Chapter 3 part 4, The Past, Do we have free will?

The word freedom gets thrown around a bit. The whole idea that we have the right to choose in life appears to be one of the most important things to us. BUT!!! Do we actual have free will?

This question takes us down many different paths. Are we just a brain or are we the controller of the brain? In many ways this question can be thrown into the science V’s spirit conundrum, which of cause is this philosopher’s wet dream. So let’s get talkin…

If I was to say that we are the brain then I would explain it like this:

Before we are even born we have genes which dictate much more than just how we look. They also affect traits that we have throughout life. Yet it is not just the genes that affect us, it’s everything. The subconscious brain is running from the moment we open our eyes, and from there it is like a sponge when it comes to information. Every mistake, every thought, every experience and every trauma has some affect within the brain.

These experiences from our environment give us all the knowledge we require to make a decision within the present moment. It doesn’t matter if you are using your conscious mind or your subconscious mind. Regardless, your knowledge comes from the neurotransmitters within your brain that have stored a life’s worth of information. And this is so you can decide what you want for dinner tonight. It is these memories (mixed in with your genetic makeup and possible chemical changes within your body) that decide your life for you. What you think as being free will is nothing more than a sum of your experiences.

Based on the above premise, it is then fair to state that every choice you make in the present moment, is a choice not based on the present moment, but rather, a choice predetermined by a brain full of experiences from your past.

If this all sounds a little bland for you, maybe you will like the opposing point of view. Let’s look at having free will.

If we were to have free will we would have to be more than just the sum of our experiences and brain. There would have to be a higher consciousness aware of itself. This is where the ‘soul, self-awareness and being present’ part of our society comes from. In many ways it’s spiritual.

To believe that we are more than the sum of our own thoughts would mean that it doesn’t matter what we have been through in our life. Essentially through dedication, focus and/or practice we can rise above our primitive instincts and our conscious/subconscious self to be self-aware.

A great example of this would be to say that ‘thought’ does not exist. Sure, we have neurotransmitters and electricity within our brain yet a thought is not a physical thing. It can’t be held, physically seen, nor could you ever know what is going through someone else’s head. Therefore you exist because of something that doesn’t exist. And there lay’s the magic of it all.

We will be going over much of this within the chapters about ‘the present’, ‘the ego’, and ‘the observer’. Yet hopefully I have done enough to spark some interest in the meantime.

So, what do I think? I myself have been through what many call an ‘awakening’. Once I went through this experience I did feel disconnected from my ego and like an outside observer into my thoughts. I currently zip in and out of them like a fly. In many ways it felt spiritual… This experience was a life changer for me and I have never been the same since. I am trying to find my spiritual side, though, a part of me wonders if my ‘experience’ either brought me to a higher awareness of myself, or just to a simpler way of operating within my brain.

It is this conundrum that gives me a zest in life to keep searching for more answers. In many ways it brings us back to our chapter on perception. We will never truly know within our lifetime whether or not we have free will, but it is our right to choose our own beliefs based on what we feel is right for us. The power is in our hands to believe in a higher level of existence if we wish.


Chapter 3, Part 3, The Past, Nature vs Nurture

When we talk about the past we have various associations with it. For some of us it is so painful we would rather forget it. For others, there are many moments of happiness and sadness which we know has developed our behaviors and influences. Though how much has the past changed us? What does genetics play in the big scheme of things? Are we in control of our own choices? And are we simply controlled by our experiences? Well, these are all very important questions.

To begin answering the above we should start off with genetics. This is an important question for the following reason. If a person has a predisposition (due to genetics) regarding addictive behavior, does this mean that the person was destined to be addicted to a substance or behavior? Or is it their experiences which dictate who they are? And furthermore, does this mean that a murderer could blame their genes for the things they have done?

Briefly, it is worth noting some basic facts. Firstly, genes are passed down to us from our parents. Secondly, there are roughly 20,000 to 25,000 genomes (genes) in the body. Science did believe that there were much more than this though recent developments in modern technology have adjusted the results.

An interesting fact: Genes are hard to track because a personality trait is not specific to just 1 gene. Genes are polygenic, which means that a behavior or trait may be conducted by many different genes. This is why it is hard for scientists to manipulate or track specific traits.

Now that the basics are done let’s get into the cool stuff. The question regarding personality in genes vs environment is often referenced to as ‘nature v’s nurture. And of cause, because it is so hard to define how each influences an individual, the topic is often up for debate. So how much do genes define our character and how much of our behavior comes from our environment?

It has been found that violence can be linked to genes as can our music preference and laziness. Our attractions can also be based on the MHC (Major Histocompatibility Complex) gene. Yet it doesn’t stop there. It is even stated that our driving skills are defined by our genes. Well, kinda…

It’s not so much that we have a specific gene for driving, but rather that our genes are based on focus and coordination. It is the same with those that seek extreme sports. The thrill and adrenaline is what is part of the addiction.

So if all this is true then genes must dictate who we become, right? Wrong. Let’s now look at the environment.

When we talk about environment there are unlimited factors, especially with children. The language, the house, the weather, the parents, the breast feeding, the illnesses, the interaction with other adults and children, culture, the dog, the cat, the regular coffee shop, a person’s perfume, plus, every single moment within every single day. That’s right, a child is a sponge of information, and although it is not being stored in the conscious part of the brain till after the age of three, the subconscious is working on overload.

After the age of three we still keep being manipulated by our environment. In fact, it never stops. And it is the experiences that we have throughout our life, which either reinforce our genes or take us down a different path all together.

Basically, our genes are not strong enough to overwrite our environment. If our environment is a positive one, and we (through luck and conditioning) are a calm, positive person who does not believe in harming others, then it doesn’t matter that we have the genes that are known as being a part of violence. On the flip side though, if an individual does become a violent person, and they do have the genes which lead to violence, then the genes would have aided them in this direction. They won’t keep the person there; they are not what brought the person there, though they did help the person along the way to violent tendencies.

To conclude, as part of the Darwinian theory, things that aid or shape our evolution are passed down through the gene pool. That’s right! The same influences that affected Mozart are also within your-self. This being said, our environment shapes which genes we access the most, and what role they play in our lives. So even though we may have the lazy gene, it is our environment that encourages that gene to be more dormant or dominant in our psychology. For this reason we can’t use genes as an excuse for not doing our chores. So do the darn dishes!!!

To finalise, epigenetics is very similar to what I described above. It takes both factors and accepts that neither is dominant but both work together. It even takes things further by stating (after tests were done on some loving rats) that genes change with every generation. I have attached an easy to understand video if you would like to know more about this…

Now that we have discussed how much our genes and environment have affected us, what does that say about choice? Do we make our own choices or is everything predetermined? We will visit this in the next chapter called ‘Do we have free will?’


Chapter 3, part 2, The past and why I am writing about this?

As the header of this chapter clearly states, I am going to delve into why ‘the past’ is so important to our lives. And once we understand the context, it is then that we can truly appreciate the importance of the information. So let’s get started…

Everything you do, all that you are mentally, and how you perceive reality is 99% based on events and experiences that you have had in your past. Although genetics are proven to have certain influences, most of the way you think has come down to your environment, the emotional events that occurred in your life, and finally, dumb luck.

You did not come out of your mothers whom a democrat or liberal voter. Nor were you born with the confidence (or lack of) to walk up to a potential partner and ask them out. Your emotional and cognitive status came through your experiences and/or lack of experiences in life. In short, you are who you are because of the life that you have lived.

Of cause, since the industrial revolution our society has not focused heavily on emotional stability, reflection or maintenance of the mind. Instead competition, greed, survival of the fittest and being thrown into the deep end have been the main themes. Therefore it is no shock that our own emotional scars and trauma’s trigger pathways to addictions, depression, mental health problems, breakdowns, stress, heart disease, suicide and in one form or another, early death.

Some people appear to make life work, though for the majority of us, we suffer in silence. And this is why the new age turn to topics such as the present, awakenings, egos, enlightenment and mindfulness. They do this via things such as meditation, focus and yoga. This will obviously be covered thoroughly within the chapter about ‘The Present’.

Our subconscious is yearning to be heard, so whilst we try to embrace the present it is our past that arises. When we separate our ego within the present moment we can find weird beliefs and perceptions that simply don’t reflect our current lives. It is here that we trace our life back to when those beliefs came to be. And once we find them, we can question whether they make sense to us in the present. It is then at this stage that emotions such as anger, worry, doubt and fear can be worked through. Yet it is not just about acknowledging the past. We can also change the meaning of it if we wish.

‘Our life is our perception therefore our existence is a story that we create ourselves’

So why is the past so important? Because once we understand the past it leads to growth, learning, emotional stability, connection with our-self and self-love all within the present.