DETERMINISM, TIME, ETC. --
Samples from exchanges between Leon Felkins and William Markiewicz

(As some of the text is intermixed below, may I remind the reader that all the text in italics is mine. WM)

William,
I believe the gods that created the universe intentionally stirred it up a bit by throwing in a few (maybe many) paradoxes. This was done on purpose, for without them, we would have surely destroyed ourselves by now.

One of the most difficult and disturbing is the determinism problem. I have long pondered that one, with no noticeable progress made.

The same problem in slightly different clothes is the puzzlement of our own personality and development. I have always maintained that we can take no pride in what or who we are as we basically have nothing to do with it. We are a product of the luck of the draw. The circumstances of our birth, it is my belief, completely determine our lives. Of course, I had nothing to do with determining the situation of my birth, but neither did I have anything to do with the rest of the environment that has been presented to me throughout my life.

Recently a friend sent me the book by Mark Twain, "What is Man?". By golly, great men think in the same way (just kidding)! Mr. Twain was of like thinking. In case you don't have the book, it is online at http://emotionalliteracyeducation.com/classic_books_online/wman10.htm, among other places.

I am often put off by friends and correspondents by the issue of "logic". Something has to form the basis for our discussions. Without logic, what is there? I see nothing. In fact oftentimes when someone is railing against logic or mathematics, they -- without thinking -- use pieces of logic in their counter-arguments. Cause and effect and the scientific approach creep into everyone's thinking and is impossible to avoid in these times. Our thinking is dictated by our environment and culture, and even those who want to chunk science and math for something else are still somewhat trapped by it. We are prisoners of the "memes" of our day.

Given that, I am committed to logic and truth and cannot, or will not, pick and chose their application. I cannot one day use logic to argue engineering, politics, or economics and then abandon it when someone wants to talk about determinism. So, I will not.

Therefore, every effect has a cause. To give that up is to give up science and logic. Therefore we have a deterministic universe. I am not excluding random effects. To accept randomness in some processes is not to accept that I have free will. So, I lump random processes with determinism. Possibly, most things that appear random are simply beyond our ability to calculate what is really deterministic processes. For example, the air molecules in this room. They appear to going hither and yon, purely randomly and can conveniently be treated so by scientists; but they really are following absolutely predictable paths.

On the other hand, there may be some truly random processes as the theory of Quantum Mechanics asserts. But even there, one of the greatest minds that ever existed, Albert Einstein, said it ain't so, so I will have say I just don't know. It does strain the mind to accept that there could be a random link between cause and effect, but accepting Einstein's revelations that time goes slower when you are moving very fast is just as stressful to my head!

In any case, for every action that I take, I see that it is, in least in theory, possible to trace backwards to an external cause. All my actions relate back to the accident of birth and the resulting exposure to the surrounding environment. There is absolutely nothing "I" had to do with it. The idea that somehow a person can "pull herself up by her own bootstraps" is beyond comprehension to me.

So haughtiness about your station in life is without foundation.

..... I believe that the "determinism/free will" argument proves the existence of paradox. If we accept that paradox exists, that opens up new frontiers in our understanding of the universe and life.

.....The universe is like a big crazy clockwork mechanism, with lots of weird and oddly shaped parts that was set in motion. No one knows what the outcome will be -- it is too complex to analyze. But it is still deterministic.

I have played with the equations of "chaos", the fractal equations, and they are that way. The beautiful pictures that come out of that are not predictable. Nevertheless, they are deterministic and blossom the same every time they are processed. For an example, see my home page at http://perspicuity.net/

A science fiction story that touches on this is "Non Serviam" by Stanislaw Lem. He presents the idea that the universe might just be a mathematical model being run on a computer by a group of gods. Just like the fractals, they don't' know how it is going to evolve. Too complicated.

So, the gods designed a universe. It didn't have to be exactly this way and there are some obvious arbitrary constants (at least, they appear that way to me! But they may be as fixed as the value of Pi - 3.1416......). For example the speed of light. Would the universe not be different if it had a different value? The gravitational constant is another -- if it had a different value, the movements of the stars and planets would be completely different and Earth might not have been nice at all! And so on for all the rest of the constants.

They were curious as to what would result if living things were allowed to evolve based on the "survival of the fittest" rule. They didn't know, but just wanted to watch and see what happens if you implement that rule. To make it interesting, they created a certain randomness in environment, both in time and space. Now things are really messy! Now we get all kinds of weird creatures but who could predict which will survive. And how?

That's my view. The universe is like a bowling ball thrown a long time ago. There is nothing the bowler can do now to affect the outcome.

While my education was in science (engineering and physics), I still have a great appreciation for how much we don't know. I am particularly fascinated by paradoxes and have a web page devoted to it. In fact, I enjoy two beliefs that I find are annoying to my technical friends: 1) Paradoxes lie at the bottom of every "explanation" and 2) The gods that designed the universe made it that way intentionally (I got that concept from "Non Serviam", by Stanislaw Lem).

What I mean by 1) is that when any scientific explanation is pursued deeper and deeper, you will most likely run into a paradox (I think always). Quantum theory is a good example. Light is both a particle and a wave. There are other quantum theory paradoxes, but that one proves the point.

The more fundamental the explanation becomes the more difficult the understanding. For example, what is "truth"? It has always seemed obvious to me, yet I find that the great thinkers have great difficulty defining it. I now realize I'm not so sure I know either!

And finally, the most challenging of all philosophical paradoxes -- the concept of free will (and determinism, I suppose). I seem to have "free will" but to believe that is to believe in magic. To believe in that I have to abandon the most fundamental scientific belief -- cause and effect. Either I am under the jurisdiction of physical laws or I am not. If I am then I can't have free will. If I am not, then I must give up the belief in the principles of science. If I accept magic, then to me that is like saying "I give up, I haven't a clue".

By the way, scientists also do not have a clue as to what "time" is either. Philosophers, I don't know. What do you think "time" is? We seem to only be able to talk about what happens in time. A clock's hands move, molecules transform. But what is time? I like the idea of it simply being a fourth dimension but that requires a belief in determinism for the 4 dimensional cube does not allow change.

Another paradoxical subject I find very fascinating is vagueness. If you are interested in my amateurish thoughts on it, I have a web page on it at http://perspicuity.net/paradox/ambiguit.html

(How do you like my site name "perspicuity"? Most people are irritated by it but they don't know what the word means. I like it.)

Leon
S. Leon Felkins, Major, U.S. Army (Retired)
Webpage: http://perspicuity.net
"Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4. If that is granted, all else follows." --
George Orwell, 1984

Orwell was a determinist!

Leon -- browsing for something in Vagabond I fell on your contribution From July96:

William -- Two of your aphorisms inspire me to comment (about the present):

#82, "All reality is contained in the present..." and

#264, "The infinitely large is static. Static means an eternal present; the process of cause/effect is excluded. In the infinitely small, past becomes future and future becomes past immediately. There is no present. We are space-time creatures; we can only contemplate the finite. We are always beyond the infinitely small and just a small particle within the infinitely large."

These express more poetically a logical paradox that has resided in my mind for many years.

There is the Past, Present, and Future.

The Present is nothing more than the dividing line between Past and Future. It is infinitely small, and is like the situation where a sheet of paper is cut into two pieces. The cut line is the Present. Therefore, it doesn't exist. The Past exists only in memory. It doesn't exist. The Future is only speculation. It doesn't exist. Conclusion: Time does not exist, the Universe does not exist, we don't exist. Is there a fault somewhere in my logic?

I don't know if this adds something or if its just the same thing in different words: As I discussed this topic in my aphorisms in order not to face more risks to repeat myself I'll quote some of them:

Time is present for us only in the immediate which, in turn, by its very presence. denies the existence of time. All this complexity proves the impossibility for mind to grasp the existence.

This means that there is 'quantum leap' between being conscious and consciousness of what is consciousness

Each moment represents itself; therefore we don't feel the flow of Time.

Consciousness inhabits time and encounters space through the senses. We perceive three-dimensional space with five senses through vibrations. Time and space don't vibrate. Consciousness doesn't perceive vibrations but space itself.

Time is symbol, time is tangible. If I wound my finger I also wound my time. Time personalizes, becomes a tuning fork of your condition; injured finger, deceived love...

If movement is the sum of immobilities, time is the sum of eternities.

Time is like a pizza cut into infinite slices of eternities.

Time exists even if nothing happens. Space exists even if it contains nothing. Time and Space are nonentities, eternal and immutable. They exist only as measures of relationships.

Time is the space between two happenings.

To ask 'what is time' is like asking 'what is everything' -- what is energy, matter, existence? we are 'in' and we know nothing more. We atomize movement into postures when we stop the running film. We see the postures changing -- where? In space. When? In time. While the change registers before our eyes, in space, we can never catch the time by its running legs (catching too much becomes something else; it's like trying to touch a rainbow). We don't see time at work, we see only the consequences. We live from quantum leap to quantum leap. The mysterious point where movement stops in the theoretical ideal center of the axis of a turning wheel is also the result of a quantum leap. It's always an irritating intimity because we face something what we cannot grasp.

Leon -- if happenings could be presented in their plastic expression, we would see their patterns as a frozen ballet of lines and shapes expressing feelings, thoughts, significances and causes (would it be a visual picture of determinism?). Maybe this is the picture that the Final Theory supporters have in mind when they claim that everything can be expressed mathematically. But will we be able to recognize love in a mathematical love formula? The visual symbolists try to catch feelings not mentioning the provoking causes. It's tricky. Some of the symbols indeed work, but we recognize in their efforts more artistic skill than the achievement of what they are looking for, meaning some universal expression of feeling and thought. There is no such thing as "objective universal expression of feelings and thoughts" because it has to pass first through our censorship.

Thanks for putting me in touch with Mark Twain's "What is Man?" Was it Niels Bohr who claimed that the observer influences the observed? Then subjective and objective equally mix sharing the stage, right and wrong are no longer relevant. What works, counts. You know the story of the Gurkha who, lost in the jungle, found his way never losing confidence because he had a map of... London! He found "the roads leading to Rome" by non-logical, non-intellectual means. Let's accept the mysterious way to an all encompassing deterministic reality even when we don't have the clues.

I see three kinds of determinisms: 1. retro-determinism or causes-effects which we experience in daily life, 2. total determinism, which we cannot grasp because we're part of it, and 3. pseudodeterminism, which is not necessarily determinism even if it seems to be so. For instance, insects and flowers were not "meant" to meet each other, neither were hemoglobin or white cells "meant" to meet and form an organism, it's just the fruit of a fortuitous encounter from outside that happened to work. Other alternatives, perhaps an infinity of them, would work as well.

Leon, how can you make noticeable progress with the determinism problem when there are no clues available. Our daily steps, easy to control, have a cause-effect connection. With more complex issues, we cannot assume that there is no determinism in spite of non-deterministic theories and appearances. We can only assume that it's beyond our reach. What seduces me in determinism is that it is so simple, that it doesn't need the "sorcery" of abstraction. Chaos is when you lose track, but if you could color the chaotic pathways of particles, you would see that there is always a track. Complexity and predictability don't necessarily exclude one another. For me, abstraction is beautiful when it furnishes the key to the concrete. I see it in art when the abstractionists tackle subjects which may not interest me but I respect those preoccupations.

We exist, obeying genes and circumstances. Determinism is a clement master. As we, like all, are part of determinism, determinism in principle will always be on the side of our best interests (if we're fit for the game). We prove our own existence by loving and hating. But we'll never be able to prove or disprove determinism. We don't need to know, just as the fish doesn't need to know the nature of the water. The Chinese philosopher accepted not knowing whether he was a human who dreamed of being a butterfly, or vice versa. An interesting science-fiction story, I don't remember the name, discusses something similar. In this Science Fiction story the hero accepts not knowing. Perhaps fatalism and determination aren't necessarily opposite. As you once quoted my own aphorism: 'Accept your fate as the stream accepts the stream bed. The bed forms the stream; the stream forms the bed.'

May I recommend that those interested in the topic visit Eternity and Determinism, Back to the Real World of Enigma, and Quanta's Enigma

Back to the index of the Vagabond
© Copyright 2003 E-mail to: William Markiewicz