Information Wants To Be Free
Peace and happiness are information, too.
Long ago, I can’t remember exactly when, someone told me that information wants to be free. Since then, I’ve taken notice of experiences in my life that prove that concept to me, the idea that information wants to be free. I’ve also noticed that information has a very strong tendency to propagate, just like light.
The first example I’d like to call upon is from a very old source: Thomas Jefferson. In this example, I’d like to draw from some of the best prose I think I have ever read. I kid you not, my heart flutters when I read these words:
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.
In that text, Jefferson also referred to ideas as a “fugitive fermentation of an individual brain”. I love this description because I’ve seen ideas act like fugitives. I used to write and perform my own standup comedy. I can distinctly recall on at least one occasion, laughing to myself at an idea for a joke, and while I wrote the joke, the idea completely escaped my mind. The joke was gone before I could even finish writing the idea down.
I also agree with the use of the word “fermentation” to describe ideas because the brain is a chemical process at work. The results of that work are millions if not billions of ideas, initiatives, thoughts, and actions. Every idea that we have ever had is the result of a chemical reaction between our ears.
Jefferson also pointed out that you can’t unlearn things. Our brains are designed by nature to accumulate knowledge. That means that when we are exposed to a stimulus, our brains are designed to remember them. Our brains are so smart, that we even store memories in our muscles as a backup.
I have read of “facts” and have tried to unlearn them by reading something else. I have used other information to contradict something that I have learned so as to “cancel” it out, or to give the newer, more accurate information a higher priority in my mind. But I will always remember what I have learned, even if I learn better information later on.
Jefferson also notes one of the most interesting aspects of ideas in particular and of knowledge in general. Among social creatures like humans, knowledge has a tendency to propagate, “like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point”. Ideas are made for the mutual instruction of humans. Sharing an idea with another human offers no particular advantage over the receiver of the idea. I think that sharing an idea must be the smallest basic unit of cooperation.
The internet is an expression of the desire for information to propagate. Light is information and it wants to propagate, sometimes over billions of light-years of distance. Even matter itself is information. Everything is information. Long ago, I read that nothing ever really disappears in a black hole because if it did, that would mean the loss of information. Like energy, information is always conserved in any physical system.
One of the most interesting examples of the tendency for information to propagate, as if it had a desire to be free, is the Streisand Effect. Long ago, someone took an aerial photograph of Barbara Streisand’s palatial house on the California coast and shared that photo on the Internet. The photo went viral — one of the first viral events that I can remember — and Streisand did everything in her power to suppress the spread of the photo. The more she struggled to contain it, the more that people wanted to share it. In that one natural experiment, Streisand proved just how strong the tendency is for information to propagate.
I write with that intention every day. When I publish a story here or there, and I’ve been publishing since about 2006, I do so with the intention to plant seeds. I pant seeds with the hope that they will propagate. This is why I write mostly about peace and happiness, for there is so much suffering in the world. If there is one thing that I would want to spread around the world, it is information about how to be peaceful and how to be happy.
I have found that the principles of peace and happiness are simple to understand. I have also found that they require practice and skill to apply. I have spent years, even decades practicing the skills required to bring peace to my own mind, and then to others. Skills like de-escalation, conflict resolution, negotiation, and knowing what my needs are and how to articulate them, and how to get them met, come to mind.
If I want peace, I must practice peace. If I want happiness, I must practice happiness. The skills required to attain a state of happiness and peace can be taught. Once they are taught, we cannot unlearn them. We may make many errors attempting to apprehend those skills and to apply them to our lives, but with some determination and discipline, we can have them at will.
I believe that information wants to be free, that it has a sort of will. That will is guided by my intentions. I start with an intention to err on the side of peace, and a decision to be happy. I want to propagate ideas and texts that will spread the ideas of peace and happiness not just to you, but for me, too. For when I share those ideas, I make both of us richer in the sharing. When I share ideas that promote happiness and peace, I surround myself with them. It is a virtuous circle.