A drive to survive is common to all living things from viruses on up. In somewhat higher forms of life, we see this as the survival instinct.
This survival instinct must be regarded as a fundamental emotional drive in any animal we 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 itself to overcome obstacles to survive.
This Saharan Desert tree (right) is clearly striving to survive. Does it experience a will-to-live? Do plants have emotion or instinct? The answer to this lies in the eye of the beholder, or in accordance with some biological definition agreed upon by the ‘powers that be’. 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 thinking animals like us, the will-to-live emotion influences thought and quite naturally leaves us with the impression that we have free will and 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 imagined. It works better 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 )
While I touched on this recently in Of Free Will, I Am, this peels back yet another layer, another angle, another ‘part of the elephant’. I now see how the sensation of free-will must have come hand-in-hand with 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 will at every turn. This sensation enables us to expect the impossible to be possible, to beat ourselves up in guilt-ridden illusions of self-perfection.
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. i.e., Homo sapiens, ( Latin: “wise man”). Yes indeed, ‘sapiens’ is more of an evolutionary goal than a current reality.
I am in awe. I am humbled. I am determined to be more vigilant. Not vigilant by ‘free choice’, but by my fear of the spontaneity-robbing misdirection the free will hallucination brings about.