Updated: Nov 27, 2019
There is an intimate relation between a concept and the worldview within which it resides, the universe it evokes and the sense-thoughts it brings to life once spelled – and all of it impacts opportunities for novel thoughts. What follows is an attempt at repositioning the concept of freedom away from the rooms in which one usually meets it, and submerged in an almost alien set of grounds, a sort of cosmic dance, to which we are captive beholders and which may provide us a new door to readdress freedom.
Raising eyes to the sky – probably a first daring act of bipedal rebellion, quietly lingering in the telescopes of today – How to think freedom, when observing universal flows of energy and matter? Are galaxies really out there or do we conjure them up? Is their destiny already traced for all infinities? And is there any difference – other than space and time – between the pattern that is a galaxy and the pattern that is a human?
Which is the relation linking me, a human, to the cosmic dimension? If not by the Gods, then do I have any say? How do we emerge as ordered entities in a universe of immense forces and chaotic explosions?
The story of our universe being born (by the insights of today) has three main actors: energy, matter and rules of interaction. The rules of interaction are the rules of the game by which matter and energy interact, the universal rules of physics (gravity, strong and weak interaction, electromagnetism, …); energy is radiation and heat; and matter is ever greater and more organized aggregates of particles. This view of the universe is enough to give us a story of the cosmos from its very beginnings till its end, via cause and effect. And here we have our first meeting with freedom, or better with its antithesis: determinism. Determinism is the theory that views the present state of the universe, down to its details, as the effect (outcome) of its past and the cause of its future. In principle, given enough computational power, almost all can be predicted, a priori, given initial conditions. It would seem there is no place for freedom nor novelty at this scale. The universe feels almost as a huge clock (the first ‘wonder machine’ of Newton’s times) with celestial bodies set to measure the precise passage of time. And, while the basis of determinism has been seriously shaken in the 20th century – by relativity, quantum mechanics, chaos theory and few more – it is still pretty much standing in our collective grasping of reality.
Clearly though, this is but a particular perspective to the story. There is much more to energy and matter in our world than what described above, even at the galactic scale. Energy and matter are not static, they flow and transform, at all scales. And along these flows new patterns organize, the patterns we are able to see when raising our eyes to the skies. Galaxies form as aggregates along the lines of flow of intergalactic gas, lines which span the immense distances of galactic super-clusters. Rather than the fixed points of reference, summoned by the idea of a deterministic sky, our gaze is diving into slow and incommensurable rivers. Eventful flows. Now, how do these flows happen?
Back to your table. Molecules in a cup of coffee are jiggling around, bumping into each other, dissipating heat – their activity is highly random, they do have energy (they are hot), but this energy is not cohesive. The latent motion will never organize to push the molecules to flow out of the cup on their own.
Yet, if we create a gradient – a field of differences, the overall game changes. A gradient describes the rate of change in a field that is generated and maintained by a variable quantity – i.e. temperature, gravity, or even smell, sound. A lanscape of hills and valleys in the presence of gravity – the force which grounds us to the planet surface – can be described by a gradient, a field of differences upon which for example water flows from higher points to lower ones. Also temperature can create a gradient, if we light a fire there will be a circular gradient of temperatures around it, and people will usually settle and flow in a circular enclosure around it at a particular distance. Similarly sound can attract people in a certain direction. Upon a field of differences, suddenly energy is free to flow over the gradient – and to generate a cohesive motion – flows – and with free energy we might acquire new degrees of freedom.
We are describing a “significant difference” (i.e.: sound, height, …) to which we, and the universe, make ourselves ever more sensitive. A difference whose intensity is able to generate a field of differences upon which flows and events begin to organize. And a continuously recreated difference at that. This provides us with a first interesting entry to freedom – Freedom as the dyanmics at play in the emergence of significant difference. The freedom required for a difference to be created/to emerge.
Even so, a difference will always emerge on a background, in an environment, in a set of pressures, in a worldview – thus from this standpoint we will never be speaking of pure/ideal freedom but rather of Freedom/Restriction, where freedom/restriction stands for the proportion describing how many degrees of freedom are accessible in a particular situation, perspective, perception and thus which kind of manipulations, movements or operations are accessible for agency – agency that makes a difference. [END OF FIRST PART]