Thursday, July 8

life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

While talking to a friend lately the conversation got to the subject of imagination: how we let it wonder, how we can control it, and my mind just couldn't help not thinking: do we control our imagination, do other things control it, or are we controlled by it. 

To me, as someone who studied a bit of consciousness for her intro to neuro class, this sounded a lot like the problem of free will: how much free will do we really have? Most of us assume that free will is a fundamental characteristic that us humans exhibit, and we have control on our thoughts and decisions. And there are arguments pro and against and choosing a definite stand on the problem, to me, really is about going to extremes in argumentation. 

But from this idea, I went into another one, pretty close: are we responsible for our own well-being and happiness, or is it all dictated by circumstances?

I mean we do have very little control on our body - and in this I include the brain. I don't want to get too technical or sciency, but our life, feelings and thoughts, are all born in the brain and controlled by it, and the brain is just a wiring of cells. We don't really have control on physical pain, we don't have control on feeling tired. Yes, sometimes we can snap out of tiredness, but that's probably because of something external that makes our brain conclude is more important to stay awake - like "if I don't finish this paper I'm going to fail." Many times we also don't have control on our thoughts - we see something, it triggers a memory, which triggers another one, which triggers a thought, then perhaps a question and so on... All programmed based on our previous experiences and our basic needs. We don't have control on something happening (be it another person's action or a natural phenomenon or a bad grade) and that upsetting us or making us angry. And that happens because whatever the happening, it doesn't fit our expectations - the way circuits in the brain were wired and active at that time. 

So this is all about how we don't really have much control... But I would say sometimes we do. And those times may not be as often, since most of the time we need to make fast decisions (like should I stretch my hands to catch the ball hitting my head? yes!) However, since they are more scarce, they are probably more valuable. Like when you snap out of you domino thought trail - you realize that you were into that, but you should probably be thinking of something else. And while it's still your brain influenced by something outside or by some memory that snaps you out of your thought trail I feel like there is a choice involved there: you can go back to your work, for instance, or you could keep thinking of random stuff. 

In the same fashion, when it comes to another person: many times people don't act/react in the way we expect them to. And they couldn't, just because they have their own brain and their own environment that their influenced by. So it is possible that if I think: "oh, i miss my friend" and think of all the lovely times we hanged out and how much fun that was and "let me give him/her a call", all I'd get back is "yeah, i'm on the bus with my friends. we're having a blast and i'll call you some other time." This would be pretty disappointing, but very fair. But it was my choice to call my friend! Yes, I was influenced by my thoughts at the time, but I could have pulled together more memories and knowledge and realize that my friend could have been sleeping or on the bus or jst not in the mood to talk. So I could have send him/her and email or just done something else, but I chose to call. This could have also turned out very nice: like my friend being happy that I called and had a lovely conversation, which we wouldn't have had over email.

So at the end of the day we do need to take small "risks" every time we do something. But for certain some things we can control. Especially when it comes to being "safe". You can choose not to hurt yourself by making that phone call. You can choose not to hurt yourself by climbing on the roof. You might miss some excitement and fun, but at least you're safe. We can choose whom to spend time with and we do choose our friends. Of course, you can't be friends with someone who doesn't want to be friends with you, but you can choose to be, or not to be friends with someone who does want. 

At the end of all this rambling, I say little control is still control: we are responsible for ourselves and our own happiness. The biggest responsibility we have is towards ourselves, and we can't evade it. I mean we can, but it's not like it would do us any good. 

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