What is freedom?

Day A
Sweet beat alarm
Good energy need cig
Okay, dishes laundry interview
walk to Mac’s buy pack
“celebratory smoke”
Exercise too

Elaborate plan chump
Good impulse
See? Drugs are useful
Wife disagrees

Sure the science is ironclad
But greats were ashtrays
churchill dylan hitchens
Greatness costs
Motivated reasoning that b*tch

Why live to live long?
Short is sweet
writing tutor says
one of those days

time to smoke.

Day B
Snoozed five alarms.
Kicking the habit is hard.
Interviewing today.
Nothing worth celebrating.
Miss impulsivity.
Exercising, too.

Wife hates the smell.
So at least I’m avoiding conflict.
Therapist says we shouldn’t avoid conflict.
Why am I paying for more conflict?

I know the science.
Increase energy, taste, lifespan.
Decrease stress, stench, death.
More conscientious, less creative.
Greatness is costly.
Motivated reasoning is a b*tch.

Play with grandkids.
And no more dirty looks from Prius drivers.
Earth game over no matter the Prius drivers.
Let’s avoid one of those days.

Need a smoke.



Hello world
Can you predict my tomorrow?
Before wake, my dreams
Before sleep, whole day’s whole brain
impulses, introspections
brain interacting with environs.

Bonds built, bonds broke
grad school, pre-school
stamped in vivo.

Stresses and pleasures in puberty
Stresses and pleasures pre-puberty
Lovely womb accommodations
Forgot if mom drank. Gramps smoked.
He was also bald.



Every morning, the addict wakes to one of these two days. A coin flip, weighted of course, dictates the day she will live. On one side, her neural angels defeat her neural demons and she fulfills her daily responsibilities. Safe but drab; sober, indeed. On the other side, her impulses drive her to indulge and she renews a vicious cycle. Pain but fun; rewind, replay. Wake to different poisons. Is that freedom?

One day we will have technology to not only predict which of these two days the addict will live, but to also control which day, every day. What if we could steer the addict to the sober day? Or, if knowing the addict was destined for a bender, then not wake her from slumber?

We still need to iron the details of course. We need portable brain scanners that measure faster, smaller, and deeper than presently possible. We need better, perhaps perfect, brain models that pool methods of measurement and link levels of analysis. We need targeted brain control with specificity in time, space, and chemistry. All in living humans.

Yet the question today, of this quarter, of our generation, is not “how,” but “why,” and, “should we?” Questions scientists rarely ask. Keeping us up at night is “how do we make this damn thing work?” The only “why” is “why won’t this damn thing work?!” Knowledge is power, we’re told. Explanation begets prediction begets control, we’re taught. A noble endeavor, we believe. But should we have control?

Freedom, an odd human concept soon revealed a delusion. Scientists know the drill: every human thought, feeling, and behavior is caused by the brain, which is couched in the situation the brain finds itself. All preceded by genes, environments, and their interactions, molding the brain since birth. And genes, environments, and their interactions before birth. And before conception. Even before mom’s conception. Keep rewinding and the replay might make sense. No one promised a simple model. But if the model improves, then explanation, prediction, and control follows.

Once armed with this knowledge, the legal treatment of freedom – of individual, human, neural “choice” – amounts to word play. Law trails the garden of forking paths through history. Mens rea? What does Clarence Thomas know about the brain?

Freedom, a hard problem with no solution from either science or law, so resort to analogy. Every day, humans wake to digital blasts that rouse the same neural impulses that cause drug craving. Tweets, re-tweets, instant grams, later grams, tempting risky behaviors as in drug seeking. Different inputs, same brain, same pain but fun. Who is ever in control?

Don’t worry, our model will be perfect. We will know every thing any one ever did any where for all time for ever more. Exposing freedom as a delusion is a blessing. May we be freer knowing we don’t have a choice in the matter, nor any matter. No reward or punishment, nor justice or moral, just death and taxes. The model is true and the truth set us free. Empirical word play trumped legal word play. Knowledge was power after all!

Another day, another night. May she dream a freer brain. May tomorrow be different. More responsible, less impulsive, or not. A coin flip… a lifetime of gambles… hmm perhaps measurable with a risk-preference parameter… that puts us in the purview of the economists. Lord help us.

Cover image of cigarettes with diabolical faces designed by Jannoon028 / Freepik.