Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Tough Nut to Crack

Belief that everything is caused: the doctrine or belief that everything, including every human act, is caused by something and that there is no real free will.

Determinism and free will. Or is it determinism versus free will? It seems that they are both completely opposed to each other and yet, both equally real. As nuts to crack go, this one makes the doctrine of the Trinity look easy.
The first suggests that our choices, therefore our fates, are predetermined by prior circumstances beyond our control. The second suggests, per common understanding, that some of our choices are within our control. They are mutually conflicting interpretations of reality.
I will start by boiling the argument down to its essentials. The essential question is not whether our choices are predetermined by circumstances, but whether events in general are determined by prior events. What is the relationship between cause-and-effect and randomness? Or between predetermined events and events happening by chance?
One answer to that question would be that there is no relationship between them. Either nothing happens by chance or everything that happens, happens completely at random. Another way of phrasing that answer is that there would be complete order, or utter chaos.
By chaos, I mean that no event, no physical entity would have any effect on any other event or entity, that the only law of nature is that there are no laws. The qualities of this state would be chance & action, by which I mean that all particles could move or do anything, with total unpredictability. This is self-evidently false. Chaos does not rule nature. If it did, that would mean that each particle in the universe has no interaction with any other particle. If two cars on a street were on a collision course with each other, they would pass through each other without affecting each other in the slightest. In fact, the two cars, the street, the city, and the planet they reside on would not exist, because none of the individual atomic and sub-atomic particles that they’re made of would be influenced by the properties of other particles, the things that bind particles together and allow larger objects to exist. In fact, if you take the notion of chaos to the absolute extreme, perhaps the universe itself could not exist, because there would be nothing that could cause it to exist.
By order, I mean that all events, all things would by predetermined by prior events. Here, the only meaningful law is that nothing in nature can do anything. The defining characteristics of this state are stillness and predictability. Particles cannot move or act on each other in any way, because they would disturb other particles, disturbing the overall order of nature. That makes every aspect of nature completely predictable, because you can always say that “nothing will happen.” The two cars on the street would not hit each other because they would not be moving, and since the particles they’re made of cannot act in any way, they could not bind themselves together in the first place. In fact, if no part of nature could do anything at all, it’s reasonable to say that the universe could not exist at all, for existence is an action. And the universe could not exist, for there might be nothing capable of causing existence.
The only conclusion to reach is that if these two notions are untrue, then nature must be governed through a more complex relationship between chance and predictability and between action and stillness.

As far as I know, everything moves. All the time. From an electron flying around the nucleus of an atom to a planet moving around a star to a galaxy speeding through the cosmos. Even if you are standing still, you’re standing on the surface of a planet that is moving, so you are moving, too.
But yet, as I recall, Einstein said that all motion, or lack thereof, is relative. So that would mean, that though you’re standing on the surface of a moving planet, you could still be motionless compared to the person standing beside you. All motion is dependent upon a point of view. But, if I’m not mistaken, Einstein also says that both points of view are equally valid. Now, this indicates that motion and non-motion, or action and stillness, have some sort of complex relationship. But how are both points of view equally valid?
Quantum physics is the physics of the very small, atoms and sub-atomic particles. One of its basic tenets is that these particles are, to a large degree, unpredictable in their behavior. Quantum theory is one of the best proven theories in all of science. But scientists have yet to be able to fully reconcile quantum theory with relativity, which describes the physics of the very large, from the size of a large molecule to the largest galaxies. It is also one of the best proven theories in all of science. Though I am very far from an expert, I believe relativity theory indicates that these large objects are, to a large degree, quite predictable in their behavior. So, on the one hand, large objects are predictable, but the small objects they’re made of are unpredictable. Though they seem mutually contradictory, both theories are equally true. Could they, as with action and stillness, both be true relative to each point of view? As with action and stillness, a complex relationship between predictability and chance is indicated, but how is still a mystery.