Thursday, March 10, 2011
Break the Cycle
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that humanity is "endowed by its creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." But even after the countless wars, debates, and an enduring sense of self-pride, are we really free? I am not speaking to any specific freedom quantifiable in most political science discussions. Instead, I wonder of whether the very laws of physics, and therefore our consciousness, are really at liberty to make decisions unhindered by past events if we so choose. This is called Free Will. But if we are not free, if the present is simply the summation of all previous events with no gaps that could be attributed to Free Will, then our Constitution ultimately means nothing, as we do not have the choice to be free or not. This is called Determinism.
Does it really matter?
Yes. It does, because if Determinism is correct, then morality is simply an illusion as well, and all meaning to life ceases, leaving us to be little rubber balls in a cosmic Rube-Goldberg machine. It removes all responsibility from sentient beings for their actions. For example, a convicted gangbanger should not have to pay any price for his actions as a street murderer because he did not choose to pull the trigger, it was the push of the sum of all past events that determined that he would pull the trigger. If one had a complete understanding of physics and all things in the universe, then one could predict the future with 100% accuracy with absolutely no error. Ever.
What are the arguments for Determinism?
According to classical physics and general relativity, anyone who understands the equations can predict perfectly how the moon will orbit the earth, how the earth will orbit the sun, how the sun will orbit the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which revolves around the center of the Local Group, which orbits (imperceptibly) around the known universe. This seems to suggest that with the right equations and know-how, anyone could predict all events in the universe within the confines of general relativity.
But what about events outside of the scope of Einstein's equations?
While Einstein did publish a paper in 1905 detailing the photoelectric effect, the basis of quantum mechanics, he did not contribute much personally afterwards to the development of the quantum model of all things atom-sized and smaller, leaving other people to develop theories of their own.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is one of the basic elements of quantum theory. It states that any action to determine the velocity (speed and direction) of a subatomic particle would alter the particle's position, and that any action to determine the position of an object alters its velocity. Furthermore, this means that one can only make probabilities as to where the particle will be at any given moment. Essentially, it is unpredictable, implying a state of randomness at the quantum level, which is supported by evidence of randomness in Chaos theory especially during non-linear series analysis with statistics. However, it should be noted that even if this randomness is somehow verified, it does not explain how this randomness results in Free Will, as being slaves to random particle movements is not any better than being a slave to the structured mechanics of the universe.
What does this all mean?
If there is no randomness, then Determinism is totally correct, leaving slaves to the ebbs and flows of the cosmos. But if there is any degree of randomness, even if it does not automatically result in Free Will, it would still theoretically allow one to overcome Determinism. When one begins to think about Determinism and Free Will and philosophically argue with him or her self, he or she is recognizing how the past can affect future outcomes with each tiny, insignificant event. Once one has identified this, quantum randomness might allow him or her to break free of this cycle and ride a split second ahead of the force of determinism and attain Free Will. (I must attribute the idea of the ability to have Free Will through meditation and self-awareness despite an essentially deterministic universe to Grant Patterson, it is not mine)
Will we ever know for sure?
Probably not. As we discover more and more about quantum mechanics and the nature of consciousness, who knows what we may find. We might find hard evidence to support one theory or the other, but more likely we will simply uncover more questions and less answers, forcing us to be even more unsure as to the very nature of the universe. Catch you on the flip side.