Monday, June 4, 2007

The importance of becoming against all odds

"To be free is nothing, to become free is very heaven."
Fichte, untraced, quoted in The Roots of Romanticism, The Restrained Romantics, by Isaiah Berlin

Berlin explains that "Fichte's whole notion is that man is a kind of continuous action [...]. In order to rise to his full height he must constantly go on generating and creating." (ibid, The Restrained Romantics). He continues by saying that "[Y]ou felt yourself properly only in a moment of resistance or opposition" (ibid, Unbridled Romanticism).

Thus, a romantic has to be active. He has to be not only when the world prevents him to do so, but also when his goal is unreachable. If he can reach his goal, the combat is not worthy. The romantic can fully experience life only when he tries to climb an impossible summit. Only in this situation, he will be able - indeed will be obliged - to express the fullness of her or his heart. Fichte's quotation and Berlin's explanations remind me the poetic lyrics of Mano Solo, a french-speaking singer, in Le Monde Entier:

"Si tu m'avais demandé, moi je t'aurai dit
Que dans la vie ce qui compte
c'est pas l'issue mais c'est le combat"
or André Gorz speaking of writing in Lettre à D., histoire d'un amour:
"Ce n'est pas ce qu'il écrit qui est le but premier de l'écrivain. Son besoin premier est d'écrire."
See also this quotation from Gandhi (in French) from Cedric's blog.

Cultural relativism according to Herder

"What is the ideal form of life? We cannot be both Greek and Phoenician and medieval, and Eastern and Western, and Northern and Southern. We cannot attain to the highest ideals of all centuries and all places at onces."
Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism, The True Fathers of Romanticism

We might be not be able to understand anymore the mind of the Greeks, but I still would believe that we can understand the minds of other peoples which are our contemporaries. In the first case, you cannot experience anymore the life of the Greeks beyond their writings, which are an imperfect - but still rich - way to know a people. In the second case, you can become or try to become one of them, although you might never be entirely accepted by the visited communauty, except if you are one these excentric English travelers ready to disguise to discover what is officially forbidden to the foreign.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Beyond Newton's law

Since Lorenz (1963), physicists came to realize that the predictability of the future state of a deterministic system, that is a system whose dynamical equations are known, was not a trivial matter of computation. For over two centuries, and still a strong belief in the present Western societies, one thought that given the initial and boundary conditions, every deterministic system should be perfectly predictable.
During the 20th century, one started to realize instead that for most systems, except if one is armed with infinite computational power, there will be a time in the future where our prediction will be completely false. Poincaré already noticed that although the two-body problem was a perfectly resolved exercise, in other words a dead problem, the three-body one, however, was not. Predicting the future state of the system Moon, Earth and Sun is still a relatively hot topic.
During the last 50 years, some scientists have started to attempt to overcome this obstacle of unpredictability. This is the science of complexity where one still tries to extract universal patterns from systems which appear chaotic or random. So far, it seems that this science has mostly produced qualitative results, so much so that some have started to doubt its real scientific benefits and have accused it of being at times too philosophical, even mystical. But this science first and foremost does not deny the complexity of natural systems, which is itself a great step forward. By doing so, it attempts to go beyond the predictability problem and to fulfill Newton's dream to comprehend Nature. So much has yet to be learnt, and the science of complexity has so far successfully shaken our stern belief in equilibrium and in linear causal chains of events.

Lorenz, E. N., 1963, "Deterministic nonperiodic flow", Journal of the Atmosphere Sciences, 20, 130-141.