Friday, 12 June 2015

Ontology & the Question of Free Will

Attempts to argue for the universe as either matter or consciousness are theoretically made absurd by the overwhelming argument for all things being, ultimately, one. It is neither that all matter is imbued with consciousness nor that consciousness is merely matter in another form but that consciousness and matter are just variations on the same theme of existence.

Consciousness is not merely a form of matter - all matter is imbued with the potential for consciousness by its very nature as existence. The fact that part of matter-consciousness (existence) is conscious of itself and part may not be (and the fact that that part of it which is conscious is only partially conscious of itself in its full nature as part of existence) holds no meaning other than, tautologically, to say that it is, in itself, raw existence, an unknowable simplicity from which complexity in both matter and consciousness emerges.

Since a consciousness cannot be conscious of anything other than its being a part of matter-consciousness and since an object of matter in itself represents only a part of matter-consciousness, matter-consciousness is constructed out of vast numbers of items of matter and of consciousnesses and of combinations thereof. Persons are just segments of matter-consciousness, both matter and consciousness integrally combined.

So, we, as items of matter-consciousness that have emerged out of complexity, are faced by an immense gulf not only between us and other items of emerged matter-consciousness (other persons) but between us and the unknowable raw existence that, taken as a whole, is a matter-consciousness (not only in space-time but perhaps many dimensions beyond this) of which we can know nothing.  If we are inclined to draw the conclusion that there is no gap between God and the world, we are entirely at liberty to do so but the statement means nothing because the identification of God with raw Existence merely makes God another name for that raw Existence.

How can you worship or engage with that raw Existence in which you are so embedded – God is merely yourself only immensely bigger without greater value than its sheer bigness. This is like praising a man for his size rather than his character. You may do this but it is idiotic. If raw Existence is divine because it is pure matter-consciousness, then the small bits of matter-consciousness that we call persons are no less divine insofar as they are sparks of similar material. But if we poetically call them sparks from the divine being, the abyss between these sparks, constructed over millions of years of evolution from star dust, is so great in space and time that to ask for unification with this God who is Existence is essentially to seek non-existence for this small creation and a denial of its potential role in the creation of more matter-consciousness. To turn to God or the universe at this point is tantamount to the death instinct, a determination to damn the process of creation itself.

This world is no illusion (as some Eastern philosophies might have things be) for us. The illusion lies in setting ourselves in a world in which our matter-consciousness and that of the universe are seen as not part of a world that includes both matter without consciousness and the possibility of consciousness existing without matter to anchor it. All is one but this oneness has no meaning because it represents an absolute meaning that says nothing to the parts of the whole. Our own beings are partial within the ‘one’ but are still entire as and within themselves.  This is our struggle as persons – to recognise that ultimate reality is unknowable even as we search for it and that we cannot ever know whether this ultimate reality has anything that we might conceivably understand as consciousness embedded within the gross form of matter-consciousness. In this sense, we cannot know whether there is some God as some might argue for Him. Such a God would be of such an order of difference from its human creations that its traditional function in human society must be regarded as totally meaningless.

Even the concept of unified space-time may not capture an ultimate multi-dimensional reality that may go beyond all possible current conceptions of both space and time. Being so unknowable we may speculate but, as persons, we must turn away and embed ourselves in the affirmation of our own matter-consciousness, as persons embedded amongst others like us and in a state of matter with less consciousness than ours or none (except as potential).  The knowledge of this is liberation because, once we remove an expectation of duality in the universe, we instantly realise our own absolute freedom. This is not transcendence because we cannot separate ourselves from our condition in the world but, in understanding how we are embedded in it, we can see that we do not ‘have to look over our shoulder’ or consider ourselves distanced or detached from some state of grace or purity that, if it exists, can never be comprehended or attained except in a choice for non-existence and a return to star dust and beyond.

So our life choice becomes simple and liberating – either abnegation of our own creation as independent matter-consciousness into extinction or the affirmation of our brief flowering of creation as a stepping stone to self awareness or to the creation of more matter-consciousness in the many forms given to us by our circumstances (from art to children). Abnegation and the death instinct or affirmation and the will to existence - these seem fairly clear and liberating choices in either direction. Wherein does the heart of our individual matter-consciousness lie? We cannot know raw existence and we cannot know (in any absolute sense) the matter-consciousnesses of others. We imperfectly know our own selves because we operate in our own space-time in which external matter (including matter mobilised by other consciousnesses) forces us into positions of not-knowing at every moment. We can know little and some of what we know we must suppress to survive.

The point at which we face the nearest equivalent to a raw existence that is beyond space and time is the pale simulacrum of our relations with others and of our experiential relationship with ourselves. Not knowing others is not like not knowing our instruments (like rocks and cars) and not knowing ourselves is not like not knowing others. Instruments of matter are just tools for our needs and desires so that we can choose to treat other minds as matter (instruments) or as ‘like us’ - in terms of their being subjects for investigation and creation. Our social and material conditions naturally tend to an instrumental approach to other persons – business, politics, law – but love, family, tribe can, to different proportions and degrees, be non-instrumental, although, even here, we can find a hidden instrumentality where one mind seeks to create another in their own image rather than to allow that other mind to be true to themselves.

Much of the psychic pain of humanity lies in being treated as an instrument and yet being treated openly as an instrument (as in a conventional society) is still often far preferable to the tragic condition of being treated as a hidden instrument, a creature constructed to be like a golem or shabti for the psychic service of another.  The only means of escaping from this tendency to instrumentality (much of which is required so that society, which creates the conditions for creation, can remain in operation) is to question what one wants for oneself as person and to choose either to resist being used as a tool or limit one’s own use of others as a tool only to the essential for one’s own survival. Resistance is necessary because some persons are going to see their own survival in terms of a will to social power in which treating others as instruments is seen as an aspect of their own survival – our resistance, in this sense, is never futile.

How does one learn to resist the tool-using instincts of others and make sure one uses one’s own tools at hand in a way that is effective rather than wasteful? After all, this is not a matter of morality. In practice, a better understanding of oneself is likely to limit wasteful tool-using because there will be an understanding that using persons as tools just for the sake of it is like digging holes randomly – unnecessary and unproductive labour. This mimics morality but it is not a choice that is being made for the other person in full consciousness of the other’s interest. That is another matter! The answer is that thought is less useful than experience. Experience requires challenge and experimentation in which the matter-consciousness or, rather, one’s own ‘being’ is understood to be embedded in relationships, perceptions and the matter of one’s body and of the constraints placed on that body. Challenging all these extensions of self is to challenge oneself.


Just as the matter/consciousness dichotomy does not stand up to scrutiny, neither does the free will/determinism dichotomy (any more than that of body/mind).  At the level of the absolute, there is no free will because everything is contained within itself beyond cause and effect just as it is beyond measures of space and time. But, in the state of imperfect matter/consciousness that represents our own being in the world, although in absolute terms there is no free will, in relative and sufficient terms free will is essentially true.

Free will arises as soon as the Absolute fragments. Each component of reality has its own destination and the mindless bumping of bits of matter/consciousness into each other eventually creates a consciousness within matter that starts to dictate the conditions of its own survival – moving away from threat or towards acquiring ‘more’, the eventual affirmation of its own existence. This might be termed a will to power at a stretch but it is really a will to exist, to survive, in opposition to the extinction instinct that lets oneself be bumped and grinded through reality like an object, an instrument of more conscious entities or blind chance.

Free will is thus intrinsic to non-absoluteness. A fragmented absolute creates free will through the accumulation of consciousness in matter.  It is implicit in the first differentiation of undifferentiated matter-consciousness and it continues as potential until matter-consciousness becomes undifferentiated once again (even if the logic of the situation is that there is little reason to exercise that free will if a state of non-differentiation, the death of fragmented matter-consciousness, is imminent - except perhaps as wilful defiance).

Of course, to say that the universe itself has some sort of will is as meaningless as any other pure consciousness statement about it. It has the potential for free will in theory somewhere in the evolved future but only the matter-consciousness that arises out of its potential has that free will and then only to the limited degree permitted by the various constraints created by material limitations and limitations in consciousness. The paradox of free will is that it is always potential until a will makes the potential actual. This moment of clarity, when the will chooses to be, is the point of divinisation of matter-consciousness. If it exists, divinisation succeeds existence and does not precede it in creation. It is matter for the future not a guide from the past.

The universe, by contrast, may have had the immense potential for will but nothing was in place to trigger it as an act of will until sentient creatures (here or elsewhere) were enabled to do so by the right formation of matter-consciousness. Yes, the Absolute may have had will (one definition or characteristic of God) theoretically but we can never know this nor argue that this wilfulness can have any meaning for us other than that it may have abnegated itself in the creation of the universe. Indeed, one might argue that if the Absolute/God had will of this nature then it willed itself to suicide in order, knowingly or not, to create the conditions of our existence – a rather interesting theological speculation that suggests that the death of Christ on the Cross might be a metaphor for that moment of supreme sacrifice. However, this also suggests that the universe was built on the death instinct and that our affirmation of life is little more than a paltry late attempt to reproduce that first will at the very margins of Existence. As always in these cases, speculation is useless and wasteful.

Like, say, Kashmiri Shaivism, the philosophy of Being I am upholding here is monist. Unlike it and similar schools, it is non-idealist because the fragmentation of matter-consciousness means that no subject is identical to another subject. However, their existence and free will is derivative of ultimate matter-consciousness even if they are often completely ignorant of their state. To be ignorant of one’s existence and free will is to suspend the consciousness aspect of matter-consciousness in favour of the matter aspect. Although no value judgement can be attributed to this (after all, all aspects and representation of the universe are of equal value in an absolute sense), there is a material difference in that matter-consciousness between that which is aware of itself and its power and that which is not (even if that which is not may have access to more material resource it may be of no greater utility to it than a tiger catching a goat, a means of survival but not one of becoming more than a tiger).

The existence of the trigger to the exercise of free will is a mystery. It may be taught and learned or it may come from within as genetic predisposition or by chance. In this, its appearance has all the attributes of ‘divine grace’. This is what is understood by some religious people when they observe that mere effort to achieve a state of grace (works) can be wasted and that grace is dependent on the will of God. This is a metaphor for a truth that the trigger is not to be found in all persons but arises only in some at some times - and in a way that is so mysterious that it is tempting to attribute it to an active consciousness at the level of the Absolute.

The truth in this is only metaphorical. The trigger is simply an attribute of a certain state of matter-consciousness and may not be activated at all if a matter-consciousness is stable in their existence (i.e. their matter-consciousness requires no trigger). What is true is that working too hard at thinking does not provide the trigger. The trigger comes from conditions and the way to trigger the trigger is to want not the trigger but some other change for which the trigger of the exercise of free will is the solution. This gives us a clue to the role of imagination in the creation of the trigger. The universe is constrained by logic and by the laws of cause and effect – although at the extreme quantum level, space and time offer different models, our existence as matter-consciousness is wholly bound by these rules of matter.

Imagination, like the quantum levels deep within our brain, body and universe, is less constrained. Reason permits our management of instrumentality, i.e. the use of tools including those of society, but it is imagination that can defy logic and the rules of cause and effect – as can other altered states of consciousness including ecstasy and dreams. In this, the Eastern religions were correct. The world of matter and its rules are illusory (at this Absolute level). The two illusory universes of matter and imagination, however, still manage to ‘work’ and how we can re-imagine matter through imagination provides the creative tension necessary for consciousness to develop. The will, in this context, operates within our psychologies at a level beyond both reason and imagination and it is at the juncture between these that we learn how to exercise that will freely and how to become.