2010-11-05

Determinism

I must admit that I once was a guy who couldn't believe in anything that was out of reach of science. If you couldn't touch it, define it, extract it, manipulate it, categorize it, prove it, it couldn't have been real. What a miserable existence that was, denuded of all the beauty and freedom of emergence.

Well... having had a lazy day I recently stumbled into someone else's blog who discussed the subject of determinism, and people being unwilling to rethink their beliefs. I liked the observations she made. Information per se hardly ever changes anything. People will resist new information, no matter what, unless they feel the new truth in their bones, or unless it already agrees with their world view. So I agreed with my previous responder to that blog, that using a Socratic approach can do magic (although I prefer to just present my personal view as such, rather than manipulating people into finding what I find).

As for determinism, it isn’t all that new. As a matter of fact, it has been the basis of science and technology for over 400 years. If science is right about the determinism of the universe, then people’s behavior cannot be free as well. What’s revolutionary about that idea is that we now begin to apply it on humans, although, in our subconscious, we use to think we were exempt from the laws of nature. And maybe we think so because we feel that determinism might be a wrong concept.

The Cartesian world view in public perception is very hard to kill and people trained in rational thinking and rhetorics can talk you into believing it - if you ever doubted. But since ~1900, Heisenberg, Einstein, Gödel, Turing and many others have demonstrated that we cannot be sure about anything, or even everything. Determinism is dead. We just didn’t notice.

After all it is just another concept, another ideological (or religious, if you prefer) world view. People have come up with others, like eastern religions, buddhism, animism, chaotic organisation, chaotic non-organisation and so on. Both science and religion have their use in a certain area; both determinism and free will work within a certain frame, but then they fail due to applying a rigid method to a living process. That is what the scientists I mentioned proved with their methods, and what e.g. Buddhists agree with for 2500 years now after having applied their own methods, and why I say that determinism is yesterday’s jam.
Of course that is only my view, no more valid than anyone else’s view. I see no objective reality “out there”, truth being the same for everyone when in "fact" it isn’t.

Sorry if I didn’t make myself clear here. I didn’t intend to say that Heisenberg alone declared that we cannot know anything for sure, but that he, the persons I mentioned, and others like Schrödinger *together* paint the picture of a science different from the deterministic ideology of pre-20th century science. Taken as a whole their work unintendedly shows that science as such fails with explaining reality, especially in complex systems, and therefore will never be able to make true precise longterm predictions.

Why is it that the laws which science finds don’t fit reality and have to get redefined over and over again? Besides the complicated one (represented by Gödel &co.) there’s two easy parts:

a) The nature of a law (especially a scientific law) is generalization. You have to reduce individual things with infinite properties each to categories of similar things with a finite set of properties to which the law applies. There are two problems with that:
- The set of properties is of arbitrary choice. Look at the definition of “planet”. Look at any map.
- The rest which we discard as irrelevant but which represents an infinitely higher number of properties has a significance. Think of it when you listen to the weather forecast or when you drink a vitamins shake instead of eating an apple.
The categories we make up along with the limited-properties things create a picture that may follow the laws of science within a given frame set, but only if you don’t look too close. Taking that picture for real hence trying to apply the laws universally results in chaotic, unexpected response. Always.

b) Even if we do not look for rules and do not gain our knowledge from books, we can rely on our senses and say, “I see that thing. I measured some of its properties.” Still people disagree for a vast amount of reasons, one of which is that we cannot handle infinite amounts of properties. What then, following from that, is reality if not that what we choose? Isn’t it different for each person? What can we actually know for sure if we cannot completely know at least one single thing?

You do believe in determinism, but you do not believe your life is unalterably fixed, past, present, and future, do you? For, no matter if we are able to predict what’s to come, that is what "determined" means. Otherwise I didn’t get your reason for acting as responsible individuals. If I’d ask a person in a deterministic world why s/he is doing something, the answer I’d expect would be, “Because I cannot help but to follow the laws of the universe. There is no choice”; like a planet cannot willingly resist the gravity of its star. Without choice you could not act responsibly. You were just a puppet on a string, a programmed robot.
But, as a matter of fact, you are free to choose whatever option you prefer; even in a situation of being "forced" you are free to say: "Pull the trigger!"

Personally, I have given up on determinism as soon as I found out that it doesn't work on me when I decide so; it also doesn't hold for natural processes, if you take a closer look.
Instead, I (in short) think of an interdependent system of self-organizing complex subsystems, in which each element has options within a given frame, but each action changes the context by causing feedback, so we evolve while, and by, adapting to the constantly changing world we created and that created us. We are both free and bound. That’s pretty much what I see around me and inside myself – which results in active participation in the world's affairs without desperately clinging to my ideas and wishes.

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