Does a Toy have Free Will?

Fred Andersson
4 min readJan 26, 2024

Being conscious is awareness, the ability to perform actions and think thoughts, process life and death, and be a part of everything — and the latter is no matter what. We can’t stop ourselves from being there, being now, even if our thoughts most of the time unnecessarily travel to the past and the future. It takes energy but also triggers the imagination. Envisioning the future basically uses the same parts of the brain that try to puzzle together the past, and that’s closely related to imagination. It says something about our existence and, in many ways, how we see reality.

If we manage to look beyond our own view on consciousness and realize that awareness works in so many different ways, a new world opens up to us. A plant is alive and well, grows and dies, evolves and feeds and kills — and it has a consciousness of its own, just very different from that of a human. I once had a colleague who obviously was annoyed at me for being such a huge fan of cats (I love them!) and told me that they only go by instincts. When the cat sleeps on top of me, it’s only to gain warmth, and when it rubs its head against mine, it’s just to “own” me because the glands in its mouth mark me and so on. If you look at that behavior from the perspective of a human, it’s not wrong, of course, but from the perspective of a cat, it IS about love, family, and care. They just show it differently, but it’s all the same. Just like language, just because a word sounds different in Japanese doesn’t mean it’s less powerful. It’s subjective — depending on who’s manifesting the feeling and who receives it.

Where is the consciousness? Is it our brain, or is it on the outside, based on all our experiences? I tend to go with the latter, as our environment — including ideas, other humans, language, art, news, and many other things — makes us what we are, at least as a frame for other people to perceive. That’s why it’s good to go empty sometimes, clear out all the noise and information, and connect to the self that’s not depending on what others might bring. But do dead things also have consciousness? Can they be conscious? Hear me out.

Look at children, look at them play. They create a whole universe that is real, at least in their view. The reason is that they haven’t been taught the materialistic view yet, that what they’re doing is just make-believe. For them, it’s real, a world where they are gods. When a kid picks up a toy, like a doll, they become the externalized consciousness of that “dead” object. Through will and imagination, they give the toy the power to perform actions, to think thoughts — to live and die. That’s the reality of the toy, just like our reality depends on what is around us to feel rewarding (at least in the modern, “civilized” society). Every time that doll (or any other kind of object) is picked up, it becomes alive and starts to “think”. The child manifests its will on a piece of wood or plastic and merges with it.

On a more sinister note, doesn’t that mean we — humans — are toys? Who is our child-god? What would happen if that child got tired and forgot about us? Is our reality to be marionettes in someone else’s game? When the brain sends a signal to move a finger, it’s already been decided, relatively long before we think that thought. Who’s pulling those strings, who are we attached to? Do we have free will?

In my belief, we have free will as long as we’re aware of it. I can’t answer if someone is pulling the strings, but I’m always ready to cut them when I feel it’s necessary. It’s possible, just set your mind to it. Dare to go against your instinct, take another path and say a different word. Just by breaking those unwritten rules, you can control your fate and slide up the walls of the reality tunnel even further.

Fred Andersson is a Swedish story producer, researcher and writer with over twenty years of experience in commercial television and the author of Northern Lights: High Strangeness in Sweden, out now from Beyond the Fray Publishing. He lives in Märsta, outside Stockholm, with his photographer husband Grzegorz and two overly active cats. Join him on Twitter and Instagram.



Fred Andersson

Author of "Northern Lights: High Strangeness in Sweden", television freelancer, mystery aficionado and cat lover.