Jonathan made a point recently about (among other things, but I have never been good at the finer philosophical points) how to a large degree the choices we think we have and the experience of the world that we are able to shape for ourselves is often predetermined by the background and understandings handed to us by those around us (our families, friends and broader society).
It is an interesting observation that Jonathan makes, incidentally, that although we all (generally) hold that there is a wide and diverse set of new experiences to be had, adventures to be survived and places to be seen, we somehow struggle to turn that known (and in many cases desired) reality into the one that we experience from day to day. Most people are aware that there are thousands of possible lives that they could live, that they could have lived, yet cling more or less religiously to the one they know, altering their experiences only minimally (relative to the possible choices they could make). An example might be that, to shake things up a bit in your life, you join a new gym, or take up a sport instead of, say, signing up to become a de-mining expert in Laos, or undertaking a spontaneous trip to backpack Argentina.
I had originally thought, in previous posts, that perhaps we shy away from the more dramatic decisions out of a feeling of security – the idea that perhaps we risk too much in making those decisions. Yes, they offer potentially huge room for emotional and intellectual growth, but they could also ruin us financially, may be dangerous, or have a range of other detrimental effects that scare us away from trying. I still think that this plays a major role in which of the choices we decide to make in our lives (of the set of possible things we could think of), but Jonathan makes the additional point that aside from our shyness in choosing the wilder options for our lives, the set of choices we come up with in the first place may be terminally limited. That is to say, there are many more options which are out there that we just cannot even conceive of.
And that is a rather frustrating thing to consider. If my life were to end up in a particular place because of y own, consciously made choices, then I would at least have the satisfaction of knowing that I was responsible for the state of affairs that I find myself in. But to think that I might (broadly) end up in a certain place without having been able to alter the course of my journey there (in the larger scope of my life) seems a rather powerless state of affairs. Thankfully, I believe that in my case at least, the options I am aware of and could exercise would be sufficient to put my life on a wholly different course, such that the hamster-in-a-box limitation of options does not hamstring me to such a frustrating point. But what about others? Might there be folk out there for whom their set of considered possibilities has narrowed to far that they have in effect created some kind of perceptual straightjacket from which they cannot escape? A sort of unconscious destiny for themselves in which their free will amounts to tiny corrections on a course of life which has been largely plotted? I don’t know. I hope not, but it certainly seems possible – in theory at least.