Friday, 6 April 2012

Freedom of the Will in Advaita

Let's get back to basics. Two questions: (a) How did the idea ever arise that there was freedom of the will; (b) How did the idea of liberation/realisation/mukti/moksha etc. arise? How do we in this deluded state ever get the idea that absolute freedom was possible? How could we ever get from the one state to the other if they are hermetically sealed from one another? That's a serious question and if there is a clean break between vyavaharika/relative and paramarthika/absolute it cannot be answered. There must be some clue in the everyday state we are in that makes the seeking of liberation a rational activity.

What is that thing that is according to the Kena Upanishad pratibodha videtam.(realised in every state of mind): Kena Up. 2.3

Brahman is known when It is realised in every state of mind; for by such Knowledge one attains Immortality. By Atman one obtains strength; by Knowledge, Immortality. 

Let me suggest that both the freedom of the will and the identity of the self are reflections in the mind of the nature of the Self even though our psychological investigations do not establish the Self or the freedom of the will. If you look for freedom in the psyche you won't find it. You are so to speak looking in the container at the contained and missing containing as such. It is this containing or the pervading of every state of mind by consciousness that gives rise to the idea of freedom even though the cerebral activity is, as material, law abiding. 'Pervasion' here does not imply an activity on the part of consciousness. This 'pervasion' gives allows the mind/brain to seem to be conscious even though because it is 'jada'(inert) it is not conscious by nature.

The scientific/psychological construction of the human mind is not adequate to the metaphysical understanding of what the mind is. Balanced by wisdom and good judgement it is adequate for practical purposes such as legal and interpersonal assessment. States of mind are not objects in the scientific sense and it is the position of Bergson that states of mind are all different and are never repeated.

The advaitin position on free will is sometimes presented as a compatibilist one. That is for another post.

4 comments:

ktismatics said...

"States of mind are not objects in the scientific sense and it is the position of Bergson that states of mind are all different and are never repeated."

I think so too. The brain viewed as a hunk of meat is a static object, but as a bodily organ it continuously undergoes changes in activation.

Regarding the possible distinction between brain and mind... Let's presume, based on contemporary neuroscience and neurophilosophy, that the brain maintains an ongoing status report on the world, on the body, and on the mind. The brain uses sensory inputs to assemble an internal representation of the world. But unless I'm hallucinating or dreaming, the brain's representation corresponds or points to a world outside of the brain and the senses. So too with bodily status: the brain assembles a representation of pain in my left small toe, but (unless I'm an amputee with phantom limb pain) the brain's representation corresponds or points to an area of my body outside of the brain. Couldn't an argument be made about the brain-mind relationship as well? The brain creates an ongoing representation of the mind. But just as the world and the body exist apart from the brain's representations of them, so too perhaps does the mind exist independently of the brain's representation of it.

ombhurbhuva said...

I like to think of the entity in the world as the brain-mind aka the person. This is pervaded by consciousness in a non-dual way as the advaitins put it. That is to say we can separate the two (brainmind/consciousness) conceptually but not in reality. This philosophical position is a transcendental one which is to say that it is a philosophical projection of how things must be for things to appear as they do. Information is inseparable from the being of things. Even prior to the Speculative folk this was a commonplace of the panpsychic position. The major question for metaphysics is : how does that object out there somehow come to be ‘in’ me and yet be known as out there? Psychology can proceed perfectly well without a theory about this but there are many interesting questions about blindsight and other phenomena. Where does consciousness stop, does processing in the brain have a certain ripeness before it falls as information? Obviously the senses are the main tools of our safe navigation through a hazardous world and so we would expect that once the processing hits those limits, becoming a touch, as sight etc., consciousness would be there. But the results of sight without the experience of sight, that’s strange. Can that be a theory changer?

elisa freschi said...

Very interesting post. Thanks for the remark about container and contained. I look forward for the post on compatibilism.
Do you think "freedom" is a good translation for svatantrya, in this context?

ombhurbhuva said...

That ‘container/contained’ idea which seemed to me to have been thought up in the moment of writing the post I discover in Bergson’s Time and Free Will which I read previously. He uses it in relation to intensity of feeling or sensation which can give rise to the notion of more and less i.e. quantity, thus container/contained dyad. He proposes that the feeling of sensation is a matter of quality rather than quantity. He doesn’t deny that the spatialisation of mental life can be useful for language but says that it is misleading as an ontological account. Mental states do not succeed each other in a spatialised mind.

To co-opt from the Vedic matrix; this is the fundamental maya for Bergson.

Svatantrya: This is a concept from Kasmir Shavism which is interesting in its own right. The advaitins c.f. http://www.advaita-vedanta.org/articles/The_Riddle_of_Fate_and_Free.htm
do not deny free will as a practical basis for conduct but reject it at the higher level.
Ashtavakara Samhita: XVIII.30: The mind of the liberated one is neither troubled nor pleased; it is actionless and motionless, desireless and free from doubts.