Choice: Free versus Constrained

J.C. LaCroix Darkworking, Goal Setting

What is the nature of choice?

Go ahead and take a moment to formulate your own response to this question, and then we will have class, kiddies…okay…got it?

Pencils down, let’s move right along. J

Now, this article is a bit long, in fact, I think its my longest so far – partially because I have to cover ground which might not be familiar to everyone, which is a pre-requisite for the more important message, and partially because I’m shedding more light on concepts I’ve alluded to in previous articles. Also, English isn’t very well designed for this territory. But, its worth it. We get into some serious juju where you can see into the very core of Darkworking itself, and the Power that understanding delivers.

So, let’s get the overhead projector started…

Although, I’m not talking about pro-life versus pro-choice here — Even though that certainly classifies as a choice. And, an important one, needless to say. Deciding to rip your insides out in order to bring more life into the world, or have it vacu-sucked right the hell out of you certainly has far reaching implications. Implications that we are often uncomfortable talking about. Which means, I’m going to bring them up until the world deals with it honestly. Heh. No, here, I’m talking about choice in the broadest, deepest possible sense. See, I’m willing to bet that most of you think of choice as having a series of options, choosing one, and then acting upon that choice. While this is certainly true, I’d like to refine your understanding, zoom it down, so that we can have an important, and might I add, inherently needed, conversation…

Researchers estimate that we make over 60,000 choices per day. I think this is drastically underestimated, for reasons that will become clear. You are probably consciously aware, (meaning, you did the thing like standing there in the supermarket, deliberating the pros and cons of the extra-thin condoms versus the new vibrating condoms, trying to pretend the frumpy lady wasn’t shaking her head at you) of, get this, no more than 30. More like only 50 if it’s a workday and your job is more cerebral than reactive. Either way, I can soundly say that, at maximum, you actually choose in a deliberate way, only 1% of the time.

More importantly, I want to present to you that Darkwork reveals a deeper principle of the mind, and that is, thought is only echo. In other words, the “thoughts” that you experience as you “deliberate” a choice are only echoes of the deeper process that leads up to the decision. In a way, they are empty. A good metaphor for this is starlight from an exploding star in the sky – you see the explosion, but due to the time that it took light to travel to earth, you register and see the explosion long after it actually occurred. In fact, by the time you have the thought, that you think ended up deciding the choice, the choice was already made. In this sense, we’re kinda being silly – thoughts are the record of the choice, not the actual act of choosing, in the same sense that light hits the eyes creating data, even though the actual event has nothing to do with that. In fact, many Darkworkers who are mystically inclined have maintained that you make choices far before the event itself. And, that you show up to the “event” and go through the motions of deciding, not to make a choice, but to understand why the choice was made. Again, try to understand that the point of choices, from a cosmic perspective, isn’t the consequence they lead to, like we tend to think, but the understanding they are bound to reveal, if you are paying attention.

Now, I tend to agree, but you can disagree with me on that and still get the illumination I’m about to drop down. However, I can somewhat prove this to you by prompting you to some introspection – at some point in your life, I know you found yourself in a surprise situation where you made a choice of some kind, and it was a deliberate choice, not a rote one, because you had never been in a situation similar to this before. The only exception here would be if you defaulted to instinct (i.e., fight or flight, phobias, etc), but even then, that’s not an exception, because you somehow had to choose HOW to fight or how to flight. So, the method you used, still counts. Most importantly, can you find a choice that fits these criteria, where, if you comb your memory, you’re pretty sure you weren’t aware of any conscious thoughts, no little voice in your head reasoning things though? If you pay attention when these things occur, if you can touch that, its very powerful. Because, you will touch on a process that occurs inside of you – a distant awareness of some mechanism that’s hard to describe but feels saucy, like you’re having fun at the gas station with a glory hole. That, my friends, is you, the real you, not the voice in your head. Everyone experiences it their own way, all I can offer is that you’ll know when you first put your naughty little finger on it because there will, at least, be a trace of fear. This is because the limited fake you is afraid of your new sense of your own power…

  • Rote versus Deliberate Choices

If you’ve got talent, you might be wondering at a certain level, why things are set up this way. Why, for example, do we only make 1% of our choices consciously? After all, on this rock, we are the one species that went to an awful lot of trouble to develop these massive brains, why would we not use them to their full advantage? Well, the answer is, yes and no. No, in the sense that its about efficiency. You could not, in any way, sit there and deliberate all 60,000 choices. You would get nothing done. Instead, the mind pre-processes, according to pre-established criteria, most of your choices and incoming data, leaving the bulk of your processing power for the choices that matter the most. This, as you can see, is the maximal way to go. The formal name for this is the “Reticular Activating System” (RAS), in the personal development community, and you’ll see it all over the place. Sometimes, you’ll also hear about a set-point, or internal thermostat, but its all really the same mechanism, just different pieces.

On the other hand, the answer to the question is also yes, because there is a flaw in how this pre-processing system gets set up and maintained. First, the bulk of it is created in childhood. You spend a shit-ton of calories, every day, from the age of zero to six. Half of it is spent in growing your body, the other half is solely expended in the neurons in your brain. Some of your RAS was inherited as human instinct, some by automatically patterning after your parents and others in your childhood, most by inferred knowledge which I will blog about in the future, and some due to your early experiences.

Yet, the answer is also yes, because this mechanism is mostly a legacy of our primal brain – in truth, our ability to make a deliberate choice is what defines life on the scale from “most animal” to “most sentient”, with different critters being different places on the scale, us being “most sentient”, that we know of. The “deliberate choosing” part of our brain was just laid on top of the “RAS” part of our brain, which we inherited from the animals in our human legacy of evolution. The problem is, this mechanism is crude, unsophisticated, but most importantly, a good deal automatic. And, it has one goal, to minimize risk therefore maximizing survival, with species survival and individual survival competing for top priority. In other words, the RAS is wired to keep you getting certain outcomes from your choices, and auto-chooses on the basis of perceived outcomes. This is not conducive to thriving, and certainly not to actualizing, because the RAS is wired to lean towards bad outcomes due to its purpose.

Now, there are ways to indirectly retrain and re-calibrate the RAS, and I will get to those in the future, I promise. But, for now, I want to focus on those deliberate choices. And to the point – what those choices really mean. So, understanding a rote choice, by elimination, we can call all other choices “deliberate” choices, and discuss what they are and how they function. Because, those 1% choices actually set the baseline tone for your RAS, and therefore, account for 80% or more of the effects in your life. Stay with me here.

  • The Choice Process and Primary Events

So here’s how it works, in a nutshell. This process is complex, but I have tried to cut fat and simplify it for the purposes of understanding. You may have to re-read the algorithm I have broken down here to get the knack of it, but hopefully not:

1)      You are bombarded by data as you go through the day. The RAS first examines the data and, according to its criteria, which is the sum total of all your memories, both personal and inferred, and determines if the data is relevant, meaning, choice is required.

2)      If it’s not relevant data, it throws it out, and you don’t even “notice” it. To see this in action, put a pencil in your ear. Leave it there for an hour. At first, you’ll be aware of the pencil. At some point, it may even get annoying. Eventually, though, the RAS reclassifies this data as irrelevant and stops sending it to you – you won’t even notice that it’s there. Given enough time, you’ll forget that it’s there completely, and be surprised when you do something that either makes you touch it, or knocks it out of place. Important: The deliberate choice to scratch your ear (thus, knocking out the pencil), over-rides the ENTIRE RAS process, which is why you knock it out even though your RAS knows it is there when your conscious brain didn’t, because it wasn’t tying up processing power with the data.

3)      If it is relevant data, it scans its list of auto-sets, trying to place the data into a category. If it can categorize the data, it searches to see if it has a rote response tied to that data. To understand this part of the process, think about when you very first started driving or biking, and you saw a pothole in the road. You tried to think about what to do, probably hesitated, and thump-thump went the vehicle, right? Or, you made it around,  but by the skin of your teeth. Either way, my point is, what happens when you are going along and see a pothole now? You automatically calculate and move out of the way, without “deciding” anything, right? The reaction just happens, you don’t even stop mid-sentence if you’re talking to someone in the car. This is how new experiences get pushed into categories if they are encountered enough. Its efficiency of resources.

4)      If it has a rote response, it executes that rote response. You’re not fully aware of this process. Sometimes, this can be a real bitch. Like, if you turn left one day and get slammed into by another car. For a while, when you turn left, you’ll feel anxious and have to actually be aware when you turn, because your RAS has re-delegated this to the conscious mind, because a new outcome of the choice was encountered. Due to stress, its now an event that is flagged.

5)      If it does NOT have a category, a rote response, OR the event is classified into the category of “clear and present danger to your survival”, then a “primary event” is triggered. Important: The RAS is designed to link all high-stress events into the survival threat category – that’s why giving presentations, even though they in NO way threaten your survival, still triggers a survival event. It’s not sophisticated enough to understand the context; it just perceives stress and assumes a lion is trying to take a giant bite out of your ass.

6)      When a “primary event” is triggered, the RAS is saying “I have no reference point for this, a decision is required”, or “we need all resources available now”. It brings the conscious brain online, gets its attention (it was probably thinking about sex, according to research, maybe still deliberating on those condoms), and you “notice” what is happening. Thus, is a deliberate choice triggered.

Now, I know I’m over simplifying all this, but I’m focusing on a certain aspect here, and the process for a deliberate choice is actually a ping-pong, back-and-forth, between the RAS and the conscious brain, and it works like this:

1)      Conscious brain interprets the data and processes what is happening, assigning labels to the event. These labels become the new basis for the category in the RAS later on, if the event is encountered enough to move it into the RAS system. This is also why, if you’re in a bar and grabbing some girl’s ass, and her unperceived boyfriend taps you on the shoulder and cold cocks you, you end up on the floor. Your poor little conscious brain didn’t have time to process this first critical step and block, or duck, or whatever. Now, neuro-muscular reflexes over-ride and work faster than the conscious brain, which is why blocking and ducking in martial arts training is needed to be able to deal with this situation properly. But, more on that later. This is why people who’ve had their ass kicked a lot will “jump” before anything actually happens.

2)      Once the situation is identified, the conscious brain compiles a list of all available options that it can think up. This is why later, in review, you’ll do something, like, when someone insults you, and later say to yourself, “Man, I should have said…”, because the brain is trying to expand its options in light of failure. This is why skill training, especially for social skills, is instrumental before events occur.

3)      It bounces these options to the RAS. The RAS then looks at each option, and ties any and all memories or relevant data (things you’ve heard or read, etc) to each option. It does not evaluate, it just dumps data. This process is imperfect.

4)      The Conscious brain then uses the data to tie potential outcomes to each course of action. It has to construct the potential outcomes in this case, because the RAS has no reference point. This conjecture ability is what makes us bad-ass. Also, it calculates likelihood for each potential outcome it can construct. The dominant probability outcome is tied to that course of action. This is your option set. All outcomes are recorded as data in your RAS, even if you don’t choose them – but the one you choose, is recorded with a much higher “weight”, especially if significant pain or pleasure is involved in the ultimate outcome.

This is the part where “you” come in – its that deep part that I told you that you will be aware of, even if only distantly, when you pay attention to primary events. You look at the outcomes, and nothing more. All “you” see is the outcomes, and you pick one. Usually, you end up picking the outcome that looks “best”, depending on how your RAS is biased. The choosing itself is a building of energy. You will build energy as you attempt to manifest that given outcome. This is experienced as emotion. If enough time elapses, you experience more of this building as thought, as a record of the outcome created, but you may not be aware of thought – finally, action occurs. However, if you bounce back and forth as “you” decide, you’ll create a rattle in your head that we call “inner dialogue”. In the end, though, this is the process for “deliberate” choice.

  • Constrained Choice versus Free Choice

I’ve covered a lot of ground up to this point – and most of this is probably not new to you. But, I had to do a refresher with you, get your neurons warmed up, gears clicking, get us on-line and on the same page, in order to get you in the right sort of mindset to get into this section. Thanks for keeping with me, and now I will give you the scoobie-snack, let’s get into the love-pudding, so to speak…

Now, we can look at deliberate choices, and analyze. There are, in a simple sense, two types of deliberate choices: Constrained, and Free. But, how exactly does this break down? What do I mean by that? Lets start with a story.

Bob, a grown man, is walking down the street, its late at night. No one else is around, or awake. He sees two kids in an alley. One kid, the bigger one, is beating the piss out of the smaller kid, demanding money. Let’s assume for the sake of example, that this is just a classic bullying – there’s no hidden surprise about the relationship or context between the two kids. And, let’s assume that as far as Bob knows, no one else is aware of this event, and his choice will be the only external even that alters it, one way or the other, no pressure, Bob. So, Bob’s RAS kicks it to his conscious brain, decision time – what does Bob do, and is it free or constrained? Go ahead, and think of some options. Tick tock. Gimme at least three or so. I mean, Bob has a shit-ton of creative options here. Now, I’ll go ahead and throw down a few – but understand (and you will in just a moment), that its not “what” Bob chooses (so if we leave most of them out, for our purposes, it doesn’t matter), it’s the “why” that matters:

1)      Bob could ignore the situation, because he reasons his actions will have no impact on the situation – the kid will just get bullied tomorrow, probably even worse, no matter what he does – so there is no point.

2)      Bob could reason he should help the smaller kid because its what he should do, in a moral sense. By the morality he inherited, its best to help those who cannot help themselves. He is pursuing an outcome where the smaller kid is grateful, and the evil bigger kid is punished.

3)      Bob could intervene and call the police, because he is afraid that if he does nothing, and the small kid gets seriously hurt, Bob might be discovered as doing nothing and face consequences. Likewise, Bob doesn’t want to directly assault the bigger kid, because he could be held liable if he hurts the big kid in the process.

So, in all of these choices, I will ask you – what do they share on a neural-branio-level? If you get it, at this point, I will be surprised to say the least.

In each case, his RAS has sent Bob data. Bob has projected outcomes. Bob is choosing outcomes based on some criteria, usually, the baseline principal – to seek pleasure and avoid pain. He tries to choose the outcome that, based on all his RAS data (his experiences and his inferred knowledge), that will most likely lead to the greatest amount of pleasure and the least amount of suffering. If his morality is strongly imbedded in him like a virus, he may do the “right” thing here – even if he thinks the possible consequences could be high, because the “guilt” he feels would be greater than he estimates the pain of the consequences and the combined reward of being “good”. Or, if he isn’t a moral person and is all analytical – he might project an outcome where any intervention doesn’t really create “good” in the long run, and given possible risks in intervening, decides his best option for all concerned is to do nothing – valid given his reference data. Finally, if he’s got a lot of bad experiences and is twitchy, he might see only negative potential in directly intervening, but calling the police is the way to minimize his risk overall.

But, let me ask you dis, mis amigos: Isn’t Bob really making a deliberate choice in a rote way?

After all, when he makes a rote choice, his RAS just looks at his pre-assigned categories, finds the auto-response, and does what it says to do. These auto-responses were once deliberate choices, based on all the data. In this case, Bob is defined by his data, isn’t he? It’s the data that is driving all his choices either way, rote or deliberate. What would we expect for Bob’s life, here? Wouldn’t he get stuck in a rut? Would he change much? If so, it would be pretty slow, I’d bet. And, the only way for Bob to make new choices would be to get an avalanche of new data, or traumatic experiences with strong weight – data powerful enough to outweigh what he’s accumulated up to this point. Unlikely. Wouldn’t he be kind of stuck, repetitive, asleep?

Does your life seem this way? Does it repeat on you, even when you try to escape the cycle? Are you enslaved to something, but don’t know what? Does your future seem like one big past?

Ah, there is another way…there is another kind of choice. The “Free Choice”.

To understand a “Free” choice – lets expand the story. Let’s say the same thing happened, but we know Bob had just woken up from a coma with complete and total amnesia. Bob has not been taught right or wrong. He has no concept of “should or shouldn’t”. More importantly, he has little to no reference experiences in his RAS to project outcomes with, aside from hard-wired instinct. His deep, primal brain is like a wiped hard drive. In this case, the world is butt-naked new, his RAS is non-existant.

Babies and really young kids are in this state – its precisely why old, worn adults say kids make them feel alive. The kid has no RAS filtering and labeling data, so everything is new, here, present-moment, unique. Go look at a tree. I bet after a few seconds you get bored. You get bored because your Conscious brain looks to the RAS and says, “Identify” object – your RAS replies “tree”, you say, “I’ve seen those, this isn’t worthy of my attention”, and move on. However, the truth is – you’ve never seen that tree. That tree isn’t a tree, it’s a completely unique object, in a completely unique moment. On the flip side, if you stopped and examined each unique property of each unique moment, you couldn’t get anything fucking done – not even a walk to Starbucks and back. It’s impractical for living and achieving. But, the truth does remain. Students too, seem so alive, right? They’re constantly exposed to new stuff, so their RAS is quieter.

Every time in your life that you’ve felt “alive” its usually because your RAS was turned down and your Divinity turned up. Now, you see how it works.

And, this is the why behind the “response chains” I’ve talked about, in Monkies, Power, and You. Most people are asleep, they’re not making free choices. They’re slaves to their inherited, programmed, accumulated data.  It’s a main staple of our power. Introspection allows us to see our own response chains and those of others; because there are commonalities in our data that leads to similar decisions as others. Once you unlock this and get decent with it – you can start manipulating sleepers like legos.

But, I digress. Focus, Asmoday, drink more coffee. Okay. Back to Bob.

Let me ask you, with Bob’s RAS effectively turned off, his Conscious mind having nothing to reference, what is it forced to do in this situation?

Answer: Nothing.

It doesn’t shut down, it’s still doing its actual purpose – calculating, absorbing. But, in terms of the decision-making process, it passes the reigns.

Where?

To you. The Real You.

The you that you’re looking for, that’s already here, that was, is, and always will be.

Now, in this case, Bob can’t really calculate an outcome. He can’t choose for pleasure and pain. He doesn’t have reference. Thus, he won’t choose on a cause and effect level.

What will he then choose for? How will he choose?

Identity. He will define himself by this choice.

But, his Identity, his core Divinity is already there, right?

Exactly. He is already Tabula Rasa.

Remember, he didn’t come down that street to make the choice. It’s already made because of who he is. And, its not pre-destined. He can change who he is at any time.

He came to understand why he made it. In other words, to learn who he is.

He could choose any choice I listed above. He won’t have some logic to back it up. Some chains of echo that he thinks are “him”. He will have no constraint, or limit, in his choosing. He will, more than likely, feel a powerful surge of emotion, a gathering of energy, and act accordingly.

  • Free Choice and Darkworking

This, Darkworkers, is Free Choice. It is the point to the Path, itself. It’s a Holy Act.

This is why we throw off morality, to find it again, but the real one, the one we really are.

We reject should, and shouldn’t. We hunt down and eliminate fears. We tear down walls of not accepting self. We learn new skills, live, breathe, with a pragmatic, ruthless mindset. All options are, by necessity, in our purview on this quest for True Self.

You say, “Murder, in all situations, is wrong.”

The Path replies, “Have you done it in Free Choice?”

You say, “I don’t think so. No.”

The Path replies, “Then how do you know this part of yourself?”

You say, truthfully, “I make a Free Choice that murder, in all situations, is wrong”.

The Path replies, “Then murder is wrong, but only if this is Free Choice”.

You see?

This is why people come to me with questions like, “Can Darkworkers die for love?” or “Can Darkworkers be compassionate?” or even something so broad as, “Can a Darkworker sacrifice for another?”. And, I have to roll my eyes and do mental tap-dancing around their ignorance. The truth is, I can’t answer that – I don’t know who you really are, at the present time. Only you can find that out. The answer for you may be yes or no, in general, or only in certain situations. The best answer to give is, in the famous words of Crowley, “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”. Then, they do what most people do, and say something like, “Oh, so Darkworkers can do whatever they want?”. More eye-rolling on my part. Well, yes, but its not as free and easy as it sounds. They can, within the context of Honoring Self – and they could be anyone, really, so they can, hypothetically, do anything at any time.

Similarly, in this sense, you can see that a Descent is both a Contraction, and an Expansion.

Because, a Descent is growth.

In fact, Darkworkers, we can do something that hasn’t been done in personal development up to this point, we can quantifiably define personal “growth” and personal “development”: Both of these, mechanically speaking, are ever-expanding circles of Free Choice.

Think about it, you get bullied, you deliberately choose to run away in fear. You get some martial arts training, you come back. Now, you are not limited by fear, you have new options. You make a free choice, without constraint, to whomp the bully. You have learned you aren’t a person who takes shit.

You’ve grown.

And in that removal of the “lie” that you were a weakling, and the removal of the belief that “people shouldn’t fight”, you’ve removed a layer of dirt and mental muck and found another piece of your true self – in this sense, a Descent is also a contraction.

Lightworkers do the exact opposite, Free Choice contracts, and Self-Knowledge expands – but I’ll let them explain that to you, if they’re wise enough to see it.

All the exercises on this site and elsewhere have one singular aim, to get more Free Choices out of you.

Now, as a caveat – let me note that we aren’t trying to make every damn choice a free choice, its impractical, and remember – there’s nothing wrong with a deliberate choice or a rote one, if its an expression of True You, right? If all you knew was True You, then the mechanisms would be profitable. This would, and does, lead to peace, power, truth. This is why the Path leads to deeper and deeper levels of peace, power, and truth, in a slow progression. It’s a journey, an unfolding, a re-revealing.

Its perfectly acceptable, for example, if you make a Free Choice to get a job doing a certain thing at a certain company, and then make rote choices to walk over there, and then make a deliberate choice to boink your interviewer to secure the job.

Unless, of course, it wasn’t a Free Choice.

But how do you know?

The point is, you can’t think your way into Free Choice. Its something you feel, something you sense. I know you’ve made at least one in your life, up until now. The goal is to operate in such a manner that all choices Resonate with Free Choice. So many times, people bunge themselves up and bumble around and fuck up Darkworking six-ways-to-Sunday, because they keep trying to “thought” themselves into Free Choice.

And, its like staying in a groove. Its hard. Very hard. Asshole hard when you realize the groove is shifting as you learn more and more about yourself. Its why we don’t say we “study” Darkworking or “live” Darkworking, or even “follow” Darkworking – we practice it. Its why we usually need teachers.

You feel it. You know. You know now. You just have barriers preventing you from staying in the groove.

Which is why Darkworking training focuses on actions that remove barriers. Aggresively.

And, in the end, you begin to realize your Divinity, your ability to create whatever you desire means that True You is without limit. It can shift and change according to your will. It is boundless. In the early stages of the Path, you’re learning who you are, and in the later stages, you’re learning that you are, in fact, infinite.

This, is beauty. This is our Path.

Thank you, my friends, this was an honor and a privilege.

Love Yourself, Be Mighty.