Freedom Of Choice Includes Freedom From Choice

A letter to myself from my dream*

Dear Tom,

By the time you read this, the exam will be over and you will have missed it. But you didn’t fail. In fact you passed, because of my quick-thinking. I told them you left as a statement: Your absence is your answer to the exam topic.

You reserve the right not to choose as an option between choices. You enjoy this freedom which you earned through your mastery of the topic. You are an expert in (emacs customisation) and it’s because you know full-well the limits and constraints of the (software) that you are able to exploit the system and thus not choose. Or, to put it another way, you choose to be vague.

This got you full marks and you passed. I saved your ass. You owe me! Hey, when you get back do you think you could help me with my exam? I’m next. Well, that’s if you get back. Are you coming back? Did you leave on purpose? You knew this already didn’t you. Oh my god, I was your pawn. You are a frikkin’ MASTER!



The context

* this is the third time my brain has handed me an answer to my philosophical blockage via dreams. The first time was the dream I had with the word ‘anisotropy’ repeatedly chorused to me in the background, which led to my early post on existence. I’ve since forgotten the second time, though it too led to a post somewhere here. But this is the first time my brain showed me the answer when I didn’t even think I was looking for one.

A little of the back story if you’re interested: in that dream, I had been walking in and around town, talking to a teacher from my high school (who in real life I’d never had as a teacher but the man just passed away a few weeks ago, so he must’ve been on my mind lately). I was bragging to him about how I was finally going to graduate from school because I’d gone back and aced my exams – this, some twenty years after I left. I found the letter above on a piece of paper taped to the closed doors of my middle-school building. The paper was crinkled from having been rained-on. The whole place had an abandoned feel to it, and I knew I was ‘risking it’ just be being there (again, in real life, I’ve been on a The Walking Dead back-to-back-to-back binge, so the whole dream was set in the middle of a ‘zombie apocalypse’). The ’emacs customisation’? I couldn’t tell you how that crept into the dream. I do love the emacs text-editor though. And I am subscribed to an emacs user newsletter so maybe my eyes glossed-over one of the summary e-mails I occasionally find in my inbox. It’s negligible so in transcribing the letter I chose to put it in parentheses. Dreams can be and often are bizarre – so I make no pretence that it’s supposed to make any sense to you

The letter itself relates to a recent post and discussion afterwards that I now realize apparently hadn’t sat well with me: Hariod‘s short final ‘thank you’ reply, which stopped the discussion without her own views on the matter, had left me wanting, uncertain.

So my brain has shown me something I’d forgotten – one of the essential qualities of the very work I’m doing: ambiguity. It is indeed when the answer is both True and False that one can ‘break out’ of that dual ‘prison’ and see them both simultaneously – i.e. from a higher dimension. Geometrically-speaking, it is from the third dimension that one can see both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of the second dimension simultaneously. The same goes for the fourth vis-a-vis the third, and so on, both ‘up’ and ‘down’ the dimensions. Humanly-speaking, one of our strengths, I hesitate even to attribute it to the ineffable ‘free will’ we so highly cherish about ourselves, is our ability to choose one, the other, both, or to not choose either. This affords us free range over the options.

La Suite

So Hariod, to further our discussion, I’ve had to revise my opinion (and isn’t that the whole point?): if I’m to heed my dream-letter then indecision should be a ‘luxury’ we afford ourselves only when we’ve become familiar with all the options – that is to say, to deliberately not-choose should only occur as a conscientious choice once one has taken full stock of the options available. That would be what I construe to be security. In contrast, to know all the options and find one’s self unable to choose, I would construe as a sign of insecurity. But what about choosing not to decide when one doesn’t know all the options available? Again, security (or ‘buy ourselves time’). And choosing an option despite knowing that we don’t know all the options available? Possibly insecurity (the ‘hasty’ decision)?

But there is a subtler distinction at work here: delaying choice due to unfamiliarity is not choosing-not-to-choose as a final answer. Indeed, in delaying, we intend to make another choice later, when we know more. However, my opinion (the ‘should be’ bits above) is that the non-choice as a final answer can foster our sense of inner security only when it is deliberate and fully-informed.

But can I also say I could be wrong on all counts? No, that’s a cop-out – again, inner insecurity taking the upper-hand, trying to buy itself a measure of security.

It is interesting however, to recognize that a ‘non-answer’ is itself a form of answer. I’ll have to keep this in mind when I continue my work on adjacency and boundaries…

Hmmm… more work lies ahead…

3 thoughts on “Freedom Of Choice Includes Freedom From Choice

  1. Yes, the concepts of positive and negative liberty. Still, here you’ve introduced the concept of ‘choosing’ as a correlate to your distinctions ‘uncertainty’ and ‘insecurity’. What is the subject-entity that chooses; what is the chooser? Can we simply say that our seeming to choose is a mental function, a product purely of the brain and ideation, and in what sense then is there any chooser and choice if the brain can only arrive at one conclusion in any given circumstance? Or is what is at work a felt disposition, and that this precedes the apparent mental choosing in itself being the arbiter? Is the apparent choosing in ideation in fact nothing but a Postdictive Illusion?

  2. I’m sorry Hariod, but ya got me stumped there… Postdictive Illusion? Woah… I haven’t thought about that possibility (makes me a little uncomfortable, to be honest). In the end, if a choice has been made, does it matter if it came from us before we thought we were aware of it or not? Or is your question asking whether we’re even the ones making such a choice (as though the choice chose itself or something?). I’m a little confused…

    1. Hi Thomas,

      What makes you ‘uncomfortable’ about the apparent choosing in consciousness being a Postdictive Illusion – an explanation after the fact? I could go into detail as to what that is, but suspect it entirely unnecessary.

      The concept of ‘choosing’ can be tricky, because it connotes a chooser – a subject, an enduringly instantiated self-entity, opting to pursue one object as against pursuing others that it may have. At the level of consensus reality, of everyday understanding, this is fine, but philosophically, it’s questionable.

      When invited to explain precisely who or what the enduringly instantiated ‘chooser’ is, people are stumped, and if we can’t explain what it is, then it calls into question the notion of choice being in any sense personal, don’t you think?

      All the best,


      P.S. Apologies for the delayed response; I’ve been busy at my place with a new post.

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