The Whills and The Will

20 Sep 2022 11:42 #370256 by Loudzoo
A few weeks ago, I came across what seemed to be a little coincidence or synchronicity. On the other hand, it may be an entirely intentional homophone! In any case I was listening to this and made the connection for the first time (for me!) between Schopenhauer’s philosophy (The World as Will and Representation) and the Star Wars legend of the Whills. Let’s see what there is to this . . .

The Whills in Star Wars lore
According to Wookiepedia, the notion of The Whills is very confused! From one side The Whills were a community of beings who wrote the Journal of The Whills – a document that recorded important events in the galaxy , as well as philosophical poetry. Furthermore, their number included shamanic experts, one of whom taught Qui Gon Jinn the ability to retain consciousness after death. However, George Lucas intended The Whills to be microscopic single-cell life forms who were the ultimate source of The Force. The Whills generated the Force and midichlorians channelled that Force into other lifeforms. George Lucas clearly went through a stage of being somewhat obsessed with mitochondria – the energy source of all eukaryotic cells!

It's unclear how single-cell life forms could write a book or teach the Jedi. In any case, and in whatever form, The Whills were viewed as being synonymous with The Force – they were its source.

Schopenhauer’s Will
Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) used Kant’s metaphysics as a springboard for his own philosophy. Kant postulated that the world is divided into phenomena that we can perceive and experience, and the ineffable nature of what those things actually are: noumena. Schopenhauer’s insight was that the phenomenal and noumenal worlds are not two different realities, but the same reality experienced differently. The phenomenal are ‘representations’ in our perceptions and it is the Will that is noumenal, the most fundamental.

This metaphysic is most clearly evidenced in our experience of our bodies which we perceive in two different ways:
1. We perceive the body as an object (Representation)
2. And we experience our bodies from within (Will)

For instance, the wish to raise your arm is ‘Will’, and the act of raising your arm is ‘Representation’. The Will manifests in our reality as Representation. They are two different ways of experiencing the same ‘thing in itself’.
For Schopenhauer, the ‘Will’ is pure energy that despite having no discernible direction is responsible for all Representation – what we call The Universe (space, time, the four forces, & matter, Dark matter, Dark energy etc). Therefore, the Will does not follow temporal, spatial, or causal laws and must be timeless and indivisible. It follows that our individual Will and the Will of the Universe are one and the same thing and that the phenomenal universe is the superficial representation of a vast, timeless, motiveless Will.

The Force
Schopenhauer’s conception is as close to a respectable, academic, philosophically rigorous notion of what we call ‘The Force’ as I have found in the Western Tradition (he was heavily influenced by Vedanta!). The moral philosophy he adopted on the back of this metaphysic is optimistic: if separateness from the rest of the Universe is an illusion, the result should be universal compassion. The Whills of Star Wars and the Will (according to Schopenhauer) do seem to target very similar concepts - even if their representations ( ;) ) are superficially quite different.

Sadly, Schopenhauer was somewhat consumed by the ‘Dark Side’ of the Force. For a more Jedi-like reaction, we need to look to his contemporary: Hegel. Most of us are aware of the Hegelian Dialectic (e.g. from the IP) but we may not be aware that the ultimate endpoint of his dialectic is ‘Absolute Spirit’ – another way of conceptualising the Force.

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