The drive to survive is shared by all living things from viruses on up. In some, if not all, forms of life, this plays out as a fear vs. need mediated survival instinct.
Certainly, the survival instinct is a fundamental emotional drive in any animal I think of as having emotion. Naturally, there are those who, ignorant of the science, believe only humans have emotion, but no matter.
This will-to-live emotion is most apparent when an animal feels threatened and must dig deep within to overcome obstacles to survive.
This Saharan Desert tree (lower right) is clearly striving to survive… “Striving on diligently” as Buddha said (see p.218). Does it experience a will-to-live? Do plants have emotion or instinct? The answer to this lies in the eye of the beholder and in accordance with some biological definition agreed upon by society. In something like a virus, which is even harder to imagine as having emotion, I still see a will-to-live, pure and mysterious though it may be.
This Morning’s “Ah ha” Moment
In the thinking animals we are, the will-to-live emotion influences thought, which quite naturally leaves us with the impression that we control our lives. Up to now, I have thought of free will as a belief, mostly either implied or explicit. It is that, but runs considerably deeper than I first imagined. It makes more sense to think of the free-will sensation as an emergent property of thought and the core emotions of need and fear. (See, Tao as Emergent Property, p.121) (photo: do bears have a will-to-live?)
While I touched on this in Of Free Will, I Am, (p.319) this peels back yet another layer, another angle. I now realize how a sensation of free will would have evolved alongside our ability to imagine. This makes it primal and profoundly more ancient than I dreamed, even yesterday! Let me explain…
If nothing else, an imagining mind offers the beholder a neurological space where sensation is free to roam. We can imagine any scenario we fancy, unconstrained by actual realities. For example, I can imagine having wings and flying without harm. On the other hand, a drug-induced hallucination that feels so real that I jump off a cliff to fly is otherwise. Gravity brings me down to earth, back to reality.
Our free-will hallucination is more subtle, but perhaps just as insidious. We are free to imagine alternative time-lines, which influence our will at every turn. This sensation enables us to expect the impossible to be possible and to beat ourselves (or others) up when we fail to live up to those ideals.
This imaginary realm of free will combines with our primal will-to-live and imparts a sense of choice and control even if we know free will is a fiction! The effect is very subtle, and ironically, probably increases with intelligence if we lack the wisdom to see through this bio-hoodwink. Indeed, this makes the sapiens qualifier in Homo sapiens, (Latin: “wise man”) more of an evolutionary aspiration than a current reality.
I am in awe. I am humbled. I am determined to be more vigilant. Not vigilant by choice, but rather by fear of the spontaneity-robbing misdirection brought about by the free will hallucination.