Freedom and the value of the individual - by DAVID BOHM
Freedom has been commonly identified (especially in the West) with free will or with the closely associated notion of freedom of choice. In these terms, the basic question is: Is will actually free, or are our actions determined by something else (such as our hereditary constitution, our conditioning, our culture, our dependence on the opinions of other people, etc.)? Alternatively, can we or can we not choose freely among whatever courses of action may be possible?
Such a way of putting the question presupposes that the mind is always able to know what are the various alternative possibilities and which of these is the best. Evidently, however, if one does not have correct knowledge of the consequences of one's actions, freedom of will and choice have little or no meaning. It must be admitted that, in most of human life, lack of knowledge of what will actually flow out of one's choice prevails.
In order to deal with this, we try constantly to improve our knowledge. But as we have seen, reality is infinite both in its depth and in its extension. Although relatively independent contexts do exist, such independence is always limited. Very often the question of what these limits are is obscured not only by ignorance but also by the sheer complexity of the entangled web of interrelationships on which the consequences of our decision my depend.
There has been an enormous expansion of scientific knowledge, especially in the last century , along with a flood of many other kinds of knowledge (this has been called the "information explosion"). But has all this knowledge contributed to our general freedom in any significant way? Or has it not, in many ways, led to yet further unresolvable entanglements in the problem of trying to establish orderly and harmonious human relations? One can mention here the obvious example of how knowledge of nuclear physics has brought us to the need to make all sorts of decisions in situations in which there is little or no reliable information about how human beings will behave (or, even about all the significant physical consequences of our nuclear devices). Without such knowledge no sensible choice is possible. But even if we consider medical knowledge, which is on the whole beneficial (except for the growing number of cases of "iatrogenic" disease), this too is leading to situations in which we have to decide many questions without an adequate basis for making such decisions (e.g., shall terminally ill people be kept alive against their expressed wishes?). In such contexts what do free will and free choice actually mean? This is one of the questions I hope can be discussed.
Thus far, we have considered lack of knowledge of what may be called the "external world" as a serious limitation on meaningful freedom. But there is a much more serious limitation, a lack of what may be called "self-knowledge." Schopenhauer has, at least implicitly, already called attention to this area when he said that though we may perhaps be free to choose as we will, we are not free to will the content of the will. Evidently, this content is a key factor determining what sort of person one actually is, and yet it appears somehow to be "given". The significance of this question becomes especially clear when we note that people so often seem to be unable actually to do the good things that they have (apparently freely) resolved to do. No person can be said to be free who is for reasons of internal confusion unable to consistently carry out his or her chosen aims or purposes, for evidently such a person is driven by inner compulsions of which he or she is unaware. This inner lack of freedom is far more serious than a lack arising from external constraints or a lack of adequate knowledge of external circumstances.
The problem has often been approached with the aid of moralistic injunctions, telling people to "pull themselves together" and to choose, once and for all, what is right and good. But to those who are unaware of what is actually determining the content of their wills (which includes, in many cases, a content that divides and weakens the will), such advice has little meaning. Moreover, the content is ultimately based on overall self-world views that the individuals have usually not chosen for themselves. These include general notions not only of the sort of world we live in, but also of models of what constitutes a normal right-thinking good human being, of how such human beings are to be related, and of what are their duties and obligations, etc. This all-pervasive web of shared thoughts and feelings, propagated not only explicitly but also by tacit and subtle clues picked up since the time of one's birth, operates in most people as an almost overwhelmingly powerful limit on freedom, of which they are essentially ignorant. Indeed, this web not only determines what will generally be thought or felt to be the right choice. Much more important is that it determines what is regarded as the correct range of alternative possibilites in any actual situations. If something is not considered a real possibility, there is no chance at all that it will appear among one's choices. Is there any meaning to freedom of will when the content of this will is thus determined by false knowledge of what is possible, false knowledge that we do not even know we possess (or, more accurately, that possesses us)?
The problem is seen to be even sharper if one considers that the question of choosing what is right and good so often arises in circumstances in which one's desire is in some other direction. Indeed, if something is clearly seen to be right and good, and if one has no desire to do otherwise, it hardly seems that any particular act of choice is ever needed. Will one then not spontaneously have the urge to act according to what one has perceived to be right and good? But often, as has been mentioned above, one finds that one has an irresistible desire in some other direction. One has by no means chosen this desire. Rather, it also arises from the totality of rememberances, reactions, and "knowledge" accumulated over the past, which responds to the present "needs" as overwhelmingly urgent in ways of which one is not aware.
The attempt of will to struggle against such desire has no meaning, for this sort of desire contains in it a movement of self-deception, along with a further movement aiming to conceal this self-deception and to conceal the fact that concealment is taking place. Thus, one will often accept as true any false thought that makes one feel better (or more secure) or that makes one believe that the object of one's desire can be realized. This is, for example, the basis of the activity of the confidence trickster, who paints a false picture of satisfying greed that the victim cannot resist accepting as true. As long as one is ignorant of how this sort of self-deceptive desire operates, what can it mean to talk of freedom of any kind?
It appears, then, that the principal barrier to freedom is ignorance, mainly of "oneself" and secondarily of the "external world". This ignorance is also the main barrier to true individuality. For any human being who is governed by opinions and models unconsciously picked up from society is not really an individual. Rather, as has been made very clear, especially by Krishnamurti, such a person is a particular manifestation of the collective consciousness of humankind. He or she may have special peculiarities, but these too are drawn from the collective pool of thoughts and feelings (here we may usefully consider the word idiosnycracy, which, in its Greek root, means "private mixture"). A genuine individual could only be one who was actually free from ignorance of his or her attachment to the collective consciouness. Individuality and true freedom go together and ignorance (or lack of awareness) is the principal enemy of both.
It is important to note that the main kind of ignorance that destroys freedom and prevents true individuality is ignorance of the activity of the past. As had been brought out earlier, although the past is gone, it nevertheless continues to exist and to be active in the present, as a nested structure of enfoldments, going into even the distant past, which are carried along (with modifications) from one moment to the next. (I have treated these as projections of various kinds.) Here I have been indicating how this activity of the past can interfere with freedom and individuality as long as one is not aware of this past.
The past is also absolutely necessary in its proper area (as, for example, it contains essential knowledge of all sorts), but when the past operates outside of awareness it gets caught up in absurdities of every kind and becomes something like the sorcerer's apprentice, which just keeps on functioning mechanically and unintelligently, to bring about destructive consequences one does not really want.
This brings us to the question: can the past contain adequate knowledge of its actual activity in the present? As I have already pointed out, the content of knowledge (which is necessarily of the past) cannot catch up with the immediate and actual present, which is always the unknown. Since the activity of the past is actually taking place in the present, this too is inherently unknown. Thus, knowledge cannot "know" what it is actually doing right now. As an example, one may "know" from hearsay or from general conclusions drawn from particular experiences that people of a certain race are inferior. When this "knowledge" responds to a particular member of this race, one's immediate perception is shaped, colored, and twisted so as to present that person as inferior. One is not aware of just how all this is actually taking place, as it happens very rapidly and in very subtle ways. Moreover, the whole process is accompanied by a great deal of distortion and self-deception. For example, as one perceives the "inferiority" of the other person, thus implying one's own "superiority", one experiences a short, sharp burst of intense pleasure. To sustain the pleasure the mind continues with further false thoughts along this line while concealing from itself the fact that it is doing so. Clearly, because the response from accumulated knowledge always lags behind actuality and because, in cases such as this, the mind is caught up in feeling the need to distort, it is not possible through such knowledge alone thoroughly to free the mind of such prejudices.
How, then, is it possible for there to be the self-awareness that is required for true freedom? Along the lines of what has been said in this (book), I propose that self-awareness requires that consciousness sink into its implicate (and now mainly unconscious) order. It may then be possible to be directly aware, in the present, of the actual activity of past knowledge, and especially of that knowledge which is not only false but which also reacts in such a way as to resist exposure of its falsity. Then the mind may be free of its bondage to the active confusion that is enfolded in its past. Without freedom of this kind, there is little meaning even in raising the question as to whether human beings are even free, in the deeper sense of being capable of a creative act that is not determined mechanically by unknown conditions in the untraceably complex interconnections and unplumbable depths of the overall reality in which we are embedded.
This leads us to a more fundamental question of what the relationship is between the truly free human being and the totality that goes beyond the explicate, beyond the implicate order, and beyond time and space. To pose this question is of course itself subject to questioning, since one may ask whether one has properly laid the ground for doing so by giving serious and sustained attention to the actual activity of past knowledge in one's own mind. Is one sufficiently free of this past meaningfully to inquire into the infinite totality? Any real inquiry of this kind must have such attention in it from the very beginning, or else one's mind may be so bound by preconceptions and desires enfolded in one's past that true inquiry at this depth is not actually possible.
Nevertheless, there may be a possibility of usefully engaging, at least to some extent, in a meaningful discussion of this question, even though one inevitably begins from the common state of collective consciousness, which is not properly aware of the actual activity in the present of that false and self-deceptive "knowledge" which is part of its base.
In doing this, the first question to be discussed is: just what is it in our past that binds us, deceives us, and thus prevents true freedom? I suggest that what limits us is the attempt to identify oneself with a certain part of one's past that is regarded as essential to what one is. As we have seen, we are primarily the present, which is the unknown. The past is, in its actuality, merely a part of this present that is also active in the present, and therefore it too is the unknown. All that we know is the content (i.e., the meaning) of the past that is gone (and this resembles the actual present only for those contexts in which changes are slow and regular enough so that the difference between past and present makes no significant difference).
If we are the unknown, which is the present, then time can be seen in its proper meaning only in the context of that which is beyond time (i.e., the holomovement or eternity). Any attempt to treat the whole meaning of existence in terms of time alone will lead to arbitrary and chaotic limitation of this existence, which then takes on the quality of being rather mechanical. If we are to be creative rather than mechanical, our consciouness has to be primarily in the movement beyond time. Implicitly, this is well known to us. No one will be creative who does not have an intense interest in what one is doing. With such an interest, one can see that one will be at most only dimly conscious of the passage of time. That is to say, though physical time still goes on, consciousness is not organized mainly in the order of psychological time; rather, it acts from the holomovement. On the other hand, if the mind is constantly seeking the goal of finishing its task and reaching its aim (so that it is organized in terms of psychological time) it will lack the real interest needed for true creativity.
Given that a human being may be creative when his or her consciousness arises directly from the "timeless" holomovement, we come to another question: is the creative human being merely an instrument or a projection of the creative action of totality? Or does one act from one's own being independently? I suggest that this is a wrong question, as it presupposes a separation of the human being from the totality, which I have denied at the very outset of this inquiry. A better question is: can we be free tp participate in the creativity of the totality at a level appropriate to our own potential?
The need for this question becomes clear if we note that ultimately everything is participating creatively in the action of the totality. For matter in its grosser levels, this creative participation consists of continuing to re-create its past forms, with modifications, in a way that is approximately mechanical. (This was implied in the statement that each moment is created with its past as a projection containing a further projection of the past of previous moments.) Such creation of a sustained but ever-changing existence of matter at the grosser (mechanical) levels opens the way for the action of higher levels of creativity, such as life and mind.
But once these higher levels are possible, why are they not always fully and harmoniously realized? I have proposed that, at least in part, this is because of ignorance. Such ignorance leads the mind to continue its past, mechanically, through identification rather as if it were a form of matter at a grosser level. The mind is trying in a confused way to realize the kind of creativity appropriate to such grosser levels of matter. In doing so, it is clearly unable to realize the kind of creativity appropriate to its own level.
Ending this state of ignorance may then open a new possibility for the mind to be creative at its own level. When it does this, it is still participating in the universal creativity, but now it is realizing its proper potential.
I suggest that this is the essence of freedom, to realize one's true potential, whatever the source of the potential may be. It is unimportant whether it is grounded in the whole or in some part (e.g., the individual human being). And, indeed, as has been said earlier, the attempt even to raise the question of whether creativity originates in the totality or in the individual presupposes a kind of separateness of the two that we have already denied. So I suppose that the question of freedom has to be looked at in a different way.
This new way flows out of giving sustained and serious attention to how unfreedom arises basically from identification with the past, in which the mind commits itself to act as if it were determined mechanically in the ways in which grosser levels of matter are determined. We have to use the past, but to determine what we are from it is the mistake. To do this implies that such grosser mechanical existence in time has supreme value and that the main function of the mind is to sustain this sort of existence by continuing the past with modifications. The clear perception that we are the unknown, which is beyond time, allows the mind to give time its proper value, which is limited and not supreme. This is what makes freedom possible, in the sense of realizing our true potential for participating harmoniously in universal creativity, a creativity that also includes the past and future in their proper roles.
Re: First Guess
I also think that he's an ENTP.
Originally Posted by CuriousSoul