Free Will

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Do human beings have Free Will? Are we the masters of our destiny or are we puppets on a string? An examination of the laws of nature dealing with causality and randomness.

 

 

 

Excerpt from Book: "How Life Really Works"

Chapter 01.00: Objective Reality

Sub-Chapter 01.07: Free Will vs. Determinism

 

Due to space limitations, sections in Red are accessible only in the Book or CD "How Life Really Works".

 

FREE WILL VS. DETERMINISM

    Causality

    Deviations from Causality

    Chaos and the Uncertainty Principle

    The Merger of Causality and Chaos

    Confirmation of Free Will

 

Causality

Free Will is the philosophical doctrine that human beings have the power to choose from alternatives, unrestrained by causality or by preordained mystical powers.

Determinism is the philosophical doctrine that every event in the universe is the inevitable consequence of a preceding cause.

Similar but essentially unrelated concepts deal with Predestination and Predetermination. Predestination is the religious belief that fate, gods or mystical forces control all events in human existence. Genetic Predetermination is the biological concept that inherited genes predetermine most human traits, such as intelligence, appearance and temperament.

We know from our practical, everyday experience of life and from our exposure to the laws of physics, that a certain effect is always the result of a previous cause. If an event does not appear to have any cause, we call it a miracle. We do not consider the effect of gravity a miracle or a mystical force: The Law of Gravity reflects our empirical knowledge that all objects fall towards the center of the earth.

In gravity, we can observe this sequential relationship between cause and effect, not just occasionally, but always. Gravity is a phenomenon that causes masses to attract each other. The Law of Gravity is one of the few truly universal Natural Laws. It applies, universally, throughout the entire universe.

In view of the strong connectivity between cause and effect in macrocosmic events, some persons assume that inflexible cause and effect relationships govern all events in the universe.

This generalization of cause/effect relationships leads to erroneous assumptions. If it were possible for humans to know the causes of all causes and their effects, we could project such causative chains into the future. We would thus know all future events with absolute certainty.

If we take universal causality to its logical conclusion, we must grant that the beginning and the end of the universe, as well as all events in our life, were predetermined at the Big Bang. What caused the Big Bang?

Adherents to the strict interpretation of the cause/effect principle stipulate that causality must always prevail, even if we are not aware of all causes. In their view, the denial of the cause and effect principle would depict a truly chaotic universe without any predictability whatsoever.

This presumption is without merit. Persons, who choose this view of the universe, often try to justify their position by quoting Albert Einstein’s famous statement: "God does not play dice". Einstein was wrong. His scientific views became irrelevant in the decades that followed this pronouncement.

The strict applicability of the cause/effect principle would prohibit humans to choose from alternatives. Determinism considers all events in the universe and in our life as unbreakable chains of prior causes. Human beings would not be able to insert new causes into a preexisting causal chain. Strict causality makes human beings mere puppets on a string, dancing to a melody composed at the beginning of time. Determinism is in conflict with our everyday experience of life.

The presumption of strict causality creates major theological dilemmas. If we are born sinful, and if we have no free will, we could not alter our sinful condition. Under the terms of strict causality, we cannot be responsible for our sinful condition because its causes would be traceable to the beginning of the universe, long before we existed. Neither could we possibly alter the situation because we could not have the free will necessary to remedy the situation. Religions promulgate the concept of Free, although this attitude reveals other theological contradictions.

Under the doctrine of absolute causality, society cannot hold us responsible if we decide to get drunk and our actions result in an automobile accident. Such incidents would have been part of a chain of causality that originated with the beginning of the universe. If we have no Free Will, there can be no responsibility and no punishments. Society could not exist.

Religious and ethical conflicts resulting from the denial of Free Will illustrate the untenable nature of deterministic principles in human existence. The speculation that we have no free will defies common sense and our everyday experience of life. Human society has existed for millennia. It has been able to prosper only by holding its members responsible for their actions.

Determinism originated with philosophers who lacked factual knowledge. We cannot consider the claim for causality as factual, merely because Determinists make this claim, or because gravity and a few other aspects of Objective Reality support the concept of causality.

If a person makes a statement in opposition to established facts, the burden of proof rests with the person who makes the statement. It is not incumbent on bewildered bystanders to prove that Determinism does not exist. It is logically impossible to prove that something does not exist.

The doctrine of Determinism is in conflict with observed reality. Causality and unpredictability are intertwined, but not synonymous. Predictability is of more practical importance to human beings than theoretical causality. An event may be unpredictable, not due lack of causality, but due to its inherent unpredictability, or because we lack the facts necessary to form a prediction.

 

Deviations from Causality

Objective Reality is a mixture of predictability and non-predictability. Although Newtonian physics stipulate total causality, science has long been aware of several major factors that invalidate cause/effect relationships.

Deviations from strict causality and predictability have become apparent with the evolution of Quantum Mechanics. A list of deviations from strict causality and predictability includes the following phenomena:

  1. The law of Relativity has successfully challenged the absolute measure of time. Under some circumstances, it is inherently impossible to determine that one event occurred prior to another event. The well known Twin Paradox illustrates the relativity of time.
    One of two twin brothers undertakes a long space voyage, while his brother stays on earth. When the space-travelling brother returns to earth, he meets is brother who has aged visibly more than the space traveller has. Einsteins Special Theory of Relativity predicted this incongruity. This distortion of time has been verified experimentally; not with real brothers, but with subatomic particles. In the Twin Paradox, relativity may overrule temporal causality or simultaneousness.
     

  2. It is often inherently impossible to understand the interaction of the multitude of causes that appear to trigger a specific observable effect. Thus, even if a causal relationship exists in nature and is recognizable as such, knowledge of the specific cause/effect relationship might not necessarily result in the ability to project or forecast complex events accurately.
    This fact is evident in the stock market, where concurrent interactions of billions of people manifest themselves in price fluctuations. Limitations on possible numbers in the universe make it inherently impossible to ask several billion people, instantaneously, what their investments decisions are at any given moment. However, the motivations and interactions of all these individuals result in the observable effect of market fluctuations.
    For practical purposes, this deviation from causality due to untraceable causes renders the stock market essentially unpredictable. This apparent lack of causality does not necessarily negate the cause/effect syndrome under all circumstances. This factor merely makes it inherently impossible to predict neither the stock market nor similar numerical events.
     

  3. The totality of an object can be more than the sum of its parts: A man consists of thousands of chemical compounds that, independent of each other, are merely inanimate substances. However, if these chemicals combine in a certain manner, they can take the form of a living human being, instead of a mixture of inanimate chemicals.
    Engineers create complex systems by combining simple parts that will then provide more benefits than the sum of the individual parts. This principle enables us to achieve new engineering artifacts or to explore new scientific phenomena.
    This rationale applies to many other machines, such as aircraft or computers. Although these machines consist of individual parts that do not come alive, they take on a new identity that surpasses the capacity of the separate components. This condition, too, challenges the cause/effect principle because the complex assembly of simple parts can bring about unpredictable results.
    This phenomenon explains why evolutionary processes always strive for a higher degree of complexity, as evidenced by the evolution of life from inanimate atoms to the highly complex brain structure of modern man. Causality may account for some of these events, but many evolutionary developments are due to random mutations initiated by cosmic rays.
     

  4. When we are considering a large number of analogous events, we can draw statistical conclusions that are always reliable when they refer to the aggregate of multiple events. However, these statistical principles do not apply to individual, isolated events.
    Brownian Motion covers the random movement of small particles suspended in a gas. Due to their collision with molecules of their surrounding medium, the individual movements of these particles are random and are therefore unpredictable. However, when taken as a whole, when we apply statistical laws to the totality of molecules and particles, the particles follow sharply defined Natural Laws, such as Avrogado’s Law, a fundamental law of chemistry.
    The palaces of Las Vegas testify to the infallibility of the laws of probability that apply to gaming. However, this causal connectivity vanishes if we look at the same gambling transactions from the singular viewpoint of the gambler: A gambler in a Las Vegas casino must always lose in the end, although he may gain in the short-term.
    Since the events leading to his loss or gain are essentially random in nature, nobody can predict the outcome of any specific gambling event, although the totality of all of his gambling actions is predictable and will inevitably result in a loss to him. When we throw a die, we know that a six will come up once every six throws, on average. However, there is no foretelling precisely when this will happen or which side of the die will appear at any particular throw of the die.
    When we gamble, we will win some games and we will lose some games, in a random fashion. Individual events are unpredictable, just as human beings are free to choose from alternatives. However, the statistical sum of all individual events is predictable in accordance with the laws of probability. Gaming involves complete predictability on the part of the casino owners. It involves both predictability and unpredictability on the part of the gambler.
     
  5. Some persons may argue that, if only we had total and complete knowledge of all minuscule causal factors influencing the fall of a die, we could use a supercomputer to analyze all such factors and their cause/effect relationships. We would thus be in a position to predetermine the outcome of each throw of the dice. This, too, is a fallacy.
    If the universe follows strict causality, all causal events in the universe are interconnected. A computer memory requires more than one atom to represent the position and momentum of an atom in the system under investigation, not to mention subatomic particles.
    Therefore, the volume of numerical sequences and information stored in numbers must necessarily be larger than the universe itself. This limit inherently prevents even the most advanced supercomputer from observing or predicting individual particles.
    A super-computer, able to account for the causal chains of all events in the universe, would need to exceed the universe in complexity and information storage. The computer must fit inside the universe, and yet be larger and more complex than the universe itself.
    The story of "Maxwell’s Demon" further illustrates this conundrum. James Maxwell was a prominent physicist of the 19th century. His little demon is in charge of determining the movements and attributes of all subatomic particles within a given container.
    In order to determine a sequence of events on the subatomic level, Maxwell’s little demon cannot use telepathy but must be in physical interaction with all particles in his environment. He must also store information about the properties of each particle. However, at some finite point in time, the demon will lack further storage for this information and he must delete some previously gathered information. The loss of this information prevents the demon from taking into account all properties of all the particles and he will thus be unable to predict the behavior of any particular particle.

 

Chaos and the Uncertainty Principle

Strict causality, strict cause/effect relationships, can be observed and predicted in the simple machines and mechanics of Newtonian Physics. However, a haze of uncertainty and unpredictability descends over events when we are dealing with complex systems that are subject, not only to Newtonian principles, but also to Post-Newtonian laws of physics. The major laws in this category are Relativity, the Chaos Principle, Probability, the Uncertainty Principle, and Quantum Mechanics.

The Chaos Principle acknowledges the fact that, over time, the minutest variation in the initial conditions of a process brings about vastly disproportionate and inherently unpredictable consequences. Edward Lorenz discovered these unpredictable relationships when he was trying to enhance the mathematics of forecasting the weather.

Meteorologists refer to this principle as the Butterfly Effect: The flapping wings of a butterfly in Brazil can set in motion and eventually bring to fruition unpredictable events, such as a hurricane in Florida.

The Chaos Principle creates situations where cause and effect relationships are no longer ascertainable due to turbulence originating with infinitely small variations in initial relationships. The inability of weather forecasters, to predict the weather for more than a few days, even if equipped with gigantic supercomputers, is compelling evidence of the Chaos Principle.

The Chaos Principle is evident in the macrocosm. It corresponds to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which governs particles and energy in the arena of subatomic particles. The Uncertainty Principle is an integral part of Plank's Quantum Mechanics, the cornerstone of all modern physics.

Heisenberg discovered the Uncertainty Principle in his work with Quantum Physics. This fundamental law of physics states that it is not only difficult but also inherently impossible, to determine both the velocity and the position of an electron at any given moment.

Therefore, it is inherently impossible to determine the attribute of an electron or other subatomic particle with certainty. Causality depends on the fixation of a prior cause, of the initial condition of a causative system. Since this initial condition is inherently indeterminable, causality breaks down on the subatomic level.

The Uncertainty Principle governs only sub-atomic phenomena in particle physics. The postulates of the Uncertainty Principle ascribe unpredictability to the behavior of subatomic particles. Experiments have clearly established that the observed uncertainty on the microcosmic level extends its tendrils into the cause/effect relationships applicable to certain macrocosmic events.

It is undisputed that cosmic radiation interacts with our genes and causes random mutations. In addition to the modification of genes due to bi-sexual reproduction, the random microcosmic alterations of our genetic material due to cosmic radiation have a profound effect on our macrocosmic genetic heritage.

Random effects in subatomic particles are responsible for the evolution of human beings, including our intelligence, for our emotions, our temperament, our ability to make decisions and thus, our Free Will. Without randomness on the subatomic levels, extending into the macrocosm, there could be no evolution and without evolution, life could not exist.

 

The Merger of Causality and Chaos

The illusion of a lack of Free Will is due to man’s preoccupation with the proliferation of macrocosmic events in his existence. Our view of science rests in classical physics. The broad descriptions of physical events in Newtonian physics are sufficiently accurate and provide sufficient causality to serve us well in everyday life.

The laws of classical physics apply to events in the world of mechanics, business, engineering and other macrocosmic events. Such macro-events, the large-scale manifestations of reality, essentially follow the laws of cause and effect first formulated by Isaac Newton in the 17th century.

However, when we observe Objective Reality more closely, both visually and conceptually, we find that behind the facade of the macrocosmic world lurks the world of the microcosm. This is the domain of quarks, subatomic particles, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Chaos Theory, and thermodynamic randomness. Max Plank’s Quantum-Mechanical Universe accounts for events that are causal and predictable on a statistical basis but that are non-causal and therefore inherently unpredictable from the perspective of singular events.

Causality governs most aspects of macrocosmic human existence. However, the randomness inserted by the inherent unpredictability of microcosmic events extends gossamer threads into the macrocosmic world and allows for an indeterminate future. Therefore, human beings have Free Will.

Human beings, as well as animals and inanimate events have the ability to break the chains of strict causality postulated by Determinism. We are thus free to influence our affairs and our destiny. In changing our future from what it would have been without the interaction triggered by our free will, we are changing the very universe of which we are an integral part. With the intervention of free will, our future, and thus the future of the universe, will follow a path different from the path it would have pursued without our intervention.

In addition to scientific considerations, common sense insists that Free Will exists. Who would deny that we have Free Will when we put one foot in front of the other and decide, of our own volition, of our own Free Will, to go for a walk or not go for a walk? It is clearly irrational to believe that a chain of causality at the time of the Big Bang determines if we go for a walk this afternoon, or not.

 

Confirmation of Free Will:

 

Due to space limitations, sections in Red are accessible only in the Book or CD "How Life Really Works".

 

 

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