WILL, WILL, WILL
Yes, I’m going to solve the “free will” chestnut in a single post (for myself, at least). But first, a little story.
My habitual inertia around the kitchen is to leave it strewn about, as an uninterrupted experiment—and not to do dishes unless the situation has become existential. A certain someone I live with calls this “messy”. And so, at her request, I endeavored to keep the kitchen clean.
But though I made the promise, I was not able to recall the promise of my own accord—I was not able to disrupt the somniferous continuity of my kitchen inertia. Of course, I had all along the potential will to oppose my kitchen inertia, but that capacity was not kinetically available to me. (It’d lain dormant the entirety of my life, pre-downed in an un-documentable inertia of habit, you see.) I needed, somehow to free my will from its inertial state.
It took her interjecting upon my habituated inertia numerous times, each time louder and more jarring, as if waking me out of a stupor, before I was able to successfully liberate my will from the hypnotic grip of habituation. It was then, with my will freed from its inert potential, that I was able to choose. Indeed, it was then that I was even able to recall the obligation—to clean up the kitchen regularly for her benefit.
I tell the above story to illustrate that “free” will is not a contradiction in terms once understood as “freed” will, where will may be thought of as potential energy and freed will may be thought of as active kinetic energy. From this view, will cannot be exercised by choice unless it is freed to be exercised—freed from the influence of inertia.
Will → Freed Will → Choice. In this sequence, we come to act against.
Will is the dormant (potential) energy to resist a given psychic inertia.
Freed Will (also “free will”, but here emphasizing the “d” to point to its availability to choice) is the amount of kinetic energy to resist a given psychic inertia.
Choice is the directing of that kinetic resistance.
Will, Freed Will, and Choice—the combination which I will hereafter call willfulness—is never in the positive.
Without resistance, power has no medium to express itself, and is thus mere potential energy. Power requires the presence of an other against which to determine itself…
Willfulness expresses its power against a given inertia, as a rudder against a current, to achieve a new direction. And each “way”, each mode of being, once established at its terminal velocity, is what I mean by psychic inertia.
Thus an action which simply confirms or continues a given inertia is by default a choiceless action.
Such inertial actions are pejoratively compulsions or, euphemistically, impulses. Neutrally, such actions are simply inertial effects.
This is not to say that our inertial behaviors relieve us of culpability for our actions. Quite the opposite. The function of willfulness is to contradict our inertias. Willfulness is self governance.
Is willfulness thus “good”? Not fundamentally—it is what willfulness moves against that determines any moral or ethical status of the choice1. And what it moves against are the inertias.
About The Inertias.
Here are 3 primary categories of inertia for this conversation.
Traditional inertias may be thought of as the social matrices of the spectacle—social media addiction, the full suite of status anxieties, and the various inertias of ideology, generally requiring of external stimulation. This may strike one as zombied inertia, be-spectacle’d by the corporate hum, hypnotized by the social condition alone, baked within the (American, in my case) pie (there are many pies to be baked in). Those within the psychic inertia of the spectacle do what they do compulsively, without choice. At scale, this results in conformity or unanimity.
Traditional inertias are habituated and may take time. But once inert—that is, at terminal velocity—traditional inertia no longer requires any aspect of willfulness. By sheer volume of repetition, it slips into the ontological distance and subsists as the background of any experience. Just like my kitchen inertia, which reached terminal velocity when I was a child through the habituation of my upbringing, traditional inertia is so consistent that you forget about it. Like a white noise backdrop, you eventually don’t notice it. The kitchen isn’t messy—the kitchen is just as a kitchen is. The traditional inertia is, in this sense, a noise floor—an experiential zero point. Traditional inertias are thus relatively anti-fragile.
Somatic inertias may be thought of as the somatic matrices of the senses—pleasure, pain, joy, sorrow, smell, beauty, touch—the general inertias of the body, and generally require external stimulation. Those within the somatic inertia of the senses do what they do compulsively, mediated by external stimuli, without choice.
Somatic inertias are stimulated and may take hold upon exposure to an external input. From a tasty cake to a beautiful naked body to drugs, just about any sensorial stimuli may immediately put one into an inertial trance.
Intuitive inertia may be thought of as the transcendent matrices of intuition—the “zone”, the “flow state”, etc., which comes into in perfect resonance with all available (free) will, such that one’s free will and inertia are temporarily indistinguishable. A state of choicelessness by way of ontological resonance rather than by habituation. This combination of willfulness and impulse is the prime creative state—and in that it does not necessarily require external stimulation, it is experienced as immaculate. Those within the transcendent inertia of intuition likewise do what they do not by deliberation or choice, but by intuition.
While intuitive inertia may reach terminal velocity almost instantaneously compared with habitual inertia, it also tends to evaporate just as quickly upon very slight disturbances in its murmurations and is thus fragile.
While one may develop skills related to inducing intuitive inertia as well as prolonging and fortifying it, any habituation of intuitive inertia converts it into one of the traditional inertias. An impulsive performance becomes a compulsive schtick, etc.
The Zone V The Zoned.
Clearly, then, we ought to seek “good” inertias that minimize the necessity of choice, while maintaining maximal freed will. So what makes for a “good” or “bad” inertia? It’s tricky.
While it’s often stated that the goal of personal development is to “increase choice” it is fairly clear that choicelessness is the actual (if furtive) goal of personal development.
Case in point—of all of the psychological states of being, the “flow state”—in which deliberation and resultant choices are minimized—is held as the pinnacle of mental accomplishment. This is the intuitive inertia of “the zone”, in which freed will itself becomes inertial. This absence of deliberation is the holy grail of performance enhancement. The athlete who suddenly “gets hot” and can’t miss a shot. A supreme resonance between the player and the court, the writer and the page, the singer and the song.
Impressing the ironic empowerment of choicelessness upon us further, there is one thing athletes ubiquitously report that ruins “the zone”: Overthinking.
It should not surprise us, then, that we are intuitively magnetized to states of choicelessness as the optimal form of experience.
To momentarily confuse matters, let’s look at another case in which “optimization” is very explicitly about removing choice…
Think of the perfect internet algorithm and its curious resemblance to what most crave in a relationship: Predictive abilities to anticipate our desires. Giving you a ping just when you’re feeling down. Never leaving you longing too long. Playing what you want to hear before you know you want to hear it; what you want to eat before you know you want to eat it. The desire to be “seen” by a lover sated by the algorithm as it denudes you with psychometrics, down to your last transparent bone.
And what is the primary algorithmic operation of “curation”? The erasure of choice.
A semblance of “the zone” we might call “the zoned”.
While the power of willfulness is intensely important to personal development, choice, in its against-ness, in its attenuating, governing function, is a secondary operation—a modulator of form rather than the form itself. And so we may return to the question of “good” or “bad” inertias as the more primary question over what makes “good” and “bad” choices.
As earlier mentioned, a “good” inertia will minimize the necessity of choice while maintaining maximal kinetic will.
If we go back to our list of inertias, we’ll see immediately which inertias those are—the intuitive inertias, of which “the zone” is one, arrive at choicelessness via internal mediation.
This is not to say that externalities do not affect or even help induce an intuitive inertia, but that the orientation is inside-out : will-to-power—whereas traditional inertias are induced outside-in : power-to-will. One is an expansion of will, the other is a suppression of it. Thus, we may oppose “the zone” (intuitive inertia) with “the zoned” (traditional inertia), in that the zone is the inertia of freed will, while the zoned is the inertia of muted will.
Inertial ethics may then come down a very simple notion—the degree to which freed will naturally resonates with a given inertia. Put another way, inertias may be judged not on how little choice they give us, but on how little need for choice they leave us with.
…Odds and Addendums.
Of course I must mention, despite ruining a perfectly good ending, the question of whether or not neuroscience will corroborate the existence of willfulness. The jury is out. But let’s take a moment to feel just a tidbit sorry for philosophers like Sam Harris, who hung entire hats on “no free will” studies which are now being debunked.
As interesting and dinner-party-contrarian as it was to say that free will doesn’t exist, the neurologic arguments against free will have recently been fairly shredded.
Until next time… happy zoning.
Will, in this sense, should be seen as the role of the ego in attenuating the desires of the id, while choice itself and the deliberation therein, can be seen in the role of the super ego.