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Two-for-one deal on the surreal

First, I had an interesting conversation with Bryan and company, during his surprise (they always are) visit last week. We had used Marta’s privileged status to enter the oceanography building under cover of darkness, and were flying paper airplanes off the fifth-floor balcony. When we grew tired of that, we repaired to the uber-posh lounge, and there the discussion somehow devolved into the quintessential college argument: a debate over the existence of free will. It was long, winding, and at some points murderous, but the basic argument Bryan and I posited is as follows: the question of free will is the same question as the human soul. The human body is, on a physical level, a seething chemical reaction and nothing more. When a person thinks, that’s merely a series of rapid-fire electrical signals in the brain, created by chemical reactions that we can draw on a blackboard. When a person moves their arm, that’s just those same electrical signals shooting down nerves and triggering different chemical reactions to contract or relax muscles. These are physical processes whose laws we’ve understood for decades or centuries. Scaling up, writing a symphony is the same process, extrapolated over months. So is murder.

People hate the idea of there being no such thing as free will, because our entire society is based on the assumption that it exists. We reward the composer and punish the murderer, and therefore everyone gets what they deserve, based on the consequences of their decisions. But do they? Just because humans seem to have free will doesn’t mean they actually do; people in the sixth century took for granted that the Earth was flat – after all, it sure seemed that way. Nothing in science confirms the existence of free will, because it’s caught in the middle of a particularly nasty catch-22. In order for free will to exist, there must be some part of the body, brain or otherwise, which is untouched by the laws of physics – otherwise, cause and effect takes over our purely chemical bodies and all history is predetermined (or random, if you buy into quantum physics). That untouchable part, if it exists, is the soul: the part of you that transcends the physical but can interact with it; call it your brain’s pilot, if you want. Without a soul (or some other non-physical entity that can directly affect the physical), there is no free will. Period.

Personally, I believe in the soul, and free will follows as a corollary (weren’t you paying attention?!) Not everyone was as invested in the argument as Bryan and I; Laurel travailed to throw a wrench in our gears at every opportunity with dazzling non-sequitors (“I almost ran over a mole yesterday!”), but we hauled the topic back out of the graveyard each time and continued to beat on it until we were satisfied.

Second, Marta and company got permission from their landlord to break into their house’s garage. Kelly was planning to furnish the spider-filled pit with a mattress and Christmas lights and live there, but what we found inside killed that option: a massive, unfinished wooden hot tub. All of us were surprised, none more so than myself. I was expecting, besides the obligatory spiders the size of kittens (which we did find, in droves), a dirt floor covered with rusting machine parts, cobweb-covered mannequins, boxes of unwanted houseware, a dozen broken rakes and shovels – standard garage stuff, in other words. Instead, we snipped the lock off and were greeted by cedar-plank walls and a wooden tub five feet tall. It has jets built in and everything, and only needs some sealant between the barrel-like staves to be complete. Kelly has already sworn to finish it, but this is the same person who swore she was going to build a hot tub in my own backyard before school starts. I guess she still has a week and a half to make good on that one, but let’s be realistic. They also burgled a side shed and got a beaded curtain for their trouble, which Marta and Laurel hung outside their backdoor without a shred of irony.

It’s been a few days since last we spoke, I know, but be kind. My nights are not my own, and when else can I write these? I’m simply tremendously busy. I also need to pay a visit to the English advising office tomorrow if possible, to find out if it’s feasible (finance-wise and space-time-continuum-wise) for me to earn a degree there in 4 quarters. I’ve basically decided that if it is, I’m going to do it. Authority figures will doubtless ask me why I don’t want to join the workforce right away; I think my response is obvious enough that it doesn’t merit actually speaking.

Posted in Musings.

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