LifeOS: exploring the system that executes DNA

June 14, 2008

Free Will

Free will: the ability of the individual to make the final choice.

We have always claimed that territory for ourselves, denying that animals possess free will or the thought process necessary to use it. However, if you ask animals, they will tell you that they follow the same steps that you do to get what they want. Many do it with far simpler equipment than the hunk of gray matter we lug around, but they all make their own choices.

Freedom is so important to some animals that they cannot live in captivity. Others can adapt to some degree, but often suffer severe depression when caged. You might claim that animals are ruled by instinct and therefore have no freedom of choice, but you misunderstand free will. Animals build very rigid behavior patterns or habits that they always do the same way, but every animal has the ability to choose the appropriate behavior. Humans build their habitual routines by the very same process as do other animals. Our free will is more expansive than other animals, and we have the ability to make up routines on the fly, but the ability to choose is the heart and soul of biological systems.

Navigation, choice of food and mate selection all areas where some degree of free will is necessary.

Individual freedom has proven to be the most effective way for big business, big government and big religion to deal with day to day activities of their followers. Those organizations have discovered that total control over people depresses them like it does caged animals. However, a degree of freedom, even within a rigid structure, makes people work harder.

It has also been discovered that the the closer the decision making process is to the problem, the more likely it is that the problem will be solved. Rather than having information travel up the chain of command to a qualified decision maker, and then return back through channels to the point of action, it is better to give the authority and the necessary training to the person at the point of action. Of course, for that to work there must be strict limits to the scope of the granted authority and some sort of oversight. Besides shortening the feedback loops, a measure of free will is certainly good for moral.

Biological systems make use of this concept at every level. A measure of free will is granted to all mobile creatures. The ability to navigate demands that real time adjustments be made by the individual. Birds in a flock are following the flight pattern dictated by their peers, but each one is doing its own flying. Schools of fish perform in the same way, with the group navigating as one, but each fish is still in charge of its own fins.

In experiments where worms are put in a simple T shaped maze with one branch leading to food and the other to something unpleasant, appear to ponder their options, pointing what sensors they possess first down one tunnel and then the other, until they finally make a choice. Eventually, they can learn the clues that lead them to the right choice, and repeat successful behavior. The individual makes the choices and remembers the results.

Mating rituals are highly stylized, and certainly part of species specific inherited behavior, but the fact is that the female of even the tiniest insect species, deliberates and chooses her mate. If everything is not just right, she might not mate at all.

Cats demand their measure of free will to the point of trying to boss the rest of the household around. They like to initiate feeding, games and contact in general. They like to set the rules for each activity. If you spend enough time observing nature at play, you will see this behavior is common in animals and even insects.

Boss Fly

There was a big black and gold stripped fly that hung out just outside my trailer. One of his favorite perches was on the crank handle on the trailer hitch. The handle stuck straight up. It had a chrome tip on the handle that was just about the same diameter and this fly’s wingspan, probably 3/8 of an inch. The convex chrome surface displayed his undercarriage like mirrors under the fenders at a custom car show.

I would talk to him when and he would move around, it seemed in response. When I wasn’t talking he stayed still. So, after a few days of this, I offered him the back of my hand. He looked up at me, and climbed on. I turned my hand around and he reacted by turning his body so we stayed face to face. Then when I stopped turning my hand, he would turn in circles. After a short time, he would fly back to his chrome perch. He would only perform this trick once in each session. He would still give me his attention, but he wouldn’t get back on my hand.

We did this a few more times in the days to come. One day, I held out my hand from five feet away and called him to get on. He did! He took off and made one or two circles and landed on the back of my hand. We did this trick every day for quite a while. I even got to show it to a couple of friends. He turned to me and then turned to the audience… and I think he made a little bow.

Then one day, he wouldn’t do it at all. He just turned his back on me. I tried to coax him on by putting my hand up close like I had days before, but he just flew off to another perch. I tried for several days, but he just wouldn’t play. So, after about a week, I was standing there with my hands on my hips, talking to him and I asked him what the deal was. He immediately took off and made a couple of circles. I held out my hand and he landed on it. I was astounded. He wanted to initiate the action. We did it that way many times after that. I would stand there and talk to him, with my hands at my sides. When he was ready, he would take off, I would hold out my hand, and he would land on it. If I held out my hand too soon, he would turn his back on me until I put my hands back to my sides. He liked this trick and would do it more than once per session.

Not only does this exhibit free will, but also the desire to demonstrate it to others.

Farewell Performance

One day there were two of them and they would fly around and around in tight circles for several minutes and then fly off. They would come back in a few minutes and circle again. They were flying really fast and their buzzing was very loud. Then they disappeared. A few days later, he was back. His wings were in tatters and he was all beat up and ragged looking. He did his trick a couple more times that day, landing on my outstretched hand. That was his farewell performance; I didn’t see him again.

In this view of biological systems, memory, an understanding of time and space, a sense of self and the exercise of free will are all attributes possessed by each and every mobile species. The difference is in the scope of available choices, but the ability to choose is the same. Successful navigation, feeding and mating require that the agent have final control over the process. Free will is universal within the System.


  1. jim,

    definitely in my wheelhouse, with the
    DNA connections at the top of current concerns. going to go back to your day 1 and read forward. will leave my own trail of crumbs as i go. have show in NY saturday preparing for but will hit this as i can. so glad you decided to do this.

    reading the mushroom adventure now.


    Comment by mazerunner — June 15, 2008 @ 11:41 am

  2. Stumbled on your blog because it showed up under links to my new video about the holographic universe called “I Can Believe.” I am so glad I found this blog because it resonates on many levels. I too have observed many acts of consciousness from animals, I’ve been in the pet sitting business for years. I’ve actually seen pit bulls sit down and cry because their owner wasn’t home!
    Anyway, loved your story of the fly, it really cements the idea of interconnectedness and demonstrates how our we can affect our environment on so many levels with our attention!
    Thanks for your insights, I’ll be checking in regularly!

    Comment by Lelabear — June 19, 2008 @ 10:40 am

  3. Howdy Lelabear,

    Thanks for stumbling by. When i was a young kid i met J. Allen Boone, author of “the Kinship of All Life”. He has a story about his encounter with Freddie the Fly. He started me paying attention to animals. What fun!


    Comment by insomniac — June 19, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

  4. Greetings Jim!

    Thank You for leaving a comment on my blog so I could find you!

    You’ve done some deep pondering and your wonderfully written article is proof of it.

    You might find an expanded awareness has something to add to your musings. For I’m going to share that quite a few of us have 22 strands of DNA, for our DNA is NOT just 3rd dimensional.

    As for animals having a freewill…animals respond as INSTINCTUALLY programmed. They do NOT posses the freedom to act in contradiction to their nature, as Man does. A bird will not purposely break its wing.

    A bird’s brain isn’t big enough to store all the information needed to fly south for the winter, nor does it posses the abilities to process all the information needed. It responses based on Instinct and its senses of gravitational fields. It is the “fight or flee” response.

    Only human beings have the freedom to negate the love for our own lives and most of us have done it.

    There is a BIG difference between simple awareness and self awareness. It is the same difference between saying “Am” and saying “I Am”.

    Animals “am”, human beings “I Am”.

    As for cats, observe how cats always mirror the relationship we have with our own Intuition. For there are 3 levels of mind: Instinct, Intellect and Intuition. It takes Intellect to govern Instinct, while it takes Intuition to transcend Intellect.

    Comment by Sue Ann Edwards — June 21, 2008 @ 12:59 pm

  5. Howdy Sue Ann,

    Thanks for stopping by, and the kind words.

    Don’t sell other animals short. You call it instinct; i call it knowing how to live in harmony with their Nature, something we humans have long forgotten.

    It is most difficult to communicate with animals or plants, if you don’t give them the respect of their own identity.


    Comment by insomniac — June 21, 2008 @ 1:31 pm

  6. Smiling…I think we’re saying the same thing, for consciousness is like a wave of light, there are many bands in the spectrum. Animals, as you say, live in harmony with their nature, for they have no choice to do otherwise. Unlike us, they live in the Now and *know* themselves to be connected with all life.

    But they do not have Creative Powers of ideation and imagination. They cannot project into the future, choosing and imagining different options.

    It is the basic Love for Life that encompasses all of creation, called Instinct in animals and either Intellect or Intuition in Human Beings, depending on how far our awareness has expanded.

    In finding comparisons between animals and Man, it is helpful to understand the distinction between being a human being and being a human animal. And it is living as a human animal, that is out of accord with our nature.

    It’s only beasts that associate concepts of power with the use of force.

    If we act like beasts, then animals (and other people) are going to respond to us according to the predator or prey pattern. If we act like Beings, as in Be-ing respectful, then we understand Universal Law of cause and effect. Love is the effect and Being Lovable the cause.

    Hope you’re having a HAPPY day!

    Comment by Sue Ann Edwards — June 21, 2008 @ 6:21 pm

  7. {{hugs}}}

    you MAY be interested in this:

    The topic you’re discussing *here*, is mentioned in it.

    Cheers to you, too!

    Comment by Sue Ann Edwards — June 21, 2008 @ 6:28 pm

  8. I think animals have the same type of free will that humans do, it’s just less prominent. We can imagine certain personal situations that I think might illustrate this.

    Say we have a subject “Dave” who is a smoker. We might be asked to determine how likely it is that Dave will smoke a cigarette in the next 24 hours. Of course, the answer is 100%, barring unforeseen external circumstances. Dave’s addiction to nicotine makes it all but inevitable that he will smoke a cigarette if he is able in any 24 hour period. But does this mean that the next time he smokes it’s somehow less of an act of free will? If we were to ask Dave, as he’s lighting his next cigarette whether or not what he was doing was an act of free will, he will certainly answer that it is, despite its statistical inevitability. May even prove the point by pausing to listen to your question and thereby demonstrating that his conscious attention can affect the very act he was just performing.

    So instinct and environmental reinforcement may demand certain behaviors in humans or animals, but they don’t necessarily rule out the volitional or free will aspect of specific behavioral actions.

    Nevertheless, some species, especially ones that most lack the complex cognitive abilities of humans, don’t seem to have the same degree or richness of freedom that humans do. They’re behavior is more predictable, ‘machinelike’ than human behavior. It’s likely that the ‘choices’ made by such creatures are much simpler in nature and fewer in number than what we’re accustomed to. But even so, this is merely a difference of quantity, not quality. I think all living things, no matter how simple or instinct driven, have on some level a degree of free will because at least some of their actions are at least slightly non-deterministic.

    Comment by jneuhaus — June 21, 2008 @ 9:50 pm

  9. Howdy Sue Ann,

    Yes indeed, we are talking about the same thing viewed from different perspectives. My point with this book is to look at life as a system, to see what this point of view can reveal to us, not to replace anyone’s beliefs.

    Within the system view, all creatures are agents that share certain attributes while having others that are more specialized. This gets us away from looking at everything thru our own personal hominoid eyepiece.

    There are certainly differences between humans and other animals, but centuries of focusing on them has only increased our separation from the Natural world. My intent is to focus on the similarities, to better see how we all fit into the system that surrounds us.


    Comment by insomniac — June 22, 2008 @ 11:15 am

  10. Howdy Jeff,

    I like the addiction angle. Dave might exercise his free will for awhile, but eventually it fails him. In the process his free will is recharged and his addiction goes dormant.

    I think this ebb and flow between determinism and new behavior is fundamental to the stability of dynamic systems.


    Comment by insomniac — June 22, 2008 @ 11:25 am

  11. Then you may be interested in looking at it from ‘what are the plants and animals reflecting to us, about us, that we do not ‘see’?

    For every species of DNA is within ours, a human being’s.

    It is a matter of Awareness and most of us as humans, have detached ourselves from ours. We are not even self Aware, so as is our programmed behavior response pattern, we project this same lack, for it caters to our vanity to do so.

    ALL the animals and plants for that matter, are more AWARE of universal realities then most of the people we know. Being Aware in this day and age is like living on a planet with a bunch of helen keller dolls. It doesn’t take much inspiration to try staying out of our way.

    Look to the level of quantum reality and you will find what you seek. It is like an ocean. Waves appear and waves disappear but they are never separate from the ocean.

    Our whole system is simply one big biological energy exchange mechanism. We’re all just energy in certain patterns. It’s looking at what the patterns are expressing that it gets interesting.


    Comment by Sue Ann Edwards — June 22, 2008 @ 3:49 pm

  12. Howdy Sue Ann,

    Yes indeed, the creatures have much to teach us. And they are sooo patient with us. The common thread that runs thru all of my communications with plants and animals is: “Be true to your Nature”.


    Comment by insomniac — June 24, 2008 @ 6:39 am

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