Does the individual inhabiting a universe governed by the single truth and the relational universe have free will? Does it matter? The question has long been a subject of debate between philosopher and scientist alike. It is a conversation that continues to evolve as our knowledge of the universe expands, one that may never be answered to the level of satisfaction we may desire. To understand free will within the context of the single truth, we begin by exploring the existing arguments of historic spiritual technologies and modern science, contrasting these arguments to one rooted in our journey toward self-actualization in the age of crisis.
Hierarchical spiritual philosophies of meaning and value would argue yes, individuals have free will. As per their texts, humans acquired awareness of the world through consuming the forbidden fruit. God had intended them to stay blissfully ignorant, and our consumption of the fruit brought our first feelings of shame and disgrace. That a god would allow its subjects to choose between eating the forbidden fruit or not suggests that his creations were in fact capable of free will. This is reinforced by the notions of death and salvation central to these meaning philosophies. Judgment prior to salvation is based on our actions in relation to the rules set forth by this god and would be meaningless in a universe without free will. The individual must have free will to be accountable for their actions and therefore judged appropriately. Thus, the salvation religions root themselves in the belief that genuine free will is available to all. Without it, the fundamentals of their spiritual philosophy and visions of transcendence would lack coherence.
The Buddhist would not be as certain as the followers of hierarchical meaning philosophies. It is a philosophy of value and meaning rooted in the relational universe that subscribes to karma, an experience of being conditioned by event chains of cause and effect. At the same time, it places responsibility onto the individual for their actions within the immediate present.53 Self-actualization is a spiritual philosophy similar to Buddhism in that it prioritizes a form of pristine awareness as the objective of transcendent humanity. Buddha rejected the idea that the individual could exist in a state of total freedom of will because to do so would require being removed from the physical and psychological influences on our information inputs. Our inheritance of the immediate present brings a long series of moments we had no say in, much of which is out of our control. In addition, our biological sensory organs skew our information inputs and therefore limit us to fractional understandings of what is. Perpetually influenced by the world around us, our existence within the relational universe is one of fractional freedom. We bear accountability for our choices but possess no power over the vast majority of factors influencing the circumstances that shape these decisions.
Some present-day scientists will argue that evidence suggests there is no such thing as free will. Neuroscience presently demonstrates that our brains trigger signals before our personal awareness of decisions.54 In other words, before we even think to pick up the cup and drink the liquid, the synapses in our brains have fired commands to do so. If consciousness is a purely physical phenomenon, as some scientists believe, then awareness and choice must be a result of brain function. If our brain's electrochemical happenings occur before our awareness of them, then free will cannot exist. Life is no more than a biological function that we carry out, unaware of the mechanisms that drive us. If we are to embrace the purely biological definition of consciousness, our present understanding of the brain would suggest that free will is a complete illusion. With that said, theories of consciousness still vary greatly, and there is no absolute consent.
Another theory gaining popularity among scientific circles is panpsychism, the idea that everything contains consciousness to a specific degree and frequency, and intelligence is the root element of the universe. The idea is supported by our observations of other animals exhibiting behaviors that are clearly conscious in their nature, such as love, communication, and sadness. Humanity continuously expands our definitions of the intellectual capacity of animals as they prove to be more capable than we have given them credit for. These observations beg the inevitable question: when does it end, if ever? Hindus and Buddhists might refer to panpsychism as the Brahman, the universal godhead of which we are all a part—the totality of collective intelligence within the moment. Similar to the self-actualizers returning to nature in spirit and philosophy, our science also seems to expand support for ancient knowledge derived from the use of sacred plants in high ritual.
If we had to pick an existing philosophy of free will to align with the single truth and the relational universe, it would be panpsychism. There is deep interconnectivity within the entire universe in any given moment, with seemingly infinite event chains happening in all directions coalescing into a single happening. As individuals, we possess a fractional awareness, understanding that many others share but cannot ever truly know. Through the lens of the single truth and the relational universe, we develop an alternative answer from the existing binary options. Whether the individual possesses genuine free will is not at all relevant. In both scenarios, the individual can only ever act in accordance with the circumstances of the immediate present. Therefore, their options and choices always remain the same.
The individual is always subject to a universe of information streams and happenings far beyond their control. Therefore, the potential possibilities of action are always limited to the context of the moment. To this end, we share the Buddhist conclusion that there is no free will because we never inhabit a state of absolute freedom. We cannot manipulate the totality of our existence with our will alone. At the same time, we must have free will. When we draw from our infinite imaginations, we create concepts and constructs into the universe that never existed. This expression of divinity with the moment is a rebellion against the context of circumstance and the highest form of alignment we may embody with the single truth. Every individual possesses the power to see what is yet to be and, through the direction of focus and energy, may give it form. Perhaps creation is an act of the universe itself, expressed through an individual. In either case, the creator is indistinguishable from the vessel. Thus, aligning our internal infinities with the external is both absolute freedom and highly constrained by our inheritance of the moment.