Welcome.  Today’s stren, #87, reveals the secret of taking control of the mental faculty by which action is initiated and directed, what we call will power.  Will power is one of the most important unsolved mysteries confronting science.  Although we appreciate the power of the mind, the exact mechanism by which imagination and interpretation transforms a concept into physical energy to change the world yet defies our best science.  

     Will power is word power!  “Words are the most powerful form of magic.”   When an individual shows us an empty hat, utters the “magic” word abracadabra, and pulls out a rabbit, we call this person a “magician.”  We routinely use symbols, primarily words, to magically transform mental or spiritual concepts into measurable physical energy and the actions we create through it.  Words are the equivalent of the magician’s wand.  They are the vehicle for the magical power that allows us to master ourselves and everything around us.  “The pen is mightier than the sword.”    Words build us up and put us down; they create and destroy.  Words also empower us with morality – the freedom to establish a personal value system different from what other masters would impose.  However, we must first learn or create the specific words linked to emotion that energize the intentioned action.  We require considerable schooling in the use of magical symbols before we can assume mastery of our life experience.  You will significantly increase your personal control over your life’s experience by understanding the workings of will power. 

     Learning starts with labeling!  We will be revisiting some of the terms introduced in earlier strens.   Our will power is directed by one of three authorities or some combination of the three.  Assigning names to each of these masters creates a foundation to recognize the specific words that express the perspective of their master.  There are multiple labels to identify the forces that influence our will.  In prior strens I have favored the labels instinct, tradition, and self-mastery.  Related labels for instinct are nature and fate; related labels for tradition are nurture and circumstance.  I have identified the following additional words to signal self-mastery: mental freedom, thought control, becoming one’s own person, and super-maturity.  None of these trigger words characterize all of the properties of the forces that direct our will but they effectively serve to distinguish each master from the others.  Our language is limited in its ability to fully capture the essence of reality.  Nevertheless, symbols empower us to take control of our life’s experience.  Symbols comprise the mental second signaling system that humankind creates to influence our primary physical signaling system. 

     In stren #86, I indicated that we all remain mental slaves to fate and circumstance, or instinct and tradition, for many years before we are mature enough to educate ourselves to assume responsibility for our life’s experience.  Until we claim our will power we will continue to blindly obey the authority of others – masters resist relinquishing control of their servants.  Guiding our destiny using common sense instead of continuing to blindly obey authority requires that we first free our will to become our own person.  We proceed faster and more easily when we understand the process.     

     Although we initially lack sufficient power to control fate and circumstance, the power of our freedom organ to master ourselves becomes increasingly more apparent with the explosive growth of technology.  Human selection is dramatically overtaking natural selection in determining the fate of the world.  A commonly debated question in my scientific training asked, “Which is more important – nature or nurture?”  I have not yet heard the more relevant question, “What is more important – nature, nurture, or self-mastery?”     

     Our will is prewired by our genes to automatically turn on instinct’s designated action pathways.  Our nurturers, culture, and other events over which we have no control want pieces of our will power.  Master nature rules our will until master nurture invades nature’s kingdom to compete and, more often than not, successfully confront and overpower the commands of instinct.  Because instinct is initially hard-wired and the traditions of our nurturers quickly become so, they are generally inflexible to any modification of their established pathways.  Neither asks for approval.  Master fate and master circumstance carry on a civil war for quite a long time before we introduce the third director of our will power, what we call “self-mastery.”  The long and painful confrontations between these first two masters take quite a toll on our peace of mind.  One of the significant benefits of self-mastery is the opportunity to create inner peace through the power of common sense.

     Won’t power: Years of control by instinct and tradition create a helpless/hopeless mindset.  Habit from multiple repetitions of blind obedience makes it very difficult to challenge the authorities who first master our will.  It takes great courage and equally great stupidity to rebel from authority when we lack the power to do so and we are almost certain to incur resistance and punishment for acting, even for thinking, contrary to instinct and tradition.  While we lack the strength of will power, we do have won’t power.  Self-mastery of our will power begins with won’t power.  Won’t power initiates the early rebellious acts that allow us to recognize that we can differ from the “establishment” and still survive.  Won’t power provides the spark that gradually allows us to move forward to claim our will power.  Self-mastery requires that we risk facing the warnings of masters who resist freeing their subjects to pursue the uncertainty of success.  Disobedience to authority initiates the “self” of self-consciousness that begins the life-long process of freeing our will power and keeping it free.        

     Consciousness:  The evolution of conscious awareness introduced a non-physical, private mental energy source that is capable of influencing the direction of physical energy.  Consciousness is the vehicle by which we introduce symbols that serve as a signal to turn on action.  This mental activating system, what we are calling will power, energizes symbols with meaning to convert nonphysical ideas or concepts into physical energy.  Symbols in the form of words, such as “mother” or “fire,” and images, such as a Christian cross or Nazi swastika, serve as triggers to turn on concepts and ideas, feelings, and action.  Our primary signaling system, which consists of the physical pathway that leads directly to action, is present in all species.  Imagination and ideas empower us with a second signaling system (see stren #78) to incite the emotional energy that may deliberately initiate a physical action pathway.   We make ourselves powerful creators and rulers on earth because of this sophisticated second signaling system. 

     The new source of energy introduced by conscious awareness is raw will power until direction is provided by one or more masters.  Recognizing the masters that direct our will requires accurate labels to identify the “players.”  Instinct is the first master of our conscious will.  Instinct consists of the action pathways hardwired during our 9 months of gestation, but it has a much longer history of behaviors learned by trial-and-error that began billions of years ago.  We then acquire whatever traditions our nurturers provide us through years of immaturity when we are unequipped to resist.   The word-symbols first programmed into our consciousness remain faithful to the perspective of their creator.

     Consciousness begins as a servant of instinct and tradition until we attain sufficient maturity and our freedom organ is schooled in the newer words that serve intellect and common sense instead of authority.  Self-mastery means there is a “self” that can assign meaning to words and visual symbols.  Thus, we must create self-consciousness, i.e. become conscious of our consciousness, to personally initiate the energy that directs change. 

     Self-consciousness: We require years before we attain sufficient maturity and schooling to create a “self” that’s strong enough to master instinct and tradition.  The cortical portion of our brain must be educated in “reflective thinking” – the ability to look at ourselves, to think about what we think.  The secret of self-mastery is educating our self to become objectively aware of our thinking,  like when we reflect upon ourselves in a mirror.  It is so much easier to put on make-up or shave and make appropriate adjustments when we can “see” in a mirror what we want to change.  Reflective thinking (stren #77) is a newer way of thinking (ANWOT) that provides us our identity as a “self.”  Mental power and spiritual power are overlapping labels for energy that has a non-physical source.  Scientists label this abstract energy “mental power” while “spiritual power” is preferred by more religious individuals. 

     Reflective thinking requires new words that switch the allegiance of our will from “other” masters to the newly introduced self of self-mastery.  An appropriate label for the specialized symbols that initiate change is “word-switch.”  A “switch” redirects one course of action to a different action according to the “master’s” intention, the same way a  physical switch can change the direction and destination of a train or control the intensity of an electric light.  Symbols, especially words, are abstract switches (“abstract” being defined as apart from concrete existence or substance) that direct or redirect mental energy according to the perspective of the authority that programs the symbols with meaning.  Once we establish our new “self” entity, we can educate our freed will with the word-switches that can add wisdom to the word power of self-mastery.

     Word-switches (strens #5-15):  Words can be programmed to serve a specific master.  Our will remains a slave to the authority of instinct and tradition until we create a vocabulary of words that switch control of our will power to the common sense perspective of our mental self.  The ability to reprogram the action pathways of dictators is the specialized function of the advanced portion of our human brain, our cerebral cortex.  I prefer the label “freedom organ” because it describes the cortex’s most important function: freeing our will power from its earlier masters to take charge of our life’s experience. 

     The process of establishing mental freedom is accomplished by the creation of new word-switches that we add to our mental control panel.  Recall that trigger words serve as a signal that turns on the action pathway of its designated master, usually instinct or tradition.  Word-switches are specialized trigger words that we design to upgrade a previously established action pathway.  Word-switches are most effective when our intelligent freedom organ applies current common sense knowledge to improve the outcome of established pathways that have lost their effectiveness and/or have become dangerous due to new circumstances.  We free our will from early masters bit by bit, with each new word-switch and symbol that reflects the intention of our matured self-consciousness.

     A freed will is the means to realize our decisions, wishes, or plans, to pursue our own good in our own way.  Will has been defined as “strength of mind.”  This is why I refer to the wisdoms that create self-mastery as “strens.”  Each wisdom and common sense concept that we add to our repertoire strengthens our freed will while it diminishes the power of instinct, tradition, and the human dictators that would control our life’s experience.  A freed will makes decisions according to one’s own discretion and acts upon them independently, in spite of opposition from other authorities.

     Our greatest problem is that we deceive ourselves into believing that we are masters of our self when we still remain servant to instinct and tradition.  It is as though we are hypnotized to remain faithful to the authority of our early masters and the deceptive authority of “sound bites”, when the exercise of common sense would have us forge newer action pathways supported by wisdom.

     Sound bites:  Words condense power into what we call a sound bite.  A sound bite is a very short piece of speech, words from an authority figure that are taken from a larger speech or an interview and which are singled out for the listener as the most important point of the speech.  A sound bite is meant to be taken as truth, and to remain in the listener’s memory as a “taste” that represents the whole “meal” of the larger message.  Since the context of what is being said is missing, sound bites are often agents of manipulation.  They make it easy to convey what the authority figure demands of the listener to think, feel, and act.  Sound bites notoriously substitute brevity for common sense; they misrepresent reality for the self-serving benefit of “the authority.”  One is meant to comply with the message, like mindless sheep, according to the directions of their master, much like a small sheep dog can direct an entire herd by its mere presence, bark, assumed threat, or a symbolic bite on the leg of a few members of the herd.  Sound bites are prominent in TV advertisements and political campaigns.  They are also the favorite means by which instinct and tradition control our will power.        

      “One could argue the greatest threat [to humanity] is one that works indirectly: the growth of mass infotainment, enabled by electronic media.  It has evolved under a kind of natural selection that favors whatever holds people’s attention, which has at best a loose connection with the truth.  Disagreements about the facts are twisted into conflicts between people; complex topics are simplified, mystified, or ignored; and any serious topic that bobs to the surface is washed away in a sea of sound bites, flashing images, and what passes for news.  Because this overlays and crowds out other communications, it compounds every problem that could be lessened by a better-informed public.”  

     The important insight in this stren is to recognize that we are all subject to instinct and tradition until our freedom organ is physically mature and appropriately schooled and self-taught.  Education in a newer way of thinking that reflects the will of self-mastery must be cultivated through a gradual process such the curriculum of strens offered in this series.  We empower our freed will by adding new word-switches that turn on adaptive action pathways that reflect common sense wisdom, and selectively turn off those established patterns that have become habitual, automatic, and ineffective.  Our freedom organ can reprogram established thinking pathways using out-of-the-box common sense logic to assign meaning to new word-switches.  Like in the train track analogy, the simple act of willfully changing the switch at a single point creates a new outcome and negates the predetermined course of action. 

     We have made ourselves powerful creators!  We have the knowledge to invent word-switches with the assigned meanings we choose and thereby influence our life’s experience and all that is about us.  We may choose to act wisely or stupidly.  We may continue to blame others or assume personal responsibility.  We may allow our will to keep serving the commands of our early dictators, or free our intelligent mind to act with common sense wisdom, with self-mastery.  We can harness the “magical” power of words to take charge of our destiny even though we don’t yet precisely understand the mystery of how the body and mind, physical and spiritual power interact.  This power is available to each of us.  It doesn’t depend on money, good looks, or unusual intelligence, and may be even be effective when we lack good physical health.  Which choices will you make?   

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[1] From the movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2.
[2] Adage attributed to English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 for his play Richelieu.
[3] You may want to review prior strens and stren #101- ANWOT concepts.
[4] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound bite
[5] Interview with K. Eric Drexler; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jan/Feb 2007, p. 58.