Joshua Keel

Baby the Machine

May 10, 2019

Sometimes you have to treat yourself like a child. We’re great, lumbering machines that are hard to steer, and hard to understand. Our conscious mind is tiny, our unconscious vast. We’re aware of only the merest morsels that the unconscious drops into our view.

People say “You’re in control. You have free will.” But it’s not true. Even our truest and deepest desires are out of our control. They arise, unbidden, like ghosts in a graveyard.

It does feel like we have free will, though. We experience choices. And we should take that quite seriously. We do need to choose. The problem is that our illusion that we’re in control makes us foolish.

We need to act more like the parent who is corralling a toddler. Create the space in which good things will happen, and limit the chaos. We need to craft our environment so that we become a better person, rather than try to change our feelings or behaviors in the moment. There’s simply a limit to how much control we have over, say, an angry response. But what if we could have avoided the encounter altogether, or approached it with a different mindset?

I’ve noticed that after a hard workout, I’m more irritable and angry than I normally am. There’s not a whole lot I can do about it. I think all the strain and stress of lifting heavy things wears me out and makes me need to go take a cold shower and calm down. This is a situation I don’t actually have a lot of control over. I just have to limit the damage. I’m not going to stop lifting.

But sugar is another thing entirely. When I eat a lot of sugar—croissants, cookies, ice cream—I spend days regretting it and feeling irritable, emotionally remote, and blank. It sucks. I can’t change those responses much in the moment. They’re pretty automatic. But what I can do is never put myself in a situation where I have to experience those things.

Sometimes you have to baby this machine, this body. It’s extremely intelligent, but also quite stupid.