October 10, 2014 Blacksburg, Virginia

Two Quotes

I’ve recently been reading the book The Tao is Silent, by Raymond Smullyan, and it’s full of so many well-expressed, simple, interesting, hilarious, confusing ideas that it feels kind of like eating gummy candies for my brain. Anyway, I especially like these two quotes from a chapter titled “Is God a Taoist?” wherein a mortal has a conversation with God about free will and God’s nature.

[God:] It is the same with a human being. A creature from another planet may look at him purely impersonally as a mere collection of atomic particles behaving according to strictly prescribed physical laws. He may have no more feeling for the personality of a human than the average human has for an ant. Yet an ant has just as much individual personality as a human to beings like myself who really know the ant. To look at something impersonally is no more correct or incorrect than to look at it personally, but in general, the better you get to know something, the more personal it becomes.

Mortal: Well, are my acts determined by the laws of nature or aren’t they?

God: The word determined here is subtly but powerfully misleading and has contributed so much to the confusions of the free will versus determinism controversies. Your acts are certainly in accordance with the laws of nature, but to say they are determined by the laws of nature creates a totally misleading psychological image which is that your will could somehow be in conflict with the laws of nature and that the latter is somehow more powerful than you, and could “determine” your acts whether you liked it or not. But it is simply impossible for your will to ever conflict with natural law. You and natural law are really one and the same.