It is said that “the best things in life are free”. On the other hand, it is also said that “there is no such thing as a free lunch”.
What are your thoughts?
Like all things, such sayings depend very much on context, and meaning.
What is “Best”?
If one digs deep enough into the idea of best, it seems that at some basic level, all ideas of “best” derive from differential survival of something over deep time, be it the preference of our neural networks or sensory systems delivered by genetics over deep time, or be it in the sorts of ideas and traditions that have survived in the many levels of cultures one finds in existence, or be it in the subconscious survival of different notions (including values) within our individual minds.
“Best” is a very context sensitive notion.
What is freedom?
What might the notion of freedom mean?
Can it possibly mean no constraints at all?
That does not seem possible.
A system without any sort of constraints at all will become a simple amorphous mixture.
Differentiation requires constraints at various levels. Complexity requires boundaries, and they cannot be hard boundaries.
Might freedom involve the notion of choice within sets of constraints?
In recursively complex systems, it seems possible that there is no end to the degrees of freedom one can apply to the choices of such constraints.
And all such journeys into infinity must start from some starting place, and such starting places tend to be simple, typically starting from undifferentiatedness, then going binary with simple ideas like self/other, good/bad, light/dark, hot/cold, etc.
And as one explores any infinity more deeply, the degrees of distinction typically increase,from binaries to larger number.
No journey into any infinity can possibly have an end (by definition).
At a meta level, our distinction of truth, as being a simple binary True/False, can also become profoundly probabilistic, until the earliest notion of Truth that seemed so real to us, becomes a distant childhood memory, an illusion, a trap, a necessary first step on a ladder to something beyond.
Similarly with our distinctions of value.
How do we value things?
How do we compare values from different domains?
What is the value of bread to the starving, or a loved partner, or a profound insight into the nature of reality?
In what ways are such values comparable at all, and in what ways are they forever distinct?
What is the relationship between the notion of free choice of a value set, and a free good without monetary cost?
The air we breath has no monetary cost, because money is a scarcity based measure of value.
Money is a measure of exchange value, and exchanges measure some function of human utility multiplied by some function of perceived scarcity. When either scarcity or utility drops to zero, anything multiplied by zero is zero.
So air is free precisely because of its abundance.
Food is not yet so abundant, and we have the technical ability to make it so, but most minds are constrained by the dots of the beliefs of our cultures.
Some problems, like the nine dots problem, require us to go beyond what may appear to be the implied constraints.
Freedom seems to me to be the greatest gift that evolution has delivered to us all, and it is not a freedom from all constraint. It seems very clear to me that it is the many levels of systemic constraints that we accept as necessary that deliver the context in which infinite freedom may exist.
And it can be difficult to accept that many infinities can exist together simultaneously and mutually exclusively.
There can be infinitely many ways to end life, just as there can be infinitely many ways to allow life to continue, and those sets can both exist in the space of all possibilities, and be mutually exclusive.
So it seems that we can have freedom, and that freedom must come with the cost of acceptance and responsibility.
Some patterns cannot lead to long term security, and some can.
It seems that the best things in life really can be free, and they cannot be without constraint.