149. The Centipede’s Dilemma (and The Trouble With Free Will)

There’s a story that goes like this:

The centipede is an interesting creature. See its hundreds of legs all moving in rhythm and synchronization with each other, all working to move the organism forward, forward, ever forward. One day someone asked the centipede:

“How do you know how to coordinate all your legs? It must be so difficult!”

“Oh, it’s actually really simple, I don’t even think about it,” the centipede replied. “First, you’ve just got to move the left legs first… Or was it the right legs? Okay, the right; no, wait, you need to alternate between the two… Wait, what?”

And so the centipede sat there, crippled by its self-awareness until the end of the day.

It’s an interesting allegory for the dangers of overthinking an otherwise simple thing. Breathing. Blinking. Keeping your mouth closed. Scratching an itch. These are things we do pretty much by default; and it’s when we become aware of it that we start to mess it all up.

After completing the epic video project, I have slowly been made aware to the fact that I have more free time than I can handle. I don’t exactly want to do anything that even sounds like work right now, so that’s out of the question – but there are only so many ways a person can keep himself entertained and occupied with so many hours to burn in a day.

See, when I was editing the different segments of the video, time became this blur in which work was done. In fact, I was hoping that the hours would pass slower so that we could have more time to fine tune the devilish little details; but time seems to shrink in direct proportion to one’s desire for it to expand.

(perhaps if we harness the power of the deadline, we could make time machines work by the powers of time relativity?)

I’ve recently installed Borderlands 2 on my home computer, and on my shelf sits the pile of book that I’ve accumulated over the past year. I suppose there are things that could fill up my time, but I’ve grown so accustomed to ignoring them that I hardly even notice they’re there anymore.

It’s a problem unique to those privileged enough to choose what they desire to do with their time – a first world problem, some would call it – the trouble with free will. When one only has so many options, the direction is clear, and the course is set. But allow one to do absolutely anything he wants – leave one to his own devices on how to fill up his time, and he will break down for a little while, staggering in the sudden freedom. It’s like being freed from the Platonic Cave, I guess; and the more I try to think of what to do to pass the time, the more undesirable these pasttime activities seem to get, when they had been so attractive only weeks ago, when I was busy.

(I am of the opinion that the best thing you can do to a writer complaining about writer’s block is to bore said writer out of his or her mind, but that’s a post for another day)

I guess free will is simply a strangely frightening thing. To be responsible for one or two relatively smaller things is simple; but to be responsible for everything is just another ball game altogether.


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