Category Archives: Philosophy

The Flapping Wings of my Personal Butterfly

My last post was inspired in part by the well-documented and somewhat self-evident Butterfly Effect.

Indeed, most of my thinking is in response, one way or another, to this concept. For when I reflect on my actions, I am concerned first and foremost with their effect. Underneath that focus there is an assumption of some level of  agent efficacy that may or may not exist.

The things we quibble and quarrel about, like Good and Evil, Accountability and Blame,  Morality and Righteousness, God and Country, are shallow and somewhat vacuous intellectual romps compared to the really hard and far more fundamental question of just how much a flapping butterfly wing matters.

On the one hand, proof of mattering is all around us.

That may not seem so obvious when we describe the Butterfly Effect as the flap of butterfly wings on one side of the  globe causing a Tsunami on the other side. It may even sound absurd. But it becomes less so when we call it the more technical sounding Chaos Theory and look at it instead as simply saying that a small change can have huge effects down the road.

And it becomes immediately personal when viewed in terms of us existing at all.

“Us” in the plural sense, certainly, when you realize how many extinctions have occurred, but here I am meaning “us” in the singular sense: you, me,  and other would-be agents of change.

For when I reflect on my own existence, I can’t help being awestruck at how amazing it is that I am here at all. My presence might not seem like a particularly grand effect when viewed by someone other than me, but from the biased perspective of JD Fox, it is an inconceivably huge effect

But  the other hand is present, too:

Effects can be easily wiped out. One vote makes a difference. But an opposite vote cancels it. The flapping of wings can have an effect. But  the flapping of other wings can negate it. I am here, but I could have easily never been.

Such things in no way disprove the butterfly effect, of course, since those negations are also reliant on the small changes of long ago and act instead as further proof.  But they humble me, as I not only look at myself, but I look at the systems and processes involved.

The further out we move our lens, the more the effects, however huge,  get negated.  Trump’s insane tantrum-tweets, Kim Jong-un’s childish missile-waving, and all the other imbecilic, get-out-of-my-sandbox acts that spin us into hysterics are to the universe like a drop of water clinging to the edge of a pail.

That’s been left out in the hot sun.

Determining Freewill and Freewheeling Determinism

I love the cartoon above, even though I think it is wrong. Or, maybe more accurately, misleading, which is often worse than wrong. The caption is especially problematic, as it forces the otherwise brilliantly provocative cartoon into an unnecessarily limiting conceptual box.

It preys on fears of determinism by drawing our attention to the inevitable “end result” rather than the choices made along the way. In doing so, It trivializes the details of that along the way in a fashion similar to how believing the ends justify the means diminishes the moral content of a given action.

Indeed, we could rewrite that latter ethical claim into an agency claim of the “ends neutralize the means.” But by doing so, we are apt to miss three interrelated points:

    1. Freewill can never be absolute (or what freewill is not)
    2. Freewill requires determinism to exist (or what freewill we have)
    3. Freewill in any meaningful conception of the word exists only in the along the way (or what freewill we need)

One of the problems with language is that we sometimes  put words together to form a conceptual picture that seems viable to us, but isn’t. We will even stand our ground by saying that we can conceive of it being the case, so it must be a valid concept,  when really we can conceive of no such beast. Instead, we are just deluding ourselves, confusing our masterful ability to  conceive of conceiving with that of the conception itself.

Here’s a couple of examples to flex our thinking around this issue:

  • I want to study the pure forest. So can you please cut down all those trees so they don’t get in the way of my thinking.
  • I want to see what pure blue looks like. So can you please take all that color away so it doesn’t distract me.

Absurd, huh?

Yet we often assign such absurdity to things involving thinking, saying nonsensical yet specious phrases like “pure thought” or “I think, therefore I am,” where both think and thought are imagined to be capable of being  parceled out from the environment  and viable on their own.

THINKING IS ALWAYS ABOUT SOMETHING

It can be about objects, about other thoughts, or about itself. But it has to be anchored in some way for it to even exist. For if it isn’t, what exactly is thinking doing? How is operating? What is happening?

The same goes for freewill.  Absolute freewill sounds nifty, don’t it? The supposed ability to do whatever you will. But what exactly are you doing when invoking such a power? How is it operating? What is happening? The very moment freewill is exercised, it is at the same time necessarily being limited – determined – by the thing under its will.

Consider it this way:

You want to build a house. You might choose straw or wood or brick. But that choice will then limit what other choices there are and so on. The original choice might be expanded to include stone or 1001 other different kinds of materials, but the limit would still be in play. Sure, you can change your mind, which would be another example of exercising freewill, but that would just mean the limit changes form, and not that there is no limit in play.

The limit, of course, is a form of determinism.  For it determines what the outcome can and cannot be, like whether or not the wolf’s huffing and puffing can blow your house down. Our body itself is a limit, as, for example, we can’t breathe underwater, making living underwater difficult and problematic.

You might think, oh, but that’s not a conceptual limit, for I can imagine a being that can breathe underwater as well as air. But so what? That changes nothing. For if you live underwater, the living underwater limits apply instead of the living on the land limits. For if they didn’t,  what exactly are you doing when you exercise the will?

DETERMINISM IS NOT SOMETHING BAD

In fact, we rely on determinism to do anything — to will anything — at all. For If things set in motion didn’t behave a certain way, or at least were likely to behave a certain way, our will would actually be meaningless. It would be just a hope, a pray to the Gods, and not a will of any kind.

Yet determinism gets a bad rap because we don’t like the idea of our fate being dictated to us. So much so, we look at the cartoon and say poor ignorant cow, he doesn’t realize whatever choice he makes he will end up being turned into hamburger. Well, last I checked, all of us will eventually die, so at least that much is already determined for us.

And that’s a pretty big determined. So are we just ignorant cows. Maybe.

But what if we take death out of the equation? I don’t mean imagine a case where we don’t die. Rather, I mean not having death be the ultimate marker of the vitality of our choices or as the litmus test for freewill.

I’ve been playing around with inventing  models that I think might  best illustrate the  coexistence of choice and fate, of freewill and determinism. I’ve been trying to understand not only how they relate to each other, but how we can find meaning in that relationship.

THE TUBE:

Instead of focusing on the gruesome end of us and cows, let us travel along the walls. Round off the ceiling  and floor. Tilt the room. it is no longer a room, but a tube.  Imagine a ball thrown hard into the tube and it banging from side to side as it travels along its downward path. It’s going to end up wherever the tube leads, whether  to death or assorted stops along the way like a new job or boyfriend.  However, the route of its sideways travel itself is less predictable. That’s close to where our freewill lies.

THE BOILING POT:

We boil a pot of water to cook our pasta. Some of the molecules will be vaporized right away. Some will do so over the course of the cooking. And some not at all, unless we keep the pot on and at a high enough temperature. Regardless, while it is easy to predict that the water will boil, it’s far more difficult to predict which specific molecules will vaporize and when. That’s where our freewill lies.

Now with both scenarios, one could argue that individual route and individual vaporization, although difficult to predict, would not prove impossible to do so, if we had access to all the information. So isn’t every part of along the way just as much determined as the end of the tube?

That could be the case. And if it is, I might have to agree with Spinoza’s necessitarian assessment. There would not only no meaningful choice that we could make, but there would be no real choice at all. Such choice at all levels would only be illusion.

But my gut tells me there is something else going on that is at the heart of the freewill we need. Something that presides over the strange yet necessarily required interrelationship of freewill and determinism.  And no, I’m not talking about God, as that would simply take us back to Spinoza. Instead, I am meaning something far more sacred and profound:

RANDOMNESS!

Random Thoughts on Randomness – Part 1

“The most beautiful order is a pile of things poured out at random”
–Heraclitus
(Appropriated from Professor Metcalf’s Facebook Page)

Random Thought being a redundant phrase, of course, since all thoughts are necessarily random. For if they weren’t, you wouldn’t be able to think what you think you think.

But before I self-involvedly put out there my thoughts about that, I thought I might self-indulgently talk about this quintessential quandary:

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Now, we can take a look at a question like that and try to answer it as one or the other. Or declare it a circular reference without a determinate answer. Or push the answer back before  chickens or eggs onto other questions that would have to be answered first. Or we could just say “God only knows,” and mean it either literally or snarkily.

We could have debates, hold prayer meetings, and take to twitter with our views, being champions of this or that or Him.  Maybe make some Pro-Egg flyers or Believe in the Chicken posters. It would be kind of cool to see candidates trying to appease both sides, or The Trump signing an executive order declaring both eggs and chicken are fried, so there!

Yet, any such factious (or fractious) thinking would already be moving away from the most important, the most philosophically interesting, thing: The question itself.

For answers are never that interesting. They are boring in fact. And don’t even exist, for that matter, unless maybe you’re a blind faithy, fox-news-only kind of person. But then again, if that is so, you don’t so much have an answer as have simply delegated the question to someone above you (literally and snarkily).

So let’s move back from the egg-chicken details and think about what kind of question it is. Although it is phrased as “which came first”, I hear it first and foremost as a causal question rather than a temporal one. Who made who would probably be a more accurate representation of it, but so goes the idiom.

In causality questions, what’s at stake? Why does it matter? That is, why does it matter to us? Well, for starters, the stakes are a lot higher than chickens or eggs. When we assign causality, aren’t we really assigning independence to one thing and dependence to the other?

Is the chicken dependent on the egg  or is it the other way around? Independence and dependence both shade Will. I will leave out Free from that Will for now, as that four-letter word typically adds a whole level of nonsense to these kind of discussions. Right now we can think of Will as just like it sounds: the ability to make things happen, put things into motion.

By the question, are we assigning Will to one thing, and mere obedience to the other? Is hatching the willful act and the chicken coming out just obeying what was set in motion? Or is the laying where the will resides and the egg just following orders.

We see that the chicken and egg question really is about that common but oh so vacuous term freewill.

You might argue that eggs and chickens don’t have will, or that they might have will but not freewill and/or hatching and laying are instinctual not intentional or something else in a similar putting-our-bag-of-bones into some sort of privileged position where we act and do things consciously (yet another, like freewill, somewhat vacuous and frequently unhelpful term).

But such arguments take swipe at the wrong thing. The right thing is our very conception of action and reaction, of which the chicken and egg are mere props for our thinking. But if chicken and egg are too low on the food chain for consideration, we can simply replace them with Mother and Child. Or even better, how about God and humankind? Or physics and humankind?

For that’s really to where we want to roll back, isn’t it? What, if anything, came before God? What, if anything, came before the Big Bang? Like with the original chicken and egg question, the answer itself isn’t as important as what’s at stake.

And that stake of course is the meaning of life: The mattering of it all, or of any of it. We think, perhaps, that if we push things back to some assumed unmoved mover or uncaused cause we can then bring such duly clarified meaning forward. The meaning, however, hardly needs to make such a journey. Indeed, trying to do so would be a fool’s errand.

Instead, the meaning of our lives derives neither from the divine nor natural order, but in the inherent randomness each of us possesses at any given moment.

—–

Other possible Parts as I work through my thoughts on this:

Spinoza’s God and the Necessitarianism Obstacle

Reconceptualizing Randomness

Ball in Tube Analogy

Molecule of Water in Heated Pot Analogy

Abolishing Absolutes and other Phantasms

Limited Randomness: As Free as Will ever gets

The Inescapable Nevering

THE INESCAPABLE NEVERING

Close to the half-century mark
I will likely never

Climb Mount Everest
Spend a night in the International Space Station
Star in a Hollywood picture

And I’m okay with that or mostly okay
But there is another never
Far more subtle and harder to accept

Hundreds of beloved books on my bookshelf
that will never be reread
Thousands of favorite songs in my collection
that will never be heard again
And millions of pleasant thoughts in my head
that will never be thought again

Not so much forgotten or ignored
As simply not coming to mind
Buried in the vault of me

That keeps on acquiring
new books to read
new music to hear
new pleasant thoughts to cherish

iTunes tells me I need
(right now)
215.4 days to listen
(to everything)

one      time      through

Music plays while I write this
The whole of it on shuffle

Finding Our Pulse

kind

Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.

Mark Combs, a friend of mine from way back, posted the above Voltaire quote.

I like the line quite a bit, even though I consider words like “guilty” and “good” to be counterproductive and ultimately vacuous, as are their antonyms, innocent and evil. The problem with such words is that they can too easily draw people into a cycle of focusing on assignation rather than pushing them forward into personal action.

And action, really, is at the heart of Voltaire’s words. A call to action.

A call to the realization that not taking action is an action in and of itself. A realization that there is no middle ground. A realization that you have a choice to act and that “if you choose not to decide / you still have made a choice.

With the Orlando massacre, there are analyses of cause by both professional and armchair intellectuals.  There are conversations about prevention ranging from passing stricter gun laws to saying everyone in the nightclub should have been armed.

But I want to approach it a wholly different way. Approach it at the individual level; at the level I go to on a daily basis.

What part did you play in the massacre? We all should ask ourselves this question, and ask it often.

And you did play a part. Of course you did. Remember: there is no middle ground.  So, phrased another way, did you play the part of someone trying to make things better for all?

Passing bathroom bills and engaging in other forms of hate speech is the antithesis of better. And doing nothing amounts to the same.

When I hear about violence, I tell my husband how much I love him. When I hear about animal abuse, I hold my critters close. When I hear about child abuse, I think of all the kids I work with and how much I want to protect them.

And then I expand that circle: say hi to a neighbor, pet a stray animal, think of another way I can help kids.

So phrased yet another way, at this precise moment, with your finite life running out, what “good” do you have left to do.

And what are you waiting for?

The Whelming

1100-2

Spur yourself to muster the power of faith. Regard your survival as wondrous. Employ the strategy of the Lotus Sutra before any other.

Many things in my current slice of Vermont life are overwhelming. Underwhelming, too, as those two words are more collusive than opposing.

All the concrete biggies are in play: Finances, Health, and Security. The existential ones too: Purpose, Meaning, and Creativity.

I am anxious about being able to provide for my family, my dangerous drop in weight, and the uncertainty of the future. I worry about not doing what I was born to do, finding less attached too often to meaning, and words unwritten dying with me.

I take action of course: applying for better, more-suitable employment, like with the Vermont Humanities Council; creating work and putting it out there, like with this post; and continuing my volunteer activities, like with reading submissions for the Mud Season Review.

I take more actions than the above and try to think of what further things I can do, what other steps I can take, to create a life that is something other than “nasty, brutish and short.”

Lately, in addition to chanting, I’ve been reading and rereading Strategy of the Lotus Sutra. It is a short letter, just a page or so, Nichiren wrote to his devout follower Shijō Kingo. It is a reply to a letter Kingo had sent about being ambushed by some of his fellow samurai, encouraging him to remain strong in faith; indeed, for him to become even more resolute.

Faith is difficult for me to muster.

Ribs clearly visible in my gaunt body, I envision the formidable obstacles in any potential roads taken and doubt my abilities. Yet I am still alive to have or not have faith, time passing either way.

“Regard your survival as wondrous” seems to have two meanings. The first as in thinking wow, I survived this horrible attack. How amazing! But also, life in general is a constant struggle to survive, and us being around at any given moment is something quite extraordinary.

The “strategy” of the Lotus Sutra is faith; not just having it but understanding its relation to other things. Faith is not something to be added later, but should come first. It is the foundation upon which all other actions – strategies – are built.

I’ve been trying to chant – and take action – with such thoughts in mind.

Nichiren ends the letter with “A coward cannot have any of his prayers answered.”

I think of this line, too, as I take determined steps forward, despite being very much afraid.

Death of a Cat

Christopher, 2015

Christopher, 2015

Life continues until it doesn’t.

Obvious, huh? So much so, why bother writing it? Maybe because I’m not sure what it means.

Christopher died on Tuesday. We had been expecting his death, but it still felt unexpected. The timing was definitely…

I half want to write “inconvenient” here as there is a certain amount of accuracy to it. But there is an unintentional coldness present, too, with using such a word; an uncaring to it that is as far from the truth as one can ever get.

Maybe I can substitute “awkward” instead.

Gary called me at work. Already stressfully behind on bills, including rent, and with little food in the house, Christopher died: on Tuesday, two days before a future paycheck already devoured by red. I borrowed $85 cash from the store director to cover the cost (deepest thanks to him), clocked out, and, along with Gary, took Christopher to Kingston Funeral Home and paid for him to be cremated.

Afterwards, I went back to work.

Life continues.

We had him since he was a little black dot of 7 weeks. An integral part of our lives, his 19 ½ years saw us in three states, various apartments, and up and down circumstances. He woke us up on our 1996 Wedding Day with his “turbo tongue” full of kittenly affection. He was still around for our 2013 Marriage Redux.

Over the years, cat habits formed.

Evenings, he’d patrol our home like a security guard, checking off each room and being annoyed at us if we got up during the night; he’d have to recheck that room. Affectionate in his own way, he’d make a beeline for our heads, wanting — needing — to touch noses before settling on our laps. Later in his life, after we introduced moist food to help with constipation, he developed a clockwork habit of waking me up by standing on me and screaming to be fed.

He loved office chairs, catnip, and shredding nice furniture. He had a talent for opening doors and cabinets. He liked butter, which we learned to keep covered on the table. He had a strange fixation with tape that made wrapping presents – and keeping them wrapped — challenging.

He was lovable, insufferable, and all the adjectives in-between. Then those adjectives started losing their hold except for lovable, being replaced by the new ones old age and sickness bring. Yet it felt like love alone would be a powerful enough word to contradict fate…

Yet, here I am, Sunday, several days later and still trying to properly mourn the loss of our beloved cat.

Sunday, my day off, with a committee meeting and board meeting coming up this afternoon. Grocery shopping somehow needs to be done, as we have nothing for dinner. I have submissions to read for the Mud Season Review, author bios to compile for the Burlington Book Festival website, and I should probably read Go Down Moses for the event I’m hosting at the Kellogg Hubbard Library come this Tuesday.

I have a resume and cover letter, too, that need revised, as they both must be absolutely perfect as I apply for my dream job at the Vermont Humanities Council.

And, of course, my in-progress fiction and poetry awaits my focused attention, along with markets to be researched for submitting completed works…

Life continues until it doesn’t.

Is that a nihilistic expression of the meaningless of life? The ache in my heart feels like it is, wanting me to throw in the towel at the banal absurdity of it all.

Or is it a seize-the-day cry emphasizing the first part and beseeching us to pick the towel back up, dry our eyes, and make the most of this limited time?

I think it just might be both.

 

Peacocking

peacock-raise-his-feathers-19036647

I’m a lousy peacock.

I’m trying to be a better one as self-promotion, branding, and otherwise best showcasing one’s attributes is the name of the competitive game. But I tend to forget what feathers I have let alone think to puff them out at appropriate moments.

Instead, I tend to dwell in the What next? moment, all too much aware of my lackings, what I would like to accomplish, and obsessing-compulsing about things like whether or not “is” in the sentence above should be “are”.

After all, a series, therefore plural, is indicated. Yet, “otherwise” separates “one’s attributes”, giving the series a different flow. But if “are” is used, wouldn’t “name” have to be changed to “names”, which doesn’t sound right at all. And should the sentence before this one end with a question mark or a period?

It should probably be rewritten altogether, but I will leave it; won’t dwell on it or the semicolon in this one.

Instead I’ll talk about excel.

I’ll proclaim proficiency, because that’s what one does on resumes, and I reckon it’s true. But I don’t think in such terms, as that word and its smug brethren are at their core meaningless. What matters most is the case by case:

Gary asking me if I can help him format his spreadsheet and my having the ability to do so; my wanting to better organize my writing submissions and being able to use pivot tables to do so; needing to add a drop down list and doing so.

I’ll talk about revamping my resume.

I now go into more detail about my current – and numerous — non-paid activities, which involve “work” and “skills” and other feathery things. But here, too, my presentation sometimes suffers from omission.

I added this non-paid to my resume:

Copy Editor, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
– Proof and edit submissions for the Flynn’s show blog, which typically features a preview of an upcoming show and a follow-up review.

True enough. But I had forgotten another component – another workforce skill – involved, until today, when I had to employ it. Afterwards, I added a simple, yet important, sentence, making it:

Copy Editor, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
– Actively solicit and schedule writers. Proof and edit submissions for the Flynn’s show blog, which typically features a preview of an upcoming show and a follow-up review.

Lastly, I’ll talk about my job at Shaw’s.

I never know how to best respond – think peacock here — to my director’s questions.

The other day he said/asked something like: “You’ll fly through today’s backstock, right?”

I should have just said “sure” or maybe even “Sure, of course!”

After all, I work hard, am efficient, and tend to be project-minded. Although I dislike the term “fly”, I certainly would get through it at a decent enough clip.

But I took the subtext as, “You’ll be able to get done with X in time to do Y.” This makes it less a question and more asking for some guarantee.

Although highly capable, I don’t make promises lightly. And when I make them, like committing to writing deadlines, I keep them. But here X is variable and its completion made all the more challenging by retail curtailing hours.

I ended up saying something anemic like “I’ll do my best,” which is hardly peacock speak, even though my best is actually pretty darn good.

And certainly worth a feather or two.

Faith and Fortune

In order to save living beings,
as an expedient means I appear to enter nirvana
but in truth I do not pass into extinction.
I am always here, preaching the Law.
I am always here,
but through my transcendental powers
I make it so that living beings in their befuddlement
do not see me even when close by.
When the multitude sees that I have passed into extinction,
far and wide they offer alms to my relics.
All harbor thoughts of yearning
and in their minds thirst to gaze at me.

I’m not much of a person of faith.

My husband is more inclined towards spiritual beliefs, having converted to Nichiren Buddhism when he was 18 and remaining steadfast in practice these nearly three decades since.

I lean more towards philosophy infused by science (“Yeah, sure, buddy, that’s an elegant theory of mind you got there, but if you don’t have a solid grasp of the biological underpinnings of thought, you’re just blathering.”).

But I have been known to pray on occasion. Especially when there seems to be nothing left but faith. Which is probably an awful lot like cheating – or cramming maybe – but like I said, it’s not in my main wiring.

However, feeling like I’m going to short-circuit from befuddlement is present. I am working hard at trying to turn things around for us, but have been having various setbacks. I thirst for solutions to our current situation.

Not knowing what else to do – befuddled indeed! – I started chanting regularly again: Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. A half-hour in the morning and half-hour in the evening. As I chant, the main focus of my mind is on these two parallel thoughts:

I need a door, some door, any door, to open.

How can I be a better person in my current environment?

I’m not chanting or thinking these things to an outside source. For Buddhism teaches the oneness of self and environment; that outer reality can be affected by our inner reality. Another way of saying this without sounding so New Age is that we all have the power inside us to transform our lives.

The most recent thing that needed transformed was rent.

The last week in January I wrote my landlord saying rent would be late, that I would pay it on the fifth. But it turned out that approaching the fifth found me worse off than expected, thinking triage, thinking I’d pay what I could of February rent, which wouldn’t be much, and writing the landlord again saying I would make payments over the next few weeks the best I could, and hoping that would be okay.

On the fifth, I had the day off. Among other things, I chanted a half hour, wrote an hour on a novel-in-progress (The Tulip Tree), and checked e-mail. I went to the Montpelier Food Pantry (Thank you, Montpelier; much, much appreciated!), read with my Everybody Wins VT! student, and stopped by the library to pick up books for the daycare for which I do library outreach each week, bringing books and reading to the kids.

Afterwards I took care of some household tasks and picked up some needed items from town.

Late in the afternoon I sat down to do what I’d been dreading: checking accounts that hardly had anything in them to check, and see what I could pay of my current onslaught of bills, including rent.

I got this welcome surprise: tax refunds had posted, both federal and state.

Now it wasn’t a huge amount by any means. But it was enough, along with what I had, to pay rent in full for the month. I still have many other bills, but it felt wonderful to know that at least our shelter has been paid up for another month.

So not really a door opening fully. Just ajar, just enough to let some light in, and maybe just for this month. But still…

Coincidence?

Like I said, I’m not a man of faith and tend to be cautious in assigning causality. But I did find the timing interesting.

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

The 3 F’s

When one comes to the end of one’s good fortune, no strategy whatsoever avails.

Three F’s dominate our life: Free will, Fate, and Fortune.

The importance of this triad, particularly the significance of fortune, occurred to me as I flipped through Pokémon: Discover Nimbasa City! By Simcha Whitehill. I recently had my first “Power Lunch” over at Union Elementary. My reading partner there expressed interest in Pokémon, so I was looking for corresponding material to bring to our next lunchtime meeting.

This particular book is a Pick Your Own Path story. Different publishers call such stories by different names, such as: Choose your Destiny; Choose your Own Adventure; and so on. The general format by whatever name is the same: You read a few pages, then are given a choice between two or more options. Your decision determines what pages are read next; how the story plays out.

Such decision-making seems illustrative of what we generally mean by free will: you freely and willfully make a choice. Sure, there is gray here as to what degree real choices can be made – how much free will can be possessed — by an organism constrained by laws of chemistry, biology and physics, but that’s a whole other discussion. Here it is enough that free will feels like free will.

Yet there is fate here, too. The writer has already conceived the outcomes and no conclusion exists outside of it. We assume there are “right” decisions that will lead to favorable outcomes; however, being omnipotent, the writer could have all story threads converge to the same endpoint regardless of their freewheeling meandering.

But that would be mean, wouldn’t it? So let’s assume here a benevolent writer who allows for some variance in his authored fate; enough of it to give free will some meaning. Let’s even go so far as to assume the plot lines are written such that if one determines the proper course of action, they will be rewarded. Is such a model illustrative of real life?

Fortune, the wild card in such matters, would say no, not at all.

For bad things can certainly happen to “good” people who do “good” acts. Likewise, “bad” people can coast into and through favorable circumstances not by their own efforts but by sheer dumb “luck.”

Even more perversely, if measured by outcomes, sometimes the “wrong” decision is the right one or vice-versa.

Deciding to blow your child support on Powerball tickets instead of food seems like a bad idea. But eventually someone somewhere does end up with the winning numbers…

Stretching your household dollars by buying ground beef instead of caviar seems reasonable. But maybe there’s a soon-to-be-announced meat recall that won’t happen soon enough to do your family any good…

I think if I were to write these kinds of books, I would write at least two outcomes for every point of decision. Then I would package the book with dice.

Make your decision, then roll the bones to determine the next pages as you ponder the fundamental question:

Do I feel lucky?