|Determinism and Free will|
Determinism and Free Will - John Thatcher
Determinism and free will
Determinism is a far-reaching term affecting many areas of concern, that most widely and radically states that all events in the world are the result of some previous event, or events. In this view, all of reality is already in a sense pre-determined or pre-existent and, therefore, nothing new can come into existence. This closed view of the universe and of our world holds all events to be simply the effects of other prior effects. This has radical and far-reaching implications for morality, science, and religion. If general, if radical determinism is correct, then all events in the future are unalterable, as are all events in the past. A major consequence of this is that human freedom is simply an illusion.
The world of modern science struggled into birth at the time of the reformation. Art, literature, exploration, music and religion all felt the simultaneous revolution. While Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci where painting in styles never seen before, while Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus explored new worlds, and later Bach and Vivaldi broke the constraining bonds of musical patterns, while Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Wesley established the Protestant religions, the brilliance of Decartes, Kepler and of Galileo introduced mathematical concepts to natural philosophy (science). As the infant world of science struggled to make meaning of this new regime, it gave birth to its own father. In the year that Galileo died, a widow in England gave birth to the greatest scientist of all time. Isaac Newton. What Descartes, Kepler and Galileo had hinted at, Newton concluded. Perhaps the most famous of all his theories was the theory of 'universal gravitation'. Well-defined mathematical laws governed all forces, on heaven and on earth. The universe was one giant machine. All particles, everywhere in the universe, were controlled by forces whose mathematics we knew. The universe of Newton and Descartes was mechanistic. Theoretically, if we knew where all the particles in the universe were at any one time, we could predict where they would go in the future, under the influence of these universal forces. There was no freewill. These universal forces control every movement of every atom in your body, forming your very thoughts. You have no control. Science was only limited by our ability to measure more and more accurately.This convulsed the philosophers of the time. Where was freewill?In the mid 19th century, this philosophy spawned the unbelievably brilliant conclusions of James Clarke Maxwell, the Scottish physicist who fathered all electro-magnetic theory.The world at the end of the 19th C had all mechanics explained by Newton, all electromagnetics explained by Maxwell, in a perfect mechanistic universe. But, in the tiny area where both theories overlapped, the two theories were totally incompatible. One predicted an absolute value for the velocity of light, while the other demanded a value relative to the observer. One must be wrong! Yet they both worked and predicted the laws of nature.At the turn of the 20th Century, the birth of the Special, and then the General Theories of Relativity, and of Quantum Mechanics, slowly crumbled the Newtonian Universe. Newton’s laws fell, Maxwell’s remained. This is a good time to reflect on the nature of scientific proof. Just because you drive a car every day, which operates on Newton’s laws, cross bridges which stay up because of Newton’s laws, does not mean that Newton’s laws are correct. Einstein famously said, 1000 experiments will never prove me right, but one experiment can prove me wrong.In the late 1920's, a young German physicist, Werner Heisenberg, mathematically came across the most astounding result. No matter how precisely we measure a system, we can never perfectly known all of its details. The most common expression of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, is
a photon of light can eject an electron from a lower energy level in an atom, to an upper one.
Now when the electron ‘drops’ back down, we’d expect it to emit a photon with exactly the 10 units of energy it absorbed. Not so. A photon with 9 – 11 units of energy emerges, representing the ‘uncertainty’ in the energy level values.
Another example is the uncertainty in our energy measurements (
Let’s illustrate by a simple example;Imagine that
Now imagine that TIME HAS NOT YET BEGUN. There is no uncertainty in time. If
If a universe can be created from nothing, not even a ‘previous’ time, then determinism which says that all events are causally connected to previous events, fails, as there were no previous events.So, our present scientific knowledge is now goverened by two theores. Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity. These theories also fail at very small distances (millions of time smaller than an atom). We are back in the 1900’s.The consequence for free will?If a thought can be generated by one electron crossing a membrane in a neuron, then the uncertainly principle (and its spin-offs like quantum mechanical tunnelling), leads to the conclusion that not all these events are caused, or stem from previous events.
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