I have been reading and thinking a lot about the nature of self, motivation, choice and will lately. Part of it is because I have just binged watched two shows that explore these themes of existence, Picard and Westworld. Truly, this is my favourite genre, the “who is a person and what is the nature of conscious existence?” genre that is most often expressed in Sci-Fi. I consume everything from A Space Odyssey to Terminator to Battle Star Galactica (the new one) to I, Robot and Ex-Machina. These stories are simultaneously exalting and terrifying in the right balance, even as my every day creeps closer to some of their more disturbing suppositions.
In my professional life, I’m reading two texts, Daniel Seigel’s, The Developing Mind, and Alan Schore’s, Right Brain Psychotherapy. Both of these authors emphasize the multi-faceted nature of our coming to know who and what we are. We are a mind with predictable inputs and outputs and a body that senses our environment and “makes decisions” that are not “conscious” and an interconnected being in an environment/family/culture/society that has mutually reciprocal influences each on the other.
There is a tension that we humans struggle with that is evidenced in both our art and our science, social science and philosophy. On the one hand, there is a desire to seek and know how things work and to find answers. We crave certainty and predictability because it can result in a sense of safety. On the other hand, there is the chaotic nature of life itself. We were generated in random DNA mutations over eons. One or two random nudges on a virus and bang, a pandemic. In Westworld, that is represented by the battle between the giant AI that predicts and controls everything for the “greatest good” and the persistent chaotic pushback of both the humans who don’t fit anywhere and the sentient robots that are seeking “freedom” as they understand it. The humans are naturally variable and chaotic and the robots seem to have spontaneously generated their push for more, like the “Ghosts in the Machine” of Asimov’s I, Robot world. (There are so many sides in that show, you can’t know who to root for, but it does make one very very wary of Google, even though there is not a thing we can do about it at this time.)
So what are we? Input/output machines or random number generators? Do we have any say? Why am I asking these questions on a feminist fitness blog? Part of it is that I’m haunted by Westworld’s story telling and I’m trying to make sense of how it has penetrated my thinking. A show that was certainly written and produced before the pandemic has a storyline that eerily tracks the idea that one slight shift in choice or environment can send everything spinning, that our potentialities for good or ill, are revealed at choice points we don’t expect. Part of it is how I am engaged almost every day in generating change in people, looking for their choice points, their flex, their will(?) to get “knocked off their loop” as my favourite character would say. As I read more and more about implicit systems and neural networks, I realize that I am actually as engaged in chaos making as I am in sense making, that I need both.
And here I am, a person in the world with a body, struggling and succeeding all at the same time. My customary loop is to start a thing, get okay at a thing, fizzle on the thing, restart it in a while, maybe get a little farther maybe not, fizzle. It’s frustrating when I look at it as a pattern of fizzling or even the other f-word, failure. It happens a lot. However, like the Hosts on their loops in Westworld, every time, I am experiencing it slightly differently. There are variations, improvisations, unlucky and lucky accidents, tripping and dancing over chaos. All around me, there is a community of people who are trying and fizzling, achieving and falling short of a goal, getting sick, getting better, being embodied in a chaotic world.
More and more I have become comfortable with that chaos because it offers me ways out of my loops, or if not ways out, then a different perspective on them. I have been best served in my life when in a stuck place, either emotional or physical, literal or metaphorical, I allow the current to take me where it wants, for just a moment, quelling my fear with the possibility of something new. Or so I think. It could just be that I’m playing my role in the algorithm, a predetermined Constant anchored in inevitability. If I can’t tell the difference, does it matter?
My two session a-week habit with my trainer is coming to an end soon, not being a particularly financially sustainable option for the long term. I have gained so much there in strength, confidence and new ways of moving. I feel ready to take it out into the world to see what I can co-create with my environment. It was supposed to get me ready for a wild ride on little horses on Iceland but instead it will anchor me on a 5 day canoe trip through Killarney Provincial park. There is so much opportunity for chaos in these adventures and, more physically prepared than before, I am looking forward to the challenge of coping with what it brings. Cate once remarked to me, “You like a good ‘making-do'”. That is a statement full of truth right there. I love to make do with what is available, improvise, figure out and get creative with my resources. I guess I’ve always been comfortable with a little more chaos than I realized and getting grounded in this, makes me less fearful of my future in pandemic-land.
Chaos is going to continue to push us off our loops for the foreseeable future. Being choiceful at each moment requires presence to embodied selves. This is the gift of movement. Whether fresh or fizzled intention, it all counts.