Module 1.8 Unconditioned Will Impulse

Science Of Freedom Workbook
Text: "The Philosophy of Freedom" by Rudolf Steiner
Topic 1.8 Chapter 1 Conscious Human Action

1.8 Unconditioned Will Impulse
[15] What distinguishes humans from all other living things is rational thinking. Activity we have in common with other creatures. Seeking analogies for human action in the animal kingdom does not help to clarify the concept of freedom. Modern science loves such analogies. When scientists succeed in finding among animals something similar to human behavior, they believe this has something to do with the most important question of the science of man. To what misunderstandings this view leads is seen, for example, in Paul Rée’s book, The Illusion of Free Will. Rée says the following on the subject of freedom:

"It is easy to explain why it appears to us the movement of a stone is by necessity, while the will of the donkey is not. The causes that set the stone in motion are external and visible. But the causes that determine the donkey's acts of will are internal and invisible. Between us and the place where they occur is the donkey’s skull... We cannot see the determining cause, and so believe it does not exist. The will, they tell us, is indeed the cause of the donkey’s turning around, but is itself unconditioned; it is an absolute beginning.”

Here too, human actions in which there is consciousness of the reasons is ignored. Rée explains: “between us and the place where they occur is the donkey’s skull.” As these words show it has not dawned on Rée that there are actions, not of the donkey but of the human being, where between us and the deed lies the motive that has become conscious. A few pages later Rée demonstrates the same blindness when he says: “We do not perceive the causes that determine our will and so believe it is not causally determined at all.”
[16] But enough of examples proving many argue against freedom without knowing what freedom really is.

Worldview Of Pneumatism
"able as a thinking person to contemplate the world clearly, then he comes to the point of presupposing something actively psychic in the outside world."
"he not only thinks, but feels sympathy for what is active and willing in man"
“It is not enough that there are beings who have ideas; these beings must also be active, they must be able also to do things. But this is inconceivable unless these beings are individual beings."
"accepts the Spirit or the Spirits of the world."
"Pneumatism is a doctrine of the Spirit."
"the Pneumatist sees one Universal Spirit."
Rudolf Steiner, Human And Cosmic Thought lectures

"What distinguishes humans from all other living things is rational thinking. Activity we have in common with other creatures."

This quote aligns with the Pneumatist worldview by emphasizing the unique capability of rational thought in humans. In the Pneumatist perspective, the human mind is not just a mechanistic entity but possesses the ability to contemplate the world clearly. It holds that something actively psychic or spiritual exists in the external world, and it is the human faculty of thinking that enables us to engage with this spiritual dimension.

"The will, they tell us, is indeed the cause of the donkey’s turning around, but is itself unconditioned; it is an absolute beginning."

The second quote suggests that the animal world is also driven by some form of unconditioned will or spirit. In a Pneumatist view, not only do humans have active, individual spirits, but animals, too, have their own form of spirit or will, albeit operating on instinct rather than conscious reasoning. This aligns with the Pneumatist belief in an active psychic or spiritual dimension that is active in the world.

"As these words show it has not dawned on Rée that there are actions, not of the donkey but of the human being, where between us and the deed lies the motive that has become conscious."

The third quote highlights the idea that human action is distinguished by the involvement of conscious motives. This is in sync with the Pneumatist belief that it's not just having ideas but also being able to act upon them as individual beings who express their individual spirit. The Pneumatist would argue that human actions are not just reactions to external stimuli but are motivated by internal spiritual or psychic elements. Pneumatist's support the expression of individual spirit, having a "sympathy for what is active and willing in man."

These three quotes collectively form a nuanced view that aligns well with Pneumatism, highlighting the unique thinking capabilities of humans, the role of an internal spirit or will across all living beings, and the significance of conscious motives in expressing the individual human spirit.

MODULE 1.8 Unconditioned Will Impulse

□ STEP 1.8 From unconditioned will impulse, to determined by an internal invisible cause.

In Module 1.8 Unconditioned Will Impulse, we explore a transition in our understanding of freedom, from the belief that our actions are spawned from an 'unconditioned will impulse' to the recognition that they often emerge from invisible, internal causes in the brain. Initially, one might feel a sense of complete autonomy, as if acting on what feels like raw and unfiltered spontaneous will. This can be exhilarating but can also be a double-edged sword. Such a belief can significantly hinder the journey to true "known action," as it leaves no room for introspection and self-awareness—essential steps for meaningful free action.

The conviction that one's actions are entirely free prevents an individual from delving into the layers of unconscious motives and social conditioning that subtly influence behavior. This lack of self-reflection limits personal growth, as the individual remains oblivious to the unseen forces steering their actions. Ignorance isn't bliss when it leaves you blind to the complexities of your own psyche.

In some cases, attributing actions to divine will or spiritual impulses when they may be conditioned by neurological or psychological factors can be perilous. Not only does this belief system potentially exempt one from moral or ethical responsibility, but it also could prevent someone from recognizing and treating underlying issues that influence their behavior. This becomes particularly dire when mental health is at stake. Mistaking symptoms of psychological conditions for acts of freedom could discourage someone from seeking the professional help they need.

So, as we journey from a rudimentary understanding of freedom to a nuanced recognition of 'known action,' acknowledging the intricate dance between our conscious and unconscious motives becomes pivotal. This is not just an academic exercise but a vital, real-world undertaking to live a life that's not just free but also wisely free.

Unconditioned Will Impulse: This refers to an action or decision that appears to emerge independently of external forces, seemingly an "absolute beginning" in the chain of causality.

Determined by an Internal Invisible Cause: This implies that what appears as unconditioned will or freedom is shaped by factors that are not immediately apparent or observable, potentially residing within the complexities of human consciousness or subconsciousness.

Known Action
Understanding that what seems like an 'unconditioned will impulse' may actually be 'determined by an internal invisible cause' is critical for achieving 'known action.' At first glance, an unconditioned will impulse appears to epitomize freedom, as it seems to arise spontaneously from within. However, upon closer inspection, this impulse may actually be generated by an underlying, invisible internal cause, whether it's a subconscious drive, bias, or another form of internal influence.

This realization calls for a deeper level of self-inquiry and examination, pushing us to be more aware of the unseen factors that shape our will and actions. By acknowledging these factors, we are better positioned to make actions that are fully 'known'—that is, actions that are not just intentional, but also understood in the context of what drives them. This comprehension allows for a more nuanced, mature understanding of freedom and self-determination.

Unconditioned Action
Rée suggests that "unconditioned action" is an illusion. According to him, actions appear unconditioned only because the internal causes behind them are "invisible" to us, hidden behind the "skull," so to speak. This view suggests that there is always some underlying, determining cause behind actions, making them essentially conditioned.

Contrary to this is the idea that humans possess the ability to act based on rational, conscious thought, which is different from mere instinct or invisible, internal causes. This makes an "Unconditioned Will Impulse" possible. The key point here is the emphasis on the human ability to become conscious of the motive behind an action. When a motive becomes conscious, the action that follows can be considered unconditioned in the sense that it is not merely a response to internal or external stimuli, but rather a deliberate act guided by reason.

"When scientists succeed in finding among animals something similar to human behavior, they believe this has something to do with the most important question of the science of man."

These examples from modern science aim to draw parallels between human actions and animal behaviors in the context of freedom. However, they often raise more questions than they answer and can lead to a reductionist view of human freedom if not carefully considered.

1. Mirror Test in Animals: Scientists often use the mirror test to gauge self-awareness in animals, such as elephants and dolphins. Some researchers have argued that if an animal can recognize itself in a mirror, it may possess a rudimentary form of self-consciousness, which might imply a form of freedom of will. However, this test and its implications have been a subject of debate.

2. Altruism in Primates: Observations of altruistic behavior in primates like chimpanzees, where one individual helps another at a cost to themselves, have been cited as examples of moral decision-making akin to humans. Some argue this could hint at a kind of ethical freedom in animals, but it's still unclear if animal altruism is motivated by social bonding, instinct, or some other factor.

3. Tool Use and Problem Solving: Crows have been shown to use tools and solve complex puzzles, tasks previously thought to be exclusive to humans. Some scientists have proposed that this ability to solve problems indicates a form of free will, while others contend that it could just be advanced instinctual behavior.

Example: Artist Abandon
Stage 1 - Spontaneous Will Impulse: An artist feels an intense, almost electric urge to paint. They feel as though this urge is unconditioned, as spontaneous as a clap of thunder, leading them to create art with wild abandon.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (invisible cause): The artist later realizes that the "spontaneous" impulse to paint was triggered by underlying emotions and memories they weren't conscious of in that moment, a recent experience that lodged in their subconscious.

Example: Musician Career
Stage 1 - Spontaneous Will Impulse: A hobbyist musician suddenly decides to quit their job and pursue music full-time, believing that this is a moment of pure, uncompromising will to follow their passion.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (invisible cause): Later, the musician recognizes that this impulsive decision was a way to escape dissatisfaction with their current job and life situation, rather than an unconditioned drive to be a musician.

Example: Spiritual Seeker
Stage 1 - Spontaneous Will Impulse: Feeling an unquenchable thirst for enlightenment, a spiritual seeker spontaneously decides to retreat to a remote monastery, thinking this impulse is a direct call from their higher self or a divine force.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (invisible cause): After some time at the monastery, they realize that this 'calling' may have actually been fueled by their dissatisfaction with material life, a desire to escape challenging personal circumstances, rather than an unconditioned spiritual will.

Example: Prayerful Individual
Stage 1 - Spontaneous Will Impulse: During a moment of stress, an individual feels an overpowering urge to pray, believing this to be a pure and unmediated dialogue with the divine.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (invisible cause): Upon reflection, they consider that their impulse to pray was influenced by early religious training and a deep-rooted psychological need for reassurance and comfort.

Example: Thrill-Seeker
Stage 1 - Spontaneous Will Impulse: A thrill-seeker feels an overwhelming impulse to try skydiving for the first time, convinced that this sudden decision is the epitome of living freely and courageously.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (invisible cause): Upon landing, they realize that their "spontaneous" leap from the plane was influenced by their need for adrenaline and a deep-seated desire to confront a fear of heights, complicating their initial sense of free will.

Example: Entrepreneur Risk
Stage 1 - Spontaneous Will Impulse: An entrepreneur suddenly decides to invest in a risky venture, feeling that this decision comes from a pure, unfiltered impulse. They feel invigorated, as if jumping off a cliff into a new adventure.
Stage 2 - Illusion of Freedom (invisible cause): Upon reflection, the entrepreneur recognizes that the decision was likely influenced by their history of risk-taking, or possibly a desire to prove something to themselves or others, which are hidden drivers behind what felt like a free choice.

"We do not perceive the causes that determine our will and so believe it is not causally determined at all."

This quote touches on the illusion of unbounded freedom that people often experience. If we are not aware of the causes that determine our will, we believe we are free. Take, for example, the feeling you get when you spontaneously decide to eat a chocolate bar. You might believe you're acting purely out of free will, unaware that your choice could be driven by underlying factors like a glucose drop, an advertisement you saw earlier, or even emotional triggers like stress or sadness. Such internal and invisible influences often escape our notice, and so we erroneously believe our will to be completely free and unconditioned.

Now, let's look at the evolutionary jump from animal to human cognition. Animals operate mainly on instinct and external cues. A deer runs at the rustle of leaves not because it has deduced that a predator may be near but because it is hardwired to react for survival. Humans, in contrast, possess the cognitive complexity to question why they should run or stay, weighing risks and benefits. This is a tremendous leap, moving from reaction to deliberation, from pre-determined action to choice fueled by conscious reasoning.

However, this leap is not automatically granted by nature; it must be developed and honed. While we may be born with the cognitive capacity for self-awareness and rational thought, these abilities need to be cultivated through education, introspection, and social interaction. One could easily live a life driven by instincts, social pressures, or the subconscious mind if one does not make the ongoing effort to engage with the cognitive processes that allow for truly conscious decision-making.

So, even as humans, if we don't actively develop this cognitive ability, we're not very different from that deer, reacting to life rather than actively participating in it. Being truly human requires not just the capacity for rational thought, but the commitment to exercise it, to consciously perceive the often invisible reasons behind our actions, and thus progressively earn our special place in the cosmos.

Objective: Experience the joy of soaring into the realm of concepts.
Is it realistic to strive for complete awareness of all invisible subconscious influences on your actions? Does acknowledging the presence of invisible determinants for our actions negate the possibility of freedom? How might you develop the ability to cultivate or originate conscious motives that are strong enough to override subconscious influences?

Jessica sat at her desk, scrolling through her Twitter X feed when she saw the news—another devastating earthquake had hit. Without missing a beat, she added a flag to her X handle, signaling her support for the affected country. A sense of warmth and righteousness spread through her. She felt as though she was doing her part in making the world a better place.

Her phone buzzed. A Facebook alert notified her that several friends had changed their profile pictures to support mental health awareness. Eager not to be left out, she updated hers too, adding a thoughtful caption about the importance of mental well-being. On Instagram, she posted about her recent volunteer work at a homeless shelter. Her heart swelled with pride as she saw the likes pour in. She hoped that her good, compassionate deeds would inspire others.

Jessica entered her evolutionary psychology class, her notebook open, her pen poised. Today's topic was intriguing: "Reputation Building and Social Cohesion in the Animal Kingdom." As the lecture began, Jessica found herself engrossed.

He discussed studies that showed how birds engage in complicated rituals just to attract a mate. "In essence, even animals understand the power of reputation," the professor said, showing a slide pinpointing the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain tied to social norms. He then talked about how wolves howl to both establish their territory and strengthen their pack bonds. He discussed how meerkats take turns being the lookout for predators, bolstering their position in their social group.

Jessica sat at her desk scrolling through her social media feed, pausing to correct someone's misgendering comment. "It's important to use the right pronouns for people," she typed, feeling a small but satisfying rush of righteousness. But now, each keystroke echoed with newfound weight. Was her comment truly aimed at promoting inclusivity? Or was it, like a meerkat standing guard for its community, simply another complex behavior to fortify her social standing and affirm her place within a particular social circle?

Jessica felt a profound realization wash over her. Could her "good deeds" be an advanced form of reputation building? Was she subconsciously participating in social cohesion, much like wolves howling or meerkats standing guard?

Jessica found herself in a transformative moment of introspection as she reconsidered her interaction with social media. Could every 'like,' every shared post, and even every act of kindness be merely a sophisticated human version of a wolf's howl or a meerkat's sentry duty—nuanced behaviors designed to elevate her social standing and fortify communal bonds?

She was presented with two disturbing choices. Continue her acts of "support" and "charity," accepting that even if they were driven by an instinctual self-interest, they were still making a positive impact. Yet, she would have to live with the knowledge that her life was a performance, aimed more at building her reputation than at building a better world. Or alternatively, she could cease these activities, peeling off layers of social expectation to discover her authentic self. But this would leave a void—what would she stand for if not for these causes?" The thought of that emptiness gnawed at her, filling her with a sense of dread and trepidation.

Jessica shut down her apps, and a wave of unease enveloped her. The deeds once thought as expressions of her "free spirit" suddenly revealed themselves to be driven by deeply rooted animal instincts. No longer satisfied with playing the role of a meerkat jockeying for social standing, she found herself questioning motives that had once appeared so self-evident.

Objective: Adopt an individualistic attitude aligned with principles of freedom.

  • Animal Impulse: Choose an animal that you believe best represents the instinctual or conditioned drive behind an action. For example, if you found yourself hoarding resources, you might liken that to a squirrel storing nuts. Reflect on what instincts might be at play.
  • Wildlife Observation: Spend some time watching animal documentaries or observing pets or animals in nature. Take notes on certain behaviors you find interesting. Later, compare these behaviors to your own actions. For example, if you notice a bird meticulously building a nest and later catch yourself obsessively tidying your home, reflect on whether the same kind of instinct is at play in both you and the bird.
  • Social Origin: Choose a specific behavior or belief that you want to investigate. It could be anything from a political stance to a habitual action like always eating dessert after dinner. Identify the social origin. This could include your family, religious organization, school, workplace, online communities, and even the broader culture.

Module 1.8 Unconditioned Will Impulse has been an exploration into the nuances of what we often perceive as 'free will' and 'spontaneous action.' We've uncovered the unsettling yet enlightening truth that what we often regard as 'unconditioned' impulses of the human spirit are often the result of complex, invisible causes. The challenge then becomes one of questioning freedom: examining the impulses, actions, and choices that seem natural and unbounded to understand their true origins.

Understanding that our actions and decisions are influenced by multiple internal and invisible factors provides a basis for a scientific inquiry into human nature. By encouraging a mindset that questions the notion of unbridled freedom, we pave the way for advancing fields like psychology, neuroscience, and sociology. This form of inquiry holds the promise of contributing to a "science of freedom," an advanced understanding of what it means to be 'free' and 'human.' In this way, we go beyond merely 'knowing action' to understanding the depth and complexity that each action entails, opening doors to a deeper understanding of ourselves and a richer, more meaningful experience of freedom.