The Matter With Free Will

FAB author Clare Hogan is the author of our blog post this week – she presents a short but fascinating examination of Free Will.

The notion of free will is inextricably bound up with our sense of identity, and this generates an enquiry into the nature of the will that we are questioning the freedom of. If we adhere to the belief that the world, including us, is made of matter and that our choices are dependent solely on brain activity, then inevitably we come to the conclusion that the will possessed by human beings is not free, but highly dependent on a variety of factors over which we have little or no control, such as biochemistry, social circumstance, genetic details and technology. As the latter increasingly enables external control of our internal lives, subliminally coercing us into making apparently personal decisions, the idea of freedom of choice becomes both romantic and remote concurrently. It is romantic because of the need to cling to the denial that behaviours and choices are being increasingly determined by external forces, as well as biochemical, genetic, and social ones. From a materialist perspective this is critical to understanding the nature of the will, the freedom of which is rejected. However, this separate, isolated, brain-encapsulated self is not who we are, nor who we feel, intuit, and experience ourselves as being. We do not identify as a brain any more than we do with any other vital organ. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, intuitions and personal experience – these are what define us, and they do not arise from brain activity alone. 


The argument that choices and decisions must either be determined or random begins to dissolve when we question the nature of both and realise that neither are really worth considering seriously. Abstract determinism can still be applied to randomness, and ‘absolute randomness’ has to negate any possibility of a will that is free.  When we realise that the determining factor in the exercise of our will to make choices and decisions comes from within, and that this ‘within’ is our sense of identity arising from subjective experience and subsequent thoughts, feelings and intuitions, the apparent dualistic conflict between determinism and free will ceases.  A truly free choice is not influenced by any external factor, but entirely from the Self within; this is the source of the determination and is the creative force of desire arising from an inner imperative which, when intense, feels to be a necessity. This is the compulsion felt by artists of every description, and everyone possesses a creative impulse of some sort.


The matter with free will is a matter of awareness, and of where that leads us in our sense of personal identity and the role it plays within consciousness itself. If we don’t perceive and experience that we are each a focused expression of an infinitely greater whole, it is highly probable that the sense of separateness and isolation with which we do, therefore, identify will subject us to any number of external forces of which we feel to be at the mercy. That fragile sense of self makes us extremely vulnerable, and indeed, that is how many people do feel – victims of circumstance and forces beyond their control. The matter with this arises from the erroneous belief in the supremacy of matter in the first place, and of course, there is little if any hope of free will here, because one has chosen to ignore the source of, and remain blind to, a much larger reality. This larger reality is Consciousness, and we are all localised expressions, examples and exhibits of its vibrational activity. As astrophysicist Bernard Haisch said, “It is not matter that creates an illusion of consciousness, but consciousness that creates the illusion of matter”. With this awareness, it is impossible not to have and experience absolute free will. Instead of anxiously attempting to control the world, we can collapse back into the awareness of our innate freedom, and know that our will is being done constantly, with or without our conscious intervention.


Clare Hogan is the author of The Alchemy of Performance Anxiety: Transformation for Artists which is available now. It is one of the core texts for the post-graduate course on ‘The Psychology of Performance’ at the University of Salford. Her new book, on death and dying, will be published in 2022.

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