On Free Will and Determinism

Long has the debate raged over free will versus determinism. I have had discussions with several people recently relating to creative visualization: Books which espouse the philosophy that we all create our own reality and thus are the architects of our own destinies have become very popular lately. I believe that people have limited freedom of choice within certain environmental and economical limitations.

The very popular (and profitable) book, THE SECRET, written by Rhonda Byrne, has made it popular among the middle and upper classes to espouse the philosophy that the Universe is some kind of gigantic wish-granting machine, designed to give us anything we ask for. According to this book all we have to do to harness the power of this beneficent Universe-Genie, is to practice envisioning what is we want in great detail and then behaving as if we already have it. According to the book, bad things only happen to people who engage in negative thought--unfortunately, it appears that this magical wish-giving machine can’t tell the difference between fears and hopes; as a result, optimistic people lead happy and successful lives, while pessimists are constantly seeing their worst fears come true. In my opinion this book should be categorized with such things as horse-feathers, bull-pucky, and gobeldy-gook.

In order to accept such a philosophy one must assume that tragedy is caused by negative thought, instead of the other way around. I do agree that there is great power in positive thinking, and I think I am generally regarded by my friends as a fairly positive and optimistic person. In my opinion, a more realistic model of the factors influencing "success" can be found in Malcolm Gladwell's book, OUTLIERS. Mr. Gladwell offers a refreshing look at the way our society thinks about success and brings up some astonishing statiscal facts to make his point. Let me ask you to ponder these questions:

1. How did the first negative thought originate?

2. Why are some people gifted with this magical ability to think positively all the time, while so many others seem to be unable to do so?

3. Am I a negative thinker for writing this article?

I believe that negative thought is born out of negative experience. In this way people are a little like tape-recorders: their experiences become a part of their persona. Not only do negative experiences teach us to avoid unpleasant situations or circumstances, they can also be useful in teaching us to survive. For instance, if I burn myself on a hot stove, I learn through negative association not to get to close to hot stoves. Conversely, if I hear a song that I enjoy, I know that I will probably enjoy hearing it again in the future. Also, if I try a food I like, I am likely to try it again.

I see it as normal that wealthy and successful people should believe in free will. When a person is successful at what they set have out to do, it is natural that they should have such a belief. But how many struggling, poor or poverty stricken people believe in free will? Let’s not forget that there are forces beyond our control which shape our destinies. Were the victims of the 2004 Tsunami or Hurricane Katrina simply negative thinkers? How much free will do you think an orphaned child in war-torn Iraq has? One friend of mine from a fairly affluent family argued that she knew a young man who had come to the United States from war-torn Iraq to become a successful and popular musician. After I pointed out to her that there were many talented and deserving musicians in Iraq who didn't make it out, she had no reply. My wealthy and successful readers will find this distasteful, but I will put it to you that a person’s success in life depends more on luck (environment) than anything else. Look at the weeds in a nearby vacant lot. Why do some weeds grow to be larger than others? Generally, life grows to the limits that it's resources allow. That is how dominant humans have managed to occupy virtually every bit of habitable space on the planet.

Of course, success usually (not always) requires talent, self-discipline, and sacrifice, but without a certain amount of good luck these qualities are not enough. Although I know people with vast estates, I have never met anyone who called themselves rich. My wealthiest friends say they are just middle class—they always point their fingers to others who have more, maybe a few of them consider themselves to be lucky. I suppose “wealth” is a very relative term. I do not equate success with wealth. For the purposes of this discussion, success should be defined as having achieved a sense of well-being and satisfaction with one’s accomplishments in life and an ability to pursue one’s true passion.

One might say that a person’s measure of free will is directly proportionate to his or her wealth. I will agree with this only to a certain degree for there are certainly other factors which can either add to or decrease a person’s free will. Even the wealthiest man on Earth can’t visit a nearby star should he so desire, although it’s possible that we might reach such a goal collectively as a race someday. Of course, an individual’s free will is also relative to his or her desires. In other words, if a person wants nothing more than to eat, drink, defecate, urinate, meditate and sleep, one could say s/he would even have free will in prison.

Although it might be pleasant for one to believe that all of the good fortune a person enjoys is due to the fact that they simply have a great attitude and know how to ask for what they want, but if you ask any one of the millions of struggling, poverty stricken people in the world to believe that all they have to do is “be positive” and their bad luck will change, this author thinks that most would disagree.


  1. Let me ask you, what is negativity? Is it nothing more than a cultural moral construct? Western cultures see death as a negative thing, Eastern does not. Perhaps negativity arose with culture. Perhaps it came about through the human emotion of jealousy...which does not necessarily come through negative situations but situations where one does not have what would make them the ultimate specimen. Like, I want that mate to make genetically superior babies, but that dude over there has it, I feel jealousy and feel negativity about my own life. Or something like that.

    Some people are just plain ignorant...or dumb...or they have faith which has nothing to do with ignorance or dumbness but they think everything happens for a purpose so they see everything as an overall positive. Which I guess is not free will Also, perhaps many people who seem positive on the outside have wretched depressed souls on the inside.

    You are not negative at all for writing this article. Thinking is a totally POSITIVE thing.

    I do not think luck and environment are one in the same. I am not happy in suburban Detroit, so I am intending to get out of here to increase my happiness. That's not luck, but it is a change in environment. I may be "lucky" to be able to move in the first place, but I think that is more because I am not a fool nor a tool of capitalism and I can live happily being in what some may see as an impoverished state. Money doesn't run my life, I know I am not lucky to feel that way because I made myself over the years feel that way. I know that success cannot be counted in dollars and cents, and that material things can come and go. I am happier with less!

    Luck does have a place in life. Or unluckiness, for that matter. I like a situation like this: it is unlucky that a meteor falls through the roof of your car, but what luck in that a meteor fell through the roof of YOUR car! ha ha I don't know what point I want to make there. Maybe I just wish I was lucky enough to find a meteorite.

    Why must people who are impoverished be unlucky, or have bad luck? Why can't they be positive already? Why would they disagree with your last statement? I've known voluntarily homeless people, it was their free will to want to live that type of life for a while. I know they had the free will to be in a middle class life at the same time, it wasn't a situation of luck but what they wanted to do with their life.


  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I see ur arguement. I don't agree with it. The Secret is not "be positive". If the " gurus" told the whole world what exactly is The Secret or the shortcut to it, they'd be out of job by now. The Secret is not what u think it is. The Secret is NOT a SECRET if u know "The Secret". U were born with "The Secret". The Secret movie & its book NEVER revealed what "The Secret" is. Its not their job or anyones duty to disclose it or disclose anything to anyone. B4 they made it kown to the whole world, those, such as the gurus and religious leaders, who kept it quiet did so cos they were enriching themselves through peoples' ignorance of the natural powers each and everyone of us was born with. Know "The Secret" & how to apply "The Secret" so that can experience "The Secret". The Secret is ENERGY (Chi / Vital life force / Kundalini / Prana, etc. Different countries call it different things, but in Englisg, its called "energy"). To know the secret is to know how to apply energy. All things are possible if you know how to do it, discover how to do it or someone of higher force shows u how to do it. Go to The Secret via Kundalini / Third Eye Chakra / Pineal Gland ACTIVATION. Familiarise urself with "Reticular Activating System". Do ur research. Learn. Google. Check YouTube. The Secret works & it can work for u once learn how to apply it and use it. I discovered "The Secret" when I was about 17yrs old. I used it. I did not know what it was or was called, but I knew it worked cos I used it, AND still use it. I was guided into it by small advice in a letter from Dr Mike Murdock. I was going through a bad time & not knowing where or whom to turn to, I read his magazine or so that I came accross at a friends house. I wrote to him about an article or so in it. Few weeks later, I got a reply with a small (self-help) booklet authored by him. B4 this, the only self-help book I'd read was "Think And Grow Rich". I followed Dr Murdoch's advice contained in his letter & booklet. In less than 6 months of following his instructions, my life changed completely & money & help flooded into my life. Till this day I am STILL dumbfounded at the speed and the FORCE, be it DIVINE or whatever, I don't know. But it changed my life to this day. I only knew that the force is called Energy / Vital Life Force / Chi / Prana / The Secret / Law of Attraction => AFTER I saw the movie The Secret. In 2009, I learnt that Stephen Pierce's (the $100,000 / month internet marketer) mentor is ALSO Dr Mike Murdock. I also found out that Dr Mike Murdock was a friend of the late Dr Rev Ike. Plz, learn the real secret of The Secret "ENERGY". My advice, get urself a mentor / guru. A true mentor or guru will charge u NOTHING & expect nothing from u apart from ur success. Blessings to u & urs.

  4. Even in the most desolate of circumstances there is absolutely nothing that can rob you of your birth-given gift of free will. We can always choose how a situation affects us, and choose what actions to create from thereon and make it so that we move ourselves forward in life. The book The Secret does a great job of explaining how The Law of Attraction is interconnected with our attitudes and our ‘thinking and feeling’ but it does not really go into the next phase, which in my opinion is far more important, and that is something we might call The Law of Action or The Law of Creation. To change your situation and your perceived ‘luck’ you will actually have to DO something!

    Being that I was born on a small island in the Atlantic ocean into an uneducated working class family and then grew up in a subsidized housing complex, I must say that I’ve tested this gift of free will and witnessed, as well as explored, the attitudes that create the distinction between ‘owners’ and ‘victims’. We can choose to take genuine ownership of our lives and consequently change everything for the better or we can choose to believe pre-programmed limiting beliefs and remain as ‘victims of circumstance’.

    So far I am the only person in my family’s extended history that has graduated college and then grad school so I guess I definitely broke a pattern there and chose to do something different from what had been done before. I don’t know if I necessarily needed to go through all those years of hard work and struggle with a self-financed overseas study but at the time it felt like that would be my ‘way out’, so to speak. I consider myself to be very successful in life, and my sense of success is not based on the number of dollars I may or may not have in the bank but on the fact that I wake up every morning in love with my family, and in love with my life, and I get to do exactly what it is I want to be doing! And, all because of the choices I made and keep making each and every day. The point of power is always in the present moment… where you go from here has nothing to do with luck!

    Thank you for your visit to my blog and for sharing your thoughts and for questioning and even challenging this newly popular ‘school of thought’, and hence creating this fun discussion☺

  5. I appreciate your comment on my blog and for your suggestion to read your opinions on the book, 'The Secret'. I enjoy reading a variety of genres and I especially enjoy listening to different opinions and observations.
    I think that thinking positively, working hard, serving others, connections we may have, economic and geographic situation all work together in creating a person's life. I don't think in life it is ever one thing that affects our experiences. So, just thinking positive isn't going to get you anything. You do have to work hard and obviously the other factors in life play a part. It's like a puzzle. All the right pieces have to come together to make it work.
    As far as poverty and abuse, I have had my share of awful experiences in my life that have taken me into deep depression. I don't believe people bring these things on themselves, but what you take away from it and how you choose to go on from there is what makes the difference. In the end it is helping and serving others and showing those how to continue that service, that is most important and is the best way to heal!
    For me, reading this book gave me a chance to challenge how I think and take away positive things that I could incorporate in my life. The section on serving and giving generously resonated with me. That was my favorite part.
    I am thankful that God created us with individual minds and that each of us has a chance to help each other and make a difference whether big or small. We all have a chance to find our talents and use them to help. It doesn't matter whether you are an executive or living in a small village, you have a chance to impact those around you for good or for bad. That is our choice.

  6. Ideas taken to the extreme belong to the people holding placards on the street. The Secret, when taken to the extreme will allow a Ferrari to fall out of the sky and into my garage. The Secret has managed to take key principles of psychology and motivation and put it into an elegant, easy to understand package. People who take The Secret literally will either be thought of as crazy by others, or lacking in critical thinking.

    What it says is that we are responsible for what we perceive, the meaning of what we perceive and how we react to our circumstances. In simpler words, you can cry over spilt milk or to pick up a mop.

  7. Wow! I am amazed by all the great comments! Thanks for the input. Dave Loves all of You!

  8. Well, while there is some logic to your argument, it still stands as a fact that thoughts effect reality. Particles do come into existence when observed, and do disappear when observations cease.
    Mind, i.e. -subject- simply cannot be totally separated from reality or - object-
    Out thoughts have a tangible influence on our lives.
    What happens to us does not matter, what we become through those happenings is what counts.
    I will admit however, that when you are in a terrible situation, controlling your thoughts will be, by far, the hardest thing you have ever done. Bad karma cab still sneak up and kick you in the ass.


Please comment: