by Aletheia Luna, contributor
What do you think, envision or feel when you hear the word “free will”?
Perhaps you feel powerful, independent, strong and in control. Perhaps you even associate the word with freedom or empowerment. Whatever images, emotions or thoughts you associate with the word “free will” suspend them for just one moment,
because what we have been taught since birth about having free will is most likely completely wrong.
Yes, that’s a shocking statement isn’t it? If you are like most people that sentence (and even this article before you clicked on it) would have stirred up feelings of disbelief, annoyance, scepticism or even rage. Why? Because it’s scary to feel as though we are not 100% in control of our lives, and the mere thought of not being self-governed makes most of us clamp up, go into denial, or get really angry.
But stay with me. Believe it or not, this might actually be good news. And in this article I’ll show you why.
Our Unconscious (Not Conscious) Mind is Running the Show
In the earlier 20th century famous psychologist Sigmund Freud proposed that our mind is like an iceberg submerged in water:
Like the tip of an iceberg, only 10% of our mind is visible – the conscious part. But a whopping 90% of our mind is hidden – the unconscious part.
This theory has been proven over and over in science and continues to be supported to this very day. However, recent scientific discoveries in the past few years have called into question the extent to which the unconscious mind guides our lives.
Here are a few notable studies:
1. In 2008, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig held a study about what the brain does before making a decision. In the study), the researchers gave a group of participants a button which the participants were freely able to press with either their right or left hand. Astonishingly, the researchers found that the participants made a decision about which hand to use up to 7 seconds before consciously deciding. Although they did note that this doesn’t completely discredit the theory of free will, they also pointed out that it reveals how big a role our unconscious minds play.
2. In the 1980’s, scientist Benjamin Libet demonstrated in a series of experiments that the unconscious mind makes decisions before the conscious mind. In one of his most notable experiments, participants were asked to move their wrist and note the exact time on a clock (down to the millisecond) that they made the decision. Libet discovered consistently that the volunteers’ brain activity (which he called “the readiness potential”) preceded their conscious intent. The results generally looked like this:
Readiness potential … 400 milliseconds … awareness of the intent to move wrist … 200 milliseconds … move wrist.
This experiment has been repeated many times over, and the same results are always found (for example, neuroscientist’s Marcel Brass and Patrick Haggard’s 2007 study )
3. Dutch psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis performed 5 experiments in 2004. In experiments 1-3 the participants were given a complex decision-making problem that had to be solved. Group 1 had to make an immediate choice, group 2 had to consciously think about what decision to make for a few minutes, and group 3 were distracted for a few minutes before making a decision. The experiments revealed that group 3 consistently made better decisions each time, pointing to the unconscious mind’s power in decision making. In experiments 4-5 more evidence was obtained that revealed that unconscious thought leads to more clarity.
What Does This Mean … Is Free Will an Illusion?
While it isn’t smart to completely rule out free will and adopt an entirely fatalistic perspective of life (which I believe is simple-minded), it’s important that we consider the implications of these studies and how they impact our lives.
- Our unconscious mind is undeniably vast and powerful, and influences a lot of our behavior.
- If you and I are not consciously responsible for making our decisions … who or what is? Where are our thoughts and choices coming from?
- To what extent do we have conscious control over our lives? We don’t choose our names, we don’t choose our family, we don’t choose our cultural and religious conditioning, we don’t choose our biology, sex, or sexuality. And now, it has been proven that our decisions are made before “we” make them.
- Is control an illusion?
Free will is a controversial topic, so I recommend looking at arguments (such as this one) about free will as well.
Why This Might Be a Good Thing
“Within your subconscious depths lie infinite wisdom, infinite power, and infinite supply of all that is necessary, which is waiting for development and expression.” – Joseph Murphy
Our ego, or sense of self, loves to feel as though it is in control. However, more and more we’re being shown that this is an illusion. But this is not necessarily a bad thing because it allows room for immense expansion on both a psychological and spiritual level.
So what can we do in light of the discovery that our unconscious mind is responsible for making decisions?
1. Explore your unconscious mind more.
There are many ways to explore your subconscious depth. You might like to consider self-hypnosis, dream analysis, and meditation as good places to start.
2. Learn to listen to your intuitive voice.
The voice of intuition is a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind; listen to it. A useful way of getting in touch with your intuition, or gut instinct, is to get back in touch with your body, feelings and thoughts through the practice of mindfulness. Spending time in solitude each day will give you a space to reconnect.
3. Trust the mystery of life (non-resistance).
In the West we are so driven by the linear, logical mind. Unfortunately, this causes us a lot of stress, disappointment and illness. Trusting life is about letting go of our thirst for control and letting everything be as it is.
Your turn …
What is your opinion: do we have free will? What do these studies reveal to you or make you question?
About The Author:
Aletheia Luna and Don Mateo Sol are the founders and authors of popular self-discovery website, LonerWolf.com. As transformational mentors and shamanic practitioners they have helped thousands of people throughout the world grow, heal, and become wholer human beings. You can follow their work on Facebook , or check out their two recent books “Old Souls” and “Quiet Strength.”
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