Welcome to my blog. You probably have the same question I did when I starting writing this post, what's it about?
As the website states, big questions need big stories. Still clear as mud, right? To me a big story means that the question being posed either has no clear answer or needs contemplation. For instance, what to have for dinner may seem like a big question after a long day at work. Chipotle, Thai Food, Five Guys, oh yes Five Guys, I love their burgers. All good choices but none of them change the world unless you are talking about determinism and free will. See what I did there. We all jumped off the cliff together. I promise this won't hurt a bit.
Everyone knows free will. Some people may have heard of determinism but don't really know what it is. According to www.britannica.com, determinism is a philosophical theory that all events, including moral choices, are completely determined by previously existing causes. Okay, settle down everyone. Before we all line up in tribal camps and re-enact Braveheart's final battle, let's consider the question using people and circumstance. And yes, you have to finish reading this blog and no there won't be a quiz so stick with me for a moment because at the end I will tell you why this all matters.
I earned my black belt in karate in 2014. We did forms all the time, which I hated because you never use a form in a self-defense scenario. However, their benefit is muscle memory. Research suggests you need to practice a movement between 2,000 and 5,000 times before the reaction becomes unconscious thought. Let's jump into a scenario and assume I have failed talking my way out of fight. A physical one-man confrontation outside a convenience store. I am very confident I can end this situation without causing him much harm. Two assailants, the stakes are raised and I can probably end this without any of us getting more than some hefty bruises and bloody faces. Up the ante. I'm 5' 9" so let's say these guys are both 6' 1" and have significant weight on me. No time to fool around and worry about their safety. Maybe I am right into breaking knees and striking the throat.
Seems I am reasonably thought out here and, seeing as I didn't attend Cobra Kai, I considered the well being of my attackers as well. It's a good plan. Now, the fight ensues in any of the above scenarios. High stress and adrenaline affect cognitive thought and these confrontation are extremely unpredictable. Say the fight does not go according to plan. I trip on something, come across some one with mad skills or maybe I'm just not as good as I thought and don't have the leeway for a controlled response. Does survival instinct take over and am I simply reacting and relying on muscle memory only to sort out the details when the fight is done? Was my free will overridden by survival instinct or was this fated to happen just this way. I submit that my training combined with some though about what I might do in certain scenarios gives me a better chance to exercise free will, though this is certainly not guaranteed. Determinism would argue that everything in my life and the assailant's life up to this point would lead to this result. Science increasingly leans towards determinism over free will. We can now measure the electrical activity building up in the brain before a person consciously decides to move their hand. There are numerous articles and one I like is from The Atlantic . It's a nice laymen's article on the science behind the concept of no free will. Some may argue, including myself, that merely being aware of determinism means I know thinking differently makes me take different actions. Isn't that free will? Maybe.
Let's move closer to the edge. Fine, no free will. Now what? Determinism says we do not even control our moral choices. Okay, back the truck up Bill Nye the Science Guy. I'm getting off! We are opening Pandora's box if we are going with the concept that moral choices are predetermined. Are we not responsible for our actions? That's a big bite to swallow and far too much to unravel in a simple blog so I'm making one last pitch for free will.
I'm a writer and I assume many of you are readers because why else would you be here? So we should talk about stories a little, and yes I still promise to tell you why this all matters. What grabs us in a story? For most, it is a character that does something unexpected or something that the reader has longed for them to do. The timid wife finally stands up to the bullying mother-in-law or the hardened criminal shows a grand act of kindness to save a stranger's life. Those grab us way more than the heroic fireman running into the burning building. Tell me, dear reader, is the criminal's act of kindness free will because he is bucking the probability he won't sacrifice for another? And is the fireman running into the fire determinism because that's what we expect him to do? I liken the answer to what my protagonist in THE LAST MIRACLE says, "Every experience only has the meaning you give it." Am I saying the answer is it depends. Kind of. I know. You want answers.
Raging in my head now is Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men.
Col Jessep: I'll answer the question. You want answers?
LTJG Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to them.
Col Jessep: You want answers?!
LTJG Kaffee: I want the truth!
Col Jessep: You can't handle the truth!
Yes, Jessep is a bad guy in the movie, but if he was talking about determinism and free will he may very well be right. I know. I promised to tell you why this all matters. Here it is.
Science may one day give us a definitive answer, but until then we need to act like free will is real. More importantly than whether determinism or free will is real, what we think and that we think is important. If determinism is real then it doesn't matter. The act of reading this blog has set your mind in motion so that it will take certain actions to help determine a pre-set outcome. However, if there is free will then truly realizing we have a choice sets in motion thought and action that prepares us so that even under duress of conflict we may act in accordance with our highest desires. It also opens the door to the grand promise that we can become anything we want in an instant, regardless of our past actions. It is also true of others.
Worst case scenario is free will is simply a cozy blanket we can wrap ourselves in when we crawl into the fetal position under our bed as we ride out the dumpster fire that is 2020. However, best case is free will means we can collectively use the tribulations of this year to drive us to build a better world and finally realize our potential as a species. I'm going with the latter.
So there you have it. My first blog and we settled almost nothing and I answered zero questions. I hope I at least mildly entertained you enough to come back in two weeks for my next post. I'm off to Five Guys. Have a great week!
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Martial artist and science nerd with an insatiable appetite for knowledge