Humans often think themselves to be superior to other life forms. After all, here on our little wet ball of dirt, humans are the ones making all of the buildings and engaging in commerce, and going deeply into debt! Clearly, mankind is above all others! Of course, the cetaceans and man’s cousin apes think themselves to be superior because mankind busies itself with all of this nonsense when mankind could just be going around eating and getting laid. Yet, even after considering the cetaceans and the apes, man might say that humans, apes, and cetaceans are above the rest. What makes them superior? To mankind it is intelligence that matters… I have yet to see any significant evidence of intelligence among mankind, but so be it.
First, what is this peculiarly human intelligence of which humans are so proud? Is it consciousness? If ever one spends significant time with an animal, he or she will become convinced of the animal’s intelligence. It would seem that the inability to effectively communicate with our animal friends is the primary hinderance to immediate recognition of foreign consciousness.
But what is this consciousness? What separates consciousness from volition? Is this all entangled in free will?
Is this all part of human so-called self-awareness?
Have you ever lay awake nights unable to find sleep? I have. My mind is racing with thoughts so quickly and relentlessly that I begin to feel nearly physical pain. I toss and turn. I try to calm myself with breathing exercises, masturbation, reading. I do push ups, and sit ups. I eventually just go to the kitchen and pour some brandy, or lacking that some cough syrup. Anything to numb the pain. Eventually, I sleep for an hour or two. I wake up. I go to the fitness center. I exercise. I pour some coffee and read the news. I meditate. I go to work. I come home. I read. The process repeats. The experience of exercise of meditation of racing thoughts shed insight on the state of being.
What I eventually came to understand is that human thoughts are not typically created by volition. That is, my thoughts are not my own. Most thoughts come unbidden, and it takes a massive force of self-control and deliberate will to conquer the mind, control thought, and direct action. Most of the time, we are simply on auto-pilot. The subconscious mind is in control most of the time, and it directs us. We experience a measure of awareness, but this is an illusion.
Perhaps, dear reader, you are not as insane as I. It is certainly possible that you’ve never experienced this sleepless mania I’ve suffered off and on for many years. It is certainly plausible, actually quite likely, that you have never once meditated. In this case, you are likely unable to relate to this example. In that case, consider driving a car.
When someone first pilots a two ton death machine, he/she may be eager. He/she may be terrified. He/she may be confused and both eager and terrified all at once. These first few days or weeks of driving will be the last of that. Soon, driving becomes routine. A person becomes so accustomed to the act of driving that he/she will soon do it as force of habit. No thought goes into it, and this is actually good because people become far better drivers when the subconscious takes the wheel. It’s the unconscious that notices out of the corner of an eye the oncoming idiot teen who is merging into one’s vehicle, and then compels the driver hit the break, or swerve, or whatever else. Occasionally, the subconscious mind may fail but more often it succeeds in saving us.
One may think that this driving example is well and good, but surely the subconscious cannot handle the more advanced tasks we perform. Well, what do you perform? Showering, dressing, preparing your breakfast, brushing your teeth, driving to work. Do you even remember doing that shit after you’ve done it? No. Most of the time, we do not. We do it, and it becomes a blurry background to life. Our subconscious was tasked with those tasks, and we needn’t think about it anymore. We conquered that shit.
The more a task cannot be delegated to the subconscious, the more compensation you’re likely to receive for it. So, it isn’t like a person can perform surgery as an automated subconscious task (amputations during the US War Between the States exempted). It isn’t as if a person can write software that way. It’s not as if a person can make complex art in such a manner. Troubleshooting any significantly complex system requires mental clarity, focus, effort, control. Any mentally laborious task therefore typically has a huge payout. Lawyers, doctors, software engineers, the very best authors, the very best artists, the best business executives, the very best sociopa— politicians, these all share one common feature; they all must train their minds to focus.
It would seem that this is a facet in short supply among us. For it is not all of us who manage to command large accumulations of wealth. This is due to the difficulty in attaining a truly disciplined mind. By this measure, while all of us are conscious, we may not all be self-aware and possessed of volition.
So, the intelligence for which mankind praises itself may not actually be very common. This would be why philosophers had to inform mankind that mankind was actually different from other animals in a significant way. When considering this, we already figured out and largely accepted that consciousness is common and likely present in most life, while this volition and mental discipline is not. Those are rather significant and uncommon traits.
So, are these traits free will? When we direct our actions, are we really in control or is this more illusion?
Before we can answer that, we must make sure we understand what is meant by free will. If we mean that it is some magical shit that was put in us by some all powerful deity that allows us to make decisions and to take action without any prior input… no. That ain’t what this is. The first few years of a human life are spent acquiring basic knowledge about how to move, ambulate, ingest, excrete, and generally be a living thing. After that, a human spends a very significant amount of time learning how to interact with other humans, which makes those middle school years especially horrible. It takes a lot of input to be human. That input is then used to direct thought and action throughout the rest of our lives. Given that every single input to the body and every condition were the same, you could setup the same scenario a million times and the exact same outcome would occur every time. Note what I said there. I said every input and every condition. Every atom in the same place with the same forces acting on it. This is deterministic. The issue is that our vantage point on this is so insufficient to the task that no carbon based life form would ever be able to account for every variable in the system. The slightest vacillation would produce a different result.
Humans could be said to have free will (or as I prefer to call it: freedom of volition) in the sense that they can operate as they choose in lieu of how their body would have them. Does this make man superior to any other life form? No. This is a difference that can make life more enjoyable for humans than life might be for a tardigrade or a naked mole rat, but a more enjoyed life isn’t necessarily a more important or superior life. Humans prescribe meaning and value to things. That meaning and value is not inherent to the thing itself. Life is precious because most humans have empathy and do not wish for living things to suffer or for living things to die. We value life also because we need other living things if we ourselves wish to continue living. We value life because it is in our nature to do so. If this be the case, that value is present and equal among living things until those living things threaten our own existence (and this only because your give a fuck for another life form will stop when your heart stops beating, hence caring and value have a prerequisite that you first be alive to care and give a fuck… your life instantiates the give a fuck if you will).