Changing times and existential angst

Sandra Torralba
photo. by Sandra Torralba, included with thanks

In existentialism, the question of perpetuity is of relevance. There is a tension between how time can flow and the belief that events lead to cumulative ends. In questioning the future, the curious existentialist may be struck by the contrast between the ephemeral nature of life and the the continuity of structure, including language, across generations.
Some patterns persist. These are the patterns that rise through the froth of chaos and merge as floating rafts across the storm ridden seas of change. Some appear eternal but the froth can drown them in an instant. Hence, the patterning of life is poised between the sheer unpredictability of the flow of events and the inertia of structures to resist change. Somehow the chaos recedes from a deafening roar to the bubbling of a brook.
Do these patterns persist in perpetuity? This is largely a question of how broadly we dare define a pattern. In the simplest sense, any motion scribes a pattern across time. If we were to believe in unassailable entropy as the Second tenet of Thermodynamics would hold; then these structures are limited to spheres of influences, systems with significant neg-entropy. In an infinite universe, then even the most random sequences must repeat.
Somehow a simple repetition does not satisfy the conditions for perpetuity, for it also implies the continuity of a pattern while all around it is subject to change. The apparent order can hardly be seen above the threshold noise of the system. Yet, it persists.
So what can order a pattern that is immersed in this type of ever dissolving disorder? We can get a bit closer by considering systems as not bordered by their spatial constraints but instead by their interactivity with surrounding objects and systems.
Therefore, systems take on a distributed quality that can be reinforcing. It is through this means that living systems can perpetuate. Nevertheless, there are limits to cohesion of living systems and the cultural pseudosystems epiphytic to them.
The discourse concerning these limits is apparent, more or less forthrightly, in the minds of our society. With good reason, we have come to regard large scale biological systems as more vulnerable in their interaction with the human biotechnological mass.
There has been interesting reference to these issues recently in the scientific and popular literature. One thread that can be drawn is a deeper questioning of what perpetuity means in this modern context. The realization that what appeared to be perpetual structures may actually be undergoing phase transition can displace the safe harbour of apparent solidity and cast us as individuals within a social mass into a type of collective existential crisis.
Paradoxically, existential angst is the unsettling, squirming feeling that accompanies the realisation of human free will.... "What will I do, what can stop me, what if I do?". However, a similar form of negativity can arise out of the suppressed or defeated will. If we are to expand this concept beyond the individual, it is worth considering how our collective free actions can lead us rapidly away from desired ends. This is all too apparent in the expression of power concerning issues of sustainable energy use and social planning.
This angst can be used effectively against the populace by twisting the level of an issue away from the collective to the individual. A chilling example is the 8th October 2011 comments by Dr Shunichi Yamashita, "Those who smile will have no radiation damage, only those who make constant worry...". I really hope that something was lost in translation but the statement serves to show how the will can be effectively turned against the self by the attribution of responsibility at a level not empowered to act.
Such fracturing of responsibility may actually have a cocooning effect, reinforcing the idea that "the authorities will sort it out". However, the collective reels at the unsustainable mythology that some higher power is acting while the "higher" powers are left feeling helpless in the milieu of events they cannot control and are in fear of those they claim to protect. It doesn't make for much in the way of settling emotions.
photo. by Sandra Torralba, included with thanks

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