The Pendulum

Image is from Pixabay

In Chapter 5 of his book about the philosopher Leibniz, Gilles Deleuze ponders whether he should keep working this evening, or go to a nightclub. He’s not firmly in favour of either and he seems to prefer first the one option, then the other. Perhaps he couldn’t even tell you at any given moment which he prefers, and a series of “possible or even hallucinatory perceptions” crowd his mind when he thinks about it. (“Not only of drinking, but the noise and smoke of the bar” – he’s writing in the 1980s – “not only of working, but the hum of the word processor and the surrounding silence.”) He compares the oscillation between the two options to the swing of a pendulum, and whatever he decides will depend on where the pendulum happens to be at the particular moment he happens to act. But his point is this: though the question of what he chooses is, for the moment, open, his final decision, his going out or staying in, will be an expression of his “entire soul at a given moment of its duration.”

Deleuze’s decision must be free and voluntary if it is to express his soul. But for Leibniz, possibility was closed the moment that God created the world. The creator set in motion the series of events out of which would arise the best of all possible worlds, the one we live in now. Anything is possible for God, but in this world an event, in order to come into being, must be “compossible” not only with past events in the world, but also with what has been predetermined to happen in the future. Did Deleuze really make a free choice at all?

Everything is possible before the creation of the world. It is possible to imagine an Adam who never sinned. It is essential to believe that Adam freely chose to sin, or the concept of sin makes no sense. And yet he could not have done differently, because God created this version of the world, in which Adam sinned.

“The event is voluntary when a motive can be assigned”. Deleuze wasn’t forced to go to the nightclub, or to stay at home: his own motives, which drove his decision, are evident in his inclination to be tempted by the thought of a smoky atmosphere or the hum of the machine. Adam wasn’t forced to sin, and yet “at that instant his soul has taken an amplitude that is found to be easily filled by the aroma and taste of the apple …” God, of course, knew Adam’s moods.

Your free will, if it is free, reflects the way your soul is in that moment. A free act “expresses the wholeness of the soul in the present.” Deleuze made his decision based on how he happened to feel when the phone finally rang. Adam made his, too, on a pendulum swing.

(This week I’ve been reading The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, which was written by Gilles Deleuze and translated into English by Tom Conley.)

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4 Responses to The Pendulum

  1. jamienauthor says:

    So it was predetermined that I would like this post…I had no choice in the matter? Even if I didn’t like it, God had already created the world where I would?
    Thanks for making our brains work, Lee!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leewatkins says:

      Thanks for reading!


    • leewatkins says:

      Perhaps the answer to this is that you had a choice, but your preferences (which determine the range of options available to you, the kind of choices you’re likely to make) were predetermined. So it might be that you were predestined to like it, or it might be that it could have gone either way, and I just happened to catch you in the right mood. Anyway, I’m glad the possibility of you liking this was available to you! Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. cindy knoke says:

    “Your free will, if it is free, reflects the way your soul is in that moment.”
    If free will isn’t free, than are most of us just rats in the maze, free to ponder endlessly, how to escape, or accept our loser status in yet another zero sum game, and then come up with a philosophy to explain the meaning/meaningless of it all? I do get the concept that it is God’s fault. But, whether God is or isn’t, I don’t think God exists for humans. So, probably, free will exists, not matter how appalling limited the circumstance. You get to choose how you react to a fucked up world, even if your choice isn’t really free.


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