John Algeo – USA
An article on “Neurons v Free Will” in the Economist magazine (402, no. 8772 [Feb. 18-24, 2012]: 6-7) considers how the opposition of fate and free will has been treated over many centuries right up to present-day scientific studies of the working of the brain. The ancient Greeks talked about “Ananke, the primeval force of necessity, and her children, the Fates, who steered human lives.” Medieval Christian theologians worried about the inconsistency of human freedom with the omniscience of God, whose knowledge of what is and is to be allows no room for optional changes by limited human beings. The scientific revolution of the seventeenth century held that the natural law of cause-and-effect could brook no exceptions and thus excluded the possibility of unpredictable changes exercised by human free will. Even the Theosophical view of karma (not mentioned in the article) may seem to create a conflict with the individual’s free will: if each of our actions has a karmic cause in the past and a future karmic consequence, where is free will in that chain of karmic necessity?
Although the problem noted above may not have been directly and comprehensively covered in Theosophical literature, a Theosophical world view can provide a solution to the apparent conflict of natural law (karma) and the free will inherent in our higher, atmic, Self. The following is a speculation based on Theosophical ideas, reinforced by recent scientific-philosophical thinking about the existence of multiple coexisting universes, as in some varieties of String theory, which aims at a reconciliation of quantum mechanics and general relativity and posits the existence of multiple dimensions (or, as Theosophy might call them, planes of being).
Here is a Theosophically based speculation (etymologically, “speculation” being a way of regarding things, as if from an outlook post): If Parabrahm is infinitely “knowing,” as it must be, then it “knows” not only everything that is, was, and will be, but also everything that possibly can be. Parabrahm’s “knowing” all that is, was, and will be, might seem to imply absolute determinism and therefore to exclude any possibility of free choice among alternatives (the problem of the god of medieval theologians). But its further “knowledge” of everything that can be, whether or not a particular alternative has been actualized, opens the door to infinite possibilities among which to choose and thus also to free will. The world in which we live is not the only possibility; there are a potentially unlimited number of alternative worlds in the “mind” of Parabrahm, each governed by the unyielding law of karma. The free will of our atmic Self, being a reflection or spark from Parabrahm, can and does move among those alternative worlds without hindrance; and that is what we mean by “human free will.”
Every action we take in the world that we are experiencing right now is the result of past actions in this world and is the cause of future results in the same world. However, every action we take is taken at a moment in time. And every moment in time is an opportunity for our higher, atmic, Self to choose to experience a different world in the infinite “mind” of its source, Parabrahm. The movement of our higher Self from one possible world to another is what we call “free will.”
Thus fate (or karma) and free will (or the choice of our higher Self to move among possible worlds) are not in conflict. One is the law governing action in any particular world. The other is our higher Self’s ability to move from state of reality (or world) to another. The two are fully compatible in a Theosophical view, such as the one here set forth.