Philosophy of Determinism

For centuries, there has been a hugely important philosophical debate going on, and in the minds of many it is still unresolved today. It is the debate of determinism versus free will. As an introduction, let’s define those terms so you know what I’m talking about.

Free Will = The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; The ability  to have freely chosen differently than you did at any moment, regardless of your beliefs.

Determinism = The idea that for every event there first existed conditions which could have caused no other event; The future can only unfold the one way it is going to go due to everything that plays a role in how it goes that way.

On one side, we have those arguing that universe operates via cause and effect. This means that for every event that takes place, there was a string of prior events which caused that event to take place, and made it inevitable. The reason people believe the world is governed by cause and effect is that when observing the unfolding of activity around us, we have learnt there are certain relationships between events. For example, it’s quite clear that if I stick my hand on a hot metal plate, I will get a burn. And so the whole of scientific enquiry was born out of trying to understanding these relationships better, which is to understand why and how something takes place. We try to find the reason or explanation for how something came into existence, because we acknowledge there is always a process of cause and effect which led to it’s creation.

So, why is there a debate? Why do people disagree with this view? Well, the thing is, if nothing can happen without something having caused it, then every thing that will ever happen in the future is already determined and set in motion. And this idea is completely incompatitable with the very popular and beloved concept of “free will”. The only reason to doubt that cause and effect reigns supreme lies with this notion that humans have free choice.  And thankfully, this concept is oh so testable. But in this article, I want to argue a case for determinism in a completely different way, without even resorting to the standard cause and effect argument. I want to answer this question: Is it possible for life to unfold any other way than it is going to?

As I said, we don’t even need to consider the concept of causality to answer this – it is a completely different topic altogether. Let’s instead consider the word possible. When we say something is possible, what do we mean? Well, for something to be possible, really means that we believe it could or can occur in reality. If it’s possible to catch a fish it means hey,  we think people can/could do that in reality. So then, the question “is it possible for life to unfold any other way than it’s going to?” really means “can the events in reality unfold in a way that is different to the way the events in reality unfold?”  Wow, what a confusing contradiction! I think that has answered the question! But let’s continue:

Did the past unfold differently to the way that the past did unfold?

Is the present unfolding differently to the way the present is unfolding?

Can the future unfold differently to the way the future will unfold?

Well to say things like “this event could be different right now” or “that past event could have been different” or “that event in the future could go differently to how it’s going to (it’s not fixed)” is quite ridiculous if you ask me. You are really stating that something is possible, not realising that the only way to measure whether something is possible or not is to see whether it occurs in reality or not. If an event does not occur at a given time, it was obviously never a possibility for that event to occur at that time. The concept of uncertainty and chance only exists within our own minds. Because we do not know what will happen next, it feels like anything could happen. But in reality, the only things that can happen are the things that do end up happening. To say that the events could have gone differently than they did is really saying that you believe your own imagination is a better measure of what is possible than reality itself is. It’s like saying you know more about reality than the universe itself does! Where does this line of thinking lead? Well, let’s say you come across another person, and they say to you in no joking manner “I am a dragon, and you are stealing my dragon eggs. I must burn you with my fiery breath!” Then they proceed to blow on you. What would you think? Well you would most likely think they are a bit crazy, since you know the things they are saying are not possible. How do you know they are not possible? Because the event of being burnt by fiery dragon breath did not occur in reality at that time (or anytime obviously). But if you were to instead adopt the line of thinking where reality does not determine what represents a possibility, you would have no choice but to admit that the dragon man could indeed be correct, because you would be measuring a possibility only by your imagination. Of course we can imagine and predict what the possibilities are for the future, but we won’t know for sure until it arrives!! When we are dealing with the subject of possibilities we are really dealing with the subject of “probability”. We are assessing the likelihood or “chances” something has of actually occurring in reality. But once something has actually occurred in reality, such measures are useless because it is a fact that the event always had a 100% chance of coming about.

It is the same with saying any event could have been different to how it was at a given time. If it could have unfolded differently, why the hell didn’t it? If there is a large range of possible options that the future may take, why does only one set of outcomes only ever come into existence at a given time? Let’s do another example. Say you have two young brothers at home, playing video games. The younger brother says the older  “I think I’m gonna win this time!!!”. The older says “nope not possible”. So both brothers are making predictions about a certain point in time, in the future, when the game they are playing has finished. They both think they have a good idea about what is possible at that moment. But, when the time comes, and the game finishes, only one of the brothers will be correct. So, let’s say the game finishes and the younger brother wins. He was correct, and he now has a definitive answer on what could, and could not, occur in that moment in time!! This is why predictions are called predictions and not facts, because they must pass the test of reality first!

So, to answer the question, no it is not possible for life to unfold any other way than it going to! We live in a completely deterministic world, and this is such an awesome thing! We live in a world where everything that happens was meant to happen!


Cause and Effect

I have explained on this blog that psychological stress is built upon an incorrect framework of understanding life. This incorrect framework includes the  “If you are good, you will get” method of developing or controlling people, which sets up the “achievement model” for measuring personal development. But to really understand stress, we have to go deeper. We will have to cover the subject of cause and effect,  and see where this takes us.

One of the most obvious things about the universe is that it is that it operates via a system of cause and effect. There is a process of action and reaction which we can witness everyday in the unfolding of our lives, and it is only by this process which events come to take place. Meaning if you believe you need some food, you must try and set in motion a chain of reactions (events) which would lead to you getting some food. Better go to the shop and buy some! So now, say you are at the shopping centre, and you start pondering this question: “How did I get here?” (we’ll pretend you’re not in any rush). Well the most obvious answer might be “I drove here”. But you start thinking that maybe that’s not all there is to it. How many other things played a role in how you got there?

I drove here because I believed I needed more food”. But how did you come to have a car in the first place? “I have a car because I bought one, which was because I believed having a car was necessary for my work and hobbies”. But how did you get the money to buy the car? And why did you drive to this particular grocery store? “It was the closest big supermarket with cheap prices”. Closest to where? “My home”. But how did you come to live there? “I moved here because the lease ran out it the flat I was living in, and I wanted to live in a house. I found this place through an online advert”. But how did the place come to be available at that time? “Who knows”. And how did you come to live in this city anyway? And why did you believe you needed food? “The kitchen was empty when I was looking for something to eat”. Why was that? “I’ve been too busy to go shopping the last few weeks. I’ve been eating takeaway”. Why don’t you keep eating takeaway? “It’s too expensive”. Why is that only a priority now? “I have some spare time now”. Etc Etc.

I could go on forever, but I think you get the point. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing and whatever event takes place, you can be sure that there have been trillions of factors have all come together to have caused it. You could trace the causal factors involved in any event or decision making process you find yourself in. If you really wanted you could trace it all back to “how did you come to be conceived anyway?” And you could trace that back to hundreds and thousands of  years of cause and effect in action. How did you get to be at the shopping centre? You got to be there due to everything that played a role in how you came to be there. And so, let’s say you are so perplexed by this discovery that you start to ponder a different question. “Why am I not currently somewhere else? Hmmm.

Well, after some thought, you might realise that this question has the SAME ANSWER! The reason you are not currently somewhere else is because of everything which played a role in how you came to be where you currently are!  Nothing can happen, without something playing a role in how it comes into existence. And, for everything that does happen, there first existed conditions that could have caused no other event.

But let’s say while you are pondering this, you receive a phone call from a family member saying they had an accident and are in hospital, and also receive a text from your boss asking you to come to work. And, as your mind considers these two things, you think “I believe it is more important to go to hospital and check up on the family member than it is to go to work. And so you drove to the hospital. The point I am making here is that even though there were different options to consider, the eventual action you took was governed by certain beliefs you held. There was a reason you went to the hospital, and it was the same reason you didn’t go to work. This is what it means to live in a world of cause and effect. You could even start thinking about WHY you believed going to the hospital was more important. There is really no end to it, and you won’t ever be in a position to have all the answers on how and why things unfold the way they do, but you can be sure that there is always a process of cause and effect governing it.

Can We Miss Out? Is death an example of missing out?

The If you are good, you will get foundation philosophy which society lives by teaches us that unless we can prove our worth, we will miss out on our requirements for development and survival. This is really just another way of saying we will DIE.  Missing out equals death to the subconcious mind, because most people believe death is a case of missing out. In society, we are often taught that death is inherently bad, and always to be feared. Of course, death is a very real thing, and one of the only guarantees in life. But is death really an example of missing out? Is it actually possible to miss out on your requirements for development and survival?

Well let’s start with survival. Your requirements for survival include everything your physical body needs in order stay alive long enough to receive the development (life experiences) you were meant to* receive. Everyone who is alive is obviously receiving these requirements or they would not be alive. Everyone who is dead has already received these requirements. They now either no longer exist and so there is no-one there who can be missing out, or you could say that the components they are made of have moved on and are performing work elsewhere, and so they live on in a sense. If you believe in some form of afterlife, this is still not a case of missing out. The only view of afterlife which includes missing out is the idea of being eternally punished in hell, and this is obviously an incorrect concept which has evolved out the notion of free will and the if you are good, you will get philosophy.  So no one ever misses out on their requirements for survival and existence. But what about development? Well that all depends on which model you are using to measure the success and progress of your life. If you believe that development is measured by the accomplishment of desired outcomes, then you will most definitely have many times when it feels like you are missing out on what you need. On the other hand, if you understand that development is correctly measured by the gaining of wisdom – an accurate account of reality, and that every experience you ever go through facilitates this development, then you will understand that no, it is impossible for anyone to ever miss out on the requirements for their development or survival! This certainly does not mean you will ever live up to the superhuman feat of never getting lost amonst incorrect thoughts and experiencing the fear these thoughts cause. It happens to everyone – to be human means to be in a process of growth.

But of course, people most definitely die. So if death is not a case of missing out on our needs for survival and development, what on earth is it? Well, it is simple. Death is change. Nothing more. Death is simply a process of change. And this process of change is how the world works, so to call it “bad” is not very wise. They say the earth and ourselves were born from the ashes of dead stars. I think this is a good metaphor to explain that death and birth are just two sides of the same coin.

Of course it is completely human and to be expected that the death of a loved one would bring on some form of grief. And of course since every person is performing a valuable role, it makes sense to try and preserve life. But in order to help someone who is suffering after the death of a loved one,  I think Byron Katie has the best advice: Thank the person for dying right on time.

*By “meant to” I mean that a person’s life unfolds the only way that it can given everything involved in the process which causes it to go that way.  They receive the only life span possible.

The difference between the achievement and wisdom models

The major difference between the achievement model and wisdom model is that the achievement model measures development by how much you can manipulate reality to match what’s in your mind, whereas the wisdom model measures development by how much what’s in your mind matches what’s actually happening in reality. And so once you are educated by life to learn the accuracy of the wisdom model, you can start to see that everything which happens in your life plays a role in your development by upgrading your beliefs about that which exists and can occur in reality, and thus increases your wisdom. Every experience is offering value to your life, even the experience of suffering massive amounts of psychological pain. This is the understanding which will start to bring relief from such pain.

At first glance, it can appear that the “achievement model” is the more goal-oriented model, and that the “wisdom model” is more to do with letting go of trying to control life so much. But in fact, it is really the opposite. It is the “wisdom model” which will allow you to continue to see benefits in working on goals no matter how life unfolds. The “achievement model” philosophies are really saying this: “You must be able to BEAT THE UNIVERSE before you’re allowed to feel good about yourself”. Meaning any events that the universe offers which get in the way of life unfolding how you want it to – YOU MUST BEAT THEM! Good luck with that!! I remember I used to say to myself very often that “Life is impossible! It’s just impossible!” And that’s because having total control over everything in universe is literally impossible! The achievement model simply fools people into believing that something’s wrong with them when they realise they don’t have that control.  It is this philosophy that makes people scared of having a go at certain goals for fear of failure, or makes people spit the dummy towards certain ambitions when they are constantly beating themselves up for not living up to a particular standard. Only under the wisdom model can you see that it’s always worth having a go at working on your desired future, because such efforts will always be producing the activity which is playing a role in everyone’s development. There is no chance of failure and no standard which you must live up to! It is “goals are interesting to work on and have benefits” rather than “I must hate myself until I achieve that goal”.

For example, lets consider two sisters taking an exam. The first sister comes running home to her mother after the exam, exclaiming with great relief  that “I did it, I passed! Phheeewww! I don’t know what I would have done if I failed. I would’t have been able to live with myself – my whole future would have been ruined. God I’m dreading going back to school, what if I fail next time?”.

The second sister then comes home and quite happily explains to her Mum that “Oh yea I didn’t pass the exam, I really tried my best though so I’m proud of that. At least now the teacher knows where I’m up to so when I go back to school we can continue from there! I’m so excited to go back to school Mum! There’s so much to learn!”

Which sister do you think has greater personal development? Which sister is in need of help? Well, quite often society would have their attention on the second sister because she failed the exam. But in reality, the second sister was fine. She believed every event was simply a chance to grow and learn more. It was the first sister who was in trouble and needed help in this example. She was incorrectly measuring her development by whether she passed the exam or not. She also had her self esteem completely on the line, governed by that outcome. Her account of reality was not correct.

Which is an example of greater personal development? Passing an exam? Or not jumping off a bridge if you failed the exam!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   The answer to that question defines the difference between the achievement model or wisdom model for measuring personal development!

In the above examples you can try substituting “passing the exam” with any other criteria people can be found to be measuring themselves by. Did you or didn’t you live up to whatever the expectations were? If you did, was that a huge relief? If you didn’t, was that the end of the world? If so, you are still living at least partly by the achievement model. Most of us are, including myself. But all the psychological pain caused by the achievement model will be playing an important role in letting us know how much we have to learn.

Wisdom Versus Knowledge

As humans have evolved over the years, there is no doubt we now understand a lot of things that we did not understand before. The advancement of our scientific knowledge of the universe is simply amazing. We can communicate around the globe at a click of the button. We can study the chemical composition of the stars. We can even analyse the smallest components of the atoms we’re made of. But what I want to talk about in this post is the distinction between wisdom and knowledge, and how they are different from each other.

If you look up the definition of both words on google, you will find no clear distinction between them. But there is a distinction. First let’s look at knowledge. What is it?

Well seeing as it originates in the mind, knowledge must consist of beliefs, because the mind operates solely via beliefs. Knowledge consists of those particular beliefs a person hold which correspond to reality. In other words, beliefs that are true. How do we know what is true? Well we can really only  rely on the reasonings (justifications) which our life experiences provide us with, which is why different people having had different experiences will believe different things are true. Even the results of scientific studies or mathematical equations are still examples of people coming to conclusions based on their life experiences. So the person with the largest and most connected network of logical reasonings on a given topic can be said to have the most knowledge on that topic.

But if you have a close look at those people in society which seem to have a vast amount of knowledge, you will sometimes find that they are very much lacking in wisdom. And some of the people who seem to be very wise may not have a large amount of scientific knowledge at their disposal. So what is the difference? What do I mean by this?

Wisdom is a certain type of knowledge, just as knowledge is a certain type of belief. It is knowledge of the true nature of reality, and our existence as humans. It is not do to with  having knowledge of the specifics of the universe’s small components and their behaviour, but rather having knowledge of what all those components are doing in the big picture. How do they all add up? What is truly taking place in life? What is the system of life all about? Wisdom is a developed awareness which allows a person to look beyond a superficial threat to recognise a more important beneficial factor or reason for things unfolding the way they do. Wisdom is the factor which neutralises fear and allows people to psychologically survive what they witness.

For example let’s say you have a very smart individual who specialises in theoretic physics and has won many awards and much recognition for his/her work. Now obviously this person would have a lot of knowledge about the the way the universe works (or at least you might assume that). But now let’s consider that during one of his lectures, he makes a huge mistake in calculations, and ends up making a fool of himself in front of his students and peers. Maybe afterwards one of his peers laughs and sneers at him. Well what would he do? That would depend on his level of wisdom. If he understood that there was obviously no shame in making the mistake since such an outcome was the inevitable product of the universe’s existence, he might help educate his peer to understand the same. He might even be thankful to be offered such a great opportunity to explain to his peers how to measure personal value, and that such value is never under threat due to the events taking place in life.  If he was seriously lacking in wisdom, he might view the situation as threat against his self esteem, and start think he must make sure such mistakes never happen again. He might be so anxious to prevent the mistake that he has an anxiety attack at his next lecture. He might make an even bigger fool of himself, and people might start to think “he’s lost it”. Maybe his career slows to a halt. What then? Well all those events would definitely be helping him to gain wisdom, because despite all his knowledge of physics,  he was still not aware of the most basic functional characterises of the activity in the universe. He was there thinking that the components of the universe are somehow in competition with each other, and that some components can be deemed worthless just because the they follow a trajectory which other components don’t like. He did not understand that all components of the universe are deemed valuable because of the automatic and unavoidable influence they have on the system.


For another example, let’s look at the human body –  a healthy one. Let’s look at an analogy. Try pretending for a minute that you are a cell within the human body, called Doug. Yes this might sound odd, but bear with me. If you are a cell within the body, and you’re going about your activities as a cell, you might start a conversation with another cell – we”ll call her Cecilia. Let’s say Cecilia is very interested in gaining knowledge about the activity going on all around her. So she starts asking questions and experimenting. She starts comparing all the cells around her and seeing how relate in size. She starts looking at their unique shapes. She observes how they interact with each other. She measures how long they take to move a given distance. She measures how much this speed changes. She tests what happens when she exerts a force on another cell. She even slices up a cell thousands and thousands of times to see what’s it is made up of. And so she ends up with a huge bank of information and facts about her surroundings. She finds she can use this information to make predictions, and invent technology to make her tasks as a cell easier.

And she says to you “Doug, I am very wise – look at all of this knowledge I have!”.

But then you turn to her and you reply “Well that’s very impressive Cecilia. But I have a question for you. What do you think we’re doing here?

Cecilia looks puzzled, but but she insists “well there isn’t really a purpose to our existance, all we can do is measure things and come up with numbers and statistics and use them to make our life better! Life is what you make it! We’re all unique and have to make up our own life purpose.”

You stare at her quite fondly and answer. “Oh really, that’s interesting. But what criteria are you using to judge whether your life is getting “better” or not?”

Cecillila thinks for a few minutes. “Well it’s getting better when it’s more like how we want it to be. Did you see that skin cell the other day? He dissapeared off the edge of the world. I don’t like that at all, he was my friend. Maybe we can make it so no more skin cells dissapear. That would be much better.”

You start smiling. “But what if the skin cells are just doing their job? What if they’re playing their role in the system?”

Cecillia has a look of distaste. “System? What system Doug? Are you saying there’s some kind of higher power? That’s a load of rubbish. I’ll believe it when I see it. Those poor skin cells deserve better!”

You sigh. Then start to reply. “Cecillia, you can see it. A system is a collection of parts. We are a collection of parts. We are working together, whether we like it or not, all influencing each other in order to bring about that which this system is producing. We are all valuable to the system, and receiving our needs from the system. Due to cause and effect we go about our activities for as long as we are meant to before the next generation of cells takes over, with our every action being controlled by our unique array of influences.  That is the understanding which is missing from your knowledge. That is what defines the reality of our lives as cells. To understand that is to have wisdom.”


The Demands Of Life

Life. It can be hard sometimes. It can be demanding. People are always expecting things of you. Expecting you to do things and make particular decisions. Sometimes it can feel like it’s just all too much – you can’t seem to cope with it all or come up with answers on what decisions to make.

But a little clarity in what life is actually demanding of you can go a long way to helping you to feel better about your day. You see, life never demands anything of you that you will not accomplish. Life is governed by action and reaction, and as such whatever it demands of you, it will cause you to do. Whatever you end up doing, or whatever decision you end up making, that WILL be the decision you were always going to make due to all the causal factors involved in your decision making process. And so there is no reason to ever think you are not living up to the demands of life.

Of course, few people understand that in society, and so your mind will often end up thinking it really can make a decision that life did not demand or govern via cause and effect. Your mind will often get confused and think it is completely in control of itself, completely separate from the causal chain. It will often imagine itself not as a biological and spiritual process unfolding through time, but as a static personality, a being with a distinct and unchanging set of characteristics. This special entity known as “you” is thought to have a supernatural power over the universe in order to choose it’s own thoughts, choose it’s own actions and choose it’s own destiny: Your mind often thinks it sits at the helm of it’s own existence.

So what can we do to give it a reality check? Because that’s what is needed in order to feel ok about being subjected to all that life offers up. Well we can try to understand that our mind is like a computer, constantly ticking away, processing information, working at problems. We can imagine all the neurons in the brain like a circuit board, and every time a thought pops up in the mind it’s like electricity is flowing down a specific part of that circuit. A computer is never in control of it’s own actions – it has to be programmed, just like all humans are programmed by genetic and environmental factors.

So next time you feel stressed think about that picture of the mind at work, and you might find you take your responses less personally. When someone asks a difficult question, instead of thinking “oh god what am I going to choose say?”, you might simply wonder “Hmm I wonder what it will come up with to say, that’ll be interesting”. When someone expects something of you that you are not able to fulfil, instead of thinking “Oh I should’ve been able to do that, I’m a terrible person”, you might think “I wonder why my mind didn’t prioritise that, that’s interesting”. When you are confronted with a difficult decision, instead of getting stressed over “which should I pick?”, you can ask your mind “I wonder what it will pick”. Because it WILL pick something automatically at every second to be the focus of your attention. And where your attention goes, and what decision you end up making is really ultimately  NOT UP TO YOU. The concept of “personal responsibility” is not a lesson in wisdom. But, you will find that those who are up to the level of development where they understand this, are also those who tend to behave in a way you might consider “responsible”. Meaning they will not be the ones out there trying to hurt or belittle other people, because they understand the people they meet are acting the the only way they can given their current belief system, and they also understand they were always meant to be running into such people, and they are incredibly valuable.

So then, understand you are governed! Take peace in the fact that everything you do is precisely the thing that life demanded you to do! Thoughts do not pop into your head because you picked them, they pop into your head because life demanded you think them! Take them as instructions and go about your day with peace of mind!

The Wisdom Model for measuring personal development Pt. 2

The wisdom model measures development by the accuracy of our beliefs. It measures development by our level of wisdom. We grow from our life experiences by gaining wisdom. But how does this take place?

Firstly, what is a life experience? Some people might think life experiences are things like going to school, getting a job, getting married, having a baby etc. They might neglect to include things like hearing a car drive past, smelling the air, seeing a stranger walk past, feeling the coldness of an ice cube, feeling a headache or a sore throat, noticing someone smile. And yet these are all examples of life experiences from which growth can take place.

They say we grow from our life experiences. Let’s pick an example. Say, you are walking down the road, and you see a tree. This is the life experience. But how do you see the tree? Do your eyeballs go over and hit the tree? Of course not. You can see the tree because the light rays hit the tree, refract, and make their way to the retina in your eyes. From here, an electrical signal is fired along the optic nerve towards the visual cortex in the back of the brain. It is here the data is assessed as to what it represents, and because you have been taught that this information represents a tree, your mind holds the belief that “oh there’s a tree”. This explanation is important because it shows us that any life experience is really a process of receiving data from our environment. We get hit by light rays, sound waves, and pick up information from our senses on our skin. We receive a constant stream of data from our environment, and as this data is continuously assessed by our brain, we slowly grow in understanding life. We do not control our personal development – LIFE DEVELOPS US!

Many people are so wrapped up in believing they are the centre of the universe and must control everything about their life that they might easily neglect to acknowledge that the process of having life experiences is not a process of “I control” but is actually a process of data from our environment being forced upon us, whether we like it or not. Let’s go back to the example of seeing a tree. To say that you see the tree because your eyes pick up on the tree and your brain interprets this information might sound like a good explanation about the process. But actually that statement only includes half of the process by which you see the tree. The other half of the process is outside of your own existence. The process doesn’t start at your eyes, it starts at the light hitting the tree. The fact that the light refracts upon hitting the tree defines that outside your own existence, things exist – there is a reality. This understanding is important in order to move from “I am in control of life” to “I am being developed by life”. Is clapping your hands together an example of you being in control of life? Or an example of a progression of activity in the universe which was always going to take place due to everything which influenced you to make the decision to clap? Are you in control of the universe? Or are you a product of the universe? 

It is important to note that the philosophy “We grow from our life experiences by receiving data from our environment” is quite the opposite to the very common philosophy “you already have the answers within you – you must go within yourself and reconnect”. If you already know everything, what value could there possibly be in going through unwanted (or traumatic) life events? The only way to find value in such events is to understand they are teaching you lessons about life. But of course, there is much to learn from examining the activity going on within our own body and mind as well as our environment.