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Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Odyssey

Throughout my formative years, my father would tell and retell his journey out of the countryside in the spring of 1945, his hometown, at the age of 20 years, crossing the line between Japanese occupation and Chinese Nationalist control, to arrive in Chungking, the wartime capital of the Chinese government, and pass the college exam to open a new life for himself.

Mother did something similar at 55, when she officially emigrated to Long Beach, California. A new country. No job. A new language. No social or professional network. But she did not recount this experience nearly as much as Dad did, for a variety of reasons. Regardless, it was no small feat. 

Lately I think about these events often. Their meaning is not entirely clear, but that's OK. There are probably many ways to interpret them, some of which are contradictory, including the two instincts at odds: to migrate and to settle. What are we but contradictory creatures? It's not human to be without contradictions.  

Isn't it funny that The Odyssey is a story both about adventures in strange land and about going home? We're driven to go, go, go, if for no other reason than evolution.

All this calls into question the idea of free will, which, I think, is a problem plagued with ambiguous and muddle definition. A key problem with free will is its being mixed with the problem of conscious thoughts. If we define free will as conscious, reasoned, language-driven choices, then I am almost certain free will is an illusion.

(Consciousness has unfortunately been elevated to an absurd degree by people who consider themselves "scientific" in recent years. This is at least in part motivated by the urge to perpetuate our narcissistic needs to feel oh so special. We have to hold on to our specially favored position in the universe, if not by the rumor of 23 grams of soul, then by the quantum-fueled mumble ... I mean consciousness. But I digress.)

But, what about the unconscious will that might be free in its own way? What about the unconscious drives that push us out into the unknown world, forward and backward, faraway and here? Could it in fact be free nevertheless? Or not? One thing is for sure though, that the will is neither logical nor consistent, and full of contradictions in itself. 

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