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STOIC POETRY | The Homunculus meets The Pirate Ride

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

August 28, 2019

Dear Eric,

So, if we do not have free will, then what do we make of this parade of a seemingly free and willful life? Is it just an illusion of self-guided action, decision, and personal mandate? I expect it is...

There is this thing which I call the Homunculus. I talk about it in a book I wrote called Going Alone, which I know you can never read, so I will tell you about it from time-to-time. "Homunculus" is a very old term (the alchemists loved it) referring to a little man, and in particular a small person residing within us; someone who runs the machinery of our bodies, steers the ship of who we are and makes up our minds about what we will do and how we will live. I also ascribe responsibility for our sense of right and wrong to this non-existent entity. In contemporary terms, we might use the word consciousness to describe the same thing, though I prefer Homunculus for the imagery of a little man - or woman - stuck inside our heads and manning the controls of our living. In my conception of Homunculus, this creature is utterly trapped and cannot escape our skulls, and will die with us when we pass - suffocating at last within the stopped and broken machinery of our bodies. Homunculas is a secular alternative to soul, is likewise utterly conceptual, though notably different in being utterly unable to escape our death. The Homunculus is as mortal as the human being in which it does not truly reside.

I picture the Homunculus at the control of our mind and body, like a little person within our skull who handles our dials and buttons and turns our guiding wheel. Of course, I do not really think any such an entity is just a way to imagine free will in action within us. But now that I suspect free will is an illusion, I will need to rethink the Homunculus.

Of course, the Homunculus makes choices, we all experience this apparent will every day as the thing which makes us suspect we are free. So, I can leave myself with the impression of an inner man at the helm of my mind, steering the ship and guiding the course. But could that inner person ever make any choice other than that ones it will? That is the key. And my current answer - and I will admit I have no good reason other than because I simply think so - is no, the Homunculus can never decide any choice other than the ones it will. It is locked into every decision by the grand machinations of the cosmos (part of me utterly rebels at the typing of these words - and I'm glad it does as there is a tone of nonsense in them which I need to address). Eric, I will refer you to yesterday's letter for details about why I think this unthinking unfolding of life is the case. And so this is where my concept of Homunculus runs square into a new principal I call The Pirate Ride which I might write to you about tomorrow.

Be safe...but not too safe.



My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.

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