Social Change, Choice and Free Will

I’ve been keeping up with Sam Harris’s writings about free will or lack thereof. Here’s one of his latest blog writings on the topic. You Do Not Choose What You Choose Free will is about the ability to choose, the notion that  because of a large number of options we freely choose from those options. Choice is a highly conditioned process. While I’m still delving into this notion before writing a post about it there’s an interesting video I found which deals with choice from a socio-economic perspective.

The excellent RSA organization has produced this animated video of Professor Renata Salecl discussing Choice. From the YouTube page the synopsis:

In this new RSAnimate, Professor Renata Salecl explores the paralysing anxiety and dissatisfaction surrounding limitless choice. Does the freedom to be the architects of our own lives actually hinder rather than help us? Does our preoccupation with choosing and consuming actually obstruct social change?


2 comments on “Social Change, Choice and Free Will

  1. Buddhism posits sufficient free will to allow for intentional practices to augment awareness, to foster wholesome thought and action, and to defuse unhealthy reactions. But, Nyantiloka says that the problem of does man have free will doesn’t exist for the Buddha because he knows that apart from the ever changing mental and physical phenomena, no entity such as man can be found and ‘man’ does not relate to any reality. ‘Will’ or volition is only a mental phenomenon flashing forth only for a moment and that as such, did not have any existence in the previous moment. Also, all mental -physical phenomena are conditioned otherwise wouldn’t arise into existence.

    I’ve pondered this for years and have seen that everything is based in intention, I couldn’t raise my arm walk or write this without intention. This is very handy to see when creating a meaningful life. But, mostly I don’t know.


  2. A sociology profess I once knew challenged her students that their economic condition limited their choices, so in the purest form, they didn’t have complete free will. She taught at a mid-level state university in Michigan. When a student tried to call her on it she shot back, so if you have free will, you can make any choice you want, right? Student says yes. Which school is better in your opinion, University of Michigan or Central Michigan University, she asked? UofM, the student replies. Then why are you attending CMU, why did you choose this if your goal is to seek best education? My family can’t afford UofM. Couldn’t you get a scholarship? My grades weren’t good enough. Then how do you have free will if you’d rather attend UofM but can’t because you can’t afford it? And isn’t it reasonable to say that because you didn’t apply yourself fully in high school to get better grades that you limited your choices, and consequently don’t have complete freedom of choice?

    Of course, I’m simplifying the discussion, but it was an interesting way to make the point. Just having the “ability” to want to make any choice, and actually being capable of making any choice, or even the most desired choice, isn’t really open to everyone. It seemed to me that the Buddha was aware of this because his teachings, as reflected in the Tipitika, are presented differently depending on the audience. He would speak to lay people one way, the Brahmins another; he would talk of being a good person with “run-of-the-mill” people, and the Jhanas with monks.

    And with the simile of the salt crystal, the Buddha shows us that rather than being linear, karma is a process of feedback loops, so a choice I make now can actually limits the choices I may have in the future, even though I still have the ability to chose.

    Sorry for the rambling, but this is a very interesting topic. Even the thesis of the Kalama Sutta shows that there are limits to free will.

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