Choice

Passacaglia in Cm (BWV 582) J.S.Bach (1685-1750) ORGAN

“The Glory of these Forty Days”

(No postlude)

There is no question that the scientific method is one of the great cognitive inventions of humanity. But then there’s Scientific Materialism (arguably the dominant ‘civil religion’ of our day), which believes that the Scientific Method is the ONLY valid cognitive tool. The scientific method requires you to ‘have all the data’ and control for all the variables (e.g. double-blind experiments) before you come to a conclusion. But for most of the decisions I have to make in Real Life™ I have terribly incomplete data: if I’m walking through the woods or a dark alley and hear a noise, I have a split second to make a potentially life or death decision — no time to ‘analyze the data’! When I make major life choices like spouse, of course I ‘gather all the data’ I can but I certainly can’t put my life in some kind of laboratory and measure the outcome my life WITH this spouse choice vs. WITHOUT. So I don’t see how the Scientific Materialist can live by Science alone. (And the idea that One Tool like ‘pliers’ is the only ‘real’ tool in the cognitive toolbox seems suspect to me: there’s no place for screwdrivers or saws?)

Another tenet of Scientific Materialism is that ‘free choice’ is an illusion, that all of our ‘choices’ are ultimately determined by biochemical machinery deep within the gooey bowels of our brains. But all the Scientific Materialists I know live as though they have Choice after all. In Real Life™, how can you not? Green socks or red this morning? And, the murderer really didn’t have any ‘choice’, nor the police and judge to arrest and incarcerate? Hitler and his murderous friends had no ‘choice’? Now what? To me, philosophy is supposed to help us live life more effectively, not pour so much sand in the gears that living and thinking grind to a halt — both individually and as a society. I agree with Scientific Materialists that every idea should be put to the test, and when I test this one in the laboratory of Real Life™ it collapses into absurdity.

Aristotle argued that everything has a cause, and if you trace the chain of cause and effect back far enough you end up with the First Cause — God. Who I’d say has First Choice. But if we have Choice too, then perhaps that is an essential part of how we are created in Her ‘image and likeness’.

One of the tenets of Buddhism (and others) is that we all have ‘monkey minds’ that are constantly jumping from one idea to another while chattering incessantly. And that this monkey mind is so distracting that we generally miss the profound experience of Life passing right before us. Observe your own thoughts for a moment and you’ll see they’re on to something. Hence meditation — learning to quiet your monkey mind so you can truly experience Life for the first time. Another name for this new/old idea is Mindfulness — that to fully experience your loved one’s face, or a flower, or the taste and texture of an apple is a new experience awaiting us that leaves Facebook and Netflix in the dust.

So why not extend the idea of Mindfulness one step: To be mindful of our Choices. And not just the big ones — a weight problem today is in part the result of countless choices of French fry instead of carrot stick over the years. Instead, apply that idea of Mindful Choice to all I am today and yearn to be tomorrow. Plain vanilla Mindfulness has a passive quality to it — I ‘passively’ observe the flower — and that remains an awesome exercise. I’m suggesting applying Mindfulness to the active Choice I can exercise every moment. The idea that Choice is an essential part of our God-given Freak Fire, therefore “Mindfully Choose!” in every moment — this is new for me, and I can’t begin to imagine the implications.

P.S. The ‘passacaglia’ was originally a slow dance that originated in 17th century Spain: “pasar” (to walk) and “calle” (the road). It’s built on a bass melody which begins the piece and repeats for the duration while variations cavort above it. To me Lent is a paradoxical season of both quiet introspection and titanic struggle and this piece has both, so it’s a fitting way to begin Walking the Road of Lent.