Freedom In Choice, But Not Octopus-type Choice

We can bare our souls or bare our teeth.


We make choices every second of our lives. Choices about what we eat, how we think and feel, whether we notice things around us or focus on ourselves. And the choices will vary depending on our needs in these moments.

I’ve come to realize that all decisions we make in interacting with each other and with ourselves can be boiled down to two options: we can bare our souls or bare our teeth. Obviously, different circumstances call for different decisions.

Choices are a beautiful thing. One of the most distinctly human things about us.

Sure, other animals have to make choices, but would you say that other animals have free will? I see free will as one of the greatest gifts that humanity has been given. The problem with choices is that they take energy to make, and making conscious choices takes even more energy.

Our brains only have so much energy. I believe that because energy is an issue, we have systems in our brains that help us conserve energy and help us cope with the overwhelming amount of information we get through our senses – all information that needs to be processed.

Unfortunately, when we are unaware of these systems, we end up losing out on fully engaging in this vital gift of free will.

Now seems like an odd time to bring up the octopus, but I’m thinking about that creature because it is the only invertebrate that has, from an evolutionary standpoint, developed intelligence completely independent of our development of intelligence.

What do I mean by intelligence? They can learn, they can problem solve, and they will change tactics depending on what is presented to them. When I learned that these creatures have figured out how to do these things completely independent of our evolutionary progress, it made me think about exactly what intelligence is, despite how we currently define it.

In a documentary I watched, it was presented that these creatures developed intelligence by engaging with the stimuli in their environment and responding. They make choices based on direct information and what they have learned from contact with similar stimuli in the past.

Sounds like us. Or at least, sounds like part of what we do. We’re different because we have social experiences from our pasts that have impacted the choices we are likely to make, which is impacted by our worldview that was formed at a mostly subconscious level.

An octopus doesn’t give a shit whether or not he was bullied while he was forming his worldview. Wait, does an octopus even have a perspective on life? An octopus doesn’t have experiences that make it more or less likely that he will feel confident in his ability to succeed in opening a mussel.

And to an octopus, food is food and an enemy is an enemy and competition is competition. In this way, life is probably pretty simple. I don’t think an octopus needs free will. But we do.

Back to our brains and the systems designed by our evolutionary process. Because our enemies and our competition can look just like our friends and our lovers, we have to process more than shapes, colors, scents and textures to determine what is what.

(There is an argument here to be made that this need is directly related to free will, which lends itself to my argument that free will is distinctly human.)

To accommodate for this free will, we have processes in our thinking that help us figure out lover from enemy. But those systems seem to be on an eternal loop if left unattended.

As coined by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink, we have a process called thin-slicing, in which we use information gathered through one or two experiences and then use that impression to assess all future encounters with people that have been lumped into similar groups.

I think the purpose behind this is energy conservation.

Imagine having to assess each new person or situation individually without any previous information to go on. Most of us have to do this several times a day. If we didn’t have a system in place to catalog experiences and then build on those initial assessments, we’d be fucking exhausted before noon each day.

But what if our initial impression was wrong? Or, less up for debate, what if our original impression does not extend to every single person wearing the same uniform or playing the same role?

In feelings, there is no right or wrong. If the mailman kicked you in the knee and walked away laughing, you’d probably feel hurt and leery of interacting with mailmen in the future.

And years later, because of the nature of our brain systems, what we recall when approaching another mailman is our feelings, our impression of the situation, not a play-by-play of everything that happened.

In essence, without a conscious awareness of how these systems work, we are at the mercy of whatever happened to us in the past.

This works for very basic things like slicing your hand open with a chef knife or sticking your finger in an outlet. We don’t need to remember what lead up to that impulse to stick our finger in the socket, or what prior experiences that chef knife had with fingers to know that we want to avoid either in the future.

In this era of go, go, go, many wake up in an energy deficit. We spend our energy based on how we’ve learned to spend our energy.

We spend our energy without conscious awareness of what will restore our personal energy and what will deplete it. We get stuck in routines and patterns without any idea, never mind the extra energy to resolve, how to break free. We live day-to-day getting by.

When we can master our energy flow (the input and output), when we can find a harmony that leaves us running at full capacity, we can choose to spend more energy assessing people and situations in the moment instead of relying on the antiquated systems in our brains. That is what I call true freedom!

We limit our choices by unconsciously spending our energy.

And limited choices have a great impact on our ability to fully exercise our gift of free will. I believe that our lack of freedom has nothing to do with any oppressive system or situation.

True freedom depends on the individual, on what we choose to think and believe, how we choose to act.

And I personally believe that once we have the proper energy to actively participate in our gift of free will on a moment to moment basis, we will be a more peaceful species.

Because I believe that in those spaces, we will find more opportunities to bare our souls instead of our teeth.

Author: tendrilwise

Hi, I have a diploma in Journalism, I've published a novel, and I am currently studying psychology. My odd way of viewing the world either gets me kicked out of parties or invited to them. Jenn McKay

14 thoughts on “Freedom In Choice, But Not Octopus-type Choice”

  1. This is very interesting. I have a friend who works with Aquariums, and is building an inland, large, open to the public sort of giant Aquarium in California. He was telling me that an Octopus in captivity has to be engaged in play on a regular basis. Their brains need to interact. Workers at an Aquarium will toss a ball back and forth with an Octopus, or do other sorts of play. An Octopus can die from lack of play. I think as humans, we need to remember that play is important for our brains. Great article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Liesl, thanks for reading and for your comment. I’m not surprised at all that an octopus in captivity needs to be engaged in play on a regular basis, though this is something new I’ve learned. I’m now even more fascinated by this creature. Thanks for the info.
      And I agree, play is important for our brains. In fact, I think many types of play help us increase our energy which I feel is a huge factor in how our brains interact with the world.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Jenn
    I really love the story of the octopus. I didn’t know about this side of the octopus. Ya, they have a simple setup. We have to adjust accordingly to the situations. We can’t differentiate between a friend and enemy by simple looks.
    To me, thin slicing gave birth to formation of stereotypes. What do you think? We are very lazy in forming a new opinion about someone. As a result, we start framing things from our past resources only.
    Thanks for sharing wonderful insights on this topic. Have a great day, buddy.


    1. Hey Yatin! Thank you for taking the time to read my post and to comment. I believe that fear is the base of all stereo-types. In fear, accessing the energy required to assess each new person and situation is difficult, if not near impossible. In love, what some call living in abundance, we are not weighed down by consistent heavy thoughts, emotions and beliefs, and we have more energy to experience each ‘now’ as it is without being attached to any ‘then’.

      I used to see thin slicing as lazy. It made me angry because I have been on the receiving end of judgement (as have all people). But I have worked very, very hard to see everyone through compassionate eyes. And in doing so, I honestly believe that those who thin slice simply aren’t aware of another option, or, if they are, they aren’t capable of choosing to forgo judgement because of the motivations, rewards and stories that are enmeshed with their choice to judge. Making the change to love would be the undoing of everything they have created within. And that’s a scary journey!

      That does not mean that people who choose judgement are not accountable for their actions. I’m not offering an excuse. I just don’t believe that it’s my job to hold others accountable for their actions.

      What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ya, fear is the base of all the stereotypes. I believe in the law of reciprocity. The more I will give, more I will get. What I will give, I will get that thing in return only.
        It’s very hard to look everyone through compassionate eyes. But, you are definitely going to get fruitful outcomes based on the above law. Mostly people choose the thin slice route. They don’t have the patience to wait for the fruitful outcomes. As a result, they cling towards a shortcut strategy.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It is hard as fuck to look at everyone through compassionate eyes… and nothing is an all the time thing. I have to make the choice again and again. But it’s how I want to live. And I respect the free will of every human to make their own choices. I find empathy for their choices in my own experience – both past and present, in both the need and in the desire to overcome. I’m not convinced that people are aware of all the choices out there.

        I’m not sure what you call this law, but I believe that we are presented with many opportunities to get what we need. And that we broadcast our needs through our choices and actions. From an unaware state, this is frustrating (I know from experience). My small explanation is very simplistic, but it gives a general idea, I hope. Maybe we’re speaking about a similar phenomenon…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. HI Jenn

    This is quite a post. So interesting and thought provoking.

    I sis not know this much about the Octopus till I read your post. I guess they have a lot of energy to make so much decision with filters.

    I am wary of the thin slice concept because this is why people are so judgmental these days. True that with having filters, we might run out of energy but the drawback is that if we keep hoping on assumptions, it can have a negative effect.

    Thanks for this interesting post. Have a lovely week.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Ikechi! Thanks for reading my post and for commenting. My guess is that the octopus has enough energy to evolve intelligence completely separate from us (and the energy to maintain/use it) because they do not have the widely varied emotions and learned fears (therefore associations) that we do. In other words, they have less to overcome.

      And obviously there are other factors, or every invertebrate would have the intelligence of an octopus. (Or perhaps they do, and we haven’t discovered, classified and cataloged it yet.)

      I’m glad you found this post interesting. You have a lovely week as well.


  4. Hi Jenn,

    Your post got my brain cells spinning (and it wasn’t just because of the Octopus)

    I have always assumed that humans exercised their free will, with developed western countries exploring this to nearly its maximum capacity. I have never thought that our thought patterns and our systems methodology of energy conservation made the full exercise of free will a myth.

    But on a second thought, are past experiences the only reason stereotypical sentiments prevent us from trying the things that once hurt us? What about indoctrination and culture? There are people born into nationalities where it is a taboo to have certain thought patterns, hence they lack the free will to think about such things or make decisions on such matters because it is unheard of. It never even occurs to them unless they are opportuned to leave that nationality and discover it on foreign soil.

    What do you think?


    1. Hey Chioma, that’s wonderful! I don’t think that exercising the full extent of our free will is a myth – not at all. In fact, I see it as more possible in this era than in the several that have come before.

      I place indoctrination and culture in the category of past experiences – learned behavior that we must thoroughly examine and decide for ourselves whether to carry on with or discard. We never lack the free will to think of anything, but we may be born with a certain disadvantage based on our gender, culture or socioeconomic status which aim to shame us one way or another if we try to break free of that mold. That disadvantage may make it more difficult, but it can never ever take away our right or ability to exercise our free will.

      Every one of us was lead toward an inclination for/against something based on our upbringing. I believe it is our goal as adults to examine these thoughts/beliefs/ideas and to decide what we actually agree with and what we do not. (This is one reason that travel is such a wonderful thing.)

      If you’re blown away by this, you should read my post on advertising – it’s called Acceptable Neurotoxins! Here it is, if you’re interested:



  5. Hi Jenn,

    Good to be over at your blog and I’m so glad you shared it with us at the ABC )

    Freewill is a fantastic concept and tool. Everybody is given this tool to shape their lives and it is really amazing how we all use it. I’d say that exercising your freewill to make the right choices is the art of living and way to evolution. I’m sure even the octopus does that – makes its best efforts to make the right and the best choice according to its capability and resources in its eight hands and head!

    However, as you mentioned, the game for humans is a bit complex. Discerning what is the right or wrong choice is not easy. Not only the making of choice is more difficult, but a more difficult task is to garner the will to go through the process. I agree that making conscious choices consumes a lot more energy and most people avoid going that way. The easy way is to flow down the stream, and making conscious choices is like going upstream.

    Ironically, most people believe that freewill is to make just any choice that people have been making – irrespective of whether its right or wrong or where it leads to. You spend your energy trying to work through the labyrinths of life and end up suffering with miseries. Well, that’s another story but I believe life is all about making choices every moment and your future depends on them. Our future is nothing but the result of the choices we make.

    I agree that true freedom depends on the individual and it comes down to what we choose to think or act – its all in the mind. You are really free if you can think and act on your terms but you’d go one step ahead if you learn to comprehend the signals from your inner self or soul; you’d go on to make the best choices without wasting your energy. The real harmony is inside you and your freedom is always in your hand no matter where you are, till you remain sane.

    Thanks for this thought stimulating post. It has brought out plethora of viewpoints and that makes it more interesting. Always a pleasure to see our lovely Ahaian’s support each other 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Harleena! Thanks for coming over here to check out my post. You guys have been absolutely wonderful. I’m grateful to be part of the ABC community.

    Hmmm… your comment gives me pause. I wonder if the octopus does have free will. When I think of free will I truly mean exercising the full capacity of this beautiful gift which means we have the ability to rise above our basic survival skills instead of making decisions based on past learned behavior and experiences. In this respect, an octopus doesn’t need free will. S/he is quite happy and fulfilled in learning to manipulate the environment while eating clams. Of course, the octopus has the ability to choose which clam to eat and when, but I believe these choices depend more on physiological motives and opportunity than what I think of when I use the term free will.

    I agree with you that the general consensus in the mainstream population is to see free will as a kind of rebellion to authority – a “fuck you” to oppressive systems. And that is how we get locked into outsourcing our freedom without realizing it. But I think this is the consensus only because there has been no popular mainstream role model to show any other way. Most of us are stuck in the social power dynamic. We either have power over or we are overpowered. But we don’t see the other choice – to empower (both ourselves and others) – and it’s not because we aren’t capable. It’s because we are limited by our experiences and motives and desires.

    And yes, even when we cannot see the true extent of our free will, we experience suffering based on the choices we make. I don’t think many are ready to see suffering as grace, yet, but I’ll put that out there because it’s a truth that can keep us from remaining locked in our fear.

    Free will being what it is, we have the choice to live aware or otherwise. And I fully believe that because we are each so different with our individual experiences, which create a specific prioritized pattern or cycle of needs, fears and motivations, that we are always working toward our best possible lives and selves whether we are consciously co-creating or not. Individual experience (ego) is where the complexity comes into the picture.

    I agree wholeheartedly – our future is the result of the choices we make. And when we are able and ready to listen to/hear our inner selves, we start making choices that lead us more quickly to our best lives.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’ve had a wonderful time discussing this topic with the community 🙂


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