Existential Musings - Part 1: Determinism & Free Will

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posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 07:46 AM
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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)




posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 09:03 AM
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Wowza. I've read your OP, and it's very interesting. I'll have to go back and read it several times over to get the full ideas, but I agree that Quantum has opened up new vistas that make things even more complicated than was thought (or expected).

A few years ago I read a book about this theory by Evan Harris Walker:
The Physics Of Consciousness: The Quantum Mind And The Meaning Of Life

For decades, neuroscientists, psychologists, and an army of brain researchers have been struggling, in vain, to explain the phenomenon of consciousness. Now there is a clear trail to the answer, and it leads through the dense jungle of quantum physics, Zen, and subjective experience, and arrives at an unexpected destination.

In this tour-de-force of scientific investigation, Evan Harris Walker shows how the operation of bizarre yet actual properties of elementary particles support a new and exciting theory of reality, based on the principles of quantum physics-a theory that answers questions such as "What is the nature of consciousness, of will?" "What is the source of material reality?" and "What is God?”


Now, this subject fascinates me, although I have a very pedestrian grasp of Quantum, I kinda get it enough - and this book was hard and slow reading (especially at the beginning), but as it moves along it suggests the same 'family of ideas' as your OP.

There are other books out about Quantum and Consciousness, even about Collective Consciousness.
Of course, there are naysayers as well, but in my opinion, as a student of human behavior, it's very exciting.
Have you read any books about it?

I've seen the GCP, but hadn't heard of Conway's Game of Life.
Thanks for sparking my brain so quantumly.

S/F



posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 09:05 AM
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reply to post by ChaoticOrder
 


A rough analogy would be numbers in a hat. If I put pieces of paper with the numbers 1 through 5 written on them into a hat, there are certain inevitable facts that can immediately be surmised. You will not get anything other than those five numbers if you reach in and pull one out. You must reach in and pull one out if you desire to get any number at all. If you leave the hat sitting where it will not be disturbed, those five numbers will not change. If you want any number other than those five numbers, you must manually add it/them. So on and so forth. This is what our free will is like. We can choose to pull a number out. We can choose to pull another one out if the first number we pull out is not to our liking. We can choose to add more numbers if we desire. We can also choose to walk away and not bother with the numbers in the hat at all. But only to a certain point do we have control over the laws of reality, and I've just demonstrated how our free will interacts with those laws.



edit on 17-4-2014 by AfterInfinity because: (no reason given)



posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 09:21 AM
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reply to post by ChaoticOrder
 


Existence requires infinity, even randomness requires order, and infinite order, causation cannot do. Thus, causation is an illusion.

There is only one thing which creates order, yet is unbound by it, by causation, and that, is will. Thus, this immeasurable thing called "random", which is itself, infinite, must be will.

So, determinism, or free, is solely up to what is willed.

I think.


More, where are you going with "Existential Musing"? I like new concepts/awarenesses! Feed me, Seymour.



posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 09:24 AM
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Bleeeeep
reply to post by ChaoticOrder
 


Existence requires infinity, even randomness requires order, and infinite order, causation cannot do. Thus, causation is an illusion.

There is only one thing which creates order, yet is unbound by it, by causation, and that, is will. Thus, this immeasurable thing called "random", which is itself, infinite, must be will.

So, determinism, or free, is solely up to what is willed.

I think.


More, where are you going with "Existential Musing"? I like new concepts/awarenesses! Feed me, Seymour.


The title suggests this is the beginning of a new series of threads. A fresh influx to get our gears turning. Thank you, ChaoticOrder!



posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 09:59 AM
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reply to post by ChaoticOrder
 


Very nice. Very well thought out, and you've touched on both sides. We obviously don't have enough data to determine one way or the other, but i would like to think that with enough data and analysis we can come to a better understanding of the core principals of the universe. Even those which are now beyond the reach of scientific observation. Although i am a strict adherent to what can be proven with proper scientific methods, it is not hard to imagine a time in the future when humans will look back at our generations and know that our understanding was fundamentally flawed. That is what history has repeatedly shown to be the norm.

I do tend to think of the universe as clockwork and determined, but i also have this perception of free will. This perception is sometimes shattered as well, leaving me with the opposite feeling.

However, the laws of motion and chemistry are pretty well understood. We understand them to work much like a set of dominoes. Once they are set in motion you can easily calculate the outcome with a set of simple formulas to a surprising degree of accuracy.

I also believe this idea of randomness is just a case of we don't have enough information to put into our models to calculate to an acceptable degree of certainty. Other systems have seemed random before but once enough data was observed and a proper model was built, it became quite mundane. (Solar system) (dna).

It would seem that life and consciousness are inevitable outcomes in our universe and probably have sprung up countless times on countless planets and bodies. On our planet, practically everywhere we look we see life thriving. Even within our own bodies, most of what we consider as ourself, is really a collection of organisms working together with or fighting for control of our bodies. Is our conscious involved when a tapeworm sends signals to your brain making you crave sugary food? I would say your mind is still at play but you are being subverted or manipulated. How about advertising? When you see that food on the commercial, your mind is being subverted in a similar way. In fact most of what you think you have control over is an illusion.



posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 10:25 AM
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reply to post by ChaoticOrder
 


Hi ChaoticOrder,

I appreciate your Op and I am a big fan of Conway's Game of Life and cellular automata in general. I wanted to contribute an idea that always comes up for me when thinking about TGoL and determinism and that sort of thing.

One parameter that cannot be provided to the cells in TGoL is Attachment. Some simulators try, like Dwarf Fortress. Inevitably, one of the dwarves is going to lose it and start knifing the other dwarves, or on the other hand, a dwarf or 12 might become overly attached to a cat, or worse, many, many cats will become attached to a single dwarf resulting in what fans of the game call Catpocalypse. It's a clunky simulation of life, but at least the designers attempted to work in attachment.

See, love really is the key, or in the case of cellular automata, the missing ingredient. That's why there will be no Singularity; we don't understand attachment enough to help ourselves, let alone code it in to a machine.

Attachment Theory




edit on 17-4-2014 by Bybyots because: . : .



posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 04:36 PM
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Causality...however I do wish I could find the code for that pie!




posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 06:16 PM
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a reply to: BuzzyWigs


There are other books out about Quantum and Consciousness, even about Collective Consciousness.
Of course, there are naysayers as well, but in my opinion, as a student of human behavior, it's very exciting.
Have you read any books about it?

Actually I haven't read many books on this subject, but the book you mentioned does sound interesting. But it is obvious that QM some how ties into the phenomenon of consciousness, I'm not really sure how the "naysayers" could deny such an obvious fact. Without QM I doubt we would even be here right now to discuss this issue.



posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 06:22 PM
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a reply to: AfterInfinity

Interesting point of view, but if we have no control over the numbers which come out of the hat then our choice to discard a number or keep a number is completely dependent on previous numbers we've pulled out of the hat. Free will is really only possible is we have some control over which numbers come out of the hat, even if it's a very tiny influence, it's enough to open the door for free will.



posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 06:36 PM
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a reply to: Bleeeeep


More, where are you going with "Existential Musing"? I like new concepts/awarenesses! Feed me, Seymour.


There will probably be about 2 or 3 parts to this series. The next part will focus on issues such as why we have something rather than nothing in our universe, how energy and how our universe was able to spawn from nothingness, what is real if everything came from nothing, what if we live in a simulation or some type of holographic universe, how do we even define the term "real"? Did the big bang occur at the start of time, was there even a start to time, will there be an end to time, and all that really trippy stuff.



posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 06:48 PM
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a reply to: Woodcarver


However, the laws of motion and chemistry are pretty well understood. We understand them to work much like a set of dominoes. Once they are set in motion you can easily calculate the outcome with a set of simple formulas to a surprising degree of accuracy.

On the macro scale that is basically true, that's why we can generally use classical mechanics to calculate the behavior of macroscopic systems. But on the quantum scale that is completely false, and phenomena from the quantum scale can often seep into the macro scale. The nuclear reactions which take place in the sun are a good example. Those reactions are fundamentally caused by subatomic interactions heavily influenced by quantum laws and it's impossible to predict with a high accuracy exactly how the sun will evolve and exactly how it will look at some point in the future, the placement of sun spots and so on, and exactly how much energy it will release towards the earth between now and some point in the future, etc.


I also believe this idea of randomness is just a case of we don't have enough information to put into our models to calculate to an acceptable degree of certainty.

Well that could be true, but the most accepted interpretation of QM states that randomness is intrinsic to the universe. The randomness is literally written into the laws of QM, it's not just something we can solve if we have more information.

A Snapshot of Foundational Attitudes Toward Quantum Mechanics



posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 07:37 PM
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a reply to: ChaoticOrder


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.


Did you ever have a dream about events that felt very natural and then latter realized the dream paralleled events in the future?

The experience is like one collapsed a wave function which in this case relates to a future event.



Fascinating thread



posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 08:05 PM
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originally posted by: ChaoticOrder
a reply to: AfterInfinity

Interesting point of view, but if we have no control over the numbers which come out of the hat then our choice to discard a number or keep a number is completely dependent on previous numbers we've pulled out of the hat. Free will is really only possible is we have some control over which numbers come out of the hat, even if it's a very tiny influence, it's enough to open the door for free will.


Our free will, in such a scenario, comes down to the simple choice of do or do not. The possible outcomes are limited, but our actions allow us to influence the process of elimination by which outcomes are made possible or impossible, likely or unlikely. That's what free will is - the extent and direction of our participation. Our conscious influence on the outcome.



posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 09:19 PM
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a reply to: ChaoticOrder

Yes. I agree with you on both points. Even that randomness seems to be part of it but order is made from chaos by slowly understanding more and more of it. We are def not running out of things to study. More and more things will come to us and what seems random today will be understood by later generations.

Im not really advocating for determinism, but its easy to think of large astral bodies set in motion and playing that scenario out. But as you pointed out, when it comes down to a mind, i would like to think that i am able to step partly out of a determined fate, but only by gaining as much useful knowledge as possible and making the best choices based on that information.

Quantum mechanics is not new by any means but i would have to say it is still in its juvenile stages. Its still trying to find all of its parts. I look forward to the future when they have a better model. In my wildest dreams i would like to see some headway made in application of all of this knowledge of the quantum world.
(Quantum computing) (A. I.) (robotics) this tech could really bring our wildest fantasies
To real life.

If i had to make a guess i would say that the universe is determined but life and conscious may be able to avoid some of it by making decisions.



posted on Apr, 17 2014 @ 10:17 PM
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a reply to: ChaoticOrder

"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."

Just because we cannot predict with a high degree of accuracy doesnt mean there is no preceding event that causes it. This is bad logic on your part, and should not be a confidant assumption, if one wanted to be right.


"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."

Same thing I said up there.

"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."

Same thing I said up there.



posted on Apr, 18 2014 @ 03:19 PM
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a reply to: ChaoticOrder

Well, on the matter of true free will I would ask:

Was it your choice to be brought into existence and by whom, when and where?
Did you get to choose your genetic make up, and ultimately the manner in which you would interact with the world?
That perhaps if your life was rewound and played out over and over, that you would make the same choices over and over?
Is there anyway for us to know for sure if the decisions we make are on our own volition, or because we are programmed to make them?
When I look at a colony of termites, to me they look to be totally programmed to do what they do. They don't make decisions, decisions are made for them it seems. And what they do is incredibly complex. But I'm not sure they even realize it...
I think the answers to those questions may shed some light on which way the pendulum swings in this debate



posted on Apr, 18 2014 @ 04:28 PM
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a reply to: PhotonEffect

Does your genetics determine whether or not you steal that candy bar? You understand it is illegal, and what will happen if you do, you understand you're not really hungry and you also have money to pay for it. At that point, is it genetics that drives you to take the candy bar and walk out of the store?

There comes a point at which you make a consciousness decision and execute that decision. That's when your free will is active.



posted on Apr, 18 2014 @ 04:50 PM
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a reply to: AfterInfinity

Maybe it does. There are behavioral disorders that can be inherited which would cause someone to make the decision to steal the candy bar for no apparent reason. It's called kleptomania .



posted on Apr, 18 2014 @ 06:00 PM
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originally posted by: PhotonEffect
a reply to: AfterInfinity

Maybe it does. There are behavioral disorders that can be inherited which would cause someone to make the decision to steal the candy bar for no apparent reason. It's called kleptomania .


Genetic predisposition does not mean lack of free will. I'm sure a kleptomaniac would have much better luck resisting their condition if they knew theyd get shot in the head for stealing.





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