The Power Within Thinking

Submitted by Tom Last on Mon, 01/22/2007 - 9:27am.

The Philosophy of Freedom Study

The Power Within Thinking

Most of us accept that we live within an orderly lawful universe. Science seeks to discover the harmony of these laws that rule throughout existence. The human being is a part of nature and is also subject to these laws as discovered by physical and social scientists. There is mounting scientific evidence that the thinking and willing of the human being is determined with an unyielding necessity by these laws making any belief in human freedom merely a naïve delusion. Is freedom possible in a lawful universe? How can we be free if our beliefs, desires, and character is determined by genetic inheritance, upbringing, group conformity, subsequent experience, and soon? Wouldn't freedom have to be a supernatural ability or even magic if this were the case? No wholly random, spontaneous, mysterious, or miraculous events occur according to today's scientific view. If an ability exists to suspend these laws in order for a human being to originate a willful cause it would mark a revolution in scientific knowledge.

The opening of Chapter One in Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom raises the question of whether it is possible for human freedom to be compatible with natural laws.

1-0 "Infinite subtlety has been employed to explain how human freedom can be consistent with the laws working in nature, of which man, after all, is a part. No less is the trouble to which others have gone to explain how such a delusion as this could have arisen."

Freedom From Constraints To Do What We Want
One view where freedom is compatible with natural laws is to accept ourselves as who we are. Our character, personality, preferences, and general motivation for life may be entirely determined by events for which we are in no way responsible, but we do not have to be in control of any of these things in order to be free, according to this view. If our actions are not determined by our beliefs, desires, and character, then it seems that they aren't our real actions. Freedom is just a matter of being able to choose and act in the way one prefers 'given how one is'. This acceptance of our lawful make up is compatible with scientific research. Freedom is simply to be free from constraints that would prevent us from doing what we already want to do. If I feel like going to church, vacationing in Cancun, or eating steak then I am free so long as I am able to do these things. Anyone who is not in chains is free in this sense.

If the life of a human being is one of conditioned responses then the proper way to modify behavior would be reward and punishment. But it can be argued that even animals possess freedom under this definition.

A Drunk Man's Words Are A Sober Man's Thoughts
An example of a public discussion over this issue is the recent arrest of Mel Gibson for suspicion of drunken driving. After being stopped for speeding, the Oscar-winning 'Braveheart' star and director failed both alcohol breath and field sobriety tests. He resisted arrest, launched into several vulgar tirades against the police, made sexually abusive remarks to a female officer, and spewed out belligerent racial epithets.

When news spread of his arrest and prejudicial ranting, an activist from the offended group said, "It appears that the combination of liquor and arrest has revealed his true character." It was argued that Mel's drunken rants have provided the public a direct pipeline into the workings of his mind. The activist seemed to believe the old proverb that 'a drunk man's words are a sober man's thoughts'. It was implied that this drunken incident "proves" that Mel Gibson is a bigot.

The accusations about his character refer to his upbringing. His household was dominated by a father whose writings are criticized as expressing anger and bigotry. The accusers expect that the father's anger and beliefs formed Mel's character. With his inhibitions freed by the alcohol he expressed his true self. After the incident, the sober Gibson issued a statement apologizing for his behavior and for having "said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable."

Which is the true character of Mel Gibson? Is he a programmed sexist and bigot or one who is opposed to such prejudiced views? Drunks do and say things they would never say or do when they are sober. They sincerely regret those words and behaviors afterwards. Was his apology a return to the public mask that hides his true self or an expression of his present character as a devout practicing Catholic?

Our upbringing stays with us for the rest of our lives. When we are weakened through alcohol, drugs, rage, stress or impatience these traumas of our past find ways to express themselves against our own current values. Moral character can be trained into a person through a proper upbringing, social pressure, or by adopting religious principles. These become higher laws within us to help us advance beyond our animal cravings. The outside moral laws implanted through socialization can lead us to freedom but not grant it. To be free we need to find the power within ourselves that can hold it's ground against the onslaught of all outside influences.

The Power Within Thinking
We live in a scientific age that is the product of a new capacity of thinking, an ability to grasp the laws of nature leading to great advances in technology. But the thinking itself has become cold, lifeless, and abstract. This emptiness has left many pursuing a mysticism of feeling found in New Age spirituality, or rejecting rational thought for the blind faith of religious fundamentalism, or settling for traditional religions even though they may be unfulfilling. One path, brought by Rudolf Steiner and described in his Philosophy of Freedom, is particularly suited to our scientific age and it's "chilly" picture of the world. That path moves scientific thinking forward with a resurrection of thinking to it's real nature; warm, luminous, and able to penetrate deeply into the reality of the world beyond the limitations imposed by material science. There is a power that flows through the activity of thinking itself if we are ready to experience it 'intuitively'. It is the power of love that brings about a deepening of knowledge. This thinking is full of life, containing an experience of feeling and willing to the depth of their reality.

Normal everyday thinking makes its appearance through our psyche-physical organization lacking the life found in intuitive thinking. This organization is the driving force of instinctive and conditioned reactive thinking and behavior. It rules over us according to natural laws. Many spiritual techniques and therapies have been directed toward it. An often unnoticed paragraph within The Philosophy of Freedom explains the relationship between the intuitive essence of thinking and this organization. It reveals the law of thinking that makes freedom possible and gives us the power to overcome all the stereotyped thinking and instinctive willing that has brought us this far, but now must be overcome if we are to find free expression through that deeper being that dwells within us. This is not a supernatural power operating outside the laws of the universe but is part of a higher lawful order and experience that can be verified by others.

In the presence of the intuitive essence active within thinking, the psyche-physical organization suspends it's activity, as if in an act of reverence, allowing the intuition to take it's place.

9-1 "For this organization contributes nothing to the essential nature of thinking, but recedes whenever the activity of thinking makes its appearance; it suspends its own activity, it yields ground; and on the ground thus left empty, the thinking appears. The essence which is active in thinking has a twofold function: first, it represses the activity of the human organization; secondly, it steps into its place." Rudolf Steiner, Chapter 9, The Philosophy of Freedom

This power within the activity of thinking suspends our natural and social instincts and replaces them with a new impulse from within ourselves. We have originated a new moral idea, an intention that will rule our deed. The laws no longer rule over us, instead they rule over our deed. Our action is free.

"Without any kind of compulsion entering in, free human beings act in accordance with their insight, in accordance with commandments that they give themselves."
Rudolf Steiner, The Science of Knowing, p112.

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Finding the thread

A. Reward and Punishment Determined and free - ok, but only thanks to a precise definition of the word free, ie physical freedom, rather than, inner, mental or perhaps even spiritual freedom.

B. If our choices express our internal state, are we free?

“But Gandhi's beliefs and desires are determined by his heredity and environment -- his initial cognitive endowment and all modifications thereof resulting from environmental impingements. These compel him to deliberate and choose accordingly. If Gandhi's choice is compelled, then it seems that the resulting behavior is compelled as well. Even if we assume the compatibilist account of free agency, we must conclude that free will is an illusion in a deterministic world. Compelled choices compel behaviors”

So, all actions are compelled. The question is, by what? If the action is compelled by something external, or by something internal that was put there by something external (ie upbringing etc.), then it is unfree. However, if it was compelled by an intuition that the individual has himself grasped, then the compulsion springs directly from the self, and the action is free.

You may be told to do something, and it is explained why, but you don’t listen to the explanation, however you do carry out the action – you carry it out unfreely.

Contrast: You consider the explanation and realize that it has merit – in a moment of intuituion you grasp the intended purpose of the action for yourself, and unite yourself with that purpose – perhaps you even find a feeling of love for this intended action and its purpose… So, you carry out the action with love, but this time, in freedom.

Nothing outwardly different between the two cases, but completely different on the inside.

Do you have to be the first person to get hold of a particular thought for it to count as an intuition? Or is the intuition, the moment when you get hold of the thought for yourself?

old thought renewed

This power within the activity of thinking suspends our natural and social instincts and replaces them with a new impulse from within ourselves. We have originated a new moral idea, an intention that will rule our deed.

This is a quote from the above article. Below is a question posed by Sebastian.

Do you have to be the first person to get hold of a particular thought for it to count as an intuition? Or is the intuition, the moment when you get hold of the thought for yourself?

What does originating a thought or motive of action mean? It brings up the topic of renewing or resurrecting past thoughts; or making a thought of another your own. Self-observation, the observation of one's own thinking is helpful for gathering experience about these distinctions.

I can recall old idea's that all of a sudden became enlivened as a motive for action. At a point the old thought was renewed with deeper understanding or within a new context where you could say it was a new origination. The old thought became new. So it became a new beginning.

A good question

This is a good question, whether you have to be the first to think a thought for it to count as intuition, and I like the way Tom answered it by his experience of old thoughts getting renewed. My hope is that, since every individual has to grasp, for himself, every single concept he has, that this counts as at least a step towards intuition in the way Steiner seems to define it. But I wonder how many people actually grasp the concepts that float around in their heads? Or maybe there's different degrees of grasping. I know that, for me, I've never been able to say that I really understood an idea unless a certain process took place whereby the idea, which had been merely abstract, suddenly took on a whole new life. And I'm extremely skeptical when most people say they understand ideas, because they don't have the same definition of understanding as I do.

I get confused sometimes by whether intuition is a thing you grasp, or the act of grasping.


No - you do not have to be the first person to think of something for it to count as your intuition.

How many people have grasped the concept that 2+2=4?


But when you grasp it, (and every time you do grasp it), you are using your intuition.

But this is something that is slightly different from acting out of one's own true impulses, and is (I think) the real source of your question.

When we act out of our own, purely individual impulses (intuitions) then we are percieving something that no one else has ever percieved before - our true Self.

Part 1 of POF is all about the former, Part 2 is all about the latter.

Cause = Compulsion?

Interesting word, "compelled." It does seem to have a broad range of meanings. It seems that hard determinists equate all causes w/ compulsion and so that gives it a very broad meaning. So the action you mention above is compelled whether or not the person grasps what he's doing. Maybe it's not so much that "compulsion" acquires a broader meaning, as that "cause" somehow shrinks to fit "compulsion." All events are compelled (forced) because all events have causes. The only opposite is randomness. (This appears over and over in deterministic accounts.)

So, hard determinism really seems incapable of making the kind of distinction that you just pointed out, and therefore it has no place for moral responsibility in its universe.

In the readings attached to Tom's article, I came across the account of P.F. Strawson (the father of Galen Strawson, whose account of determinism we read in an earlier article). He says that we legitimately blame someone for their actions because, and only because, we perceive ill will behind their actions. When I thought about this, it seemed true. So, the person who did the action without thinking about it wouldn't be considered morally blameworthy, but on the other hand the person who bothered to think about it, seized on the concept of the action for himself, and embraced the action with love, is worthy of praise and appreciatiion because of the good will he exhibits. Then when you consider which person you'd rather work with, the former suffers from the comparison.

Drunk vs. Sober

Do people reveal their truest nature while intoxicated? After reading Tom's article I've been thinking about that for a whole day. My friend Sarai, who's a realistic person, says it depends on the person and the context, and also how much has been drunk. Sometimes people drink just enough to loosen their inhibitions and then something telling, which they've been keeping just under the surface, slips out. On the other hand, if you drink enough you will become really poisoned ("intoxicated") and then it's as though another being slips in and expresses itself, especially if you get into a situation where fear and anger hold the reins.

In chapt. 14 of POF, Steiner gives 2 statements that helped me out with this problem.

" No man is all genus, none is all individuality; but every man gradually emancipates a greater or lesser sphere of his being, both from the generic characteristics of animal life, and from the laws of human authorities which rule him."

"Anyone who wants to understand the single individual must penetrate to the innermost core of his being, and not stop short at those qualities which are typical. In this sense every single human being is a problem. And every science which deals only with abstract thoughts and generic concepts is but a preparation for the kind of knowledge which we gain when a human individual communicates to us his way of viewing the world, and for that other kind of knowledge which we gain from the content of his will."

Assuming the Mel Gibson character descibed in this incident is, like the rest of us, partly an individual, then the last statement implies that there are 3 kinds of ways to understand him. I take this to mean that all 3 are necessary. First, the generic way, which poses an almost infinite number of possibie questions, because there are so many genuses at work. Can a person who was raised in an atmosphere of racism ever completely get rid of that learning? How do arrogant movie stars act when confronted with their own misdeeds? When a person is cornered, and physically restrained, will he cast about for any other weapon to attack his perceived enemies, including racial and sexual slurs? When a sober person considers his stupid actions while drunk, in the context of things that mean something to him when he's sober (such as, public image and his religious beliefs), does he have the right to say "that wasn't the real me who did that stupid thing?" (I'm just thinking of MG as a character here, of course, since I know nothing about what's really going on in his mind.)

The second kind of knowledge has to depart from generic concepts of all kinds. It can only be derived from what the person says about himself. So this MG character apologizes and has a lot of things to say about what he did while drunk. Is there even one little particle of truth in it that we can know him by?

The third kind of knowledge is a mystery to me. How do you discover the contents of another person's will? My tentative approach to that would be to believe that in looking at the person's actions you discover his will's content. "By their fruits ye shall know them." This is not what the person says in words to try to explain or justify himself, but rather the total of everything he does.

Waking Drunk

In Chapter 5 it speaks of the dream state when we are sleeping compared to the waking state. Then it compares the normal waking state to a more awake state of thinking.

The normal awake state is related to a life of perceiving. I relate to this state as similar to a drunken state compared to the awakened state of thinking. In other words the normal everyday state of habits, routines, past thoughts, busy mind stuff is like a dream or a drunken state when compared to being aware and more conscious.

This is an observable experience found in self-observation. When you awaken during the day you can look back at other parts of the day where you were less conscious and see it as a dream. Maybe you were reactive or compulsive or just in a sleepy habitual routine. How much of the day can creative wakefulness be maintained?

5-1 "We might very easily be led to such a view by the observation that, in contrast to dreaming, there is indeed the waking state in which we have the opportunity of seeing through our dreams and referring them to the real relations of things, but that there is no state of the self which is related similarly to our waking conscious life. Whoever takes this view fails to see that there is, in fact, something which is related to mere perceiving in the way that our waking experience is related to our dreaming. This something is thinking."

I get it

Tom, one thing I love about your comments is that at first I don't understand them at all, but then if I really think about them I start to see what you mean. This must be because we have different points of view. I would never have thought to make the connection between drunkenness and dreaming, for instance, or to look back at the habitual thoughts I'd been having all day as if they were a dream! But as soon as I tried to connect those concepts with percepts, something that was hidden from me about the percepts (that is, the perceptible passage of habitual thoughts) came out into the open.

You have some interesting

You have some interesting points here, I thought about that too and I've come to think that drinking makes you reveal the real person you are, I've tested and the result were very relevant. I also know that being drunk makes it all more confortable to you, you don't really care of everything else and that makes you like it. Pershaps this is one reason for seeing so many people having a drinking problem. Perhaps drinking would be more acceptable if there weren't side effects like addiction and health degradation. As far as I am concerned, I try to keep the alcohol away, life is tough already...

Drug addiction treatment center

There are no rules in what

There are no rules in what concerns the way things, people, nature is ordered in this world. In my opinion here applies the theory of chaos.  I'm crazy about all that regards this theory and I'm afraid I might need a addiction treatment.