The Physics of Freedom, by J. Pedar Zane

What does it mean to be free? From J. Pedar Zane at

Freedom is our Founding Fathers’ greatest gift.

Since 1776, that single word has been the compass and measure of the human experiment the world calls America. Whatever disparate, sometimes far-flung ideologies they may embrace, all who celebrate or bemoan our past, present, and future ground their claims and critiques in that single word. At heart, we are ever asking: How free are we? When you imagine all the other ideas those men in powdered wigs might have made our identity and obsession, freedom – which feels so hopeful, open-ended, and optimistic – seems the most salubrious of choices.

And yet, perhaps because the concept is so fundamental and familiar, we rarely ask a central question: What is freedom? We assume we truly know its meaning. But do we? Freedom has become like the operating systems that power our computers and the world – something the vast majority of us rely on, take for granted, without really understanding what it is and how it works. I believe that some, but not all, of our divisions are rooted in the lack of clear understanding of this guiding ideal.

In this short space, I want to describe a definition of freedom that is more accurate and hence more useful than the common understandings rooted in politics because it is based in the timeless laws of physics. This scientific lens, which is based on the work of Adrian Bejan, the celebrated professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University with whom I wrote the 2012 book “Design in Nature,” allows us to see freedom more fully and more accurately, in all its power and glory.

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