This Curious Life



One of the things we understand least about is ourselves.

- Carol Rovelli

I recently finished reading Seven Brief Lessons of Physics by Carol Rovelli, and as much as each page captivated my attention, helping me recall what I learned in college almost 15 years ago, it was the last chapter of this book, called ‘Ourselves,’ that I had to read and re-read again.

Carol Rovelli starts the chapter by questioning the roles human beings have when making a decision or judging a perspective? Are we truly free? Can we really make our own decisions? Or are we biased and influenced by those around us, and nature? 

Well..the answer is it depends on how you define ‘free.’

No, we are not entirely free of bias and are very much a part of nature. As part of this ecosystem, we are nodes in a network of exchanges through which we pass information, images, and knowledge.

When faced by others, other things, different environments, circumstances, we are given the opportunity to learn about our surroundings and ourselves. And the intelligent species we are, not only do we learn, but we also adjust and evolve our perspectives as we gain more information. 

Curiosity is our nature. It is our nature to follow different instincts, gut feelings, which leads us to better understand and describe the world we live in. 

The fascinating part about who we are is that we are always:

Scrutinizing and deducting from the details of reality in order to pursue something that we can’t see directly but can follow the traces of. In the awareness that we can always be wrong, and therefore ready at any moment to change direction if a new track appears; but knowing also that if we are good enough we will get it right and will find what we are seeking.

Our understanding and knowledge consequently reflect the world. By the way, by no means, this is unique to us human beings. All things in nature are continually interacting with one another, and through these interactions, all things continuously exchange information about one another.

A raindrop contains information on the presence of a cloud in the sky, a ray of light contains information on the color of the substance from which it came, a clock has information on the time of day, the wind carries information about an approaching storm.

But going back to our original questions, if everything interacts with one another to transfer knowledge and human beings are set to follow the laws of nature, are we truly capable of making decisions freely? 

So let’s define ‘free’ here. According to Carol, ‘free’ means how we act is determined by what happens within us and how we decide to process the information in our brain. We are collectors of information and nature very much impacts the type of information we receive. But how we choose to process that information and the actions following it is very much up to us. We are ‘free’ in this sense. We decide how to act, how to interpret the information, and what move to make next. In this sense, the choice is ours, and we are ‘free.’ 

So we continue to choose. We choose to learn and create new paths of understanding within ourselves. We are naturally moved by curiosity and trusting our instincts, and deciding which route to explore is our choice.

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