The Importance of Abstraction
I don’t have the full picture. I don’t think anybody does. I do know, though, that the magic you feel as a child, for me at least, has faded. Things are no longer new in the same way. I might wonder at things. My outlook is probably more that of an observer than some people’s. I stand out of the way. I want to be different and participate, but only when I want to.
I often babble about how I don’t believe in free will. How, if you could somehow map every atom in the universe, you could predict every single path a human would take. How you would be able to accurately know the life cycles of every atom that existed. We don’t choose our family, our upbringing, our biological inheritance or defects. I extend that to say we don’t choose our friends. Our circumstances do, as does who we are when prospective friends are around. We don’t always choose who we care about. I don’t believe we choose anything. I do believe, though, that nature is crafty.
Nature gives animals emotion. That emotion is part of what gives us the ability to survive. Did anybody anywhere ever choose to be in love? Did anybody ever choose to care about their children? Did anybody consciously decide to run when a bear was about to eat them? Do we choose our fears, our passions, loves, hates, or interests? I don’t think we do. I don’t think we choose anything.
So looking at life itself, what is it? I believe we are part of a massive chemical reaction. You can think of it as a reaction that’s been going on since before the big bang, but it formed the big bang, it formed all microscopic life and it formed us.
I recall being in the shower, where all great thinking occurs, and trying to understand the freedom of choice. It’s as if there could be free choice going on, but it’s not our own. We are not individuals, we are a part of something larger. On the smallest scale of life there are cells. Those cells begin to form more complex life, form tissue. Tissue networks to form organs, organs network to form walking talking people with a respiratory system capable of oxygenating the brain, another extremely complex network. People communicate through speech, another network. We’ve sped that up to a very unhealthy level with the internet. It seems everything is a network to form something larger, so why not humans? Why should we be the most important part of something which is likely massively larger than ourselves?
Individual cells are capable of reproduction. Plants with no known intelligence will still compete for the light. They don’t have consciousness, and I am beginning to believe that neither do we. Nature tells us we do. Nature wants us to think we’re important, that we matter, that love is more than dependency either one way or both.
The interesting thing to me about the idea that no free will exists and that we are not the individuals we think we are and that we are actually just “networked in” is that it gives words new meaning. Care is to support life, to care for someone is to ensure a node is stable. Love is nature’s way of making sure we look after each other and are strongly tied to each other. A group of mates is nothing more than a network of supporting nodes.
Given that time is relative, surely we’re on the clock? As I understand it the Earth spins and orbits because of the bend in space given by the sun. We are, essentially, like a coin twirling round and round in a donation box they used to have in supermarkets, spinning round, every spin getting closer and closer to making a donation; burning up as we edge further and further to the inevitable fate of hitting the sun. Are we a part of an experimental simulation? An experiment to find out how to escape such a fate? To us time runs more slowly to these observers, much more slowly, giving time to view our escape plan. Perhaps there is a pattern here, and when the time comes, we’ll know exactly what we are, implementing our own experiment that will create another Earth simulation, watching life form, evolve, and crash? Are we a bug test? Seeing if changes in the evolutionary computer programme can handle it this time round?
I recall as a child my grandfather driving. I was sat next to him in the front pretending to steer and he added magic to that experience. As I turned the wheel, so did he, and he allowed us to wobble as he matched my movements, knowing I’d never steer off the road. That’s how I remember it anyway. That is magic to me. So how can I be so torn now between that kind of magic and this clinical, bleak idea of the very nature of what we are?
Imagine a society where distance is nothing. We have no need for trains or cars, we are teleport everywhere. Teleportation as I understand it is the transmission of information, it isn’t you going into a box and you coming out. It’s you going into a box, dying, and then a complete replica of you comes out the other end. An interesting question at this point is, would you remember dying? One fundamental problem with a system full of replicas that I have is that the human being dies, but society would still continue with that person in it. But it’s wrong? Isn’t it? Eventually having no original human beings left, but seemingly to live, everything carrying on as normal? I find the idea disturbing but question whether humans are capable of setting up such a society; I think they might be.
Nature’s a little bit like a Yin Yang. It feels magical to me to see animals. To watch them on television. I think about how cute the young tigers and otters are and I love how they have their own personalities and appear to be cheeky to humans and each other. But it’s wrong isn’t it? To favour the cute. It’s built into us, but what about the less aesthetically pleasing life out there? Does it not deserve the care that nature instils in us to give the cute? Nature doesn’t care as long as life persists. Anything could come and eat that baby tiger. Were it a fish, even a fish known to be more intelligent than the average human, nobody would bat an eyelid. It isn’t cute, it’s not furry and it can’t communicate, but if we’re going to give credence to regular human values I would argue that it is equally a tragedy when it dies because some dumb, larger fish with bigger teeth, has ended its life short. The other side of the coin is, though, do any of us matter? Not according to nature.
Abstraction. We have an obligation to other people and ourselves to abstract ourselves away from what I believe are facts. To embrace the cute because it gives us a warm fuzzy feeling, and to see the magic in love and care and the human side of everything. It’s in our nature to humanise animals, and that’s wrong, but cute animals are cute animals, why should we deny ourselves what nature has built into us?
I have trouble abstracting when it comes to life, but maybe it’s the only hope. People can allow it. They blinker my eyes to what I see as facts. They matter, their lives matter — even if I am a little self-absorbed in my own miserable outlook. They might not fully understand me, and nor I them, but nature allows communication and the recognition of magic and it’s all we’ve got.
So if you can find the magic in your life, any at all, don’t waste it.