Tag Archives: Freedom

Random Thoughts on Randomness – Part 1

“The most beautiful order is a pile of things poured out at random”
–Heraclitus
(Appropriated from Professor Metcalf’s Facebook Page)

Random Thought being a redundant phrase, of course, since all thoughts are necessarily random. For if they weren’t, you wouldn’t be able to think what you think you think.

But before I self-involvedly put out there my thoughts about that, I thought I might self-indulgently talk about this quintessential quandary:

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Now, we can take a look at a question like that and try to answer it as one or the other. Or declare it a circular reference without a determinate answer. Or push the answer back before  chickens or eggs onto other questions that would have to be answered first. Or we could just say “God only knows,” and mean it either literally or snarkily.

We could have debates, hold prayer meetings, and take to twitter with our views, being champions of this or that or Him.  Maybe make some Pro-Egg flyers or Believe in the Chicken posters. It would be kind of cool to see candidates trying to appease both sides, or The Trump signing an executive order declaring both eggs and chicken are fried, so there!

Yet, any such factious (or fractious) thinking would already be moving away from the most important, the most philosophically interesting, thing: The question itself.

For answers are never that interesting. They are boring in fact. And don’t even exist, for that matter, unless maybe you’re a blind faithy, fox-news-only kind of person. But then again, if that is so, you don’t so much have an answer as have simply delegated the question to someone above you (literally and snarkily).

So let’s move back from the egg-chicken details and think about what kind of question it is. Although it is phrased as “which came first”, I hear it first and foremost as a causal question rather than a temporal one. Who made who would probably be a more accurate representation of it, but so goes the idiom.

In causality questions, what’s at stake? Why does it matter? That is, why does it matter to us? Well, for starters, the stakes are a lot higher than chickens or eggs. When we assign causality, aren’t we really assigning independence to one thing and dependence to the other?

Is the chicken dependent on the egg  or is it the other way around? Independence and dependence both shade Will. I will leave out Free from that Will for now, as that four-letter word typically adds a whole level of nonsense to these kind of discussions. Right now we can think of Will as just like it sounds: the ability to make things happen, put things into motion.

By the question, are we assigning Will to one thing, and mere obedience to the other? Is hatching the willful act and the chicken coming out just obeying what was set in motion? Or is the laying where the will resides and the egg just following orders.

We see that the chicken and egg question really is about that common but oh so vacuous term freewill.

You might argue that eggs and chickens don’t have will, or that they might have will but not freewill and/or hatching and laying are instinctual not intentional or something else in a similar putting-our-bag-of-bones into some sort of privileged position where we act and do things consciously (yet another, like freewill, somewhat vacuous and frequently unhelpful term).

But such arguments take swipe at the wrong thing. The right thing is our very conception of action and reaction, of which the chicken and egg are mere props for our thinking. But if chicken and egg are too low on the food chain for consideration, we can simply replace them with Mother and Child. Or even better, how about God and humankind? Or physics and humankind?

For that’s really to where we want to roll back, isn’t it? What, if anything, came before God? What, if anything, came before the Big Bang? Like with the original chicken and egg question, the answer itself isn’t as important as what’s at stake.

And that stake of course is the meaning of life: The mattering of it all, or of any of it. We think, perhaps, that if we push things back to some assumed unmoved mover or uncaused cause we can then bring such duly clarified meaning forward. The meaning, however, hardly needs to make such a journey. Indeed, trying to do so would be a fool’s errand.

Instead, the meaning of our lives derives neither from the divine nor natural order, but in the inherent randomness each of us possesses at any given moment.

—–

Other possible Parts as I work through my thoughts on this:

Spinoza’s God and the Necessitarianism Obstacle

Reconceptualizing Randomness

Ball in Tube Analogy

Molecule of Water in Heated Pot Analogy

Abolishing Absolutes and other Phantasms

Limited Randomness: As Free as Will ever gets

In Search of Meaningful

Gary and I went to the Vermont History Expo last Sunday and had the fortune of listening to University of Vermont’s Professor Harvey Amani Whitfield speak about The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont 1777-1810.

The root of the multi-faceted problem is that although Vermont did outlaw slavery in its constitution – the first state to ever do so – a significant amount of slavery persisted for several years thereafter; moreover, the ostensible freedom delivered by such a radical-for-the-times anti-slavery provision was not meaningful for even the Afro-Vermonters who subsequently acquired it.

That is, according to Dr. Whitfield, they did not have meaningful freedom.

One example he gave of this lack of meaningful is illustrated by the aforementioned law prohibiting slavery only for adults. African-American kids, who were thus not protected, were routinely kidnapped and sold into slavery without repercussions. So a free African-American parent would be forced to work closer to home regardless of whether better wages could be obtained elsewhere, just so they could offer defense against such common occurrence.

In some ways, meaningful here seems to cash out as real or true; as in, if a person is given two choices where one of the choices is not a decent option at all, then that person hasn’t been given a real – or true — choice; that person does not have real or true freedom.

So why use the term meaningful?

Good question and one I might ask the professor if I have a chance. Or one that I might find in his eponymous book published by the Vermont Historical Society. But for now I’ll offer my spin on it, which makes the nuanced phrasing meaningful to me:

Because meaningful carries more subjective weight and is what we use when we are evaluating our circumstances.

Real and True both give off a false air of objectivity, as if the existence of such things as personal freedom can be decided externally. The loaded terms seem to invoke chalkboards and checklists; some kind of tests; an unchanging algorithm of indifference. But meaningful is a human quality only observed through the eyes of personal circumstances, either yours or someone else’s.

If asked whether or not a parent with a child at risk of being kidnapped has true choice, true freedom, we might start weighing risks, sorting out different possibilities, and assigning values. However, when we are asked about it in terms of meaningful, our landscape — our point of view — immediately changes to a more sympathetic one. When it does, what might have been options under another view suddenly dissolve into absurdity.

Indeed, so much so, I want to take his nuanced phrasing – the addition of meaningful – and use it elsewhere, like in talks of decent wages, opportunities, and living conditions, where decent far too often becomes like real and true, subject to a false objectivity that smugly mistakes crumbs for nourishment, walls for doors, and cages for castles.

Or in talks of peace incorrectly viewed as absence of war; or in talks of ethics where good intentions bow to bureaucracy; or in talks of fighting poverty while those with the power to do so only add more rungs.

On and on it goes, with the meaning of our precious nouns meaning less and less. We need meaningful Life, meaningful Liberty, and meaningful Pursuit of Happiness.

Forget finding the meaning of life. What we need are more meaningful lives and an America that contributes to their development.