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The Eternal Stoic Question: Is It Up To You?   


This is a guest post by The Eudaimoniac, and it is a long meditation on the nature of control. The nature of control is one of the most important notions in Stoicism and is the reason why it is the first meditation in The Daily Stoic book. You can read that meditation here and then read the below guest post. Visit The Eudaimoniac’s website here: theeudaimoniac.com


What We Can Fully Control.

As a sentient being, I know that I can control my thoughts. From this I can deduct that as my actions are controlled by my mind, I, therefore, must be able to control my actions.

While I completely reject that everything is predestined, I do think that the world is causational: what came before affects what is happening now, and the things that happen now affect what will happen later. Everything is the sum of its causes and everything has a cause.

“I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.” Stephen Hawkings

Of course, I am eliminating from this discussion on what we can fully control the instinctual reactions one may have to external events, such as pulling your hand back from a flame, turning your head away from an incoming punch, or (perhaps) looking at an attractive person as they walk past. These mechanisms often completely skip the conscious part of our brain to increase the speed at which they happen.

Note the distinction between controlling one’s actions and controlling one’s body. You cannot fully control your body. You cannot stop yourself sweating, digesting the food you have eaten or bleeding when you are cut. You can, by making the choices in your diet and exercise regime, lose fat and gain muscle but that amount to only partial control of your body. We will discuss the interesting topic of partial control a little later on.

Another way to add more weight to the argument that we can fully control our thoughts and actions is to ask the question if it possible for someone else to control our thoughts and actions.

So let’s do it, let’s ask this question and see where it leads us. I’ll break it down into two parts, our thoughts and our actions.

Can Someone Control Your Thoughts?

The answer here is a definite no. If you are not careful, you can let others influence the way you think. An obvious example of this is with advertising. An advertising agency only needs to make you see the same advert less than a dozen times for it to have some effect. It is estimated that the average person is bombarded with around 250 direct adverts per day (such as internet and tv advertising and billboards) and up to 3000 visual attacks (such as labels on clothing, etc).

In contrast with the claim I made earlier about advertisers only needing less than a dozen messages