For me, the most interesting side of this phenomenon being that the ‘reaction’ is innate in the nature of things. None of the two objects that interact need to do anything in order for Newton’s law to be obeyed.
The next level of this is the ‘membrane’. That thing that separates the ‘inside’ of an living organism from its ‘outside’ and which not only distinguishes between these two spaces but also controls whatever enters and exists the organism – as long as all goes in a regular manner. If something irregular happens to that particular organism its membrane might be overpowered and the organism dies.
At this level also things happen according to some innate laws, without outside intervention and without any need for deliberation on the part of the organism itself. Even when we speak of evolved animals and even with us, humans, most of the inner workings that take place inside our bodies happen ‘under the radar’.
And it seems that what we call ‘deliberation’ isn’t that important after all. Newton’s laws have organized the Universe ever since mass has been around while membranes have made life possible on Earth for the last billion years or so.
The third level, what we call human conscience, has started to develop some 200,000 years ago. Approximately, of course. Humberto Maturana has proposed a very interesting explanation about how it came to be and you can read about it here. For what I have in mind, it is enough for me to mention that Maturana says that we are not only conscious but also aware of our consciousness.
And it is this awareness that has the most important consequences.
I started this post by quoting Newton’s third law of motion. I’ll go back to him and remind you of the first two:
“An object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a net force” Meaning that things have a tendency to keep doing whatever they are doing at any given moment until something from outside messes with them and
The vector sum of the forces F on an object is equal to the mass m of that object multiplied by the acceleration vector a of the object: F = ma Meaning that the end result of an interaction is not commensurate only with the amount of energy spent during that interaction but also with the manner in which that interaction has taken place. The ensuing ‘vector sum of the forces on an object’ depends essentially on two things. How big are the individual forces at play and in which direction are each of them pulling at the object.
I’ve been speaking about ‘three levels’.
At the first two levels the amount of force that was messing with our objects and its orientation relative to the objects (Vector sum) depends only on ‘chance’. The objects themselves – who have no say on the matter, the interactions following blindly some innate rules – can not influence in any way the outcome of the interaction. The results have already been settled at the moment when ‘chance’ had met with the individual characteristics of each object involved in the interaction.
The third level, though, has a very interesting characteristic. At least one of the objects involved – the human individual – is, at least somewhat, aware of its own existence and of its ability to interfere in the development of the interaction. To influence the outcome of interactions that take place within his reach.
This very awareness, how ever partial, explains why most individuals do their best to survive: they are aware of their mortal nature so they do everything in their power to stay alive, in fact to respect Newton’s first law.
Also it is the same awareness that is responsible for our ‘rational’ behaviour. We have discovered that the results depend heavily not only on the amount of effort spent on the occasion but also on how that effort was applied to the task. Hence the conscientious manner in which we try to get as much bang for our buck.
And the same awareness makes me wonder how come so few people understand the difference between ‘reactive’ and ‘constructive’.
Why so many people, when confronted by a new situation, tend not only to fall back on the ‘tried and trusted’ but also to defend them as ‘the only valid option’. Not taking into account that it is the very novelty of the entire situation that is the most challenging aspect of the whole thing.
So instead of putting all the cards on the table in an attempt to find out a mutually acceptable solution for all – or at least for as many as possible – participants in a given interaction tend to jealously keep their cards close to their chests, negating any chance of cooperation.
The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin, 2007 A good lesson about how to overcome this tendency.