Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Free Will

"this the old habit, the old blood which he had not been permitted to choose for himself, which had been bequeathed him willy nilly and which had run for so long (and who knew where, battening on what of outrage and savagery and lust) before it came to him. I could keep on, he thought."

--William Faulkner, "Barn Burning"

"But testosterone is also one of my favorite examples of how responsive biology is, how attuned it is to the way we live our lives. Testosterone, it turns out, rises in response to competition and threat. In the days of our ancestors, this might have been hand-to-hand combat or high-risk hunting endeavors."

--Deborah Blum, "The Gender Blur"

"n one study, for example, men with lower amounts of testosterone were willing to hold baby dolls for a longer period of time than those with a higher count. In another, the very act of holding dolls lowered testosterone."

--Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, Lev Grossman, "Fatherhood 2.0"

We are fated to many things beyond our control. We cannot control the family we are born into, the body we are born into, the environment we are born into, the socio-economic status we are born into. And yet, like Sarty, we can make choices. We can choose. There is much in my world I cannot control, but I can still make choices about my own behavior in this world I did not create. I am not, as Dostoevsky calls it in "Notes from the Underground," a sprig in a barrel organ.

Our biochemistry dictates so much of our behavior. But let us not forget something else: our behavior can change our biochemistry. We are not victims nor slaves of our biochemistry: we can choose our behavior. Our biochemistry changes from different environments and different activities--sometimes from those activities we choose to participate in (or, if you prefer, how we choose to act). Again, I am not a sprig in a barrel organ--even my biochemistry, which I am so beholden to, is partly beholden to me and my conscious choices of action.

1 comment:

  1. But there is a certain "me-ness" that runs through every action of our lives. For example, the way I play sports truly does define who I am. My unorthodox way of kicking a soccer ball, the fact that passing a basketball and getting an assist meant nothing to me until I turned 23, and then I found out I enjoyed it greatly...that actually speaks volumes about me, although only I truly know how those outward athletic actions represent inward strengths and weaknesses.

    I definitely think we can exert force on our tendencies, and the recent bias toward life science in the press has tended to obscure that. However, I'm wondering just how changeable we are.