Tag Archives: self-agency

The Natural Mind

          The natural mind is called by many names, including among others, the unconditioned mind, original-mind, presence and selflessness. It is, in my view, the unconditioned awareness that you were born into when you entered this world. It is always present but most of us have “lost” it.

How could you lose your natural mind? The process begins to unfold very early. There are three aspects to the process. The first might be called primary programs that are biological in nature. These programs send signals into conscious awareness that we react to. Hunger is one example. When you become aware of a hunger signal, you engage in activity directed at responding to the signal. You engage in activity that results in you consuming food, and the program rewards your activity by eliciting satisfaction. Secondary programs come to be built upon primary programs through choices made and repeated. At the earliest stages one has little choice except to reject or accept what is offered by a caretaker. Later, one begins to have a wider range of choices and some independence from caretakers’ choices on your behalf is achieved. Through choices and repetition of those choices new programs are acquired.

Once a program is established it becomes automatic. Given a choice of foods, you don’t have to consciously think about the choices and, even if you do, the probability favors you making a selection that has a repeated history under similar conditions and in similar circumstances. Your automatic program (AP) makes the decision for you and when an impulse to act on the decision enters your conscious awareness (CA), you mentally say to yourself something like, “I think I’ll have candied yams. They are really tasty.” When given choices that you have no history with, such as in an ethnic restaurant whose menu is outside your range of experience, you may be conflicted without your “inner guidance” and will have to actually apply conscious decision making to the choices by seeking more information about the items on the menu or, failing availability of sufficient information, resort to a random selection.

Even in such a situation, your AP’s may come into play as you gain information and an AP partially matches up with a menu item because of some commonality in an ingredient or ingredients with established choices. An AP may make a decision based on additional information and send a choice (as an impulse) into CA and you mentally say to yourself, “Oh yeah, that dish has lamb in it and I like lamb so I’ll go with it.” Lacking ingredient similarity, an AP may act on similarity in aroma or appearance. An adult with a lot established programs may seldom fall back on a purely random choice.

In addition to secondary programs there are tertiary programs. Tertiary programs are programs established through directed learning experiences. These may be informal, such as being taught a language or languages in the home, that our family doesn’t eat pork, Americans support their country, men are leaders and women must pay attention to their appearance. Other informal learning experiences may have other social influences that are outside the family such as a peer group, community organizations and the media. You may acquire AP’s related to such things as music preferences, clothing preferences, religious beliefs, sexual attitudes, political ideals, occupational preferences and prejudices. Other directed learning experiences may be more formal like those found in educational programs to teach subjects like reading, writing, mathematics, history and physics.

[Note: If you would like a demonstration of the reality of these AP’s, click on “Implicit Attitude” and take some of the tests, especially those on social attitudes, and compare what you believe about the topics with what the tests reveal at the unconscious level.]

Many AP’s will usually be functional, efficient and of great benefit. Other AP’s may do no great harm. Some may be or may become highly dysfunctional and create a constant source of problems, the origins of which are difficult to identify. One simple example might be a woman who repeatedly makes poor choices in men because of dysfunctional AP’s that influence what she finds appealing in a man or, conversely, a man who finds problematic women appealing because of dysfunctional AP’s.

As you develop and acquire more and more AP’s, you begin to engage in a lot of thoughts, feelings and actions that arise from beneath CA. Conscious awareness creates explanations to explain the occurrence of these thoughts, feelings and actions. Over time the explanations are woven into narratives that explain who we are and why we think, feel and act in certain ways. This becomes an evolving self-description or what might be called a fictive-self. The fictive-self usually has several narrative variations, which draw on existing AP’s and new AP’s that may develop out of circumstances peculiar to a particular variation. There is usually a variation for each of the long-term roles that we acquire in the course of our lives, such as student, spouse, parent, employee, partner, friend and so on. Some of these variations may be more functional than others and especially dysfunctional when they are contradictory and in conflict.

Another important process in the creation and maintenance of our fictive-self is memory and imagination. When our “mind” is not externally focused on some attention-requiring task like composing this essay, it goes into narration mode. Memories associated with our narrative arise in CA. We ruminate on past accomplishments, pleasures, failures or misfortunes as a way of illustrating and reinforcing our story. If a memory doesn’t fit our story well, we will modify and tweak the memory to bring it into better alignment with our story. We also project these memories through imagination into hypothetical future scenarios, which is different from drawing on past experience in considering how we can accomplish a specific goal. That type of thinking is called planning and is not pointless rumination. Narration strengthens our story and our identification with it.

We become strongly identified with the fictive-self we weave. It becomes us and we go through our lives thinking that we are the story that we have created to explain the AP’s operating beneath CA that direct our thoughts, feelings and actions. The more strongly we are identified with our fictive-self, the less aware we are of our original self and the less self agency we exercise. In short, we have lost our natural mind and, in the process, the ability to see the world as it is rather than as it appears through the explanatory filters we have created to explain the effects of our AP’s. Literally, I AM my story and my story is ME, but a story is just that — a story. Many people arrive at such an understanding spontaneously. This epiphany about the fictive-self tends to be powerful, transformative and often viewed as a spiritual event. Such events are also sometimes referred to as noetic events.

Personally, I had such a noetic event when I was seventeen years of age that revealed to me that my concept of self was simply a matrix of beliefs in which I had invested my identity. This was a transformative experience for me, but one that took years to manifest its effects and be fully understood. A decade later, I had a second noetic event in which I realized that, not only do we have a personal matrix of beliefs that we identify with, but there is a larger more universal matrix in which our personal matrix is embedded and entangled. If you’re interested in these two noetic events in my life, they are covered in A Personal Odyssey.

Stories can be changed. The first step is to recognize that who you think you are and why you think, feel and act in particular ways is because you’re following a script that you’ve created. The more strongly you’re identified with your fictive-self the more difficult it will be to change your story. The techniques discussed in “Creative Self-agency” include methods for working on your AP’s and the story you have written about them. Self-agency is the tool that needs to be developed, if you want to improve your story and change the way you relate to the world. Self-agency requires that you recognize that you have a fictive-self that you created and that you can change it. The second step is to employ some of the techniques available to understand your story and then to effect functional changes in the story. Just knowing that you are articulated by a story and making that story more functional can make significant improvements in your life.

However, recognizing that you are identified with a story and making improvements to that story will not alone restore your natural mind. Restoring the natural mind requires that you stop identifying with the story that you’ve woven around your AP’s and relax back into the pure awareness of being. Being present with the natural mind will provide a fresh perspective on everything and you can respond to situations as if they were unique happenings, not instances of AP-driven events that make up part of the story that is your fictive self. Being in the natural mind will let life flow through you unimpeded by efforts to control and direct it to make it conform to your story.

Ending identification with your I, fictive-self, ego, personality or whatever term you want to use for the construct is not generally something that people find easy to do even once the idea becomes viable to them. There are many approaches to ending identification with the story and most of them involve extended programs of meditation. Meditation will give you greater access to material that has largely been beneath conscious awareness for most of your life. Coming to know and understand your AP’s will lead you to an intuitive understanding of the fictive nature of your ego or self. It is this direct understanding that begins to free you from identification with your story.

Many spiritual teachings speak of losing the self or getting rid of the ego or living totally in the present moment. All of these notions should be considered as metaphorical ways of saying that you should stop identifying with your story. You can’t get rid of your fictive-self because it serves useful purposes. But your phone, computer or car serve useful purposes and mentally healthy people don’t invest their identify in them. These and many other useful things in your life are just tools. Likewise, once you stop identifying with your story, your fictive-self simply becomes a cognitive tool that is used as needed and then put aside until needed again.

To illustrate what this might feel like, consider the following scenario. You were selected five years ago by your employer to go overseas to work in a subsidiary. Let’s say that you went to Germany. You lived in Germany for five years and became fluent in the language and came to understand the culture. Call this your German identity. At the end of five years, you return home to work in the corporate headquarters.

You now operate in a way consistent with your native culture and speak your native language. One evening you are having dinner in a restaurant and overhear some German tourists having difficulty with the menu and placing their order with the waiter. You get up go over to their table and in German ask them if you might be of assistance. They readily accept and you help them negotiate the items on the menu and place their order for them with the waiter. The Germans invite you to join them and you do so and put your German identity to work during the dinner. When this task is complete and the German identity is no longer needed, it is put to “bed” so to speak.

Think of your fictive-self as similar to this hypothetical German identity. When you can put it to “bed” and wake it up when circumstances require it, you will bring to an end almost if not all of the narration that has previously had a near continuous run in the theater of your mind. You can now live your life largely in the present moment, which is all that really exists. You will have a much fresher and unencumbered view of events and can respond to them on their own terms rather than in terms of the character in a play of your own authorship. Thus, you have recovered your natural mind.

Many spiritual traditions see the recovery of the natural mind as the first step in moving on to a transformation of consciousness and identification with what might be thought of as unity consciousness. For example it might have been the natural mind that Jesus was referring to in the following:

Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

 A translation of this into other terminology might read, “Frankly, unless you can regain your natural mind, you will be unable to know unity consciousness.” You can replace unity consciousness with whatever terminology works best for you. Examples might include Christ consciousness, consciousness of the divine, God, unified field of consciousness and so on.

Regaining the natural mind is significant in itself. However, for those so inclined, it can become a doorway. Passing through that doorway opens possibilities for several transformations of consciousness that end with unity consciousness, but that is beyond the scope of this essay (see Creative Self-Agency).

A Libertarian’s Perspective on Abortion

          A lot of arguments over the abortion issue are tied to religion. I think religions can best be characterized as popularizations of insights gained by exceptional individuals. As popularizations they substitute dogma and ritual for spiritual insight. Thus, I consider religions to be aspects of popular culture that are at best a means of social influence and at worst a method of exploitation. The abortion issue is just the type of emotional issue that religious “leaders” can and historically have used to accrue political and social power to themselves. Up until a few decades ago the hot emotional issue used by many religious “leaders” to garner political and social power was racial segregation. In the future, it will no doubt be something else. I reject any argument marshaled by individuals whose primary motive is probably social manipulation for undisclosed purposes or that rests upon arguments based on religious dogma.

The next line of argument I’d call a “natural law” argument for lack of a better term. This position argues that any living being capable of self-agency owns his or her life (I’d prefer body) and ethically speaking no one has a right to take that life (I’d prefer appropriate that body). The self-agency definition certainly subsumes humans but is not necessarily limited to humans. Thus, the debate comes down to one about property rights, which are defended by libertarians, among others. The sticky point in this argument comes in determining when one has achieved the status of a human being and hence acquired property rights to one’s body.

I do not consider a dividing cell mass a human being. It may have the potential to be a human being but so does a skin flake in your bedding, given the development of cloning technology. Until a developing fetus is capable of sustaining itself outside of a parasitic relationship, it is not a realized human being and has no property rights over its developing body. (Note: Mere birth does not convey the status of human being under the definition used, though there is a high probability that the two will coincide, which in no way implies that one causes the other.) In fact, to give such a cell mass property rights is to put its property rights in direct conflict with the property rights of the host of whose body it is an integral part. As long as the cell mass is in a parasitic relationship with the host’s body, it is for all practical purposes a part of the body over which the host, a realized human being, exercises sole property rights.

The only way to prevent abortion is by the appropriation of a person’s body (property) by threat or physical force. A role usually assumed by the state, but certainly not limited to the state. Usurpation of property rights is not limited to the state and can be done by other types of organizations or even by individuals. Those who wish, for whatever reason, to involve themselves in the property decisions of another have only one acceptable means. They may attempt to affect the decisions of another through rational persuasion, if the person is willing to entertain their arguments. They never have a moral or ethical right to impose by force or coercion their belief or preference on another sovereign individual.

Free Will and the Evolution of Consciousness

           Spiritually speaking, free will or the ability to make meaningful choices is a critical concept for the evolution of consciousness or enlightenment (see also here and here). The panentheistic principle of the primacy of Consciousness and its expression through the quantum monad, which was discussed in an earlier piece (Goswami’s Quantum Philosophy, Part II), is assumed. Implicit in this view is the necessity of multiple physical manifestations in the material world for the evolution of personal consciousness. Multiple manifestations or reincarnations serve the purpose of allowing one the opportunity to overcome karmic errors and limitations as well as to develop talents and abilities using the experiences made possible by the material world. Thus, acceptance of the above construction of the nature of reality requires the ability to make meaningful choices or free will. How then might the requirement for free will be construed in a manner that meets the necessary conditions for the evolution of consciousness?

 Simple determinism asserts that everything we do is predetermined and therefore our apparent choices are really an illusion. From that point of view, we have only what appear to be choices and all the outcomes that follow from such imaginary choices are predetermined and beyond our ability to influence. In short, the chain of causality that began in the distant past, perhaps with the origin of the material universe, set in motion a chain of cause and effects that still continues and will continue into the future. That chain of causality passes through us and determines what we think, feel and do. Clearly, there are no real choices that might allow for the operation of free will in such a dismal conception of life. Further, such a conception renders impossible any meaningful conception of moral responsibility. If one’s behavior is wholly determined and outside of one’s ability to influence, how can an individual be held accountable for his or her actions? Finally, if simple determinism governs everything then a spiritual vision that entails the evolution of consciousness (or the soul if you prefer) cannot be valid.

Indeterminism (a.k.a. absolute free will) is the opposite of simple determinism. Absolute free will means one can by choice affect an outcome that is not predictable from its antecedents. In short, one can do things that violate the principle of causality as it is commonly understood (a.k.a. magic). For example, someone walking on water would both violate the principle of causality and demonstrate producing an outcome by choice that is not predictable from its antecedents. Interestingly, the principle of causality or simple determinism has, at the quantum level, been experimentally demonstrated to be untenable. This suggests that reality almost certainly does not rest upon simple determinism. The quantum world appears, however, to be governed by statistical determinism, which includes all possible outcomes and even some that might be considered “magic.” However, “magical” outcomes, while possible, are extremely improbable. It is clear that no mere mortal is likely to ever observe or experience one of these highly improbable outcomes. Thus, indeterminism is not suitable for our purposes because meaningful choices leading to systematic consequences are not possible and such choices are necessary for the evolution of consciousness.

 The libertarian philosopher Richard Taylor proposed an alternative to simple determinism that he calls complex determinism, which recognizes that human agency is a primary factor in causation. That is, human agency or in the case of an individual self-agency can alter a chain of causality and initiate a new branch in an unfolding sequence. This brings us back to free will. In this view, free will is no longer absolute but rather is probabilistic, which is similar to the statistical determinism of quantum physics. Free will then, for me, is equivalent to complex determinism. Complex determinism suggests that in any given situation there are usually multiple possible outcomes, none of which require magic; i.e., they have a basis in antecedent events. Each of these possible outcomes is more or less probable than another. The most common outcome is the one with the highest probability. This is what is sometimes described by the phrase “the path of least resistance.” Recall the example about the collapse of a wave of possibilities discussed in an earlier piece (Goswami’s Quantum Philosophy, Part I).

When one arrives at a meaningful decision point in life, the complex and tangled web of antecedents that have led to the decision point generally allow for more than one possible consequence or outcome. Suppose that the decision point contains five possible outcomes or choices. Each has a probability of expression. If the path of least resistance is followed, the choice made will be the one most closely associated with one’s habitual and conditioned pattern of behavior. This default choice, in fact, is not really a choice so much as it is an acquiescence. Default responses that follow the path of least resistance are very common and give the appearance of following from simple determinism.

Research has provided evidence that suggests decisions are made at a subconscious level before one is consciously aware of them. This it is argued is evidence for simple determinism. An alternative interpretation is that this research is evidence that habitual or high probability responses are virtually automatic. Fortunately, the research also shows that there is a small delay between the subconscious decision, awareness and action. This delay is the window of opportunity that provides room for free will. Self-agency effected through intention and deliberate choice, based on forethought and anticipation of consequences, can influence and change the probability functions of potential outcomes. Thus, the first step is to prevent the default or habitual response from occurring. The second step is to undertake a deliberate effort to make manifest a possible alternate response. In short, if one is willing to be attentive and make the effort, it is possible to exert self-agency and become a causal force in your own chain of causation. I have an entire web site and ebook devoted to this endeavor.

In this conception of complex determinism, there are three principle contributors to human action: biological factors, environmental factors and self-agency. It is important to recognize that all three influences operate through predisposition, not predestination. Consider two identical twins with virtually identical biological inheritance who are predisposed to diabetes. Further, suppose that the twins live in an environment that has varied dietary choices but one that includes an abundance of readily available, tasty, high carbohydrate foods. This environment is one that predisposes one to the development of diabetes. The interaction of the biological and environmental predispositions (what’s known as an epigenetic factor) make avoiding diabetes unlikely, especially given the predisposition to follow the path of least resistance. Eventually, one twin develops diabetes and the other does not. Clearly, this would never happen if biological and environmental causation were predestination. We can ask why did these different outcomes occur?

Very likely part of the answer is that the twins created different environments from the choices they made. Suppose that they took a class in nutrition while they were in high school or college in which they learned of the hazards of overeating a high glycemic diet. This was not welcome news since both had become accustomed to eating a high glycemic diet. Let’s assume that one chose to continue eating a diet rich in refined carbohydrates. This twin followed the habitual pattern and took the path of least resistance. The other chose a diet that minimized refined carbohydrates. This choice was clearly available to both but only the second twin exercised self-agency and took the more difficult path of resisting habitual patterns and making healthier choices. Thus, these different choices in lifestyle differentially influenced the possibility of developing diabetes in the twins.

In my view, we do have the ability to make real choices. We can, at least, make choices from among those potential outcomes that are possible given the antecedents. Our choices, reflected in our intentions and actions, influence (but do not control) the probable outcomes available in situations in which we are actors. Self-agency has the potential to carry us to a tipping point that can set in motion a new causal chain. Most of us, most of the time, fail to exercise self-agency and simply follow the path of least resistance and thereby give the impression of being controlled by simple determinism.

Complex determinism construed as self-agency then appears to meet the need for the meaningful choices necessary for evolving consciousness. Accepting self-agency as essential for evolving consciousness leads to recognition of personal sovereignty as a natural right. A sovereign individual is a free agent engaged in self-determination. Free agents set their own goals and choose the means to those goals. Further, a community of sovereign individuals represents a diversity of goals and methods for achieving those goals. Evolution of consciousness can only be achieved by freely taken choices. This means that it is incumbent upon anyone who accepts the primacy of Consciousness, implicit in panentheism, to avoid interfering with other people’s choices to the greatest extent possible. This is important because it is the intent behind choices, not the acts in and of themselves that is important for the evolution of consciousness.

 There are several ways in which one individual might attempt to affect the choices of another individual. First, one can use force to impose choices on another person. Second, one can use threat or intimidation to impose choices on someone else. Third, one can use contrived incentives to influence another person’s choices. Fourth, one can use deception as a means of influence. Finally, one can use persuasion to influence the choices of another person. Clearly, the first two options are coercive and inconsistent with self-determination. However, the third and fourth methods are also coercive but in a more subtle way. The use of contrived incentives or deception to influence someone’s choices is an effort to manipulate them and therefore represents a soft form of coercion. The final method may be the only method that is consistent with self-determination and the evolution of consciousness. Persuasion, properly conducted, appeals to the reason of another person. Successful persuasion convinces a person of the correctness of a particular choice and is thereby most likely to affect intention as well as action. Persuasion is not coercive but educational and is the only ethically acceptable method of influencing others in a society of sovereign individuals. Thus, sovereign individuals in their exercise of self-agency must accept some limitations on personal behavior. Specifically, they must accept a prohibition on the use of force or coercion directly or indirectly against others in the pursuit of their goals, except when necessary for self-defense or protecting others from harm.

 

 See also: “What does quantum physics have to do with behavior disorders?” for more about self-agency.

For a related case history see: “Big Jim: a case history” in the Journal Articles page at: at htpp://www.davidcenter.com

Choice

There are advocates for simple determinism who would assert that everything we do is predetermined and therefore our apparent choices are really an illusion. From that point of view, we don’t have any choices and all the outcomes that appear to follow from such imaginary choices are predetermined and beyond our ability to influence. In short, the chain of causality that began in the distant past, perhaps with the origin of the universe, set in motion a chain of cause and effects that still continues and will continue into the future. That chain of causality passes through us and determines what we think and do. I think this view takes all meaning from existence and makes life largely pointless, which doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. However, I reject it on existential grounds and advocate for a view based on complex determinism.

Before going into complex determinism, let me say something about free will. The free will counterpart to simple determinism is absolute free will (a.k.a. indeterminism), which means one can by choice affect an outcome that is not predictable from its antecedents. In short, one can do things that violate the principle of causality (a.k.a. magic). For example, I used to challenge advocates of this position to go to the roof of the building and walk across the open space over the street to the roof of the building on the other side. To do this would both violate the principle of causality and demonstrate affecting an outcome by choice that is not predictable from its antecedents. I’ve never had an advocate for absolute free will take me up on this opportunity to demonstrate the validity of their position. However, just as there is an alternate form of determinism there is an alternate conception of free will, which I’ll come to shortly.

The libertarian philosopher Richard Taylor proposed that the way out of the dilemma posed by simple determinism is to recognize human-agency as a primary factor in causation. That is human-agency can alter a chain of causality passing through one and initiate a new branch in an unfolding sequence. This brings us back to free will. In this view, free will is no longer absolute but rather is probabilistic. Complexity theory suggests that in any given situation there are usually multiple possible outcomes, none of which require magic to be effected. Each of these possible outcomes is more or less probable than another. The most common outcome is the one with the highest probability. This is what is sometimes described by the phrase “the path of least resistance.”

However, human-agency through intention and deliberate choice, based on forethought and anticipation of consequences, can influence and change the probability functions of potential outcomes. When I was a professor, I often talked about behavior in terms of what I refer to as the three-legged stool (biological causes, environmental causes and self-agency). It is this latter concept that lies at the root of the notion of the “cooperative alliance” in behavioral intervention that I discuss in a paper on behavior and quantum physics. In short, it is unlikely that one will affect a significant and lasting change in behavior without the active cooperation and collaboration of the subject with the change agent.

As a side bar, I would add that most, if not all, human religions presuppose that the underlying nature of reality is indeterminate and magical (e.g., witness the use of prayer in an effort to produce and outcome that cannot be predicted from the antecedents, i.e., appeals for divine intervention are in effect based on a belief in indeterminism or magic). Herein lies the source of my skepticism about religious claims. As for the existence of God, I can only say that depends on how one defines the nature of God. I see absolutely no basis for an anthropomorphic God and view such depictions as the artifact of a paucity of imagination. If one wants to define God as the ground state from which our universe arose then I can accept that as a possibility whether called God, Quantum Field or by some other name. What the characteristics of such a ground state might be is an open question and might include some of the claims of mystics and other spiritual explorers.

In my view, we do have the ability to make real choices. We can make choices, at least, from among those potential outcomes that are possible given the antecedents. Our choices, reflected in our intention and actions, influence (but do not control) the probable outcomes available in situations in which we are actors. I also think that most of us, most of the time fail to exercise self-agency and simply follow the path of least resistance.