Free-er will

“Did I do that on purpose?” An important question. Regardless of whether it is true however, a yes or no answer will change your outlook on life and therefore your behaviour. That’s hard to make sense of.

There are times in life when we are confronted by an uncomfortable truth, the possibility that our free-will is an illusion. We are merely watching the movie of life play out as it always would have. A complex dance of billiard balls.

This is by now, no great shock. We get on with life and forget about uncomfortable facts. If it seems like we are free, then sometimes that’s good enough. But there’s something fundamental we’re forgetting about the question, and a helpful fact that provides a more satisfying answer.

Am I free? Of course not!

Number one: Nothing, no thing is free.

How can any one thing in our world be truly free? The question it turns out, is ridiculous. Every thing in our world is actually interconnected and dependent on something else, there is no true ‘independence’. So granting this obvious fact of existence, what were we expecting reality to look like if there were something truly free, such as our will?

Number two: complex systems exist.

Take a moment to really acknowledge the vastness and complexity of the world, and the possibility of the emergence of extremely complex structures, from which emerge new phenomena—i.e. our brains, and consciousness: the ability to reflect on our own existence, or in quite a round about way, the ability of the universe itself to reflect on its own existence.

Number three: there is a spectrum.

There are subatomic particles, and then there are global societies of interconnected human beings—and quite a few things in between. What makes a quark less complicated than a society? Fewer possible configurations. Fewer dependencies, but never zero.

Now consider the human brain. A complex system has emerged that is able to simulate possible courses of action and their assumed consequences. A single path of action is then taken towards desired result, based on a system of values and beliefs. The accuracy of these simulations, and the effectiveness of the resulting action depends on the complexity of the system, or how smart the system is, we could say how experienced the system is. There is a spectrum.

The brain of the average mature adult will be able to simulate more accurately and decide more effectively on a winning strategy than the average brain of a five-year-old. A five year-old might not consider the long-term consequences of a diet consisting solely of fruit loops, whereas I’d hope I could formulate a few imaginary no-go paths, and choose a different action based on what I believe to be valuable.

The conclusion then, is that no you do not have free will, and such a thing actually makes no sense. But you certainly have free-er will than say, an earthworm. Importantly, it seems that the more aware you are of your actions and their consequences, and about how well considered your values, the free-er your will is. This is an imperative therefore to live an examined life, and train awareness.


Repackaging the lesson

I was explaining to a friend what I’d learned listening to Jim Loehr on the Tim Ferriss show. To introduce the topic I cut back to referencing Carol Dweck’s ‘Mindset’. After trying to summarise the main ideas, I had to stop and change tack to acknowledge a fact that struck me:

None of this stuff is really new.

It might seem obvious, but after reading a few books on personal growth—especially those written at different times and from different fields of study, I was struck thinking “wait this isn’t new, it’s just like what ‘X’ was saying about ‘Y’ theory back in ‘Z'”—I realised that of course actually a lot of this stuff is ancient, and as Jordan Peterson eloquently describes, the fundamental lessons are archetypes that can be found throughout history.

This isn’t a bad thing.

It might not be fundamentally new, but the way it crystallises into a new story is. It’s a particular context, a particular language, a culture, an application. It seems that on some level, everyone ‘knows’ this stuff anyway. It’s not a secret. But to actually gain benefit from it we need to really live it—to act. Life is lived in context, and actions are specific, so each re-telling is important in its own way.

This is a good thing.

Everyone needs to handle each new offering as a piece of their own puzzle. We’ve got the general picture, but each new way of looking at it gives us a clearer piece to focus the image. To really gain mastery, we need to create our own story, our own path. Seeing the many ways of learning the same fundamentals helps us realise that we too can forge our own.

This is a fundamental thing.

No matter how many times lessons are taught and re-told, humanity still falls into the same bad habits in every new age, hurting ourselves and others. These are high energy, high order states, they require effort to arrive at, and effort to maintain. The laws of thermodynamics are against us. It makes sense then, for them to be continually reincarnated. It’s a fact that skill requires repetition.

It’s essential then, that the lesson is repackaged. We need to value each repackaging as a step on the way.

Trouble in paradise

Tragically, when the dream comes true we are assaulted by the grinding of rusty cogs sending emotional poison daggers through the hull of our being. I yearned for this time, its promises shepherded me through my daily sacrifice. But faced with the broken imperfection in reality, feeling responsible for it, and being all to aware of those other listening ears—strangers whose opinions appear to be most valued! My own self-judgements projected into these unacquainted minds, and amplified back at me, at us. Anguish!

I find myself taking immediate action: the blame cannons—well drilled—offer successive volleys, making critical blows to the unchangeable past and making sure to cut off any attempt at ‘letting it go’ and looking forward. It was learned, practiced, and implemented well. Then we see others also displaying an expert performance—it hurts even more to know we look just like that. This outcome, this pain—it surely isn’t what we want, yet we seem to be addicted to its stewing hatred.

When a trigger fires, and the program runs, we unleash hell and at the same time hate ourselves for it. This self-disappointment deserves self-punishment! How dare one be allowed to simply ‘drop it’, we must be forced to stew in the misery of blame and learn a lesson. The unchangeable past needs to be held accountable! Others need to know!

When the pattern’s claws are that deep into our being, it seems impossible to let go and begin again. There is clearly a part of ourselves that needs to be heard, and finds this extremely important. More important it seems than appreciating time in existence on Oasis Earth, with the being that has found it fit to swear eternal love to us. Perhaps being attentive—or wanting to be (or wanting ourselves to want to be)—and listening to these screams could point the way towards a helpful integration.

It’s only when we’re able to climb off the stage and into the audience, as an observer not wracked by the mêlée of the moment, that we are able to see the situation for what it is and direct our cast to play new roles. Stop, breathe, look and listen. Imagine this was your last day to live. Look the actors in the eye and tell them sternly but lovingly that they have performed this difficult scene impeccably, and that you have felt their portrayal transmit their message deeply.

They bow and exit stage left. The vacuum brings a stillness and with it an opportunity to begin again. With the greatest courage possible, we commit to freeing ourselves, and to concentrate on what matters. Take time out, communicate, listen and if necessary take a bullet happily—remembering that this pain is more noble than the pain of regret.

Disharmonious regression

The patterns of our behaviour that make us who we are are influenced by our surroundings. Sometimes when we find ourselves back in an environment we grew up in, we find—much to our annoyance—that we revert back to behaving in this way. It may feel childish, unresourceful and most importantly just incongruent with all that we thought we had learned and developed since we had left that place.

Families can, sadly, remain as habitats for unhelpful behavioural patterns because they gave us our first structures on which we eventually built our lives. When we come back to them it can be particularly jarring to be faced with reverting back to an older version of ourselves we thought we had surpassed. The lack of control we feel when we witness those old programs running is nauseating.

There’s a nakedness we’re confronted with. Many aspects of ourselves we were able to cover up as we moved away and made new friends are stripped bare once again. We thought we became men and women, but in our parents’ eyes we are still children. It takes real courage to accept these parts of ourselves again, and even more to be proud of them. In this courage we can also find the key to harmonising the discord that so easily emerges when, at dinner, a dormant raw nerve is touched, an explosion is provoked, control is overwhelmed and old patterns surface.

With the courage to look tenderly on ourselves and our families and friends, we can weather the storm these old demons bring, softening them. They crave our attention—so long ignored—just as ourselves did as children, as indeed was necessary for us to develop and join the world. Make this a goal to strive for, to nurture those helpless children inside us.

To be aware is to have a foothold in the control of a situation. When surrounded by uncertainty, divergent intentions and accidents, our control of the situation evaporates. It’s in these circumstances when blame, judgement, hatred and anguish surface. We must expect the storm, and have a solid plan to endure it. Sense the tightening of the body and the rise of defensiveness in the mind, and ask yourself to soften, and smile. This is the real development of character and surpassing your childish self.

Families are built on love and necessity, but torn apart by chaos and misunderstanding. Rebuild and strengthen with awareness and courage.


Is art based on life, or is life based on art?

Art is an expression of life. Creators take influence from the real world and curate a new order to express meaning—consciously or unconsciously, explicitly or implicitly. This is mimesis, or art following life.

This art was intended to be experienced by others. The intention is not always explicit, but it carries its own influence. It carries a message. That message will change the path of the observer. This is anti-mimesis, or life following art.

San rock art, South Africa

For the observer, the medium of film is the most passive experience of art. There is little work for the imagination, as both picture and sound are served up complete. In this sense, film has highly anti-mimetic potential.

This means there is much to copy;  film is a more potent anti-mimesis machine than say, novels or paintings—an important fact to consider when exploring the darker side of curation, or propaganda. 

The fact that film is highly anti-mimetic struck is absurd. Conventionally one imagines film is about life, stories are based on reality. But the phenomenon of the reverse: people in reality imitating life on film is perhaps even more inescapable, ubiquitous and influential.

Explicitly this is obvious: we imitate and live up to our heroes, and strive for attractive ways of life. But the deeper meaning is where absurdity lies: it’s a fake world that we base our guideline for reality on. I sometimes imagine sections of my life as a series of cinematic cuts as if that’s how it should be viewed. We’re not fully conscious of all that this influence implies. We are set an ideal: this is how life is—and therefore should be. We are set an expectation.

This is not to say it was intentional in some dark way, or that it is some conspiracy to control the population etc. (except when it is, which is not really conspiracy because it is obvious). But I wish to emphasise how counter-intuitive and absurd this implicit, taken-for-granted, unquestioned notion of ideal life is. It becomes real life!

So what? An intuitive and conventional view of the world and the role of art is shaken. But is this such a bad thing? I do not want to complain—if this is actually how life is. So I provide a further step to allow this phenomenon to fit into a greater structure: a synthesis.

This means that yes we create art based on life, and yes art then influences life, but due to this inescapable fact, art can only be seen as an essential ingredient of life. The merging of these two concepts to stimulate and catalyse life, society and culture is a phenomenon of its own: synthemimesis.

What we can take from this is a greater appreciation of the fact that art can—and necessarily does—change reality.

Too much to do

There are always too many to-do’s to actually do. This is plain fact, and must be accepted as such—just as the world exists, and there is unthinkable abundance in nature. Whether these truths are comfortable or not, graspable for minds calibrated by scarcity or not, they are as immovable as boulders are to an ant. Sat for countless aeons, regardless of ant lifetimes, they will not weep for even a moment in hope of empathising with our desires.

by Adarsh Thakuri

No. It is plain, and requires not just acceptance, but reverence. Worship with gratitude this abundance, and be fully humbled by it—because we are agents. Because we are agents, we are responsible, our choices of focus and movement is what creates our world. It is up to us to decide, to prioritise, to choose what is important—and what we must cut away.

I used to worry about the world existing, and why. Now I grin, and laugh at this accepted truth—for there is no other opinion one can possibly take on it. It does, and requires no explanation. To ask is like like an ant questioning a mountain. It is pitifully stupid.

Now I worry that I have too much to do. But I have just discovered that this is another immutable truth that requires no explanation. To ask for one is pitifully arrogant. These facts are to be grateful for. Our power and therefore our responsibility is to decide what to focus on.

When deciding what to do we reason with ourselves. Reason is not the world, and is not the life-blood pumped by gnarled roots that for aeons have relentlessly fuelled the forge of our now reflective being. The believable, embodied reality of emotion however should be our language. If we speak in this language, our body and the world can commune on a noble aim. Where there is feeling, there is belief, and this is a greater ‘why’.

by Matthias Ripp

Who has this great why, can also bear the greater ‘how’. And don’t we know the way is more perilous than we can imagine? Ha! It is the world! And the world has no time for your petty comforts! Ravines, thorns and tearing winds will annihilate you! Unless you accept your real power: put one thing above another, manipulate this end towards that… always with the true guiding light of that emotional language that harnesses the gulfs between ‘us’ and ‘the world’.

Don’t pity your existence with cries of frustration that you cannot accomplish your dreams. Realise that abundance is what we can truly be grateful for. If there was less to do, would you be any more interesting than a layer of sediment, millions of years old, trapped under countless others? Embrace the abundance and live with it, and bare the primordial grin.

Inside a simulation, inside a simulation, inside a simulation…

Another recursive thorn in the human mind disguised by the cultural zeitgeist’s attire. Of our time it’s a horrifying epiphany perhaps, but are there glimmers of parallel ideas echoing from the past in more benign and even divine semblances? And what if? What are WE to follow if this realisation reflects reality? All hope disgraced and meaning destroyed, trivialised in our glorified petri-dish grid-world. This shapeless beast of an idea, felt in the depths of the body, base and formless… this concept allowed to bloom as a flower, feelings to thoughts as so many before. From the chaos sea of all in all, to the meticulous intricacies, the gold enamelling, the placement of jewels, the explicit intention, crafted by the master craftsman, the higher mind, cognised and brought into our shared world as a form for all to see and all to relate. But our wild idea-spirit of the fathomless ocean becomes hidden, displayed as a ripe fruit or a heavy stone. A dream within a dream, a level of the cosmic computer game, a cycle of Samsara, a progeny universe. Watched by the gods; played by the puppeteer; controlled by the machines; a self reflecting fragment of a living, evolving reality. Reverence or suspicion coats these works wrought in plated lustres reflecting ourselves and our minds. Are they the reflections of a fundamental truth? What is it? A fractal echoing of nature’s fabric: as above so below? Creation creates creation, levels upon levels of worlds.


I’m talking about the simulation argument, conveniently articulated by philosopher Nick Bostrom. Here it is, simply: if a civilisation were to become sufficiently advanced (without becoming extinct) and had the power to do so, they would almost certainly run ancestor simulations, and many of them. If the constraints are met, then considering the possible number of simulated worlds (millions?) compared to “real” worlds (1), in probabilistic terms we are almost certainly living in a simulation. What is your reaction? Horror? Suspicion? am I the one!? Denial? This isn’t a new idea, even in the modern sense. I recommend Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1973 film “Welt am Draht” for the first cinematic exploration of the concept, based on the 1964 sci-fi novel “Simulacron-3” by Daniel F. Galouye. The Thirteenth Floor is a good American remake, and from there Dark City, eXistenZ (careful), and of course The Matrix do a good job of banging the same old drum. The horrifying realisation in Welt am Draht and The Thirteenth floor that the characters are living inside a computer simulation follows the creation of their own simulation, where they–predictibly as humans would–tinker with their creations, then think “wait a second…” it turns out they have created a simulation-within-a-simulation.


Bostrom also suggests that if we are indeed living in a simulation, then it’s also highly likely that we are living in a simulation within a simulation within a simulation….etc. These portrayals remain peppered with modern cultural flavours: computers and technology as we know them, or imagine them in the future. But one-thousand years from now who can tell what gildings wrap the inner sanctum of this timeless idea? We could very well shoehorn into the same umbrella of ideas the “illusory world” concepts: Gnosticism, Platonism and Buddhism come instantly to mind. When these ideas were spread technology and the world in general didn’t look like it does today, therefore instead of simulations created by highly technologically advanced civilisations there were illusory worlds created by the demiurge, spirit worlds, etc, etc, same-same-but-different~.

Another Choice

1. Go back to nature

2. Advance

Today it seems popular to yearn for a simple life, live in balance with nature; no desires, no suffering said the man himself. A beautiful ideal, I’ve longed for it myself. Is it really in harmony with nature? Nature evolves and is evolving and we are nature. Casting off the shackles of modern life is alluring, but the bleak reality is inviting back a life of hardship, starvation and disease.

The imperfections of our world are of course in our faces every waking hour: the filth, the cars, the destruction and the stupidity… Our advances predict our decline. Technology I’ve always said is a double-edged sword, the power to enrich lives and also to enslave them. The monkey brain doesn’t have an instruction manual for his new creations, it’s not his fault he destroys his brothers with them. Enslaved by will that ravages the planet, no wonder we’d like to go back to the primitive. But in fact I think we yearn for something different, which is harder to envisage.

My humble medicine for this important dilemma, an old friend, a key to many locks, is balance. The true enemy is ignorance. With full ignorance of the vast potential of say nuclear power, one is repaid with a Chernobyl or a Fukushima disaster – the fault is stupidity, not technology. The pocket computers we all carry now keep us connected to our friends and people all over the world, allow us access to a vast library of information at all times – an empowering device –  but at the same time they isolate and enslave people to the cold addictive buzz of the little red Facebook notification icon.

We can go back to nature, but nature is changing. Nature itself may kill us all. With technology and balance and without ignorance and stupidity we can truly live in harmony, the choice isn’t anyone else’s to make, so make it.

Ignorance enslaves, knowledge liberates.

The Cosmic Joke

tabulaFlung into this meticulous, peculiar chandelier, we – the waking universe – rub our eyes in disbelief. We imagine all the possibilities, alternatives and what-could-have-beens. The bizarre circus on which we float in the void of inconceivable nothingness is arranged thus! “WHY!?” we will continue to ask, with the naiveté of our infantile consciousness, disturbed from the aeons of slumber, while boulders became beasts, the reflecting god only a new born babe, blinded and perplexed by all that is.

Structures blend and patterns form, patterns at all levels repeat and recur. Growing, organising, exceeding complexity. The eye for beauty in the world, the eye for horror and evil infects. From these eyes I cry and cry endless tears of compassion, does our world self flagellate and know no mercy?! Doomed and bound, our floating torture chamber, what sick entity do we entertain?

Does our complexity ascend? Attracted to the one which we are? Or are we mere twinkles in a cosmic furnace, fleeting shards of brilliant light, no more a character in the grand play than the dust that burns, the entropic demon consuming all with bottomless hunger and a steady evil. A rageless evil, void of aggression, but a knowing victory for all that’s dark, all that dissolves and all that ends.

Those above may toy and laugh, for our mad world is but a grain of sand they say, among myriad other heartless worlds perhaps, or do they grow and organise themselves? From one to the next, as above, so below. Complexity and form, too willing to succeed, too willing to attract, smite thee boring demon, and all that’s bland and void of expression! Our meticulous, peculiar chandelier is. It is, it is, it is.