The Fish Tank and the Free Will

One of the most magnificent aspects of a man’s character is his ability to overcome difficulties in the face of adversity, uncertainty and great disadvantage. Overcoming one’s condition is one of the most remarkable achievements in life. When I say “overcoming condition” I am not thinking of great acts of heroism, although they are part of this category of acts, but of those situations where normally the path of life’s episodes would lead to an outcome predicted by the collective past in a linear fashion, but somehow the actions take a sudden upward turn. I asked myself the question if this qualitative jump is something that an individual could make a claim in the name of personal free will or is it something that became reality because that trait is in his DNA?

The mind is like a Star Wars opening screen: a dark space in which slowly thoughts come forward with clarity. You see what you have now, but you don’t see what is to come. Who or what creates those thoughts? Are they the result of quasi-random sequences of DNA programming, or are they created by something that we call consciousness which somehow has this magical property of self-organisation?

It is tempting to say we are and we do as the result of soul-less deterministic laws. It is a clean logic, difficult to argue with. In the same time, here we are, bursting with self-awareness, producing these marvellous creations that come out on that black screen of projected consciousness. Can a fragile system produce rock-solid logic about itself? Because we haven’t solved completely this mystery of the black screen we could never prove completely with perfect clarity that free will doesn’t exist. The doubters will always be there.

So, going back to the original question: is it possible to overcome personal condition through the virtue of free will? If you consider the opposite view in which our DNA and the environment determine entirely how we think, then human aspiration is a fake and a curse. It is a fake because no matter what you do, you never achieve a higher condition and it is a curse because your life will be a string of failures as you attempt to achieve the impossible. You are trapped. Is it better to accept personal limitations and find satisfaction in a job as it comes? It should be easy. No effort is required because the condition will not improve anyway beyond what you get from life by default.

What we have is this dark space in which a deterministic Darth Vader is pulling the strings and the colourful, lively and capricious consciousness that we were introduced to soon after our birth and which lures us into believing our will matters.

We live like a fish in a fish tank. The fish tank boundary is a fine, sensitive field separating the enclosed space of free will (or the illusion of it) from the unmovable, stern deterministic universe. As depressing as it may be, if indeed this boundary exist, the best option is to be optimistic. If the wall exists, keep the aspirations alive and kicking because even if your potential is limited you never know what that limit is and you have to test it to make sure you get the best version of your destiny. If the wall doesn’t exist, that is the best news you can get: the opportunities are limitless.

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