Why Choice is an Illusion and Roots in Confusion

By Eldon Taylor in Mystery on February 27th, 2008 / 13 Comments

Paraphrased, J. Krishnamurti said, “Choice is an illusion. Do I do this – do I do that – all of this is confusion. I can only choose when I’m confused. When I know clearly, there is no choice.” Thirty years ago, Benjamin Libet showed that there is activity in the subconscious within milliseconds before a conscious thought occurs. In other words, our so-called conscious thoughts are given us by our subconscious.

People everywhere want to know how to improve their lives. Typically they believe that if they had more money, more power, more success, and better relationships, then they would be happy. Because of such beliefs, the world is full of fixers. There is a motivational guru on every corner, and there is no shortage of people waiting to spend their time and money on learning the “secrets to success.” In a sense, I am no different; however, after more than thirty years of working with individuals in emotional distress, people seeking inner peace, athletes looking to win gold medals, sports organizations seeking to win championships, ordinary people trying to find a place in this world, and so on, I have learned this: The model is all wrong!

Imagine that you’re visiting New York City for the first time. You’re amazed at the skyline – all those immensely tall buildings. You visit a beautiful area of high-rise condominiums. These are truly luxurious condos, all with balconies suspended above the sidewalk. It’s a glorious day. The sun is out, and the slight breeze you feel is warm and comforting. The air is unusually fresh for any part of the world, and you’re simply walking, taking in the sights and sounds, and enjoying the day to the fullest. It’s New York, and you have heard stories about this city, but it’s light and bright and pleasant, and you walk on, thinking of all that you’ll tell your friends back home.

Suddenly, from the third-floor balcony above you, a flowerpot falls and slams onto your head. The pot is deflected onto the sidewalk and shatters. You’re not seriously hurt, but your head is hurting. You feel a bulge rapidly building into a rather large knot. Your scalp has a nasty abrasion that burns when you touch it, and on your hand is a small amount of blood. The suddenness and pain have raised your adrenaline level. That old fight/flight mechanism has kicked in, and the neurochemicals are flowing. Anger begins to rise. Now you have some choices.

What Would You Do?
Let’s think about that and explore some possibilities – possibilities given me over many years of lecturing. You could go up to that third-floor condo and shove you know what where. You might get there only to discover that the owner is a defensive linebacker for some professional football team and his biceps are larger than your waist. Then you might change your plan.

What else could you do? Some might think of this as an opportunity. “I’ll sue this fat cat. Anyone who puts a flowerpot too close to the edge of the balcony railing, just waiting to fall on someone, should be educated. What if it had fallen on a small child or a baby in a buggy passing under the balcony? Suing will be a quickie – they’ll settle out of court. That’ll teach them to be more careful in the future. Concussion and whiplash – I wonder what those are worth.”

What else could you do? Well, some might think the incident was a sign from the gods. It’s time to be metaphysical – after all, the blow might have delivered enlightenment. It might even be like one of those lightning strikes in which the person struck gains special metaphysical or parapsychological abilities. Like John Travolta in the movie Phenomena, such a person can do or solve almost anything. It’s like instantly acquiring the knowledge of the universe.

What Else Could You Do?
William James is credited with coining the term pragmatic. What is pragmatic? In our instance, it is simply responding to the stimuli in a manner that works for you. What would work for you? What if you picked up the flower off the hot sidewalk and took it to a florist for repotting? What if you selected a very nice pot, had the plant repotted, and then returned it to the owner with an explanation of why it was in a new pot? You could say something like this: “Your flower pot fell from your balcony and hit me on the head. The pot smashed against the sidewalk, so I took the beautiful flower to the florist and had it repotted for you. Here it is. I hope you like the new pot.”

Of all the things you might do, what do you think would make you feel the best? Of all the things you might do, what do you think would change those neurochemicals from fight/flight to growth and pleasure? Which choice would serve you best? The answer is obvious. But since it is so obvious, why wasn’t it recognized right away? Here is my point. In a scenario such as our flower pot story – and believe me we all have similar scenarios, like the person who cuts us off in traffic or pushes into line in front of those already queued up – why do we fail to see the obvious and instead choose the lesser? When the obvious should be so clear as to render the notion of choice unto the canvas of Krishnamurti, no choice, why is it so many of us fail even to recognize the alternative?

In my new book, Choices and Illusions, the reason so many fail together with the methods and means to correct this and all the other higher self alienating foibles most of us find ourselves perpetuating and repeating, are spelled out in a straight forward step by step way. If you never read the book, know this: it is always a matter of what you give and not what you take that defines the pivot point between success and failure.

About the author:
Eldon Taylor has made a lifelong study of the human mind and has earned doctoral degrees in clinical psychology and pastoral psychology. He is the CEO of Progressive Awareness Research, an organization dedicated to researching techniques for accessing the immense powers of the mind. He is a Fellow in the American Psychotherapy Association and is the author of over 300 books, audio and video programs. To contact Eldon in response to the story, you can reach him via his website: www.innertalk.com.

For a limited time only, when you purchase just one copy of Choices and Illusions, you can receive numerous bonus gifts valued at over $1000. For details, please click here.

Available at amazon: Choices and Illusions

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13 Responses to “Why Choice is an Illusion and Roots in Confusion”

  1. D.Bheemeswar Says:

    The article appears beautifully phrased. But a pragmatic person never makes an illusionary choice. What I feel is choice it self is illusionary, as you all aware illusion itself is imaginary. This is mainly due to ignorance or may be due to more advices a person gets from others, or we can say that he/she has become a football between others. This means they are not practical. First of all we are all human beings, most of the humans do not practice what they advice to others, those who follow these advices may not be having choices. And you may know life is not a dice game, where the choice of getting the required number is remote unless one practices well, but this skill is not enough. From the child hood till we come to some age we touch and feel the things or taste them, we can say that we are curious enough, when we grow up these things come down, hence the creativity also grows down. This mat be due to influence of age as well as others. Because this is the age where we depend on others opinions, most probably the frequencies may not match.

    If one pragmatic and also makes a self-critical analysis, he may maintain the creativity as well as manifest his path of success towards better living as more humanly. What I mean to say is that he will be working more for the other human community development, that is for the betterment of the society, by educating and also giving solutions to the existing problems toward harmonious life as far as possible.

  2. Nitin Says:

    Choice is not illusionary. What we choose before influences what we choose in future ..
    Will or choice is the only power that God gave humans. Otherwise the universe is full of limitless possibilities.

    Knowledge and belief determines what we choose, so i think one with complete knowledge and no confusion shall make the correct choice always…or in other words has no choice. Such a person lives in accordance with the God’s will.

  3. Googolistic Says:

    There is the illusion of choice, illusion of rights and the illusion of freedom. Those who have the power, who make the rules and the laws, control those who have no power. So what’s left is life itself that you have to live in a society that controls you. We are all part of structured self preserving systems. There is no justice, there is just you. The individual.

  4. vikas sharma Says:

    i agree that ‘Choice’ is an illusion.
    We can not control involuntary processes like breathing, heart beat.
    Our body is doing `things` without our choice at all.
    There is a “Law of Attraction” (there is a movie on it “The Secrete”)
    Then if flowerpot falls and slams onto my head,
    Then according to law of attraction, I was attracting that flowerpot.
    This was happening at subconscious level.
    Conclusion is I am not choosing the pain caused by flowerpot, but my subconscious/body is.
    Therefore there are 2 of me. One ‘me’ is at conscious level. And other ‘me’ is at subconscious level.
    And it seems like the other ‘me’ can control fate.

  5. Thomas Herold Says:

    Actually you can control your heart beat. Yogis in India and Tibetan monks can do these things after long time of practice.

  6. vikas sharma Says:

    Yes Thomas, you are right. there are people like Yogis, who can do amazing things. but they have a limit. and that vary limit produces the illusion that they have this choice.
    if we look at small part of picture we can say that our life is our choice.
    e.g. if i start practicing Yoga, then in x number of years, i will have this or that ability/power.
    the point is why can’t i achive those abilities in 1 minute or 1 second?
    It seems like someone else (may be our subconsious) is watching us, and if he likes he would allow us to achive something. he is allowing all the good and bad ideas, desires etc.
    e.g. when we try to sleep he allows us to sleep, but sometimes he does not.

  7. Regular Guy Says:

    The pot fell on your head either because of an accident or intentional. If you don’t believe in accidents, you’re in denial, and probably have a subconscious (unchoosen) need for order and justice. How can you honestly believe that a hundred thousand people can die in a Tsunami, or a little girl can be raped, all because of Karma, or law of attraction? Wake up from your dream world. Plate techtonics, ring of fire, wave dynamics, some brain abnormality that compels a person to rape. Science!

  8. Jim Says:

    I agree that choice is an illusion. I have tried to find joy, happiness, forgiveness, ect. by doing all the wrong things, it is my (choice) right? No, if I want joy, it comes from doing things that bring joy and no other way, (no other choice) if I want happiness it comes from doing the things that bring happiness and no other way (no other choice) if I want forgiveness, it comes from doing the things that bring forgiveness (forgiving) and from no other way (choice). The great illusion of my world has been to seek these things in other ways (choices) I am learning there are none.

  9. PHaZter Maze Says:

    So, I have no choice but to choose the choice that’s right for me? That’s all just a matter of conditioning, doncha think? We don’t decide what we’re exposed to as children, but it affects the devolpment of our subconscious minds when it’s in its most rapid developmental state. I like to think that there is an awakening taking place. People who question their system of beliefs. Renouncers born with the capacity to evaluate, redefine, and educate others about the ways in which we can attune physical reality with our imaginations. We must realize our goal, or we will live serving someone else’s. It’s not a matter of choice, it’s a matter of realization. Do you have the capacity to realize and evaluate the beliefs that rule your life? It’s extremely difficult for me when people absolutely refuse to. I can’t understand why people would choose to be ignorant, yet I see it soooo often. Maybe it’s just conditioning…

    The worst that I could make is thinkin’ I’m awake.
    Kiss the sun, touch the moon, shake my head of hate.
    Feel the breeze, smell the leaves – heaven never has to wait
    for all I have are happy thoughts with no room for debate.
    I’ve gauked at God and flirted with fate.
    Tinkered with time and usurped these updates
    and now I riddle these rhymes, I’ve been called to create
    better ways to find peace, yet still limit break.
    So now I’ve come to reason with this species called man –
    these neotonous creature with their holy thumbed hands
    seek out a better leg to let their system stand
    but I see the seasons as the ones supplyin’ their demands.

  10. Mark Dobbie Says:

    I just find the limitless boundaries of the mind so fascinating, reading articles like this totally inspires me to dig deeper into our resource rich mind.

  11. Luke Slisz Says:

    Yeah this doesn’t make any point towards the “Illusion of Choice,”
    this merely specifies a natural reaction followed by a rational one.
    If anything, this contradicts the idea of an illusion due to the rationality.

    I think the argument you’re looking for, is because we’re products of our surroundings, our choices are determined by our experiences.

  12. Read this - Guitar Forums Says:

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  13. jaxsonlane Says:

    Choice? With what feels like an infinite number of possibilities buried in each passing moment, we look out from our vantage points and find ourselves swimming through an ocean of unknowns and unknowables. And, yet, it is from these (currently) 7 billion vantage points, our beautifully complex brains are able to participate in either peeling back the mysteries of time and space, or … conversely, the perversities of naked indulgence, all perched somewhere on this little blue space ship. None of us ‘chose’ our nascent minds, this world, this time, our families … or the laws of nature, the confines of gravity, the color of our skin, the strength or weakness of our bodies, our gender, etc etc …. on and on, and yet each one of these variables profoundly shape our perceptions, and I submit, our choices. Somehow (and perhaps mercifully so), we move about and through our lives with a sense of autonomy, that we are ‘free’ to choose all our options.

    The classical relativists abhor the creator as a gamer, standing at a craps table. Einstein struggled with the duality of light, and also expressed an incoherence with determinism: “Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player.” … and then: “The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in all our actions. Our inner balance and even our existence depend on it. Our morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.”

    Einstein hungered to know the mind of God. Interestingly, it is in the ‘quanta’ that he derived, and was repulsed by, where indeterminism found it’s start. Some feel that within the quanta lives the ‘ghost in the machine’, where our abstract minds find freedom. I think this is more hope than understanding, because the mathematicians steeped in a lifelong pursuit of quantum mechanics are as confused by it as the laymen are, and as we can deduce from the quote above, the Alpha mechanic apparently was at direct odds with himself on the topic of determinism/choice.

    Possibly, the complexities we are bathed in alone create the illusion of autonomy. As we move dimensionally, we’re at least able to look back at the perceived truths or confusions that ruled our lives and invariably, contradictions resolve, dualities unify, questions answer themselves. And, not surprisingly, new questions arise and new paradoxes emerge. We remember the evolution. Maybe patience is in order. We can not even formulate the questions, much less get the answers, until we embrace the subsequent dimensions. Hopefully, our species will survive to ‘see’ more and deeper in to these realms … for certainly, it is the species that will move forward, or not. As individuals, we are a single vibration in the symphony of humanity. And humanity is a single voice in the life of the earth. And the earth is a tone in the song of the solar system. And our star system is a molecule in the life of the galaxy, and the galaxy is a quiver in the life of the universe. But, here we are, undeniably expressions of the universe in its totality. It took the universe to make us, and everything else too.

    A question I enjoy toying with is: how different would an existence with autonomy be compared to one without? Would it be decipherable to us, as we are today? Would we be able to tell the difference?
    I suspect not. So, choice or no choice, it’s an interesting ride.

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