Month: August 2017

If we don’t believe in free will then there is no point to existence

This is my current, rather depressing, weird thought.

Currently, generally, humans are firm believers in free will. It is what runs through the core of modern Western politics and society and perhaps spreads further afield. Free will guides us to make the choices that we make. Free will voted for Brexit. Free will voted for Donald Trump. Free will also guides us to carpes diem and follow our dreams. Free will guided me to start an art degree five years ago. Free will is willing me to continue my studies with a Masters. Free will led me into a career in publishing. Free will guided me to end up in Newport (although, interestingly, a Japanese palm reader predicted my current living and working arrangements in 1996 so that is one / nil to the determinists).

If we don’t believe in free will, what is the point of having hope? What is the point of ‘following your heart’ or staring at the stars? You may as well just plod along and take the road more travelled. There’s no point fighting injustice. Accept what is. It is what it is. You may as well just spend your evenings watching Game of Thrones and your days working, or, just existing.

Let’s watch others taking chances on life

My belief in free will is my optimism that good will prevail, personally and globally, eventually.

However, I am starting to worry that my belief in free will is being squeezed into that category of the ‘teeny, tiny theory’ of the unlikely. Scientists have more recently come to believe that our ability to choose our fate is not free, but depends on our biological inheritance. Scientists have started to believe that our thoughts, emotions, hopes, dreams are just the work of neurons and electricity. All that we ‘decide’ and ‘do’ is determined by brain action. We aren’t thinking for ourselves. Our biology is our god.

Helping the scientists in their argument, is the fact that brain injuries and brain traumas can influence our so-called ‘free’ will by influencing decisions and behaviour in certain ways. In addition, mind-altering substances can turn us into irresponsible psychopaths: from the alcohol-induced declaration of love to the drug induced murder. That isn’t our essence that is doing it; it is an artificial influence. It is determined.

The danger of believing the scientists is that we may start to blame our irresponsible actions on our brains: ‘It wasn’t me, my neurons did it.’

Another downside in a scepticism about free will is that we will feel less inclined to be creative or to take chances. There’s no point leaping. It wasn’t in my destiny. That belief will basically depress us. That’s not good.

The paranoid part of me worries that those in power already know that free will is an illusion and they just aren’t telling us. It isn’t in their best interests to let the hoi polloli know what they know. If we find out that free will is a lie then we will just turn into vegetables with no sense of morality and no kindness. We will start to kill each other and we won’t innovate and create.

I don’t know about anyone else but I’m happy to live in my happy cloud where free will reigns uber alles. I am now going to choose to eat a piece of orange chocolate. This is not pre-determined. I don’t have to eat it. I want to. My neurons don’t care.

I will seek the chocolate fix


Symmetry is following me

This is my current weird thought. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about symmetry. A few things have happened in my life recently that have been symmetrical and I want to know why (‘question your teaspoons’ says George Perec).

I have always liked symmetry. I also like asymmetry. They are both interesting for different reasons.

Symmetry vs asymmetry

Symmetry has beauty, order, serenity.

Asymmetry winks in the face of symmetry. It is quirky. It sits outside the box. It turns neatness on its side. It warps the box.

It is like Schrodinger’s old pussy – both one and the other or neither.

Cat in a box

So I like both. Is that contradictory? I hope not. But who wants to be predictable and, well, symmetrical?

Recently, I’ve noticed symmetry appearing in the real world and that interests me. I can grasp the concept of symmetry in maths and art but symmetry in terms of events is a little too metaphysical to just accept as not worth examining. It is worth examining. What does it mean?

The sort of symmetry in real life I’m talking about is when something happens to a person, they then go forth and unwittingly cause that event to happen elsewhere. They may or may not notice this. They repeat the behaviour of someone else. They don’t know why they do it. They just do it. Or, someone hears a story about an event happening to someone they know, that same event then occurs in their life. They may or may not see it. I have seen this pattern recently in me and others. Why does it happen? I want to understand it. Is it a ‘thing’ or just coincidence? Some might wonder whether I am talking about karma, but this isn’t quite karma, as this isn’t necessarily a bad thing that a person commits coming back to them. It could be a thing (event, bad or good) that happens to them that they then unwittingly commit elsewhere.

Symmetry is related to repetition. And I am a huge fan of repetition (or at least I have recently become interested in it). However, symmetry is generally a once-only repetition rather than a repetition ad infinitum. It appears, it is repeated and mirrored.

Batman symmetry

A more simplified example is say you are planning a trip to Venice. You suddenly notice ‘coincidences’ around you with respect to the topic of ‘Venice’. You see references to Venice: someone else is going or has been to Venice, there’s a documentary about Venice on TV, you see an advert on the Tube for holidays in Venice or you spot Death in Venice on your bookshelf. Is this symmetry at work? Or just pure coincidence based on the fact that you wouldn’t have previously connected the ‘dots’ so to speak? I, being the airy fairy teeny, tiny possibility philosopher that I am, believe that it is symmetry at work.

Where I’m going in November

What I also like about symmetry is that it is one of those mathematical concepts that is also found in art (along with many others such as infinity, the void, the golden mean, the Fibonacci sequence, and the rhizome to name a few). I find the overlap of maths and art fascinating. I’m starting to think that they are one and the same (who knew?). The word ‘abstract’ appears in both. They both look at the meta. They both look at the concept. They both start with a gem of an idea and they work, rework, churn, think, work, rework until a diamond emerges.

Symmetry is pleasing because of the aesthetic. Aesthetics is desired, sought after, in all categories of art from representational to abstract and conceptual. All artists yearn for the aesthetic experience in their viewer. Maths is also all about the aesthetic : the aesthetic of numbers, and in this case, of symmetry.

Symmetry is beautiful and fascinating to me. To return to the idea of the symmetry of life. To me that is as beautiful and fascinating as mathematical or artistic symmetry. I see symmetry in my life and I reluctantly see the beauty in it even if it hurts when it happens.

Symmetry in purple triangles

So can we prevent this pattern? I suspect, not. So in conclusion. Don’t hate symmetry: embrace it. It is part of the fabric of nature and life.