Free Will and Primal Pain:

The Illusion of Being in Control

by John A. Speyrer

"I do not believe in the freedom of the will. Schopenhauer writes, 'the person probably can do what he wants; but he cannot want what he wants.' (This knowledge) accompanies me in all life situations and reconciled me with the actions of persons, even if they are to me quite painful."

-- Albert Einstein,
An Audio History of Germany in the 20th Century

"A God who rewards and punishes is inconceivable to him for the simple reason that a man's
actions are determined by necessity, external and internal, so that in God's eyes he cannot be responsible, any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motions it undergoes."

-- Albert Einstein,
"Religion and Science," in the New York Times Magazine, Nov. 9, 1930,
pp. 3-4 from The Expanded Quotable Einstein, pp. 205-206.

Rather early in my self-primal therapy, I was amazed to insightfully understand that the philosophical and theological question of our having 'free will' is wholly determined during one specific instance. We have 'free will' only when we perform an action or take a position which is not contaminated by the influence of a repressed trauma.

The insightful therapeutic regressions I experienced over the past 24 years have enabled me to insightfully realize how even some of our most seemingly objectively virtuous actions have also been programmed into our behavior. When it comes to sinful, evil or immoral behaviors, our early deprivations and traumas more decidedly explain our actions.

Religions teach that we have free will. Indeed their eschatological doctrines on the hereafter rest on that proposition. But how could we be fairly rewarded or punished in the hereafter if in reality we have few choices when we perform both morally good and sinful behaviors?

Would Christ and other founders of religions, if truly inspired by a deity, not have known our "sins" for what they really were? Would "sinners" have been condemned to eternal damnation since they were in truth simply automatons engaged in actions compelled by the neurological imprints of their early repressed traumas?

Even when they happen, we do not realize that our behaviors are actually the result of only supposedly willful actions. In reality we are not free to choose. We do not realize that our every day motivational thoughts and actions are being controlled by unconscious associations which foundations were laid down during our very early beginnings.

Why would the founders of our religious traditions place so much emphasis on proper behavior and say nothing at all about unconscious feelings which often drive such behaviors? If Christ was God, if Mohammed was Allah's prophet, and if Jehovah was the Deity, would they not have been experts on the real origins of our "sins?" But the world's holy books hardly speak at all about feelings, either repressed or otherwise. In inspiring their scribes to place emphasis on righteous behavior and beliefs, which often are only culturally defined, our all knowing Gods were to relegate truth to the back of the bus. (See my article, On Bill Clinton, Jimmy Swaggart and Sin)

Not mentally healthy. A "sinner"

-- Henry Ebel, Ph.D.,
in Death and Birth

"We think we are rational beings driven by rational thoughts toward rational ends, but we are basically irrational beings driven toward a rationale, and that rationale
is to justify the fact that we are being driven beyond our control."

-- Dr Arthur Janov in his internet blog

Neurologist Robert Scaer, expresses poetically in his most excellent book, The Trauma Spectrum: Hidden Wounds and Human Resiliency, (2005), how the freedom of our will is diminished as a result of our earlier painful traumas:

(Trauma)...freezes us in a past event that thereafter dictates our entire perception of reality. The past event is everpresent, awaiting its chance to intrude on our daily life based on the subtlest of cues. Locked in the crucible of terror created by the traumatic experience, we dance like a puppet on strings controlled by a manic and repetitive puppeteer. Our thoughts, our choices, our values, our behavior, even the control of our bodies seem to be governed not by conscious intent but by some inner tyrant that operates with an unknown and sinister agenda.

The messages provided by our very thoughts are alien, nonsensical, and divorced from the events around us and from our moment-to-moment perceptions. Our storehouse of old fragmented, distorted, at times terrifying, at times confusing. We respond to events in our daily life with emotions that seem to arise spontaneously with a degree of intensity that alone is terrifying. Deep in our hearts we recognize that our inner life makes no sense, and overlying it all is a deep sense of shame. (p. 252)

And because our inner life is warped by the "old memories" not only is our "inner life" less free, but so is our behavior And if that is not unfortunate enough, usually the pain patient does not realize that the pain in his life has its origin in very early, deeply repressed traumas. Without deep regressive psychotherapy these secrets may never become known.

During an interview, I had posed the following question to psychiatrist and primally-oriented therapist, Paul Vereshack, M.D.:

"Do you believe that human beings have free will or are we merely automatons being pulled as puppets by the strings of our early pain and perhaps not as responsible for our behavior as the churches and judicial systems would have us believe?"

He replied:

"This is a fantastic question, John, and it strikes right to the core of an issue which has preoccupied me greatly in the last year or two.... It is just such a staggeringly huge question, but I think I can give you a feeling of my beliefs.

I hate to say this because it stirs up tremendous anger in people, but I do not believe in 'free will.' I see the human being as an unfolding flower, only we are unfolding along psychological lines. The central nervous system conducts very rapid brain scans below the level of consciousness. I really feel that the brain scans millions of bytes of information under any given circumstances and comes to a conclusion. There is, I think, a huge psycho-biological trick of nature which gives us the feeling that we are making a choice. In fact, in my opinion, what we are really doing under all circumstances is responding to this rapid scan of our entire memory inventory and our current situation. The brain then gives us a read out which we feel to be a choice, as we put it into action.

We do not feel the very subtle lack of choice here, because in fact, it is not a choice. It is a response to a huge amount of conscious and most probably mostly unconscious information. I like the model of the unfolding mind. The more we work on it, the more we are conscious of the things that have and will go into our so-called choices and the more we enjoy the wonder of a broader and broader view of mental mechanisms than the view we had.

Lack of choice can be proved as follows: If you take any given moment of so-called choice, and go into therapy to examine why you did what you did in that moment, you can spend days, months, years and literally decades unraveling the roots of a single moment of behavior. Now clearly, during that moment of behavior you were not aware of even a small portion of all you might uncover in therapy and yet, moment, by moment we do behave, we do respond.

So by definition if we do not know the roots of our response in any given moment, it follows that the brain scans on our behalf and produces its decisions for us, thus we never have conscious choices, we only deal with what is unfolding for us at whatever level of development we have in that moment. And I think we have to get comfortable with the idea of "letting go" around this business of control. Like the Samurai swordsman, who "lets go" and becomes a superb fighter.

"Anyone who really perfects any kind of doing or skill, knows that at some point they have to let go, get out of their own way, and enjoy the fact that their mind will function. It will always function for them. And so if I was going to suggest any ultimate directive of development for humankind it would be let go and get out of your own way. Please note: This is not a license for undisciplined behavior."( from, The Primal Page Interviews Paul Vereshack, M.D. )

Physician and addiction counselor, Gabor Maté writes about freedom of choice in, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (2010),

Freedom of choice, understood from the perspective of brain development, is not a universal or fixed attribute but a statistical probability. In other words, given a certain set of life experiences, a human being will have either a lesser or a greater probability of having freedom in the realm of the psyche. A warmly nurtured child is much more likely to develop emotional freedom than is an abused and neglected child.

As we have seen, the in utero and early childhood experiences of hard-core addicts will likely diminish the possibility of freedom. The probability of these children attaining even a basic level of psychic freedom from automatic mechanisms
and drives is correspondingly less--not completely absent but less (p. 308).

Clinical Psychologist, Robert W. Godwin, Ph.D., also has important ideas about 'free will' which he expresses in his book, One Cosmos: The Unification of Matter, Life, Mind and Spirit.

On page 114, he writes:

". . . (M)any disturbances in mentation can be readily traced to the earliest relationships, and . . . most forms of mental illness, in one degree or another involve difficulty in 'thinking one's thoughts' or 'feeling one's emotions.' Indeed, one way of putting it is that disturbed minds do not generally think their thoughts, but are thought by them; thoughts, emotions and mental states abruptly 'intrude' in an unpredictable, uncontrollable, unassimiliable, and bewildering way, prevent any real continuity in being and identity."

In an interview about his aforementioned book, I posed to him this question:

"Since feeling one's thoughts is the first step in acting out one's thoughts, do you believe that we possess 'free will' as claimed by mainline religious and judicial systems or does toxic acting out, in reality, point to robotic behavior and lack of freedom of choice?"

His response:

"As is the case in most ultimate antinomies, the question of free will vs. determinism is not an either/or issue. Rather, we can possess "more or less" free will, depending on various circumstances. But by and large, our free will is squandered and given away. As Dostoyevsky wrote, man has "no more pressing need than the one to find somebody to whom he can surrender as quickly as possible that gift of freedom with which he, unfortunate creature, was born.

All meaningful human freedoms are analogous to that. Freedom is not just the absence of constraint or the ability to indulge one's whims in an aimless fashion. Rather, real freedom always involves discipline, boundaries, and most importantly, a higher goal or standard toward which the freedom is directed. Otherwise, mere freedom itself is by no means a morally or spiritually constructive entity. In the absence of higher goals and standards, people are abandoned either to a passive, rudderless, aimless existence or to a more impulsive acting out of various psychological patterns."

Psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis in, Guilty By Reason of Insanity, 1998, believes that knowing the actual or real psychological origins of violence makes it difficult to determine whether someone is guilty, sane or insane. This is because issues of protecting the innocent arise as well as a ever-present need by the court system for revenge against the perpetrator. When the perpetrator exercises his free will, it is not something static but, like violence, also has its origins in particular repressed pains. Therefore, one's ability to exercise free will fluctuates, as do one's defenses and insights.

Thus, killers are not born that way; they are made in the crucible of the womb and in the hot house of their family environment. How much responsibility do they bear for deciding which way they will act out? Perhaps, no more so than a person suffering from a psychosomatic condition can intentionally choose to suffer from his tension provoked headache, rather than from, say, psychogenic asthma or essential hypertension.

In her book, Lewis takes issue with the penal and judicial system which she believes is more interested in punishing offenders than understanding them. Huge amounts of government money is spent on biological psychiatry but very little on studying the ultimate causes of violent sociopathic criminality. (see Virginia Tech Terror.)

Dr Lewis recounts her attempts to locate a psychopath who was genetically created that way. After all leads resulted in failure, she was finally directed to a seemingly bona fide person with no conscience. He was an executioner. He did his job, he said, with "no feelings." Her book ends with the recounting of her interview with him. Unremarkably, there were no surprises, nor should any have been expected. The executioner had had severe birth trauma. He mentioned how his family had believed he would not live long after birth. It was uncovered in the interview that this supposed "natural" sociopath had previously been in jail for assault and battery, had had many beatings as a child, and was paranoid. (see book review of Dr. Dorothy Lewis' Guilty by Reason of Insanity )

Elsewhere, Dr. Paul Vereshack writes:

"We don't create thoughts. They come to us, and the same is true of feelings and the behavior that flows from them. We initiate nothing. We receive it from deeper within and pass it on. Yet at the moment this happens, we have the feeling that we are the authors of our actions. We feel as though we are consciously creating our life through our activities when in fact we are receiving it.

The Belief That We Have Freedom of Choice

We can spend years in therapy examining the roots of any given moment of seeming choice. This says that in any given moment of "choice" there is so much unconscious process involved we cannot begin to know in the moment why we choose what we choose. And yet nothing is stronger in humans at any given moment than the feeling they are choosing what they think and do.

These delusions seem to exist to allow us to function and survive on the planet as physical organisms. They give us the illusion of being consciously in control of our food acquisition and other self and species maintaining behavior. They let us feel as though we are manipulating our world, have power and can survive. In that sense they work.

They are unfortunately lies, and lies that are maintained in spite of any real examination we might conduct.

We receive everything, from our life to our feelings and thought, to our actions and their results. I believe that our profound misunderstanding of this situation, requires energy to maintain, and creates tension within us which can rise to very high levels.

This tension has no real way to dissipate, and there are even more profound levels of tension continuously at work within us.

There is the tension of knowing that we are going to die. We spend a lifetime struggling to live, as though this were not true. Denial of death is one of the great founding and inexorable tensions of our being. There is no relief from it, as we are, and the great majority of humans won't go anywhere near the growth that is necessary to neutralize this paradox.

I believe that whenever the mind creates a delusion, with the necessary level of denial to maintain it, this distortion of reality produces tension (Existential tension). Since almost all our sense of what is, is in fact false, the central nervous system is always under serious tension and is far removed from reality.

This nullification of reality, the subsequent maintenance of our delusion, and the massive denial that must, of necessity accompany all this, displaces us away from the ground of the universe." (from Dr. Paul Vereshack's, What Relationship Does Primal Therapy Have With Spirituality and the Satori Experience?)

John Rowan, PhD, in Brain Imperialism, quotes Francis Crick (1994):

"The astonishing hypothesis is that you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will are, in fact, no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." (p. 3) He also quotes Susan Greenfield who succinctly puts it: "All 'you' consist of is a brain, albeit one personalized by a unique trajectory through life." (p. 184)

Rightfully so, the dean of psychohistory resents reducing all of our desires and actions to understanding neuronal activity. In a review of Richard Restak's, The Naked Brain: How the Emerging Neurosociety is Changing How We Live, Work, and Love (2006), in the Fall 2008, Journal of Psychohistory, Lloyd deMause laments that even though he "learned a lot", for example, by noting that "you remember quite vividly where you were on September 11, 2001, for the reason that the horrific events of that day aroused your emotions and activated your amygdala." Much better, and more productive, deMause believes, is to understand the actual early developmental issues of the terrorist hijackers and others rather than simply observing the effects of the thoughts and behaviors on their neurological physiology.

"Our act-out is just as unconscious as the feeling living inside of us. We are driven by the imprint
until we are free from it. Then we are in the driver’s seat. It is the difference between
being driven and driving. We will no longer be passengers
on our wordly peregrinations."

-- Dr Arthur Janov in his internet blog


However, the contents of our secret unknown minds are not just populated with forms of repressed traumas. Other various subjective conclusions also take residence there. According to Malcolm Gladwell, (writer for the New Yorker) in, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2007), explains how the process works:

Gladwell believes that, the unconscious is a repository of cultural, prejudicial and other mind parasites that are used to make intuitive snap judgments when we think we are making logical decisions. For example, it was found that one gets a different result when in choosing a violinist, if auditions are held with the musician performing behind a screened area. It was found that such auditions resulted in an increase in the number of female violinists selected for ability alone. One result is that the gender population of symphony orchestras in the country has increased to almost fifty percent women when such auditions are used in the selection process.

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