I've made a lot of poor decisions when I have needed to piss. Once, I embarked on a drunken one down a dark alley somewhere near Finsbury Park station and I swear it lasted three straight minutes, during which time two police cars cruised by and I was sure I was going to be arrested. How do you tell people about that? How does that phonecall go? "Yeah, hiya. Yeah I know you were asleep, but I need £4,000 to make bail."
We piss all the time. Do you need a piss right now? Think about it. Really think. Waterfalls. Really think. That long, arcing sound that happens when you pour a bottle of water into a glass from a height. Really think about it. Do you maybe 6/10 need to piss? 7/10? Imagine one of those New York-style hydrants getting hit with a spanner so hard it explodes. Think. 8/10? Nine? Guess what: your piss is right now changing your belief in free will.
That's a thing science has discovered, anyway. According to researchers Michael R. Ent and Roy F. Baumeister, the one variable that makes individuals believe in free will isn't smoking a single blunt and spending your undergraduate year reading an Intro to Philosophy book while sat underneath a Bob Marley poster, and nor is it the result of a deep-seated belief in divine omnipotence. Instead it just depends on how many litres of Ribena you drank 90 minutes ago and how pressing your need is to piss it all out.
They found this out by the time-honoured academic method of asking 81 people to fill in an online survey. First, the survey asked the participants' current hunger, thirst and piss levels, as well as how desirous of sex they were at that moment (scientifically known as their "horny levels"). Then, a series of questions designed to gauge how much they believed in their own destiny.
The results were those who had intense and pressing physical needs – needing a sandwich, a Coke, a piss or a shag – were less likely to consider themselves in control of their own destinies. Each time we need a piss but have to unzip ourselves from a sleeping bag and go outside is a test from the universe.
Ent & Baumeister (who, if they haven't started a high-end speaker business on the side, immediately have to do so) also used the test to determine the free will of 23 people with panic disorder, 16 epileptics and 35 people from a healthy control group. What they found was those suffering from conditions generally considered to plunge the mind into a degree of mental chaos weren't actually that bothered about free will, which is fair, because it sounds like they've got plenty of other stuff to worry about anyway.
And there was a third test, too – after the initial results didn't find an especially banging correlation between hunger and free will, researchers administered the test to a new group of 112 dieters and non-dieters. What they found was, as predicted, non-dieters' belief in free will wavered the hungrier they were, while those on a diet found their free will increased. They had eaten so many carrots and denied so many doughnuts that they had bust on through and found inner peace.
What does this tell us about life, the universe, and big, string net-like philosophical concepts? Basically, that our body is more important to our decision-making than might have been first thought.
We're not just a bunch of wobbling brains with legs. We've also got bladders and stomachs and all sorts of stuff in between that effects how we think. It's a theory called embodied cognition – with roots in Kant – that holds that the nature of the mind is largely determined by the needs and form of the human body.
How do you apply such theories to everyday life? Not really sure. Just maybe eat a sandwich, take a piss or, heck, crack one out next time you need to make an important, life-altering decision.
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