What is “freedom”? Are animals freer than humans?
The question “what is freedom” is one of the most profound questions I have approached.
In approaching a topic this complex, it is often useful to look at what freedom cannot be.
Can freedom be a lack of all boundaries?
Something without boundaries is without form.
It seems that it is boundaries that allow form to emerge.
We seem to be the most complex entities that we know.
Every level of complexity requires a level of boundaries.
So freedom cannot be an absence of boundaries, though it must be an acknowledgement of all the necessary levels of boundaries required to sustain the complexity present, and no more than that.
And it seems to be more complex than that still.
Complexity theory shows that there can exist complex adaptive systems that are open, and have a constantly evolving structure, and that we embody many such systems.
And part of the question as to the nature of freedom is looking at the nature of understanding itself.
It seems that all understanding is some sort of map or model of the thing it purports to understand.
It seems that all understandings start from relative simplicity.
It seems that some sorts of understandings are encoded deeply into our brains by the process of evolution.
This encoding of systems by the deep time of biological and cultural evolution seems to be deep and broad – many levels, many sets of systems.
So many of the things we just accept as common sense seem to be these really complex and very ancient evolved systems. Systems that have survived all manner of weird and unusual contexts that happen from time to time.
And as one asks layer after layer of question, almost all the assumptions one started out with, like the idea that “Truth” may be known, seem to fall away.
The more deeply one looks, the more it seems that every level of existence is in some sort of fundamental balance between order and chaos (in the non mathematical sense).
Life is certainly many levels of this balance.
Too much order, and there is not enough variation to survive the changes that happen from time to time.
Too much chaos and order cannot sustain itself.
Between those boundaries lies the area that can sustain life, all levels.
And those boundaries are very sensitive to context, and that context is eternally evolving.
It seems that to be human is to be this amazing collection of some 16+ levels of such complex adaptive systems.
It seems that our conscious awareness is just the tiny tip of this vast array of complex computational systems.
It seems that Quantum Mechanics is compatible with the idea that existence itself is a similar sort of fundamental balance between order and chaos.
So, in all of this complexity, what sort of approximation might we consciously be able to make to understand something like this?
It seems to me that freedom is something that exists on this boundary between order and chaos, something that one can claim.
If one acts according to rules, then that cannot be free.
And it seems that one can freely choose to follow any set of rules, or not.
The idea of a free selection, after, and not based upon, reason or consideration – is a very powerful one.
It seems to me that humans have access to degrees of freedom that animals generally do not. And there are certainly no shortage of traps that can remove that freedom by imposing rules that prevent individuals from freely questioning the relevance of any particular set of rules to any particular situation.
So it seems that freedom necessarily comes with a responsibility to sustain all the necessary sets of boundaries that allow for the emergence of that freedom.
And respect for individual life, and individual liberty, demands responsibility in social and ecological contexts.
In the sort of complex reality we seem to exist in, over simplification, and over confidence, are dangerous.
Freedom, if it means anything, demands of us that we respect the diversity that real freedom must logically create.
Enjoyed the poem.
Have had an ongoing “discussion” with a guy Trick Slattery about the nature of freedom for over 6 months now.
In my understanding, he is so bound by the rules he has accepted that he can no longer see even the possibility of freedom – and the site we are arguing on is called “Breaking the free will illusion”.
And as yet, he has not seen.
And as Don McClean (Vincent) would say “Perhaps he never will”.
Hi Mendy Lou,
I agree with you that Trick makes too many assumptions about the nature of reality.
He assumes that reality always follows logical principles.
I am reasonably confident that it does not.
It seem very likely that reality is at every level in some sort of fundamental balance between the lawful and the random, between order and chaos.
That is certainly the case for all life forms, and it seems clear to me that Quantum Mechanics allows for it to be a fundamental aspect of the substructure of being.
The most useful models I have of reality are largely based in understandings based around information flows.
I am clear that every individual human is unique in many very complex ways that we only have the most broad brush sketches of at present.
We seem to be sufficiently complex that should I live the rest of eternity, and should I continue my interest in and investigations of the nature of intelligence, that I will be forever finding out new things about the nature of being human.
So I am a sort of materialist, but my understand of matter is mostly in terms of the information it contains and exchanges (vi light) with other matter. And it is “a bit” more complex than that, and that is a good first order approximation.
It seems clear to me that all living organisms are unique in many different senses, but the levels of complexity present in human beings takes that idea of uniqueness to a whole new level that few other organisms come close to.
We are so long lived, so cooperative, so socially complex, so intellectually capable of abstraction and creativity.