Citizen Shane

Contributing writer for The Artifice.

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    I think framing choice in the context of chance works on both physical and a metaphysical levels. Choices are decidedly not independent phenomena, they are outcomes subject to a variety of constraints, as you alluded to. However, my further claim is that not only do we not “choose” those constraints, but that those constraints are driven by and based on chance. Through this meta-structural lens, the act of choosing and the act of flipping a coin are analogous, much in the same way that Chigurh and Jesus share a meta-structural bond. You could say the coin (or, more accurately, the coin flipper) “chose” heads in the same way that you chose to wear a red shirt, looking at the processes from a most constitutional perspective.

    NOTE: I think it’s helpful to distinguish chance from randomness. I use chance as a broader term, such that randomness is a subconcept within the framework of chance. In other words, something does not have to be strictly random in order to be based on chance. When you said “it can’t be as simple as a random selection of a set of outcomes, but rather, chance provides that set of possible outcomes and the circumstances that may lead the chooser to any of them,” I thought you described things perfectly. Things are not necessarily random, but chance is interwoven into the outcomes and the ways in which those outcomes can be realized, which makes those outcomes inherently chance-driven.

    Additional layers of my claim deal with free will, as well as the nature of the universe. Without delving TOO deeply, I believe there is substantial evidence that probability is indeed the a fundamental underlying force in the universe, from a physical, metaphysical, and quantum perspective. We can consider this in a number of ways, on an individual human level and on a universal level:

    1. The conditions into which you are born into existence (family, era, climate, social structure, etc.) have direct circumstantial effect on you but are not governed by anything other than chance. This extends all the way to the physical process of conception, which is almost entirely probabilistic. Even if we are totally autonomous, willful beings, any actions you take are automatically compounded on the outcomes of chance-based events, which make them chance-based as well at some level. Your “choices” depend on previous choices, which in turn depend on further previous choices, which in turn ultimately depend on your birth and your very existence. This is a core concept in No Country, in which one’s “trajectory” is a cumulative set of outcomes and thus simply an instance of serial probability.

    2. We know human “decisions” are heavily influenced by neural patterns and pathways which we begin to develop before we can even form memories; we also know that decisions are significantly driven by external bio-social-physical pressures which we do not have much (if any) control over; further, we know that a great deal of decision-inducing neuronal activity occurs in the brain prior to our conscious perception of said decision, and that such activity is based in part on the aforementioned pressures. Can we attribute these dynamics to anything other than chance, at the most fundamental level? If so, I would be interested to hear your take on what that attribution might look like.

    3. The very positioning of electrons within atoms – which governs the properties of much of the physical world we inhabit – is inherently probabilistic, as are certain aspect of the process of human evolution.

    In short, if we frame one’s choice to wear a red shirt instead of a blue shirt in broader context, it is nearly impossible to consider it a “choice” at all. There are too many other factors working in background that are based on outcomes, that are based on probability, that are based on other outcomes, that are based on other elements of probability, that are based on other outcomes, ad nauseam back to the dawn of the universe. I believe using this context is the optimal way to view human activity, because it accounts for our reality most accurately.

    For all we know, the Big Bang itself could have been a coin flip.

    No Country for Old Men: Choice, Chance, and Being

    Thank you. Religious thinking definitely plays a significant role in the novel. It just so happens that Chance constitutes a new and abnormal sort of religious thinking.

    No Country for Old Men: Choice, Chance, and Being

    Shelved morals, yes. But to what end? Depends on how you’re defining success. It seems most likely to me that morality is a human contrivance which has no relevance to universal law, and that includes the universal law Chigurh embodies.

    No Country for Old Men: Choice, Chance, and Being

    I would say that the urge to believe in God doesn’t necessarily make us more human. It is the urge to wonder, not to believe, that defines us.

    No Country for Old Men: Choice, Chance, and Being

    Hmm, interesting. It seems pretty clear to me that Chigurh answers to a higher power, but that power is not God.

    No Country for Old Men: Choice, Chance, and Being

    The thing about Primer is you have to have an interest in attempting to delineate it. If you’re that sort of person, the value of the film will grow with each viewing, so it can become a very time-consuming endeavor.

    If you’re that kind of “thinking and solving” person, though, you will get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from finally saying you have a comprehensive view of the film’s dynamics. And the more you consider the fact that one man is essentially responsible for every aspect of the entire thing (with minuscule budget), the more amazing and awe-inspiring it becomes.

    8 Films in Desperate Need of Your Attention

    You make some good points. The subject of note for me is not necessarily that 1% of the art gets 99% of the attention, as you say. This is definitely something to consider, but my concern lies mostly in the fact that this 1% is progressively becoming more and more formulaic, shallow, and meaningless (at least when it comes to film).

    8 Films in Desperate Need of Your Attention

    Mr. Nobody is absolutely one of my all-time favorites as well, and that’s really a significant thing for me considering the number of films I’ve seen

    8 Films in Desperate Need of Your Attention