Snow Prints and Free Determinism

Snow Prints and Free Determinism

by Charles Bowie

It’s early January and the snow is here. School is cancelled and I’m just here with my dog watching the snow fall. Ahhhh, but I know my boy is going to have to go out soon, so I guess I’ll get my gear and get ready to traverse this weather.

Out in the snow, I’m bundled up pretty good. This looks dangerous yet there is also something about it that looks fun. I was born and bred in Florida, I never saw this stuff until I my late twenties, early thirty’s. I notice footprints and decide that it might be safer to just step where others have stepped so that I will not slip and fall and hurt myself and or experience embarrassment.

This leads me to today’s reflection on freedom, self-assertion and determinism. The footprints in the snow gave me some sense of familiarity and a sense of safety. If I follow these footprints, stepping where others have stepped before me, then I should be fine. Of course, “scientifically” this is perhaps not true at all since the snow in the places where others have stepped has compacted and crystallized and is therefore more slippery. My mind however, wanted to believe this was more safe.

I observed my dog and noticed how he just was oblivious to all of this and was having a grand ole time running, hoping, eating, and rolling around in the snow. His approach was novel and organic. I just wanted to get back inside and back inside we went after he finished his business. Now that we were inside I began to reflect on my dogs enthusiasm of being out in the frozen tundra. I also reflected on my timidity and willingness to just go with what others before me had done and said wait a minute, it does not have to be this way. I’ve taught students to seize their freedom and be what they want to be rather than simply following their parents, yet here I am following the footsteps of others in the snow.

It was a moment of realization of freedom to do otherwise. Thus, when I took my dog out for the second time, I intently stepped in places not previously stepped in. I made my own trail through the snow. This moment of freedom and self-assertion was quite gratifying. And then, I slipped. It was a good slip. It comes with the territory I thought. The exhilaration of stepping on my own gave me a deep sense of freedom. The slip reminded me of being determined. I was free to step where I wanted to. However, I was not free to not step in snow while outside.

Process theology reminds us that chance, freedom, and determinism are all connected and organize our experience of the world.

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