What makes us choose a spouse or a certain profession? Do we have any choice or is everything predetermined?
Professor Marcus du Sautoy from the University of Oxford conducted a study that examined how long it takes from the brain making a decision to it going into effect. Brain wave scans showed, to his surprise, that the decision to perform a certain action was made in the brain six seconds before the awareness of the decision, and he made the decision! One of the questions that concern modern scientists is: Do we have free will or are we the result of predetermined neurological reactions.
How we look at it, is that it seems that man is not free at all. We did not choose which family we are born into or the skills and characteristics we have. Our parents and teachers, whom we have not chosen, dictate our values of the world and the education we receive. The media shape our opinions and standards for beauty, and society dictates the codes of conduct, speech, and in fact—everything! Sometimes it seems that a person is like empty computer hardware on which any selected software could be installed through which he will function and realize “himself.”
Bound by the Forces of Nature
In fact, a person does not choose to live his life but navigates according to a system of rules set for him, and incessantly tries to please the society that surrounds him. Over the years, a person’s decision-making system becomes increasingly more complex and this complexity creates the illusion of free choice.
On a more internal level, none of us chose to be born into a system that has an embedded mechanism that drives us to achieve maximum pleasure with minimum effort. This desire manages us every single moment to do the simple arithmetic: chase pleasures of life and escape pain. Even if a person pursues pain, it is only because doing so will bring him greater pleasure.
Therefore, great doubt arises about having free choice. “Yet, this concept, expressed in that word, ‘freedom,’ remains unclear, and if we delve into the meaning of that word, there will be almost nothing left. For before you seek the freedom of the individual, you must assume that any individual, in and of itself, has that quality called ‘freedom,’ meaning that one can act according to one’s own free choice” (Baal HaSulam, “The Freedom”). And still free choice must apply to some extent since, otherwise is the purpose in all this mayhem called life?! Surely it cannot be that we are doomed to be puppets on a string.
Tell Me who Your Friends Are and I Will Tell You who You Are
Although a person cannot choose his attributes or the environment he is born into, he can adjust himself to a scale of values of good and evil. How? Through his environment.
Baal HaSulam explains that human society is like soil for a grain of wheat. Just as the grain of wheat contains all the properties of a wheat plant and the soil that nourishes it determines the pace, form, and manner in which it will grow, so does a person’s genetic material contain all the features and tendencies of a person, and the social environment, through the scale of its values, determines how he those attributes will be developed For example, a person with an inclination to draw, that is born into a society that doesn’t respect artists probably will not grow up to be a painter.
Thus, when determining standards of good and evil, a person has no free choice; rather, the society he lives in dictates these values. “For example: I sit, I dress, I speak, and I eat. I do all these not because I want to sit that way, or talk that way, or dress that way, or eat that way, but because others want me to sit, dress, talk, and eat that way. It all follows the desire and fancy of society, not my own free will. Furthermore, in most cases, I do all these against my will. For I would be a lot more comfortable behaving simply, without any burden. But I am chained with iron shackles, in all my movements, to the fancies and manners of others, which make up the society” (Baal HaSulam,”The Freedom”).
Like a School of Fish
In their book Connected, Professor Nicholas Christakis and Professor James Fowler, senior researchers from Harvard University and from the University of California, reveal that it is highly probable that a person will gain weight if a close friend does. The decision of a friend of friend, a person he doesn’t know at all, to start smoking increases the chances that he will begin to smoke by more than ten percent. And there are also positive sides to this phenomenon. Another study showed that happiness is contagious. When a person is around people who are happy, his happiness increases.
The researchers examined networks of millions of people and concluded as seen in the animal world: humanity behaves like a social network, a kind of super-organism, growing and developing in which different content flows and affects all the members of the network. Scientifically, it turns out that our environment has a decisive influence on our development and on our decision-making.
If Everything Is Predetermined, Who Has the Ability to Choose?
“The point where the wisdom of scientists comes to an end is where the wisdom of Kabbalah begins” (Rabbi Nachman of Breslav, Likutey Moharan). According to Kabbalah, the whole creation, including our world, is part of one thought that generated creation, the Thought of Creation. Every creature, thought, or event created or which happened in the past, that exist at present, or which will be in the future, are derived and descend from the thought of creation as part of its implementation.
The Creator, the upper force, unlike us, does not need time in order to fulfill His plans so when the thought of creation was made, it was realized immediately. In fact, we are already in the final phase of the operating plan of creation, and not only does that phase exist, but also all the stages to reach its fulfillment. All we have to do is to reveal it. “We don’t innovate anything. Our only work is to illuminate what is concealed inside a person” (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk).
We all think that our parents met, got married, decided to have children, and here we are. But according to the wisdom of Kabbalah, our birth in this world with our specific parents existed in potential prior to our actual birth, and because it had yet to be realized, it resulted in our father and mother meeting, marrying, and bringing us into the world.
“Against your will you are born, against your will do you live, and against your will you will die” (Ethics of the Fathers). If according to science and the wisdom of Kabbalah, a person is pre-programmed and has no free choice in life, then what is the point in living? Why should nature, such a perfect and sophisticated system, create this reality and sustain it? If reward and punishment for every action we have ever performed do not apply, then what is the point? Don’t be discouraged! According to the wisdom of Kabbalah, a person has free choice in one place only…
From Ynet article 6/23/16