In my senior year in college I was finishing up all of my general education classes, classes that would have normally been taken in the first couple of years. I was more interested in math and science so I delayed my general ed classes. One of the more interesting and challenging classes I attended was Philosophy 101. It was in this class that we were introduced to deductive logic, reasoning and how to argue and prove a line of thinking.
We had a term paper due at the end of the semester, one of our choosing, with professor approval of course (so much for choice). I was clueless as to what I would write about and try to prove. Then one day in class the professor spoke on the topic of free will. She mentioned that past philosophers argued and proved that humans have free will. This rubbed me the wrong way, and of course I did not agree. I approached her after class and debated with her that as humans we do not have free will and that I would like to tackle this topic as the subject of my term paper. At first she was very reluctant to allow me to work on this topic, insisting that there was no way I could disprove free will. After a little cajoling she allowed me to write on that topic, but gave me a caveat that I would not be successful. Well, throwing the gauntlet down at my feet only kindled my fervor and I set out on my task.
If you are interested in reading that short paper, I think I could find it stashed away in my notes somewhere. But the basic premise of my argument was that rather than free will, which implies the ability to do as one wishes, what we truly have is merely the freedom of choice. We can choose whatever we wish freely, from our actions, decisions, preferences and so on. However, the outcomes of our choices are not in our control, nor do we have any foreknowledge of what the outcomes of our choices will be. Of course this premise is not as attractive as that of a free will, where we have the freedom to choose, but also, in addition to that, we would know and have control over the outcome of our choices. My argument did not find favor with my professor and she had notes in the margins arguing almost every statement I made.
Then I introduced the concept of a being that would have complete and total free will and described how such an entity would literally have control over everything and that there could only be one such entity for otherwise the universe as we know it would fall into complete chaos as the multiple entities would be battling for superiority – willing this and that in to being over each other. I named this entity, for lack of any better term God. At this point, her comments seemed to dwindle and then vanish from the page. My final conclusion was that if we truly had free will there would be nothing to stop us for vying for control and becoming gods ourselves. And since this has never happened and probably never will, free will for us mere humans is a fallacy.
Which brings me to the reason I post this story today. Choices. Four years ago I photographed that stoic valley oak in the local hills surrounding the San Jose, CA area. It was nice but it never seemed to call out to me to do anything with it. So I decided to just file it away. Two weeks ago a client requests an image that can portray informed decision making for a website landing page. Well this photo comes to mind.
At about the same time, I become ill along with all of my four children. A terrible hacking cough plagued us, with a very distinct Whooping gasp for air at the end of the paroxysms. What was going on? We visit the doctor. To our astonishment we have contracted Pertussis – yeah whooping cough! But wait, I was vaccinated… you mean the vaccine does not confer life long immunity? Well it would have been nice to be told that as an adult. What! You mean its only 70% to 97% effective in children? Well so much for vaccines. Okay, its not a life threatening illness since we are all above the age of 2 years, but 100 days of coughing is not an attractive proposition, and there is nothing, I mean nothing, to lessen the severity of the cough. We just have to let it run its course. Do nothing and after 21 days from onset and we are no longer contagious. Take a course of antibiotics and the contagious period is reduced to 5 days.
More decisions. Well I am on quarantine for two more days, my kids another four. But we still have all summer to look forward to with glorious hacking on a daily basis, great!
This whole episode started me down the path of questioning all the decisions that I have made in the last 13 years of my life with children trying to find the specific decision that lead us down the path that brought us to the situation we now deal with. Was it 12 years ago when we made a conscience decision to hold off on all vaccines for our oldest son who had a condition that would have been exasperated by the chemicals in the vaccines? Could the vaccines have stopped this? Not for me. And possibly not for my oldest son either, as the childhood vaccine wears off after 10 years. Was it our decision to enroll our kids this past year in a public charter school rather than continuing to home-school? My oldest son informs us that many other students in his classroom were coughing around the time he contracted it. So that might have been it. Yet there is an outbreak now in the U.S. and adults are the main transmitters of this illness.
I could go on like this forever to no end and to no benefit. It is easy to pinpoint where things go wrong if we could trace our decisions far back enough to the original decision between choice 1 and 2 – like the two main branches of that oak tree. But as we continue down our path making turns right and left along the way, sometimes cognizant of what we are doing and sometimes in complete heedlessness, we end up finding ourselves in the canopy of all the possible outcomes and most often than not, the leaf we find ourselves standing on touches many other leaves, bringing several decisive paths to the very same concluding circumstance.
So it leaves me at this conclusion; we are at the mercy of the Most Merciful, the All-Powerful, Free-Willing entity that we call by many names, one of which is God. We have been given the freedom to choose what we will and good or bad they are our choices and we have to live with the consequences. The amazing thing for me is this: We don’t know the outcome of our choices, but God does. Further, we do not have the luxury of not making choices, we are compelled to choose, and we have no choice in that. So choose, and choose well, for the path that unfolds before you will be of your own choosing.