On Free and Unfree Will

A sleepwalker wanders over walls and on roofs with unfailing surety of step. But should he be accidentally awakened or wake up by himself, he will fall off.

This strange behavior and accident can be taken as a point of departure for a consideration of the problem concerning freedom of will. All argumentations of philosophy and psychology on this theme were till now built solely upon speculative ideas.

A sleepwalker’s conduct is unconscious. If the sleepwalker gains consciousness, he loses his security.

The infallible belongs to unconscious actions. But when the conscious comes into play, confusions result, as e.g. in slips of the tongue and inadvertent acts. Where inadvertencies are concerned, it is really not the unconscious, but the conscious which carries the blame for the blunder. Unconscious actions are not free, they are compulsive, instinctive. The instinct belongs to the deepest layer of all, the uniquely infallible layer of the unconscious; it is this same layer which compels the embryo to grow in the mother’s body, or which responds to the reception of food with lyphocytosis.

Here free will exists. A measure of coercion is present, just as there is coercion in inorganic nature.

The instinct is the automatic in living nature that acts according to the law of physics, as long as the conscious or the near-conscious does not get into the fray. I say ‘into the fray’ because it deals most often with a dual struggle, the fight of the instinctive—the automatic— with the conscious psyche.

Living nature does not require the conscious in order to preserve itself through generations. The masculine would come together with the feminine with the same inevitability that copulates the sperm with the egg. The urgency for life was precisely that power which separated the animal from the earth, uprooted it, brought it into motion; in water, in air, and on earth. Due to its very existence, the animal must come into conflict with other species and individuals. The only infallible powers were at work here, a totality and a parallelogram of powers would quickly begin, along the diagonal of which everything would be consumed. The similarity would lead to uniformity and to death, in the sense of the transformation from conscious life to unconscious inorganic life.

Unconscious will is unfree; conscious will is free. But since the conscious alone never rules man, his actions are but the result of the struggle between the freewill of the conscious and the unfree will of the unconscious. That is why, until today, it was equally impossible for the adherents to the doctrine of the freedom of will to prove anything, as it was for the adherents to the doctrine of the unfree will. Obviously, both powers exist, but the activity of man is the product of the confrontation or the co-operation of both.

The unfree will of the unconscious would never itself endanger the individual for its own sake, because it deals with the security of the infallible automatic and follows the introgenic instinct. The automatically-wandering somnambulist does not fall from roofs. But the fact that the automatic transaction is infallible will never be purposeful to the extent of helping a victory for the unfree will of one person over the similarly unfree will of another one. If an aggressive danger confronted a sleepwalker, he would become its victim. If a sleepwalker, while wandering on a wall were to collide with another sleepwalker who is sauntering towards him, then both would hurtle down.

Conscious transaction can be faultv insofar as man’s calculation can deviate from the infallible logic of the physical nature of things. And yet it is just this instability, this fallibility, this tendency to waver, sometimes to slip and to tumble, — it is peculiarly this very quality which raises man above infallible inorganic nature. A stone is never in error and falls only as it overcomes its own inertia. Bacteria are also virtually free from error and act according to the dictates of the laws of chemotrophy. Erring is the convulsing of the automatic in nature’s biology, and free will is the blessed store of capacity for error.