A Random First Post

Can. Anything. Be. Totally. Random?

I have always liked ants. The oldest colonizers. The smartest species of insects. And such great teams players and collaborators! How can anyone not be awed by the sheer ingenuity that ants exihibit……. . Okay! Maybe, not everyone. I, however, find them awesome. But was it always supposed to be this way for me? Were my likes and dislikes predetermined from the start? Is choice truly an illusion? Can choices not be random at all?

On the Valentine’s Day of the year 1990, the Voyager space probe, perching at the outer reaches of our solar system, looked back towards its home, and snapped the first-ever pictures of its family members that came to be known as the first ‘family portraits’ of our solar system. The earth showed up, not surprisingly, as a ‘Pale Blue Dot’. Carl Sagan, the astronomer, wrote in his book that goes with the same title –

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

On a cosmic scale, and with the ludicrously short lives that we spend on this blue speck of an almost inconsequential planet, with such marginal controls over our surroundings, how can a man not be amused at his own littleness? And does this not indicate that our repeated, irrational attempts to live under the illusory comfort of the (mis)belief that somehow this world has always existed for us, has been a grand mistake – an expensive error of our intellectual freedom metastasized out of control – where we humans have built a custom-built reality for ourselves, and that which should be regarded as nothing more than a fanciful stretch of the human imagination? Does not the nihilist’s mockery of the age old question about the meaning of life, and of the belief that somehow our existence ought to have some meaning of its own by virtue of its existence itself, seem justified? If everything’s pre-determined from the start, and nothing’s random ever, then ain’t all the current visible progress that we, as humans, seem to have achieved over the centuries, just an over dramatization of our smug self-images? Aren’t we but, still, apes?

Let’s digress a little from the nonsensical rants, and enter a thought experiment that takes on the philosophy of hard determinism. Let me concede, for the time being, that everything, however significant or trivial, can actually be traced back to a cause! That choice is nothing but an illusion. This loss of freedom to choose seems quite evident in a universe where the tiniest of events are causally determined and theoretically predictable via the theory of universal causation. Is such a universe real?

Let me concede, again, that this sentence which I’m currently typing is a pre-decided event, as well. That I am still typing now can be traced back to a cause, which would have been determined by another cause, and so on ad infintum. But what if I somehow decide to break this chain of cause and effect such that the step succeeding immediately after the ‘breaking step’ is determined not by a cause but by the random outcome of a given experiment. Enter Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Indeterminacy. Enter the Bell Tests. What then? Did the chain of cause-and-effect just effectively reboot itself? Hmmmm.


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