I sometimes get paralyzing waves of fear over the thought of having no free will. At first glance, there is something deeply unsettling about living in a deterministic universe. To not be the arbiter of one's decision is a terrifying notion. It is especially troubling since it is core to my identity. The arc of my life--my ambitions, drive, grit, choices, attraction to someone, pride, pride for others, love--seem to reduce to code-like phenomena. Life reveals itself to be an automatic process instead of a manual one. My own existence becomes something I never had control over. Nearly everything--if not everything--about me gets nullified. I am no longer a free agent, but a puppet of the cosmos.
A feeling of hopelessness may ensue. A distasteful whiff of nihilism in the air. A loss of responsibility. An insinuation of futility in personal determination. A loss of ambition and drive. A breakdown of will. I have had moments where I would stop in my tracks and feel like my body was not my own. It can sometimes feel like it is hard to move through space--questioning every step I have as not being my own. There is the fear that espousing this deterministic philosophy may render me non-functional. A fear of paralysis.
There is also an element of deception at play here. And because it feels like deception, it also feels like malice. Why does existence prop me up as an autonomous being if I am not? Why lead me on to believe that I have free will when I do not? Why is consciousness embedded with so many veils before my eyes that point me towards fantasies instead of realities?
It is like putting someone to sleep purposefully. Or putting a brain in a vat and giving it a signal to make it believe it is living in reality. I am like a hamster in a cage--happy with treats, abundance, and a wheel to give me the illusion of direction in life—-but I am still in a cage. I am still trapped. It is as if I should be happy to have been granted life, even though it is a house of illusions.
It is as if there were an ulterior motive. Something feels purposefully hidden from me. Something is keeping me in the dark. I am being used for something. As if the source code of my being doesn’t care about anything else other than the propagation of its genes DNA and the advancement of evolution, to pass itself on. To go forward and forward. A nefarious modus operandi.
Losing faith in my agency cultivates depersonalization. If I do not know who or what is moving my arm, and how, then I do not know who I am anymore. I may feel dismembered from my body that is neither my own nor governed by me. It can start to feel like I am watching a harrowing movie that I cannot get out of. To feel the burden and pain of existence without being able to do anything about it. There is a loss of immersion in reality and severance of connection with life.
I also get the irrational fear sometimes of suddenly getting alien-hand syndrome, whereby one loses the signature of agency as their hand moves through space - as if it were moving by itself as an “alien”. True horror would be if this spread throughout my entire body, whereby my face forges a smile while I am trapped in my head unable to evoke my true feelings of entrapment.
And to extend this horror even further, I can apply this frame of thinking onto other beings. Perhaps the most melancholic aspect of determinism is how it twists my perception of people. Everyone around me parades themselves as autonomous humans as if they were souls who governed their actions, reactions, and behaviors. As a determinist, I would see past this, and I would start to question who it is I am really seeing.
And if other humans do not have free will, then there seems to be no difference between them and non-player characters. Whether or not they espouse consciousness seems immaterial. They have no agency. They are automatic processes. I may lose touch with other beings, knowing that they are not who I thought they were. And even worse, and more deceptive, is that they are not who they think they are.