Welcome back friends,
One of the nice things about writing a blog about arcane subjects is the side conversations they generate. I had one such exchange this weekend, regarding the question of do we really have Free Choice.
The discussion began when a reader (who has asked to have her identity withheld) took exception to my tag-line, “The Choice is Always Yours,” My foil in this discussion holds that from the quantum level up, we are merely pawns being moved by a deterministic universe. At the end, we decided to simply agree to disagree.
It’s not often that I get to combine three of my passions; Philosophy, Theoretical Physics (I freely admit that I can’t do the math, but draw me a diagram and I’m right there with you), and Metaphysics. So I knew I just had to share the thrust of the conversation with you. Don’t worry, I’ll keep this as light and accessible as possible.
When it comes to the question of do we truly have Free Choice, we have three major schools of thought; Determinism, Multiverse Theory; and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (yes, there are others such as String Theory, but the math behind these breaks down the smaller you go, so their viability are still highly in doubt; and the 8-Dimension theory which even it’s ‘discoverer’ can’t fully explain).
Also, please remember that we are talking about the behavior of sub-atomic particles (SAP) and our ability to predict their behavior in certain circumstances. The idea is that if we can predict with a high level of certainty the position or direction of a SAP at some point in the future, we can then translate that into the Macro level and see our behavior reflected in, and predicted by the math.
Determinism (or as I prefer, Mathematical Calvinism), contends Free Will is an illusion and that everything in the Universe, down to the smallest SAP is governed by the strict physical and mathematical laws of the Universe. Kind of what we used to say about our jobs in the missile silos, “Read a step, do a step, eat a slice of banana.” It may appear that you have a choice between competing alternatives, but this theory holds that the choice has already been made before we ponder the alternatives.
The second current contender is the Multi-Verse theory which holds that there are an infinite number of universes; an infinite number with you in them and an infinite number without you. In this theory, we experience the Universe one discrete moment at a time, (think interlocking soap bubbles with you in the centermost lobe), and that the situation is exactly the same in an infinite number of universes. Under this theoretical umbrella, you technically do not have ANY choice because you are already making an infinite number of both choices. The one you make in this ‘consciousness’ depends on if you are experiencing the positive or negative set of universes.
Finally, we have the Uncertainty Principle which basically states that events in the universe are a craps shoot, with slightly better odds. What it actually says is that the position and momentum of a SAP cannot be measured simultaneously, in fact, the more precise your measurement of one, the less precise your measurement of the other will be. Therefore, we cannot, with any degree of accuracy, predict the position of a particle at any given time. So yes Virginia, this means that nature doesn’t care what you pick, so you go wild.
My hybrid hypothesis is that life is like a chess game. We start out with an infinite number of possible outcomes but, with each move the number of remaining choices diminishes exponentially. The road keeps forking until we are only left with two choices, both of which are dead ends. So, yes I believe we have free choice, but only to the degree, the number, type and scope of choices available.
So, if you’re still here, go ahead and pick a position you advocate. After all
The choice is always yours.