Determinism and Free Will

I am a determinist. According to my beliefs (and I use this word with the meaning of ‘convictions’, conclusions I have arrived at after careful thinking, after exploring some alternatives, first), there is nothing in existence that is not part of the physical universe. Nothing is supernatural: if it can affect the physical world, create observable or measurable phenomena – whether we yet possess the technology to measure them or not – then it is part of the physical world, it obeys the laws of physics and of any of the relevant sciences derived from it.

It may be from a parallel dimension – if that theory is indeed correct – but that dimension would then also be part of the physical world, or of ‘reality’. How do I justify it? Well, it’s simply logical. Also, no supernatural claims have ever been proven, not when examined under rigorous scientific conditions. In fact, they have all been proven to be wrong, to the extent that claims of this sort can be terminally refuted by scientific means.

Through the ages, as science has progressed, miracles have been getting less and less common, but they still happen today, despite science, yet they all encompass phenomena that can easily be explained by science. At the core of these phenomena lies the omnipotent cognitive dissonance, of which a lot will be said in future articles.

But does the above mean that any phenomena, the condition of any physical system, can be accurately analyzed and predicted, for any near or distant date in the future? Enter the Chaos theory.

There is a very good book you all must read, then repeat the experiments it proposes on an old XT computer, as did I, some 20 odd years ago. It took me all night to draw the Mandelbrot Set, in monochrome. It’s title is Chaos, by James Gleick.

Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics and it is focused on the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. ‘Chaos’ is an interdisciplinary theory stating that within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns, constant feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals, self-organization, and reliance on programming at the initial point known as sensitive dependence on initial conditions. The butterfly effect describes how a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state, e.g. a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a hurricane in Texas.

(From wikipedia, Chaos theory)

The Mandelbrot Set demonstrates a pattern that has an infinite complexity, repeating itself across different scales of magnitude. The same complexity is displayed by shorelines, by snowflakes, by many other natural phenomena. Other systems display extreme dependency on initial conditions (the butterfly effect – also present in Mandelbrot’s Set).

So, while keeping what prof. Sapolsky said about Gleick’s book being one of the most significant influences on his scientific thinking in mind, what does this mean, concerning our previous question about predictability? Does it make it impossible to make any predictions? Can we make predictions that are limited in scope, and if so, what will this scope be? Better than what meteorology currently has to offer? There is no worse…. or maybe there is, if you go off the deep end and discover psychology lying in wait, there, over the edge of the rational world.

Or, maybe, it will be mostly limited to the various disciplines that we have in science today, granted they may yet undergo some evolution and rearrangement. We could posit that these disciplines have formed around some natural attractors, that they have evolved to fill certain natural niches of inquiry, and that Chaos is responsible for it being impossible to completely translate one science, from one such level of resolution (say, chemistry) into another (biology), though biology is firmly based on chemistry.

So, what is my conclusion? which flavour of determinism do i most fancy? Have I even mentioned all of them? Probably not. A brief look in my notebook – my handwritten world is so different from my typed one, and not often do I succeed in bridging the two together – : and what if matter is of infinite complexity? Below atoms we found electrons, neutrons & protons, below them are quarks, and I think that even smaller subatomic particles have been already discovered of which quarks are made – need to check that. If so, does it add more complexity? Reduce predictability (or, in fact, make it forever quite limited in scope)?

I honestly do not know. Need to think about it some more, need to catch up on my science reading. For now, I’m just sharing the question with you. But I still accept the general assumption of determinism – even if nature throws dice, this ‘die throw’ would be part of the laws of nature. The system would still be deterministic. this is why our brain was ‘designed’ too look for patterns – because they are everywhere around us. What I do not agree with, is Dawkins‘ statement at the beginning of his book The Extended Phenotype, where he said that the human brain was so complex that it was safe to assume the existence of free will. This is rubbish, and it contradicts everything he said in his book The Selfish Gene, concerning evolutionarily created behavior patterns and other issues, a book that has inspired me greatly when I read it, years ago.

Our brain has been ‘designed’ by evolution to generate behavior that promotes survival, both externally and internally (internal behavior is management of the body; internal insanity takes the form of psychosomatic illness). It, and the algorithms it is constantly running, are determined genetically and biologically, it is completely a physical construct, and its feelings, behaviors and agendas can be scientifically analyzed and explained, in the context of evolution and of biology, and, by extension, of almighty physics.

More on that later. For now, peace out,



(Next is: Life, Evolution & Consciousness)

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