The Differences Among Us Insure Our Freedoms

For each one of us to have a unique view, that is, for each one of us to be free, the world has to contain, and permit, a fantastic variety of views

The common view, which we have inherited from our Newtonian past, is that we live in a universe made up of a great many identical individuals. The individual human beings are each very simple, each is identical to every other of its kind. And while the arrangement happens to be very complex, it is in no way necessary—it is just our good luck.

The opposing picture, posited by Leibniz and realized by Einstein, is of a world made up of a great many individuals, each one of whom is different from every other one. While we may have the same skeletal structure, circulatory, nervous and other systems each one of us is different from everyone else because each occupies a different place. Therefore, each of us has a unique relationship with the whole. It follows that the world we have created together is necessarily complex because a certain minimal complexity is required if each and everyone of us is to be distinguished from all the others by his particular relationships to all the rest.

We may say that, where someone is, that this is determined by that someone’s view of the rest, which is to say by his relationships with the others. If each of the vast number of the earth’s peoples is to have a unique view, the result has to be that the world must contain a fantastic variety of views. And yet as incredible as it may seem we still have those who would force one view on us all.

To make more sense of this, we need a notion of the complexity of a world system that is based on the idea that in a complex system each part has a unique relationship to the whole. Such a measure of complexity does exist, and it was directly inspired by Leibniz’s philosophy. It is called the variety of a system, and it is defined in terms of how much information is required to distinguish each individual within the system from all the others.

Given any individual within the system, we may call its neighborhood all those things that are nearest to it, or that it interacts most directly with. As the world contains more variety, more differences, less information is required to distinguish from all the others the particular neighborhood of each one of us.

[Elementary Particles or People, see Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos, 1997 for the germ of my own thoughts in this blog piece.]

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