Reclaiming "God": Yo, Free Will, and You

Address given by Daniel Kriegman (2/26/99)

“We must believe in free will, we have no choice.” (Isaac Bashevis Singer)

We know that those who use the word, "God," have claimed the notion of the mystical and divine as their own. Furthermore, they have attempted to encapsulate it within an anthropomorphic projection of a parental human out into the void somewhere, watching over us. Yoism, on the other hand, refutes such notions and insists that "God" is the Almighty Universe acting according to God's Laws (the Laws of Nature). Some people protest that this deprives us of free will and makes us mere automatons obeying physical laws. But, in actuality, this view deepens my understanding of humans as manifestations of the Divine, Almighty, Holy One. How can this be? How can we take back the concept of "God" and our own Godhood from those who stole it? How can we reclaim God? Here is one of many ways to conceive of God and our relationship to Yo. (Also see, "Yoan Prayer: Toward a Personal Relationship with God.")

The more scientists study the human mind, human motivations, and human behavior—the more that scientists learn about the mind's functioning—the more we see that conscious actions and feelings are only a tiny part of you, like the tip of an iceberg. For the most part, your mind operates outside of your awareness. I wrote these words as I thought them. But, I did not consciously decide to think each word; the words just appeared in my mind in the process of creating this speech. These thoughts were a precipitate of my innate disposition, my personal history, and the immediate moment that includes the preceding thoughts and the point being made. The more we understand about the world, the more we understand about how things are caused (about how our own minds operate), the more we are forced to see that there is no free will or independent spirit operating our minds. All the advances in psychology, sociology, psychiatry, economics, anthropology, and all the social sciences push back the veil of mystery about the causes of human behavior. Disappearing is the homunculus, or the spirit that lives within each of us, independently having our thoughts and exercising "free will."

Let me use the words of others to give you some brief references to how modern science has pushed the illusion of free will to the wall. In the sphere of evolutionary biology, Richard Dawkins describes our current knowledge of how the survival and replication of our genes is the governing factor behind most behavior. His book, he says, is

"to be read almost as though it were science fiction. ... But it is not science fiction: it is science. Cliche or not, `stranger than fiction' expresses how I feel about the truth. We are survival machines robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment. Though I have known it for years, I never seem to get fully used to it." [Introduction to Selfish Gene]

Another pithy observer of the human situation, Kurt Vonnegut, pondered the fact that, behind our apparent vigorous ability to act, lies the all important and determining physiological substrate of human behavior. He said:

"As for the suspicion I express in this book, that human beings are robots, are machines: It should be noted that people, mostly men, suffering from the last stages of syphilis ... were common spectacles in downtown Indianapolis ... when I was a boy.

Those people were infested with carnivorous little corkscrew [shaped bacteria] which could be seen only with a microscope. The victims' vertebrae were welded together after the corkscrews got through with the meat between. The syphilitics seemed tremendously dignified erect, eyes straight ahead.

I saw one stand on a curb at the corner of Meridian and Washington Streets one time. ... The syphilitic man was thinking hard ... about how to get his legs to step off the curb and carry him across Washington Street. ... Here was his problem: his brains, where the instructions to his legs originated, were being eaten alive by corkscrews. The wires which had to carry the instructions weren't insulated anymore, or were eaten clear through. Switches along the way were welded open or shut.

This man looked like an old, old man, although he might have been only thirty years old. He thought and thought. And then he kicked two times like a chorus girl.

He certainly looked like a machine to me when I was a little boy. ...

My own mother wrecked her brains with chemicals, which were supposed to make her sleep.

When I get depressed, I take a little pill, and I cheer up again ...

So it is a big temptation to me, when I create a character for a novel, to say that he is what he is because of faulty wiring, or because of ... chemicals which he ate or failed to eat on that particular day." [Breakfast of Champions, Chapter One]

Sigmund Freud spent his life trying to convince people that they were only dimly aware of the forces that lie outside of consciousness that are the most powerful determinants of our behavior. He tried to capture the sense that we are not independent actors but are lived by forces beyond our awareness. The individual, Freud said, carries out purposes

"as a link in a chain, which he serves against his will, or at least involuntarily. The individual himself regards sexuality as one of his own ends; whereas from another point of view he is an appendage to his germ plasm, at whose disposal he puts his energies in return for a bonus of pleasure. He is the mortal vehicle of a (possibly) immortal substance like the inheritor of an entailed property, who is only the temporary holder of an estate which survives him." [The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 1914, p. 78]

At the other end of the psychological spectrum, the behaviorist, B. F. Skinner, came to the same conclusion. He said:

"Unable to understand how or why the person we see behaves as he does ... we are not inclined to ask questions. We probably adopt this strategy not so much because of any lack of interest or power but because of a longstanding conviction that for much of human behavior there are no relevant antecedents. The function of the inner man is to provide an explanation [for behavior] which will not be explained in turn. Explanation stops with him ... [H]e is a center from which behavior emanates. He initiates, originates, and creates, and in doing so he remains, as he was for the Greeks, divine. We say that he is autonomous and, so far as a science of behavior is concerned, that means miraculous.

The position is, of course, vulnerable. Autonomous man serves to explain only the things we are not yet able to explain in other ways. His existence depends upon our ignorance, and he naturally loses status as we come to know more about behavior." [Beyond Freedom and Dignity, p. 14]

But, one may argue that we feel free to chose what we want. After all, we do, in fact, make choices. We don't feel controlled or pushed around like Vonnegut's syphilitic robot or Dawkins' gene machine. However, as Voltaire put it, "When I can do what I want to do, there is my liberty for me, but I can't help wanting what I do want." Or to paraphrase Voltaire, "You are free to choose according to your desires, but you are not free to choose your desires." All of these authors are trying to make the point that what appears to be independent action, freely willed behavior, is actually determined by our innate motives, our current biochemistry, our current circumstances, or the evolutionary forces of natural selection.

Free Will? Determinism?
What about quantum randomness?

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And, of course, what we learn and experience during our lifetimes greatly affects us. It is no wonder that almost all of the violent men I treated in prison were victims of severe violence when they were growing up. And as we know from looking at the regional religions of the world, people tend to believe what they were taught when they were little. But the overall point is that these factors—natural selection, innate motives and hungers, the cumulative effects of personal experience, current biochemical factors, and the stimuli of the environment—all combine in complex ways to lead to the experience of the moment and to actions and reactions. There is no Daniel Kriegman acting as a separate, independent ego. There is just the undulation of the Unknowable Essence, The Universal Field of Being, as it folds in on Itself and acts and reacts to Itself.

Here is an Yoan way of reconceptualizing God. As people we have sensations. If you assume that these sensations come ultimately from something beyond an internal mental creation, then something must exist beyond the mind. There must exist something outside of our mental conceptions (our experiences) that gives rise to and structures what we experience. The name for that which ultimately generates the sensations humans experience, that thus generates the universe and all that we experience, is "God." In other words, God—and at this point, maybe we should switch to using our new word, Yo that is not laden with magical thinking and other preexisting connotations—is an infinite entity, beyond human comprehension, that manifests (or "manifests as") all that exists. Each living person, every human relationship, every moment of the universe is a pure manifestation of this one True God, or Yo.

If you accept this definition of God/Yo as the Infinite Unknowable Essence that Manifests Everything—and the existence of this Yo has been proven—then there is only God-Action. Thus, the sense of ourselves as isolated egos, acting independently and with free will in a separate and alien universe is a delusion. We are not free and independent spirits operating separately from the universe around us, and none of our actions are a result of some such independent agent. Every scientific advance shows this to be true. Our increasing understanding of the causes of human behavior pushes the illusion of free will into a smaller and smaller corner where our ignorance still reigns supreme.

However, the illusion of separateness and independence is part of the design of life itself. Those life forms that acted as if their own selfhood was a distinct and precious entity, and thus struggled with all their might to preserve and recreate themselves, were the ones that survived. Those that didn't, long ago disappeared. But even if the illusion of separateness and free will is functional as part of some evolutionary process, it's still an illusion.

In this sense, a Buddhist perspective may be helpful. Though I have argued that there is no free will, the same argument suggests that there is only free will. How can this be? If we look at the isolated individual, we find that free will is a delusional illusion. The individual never acts independently in isolation, and causes can be found for our most intimate thoughts and feeling. However, if we see the individual to be a manifestation of the Divine Infinite One, then we see all action as the free will of the Ancient One as the Infinite Unknowable Essence plays with Itself. All action is freely willed. Just not by you (the isolated ego), but by You (the Godhead, part of which is living in and as you). As Buddhists claim, your sense of self is an illusion. As science discovers that your illusory self has no free will, it converges with this aspect of Buddhist thought: There is no independent self separate from the Universal Field. Yet, science makes no claim as to the free will of your True Self, the Infinite Unknowable Essence.

There is only one undulating, oscillating, complex, Universal Field—or Yo, the Unknowable Essence—that over 15 billion years ago began changing and eventually began evolving into the myriad forms that exist today. Through a long process, Yo has taken on innumerable forms that act upon one another. One could say that Yo is playing with Yoself. Part of the game is for the living organisms/Godforms to get lost, each "Godhead" acting as if it is an independent agent, separate and disconnected from Yo. Yet, each living organism is a whirlpool of Yo, an eddy of God-Matter, organized by certain inner instructions and external forces that guide it in taking its form and developing its being. Part of that form is to get lost and play the deluded game of isolated, independent ego.

One of these whirlpools of God/matter is you, Kirsten. You are Yo, the Ancient One. Not the megalomaniacal, paranoiac, psychotic delusional one may find in a mental hospital that thinks that yos tiny conscious ego is controlling every event in the universe. No. Energized by the great thermonuclear furnace we call the sun, over a period of more than 4 billion years, the mud, the air, and the water has slowly and agonizingly shaped itself and given rise to the Godpool of matter we call Gideon. The Unknowable Ancient One strides the Earth going under the name of Rich. Gazing forth from your eyes, Todd, the Ancient One sees or more accurately, through the act of perception, creates the myriad forms the Ancient One has assumed. Oh, Ancient One, it is a great privilege that brings me great joy to know you in your incarnation as Orion.

As well as yourself, the Godforms include the other people in this room. This room itself. The chairs. The food. The air. Hopefully, and I know this to be true much of the time, the Infinite One gazes through your eyes with great wonder and delight. It is this that may be the meaning of existence, the answer to what it is all about, as well as a sense of your place in it all.