This is one of man's oldest riddles. How can the independence of human volition be harmonized with the fact that we are integral parts of a
universe which is subject to the rigid order of nature's laws?
~ Max Planck
This thread is the first of what will be several mind bending threads. What I want to talk about now is one of the deepest and most profound subjects
within science and philosophy; free-will and determinism. For a long time scientists held onto the idea that the universe was a perfectly
deterministic machine, this was called the clockwork universe. A clockwork universe is like a mechanical machine which evolves according to perfectly
predictable rules. Everything that happens must have a cause, like falling dominoes; one occurrence leads to the next.
Take a moment to think about Conway's Game of Life
, I'm sure most of you have played
it. The player chooses the initial cell setup and then lets the game evolve by its self based on a very simple set of rules. All sorts of complicated
behavior can be observed as the system evolves, despite the fact that the rules are very simple and the initial conditions can also be very simple.
This is essentially a simplified example of a clockwork universe because the system will always evolve the same way if you choose the same setup and
use the same rules.
It doesn't matter how many times you repeat the process, if the rules are completely deterministic then you'll always get the same result from the
same initial setup. In other words, the initial conditions determine the fate of the system; the entire future of the system is decided by the initial
setup. If our universe is indeed a clockwork universe with deterministic rules, then it means everything that has happened and everything that will
happen in our universe was already determined at the very start of time, at the moment of the big bang.
What this means is that if a 2nd big bang were to occur with the exact same initial conditions as our big bang, then a universe exactly the same as
this one would evolve, and eventually the human race would also appear exactly as it appears now. I would even write out this exact same thread, word
for word, in this theoretical 2nd universe. This may not appear to be such an odd concept until you realize the big bang was supposed to start as a
perfectly symmetrical point of energy in perfect thermal equilibrium, but lets not get side tracked with such complexities.
The point I'm trying to get at here is this: if we do live in a fully deterministic universe then we can conclude that free-will doesn't exist, it's
merely an illusion, because in such a deterministic universe my entire future has already been determined, it's set in stone and there's nothing I can
to do change it. In such a universe, every decision and choice I will ever make was already determined at the start of time. Now obviously there are
numerous problems and paradoxes which arise if you choose to believe the universe is fully deterministic.
We always implicitly assume the freedom of the experimentalist... This fundamental assumption is essential to doing science. If this were not
true, then, I suggest, it would make no sense at all to ask nature questions in an experiment, since then nature could determine what our questions
are, and that could guide our questions such that we arrive at a false picture of nature.
~ Anton Zeilinger
Now, the problem is even deeper than that quote would imply. It's not just the results of our experiments which would be skewed, in a fully
deterministic universe even our decision to carry out one experiment rather than another would be predetermined, and the measurements we make in those
experiments would also be predetermined. Science in a fully deterministic universe is absolutely meaningless. Many scientists and philosophers have
cited the Game of Life as proof of how our complex universe might have evolved from simple rules.
However imagine for a moment that you had a really powerful computer and you could leave the Game of Life (or any other deterministic simulation)
running for a really long time. Do you think it's possible that intelligent life would eventually arise within your simulation, and if it did do you
think they could carry out experiments in order to determine the nature of the world they live in? The answer is obviously no, anything those "life
forms" do was already determined when you chose the initial conditions of the system.
If you ran the simulation a 2nd time you'd get the same "intelligent" life forms and they'd carry out the exact same "experiments" and they'd reach
the exact same conclusions about the world they live in every time, and those conclusions would most likely be very wrong. In fact you don't really
have intelligent life conducting experiments, even though it may look like it. What you have is a complex system with complex behavior, but nothing
about it implies you have created intelligent life, let alone sentient life, regardless of how intelligent or sentient it appears.
If we do live in a fully deterministic universe then we may as well stop doing science right now because it's completely meaningless (not that we
would have any free will to stop). A fully deterministic universe completely undermines the entire scientific process and implies that we will most
likely reach an invalid conclusion about how our universe works. It also undermines the entire legal system; if killers have no free will, how can we
legitimately or logically blame them for their actions when their actions were determined at the start of time?
Luckily, the universe does not appear to be a deterministic clockwork machine. Quantum mechanics and quantum randomness is the undoing of determinism
and the clockwork universe. Most scientists did not like quantum mechanics at all when it was first discovered because it totally destroyed their neat
little clockwork framework. Their dreams of mathematically modeling every aspect of nature and predicting with absolute precision how systems will
evolve was shattered with the introduction of quantum mechanics and the randomness that comes with it.
In a quantum universe the initial starting conditions can be exactly the same, but you'll get a different result every time you let the system evolve
because now we've introduced randomness into the system. In essence, what this means is that not everything needs to have a clear cause. In such a
universe, things can happen without needing a preceding event which led up to that thing happening, events can just randomly happen with no apparent
cause. There are many different phenomena which exhibit this type of random behavior.
For example particle decay is a random phenomena, we cannot predict with a high degree of accuracy when a particle will decay, and there is no
preceding event which causes the particle to decay, it simply does so at some random point corresponding to its half life. The timing of when an
electron within an atom falls down to a lower energy orbital is a very random occurrence, and there is nothing which directly causes the shift to
happen, there is no preceding event you can point to and say that's why it dropped to a lower energy level.
Vacuum fluctuations are probably the best example though, because despite the fact you cannot see them, they are constantly happening all around you
and the timing, magnitude, and location of those fluctuations is entirely random. There is absolutely no preceding event which caused those
fluctuations to occur, they simply happen at random times in random places, little random burps of energy which disappear in the blink of an eye. But
we know they are there and we can even measure them and generate true random numbers from those fluctuations
True random number generators are only possible because we live in a quantum universe, and any random number generator which claims to provide true
random numbers must be exploiting the laws of quantum mechanics or they aren't really generating true random numbers, they are generating
pseudo-random numbers. True randomness is built into the laws of nature, and since we are an extension of nature, an aspect of nature which has become
aware of its self, then we are also quantum mechanical machines, and our behavior is unpredictable to some degree.
However, just because our behavior is not fully predictable, does that really mean we have some type of free will? Are we really making our own
choices as self aware beings or is it just the pure randomness that we have no control over? If we have no control over the randomness, then we aren't
really making any decisions for ourselves, it's just another random source of data coming into our brains. The output of our brain depends on the
input, so we're not really making any sort of internal or transcendental conscious decisions we can call "our own".
Now we could stop at this point and conclude that the outcome of the universe is unpredictable and that the behavior of human beings is not fully
predictable, even though humans don't really have free will. However there is one last aspect to this story which reignites the possibility of free
will. Experiments such as the Global Consciousness Project
indicate that consciousness has an influence on
quantum randomness. The Global Consciousness Project claims that quantum RNG's all around the world are influenced by global emotions.
In essence, this experiment states that quantum random number generators (QRNG's) are sensitive to human consciousness. The idea is that their global
network of quantum RNG's react to large scale events on Earth, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which they say caused a rather noticeable change in
the numbers being generated by the quantum RNG's. Earlier I implied that intelligent and conscious beings cannot exist in a clockwork universe, then I
introduced quantum randomness and that solved a lot of problems for us and opened the door for consciousness.
The conclusion seems to be that the randomness of nature some how allows us to be conscious, although it doesn't necessarily give us free will. Now,
if randomness can drive consciousness, then perhaps the reverse is also true, in that consciousness can drive randomness via some sort of feedback
loop. Remember, I said that we cannot have true free will if we have no control over the quantum randomness, but if we have this feedback loop which
allows the randomness to be influenced by consciousness then the door to free will is once again open.
edit on 17/4/2014 by ChaoticOrder
because: (no reason given)