that, it became harder to weed through/translate the channeling part.

        On to Lisa Randall.

        • Oh, fantastic, and so you’re looking at other, imperceptible dimensions still, but now with some equations to back them up. I read some of Randall’s stuff [Warped Passages] about twelve years ago, and gather she’s grown further in stature since, as a theoretical physicist. I can’t do equations myself – Penrose’s Emperor’s New Mind lost me in great swathes of mathematics – but agree she’s a great choice of read.

  21. Just a quick visit from my tab to say good morning, dear Hariod. Away from Athens right now, and we are in our country house by the seaside beating an unbearable heat wave. I am sitting on the beach outside right now and send you some sea breeze. I will soon revisit and read properly your post. All the best, Doda. ★♡♥

    • How very lovely of you, dear Doda, and many thanks for the most welcome sea breeze. It is quite humid here currently, though the clouds are opening occasionally to relieve the oppressive feel of it in heavy downpours. In the fields just beyond the hill beside my home, there is a large performing arts festival in preparation of being staged, and the land as a whole is becoming something of a quagmire. It really is the construction of a temporary town, as in total some 200,000 people are in attendance including staff and performers. At night, a lovely glow appears from behind the hill, and when the music begins I can hear it as I lay in bed of a late evening. It is an odd sensation really, as normally this is a completely dark and quiet neck of the woods. I send you and yours my very best wishes. Hariod ❤

      • My intention to come by and read your post was permanently revolving in my mind, and now it has become a real saga. You experienced a short heat wave too, as far as I know, but all is back to normal again. The festival near your place reminds me of the Art Festival in Edinburgh. I’ll read, later on, your post, and then move to your next one which I saw in my email inbox a couple of minutes ago. CU 🙂

          • I have to thank you for your kindness, which makes me feel a bit more comfortable, dear Hariod. I have just finished reading your interesting post which is based on Free Will and Determinism. Did I come here to read it because I chose to? And, why am I so late? Did I have alternative possibilities? – Just rhetorical questions so as to start commenting on such a motivational post.

            Your have competently connected your driving experience and the opera piece you were listening to when all of a sudden you had to make urgent choices and test your Free Will. Besides, we were not designed to drive, and the issues we encounter behind the wheel are often times unpredictable. Too-fast drivers, too-slow ones, and some of them with very bad reflexes for different reasons. It’s a matter of a split second to decide what to do, and thinking is impossible then, even though we have to take action. I should say we react instinctively, and all our past experiences, our personality and the properties of our character come to the surface. Logic is almost absent. The Swiss Cheese Model of accident causation could be scheduled to help humans’ driving behaviour.

            We were all born free, and Free Will could be innate but as you support in your article, it is an illusion, or a temporal illusion. Neuroscientists call it ‘Flash Lag Illusion’ or ‘Postdictive’, as you mentioned. If so, it has to do with the structure of our complex brain which affects mental life. As far as I know, Free Will has many versions; it’s quite ‘branchy’ and is still argumentative and under scientific research.

            Whatever our beliefs and our perspective, we have to agree on the fact that the way we think has a profound impact on our behaviour, our deeds, and our lives. At least, “we think that we think”, we consider our understanding correlative to our perception. Do you think that some delusions help our contentedness?

            Best wishes to you, dear Hariod.


            • What a fantastically well-informed contribution to the discussion you have made here, dear Doda, and for which I must give my heartfelt thanks, on behalf of all readers along with for myself. You sent me off to Wikipedia to look up The Swiss Cheese Model of Accident Causation, about which I was entirely unaware. I do recall reading an article several years ago on computer failures in aircraft, and how the presence of (then) up to nine back-up systems produced no further reduction in the possibility of error than did (I think it was) the first four. The theory seemed counter intuitive, yet was supported by equations, apparently. I have no idea if those findings were then themselves discredited, or if The Swiss Cheese Model produces an ever-greater reduction in risk as layered protections are applied, as would appear logical.

              In any case, there does appear to be an analogy to my driving anecdote, in that each time we set out on a journey, we consciously or subconsciously invoke various layers of protection: being sober, remaining alert, monitoring traffic and weather conditions, keeping our car maintained, avoiding distractions, choosing routes, and so forth. Each of these may lessen our exposure to risk as a general principle, and even have their efficacy in those micro-events where we are in danger for perhaps just a second or two. What does not, in such circumstances, act as a layer of protection, is conscious and volitional thought, which has no time to be exercised. And to me, the concept of Free Will only makes sense if we mean it as the capacity to exercise such conscious volition, without which, then it is hard to see quite where the freedom rests, is it not? I can accept that motor action can be initiated in milliseconds, yet as Benjamin Libet first demonstrated back in the 1970’s, the consciously apparent timing of neural events does not match their actual timing, which occurs prior to their apprehending in consciousness, and hence prior to any initiating conscious volition.

              We can perhaps claim, rather loosely, that individual beings act autonomously in their decision-making, yet even this ought surely be considered highly contentious given how our (pre)dispositions are interwoven within the past and externalities. The individual, it seems to me, can never be entirely free to exercise what they may think of as self-willing, or perfect autonomy, given how the individual is never separate from their conditioning, from their past, and from externalities in respect to them. I would incline to agree with you that to some extent we are born free, but might suggest this is due to the non-accumulation of experience, the absence of significant amounts of time having passed, and the very low cognitive impact of conditioning effects. Once these set in, then so it is that we are distanced from that innate freedom with which we are born, such as it is. As we slowly begin to inhabit a conceptual world with the acquisition of language, so further still we become distanced from that unconditioned and pure state, and we begin to feel and sense that subtle distancing from the world that all sensitive types such as yourself surely do. We can connect back to it, through love, through relationship, through nature and art, and perhaps through philosophy; yet we know these are but glimpses of the possible, of what was and what could be, do we not?

              Thankyou for indulging me so generously here, dear Doda; and do forgive my navel-gazing musings if you are able to.

              Much love, Hariod.

              • Oh, dear Hariod, my comment prompted you to write a post within a post. I do appreciate it, and I find your further analytical statements most truthful and engaging. The fact that we were born free and innocent is the basis upon which we build all our future experiences – through the influences that affect our thoughts and our behaviour. I suppose we instinctively try to be connected to that innocence. In many religions it is believed that we accomplish our upermost desire to perfection only when our soul resembles a child’s soul. The real essence is our true nature in the Cosmos. Here, we enter into different fields, ones that bring out more topics for discussion, but deep down they are all interconnected and related. Your very last paragraph could be as if my words, my beliefs. As for your omphaloskepsis (navel-gazing), I consider it unavoidable for all of us who are here.

                Much love & best wishes to you Hariod.


    • Many thanks for your interest and kind words, Jeri. I hadn’t heard of this play, but note that The Guardian describe it as ‘a metaphysical love story’. Where does Free Will come into it; is it the fact that the audience gets to choose their own ending?

  22. The proof that we, each of us, exists as thinking beings is evident in this here comment thread, not to mention the awesome cleverness of the self-referential post that spawned it. For the alternative is that all these words simply self-assembled, and we are deluding ourselves in believing that we read, or wrote, any of it. 😛

    • Thankyou for your interest and subsequent reflection, Pendantry. I sat down last night to write another post, with no prior idea of what it was to be about. All I was conscious of was a feeling that I should like to write something. An anecdote from my distant past appeared for reasons well beyond my ken. From that, a subsequent chain of thought arose concerning the notion of ambition, and the play of perniciously competitive forces within our lives. I completed about 800 words, and it did indeed feel self-assembled, as point of fact. Certainly, volition played a role as I went along, acting upon feelings as to which words sounded right, where semi-colons could better be utilised, the coherence maintained from paragraph to paragraph so as to result in a (hopefully) united whole, and that sort of thing. There was a sense that it was a feeling-led process, something to do with aesthetics, some conscious allowance for what might be deemed suitable for this site, but never anything at all certain about the whole originating and manifesting out of some fixed, self-like entity. When you read this offering today, were you able to identify anything of that ilk in the process, or would it be best described as a chain of interrelated causal events lasting four minutes, something to do with my own past thoughts, technology, photons, your state of mind, Sundays, obligations (or their absence), and so on? If we strip out the wishful thinking and assumptions as to our personhood, then is what remains any more than a loose aggregation of related phenomena, even including your own bodily cells? The only firm basis for fixity and enduring coherence within or about us would be awareness, or the illuminative aspect of consciousness, it seems to me. Any thoughts?

      • Hariod, if you don’t stop talking you’ll succeed in convincing me I don’t exist. No, wait: continue; I like to think I’m open to new experiences, and not existing is just one of many places I’ve never been.

        P.S. I have my own copy of “I Heart Huckabees” on its way to me now: another experience I’m looking forward to. Thanks to you! 🙂

        • We all exist, quite obviously, and as I stated in the article. The problem is, what precisely do we exist as, in terms of anything enduringly instantiated, or what we unthinkingly regard as ‘the self of me’? There’s a quite tremendous sense of freedom in seeing that there’s no answer to that question, and what happens at that time is that awareness seems somehow released from a false dichotomy of subject and object. In so doing, it’s as if awareness knows itself, as itself, rather than as an image or representation of the mind – the constantly assumed subject apprehending mental objects. There remains a subject in the bodily, social, and individuated sense, quite obviously, but awareness is no longer fixated on the self-centric, seemingly conscious-producing subject grasping all that is ‘out there’, and which is seemingly apprehended only locally, or ‘in here’.

          Again obviously, there is still spatial referencing of the physical world by the mind, but awareness no longer feels as if localised ‘in here’, channelling images towards it from ‘out there’. You’re correct, it is a ‘new experience’ to most, but not necessarily a disconcerting one, at all. It’s sometimes glimpsed, often in nature for some reason, but we inevitably try to recreate it by grasping back at it, and we can’t. That’s because it isn’t an image in the mind that can be stored as a memory; it’s simply awareness operating freely over and above conscious representations, yet also within them. To me, this is the closest we ever are to realising the actual nature of ourselves. Anyway, enjoy the film! I still haven’t seen it myself, so do please let me know what you think of it, will you?

  23. Really, a wonderful post, Hariod. I loved the way you weaved in your thoughts on Free Will with your experience on the freeway. Masterfully done.

    I have written about the topic a few times myself, and so instead of restating what I’ve said before I’ll just provide links and give you even more reading to do. I won’t be offended if you don’t, but just in case you are interested. I approached it more from the point of view of environmental determinism. I am not even sure if I actually disproved the existence of Free Will, but I wanted to more challenge the notion that we are not bound in the decisions we make by conditioning. So even if you had the will to make a conscious choice, the way you would make a choice is still probabilistic based on our nature and nurture. At your leisure my friend:


    • Thankyou so much for your generous words of encouragement, Swarn, and also for your interest. It means a great deal to me that kind folk such as your good self give of their precious time to consider the occasional offering of mine, more still that they would add an insightful and helpful reflection of their own, just as you have. I shall come back to your own thoughts on Free Will when I have time, rest assured.

      I should just say that this post, as with all of mine, is not intended as any full threshing-out of the matter, rather just a way of weaving a simple, philosophically based notion into a personal anecdote. Free Will is a huge and intractable subject, in some ways, and we must begin our thoughts by clarifying our definitions of the two words before we even begin, as I’m sure you would agree.

      When I use the term here, I mean it in the sense of the consciously considered exercise of volition, although some argue that consciousness need have nothing to do with it. It sounds as though our opinions are quite similar, but when you say that you “wanted to more challenge the notion that we are not bound in the decisions we make by conditioning”, then I would be interested to see how you think we circumvent our conditioning – I am not objecting to this, merely wondering, and shall discover the answer within your articles. Thankyou!

  24. Hi Hariod,

    Lovely, and ’tis true, isn’t it? Taken from this beautifully written composition, Alcina the opera is now something that I want to see and hear, perchance as an audience member. I’m not ambitious enough to act; but I’m not dead yet.

    Your words here: “Hundreds of minds doing precisely what were required to remain safely within reach of their goals.” I’ve had this thought myself, and also agree with you in terms of the moment having already been decided before awareness knows it, meaning awareness knowing of the brain’s elected movements. Apparently science confirms this. Not sure which came first, science or truth – depending on how we use the words. That’s what it all comes down to, perhaps, looking into the negative space?

    “If the mirror is perfectly clean, what we see is no longer the sorceress willing so freely, or the homunculus determining things on our behalf. We instead see ourselves as links in a vast and beginningless ocean of interrelatedness. In Handel’s opera, Alcina the sorceress is a wicked seductress, casting spells upon many lovers who, spellbound, arrive upon her mystical isle. After using them, she turns them into stones, animals, waves or trees. Finally, Alcina comes truly to love, and with it her powers dissolve; she sinks into the isle’s ground – way out in the vast ocean – and it is seen that both Alcina and her isle were only ever the illusions of her now reanimated victims.”

    To me this reframe of ‘link-hood’ instead of ‘victimhood’ is the process of coming to true love. What a story it is: True love. 🙂

    Lovely photo choice to contemplate, and artistically sublime, overall. I wonder what you will write next? Puns abound! The beginning with the bee had me laughing a lot.


    • Thankyou very much indeed, Ka, for taking the time to read through this piece, and also for your very gracious engagement. I would dearly love to see the production of Alcina from which the video I posted above was culled. I used not to appreciate opera when I was much younger, thinking it rather a mish-mash of art forms – neither strongly one nor the other – but came to realise that was a rather narrow perspective. It seemed to me, back then, an art form more or less appropriated by the wealthy, and so therefore elitist – which I suppose is not entirely unfair given the price of tickets. Still, I think such complex and dramatic events as lavish opera productions are worth making some effort to see if one possibly can, and even if only the once. The dramatic tension is heightened substantially when so many things can go wrong in these multi-disciplinary extravaganzas. Once again, thankyou so much for your interest and kind words of encouragement. Hariod

  25. There are recent studies — I’ll try to dig up the specifics — conducted with epileptic subjects who have had the connection between the right and left parts of the brain surgically severed. They’ve found that the homunculus does indeed reside in one of those spheres. One side controls the completely mechanical coordination that responds to our need to take physical action, while the other half deals with abstract cognition, decision-making, choices, creativity, et al. Your description is a very clear and accurate account of that motor-instinct driven part of us that determines survival. Thanks for sharing it!

    • Thank you for your interest, Pablo; it is much appreciated. Are you referring to Roger Sperry’s famous split-brain experiments in which the corpus callosum was severed? I think we have different interpretations of ‘homunculus’, my friend. I am not referring to any part of the brain that controls volition, motor action, will, and so forth. Rather, I am pointing to the imagined self-construct which each of us carries as an unquestioned given — the sense that there is some internal agent (like a homunculus) somehow thinking the thoughts, experiencing the experience, the doer of deeds, the autonomous cause of our will, and so forth. Of course, there are indeed correlations with brain function, but there is no enduring soul- or self-like internal agent acting as a sort of puppet master to our minds and bodies. I think you understand this point well, and apologise for labouring it. Many thanks once again, Pablo, and all best wishes.

  26. Absolutely intriguing, engaging, entertaining, and reverberating brilliance! Thanks for sharing your gift for observation — I am in awe and full appreciation of your offering and (this will be no surprise) I am a huge fan of your metaphors. 🙂

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