/ Philosophy

Newtonian Relationship

An object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.

Tonight I lay in bed with my partner. And as he drifted off to sleep I laid facing him, stroking his hair and telling him that I love him. I was smiling and I felt happy and at peace. I thought about the idea that relationships are work, and that the ideal relationship is one you are in because you want to be in it.

I also thought of the fact that relationships are effort. Even long-standing relationships take upkeep and work. It is a choice to continue committing to one another. And this reminded me of Newton's first law, and I realized that the need to recommit, to choose to be in relationship time and again is in a way, proof of free will.

I should preface that I believe in free will. I believe that free will is the ability of life to surprise itself. I could write several posts on my thoughts surrounding this, but that is for another time.

So why is making the choice to be in a relationship proof of free will? Because no matter how you look at it, it violates Newton's first law.

If we consider that a stable relationship should remain stable barring an outside force, then it should not require the upkeep that it does. Ah, but relationships are by nature unstable you might say. Entropy does its mighty work and they tend to move ever towards ordered disorder.

The force it takes to flout entropy and choose again and again to be in orbit with another person or persons is not natural nor external. It is an internal force, and violates the first law in another way.

But Theo, you may say, relationships are not physical objects, and are not governed by these laws. And you're right of course. But their lack of physicality and exemption from the laws of physics don't exempt them from the laws of philosophy. And the laws of philosophy say that whatever the philosopher claims applies, applies.

And so I claim that entropy applies to relationships. And so it does.

But where does free will come in? Free will is the most important part of a relationship, even if the one-true-love advocates can not see it.

The idea that "true love" is a destined thing applies the laws of physics to relationships. It implies that there is a relationship where your velocity, vector, position, mass, and physicist knows what else all align perfectly, so that when you approach each other you are caught up inexorably in eternal embrace with your beloved. It is a sterile ugly thing, and if you think about it too hard, the consensuality of it becomes fuzzy. Can you consent to something that is pre-ordained to happen?

On the other hand, the effort of choosing to be with a person (or people) from a place of agency requires the idea of free-will. And you cannot enter into relationship and simply coast. Eventually things fall apart. Staying in a relationship, strengthening it and nurturing it; these are things that require individual will. Free will lets us move ourselves into orbit with each other.

Hopefully we seek out more stable orbits over time. Perhaps we even create an equilibrium where our system is stable. But there are always outside actors and forces. Even an internally stable system can be disrupted and requires care and choosing.

And this exercise of will doesn't apply only to our relationships with humans. With spirits, gods, animals. Our relationships all take work, from all sides. None of them are stable if you say hello once and never go for coffee.

Header image cropped from original by Rogelio Bernal Andreo [CC BY-SA 3.0]