Once, when I was younger, I wrote a school essay on free will versus determinism. I won’t bore you with the detail but the basic concept is this: None of us ever make a truly free choice. It proposes the theory that all our life decisions are in fact a result of our experiences thus far.
A good example might be my decision to study French at university. I researched courses, selected the best universities offering that course and focused hard on the subject for final exams. All my active choice right? Not according to determinism. I chose to study French further because I enjoyed it; maybe I enjoyed it more because I was good at it; and I probably became good at it because I’d spent summers in France as a child while my parents ran their campsite business. Add to that all the times I’d witnessed the direct benefits of both parents being able to speak another language and there you have it: French in fact, chose me.
If this theory’s to be believed, it’s no coincidence that I love travel.
I certainly haven’t broken the mould through my love of globetrotting. Mum and dad both lived and worked abroad long before I came along. At a time (as my dad is very fond of telling me) when travel wasn’t as hindered by bureaucracy, expense and red tape. From a very young age, I was aware that their travels had made them who they were. Their experience showed itself in their reasoning, their food preferences and their decisions about me. It was also evident in more tangible ways: I have two wonderful half-brothers who are Afro-Caribbean! By their late 30s, mum and dad had racked up nursing stints in Texas and Russia, nightclub ownerships in Antigua and a carefree stay on the beaches of France for an entire summer.
So I didn’t catch the travel bug – I was probably born with it.
However, if I follow the theory of determinism which holds the impact of nurture over that of nature, there must have been other life events that have influenced my need to travel. Did I have a burning desire to copy my parents? Not necessarily (although I admired their bravery and ability to grasp opportunities on a global scale). Did I crave an escape from a normal life I viewed as boring or stale? Not at all – I loved my childhood and have enjoyed most moments since, despite those hard times that all of us have to endure. The main reason I travel is that events in my life up until now have shown me how short and precious it really is. This is the catalyst for my urge to get to know as much of this world and possible, along with everyone in it.
So if determinism does indeed overrule free will, I have a great deal to thank it for. Over the years, my experience has allowed me to make positive decisions that have improved my quality of life, helped others around me or in some cases, changed my life completely. I’ve spent time teaching English in Spain, I’ve worked in both rural and urban Australia and travelled solo in places I never thought I could. I’ve also overcome considerable stumbling blocks along the way. All founded, perhaps, on my confidence in the outcome of past choices.
Of course, my nurtured attitude must occasionally take the blame for those times when I’ve confused ‘you only live once’ with ‘just do whatever you want’ – they are very different things!
Do I really believe in determinism?
Sadly, I can’t even recall how I concluded that school essay. If I came to a firm conclusion at all. However at thirty-three I can honestly say that I think both concepts are true. Every decision I make is firmly based on opinions I hold, which are undoubtedly influenced by my life so far. In turn they’re also coloured by the friends I surround myself with and the advice I choose to seek. Although I also believe I still have free will – the ability to choose whether I continue along a certain path or not. In fact, close friends would argue that I regularly demonstrate more ‘free will’ than most and I’m comfortable with that!
Ultimately, I find myself giving into my unique pre-determined path more often than not, because it’s also the path I happily choose to take.
Do you believe in a pre-determined life or are we all completely free in our choices?