I work right next door to Century 21, a fabulously popular discount department store, famous all over the world. At one time or another, I have gone through various levels of involvement with the store. For periods of weeks or months, I have visited it daily on my lunch hour, usually buying a few shirts, a belt, socks, or during some stretches, a different pair of shoes each week. Now, I never go there. The thought of walking in there bores me stiff.
What changed? Why did it change? Oh, you can say I just “got bored,” but why? Is there some time-dependent mechanism involved? Can we quantify it, at least for me? Is it an accumulation of small things adding up to a big, final, ho hum?
Consider all the similar changes that happen over shorter time scales – a month, a week, a day…an hour? We seem to have no control over them, we just react to them. Or are simply aware of them.
This seems to wreak havoc with our normal ideas on the nature of the self. Is our personal mentality simply a mental landscape over which storm fronts and high/low pressure areas shift endlessly, on their own power? Reason seems to have a small part to play, and is present only because we have abstract language to talk about all this.
I come back to my bedrock conviction that people are more like plants than they like to think. Free will exists, but there’s less of it than we pretend. We are just organisms in an environment, responding and surviving. Even our mental life, about which we are so proud, is hardly of our “own” creation.