Many years ago someone said to me, well, they could have done differently, I wouldn’t have done that. These statements stuck with me for a very long time. The back burner of my mind is unrelenting, it is never off. I am always thinking about something, whether I know it or not. And this simple thought, which we all accept as true, suddenly required my attention. When the conclusion finally bubbled to the surface it was this: Things are they way they are, because this is the only way they could be, if things could have been, they would be.
The statement we all accept without analysis, and upon which we base our western religions and system of justice, is false. We do not have unlimited choices and our capacity to chose is also extremely limited by the totality of our circumstances. We make the only choice we are capable of making at the time our limited choices are presented.
Over the ensuing years the full realization of my conclusion has become clear. Recently, Sam Harris has reignited those thoughts in his latest lectures and book Free Will. I’ve come to realize or acknowledge, or accept, that we are not the authors’ of our lives. We are the product of everything that has come before us and has happened to us. This not only limits our choices, by placing limits on our opportunities, but limits our ability to choose.
Our genes, our place of birth and to whom we are born, and our epigenes all create a state of being of which we are not only largely ignorant, but unable to control. We may not want to believe this now, but neuroscience is discovering things about our brains that will one day require we accept this truth.
This will change everything about how we perceive ourselves and our actions. For many of us this will create the same conflict as the realization that there is no god. Without gods how will I know right from wrong; why will it matter whether our actions are right or wrong without the punishment of a god? If we do not control our causes, then I am not responsible for the effects. That many of us will suddenly react differently free of the illusions of gods and free will is predictable.
For me this has the affect of reaffirming my empathy for those whose lives are different from my own. Some may do things we find distasteful or require we separate them from society, but they are not evil, they are humans whose lives are not the result of an evil will, or weakness, or stupidity, but a product of circumstances beyond their control. This makes punishment instead of compassion especially cruel. Once we accept the limits within which we exist, forgiveness of our own actions and those of others becomes far easier.