I am the captain of my ship
A lighthearted story on determinism: do I have free will?
I am the captain of my ship. The world is my oyster. I am free to sail anywhere I wish to. Be it embarking on a peaceful island, indulging myself in a never-ending festival of food, sex, relationship and knowledge. Or be it a majestic voyage, to furnish my ship into a battle-cruiser and to fight for what I believe. Or be it something in the middle. Choices are mine — the captain of the ship.
Or are they?
“They certainly are!” said the young, naive me. Well, as a juvenile sailor who just set his foot on the newly polished deck, life at that time meant to grapple everything that I could set my eyes. I brandished the sword of wisdom during my conquest of the island of mathematics. A smug smirk paved its way across my face as I slew down the vicious monster named “quadratic equation”. Ah! I shudder as I recall that tough battle. During this conquest, I also discovered the radar of friendship with which I found a lot of fellow greenhorn sailors. Little did I know that these shrimps would be the ones I would go on an adventure with. But for most of the time, stepping upon the pedal of naughtiness was my favourite amusement on board. Each step on that pedal was a new surprise. For the last time that it activated, the rear cannon of the ship fired a pile of cream towards my teacher’s face. All in all, I was the carefree captain with full autonomy during my childhood.
Amidst this joy ride, I noticed a subtle but recurring metamorphosis on the ship’s body. Although there has been no drastic change, the ship seemingly improves upon the completion of each quest. Say, I just spotted a nice little cannon on top of the mast yesterday! I am sure it would be a handy tool if I ever paid that cursed island another visit! However, with each and every change, my heart would inch closer towards restlessness. After all, I never get to know or even witness how these changes occurred.
Being an ambitious explorer, with my gaze fixated upon completing each and every quest that would arise from those undying hedonistic bells, my heart seemed to be unwavered by these recurring thoughts. As a fast ship, I cruised through the seas of childhood and adolescence within a breeze. As I turned 18, a box studded with scarlet red crystals mysteriously appeared upon my deck. After being tugged between the feelings of caution and curiosity, I finally gave in to the latter and opened the box.
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Inside the box laid a silver plate with its surface as smooth and well polished as a knight’s shield. The silver plate would reflect an image of every single object before it… except for mine. I couldn’t see my reflection on the silver plate. It took away my composure. To relieve my angst, I experimented: I set the plate in front of me while gripping the helm. Then I witnessed the creepiest scene in my life: On the silver plate, the helm turns itself as if I were there. That makes me feel even more aggrieved, how could the ship control itself without my presence? I am the captain, and something must be going wrong! So I tried to be defiant, I left my captain seat and started to vandalise my ship — this is the first time I’ve done so to my so beloved ship.
I soon discovered I can’t damage the ship, regardless what I have done, the ship recovers itself in seconds. After hours of gruntle and riot, I exhausted all of my energy and lied down on my bed. A spooky thought sneaked into my mind: Do I really exist? My instinct said yes without much thinking, but my rationality argued for the opposite. Have I ever saw myself? How do I look like? Well, I have some friends, but we only communicate through radars on the ship and they have never saw me in person. The uncertainty for my existence, cast me in a profound introspection, for the first time.
Further I thought: My ship deemed autonomous by others, merely because there is no external hindrance limiting actions of the ship. I know the ship per se has no free-will, and its actions are direct reflection of my will — the will of the captain. But what about me? Do I just drive myself? Say, I always want to beat the mightiest monster among all the islands, and indeed, I have the freedom to attempt — however what if is there a pedal within my mind, when stepped on, will activate my desire to beat the monster? If so who’s stepping that pedal? So, am I actually free? I can say no for two reasons.
First, you can do what you desire, but do you don’t get to control what you desire. Well, you may argue, some people regulate their desires willfully. Such as one can train themselves to desire sex less through psychological practice such as meditation. But where does the incipient motivation to control your desires stems from? It’s some factors that we don’t get to control, maybe your background or your experience. Yes. We can act to change yourself; we can cultivate our motivation for self-improvements. But who kicked the initial kick for any act, or desire to change?
Second, our mental empowerment is bestowed rather than acquired. Some people are just more determined, intelligent and open-minded than others. You may say that one can train oneself’s mental qualities, but training requires one’s strong will to start and persevere. One with poor determination just wouldn’t try to improve his determination at all in normal circumstances.
“An inferno dragon is attacking my ship!” said Julian, my best friend, his voice pulled me out of my deep contemplation. My existential tiding on free view didn’t change the way I reacted even a little bit: my blood instantly boiled and I went infuriating for my friend in need. Maybe there’s no where stands my free will to choose to want to help. But in the best moments of life, when we enjoy a gourmet meal, have sex with our beloved one, being embraced in friendships or acquire divine knowledge, we will still feel vividly satisfied, connected and fulfilled — no free wills chooses us to be wired this way, but we are. Oh gosh! I am so grateful that we aren’t omniscient beings, so even we don’t have free will, at least the illusion of free will is for us, and the illusion is so real that we get to control our acts and future. Perhaps we aren’t captains of our ship, but that doesn’t stop us from turning our helms or stepping on our pedals. That, I guess is enough.
“Hey! Stop daydreaming!” Julian urged me. I grabbed the helm and the ship turned to my accord. And the ship sailed to defeat the monster at full speed.
Nothing in me is free; nothing in the world is free. But is the captain that stands between.