This post is a bit odd for this blog. It's longer than usual (over 5,000 words), it doesn't have any profanity, and it's an attempt at direct philosophy. Usually I write critically about a subject; this is philosophy about life, the universe, and understanding itself. And I'm telling you, it's a long ride. The first half is my attempt at concisely discussing the simple nature of the universe as I understand it, and the second half is applying those ideas to life in a more practical fashion. I chose not to hypertextualize this with dozens of links to philosophers, articles, and whatnot, as I usually do. I wanted more of a pure text. Anyway, enjoy.
Freedom and Equality
Freedom is inherent in all things. Nothing we do is inhibited. Freedom, insofar as the limitlessness of choice and the lack of foreign control, is the truth of the universe. The universe is unlimited, insofar as it has no arbitrary limits. However, this idea is fundamentally flawed in its typical human interpretation. Freedom is not a right, nor is it a privilege. It simply is, as true as atomic energy: it is among the basic facts, the lowest level of universal understanding. Everything is free, at least to begin with (whether that lasts a nanosecond or not), in its basest form. The universe began (and will return) to a state of complete freedom, even if that freedom means the elimination of everything. Freedom is nothingness, the absence of a means for description. The only real limits put upon that base of inherent freedom are those attributed because of universal balance/equilibrium (explained later).
On the macro-level of humanity, our individual and collective freedom is only limited by ourselves; the self agreeing upon the social/cultural norms of our environment. A person is free, anywhere they are, at any time. The limits of that freedom - the freedom we define in our politics, in our everyday, in our selves - are only constructed and imposed by the self. We are never slaves, but instead we are willing participants in the limits to our freedom. (Even if the expression of freedom means certain death, it is still freedom.) We agree, every time we wake up in the morning, to live by the rules put forth by the majority - or what we think is the majority. For the vast array of humanity, this acceptance is unconscious. These limits to our own freedom are so ingrained within our thought processes from birth that it is rarely questioned on the individual level and never fully realized by the collective. It is impossible for a human to truly achieve basic freedom, for it requires the absence of thought, for even in thought itself we are limited by our self-perception and human complexity in general. The institutions and norms of humanity are what destroy our inherent freedom.
Like Freedom, all things are inherently equal. Equality is as fundamental and elementary as Freedom. They are, in fact, complimentary systems, relying totally on each other. (They are often misunderstood as mutually exclusive.) Nothing can truly be free without being equal to all other things. The freedom for one particle to move relies on the equal chance that another particle can move to accommodate its movement. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; freedom is allowed to all things, as long as there is equality in the system. Again, on the macro-level of humanity, we often think that the pursuit of equality is in direct conflict with the protection of freedom. These are fundamentally flawed approaches, as if equality could be pursued or freedom could be protected. These truths are inherent, and what really needs to be fought is the ignorance of those who do not understand this. Commonly it is believed that the problem with equality is that it is forced; likewise one believes that the problem with freedom is that it creates inequality. These are not problems of equality or freedom, they are the problem of human institutions.
These two fundamental facts (freedom and equality) explain the system of equilibrium, in which all things are but lesser subset systems with individual equilibriums contributing to the overall balance. All things are constrained by simple thermodynamics and laws of motion with a taste of quantum mechanics. While these seem rather broad and simplistic to cover All Things, it is true. Essentially, universal understanding relies solely on a few small, key, simple principles like probability and conservation (as a result of equality and freedom). Reason, in itself, is the process of stripping away all irrelevancies until we reach an immeasurable purity of thought.
All things are in equilibrium on all levels, from quantum entanglement to human sociability to the stock market. We exist in a universe that is seemingly infinitely complex (whether it is infinite or finite complexity does not matter), and all of that equilibrium is not black-and-white. Many argue that in a purely mathematical, deterministic world governed by definite laws, from the motion of quarks inside atoms to nerves triggering conscious thought, everything can be knowable. How can free will exist if everything is governed by "natural" laws and can be predicted by a powerful-enough computer? A separation is needed, for the wrong question is being asked, because we don't live in that rigid universe.
Thanks to quantum mechanics, we see that the universe is ruled in equilibrium by mere probabilities. Logic, at its contemporary core, is actually fuzzy and chaotic and truly unknowable by human standards. The act of measurement itself is prohibitive to knowledge - but it is not prohibitive to understanding. However, what is commonly misunderstood is the level at which these probabilities occur. It is true, that there is the probability, however imperceptibly small, that I could teleport this instant to another location (if all of the quantum bits of matter which constitutes my body do so). This allows a universe of infinite possibility - for all things are mere probability, scaling infinitely for infinite possible outcomes - even if that possibility is so remote that it may never happen in a million years of existence. (Could the big bang itself be one of those almost infinitely-impossible probabilities?)
Free will exists insofar as it is limited by equilibrium and probability. Really, free will is not free - as in, it is not costless. As you reduce your will from being driven by social norms to a will fully realized, you become more and more free, but at the cost of being understood (for understanding relies on knowledge, which ceases to be gained as one stops relying on the systems it stems from in order to be free). I am capable of making any choice I wish, to do anything, even teleport myself across the universe. However, wishing does not make it so. Free will itself, as a human construct, is false, but there is a better more reductive free will inside our atomic structure that prevails. We are still bound by probabilities, but we are also enabled by them. The probability that I will teleport, or fly, or vanish, when I merely think it, is so impossibly small, but it is still possible. However, equilibrium does not allow me to. (It is not any kind of "determinism" which prevents me.) In this sense, we live in a kind of balance between determinism and traditional free will. We are asking the wrong question if we are concerned with whether we have a religious-based free will or not to do whatever we want whenever want with no consequences.
Using this as a basis, one can conclude (with a few caveats) that indeed one can predict the future - but only a possible most-probable future dependent upon if one could know the "present state" of the majority of things. Can I predict the future by saying that tonight I will sleep? Yes. That is predicting the future, and we take it for granted. Can I predict the future by saying that tonight my body will will reach the medically-defined state of "sleep" at 11:32:54.91 PM EST? Not really, no. And the answer is truly that fuzzy - there can be nothing definite. I could be right, but probably not. We must defer to probabilities of certainty, not only about such "future predictions", but also about present and past predictions. How does one reconcile time itself within this scheme? We can know what happened, we can measure it and know it almost exactly, but not what will happen outside of making those probability-based predictions. How can we build upon a fundamentally uncertain universe? How are the past and future separated? Truly, our perception of time itself is inherently misunderstood.
A popular thought experiment I have already mentioned: if there was a machine that could know the state of all things, and record them perfectly, could it tell the future? Wouldn't that be a perfectly deterministic universe in which there is no free will? Well, we exist in neither, and such a machine would not be able to measure the state of all things, because all things cannot be known without affecting all other things, thus changing the system while it observes, to the point of nullifying the system entirely. Such thought experiments - and most debates over time and free will - are very boring and circular because they are inherently flawed in their understanding of time and free will.
Time itself, if it were any thing, is simply the shifting of the universal equilibrium and all equilibriums within it. Time is not relative or absolute; time doesn't really exist as we commonly understand it. To think that time moves in one direction is ignoring the fact that the past and the future are equal and the same; we cannot truly know the past any more than we can truly know the future. Unfortunately, the means for explaining this to you in linear/dimensional terms is mystifying. We, consciously, have only been conditioned to be comfortable with and wrangle our heads around a controlled past, more so than the possible future. Neither can be truly known except through probability. I can not go forward in time and see what will happen any more than I can go back in time and affect what is happening now. There being a "past" and a "future" are inherently contradictory ideas because neither the past nor the future exist, only the present.
The only constant, what time itself merely represents, is Change. Freedom and Equality within the universal system of Balance is motivated solely by Change. Everything is changing; change is our only true constant. There was no beginning (past) to this change, nor will there be an end (future) to it; it merely is. We can use the convenient terms of past and future, but not if we are dependent upon them and build flawed systems atop them.
The Truth and Uncertainty
The Truth of all of these facts are self-evident and obvious. In this, all knowledge is obvious, insofar as things inherently are the way they are, devoid of analysis and meaning. In human terms, these truths are self-evident upon realization; the assertion that they are not true is caused by ignorance of the simplicity of all things. It would be fair to say that even these constructs as I have outlined them - Freedom, Equality, Balance, Change, Truth - are all too complex because their mere expression adds complexity beyond what they truly are. In this universe, everything and anything is possible, however improbable. We live in a universe with no "rules", only these truths which transcend what could be considered rigid, even mathematical, rulesets.
All meaning attached to these truths is simply nonsense in the context of the universe. It is human complexity bastardizing simplicity. As humans, we excel in making complex that which is terrifyingly simple, because we ourselves are uncertain and ignorant of all things. The universe and all these truths lead to a simple conclusion: human life is meaningless. The only "purpose" is what we create, even though the need for purpose itself is meaningless. All thought is human construct which builds upon constructs in effort to create more complex constructs. There is no universal truth for us to cling to but our own irrelevance, and the irrelevance of relevance itself; we are only our own complicity as entities "trapped" inside a system of equilibrium, as if we are all but players upon a stage. (But the player, in time, can play many parts, each with their own entrances and exits.)
This Truth is rooted squarely in Uncertainty, however contradictory that may seem; the truth is in unknowing. All classical systems are merely attempts at knowing the root of knowledge where no such knowledge exists, because it is incompatible with human understanding. Uncertainty, as the basic tenant of quantum mechanics, applies to all things. We can only know probabilities, all things truly are in unknowable flux. Only when we combine multiple properties (to create a system) do we suddenly have the possibility of knowledge, but all of that knowledge hinges on uncertainty, and that is the truth. As you add complexity to a system, in the gathering of more knowledge, you are increasing the probability of that system being flawed; this is a simple case of diminishing returns as systems depend upon systems. This is easily seen in all human-run institutions, when the only solution becomes simplicity through self-destruction.
Therefore, one cannot "shut up and calculate" when calculation itself is a system built upon an uncertain nothingness. One must, at least, understand and preface all thought with the idea of unknowing. Only through that self-defeating understanding can we begin to grasp the true simplicity of what reality we live in. Ontology precedes epistemology. All systems (physics, mathematics, etc) derived from this understanding are merely masturbatory. However, there's nothing more healthy for us than that masturbation, and surely all human progress depends upon it. First, we have to accept the inherent error of our understanding, and then we can begin to build from it.
Practical Applications; Human Systems
The Basic Precepts of Life
To truly live, one must understand:
- Life goes on, with or without you. Life does not "care". Everything changes, though it is difficult (and often irrelevant) to know why. This applies on every scale. This sucks, but ultimately it shouldn't matter to you.
- Control and free will are largely illusory; though you are not entirely trapped inside a determined universe. You still have choices; you are a part of probability.
- Everything we know is constructed; all meaning, all laws, all social; all of it only has whatever meaning and significance we give it. We can bend and break our human-made rules as much as we want, collectively and individually. This is the beginning of Social Disobedience.
- Emotion is a form of coping with the misunderstandings or the absurdities of Reason. This is not to downplay Emotion as a human device, only to explain its most common uses; don't fall for them.
- All human systems (see: government), to work well, can only sustainably exist as systems of human-regulated balance; for example, in America we have "checks and balances" written in our Constitution. We must sustain this.
- The more humans involved in a system, the higher probability of it failing.
- Individuals, left to their own devices, are typically sane; collectives are unpredictable, and frequently favor the lowest common denominator, and are chaotic at best. Trust a person; do not trust people.
- To be educated is to know you are ignorant; those who graduate from "an education" thinking they've learned something rarely learn how much they still don't know. Pursuing knowledge is merely redrawing the borders of one's own ignorance. Without that understanding, one is merely wandering around with a fake map.
- Without challenge, without discomfort, without difference, there would be no understanding. Nobody ever learns anything by agreeing with everybody.
- Adapting to these understandings (and further derived understandings) is living. Have fun with it.
- You should never feel alone in this. Individuality and collectivism are not competing forces; they are also systems requiring balance. I am an individual; you and I are a collective. Let's have fun with this.
Realization, Understanding, Reconciliation
How do we reconcile such a world as this if one truly understands it? How does one incorporate this and keep on living? Many theorists, authors, important people, et cetera, have tackled this, and many have been successful in various interpretations. I offer not much new here, as none of what I have said should be new to the learned individual. I offer more of an affirmation and simplification brought to you by a self-professed knowledgable individual. In this there is much to say, though -- who is a knowledgable individual? What number of humanity has been able to transcend the human-created ignorant normalcy of life into the universal normalcy I have described? And what does that transition manifest as?
Knowledge of this itself - the pursuit of understanding - is a self-perpetuating system. It is often said that once you gain certain knowledge, reach a certain understanding of yourself, the pursuit of that knowledge is almost impossible to avoid or erase. Much the same way that a film student will never watch films the same way again; they have an understanding of what is done to create the film, therefore they view it with a more "informed" perspective. Can the same be said for thinkers in regards to life in general? When one has the realization of this truth, it is rather scary, with two possible outcomes: the denial of one's own knowledge, or the acceptance of it. Acceptance is a path of realization, understanding, and reconciliation. Denial just goes back to Go, do not collect $200. What would a world be like in which a growing number of humanity is educated to the point of reaching and accepting this reality and continuing life anyway?
It is that "go on anyway" that makes us not unique, but able to manipulate the system of truth, it is the only "reason" why consciousness exists. There is a fundamental difference, as we have proven, between the thing (person or atomic particle) that blindly moves through the universe versus one which is "aware" of either being watched or watching itself. This does not necessarily mean the self-examined life has any more control than the ignorant life; but one certainly does have advantages to suddenly knowing the game one is playing. I've laid out some of the fundamental rules of the game; now one must choose how to play it.
Many people reach a level of "existential crisis" in their early adult life, whether they can articulate it as such or not, in which the whole world seems laid bare and possibility is spontaneously endless and yet unattainable. This is a growing trend, and a good one, but only if we all manage to work through this Grieving Process of Life. For it is a process similar to grief - one at first denies the world is as they see it (meaningless and strange), then eventually accepts and works through that life-grief. Most of us move through that, gain a career doing something that makes us money, and we keep moving until we die. But what if more and more have these realizations and do not choose merely to focus on money and the day-to-day? What if one day such people - moral, yet reasonable and rational, people - were to be elected the majority stake in governments? A society of simple honesty and integrity might be before us.
Such a "utopia" is highly unlikely... as was said before: human systems, the more people involved, the higher probability that things will turn out poorly. Those elected will cater to the lowest common denominator instead of the highest or even the median (while actually caring about the wealthy). The system, as we have built it in America, was born on wonderful intellectual premises which also afforded enough wiggle room for their eventual corruption by humans. And it is humans who are corrupt - abstractions on paper (see: The Constitution, or Currency) hold no agendas for capitalist profit margins.
The practical answer? Lower the population being governed; raise the common denominator. We did it to establish the American colonies, we can do it again. A group, commonly neglected or otherwise misrepresented (in this case, the "intellectual" class), can take it upon itself to form a more perfect Union... elsewhere.
The Necessity of Philosophy
Philosophy itself, over the last fifty years, has become obscure and rather "trivial" to many. Once a great standard for academic study, it is now a department commonly cut out when there's a budget crisis. It is invariably depressing to see the arts cut; it is arguably even more so disrupting to see the very study of abstract thought laid aside. If nothing else, all these notions - art, music, philosophy - should be on the forefront of education. Cut the football team, not the math club. America has proven that our brawn gets us, well, nowhere really. We live in a world that is not defined by muscle, but by dexterity. We did not evolve to be the "greatest species" by relying on strength; we outwitted and outpaced all opponents.
Conversely, scientific discovery has been on a rather drastic rise over the past century. However, science itself is complimentary to philosophy. The two are inherently linked. Without philosophy, science is just data. Without science, philosophy is just talking. There has been no more important time for philosophy than now. The free intelligent people of the world are constantly being bombarded with information, statistics, reasonings, but little understanding or deep reflection. There are lots of "whats" and "hows" but very few "whys".
Our complex, yet sustainable, system of the world can continue to exist, but only by means of checks and balances. Human-made equilibriums are required, instantiated by humans, but only if they are regularly adhered to. This is why the United States constitution, clearly outlining the processes of equilibrium, is a brilliant document, which has unfortunately been abandoned by profit-seeking capitalist America. The founding fathers dreamed not of a strictly profitable nation, but of a perpetual-motion government, able to sustain itself by regulating itself from three complementary sides (executive, legislative, and judicial). A system with no supports, no regulation, no balance, is one which ultimately collapses upon itself. And no system is "too big to fail", as we have seen (the sun itself will implode eventually). It is inherent that, as said before, the more complex a system becomes, the more probable there will be a catastrophic failure. This is especially true for human systems, (as they become needlessly complex with our own insecurities and ignorances,) hence the need for a balance of thought: one who is bent on gaining profit by any means must be matched by someone bent on defeating fraud. A financial profit-centric system can only be as good as its regulators. (And if there are no regulators, the system collapses under its own piles of money, acquired by whatever destructive means possible.)
The problem here is not unique, nor should it be. Education itself is a system without regulation, and it is spiraling out of control. If everyone races for a college degree, and is allowed to do so, then college degrees no longer mean anything. Not to mention if everyone must accumulate massive debt to do gain a degree, the debt itself will cripple an economy of wealth once they have their degrees. This is a self-defeating system, not a self-perpetuating system. That is not to say that everyone leaving college should be richer than when they began; but merely that the debt they gather is equal to the burden they are able to carry when they leave. Equilibrium as I am suggesting ultimately favors no one; it merely keeps the system running, redistributing wealth as needed. But this requires a broad and deep understanding of the majority of the population, and especially those in control. (To reach an equilibrium, the college degree may become like the GED, and having one means little; instead only having a master's degree "means something". Or, degrees become costlier, and less people will afford them.)
Thus, philosophy is needed. Young people, over the previous decades, increasingly do not have the thinking skills necessary to digest this kind of information or make decisions on their own. Their parents do not seem capable, either. I am not suggesting that everyone under 18 realize the complex notions of Sartre or Kant, but rather that they merely have a grounding of the basics as I have covered here. Everyone should know: life is not complicated, we are complicated. Here I have tried to lay out a pure interpretable reasoning of things, without bias or judgement. Know this and move forward with a level of self-reliance and wisdom. In today's world, wisdom has been disassociated from youth as they have been increasingly trapped in a universe of taxonomy favoring those who seek to make money off of them.
We now give birth to ever-purer consumers. We have studied them, in an automated aggregating fashion, as if they were mere boxes (demographics, preferences, market shares). Soon, if allowed, living life itself will merely be marketing shifts in demographic-brackets. (Colleges themselves are starting to care more and more about your age, race, and origin, rather than your knowledge or ambition.) This needs to change, and to do so means a systematic reintroduction of critical thinking, reasoning, and philosophy. Sadly, this is a difficult struggle, as philosophy itself exposes one to the difficulty of life. Science is there to give you proof; philosophy is here to challenge the proof and how it applies to you. Challenge itself - difference, tolerance - is essential to the developing mind. Without it, youth lead their lives as complacent and unable to handle the rigors of the "real world". They fashion their own worlds, devoid of meaning and reason, self-imploding after a short while, from which little is learned. They are perpetually self-defeating, the same way unregulated late capitalism is.
The absence of philosophy is destructive. There is a middle-ground (a balance) which must be reached between being heavily reasonable and, what most would call, living life itself. A primary criticism of philosophy - and, truly, thought alone - is that it "distracts from living". I do not think a more false statement could perhaps be made. Living without self-reflection is as boring and devoid of color as being an amoeba. However, of course, a life devoid of living and instead merely thinking for the sake of thought is also devoid of color; one may as well be a computer processing thought at all times. One cannot live simply by thinking through it - one has to live in the flow of life. I do not see the trouble in this realization, and such balance is its own reconciliation. I have, in this text, attempted to outline a bare-essentials view of All Things, enough to apply to life and thought alike. From these, more can grow, and such is life; from small seeds of reason and experience grow great wisdom and contentment. Too often we see the seeds as trivial, too often we find the reasons difficult and therefore unworthy of our precious time.
The Duplicity of Knowledge and Philosophy
This text has been highly redundant of many thoughts throughout philosophy, and that's largely purposeful. I am not here to write some new experience, instead I am here to reinforce some existing finds. I want to change the approach rather than the content. Simplification and reiteration. More than anything, I wish to foster debate, and remind or introduce. Think about what I have written, and come up with your own ideas. Debate me. Prove me wrong. Such exercises of the mind are only beneficial. In all things, debate them: the only truth can come of consensus, of balance, through difference. Those who are so sure of their opinion must be challenged. Ideology, by itself, is useless, and can only find true merit in its self-defense. All things are relevant in context, and in nothing else. Life is not relevant to itself. (Life, in its bare scientific definition, is the mere perpetuation of life. A meaningless recursive system.)
The result of thought is what colors life, and our expansion of thought improves not only the range of color but how we may perceive color. Knowledge and information are meant to be shared, distributed, duplicated, and extended. Philosophy is meant to be repeated, written, spoken, and debated. Science tells us the what and the how; philosophy reveals the why. Philosophy should push science to new proofs as often as philosophy should prove the relevancy of science. A key component of science is its duplication, testing, and reinforcement of theory. Philosophy works, and should continue to work, in much the same way. Though one can easily argue - and they would be correct - in saying that one cannot truly "test" philosophy, that is exactly what makes it complimentary to science. To test philosophy, we must largely test ourselves as vehicles of philosophy. Can we be better people by thinking and understanding one way versus another? What method produces the most contentment? (And in asking ourselves these questions, we must also ask "what is 'better' or 'good' even mean? why contentment, why not happiness?")
It is this duplicity and examination of process which is essential. The same way we teach math or history in steps, starting with "the basics", we can easily reveal more complex ideologies as they become apparent to the learner. It is also important to recognize that many tenants of philosophy are easily transferred through the learning of other processes. For example, one can easily use computers to teach the purity of human-made logic. One can easily use music or art to teach the nuance of all expression, from a person's smile to a multi-nation peace treaty. One can easily use history to teach the fallibility of human systems in order to make better ones. One can extract from almost any subject some kind of purified concept of the larger universal system. This only reinforces their universality, and are apparent to many who can achieve a level of understanding of individual systems to abstractly reveal the properties of their parent systems. (We can examine the behavior of chimps to reveal the possible behavior of mammals in general.) It is beneficial to encourage the use and understanding of this interdisciplinary activity. One who specializes in math, who reaches "a wall of possible knowledge" in their math-studies, may begin to learn more about math by becoming a musician, or a teacher, or a movie star. In doing so one begins to think laterally, or creatively, instead of by linear, logical means. There are components of individual systems which transcend those systems and affect all other systems. (For example, this whole notion was rooted in my understanding of object-oriented programming's concept of polymorphism.)
This is an unfinished discussion; as all discussions of this nature are and should be. There's always more to say, more ways to examine this, more perspectives to recognize. That is your job as a person who thinks and feels. In understanding these ideas, that we are not unique, we are not purposeful, et cetera, we can truly find something we want to do. Not something "worth" doing, for worth itself is irrelevant; the only thing that can be said to be relevant is living. The best we can do is continue forever onward our legacy of ideas.