The canteen at my art school was the biggest gay-cruising spot in New York.
That’s what my gay friends told me at the time.
At college you spend a lot of time just hanging out at the canteen.
Passing the time with your mates between classes.
As it does with young men, the topic of sex often comes up.
One time one of the gay guys asked me if I was gay.
I said no.
He said “You can’t say that, all you can ever say is you haven’t met the right man yet”.
I thought that was really interesting.
I’d never heard that thought before and it stayed with me.
Later on I found it’s true about everything in life.
In philosophy it’s called the Black Swan problem.
Karl Popper said that from what we can observe all swans are white.
We’ve never seen a black swan.
Therefore all the evidence of our experience, and of all previous generations’ experience, is that all swans are white.
So we can make that a universal law: all swans are white.
Except we can’t.
Because we only ever need to find one black swan to disprove it.
No matter how many white swans we see we can never see every swan that has ever existed, or will ever exist.
We can have an overwhelming mass of evidence that things are a certain way.
But in an infinite universe, we can never know for sure that in all cases it will always be true.
Since we can never know it, we can never actually prove it.
All we say is that’s been our experience.
In fact the only proof we can ever hope to find is the exact opposite.
We can’t prove it, but we can disprove it.
Because no matter how many white swans we find it won’t prove it.
But we only have to find one black swan to disprove it.
That’s quite a shattering thought.
We can never prove anything, we can only ever disprove it.
Or is it shattering, maybe it’s liberating.
Maybe it means that all the old certainties that kept us fixed in place just dissolve.
All the things that stopped us having to think.
All the things we relied on.
That’s very unsettling.
Like the character in Shawshank Redemption, who’s lived his entire life in prison.
Given his freedom, he doesn’t know what to what to do with life outside prison.
All the old certainties are gone.
Without prison he’s lost in a world without rules, and he kills himself.
Which brings us to Jean Paul Sartre.
Because that’s what he meant when he said “We are condemned to be free”.
We are lost without rules.
But do we need to be?
Maybe it’s true that we do need rules.
But we don’t need someone else to make our rules up for us.
If we need rules, we are free to make up the rules that we choose.
That’s what Sartre meant when he said “The very meaningless of life forces each man to make his own meaning”.