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Notes from the Underground

VIII
"Ha! ha! ha! But you know there is no such thing as choice in reality, say what
you like," you will interpose with a chuckle. "Science has succeeded in so far
analysing man that we know already that choice and what is called freedom of
will is nothing else than--"
Stay, gentlemen, I meant to begin with that myself I confess, I was rather
frightened. I was just going to say that the devil only knows what choice depends
on, and that perhaps that was a very good thing, but I remembered the teaching
of science ... and pulled myself up. And here you have begun upon it. Indeed, if
there really is some day discovered a formula for all our desires and caprices--
that is, an explanation of what they depend upon, by what laws they arise, how
they develop, what they are aiming at in one case and in another and so on, that
is a real mathematical formula--then, most likely, man will at once cease to feel
desire, indeed, he will be certain to. For who would want to choose by rule?
Besides, he will at once be transformed from a human being into an organ-stop
or something of the sort; for what is a man without desires, without free will and
without choice, if not a stop in an organ? What do you think? Let us reckon the
chances--can such a thing happen or not?
"H'm!" you decide. "Our choice is usually mistaken from a false view of our
advantage. We sometimes choose absolute nonsense because in our
foolishness we see in that nonsense the easiest means for attaining a supposed
advantage. But when all that is explained and worked out on paper (which is
perfectly possible, for it is contemptible and senseless to suppose that some laws
of nature man will never understand), then certainly so-called desires will no
longer exist. For if a desire should come into conflict with reason we shall then
reason and not desire, because it will be impossible retaining our reason to be
senseless in our desires, and in that way knowingly act against reason and
desire to injure ourselves. And as all choice and reasoning can be really
calculated--because there will some day be discovered the laws of our so-called
free will--so, joking apart, there may one day be something like a table
constructed of them, so that we really shall choose in accordance with it. If, for
instance, some day they calculate and prove to me that I made a long nose at
someone because I could not help making a long nose at him and that I had to
do it in that particular way, what freedom is left me, especially if I am a learned
man and have taken my degree somewhere? Then I should be able to calculate
my whole life for thirty years beforehand. In short, if this could be arranged there
would be nothing left for us to do; anyway, we should have to understand that.
And, in fact, we ought unwearyingly to repeat to ourselves that at such and such
a time and in such and such circumstances nature does not ask our leave; that
we have got to take her as she is and not fashion her to suit our fancy, and if we
really aspire to formulas and tables of rules, and well, even ... to the chemical
retort, there's no help for it, we must accept the retort too, or else it will be
accepted without our consent ...."
 
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