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Let us listen to Carlo Rubbia, Nobel Prize Laureate in Physics, and former Director of the CERN, the Geneva-based particles laboratory:

“In my opinion, symmetry is truly the most fundamental thing that exists today in nature. I believe that if we could explain the laws of fundamental symmetries, we would know almost all there is to know about the world. And on that basis, we could build the world’s equations. However, these symmetries, which were perfect in an initial world that was both extremely simple and uniform, are breaking down, altering themselves through evolution.

“First, this is a spontaneous rupture. It is a choice. It is a choice between one possible solution and other solutions which are just as possible. And nature must choose one of these solutions. This rupture can be observed and, in a certain fashion, is related to the evolution of this universe of ours, which transits from a uniform, extremely simple and elementary system, to one in which there are differences, modifications, various aspects, richness.”

Nature makes choices ² ; it thus has a certain freedom without which it could not evolve. Yet this freedom is not indefinite. It is framed (limited) by symmetries. It arises with breaks in symmetry and makes a place for itself at the expense of the determinism previously thought to be absolute. The latter breaks slightly with the rupture of symmetry. Freedom does not remove it! Genetic determinism is still quite present: we are born with a nose on our face, ears on the sides of our head, a heart to the left, etc. What changes is that little space created by the breaking and limited by the symmetries which I call “freedom”.

Freedom, a non-normative value

Freedom allows us positive and/or negative actions. But its space-time, as vast as it may be, is not sufficient; it also requires a more or less symmetrical environment. When we are in good health, we enjoy great freedom. On the other hand, when we suffer an accident or illness, when our physical or psychic balance is broken (broken leg, coma), our freedom to move about or to speak is affected. Therefore, liberty depends on a certain balance, a certain symmetry.

Locked up in a tiny cell, where would our freedom of action be? In the desert, we are supposed to be free to move about… Yet would we really be free had we just time and space, but no resources (water, supplies, fuel)? Space-time and resources are intimately linked to bring substance to our liberty. In this case, resources must be proportional to the needs of the journey. Should the principle of proportionality be violated, liberty would decrease.

If all the services we provide through our work earned us no salary or other consideration, i.e. if the principle of reciprocity did not exist, where would our liberty be?

What is a man’s liberty under torture? When force ratios are unbalanced, when the principle of equality is violated, liberty disappears. It is common for us to say that our freedom stops where the other’s freedom begins, but for the tortured man, his freedom begins where his torturer’s freedom ends…

We are free to choose the make, model, colour, etc., of our vehicle. But should our insurer shirk his responsibility and abandon us after our car had been set on fire, where would our liberty be? Our freedom depends on the Others, and on their compliance with the principle of responsibility.

We have just discovered that freedom is not an absolute value. It is also born of the rupture of symmetry. It is through this small crack that determinism partly disappears to yield the way for Mrs. Liberty. It is through this crack that a space-time is created, with possibilities of choices which only survive within the limits of the respect for the various symmetries.

Freedom gives the responsible individual all his dignity. The ability of humans to evolve depends heavily on their relationship to the environment and to other humans. These humans are not only material and spiritual beings, they are also deeply relational and cannot overcome the limits dictated by symmetries.

These limits give freedom all its meaning and “raison d’être”: unrestricted freedom would have neither sense nor value, like a territory without border it would be indefensible. The formula according which one’s freedom ends where that of Others begins is still valid. It reflects the importance of normative values.