I am still doing the ketogenic diet and my blogs will be published by the Epilepsy Society (although there is a time lag) but today I would like to discuss again with you free will, because it is something that I think about a lot.

Sometimes, it seems to me that I have no free will.  I know theoretically that I should make sure that all my children’s clothes are clean and ready the night before school.  I know it now, as I type, but I rarely do it – I forget. My desire to do something and the ability to act upon it seems to be juxtaposed.  And so it seems with this and a million other examples, my free will has been yanked out of me and thus something fundamentally human has been taken away.

Yet somehow, given my circumstances, on the face of it, I have made wise decisions and my life is turning out well.  I married a man that I love, we have three beautiful children, live in a nice house and I have some very special friends.  I also made a big decision to become an observant Jew and in doing so have made, over time, a radical shift in the way I go about life.

‘How can this be?’, I ask myself – how can I on the face of it be making good decisions, when on the inside it often doesn’t feel like I am making any decisions at all. And then I ask myself – what about other people with neurological disorders like dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar, ADHD and epilepsy like me – do they have free will?  We are taught that the reason we are different from animals is because we have ‘free will’ but because my free will is limited does that mean that I, and others with similar issues, are not so human after all.

After doing a bit of thinking and after trying to read up the subject and then not taking it all in, I have come to the conclusion that in some very odd way, I still do have free will and I am very much human and that therefore others with neurological conditions have free will as well.  I have come to understand that there are three types of knowledge – intelligence, cognition and intuition/ the soul (this very roughly follows the Jewish idea that there are three types of knowledge – chochmah, daat and binah[1]). Intelligence is thinking conceptually – some people have it in abundance and can argue theories and ideas on all sorts of spurious ideas – and have less of it. You do need some to live independently and make decisions about the way you live life but you are still human without it and thus you have free will.

And then there is cognition – this is the bit that I struggle with, as do some other people with neurological disorders. To function independently you need to plan, to process, to remember and crucially to make decisions. For whatever reason schools put more of an emphasis on intelligence than cognition, but as I have tried to illustrate in my blogs if you have intelligence but are limited in some way with cognition life can be hard. But to be human you do not need to have cognition or intelligence.  You still breathe.

However, what every human definitely has is a soul, a nefesh – even those people who have a whole myriad of learning difficulties have a nefesh – no human is born without one. I believe that you love someone not because you are attracted to their intelligence or their cognition (although it might help) but because of something much deeper – you have some deep attachment to their nefesh, their soul.  It can’t be explained and it isn’t necessarily logical.  I have a nefesh.  And even if my cognitive free will has somehow been dislodged my nefesh free will has not and I use this part of my brain to make my decisions and so far it has done quite well, even if at times it has felt if something is absent. And because this part of my brain is working just fine, I am very much human.

Therefore, in conclusion, I do have free will – although its shape might be different from others because it is based on my nefesh rather than cognition. However, I will fight on eating virgin oil, flaxseed and cream in abundance on the ketogenic diet trying to obtain the cognitive free will that I desire and I will let you know what happens.

[1] Very loosely daat is cognition and chochmah is intelligence  and binah is intuition/ nefesh please see http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/80899/jewish/Chochmah-Binah-and-Daas.htm


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