Hey, what do you think free will is? People these days all have come to believe that it is real, but rarely can they explain why. As materialistic as people might have become, they still believe in something as metaphysical as a soul, and for whatever reason, this undefinable entity is what houses the engine of free will, the mechanics left unexplored. My cursory glances at brain science seems to suggest that our decision making is dictated by multitudinous processes too complex for ourselves to understand, and thus we have packaged it all into a black box we call free will.
Do you think that when we die, we just disappear? Like sleep without dreaming forever?
Why are we conscious? Is consciousness just an unintended side-effect of the most advanced data processing algorithms that chemistry and biology could offer?
I wonder about these kinds of things all the time, and I wonder whether there’s anything that can answer these questions, because no matter who I ask, no matter how many, everyone has a different answer.
How can this be? Some other questions I think about. How can so many thinking brains experiencing so many different kinds of lifestyles disagree on these horribly fundamental questions? Ever since I was a child, I’ve been a little different from everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think of myself as some kind of stand-out super star of anything. I’m average to an exceptional degree, but no one else seemed to think so. A lot of the children around me at school somehow heard a rumor from somewhere that I did not have a father. Not just within at home, but biologically, because I am a perfect genetic clone of my mother.
The adults treated me with care like a porcelain doll, while the other children treated me with child-like fascination, which if you know anything about children, involved a lot of poking and provoking. Ever see a little boy before an ant hill? Wanton, curious destruction is always involved.
Some of them genuinely believed I had super powers, which I played up so that they might leave me alone. I warned them that if they messed with me, I would use my psychic powers to turn them inside out. This seemed to dissuade the more imaginative ones, but the disbelievers would call my bluff, eventually breaking down the lie. So many afternoons spent crying home to my mother, who would stroke my head and offer honey tea to calm me down.
Despite the campaign of terror inflicted on me, I found that the psychology of a human being is resilient. I kept living life, growing numb and accepting that this is simply who I was. Over time, the kids grew bored of teasing me as well, eventually moving on to target others, almost at random. Honestly, I could see no pattern in it.
There was one little girl in elementary school, when I was already an adult, whom I witnessed being pushed around. For reasons beyond my understanding at the time, I stood up for her against these tiny schoolyard bullies. “I heard of her! She’s the clone!” they shouted when they saw me, referencing some obscure sci-fi movie right afterwards with their poses. “Yeah, leave her alone, or my clone army will come for you.” That gave them a good laugh, and they turned to leave, uncommitted to harassing an adult it seemed. It didn’t take much at all. I asked her what her name was and why they were bullying her. Insensitive, maybe, but I didn’t think about it at the time. She quietly replied that her name was Vanesa, and that she wasn’t a real person.
I pressed, asking why she was saying that, and she said that she was made-up. Artificial. That she didn’t have a mommy or a daddy. It turned out that she was indeed an orphan, taken in by foster parents. A designer baby that did not turn out how her parents wanted, and thus, abandoned. My heart broke for her, and I swore to come back to her home with a gift when I visit.
That night, when I told my mother about the bizarre occurrence, she smirked and smugly added that I was most certainly her daughter for being bold enough to stand up to a bunch of children. Well, that was a given since we look almost identical, anyway, but I asked her what she meant. I never appreciated her brand of sarcasm.
“I never told you, did I? Maybe it’s about time.”
“You can’t just start a conversation like that, momma.”
“You’re right, let me ask you something else then. Do you know where you come from?”
“From you. I’m an exact replica of you, but different. Like an identical twin.” I gave her the side-eye. Usually she found it funny.
“Exactly, and do you know where I come from?”
She laughed, “Yeah, originally, we are all from Virginia. I’m a clone of my mother, too, except I never got to meet her.”
I blinked in confusion, “What?” It was all I could muster.
“Yes, she had passed away in 1951, but some big-head scientist decided to bring her back to life in the form of me, and in the form of you from me.”
“I thought it was illegal to clone someone dead.”
“Oh, it most certainly was, and I was national news for a long time. Your momma was famous, you know. You’re not the only one. Except, in some ways, it’s more fair to say that I’m your older sister.”
“What are you saying?”
“Well, it’s been on my mind lately, and you’re already in college so it’s about time you know the truth. I’m getting on in years so I want you to hear it from me before anything happens.”
“Momma! You’re only fourty!” It was true though. She was aging pretty rapidly, which is a side effect of some of the older clones.
“Thank you, darling. I shielded you from the truth for as long as I could. I really wanted you to have a normal upbringing, the kind I couldn’t ever have. Sometimes I was even jealous of how blissfully ignorant you were.”
“That isn’t why you hit me, right?”
“No, that was discipline. That’s because I love you. And I’m saying this because I love you. The truth is that we were human experiments. The government granted me and you human rights only after the UN became involved, but now all of that might be changing again. Originally, we were cloned to produce certain cells, but the process resulted in viable fetuses. When that happened and the lead scientists reported it, the details were leaked to the press, which then exploded into another huge scandal.” She took a sip of her honey tea. Her favorite and my favorite drink in the whole wide world. She seemed as serene as someone recalling a nostalgic picnic.
But I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. Not a single snarky remark came to mind.
My mother continued, “I’ll cut to the chase. Darling, I have cancer. It’s only a matter of time before they come to take me back. They want to examine me.”
I sighed, “Oh, good. No one dies of cancer nowadays, momma. I’m sure they’ll want to take care of you. You’re a celebrity, right?”
“No, no. I said they want to examine me, not treat me. They want the cancer to go as far as it will go before it kills me, and then they’ll extract it and study it. Isn’t it gruesome?” she added with a snarl.
“That’s… that’s illeg-“ I barely stuttered the words before she interrupted.
“They write the laws, darling. The people in charge are different from the ones that liberated you and me twenty years ago. Hey, at least they had the good will to warn me that they’ll be coming for me once I’m ready. That’s more than I expected.”
“I’ll go to the media! I’ll go to social media! I’ll find a lawyer! What kind of… why would they? That makes zero sense!” I was panicking so rapidly I was surprising even myself. I could sense the clamminess of sweat on my palms, now gripped into fists.
“They said they would give you everything you need once I’m gone. They don’t need you if they have me, you know? You and I are the same, so you’re at risk of having cancer, too, but you never have to go through that pain if I do. Do you see what I’m saying?”
“I… I don’t…” Tears welled up in my eyes because I knew exactly what she was saying. I was too young and apathetic to realize my mother’s horror during election night seven years ago. I always thought things like that were a world divorced from my own. It’s all I could think about in that moment. The ghostly expression of death itself worn on my mother’s face that night in contrast to the angelic visage of peace worn on my mother’s face now.
“You’ll be alright, darling. And so will I. Don’t worry about a thing.”
“They can pick someone else, can’t they?”
“It would have to be you.”
“I’ll do it then!”
“How come I don’t get a choice in all of this, huh?! You decided this all on your own!”
She then said the words I might never forget. “Can’t you let your mother be selfish for once in her life?”
They shut me up real quick, and I cried and I cried into her arms as she stroked my head, whispering that it would all be okay. Whenever she spoke, it almost sounded like I was talking to myself, which made that moment feel all the more surreal. It would all be okay, I tried to convince myself.
My mother passed away in a government black site facility. I do not know the details of her death. I do not know where she died. I have tried to find out more but have been met with no leads or clues, and I was forced to give up by court order.
Would I have done the same thing in her shoes? Despite it all, yeah, I would have. It makes me wonder how much of my own thoughts and desires are determined by “free will” and how much of it is determined by my genetics. Will I see her in heaven? Will we be the same person? Or different, but pretty darn similar? So many questions still run through my head after all this time.
I was given life in order for others to benefit from my sacrifice. Unlike most, there actually was a reason why I was born, but I have absolutely no desire to fulfill it. What then do I choose to dedicate my life to? Is it justice for my mother? That was a choice she made, too. This might be a twisted conclusion, but I can’t take that away from her. Maybe it’s to live a life that our original could not live, with opportunities she never had?
So many questions, and none of them can be answered scientifically. As badly as I want to know the answers, I’m not sure if it’s worth the trouble sometimes, you know?