Control, Power and Choice
Through the accumulation of knowledge humanity has gained the power to direct and determine many things. As primitive brutes people had the physical power to determine the outcome of whether or not a settlement was razed to the ground or which religion the general population adhered to. Now humanity has the power to build aircraft, cars, computers and save lives through complex medical procedures. But are we really in control of it all?
Despite all of humanities power I do not believe that any living being or inanimate object is or ever can be in complete control. This is because I believe in the law of cause and effect. It is more or less self-explanatory, but has many ramifications. For every effect there must be a cause and every cause must have an effect. In other words, there must be a reason, or myriad of reasons, for every outcome. The law is simple, but the consequences of it can be quite baffling. Science suggests that matter is built up of atoms and that atoms are built up of protons, neutrons and electrons. But what builds up the electrons? What builds up the elements within the electrons? What builds up those elements? This is the fundamental issue with determinism. If there is a cause for every effect, then how did it all start and how does it all end? But this is asides the point.
The question is how does cause and effect negates one’s absolute control? A typical definition of control is having power to direct or determine. However, to have control is to have power and to have power is to have control. Therefore, the two terms really just mean the same thing. What this means is that all power has to come from a source and that source of power is going require its own source and so on an so forth. So while one may have control over whether or not to burn a piece of wood, that does not mean that they are in control of the forces providing them their control. People do not neccessarily have control over what gives them their control.
People in general are always very much so concerned with having choice and whether or not the actions of others involved a choice. Yet the law of cause and effect impacts how one looks at choice. The simplest explanation for somebody wanting to take a cookie from the cookie jar is that the person wanted the cookie. Yet, according to the law of cause and effect it’s not as simple as that. There must be a reason for that person wanting the cookie. The person wants the cookie, because it tastes good. The reason the cookie tastes good is because the taste receptors on the individual’s tongue send positive signals to the brain when a cookie is placed on the tongue. And forever more the question is why? Setting the mystery of the endless chain aside, it does seem that the person is not in fact in control over whether or not they want the cookie, but rather simply carrying out the effect of wanting the cookie.
Of course, one could simply choose not to eat the cookie. I cannot deny that people always have a choice of some sort; an option A and an option B. Sometimes it’s as simple as doing or not doing. So, does choice entail absolute control? Well, it seems likely that the decision process in itself would be directed by the law of cause and effect as well. Most people are aware of the concepts of personalities and genetics, both of which involve complicated factors that certainly seem to help determine an individual’s behaviour. And of course there are environmental factors that appear to shape people’s character as well which would in turn alter their decision making process. If one is contemplating doing A or B then it seems to me only sensible that something causes the choice between A or B. Indeed, the individual had a choice and had the power to determine which option was selected, but the power to determine which option was selected was not controlled by itself. In other words, the person had the power to eat the cookie and were therefore in control of the cookie's fate. However, the power to eat the cookie came from a source which implies that the person was forced to eat the cookie.
It’s all becoming quite confusing, isn’t it? How is it that one can have choice, yet be forced to do what they do? Well, let's think of the definition of choice. Most people define choice as having the ability to choose, but the definition for choosing is more or less circular. For example, one definition of choosing is ‘to select from a number of possibilities’. This definition is more or less stating that to choose is to choose since select means the same as choose. Most basic definitions of choice involve some form of circular terminology such as select, pick, elect, decide or prefer. It all means the same whether the definition is 'to pick from available possibilities' or to 'decide between various possibilities'.
This is how I regard choice in a way that's compatible with a deterministic belief. First off, it can be difficult to describe the nature of thinking things and feeling things, but these are things that all humans have experienced. When one comes across a tough decision the common sentiment is often described as being torn or conflicted. This is because I believe, (and neuroscience is finding more and more evidence of this), that a part of the mind wants one thing whilst another part wants another. I don’t know the complex mechanics behind this state of feeling ‘torn’, but I can relate it to a battle. One force fighting another. The victor of the battle is equivalent to a decided upon choice. So, I basically perceive choice as an intellectual and emotional conflict of the unconscious mind. A conflict can end in many ways, but it can ultimately only end one way at any given point in time. The same as one can go left or right, but not both left and right simultaneously. (For more elaboration on the subject of choice visist the free will page).
But there is more to control than mental limitations and possessing the ability to make choices. There are also enviromental factors that blatently hinder control. If there's a wall made of steel before one then they have the power to walk around it, climb over it, dig under it or use tools for going through it such as explosives or a cutting torch. However, what one cannot do is walk through the wall. Regardless of their physical stamina or intense determination. It just isn't possible. Some enviromental factors can be overcome where as others simply can't.
Other people can also hinder one's control. Their actions can either empower or destroy. When someone's intent harms or inhibits your own there is a battle of will, resources, allies and intellect, among a thousand or more other things. A single peron's exitence can really bring joy to your life or make it a living hell. But control isn't just about what people can do in the present, it involves what people have done in the past. A baby's birth is the product of millions, (trillions?), of relationships and family trees. Had just one of your ancetors not met his his/her heterosexual companion you would not have been born. Your birth is dependent on your mother and father comming into existence, meeting one another and concieving you.
But the wild part is that it's not simply a matter of your parents meeting and having sex. In order for you to exist they had to have sex within a certain time frame. The egg that consisted of half of who you are only would have lived for a month and I'm not even certain of what the factors are for the sperm. Your unique and specific sperm, (out of millions), had to not only survive in the testicals, but overcome all opposing factors and obsticals to win the race and be the victor sperm. So I find it really difficult to claim having any control what so ever over your existence.
In conclusion, I'm not going to go on and on about all the forces working against us in this world. There really is a great deal of good fortune and unpredictable circumstance that plays a role in whether or not we're successful. But we do have control. Some of us have control over a great deal while others of us have control over little more than our eye movements. But what's difficult to discern for many people is that despite having control that does not mean that they have control over where their power comes from. Hard determinism implies that there are forces within us beyond our knowledge, comprehension and influence. Forces that both grant and diminish our overall power. And for many people that's a scary thought.