Playing with ideas

Trip Start Sep 30, 2005
Trip End Jun 04, 2006

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Flag of United Kingdom  ,
Friday, May 19, 2006

Are we being clever, talking rubbish, or wasting our time playing with useless ideas? The following is an extract of an email exchange I had with a good friend. Sometimes, it doesn't matter whether you're right or wrong, learning, about to find a new train of thought, or just to get lost in a maze of abstract notions. I find it's valuable and fulfilling to simply speculate and add an element of relativism to your own life and perspectives. Thinking away from the accepted norm is stimulating, whatever your prompts and conclusions.

There are a lot of non-sequiturs and unexamined assumptions behind the concept of taking one day at a time, mainly because as humans we were not wired that way, for it is our distinguishing feature to travel mentally backwards and forwards in time . Jesus said to take no thought for the morrow, what you shall eat and what you shall drink; live like the lillies of the field or the birds of the air.

Well, that's all very well but there are certain preconditions to this kind of relaxation: the most important for me is that you can only live freely within a settled world picture(Kant famously said that the dove cannot fly in a vacuum and various other philosophers have thought about free will. We are only free to will as we will; we are not free to will at will, that is, our mind works in a certain way within circumscribed ways). The new two-tier pricing system with state control reminds me of this paradox :it has been called the bird cage policy because chinese entrepreneurs are free to produce what they want withiin the parameters of the state economy, like birds are free to fly in a cage: freedom has to have limits or we would cease to be able to make any sense of the world and cease to be human beings.

If you assume that human wiring is fundamentally irrational, that explains why we as people don't focus on the one thing they can control and embrace, the present. Granted, that assumption makes almost any explanation of human behaviour valid, and of course few, if any, but the youngest child or those beset by memory loss can claim to live only in the present. That reality is defined by the bounds of their perception. Personally, perception or perhaps imagination is the key to freedom.

I don't buy the notion that a stable world view predicates free living. The nature of social science is that hypotheses necessitate the existence of constructs for a theory to hold. Why shouldn't a dove fly in a vacuum? It has only to redefine flight or redefine the parameters of the environment creating the vacuum. The societal implications of everyone redefining parameters in such a way are shocking in the context of existing societal structures, and the results would be total instability. Perhaps the trick is to set yourself free within the stability offered by others?

A deconstructed environment allows the mind the most freedom, but by this is not absolute freedom, but freedom to explore the unknown because there are no cultural anchors. That for me was one of the biggest impacts of living in China. There were few limitations that I could relate to and I realised how much my thinking was framed by my daily environment in the UK. It appeared that you and I were more free not only than the Chinese, but also than we would be in Western Europe where we perceive the triggers and anchors for behaviour. I remember that you alluded to this many times.

There's a lot of business literature around Game Theory and the optimal allocation of resources and deconstructed decision making, and it throws up one quotation that I savour. "Finite players play to the boundaries, but infinite players play with the boundaries." Perhaps depth and my infinity are two sides of the same coin.
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