A very peculiar phrase which came up in phone conversation with a rarely-seen friend this morning, referring to how a wandering troupe of musicians he'd encountered in Boulder, Colorado would probably make their way to Vancouver at some point but never really knew where they'd end up next.

Something about the phrase rings odd but it can't be understood reading strictly at the textual level. The irrevocable strangeness is connotative - as Webster tells us, a symptom is "an affliction which accompanies disease." That's not all it can mean, of course; it doesn't have to be interpreted in the negative context of disease, but that is where it is most frequently used and thus any use of it outside those circumstances will still feel a bit sickly.

Where the weirdness bursts through this process is, of course, when we ask ourselves what's so sickly about the notion of human freedom.

Any good predeterminist will tell you that the only way anything in the universe can have objective meaning is if everything in the universe has objective meaning - if the whole of the existence of every particle in the universe was plotted out in advance by G-d towards some cosmic end which we can never know, only having faith that it's a noble one. But to have that kind of divine reason behind all occurrances ("Someone wanted us to be here right now") precludes the existence of free will - we'd be acting the way we are because at the beginning of everything the particles which would someday be us were told how to act while they were us.

The cosmology permitting human freedom is a frightening, Godless place. Without predetermination, we are the result of a partial infinity of wholly random processes going back to the unexplained origin of the universe; we can't know why we're here because there can be no underlying reason more compelling than the way water molecules enjoy a polar covalent bond. We can't know where we're going because of the limited infinity of random processes which will bump into us on our way to our unknown destination and almost assuredly alter our trajectory or redirect us.

A symptom of human freedom is lying awake at night wondering how to reconcile these two views into something permitting meaning. Another symptom of human freedom is dismissing the whole intellectual trap of "meaning" and deciding that there are more immediate problems at hand like what to put in one's belly, in one's head and what to rub your dangly bits against.

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