It Doesn’t Matter Whether Free Will Exists.
Are we just sheep?
A while back, I sat in front of my ridiculously intelligent cognitive psychology professor. I had come to her with questions about the dense reading we had been assigned that week on social cognitive theory and the self. As she clarified my questions I began to understand that cognitive psychology was perhaps another one of those discipline’s like theology, philosophy, literature and history that seem inextricably vital to understanding the self and others.
After hobbling through the article with her help, I choked out a final question. “So…does free will even exist?”
She threw her head back and laughed. “Now that’s a question we all want an answer to.”
Does free will exist? Are we all sad because of the seemingly marginal control we seem to exert over our environments? Day by day I am becoming convinced that the sadness, depression and apathy we see is a result of us feeling like we are being shepherded through our lives like sheep. We feel like we have no control over our circumstances: we are yes (wo)men, we have obligations that we don’t want to keep, we have courses that we feel forced to take and routines that seem impossible to break. We are Santiago’s sheep in Coelho’s The Alchemist. But it’s comfortable being sheep because we don’t want to face the reality that maybe, maybe it doesn’t have to be like this.
Maybe, we have more choice than we think.
But, you need to have your mind primed to receive these kinds of signals. What I mean: our apathy, restlessness and discomfort cannot be numbed out. It’s tempting to dive back to our smartphones whenever we have the slightest bit of free time, to tuck into desserts, fatty foods and simple carbs whenever we have a shit day. (I take this opportunity to become adventurous and start putting peanut butter on anything.) The sugar hits our head like a crowbar and then we stagger to our couch and ride out the high. Maybe we flip on the TV. Maybe we berate ourselves for not having enough self control. Maybe we numb our frustration by looking at fitness models on Instagram and wishing we were more like them. Rinse, repeat and life goes on.
I think we’re too scared to admit how much power we actually have.
And this is the crux: because when we are scared, we continue to hide behind our vices and our habits and convince ourselves that change is impossible. That it wasn’t meant for people like me. That only people on Instagram can live like this. It’s hard for me. It’s hard for everyone. But I think the first step in change is to realize that there is a problem. And that you cannot numb it out. Not this time.
I implore myself, and others to look into yourself, and become your best friend. Perhaps your apathy at life is due to the fact that you don’t really know yourself. This is my problem. After a soul crushing day at school, I would come home and work out to exhaustion. I used to think this was some sort of pillar of steely willpower and dedication. With more introspection, I realized that I had created a habit, or a vice, to avoid thinking deeply about myself and my interests and dislikes. Once my brain was flooded with endorphins, I completely forgot about the fact that I absolutely despised what I studied during school.
I felt like I couldn’t change because the vessel I was lugging around, my body, seemed to be on autopilot. My mind was just a cacophony of voices that directed me here and there whenever it felt like heeding a particular thought. I was ruled by my emotions and had become masterful at dampening down my frustration, anxiety and anger through intensive exercise. God, I didn’t like myself. I despised myself. I despised her because she was a stranger. Why should I care about strangers? Life felt heavy and I had to see it through in the company of someone who wasn’t thrilled to be here, and in fact just felt like a hunk of meat on cruise control.
Rinse and repeat.
Is there such thing as free will? I don’t know. I’d like to think there is. Maybe free will is a state, and it’s something we move towards. Maybe free will is self actualization? Psychology is nuts, man.(But I understand why we major in it. We all want to understand why we’re so fucked up.) In any case: I do believe that it is through self compassion, and becoming our own best friend that we can become closer to making decisions that we actually feel good about making. Because when we desire to know ourselves intimately, we feel better about the direction we are going in our lives.
And to be quite honest, it’s so much more easier to trust a best friend than a stranger.