“How many of our life experiences are our own? Do we live them as independent beings, or are we just unwitting actors in a cosmic play? Are we even alive in a practical sense; and how would we know? These are some of the philosophical questions that I struggle with. What is our purpose? Do we carve out our own destiny, or are we on a predetermined course? Is the trajectory of life fixed but with certain aspects that are negotiable? Could we jump the predetermined track if we tried hard enough? Or, are we doomed to follow a unwavering, dead-end path?
I’d like to think we all have free will to either succeed or fail at our personal endeavors. If we do not have that level of control over our destiny, then it’s all just an illusion. We’d all be puppets on a string, obeying a blind directive. That bleak scenario would strongly suggest that we only exist to serve as entertainment for a superior being.
To be able to convince mankind that we possess free will (when it is only an illusion), would speak volumes. It would tell us a great deal about the programmer of the illusion. It would suggest less curiosity about what humanity might do with real freedom; and more about the cruel mentality of the creature that affixed us on an unalterable path. I reject that view. It doesn’t ring genuine to me.
I refuse to believe that we are merely the neutral conduit of enjoyment for a more advanced being. How hollow would that be to experience the gamut of human emotions through human marionettes that believed they had no strings. It doesn’t bear the fruit of curiosity; the hallmark of intelligence.”
The classroom applauded their philosophy professor’s impassioned speech. He nodded in appreciation for their attention and then added: “This weekend, I’d like all of you to write a 3000 word essay on the subject I just discussed. You are free to agree or disagree with my viewpoint. That doesn’t matter but you must justify your ideas with sound logic. Why do you feel as you do?
Offer reasons why the opposite perspective is the misguided. Feel free to offer your opinions on fate, destiny, predestination and the concept of free will. Are we just the unwitting conduit that a greater being uses to obtain entertainment?
Don’t pad your essays by quoting philosophers and established theories verbatim. I want at least 80% of your paper to reflect your original thinking. Not famous thinkers of the past. Trust me, I’ve read them all. I want to know what you think; and will be grading accordingly. There is no right or wrong answer on the subject matter itself; and I won’t necessarily give you a better grade for agreeing with me. There are only poorly articulated views and well stated ones in this case. That is what I am looking for. The assignment is due Monday. Class is dismissed.”
The students gathered their things and left the lecture hall in an orderly fashion. There was a general aura of apprehension among them about the unusual assignment. Initially it seemed like the professor had cornered all the best points to the topic in his speech. It was going to be a real challenge to not directly parallel or plagiarize his stated views.
Most of the philosophy students dug in and took the task seriously. Besides compromising a major portion of their grade, it was also a fascinating subject to delve into. Despite his reassurances of term paper neutrality though, there was a certain level of fear in adopting the opposing position. Anyone as passionate about his views as the professor was might be inclined to judge a pro-predestination essay, in a harsh light. There was a certain disconnect present between taking him at his word, versus recognizing the very real capacity of bias bleeding through.
Irrespective of their actual beliefs, paralleling his views was definitely seen as the safer route to adopt. The more ambitious students considered writing from the opposing perspective on purpose. Despite personally agreeing with the professor on free will, they hoped to win his respect by taking up the harder argument. Still, it was very difficult to defend something which they didn’t actually believe in. In the end, the majority of them decided the safest position was to stick with their honest opinion on the matter.
Monday, the lecture subject was on another topic. The students turned in their assignment and simply hoped for the best. A few days went by without any further word about it. One of the more anxious students grew a little too impatient and asked when they would receive their essay grades. The professor smiled mischievously. It was almost as if he was waiting to see how long they would wait before succumbing to curiosity.
“Ah yes. The ‘conduit’ essay. You guys turned in some excellent, well-thought-out work. Without revealing the author, I want to read aloud from my favorite from each viewpoint. From those we’ll conduct a classroom vote. Ordinarily that would mean a two-way contest, right? In this case, I’m also including a third perspective. One of you managed to successfully raise another very interesting viewpoint. To be fair, if you are the author of either of these submissions, please abstain completely or just vote for one of the others. That would only be fair.”
The professor read aloud from the first two. Both did an excellent job of explaining their particular viewpoint but he asked everyone to reserve judgment until all three had been heard. Finally he divulged the clever nuances of the alternate submission. If nothing else, it was the most original idea of the three in philosophical scope. The author managed to carve out a unique, third perspective.
“While I may understand the two main sides of the original argument, I was struck by another viewpoint. One which I was compelled to explore. I’ve chosen this different path for the sake of maintaining my sincerity since it’s what I actually believe. I hope that pursuing this divergent outlook makes for a worthy submission for your assignment.
In my opinion, having an ‘either – or’ view on the topic of ‘free will’ misses a valid alternative perspective that is being overlooked. What if we are the ones who supply the breath of life into religions, deities, and superstitions? Maybe those things only exist through the conduit of human belief systems. In other words, instead of humans being the source of entertainment to the gods, what if it its the other way around? What if all those things are really just a type of imaginary reassurance for humanity?
Surpassing the concept and limitations of free will, I assert that we were never bound or tethered to fate or destiny. We are autonomous. The only real limits on humanity are the ones we have placed upon ourselves. Believing we are bound to act out our ‘destiny’ offers plausible deniability for any degree of personal responsibility. Even the relative freedom of ‘free will’ is constricted by too many self-imposed limits. When we view life through the lens of it being a conduit of our true desires, it strips away the excuses.”
The class absorbed the powerful words and applauded their precision and impact. Despite the previous two well crafted entries, it was clear to all who the winner of the essay should be. Of course, no one could be sure if the wining author was destined to write his essay, if he was allowed to write it because of free will, or if the essay topic and everything else in the world was his idea from the very beginning. Perhaps they were all there just to amuse him. It depends on which end of the conduit we are on.