Thank Nature For Your Freewill

Of all the theses I find myself drawn to number 4 and 5; most importantly the powerful association they propose between nature and the future. As most these agree nature is the unpredictable cacophony of the universe that has been set in motion since the beginning of time. If we think about the entire universe as an astrophysicist would we know that entropy is always increasing, meaning our world is consistently spontaneously dispersing energy until what we predict to be the end of the universe. This will be when there is nothing left in the universe to react, with no reactions then its the same as time being frozen. We know the world will stop once it has distributed all its energy, just like how we know that a ball will fall to the ground once it’s been thrown. Since we know its final position and the action it takes to achieve this position then we can calculate all known positions of the ball as it travels.

If we can calculate the exact position of the ball, couldn’t we theoretically use the end result of the universe and the knowledge of how it is dispersing to predict all known positions of everything in the universe? Meaning we could create a grand theory that can tell us the exact position of all living things with respect to time. It would be the ability to see the future. But if we could use the starting position of the universe and its end to predict everything then wouldn’t we just become actors in the great movie of the universe? The world as we know it would be one predetermined series of events that transpire with our individual actions being already set into motion before we were even born. I think this is quite a hysterical ponderance, the idea that all of our decisions don’t matter. Which is why I’m grateful for nature.

In theses 4 and 5 we say that nature can’t be reduced to a calculation, and that there is absolutely no way to add up every interaction in the world to create a fixed equation that would be able to predict the future. Because nature in its very essence is an idea that can’t be calculated for, it’s the very thought that what ever is impossible is possible. Nature is hope. It lets me know that I have free will, that what I do matters. Nature assures us that our reality isn’t occurring inside some math equation, nature finds a way to tell us that we are all alive in this world.

Part of Nature

Throughout recorded human history, we have again and again found ourselves as less important than we previously imagined. We once believed we were at the center of the universe, but through observation of the night sky, we realized we live on a planet that orbits a star. Then, as we continued our scientific endeavors, we realized that the star we orbit is not the center of the universe either. In reality it is part of a galaxy full of stars. Going even further, our galaxy, the Milky Way, isn’t the center of the universe either, but simply one of billions of galaxies. Similarly, Darwin’s formulation of evolution made humanity realize that we are no different from any other life form, and that we were all related. The more we look at our place in the universe and work to understand our surroundings, the more we realize that we are not special, but one in the same as everything else in the universe. 

Shaviro discusses this idea of Nature in his “Twenty-Two Theses on Nature”. While I found this to be an interesting read, it seems to be trying to make one simple point. We, as humans, are not separate from Nature. We simply take in information through our senses, and act based on this information we collect. While our bodies do counter the natural flow of entropy, our overall dissipation of energy into the systems around us more than make up for our lack of internal entropy. This is the same as any other lifeform on the planet. 

By realizing that we are truly one in the same with Nature, we can gain a deeper respect for our surroundings. The natural world and our planet is not something to be used and conquered by us, but rather a system in which we are a part. In order to sustainably live, we must not attack the cycle of nature for our own benefit, because doing so means attacking the very system that we are a part of.

My Head Hurts

This week’s reading did not resonate with me. Not because I disagreed with it or sensed malice, but purely because I could not understand what the author was saying. Of the 22 points in Shaviro’s 22 Theses on Nature, I can confidently say I fully understood 2. These points were about Nature being everything around us (point 1) and that the laws of thermodynamics have an impact (point 13). I do not know what the other 20 points were trying to say. I have some vague guesses, but I truly couldn’t understand most of it. It was only around point 10 that I realized just how little of the information on the paper was actually being processed. At first, I thought I was just tired or misreading something, but after many attempts to parse what was being said, I was still coming up short. There were even sentences like, “All-encompassing Nature is traversed by potentials and powers, or by energy gradients and inherent tendencies” made me think that I was genuinely having a brain issue. I read this sentence probably a dozen or so times before I concluded that I have no idea what the author was trying to say here. I think I’m going to lie down now.  

Shaviro, 22 Theses On Nature

Sentient Thermometers?

This reading of the 22 Theses on nature is an interesting dive into the topic of what nature means in the context of the Anthropocene. One of the most interesting aspects of these arguments was the later section on sentience and consciousness. The biggest shock to me while reading this was the statement that even a thermostat, which is affected by temperature leading to a change, could in theory be sentient. Especially in a world where we are striving for “sentient artificial intelligence” (well some people are at least). But based off of their definitions, what is actually being worked towards is CONSCIOUS artificial intelligence.

I think their assertion that nature can no longer be viewed as “other” is interesting, because we have been manipulating nature for thousands of years. But what they do point out is that now we are not only manipulating nature, we are building it, changing it, and even changing the course of the world through these actions in cascading events which affect each other. Through things as genetic engineering, geoengineering, us humans are somewhat playing God. We are trying to control our own fates in a world where the definition of the world doesn’t really allow it.