On sunny afternoons, the preschool class behind my home comes outside to play. Recently, arriving home on lunch break, I found one of their games underway.
"On the count of three," I heard the teacher call to her students, who squatted in the grass. "One, two, three!"
"I have confidence! I have confidence! I have confidence!" the children shrieked in shaky unison.
"That's right!" the teacher told them. "You believe in yourself and you can be any dinosaur you want to be! Now, on the count of three, what kind of dinosaur do you want to be? One, two, THREE!"
A roar of indistinguishable species names filled the air.
This past year, I have thought hard on the idea that we can will ourselves to be anything we want.
But can we?
"I think free will is what we call the biology that hasn't been discovered yet," I heard neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky say on a 2017 "TED Radio Hour" podcast. Sapolsky believes that human behavior — from how a person wears his or her hair to whom they marry — is not a choice but rather the result of one's genetic makeup. According to Sapolsky, we cannot control who we become any more than the velociraptor could control its taste for meat.
It is a radical theory — and I'm open to it. After all, my affinity for the natural world is a reflection of my belief that we realize inner-peace only by living in harmony with our true nature.
So I try to examine my behavior under the scope of biology. I ask myself, as a living organism, what is the function of my thoughts and emotions? How do they help or hinder my biological purpose, which is to flourish? I don't always know the answer, but I do know that the desire to feel in control is surely as innate as imagination.
That day, as I stood in my backyard listening to those children, I silently willed myself to believe in possibility, too.
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