You sit alone in a dark room. There is no light. A smell playfully teases your nostrils. Whatever it is, it’s sweet and overbearing. You vacillate back and forth between the questions of where you are, are you in danger, and what heavenly concoction could possibly be filling up your airways.
Just as you are about to go in a craze guessing from all of the above, the lights turn on. A cake and a pie rest in front of you at arms reach. Your mouth salivates uncontrollably. You try to reach for them, but your hands are tied behind your back. You can’t even clean off the saliva dangling from your lips. A voice echoes off somewhere in the distance, “You can only choose one.” It is then, with drool licking the corners of your mouth, when you wonder if there have ever been more cruel words known to humanity? And so the age-old question of cake versus pie begins.
Both have their respective strengths. There is the unforgettable fluffiness that is a cake’s interior contrasted with the unruly crunchiness of the pie. The pie is a mystery, where each little nibblet is filled with inconsistency. No two bites are the same and no two pies are the same either. It is like the electrifying chant of pi; unique, irrational, and infinitely great.
The cake on the other hand, does not like to leave its form to the gods of chance. Structured meticulously, the cake is what Heaven looks like during an open house: flaked with powder, cemented with ice cream, and glazed with frosting. Unlike Heaven, however, you don’t have to die to get there. All that needs to occur is that your taste buds have to experience ecstasy with each and every bite.
Considering all this, your hungry stomach must decide only on one. Choosing one thing is easier with only two choices than it is with three or four; so hey, mathematics should be on your side. Mathematically then, it is a simple choice. It should be as easy as pie, simple as a cakewalk.
Yet in your naivety and hunger, you fail to realize nothing is ever easy. Nothing is ever simple. Even the most elementary of thoughts are an elaborate logical underpinning. Consider such examples. One plus one equals two, and yet, sometimes it equals three. The whole algebraic system is put on edge dependent on the symbol and model set being described. Another example is our very existence. The reality we purportedly claim to live within wilts away in a nihilistic fashion when we ask ourselves, “Is this really reality?” Similarly then, even the once simple choice between the cake and pie becomes something difficult. It is not solely a choice between two things, but an infinite amount of choices leading up to that one decision. The problem with that is we have a difficulty pinning down infinity. In addition to the endless circling of infinity, another problem arises: there is no such thing as a choice. All choices, whether determined or not, do not exist.
Now unlike most people, I will not swirl down the road of determinism. I am purposely avoiding the hard fought arguments of determinism versus free will. They are extensive and I could not do them justice here. That being said, however, I wouldn’t want to anyways for I do not care for them for the most part. Life is already confusing enough. If things are determined, then they are and I was meant to avoid such an argument. If they aren’t, then they aren’t and I “chose” to avoid such an argument. To be honest, I try not to worry about the two. To me, life can be spelled out easy enough, despite its confusing nature. This is how: let people take care of themselves by taking care of one another; everything else is just funny business. That’s the golden rule. That’s determinism and free will summed up in a sentence.
That being dully noted, the cake versus pie lack of choice argument ensues. Let’s hypothetically say that by chance, you somehow make up your mind. Consequently, there blossoms an innate argument whether the choice truly belongs to you. In the aforementioned scenario, there is no choice. There is only coercion. You must choose one while the other is out of the question. No ifs, ands, or buts. What of the unforeseen consequences of the choice however? You cannot hope to know them and so, in the moment, they do not matter to you. But what of the choice as a whole? That is the ultimate question. If the choice belongs to you, so do the consequences of that choice, whether unseen or not. If it doesn’t, can the same be said? Well I call bullshit and say neither of those statements I offered are accurate. The choice is simply not yours to begin with, regardless of scenario. Deep inside that big brain of yours, whether you attempt to battle with having your cake and eating it too, the very choices you make are not yours to call your own. No choice belongs to you, even if you believe you have sired the cerebral rocket fuel to think otherwise.
Let me explain.
The choice between the cake and pie is in fact an infinite amount of choices, most of which, you have little control over and have culminated into a preprescribed point. To demonstrate this, we begin with the time before the cake and pie sang their enchanting tune of a pseudo-choice. To be precise, it is the time before time: the creation of the Universe. This is a fitting place to start because as Carl Sagan said, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, first, you have to invent the Universe.” So we start in darkness, but even that is a poor description. Instead, think of the darkest thing you can imagine, and then imagine darker. Nothing is there, as though ‘there’ can be described as a place of nothingness. And yet, nothing is still something, and so the Universe forms in an instant as if to amend its paradoxical nature.
From the sexual super-symmetry of the Big Bang, order brings disorder, and the Goldilock’s conditions of the cosmos unravel itself out. With conditions not too hot, not too cold, but just right, complexity generates complexity only to generate even more complexity. Each complex thing is different from the next. The once imperceptibly organized darkness creates a dense, chaotic Universe, which only brings about more chaos. Energy shatters into electromagnetic, gravitational, and strong nuclear forces. Forces congeal to form leptons and quarks. Leptons and quarks culminate into atoms, and so the timeline spans until finally from this cosmic mess, human beings arrive bustling as a resultant process more complex than we could ever imagine.
During this entire process of creation, the Universe didn’t ask for your consent. Not once did it stop and say, “Hey. Maybe I should ask somebody if this – this constant expansion, this inevitable crunch, this birth and destruction – is alright.” Instead, it kept on racing forward. It built and dismantled billions upon billions of stuff before us humans ever plopped into existence. When we did, we became just another mote of dust floating in the cosmic sea. We are no more pertinent than a pine needle in a forest.
But our insignificance to the Universe’s expansion is marvelous. For only because of its chaos and indifference did we blossom. The miracle of humanity is how miraculously we have risen. From stardust to human flesh, we have become beautiful things. It is not the type of atoms that compose us that make us mystifying; it is their organization, an organization that determines all else. And so, the second place where your life moves on without your choice is your birth.
Like the creation of the cosmos, your birth was done without even a murmur of assent. Your parents didn’t even have the courtesy to ask if you wanted to be born. Maybe you wouldn’t. I mean who would want to be born in a world that someone else messed up anyways?
Sadly, that consideration did not belong to you. Instead you were constructed without permission. You began as a resultant process of complexity, an intricate molecular machine morphed a million times before. Approximately x amount of years, y amount of months, and z amount of weeks ago, you were little more than a mothball of cells. In the human Big Bang, sperm met ovum and ovum met sperm. Soon, the iterative process of life began: cells became tissue, tissue became a body, and an amorphous blob of goo became something more than it’s indistinctness could ever mask. Waterfall upon waterfall of hormones and chemicals swelled up in a hectic fury to shape you. To say it succinctly, as a bucket full of minerals and blood, you became a miracle.
With that beautiful longish-short hair, and those blue-green gems for eyes, and the endlessness of space in between the letters of your name, you were hidden in a unique mysterious code. No other person had that exact genetic structure, even if you were fortunate enough to have an identical twin. It was this majestic enigma of genetics that molded you from your birth. Your very persona – no, your very existence – was decided by these genetic forces. A deletion of chromosome five resulted in cri-du-chat. An autosomal dominant mutation on either copies of the Huntingtin gene resulted in an inevitable existence riddled by Huntington’s disease. And so the physical forces spun farther and farther from your control. Before you even gained consciousness, your physical identity had been determined.
From there, you were raised in the social constructions around you. What they were, you had no say. In fact, the social constructions you inhabited barely noted your presence. The world was here before you and the world will be here after you. In this way, although you had been defined as a genetic blueprint, you do not necessarily follow it. This is where other genetic blobs enter the scene. People like your father or your mother designed the world you lived in. Whether it was luxurious or not was a set variable. It was the constant in the equation of your life. If your mother had had a business suit rather than a housecoat, then would she have been there to cuddle you during those lonely nights? If you had been born into poverty, would you have the literacy to read this? Whatever circumstance defined the way you socially developed in this world, it was entirely unique to you. In the early age of your existence, social construction expressed some of your genetic code while repressed other intricacies of it. So the very act of existence changed the way you existed.
In my case, I was raised a Catholic of Jewish and Polish descent with immigrant parents who struggled to make ends meet in a country they could barely call a home. In yours, who knows? What matters though is that the resultant processes that have shaped us both are different. Even my twin and I were raised differently, albeit the fact that my parents attempted to adhere to a similar social model. I became the early leader; he, the hesitant follower. Whether it remains as such is irrelevant. Instead, the social constructions that crafted my brother and I, and the ones that molded you alike, made us perceive the world in a certain manner. The way we existed changed our perception of existence. In this regard, we all view the world relative to how our experiences have sculpted us to see. A person does not touch a stove because they learn it is hot, but they touch a girl for very much the same reason that they don’t a stove.
So in each decision we make, we reflect the experiences we have lived to survive through. For example: some of us have been told the impeccably profound mantra of “thinking before you act.” Most of us attempt to do this. With the extent of our ignorance stretched to its maximum, we try to stave off our narrow mind and see beyond what lays before us. If we see a hand, we wish to see the table that it is touching. If we see a painting, we baffle in wonderment as to why the painter stroked it the way they did. As such, we attempt to reason with the unseen, balancing an act of comprehension and guesswork into a wonderful formula called rationality.
And yet, our ignorance stretches greatly and our rationality stretches little. Once we see the table that is all we see. We fail to see the floor, the cement, the dirt, the critters crawling beneath it all. We fail to see the overarching picture because we have the inability to truly know what our place is in the world. We live in it, but we can barely say we know it. As humans, we balk at our own existences simply due to the fact that we are insurmountably amazed at the complexity of them, not to mention the fact that our lives are not our own. Your eyes can see, but they can’t see their own structure. Your brain can think, but it can’t think of how it came to be the way it is. It can guess. It can construe probabilities. But it cannot know. All that can be known is that we can look at things, shake our head, and walk around aimlessly in a Universe that is not universally known. At least, not to us.
Yet, you feel as though despite the lack of understanding in the world, the Universe being created beyond your control, the fact that you never asked to be born, and being a sum of all the processes that have ever occurred, your bodily shape is defined more than just nucleotides mis-mashing together and prefabricated social constructions. Nucleotides can be rearranged and social constructions can be demolished, so says your optimism. You attempt to go beyond what has defined you. In doing so, you carve your way through the abyss of unknown. Each supposed choice you make leads to another as you attempt to become independent from what you’ve known and what has cradled you. Your mother’s hands are a resting memory, only to be awoken on her birthday and/or anniversary. The comb that your father used to brushed your hair no longer collects hair but dust. So life goes. You move on and on through transition after transition, only to find yourself living a life you apparently chose for yourself. This is the life you wanted. The businessman/the doctor/the philanthropist/the wife/the mistress/the dog/the dominatrix are all satisfied because you are. Finally, you have had your say in a world that didn’t ask for you to say anything, in a Universe that can’t hear you anyways. You finally think that with the choices you made, the world is your oyster. After years upon years of the grains of time nestling themselves into your shell, you have morphed into a sparkling pearl.
But in the ocean nicknamed life, the waves in which the sands of time surf upon are sired by a force greater than ourselves. They are called the waves of luck. They are the waves that nestle a lottery ticket into a hobo’s hands while they take everything from the richest man in the world. Why these waves exist, no one can be certain. You can’t even begin to comprehend them. But whatever luck is, I feel Kurt Vonnegut described it the best, “The only thing I ever learned was that some people are lucky and other people aren’t and not even a graduate of the Harvard Business School can say why.”
Despite lady luck whistling our way or not, we believe we can transcend what has formed us, as if by becoming something beyond a blueprint we can have a choice in a life that wasn’t our choice to begin with. That is an elaborate farce. Such optimism is pure poppycock sewn together only to inspire hope. It is the lie of humanity. But it is a necessary lie, one which keeps us alive and sane. It is so necessary in fact, that it is one of the main reasons why human beings lie every day. Consider such examples. “You look great” is another way of masking your friend’s protruding forehead. “Those are some beautiful eyes” are but words masquerading under the ruse of “I wouldn’t stare in those beady little things for longer than ten minutes.” Deception; it is a fundamental part of life. This is because as human beings innate to competition and the forces of natural selection, we seek to gain advantage and hide our weakness.
As a result, life begins with self-deception. That’s is when we convince ourselves that a lie is a truth. Compulsive gamblers are experts in it; they believe they can win, forgetting the time they loose. It is this ability to forget, where the bad experiences simply disappear, that keeps us alive. We can move on and live to hope for a better day. In this vast and lonely cosmos, self-deception causes us to be so wonderfully optimistic. We live persisting in a positive illusion. A world we cannot understand is cloaked under a smile of a stranger, hopeless romantics make us believe them when they say “I love you”, and single notes of music, when played together, compose a sonata and conjure up meaning. The world around us only works because we fail to see reality, fail to see the overwhelming complexity inherent in all things, and most of all, fail to understand that we are lying to ourselves when we say we could begin to understand the Universe.
And so, before you even have the chance to rattle off the choice between cake or pie, you fool yourself into believing you have one. The world you have been constructed in requires this. Your genetic code molds a brain to think, a thinking brain molds the reactions to the social constructions you inhabit, and your social constructions equally determine which components of your genetic code are expressed. In order to survive this complex process, humanity must persist in a lie. Who would want to live in a world they pretend they have little say in? What pleasure could be derived from knowing that their life is not their own? If lady-luck lifts her skirt, and you keel over because of it, can you say you have choice? No, at least not one that is beyond what you have been wired to chose from. So before you can utter “pie” or “cake”, the words are sucked out like a vacuum. Choice, the finicky little deception that it is, becomes the succubus of humanity ready to turn us into mindless zombies with hope for a life we have no business deciding, no business controlling, and no business holding on to.