Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Determinism and Free Will

Can any of us be absolutely sure that we have a free will? Maybe what we consider as free will is not as free as we think it to be. What if it's already destined what choices we are going to make, even as we believe we are doing so of our own volition.

Here are some reflections that I've had in the above context. If everything is predestined (i.e., it's a deterministic world), then that means that whatever anybody does, what has to happen is not going to change even in the slightest details.

Before we proceed further, I'd like to clear up a few things. The approach that I'm going to take here is that there are only two choices that we have:

1. Either the world is completely deterministic or
2. It's non-deterministic.

This is so because there's no such thing as partial determinism. Even a trace amount of non-determinism will make the whole system non-deterministic. So if we can prove the existence of even one such instance that is non-deterministic, we can conclude that the whole system is non-deterministic.

Another approach that many people (especially religious people) prefer, is that certain things (e.g., small details) may be non-deterministic but the other things (e.g., the events on the whole) are deterministic. It means that we may have freedom to choose within a boundary. It may change a few things, but the overall picture is not going to change.

More compelling reasons for the above classification can be understood by closely looking at the way we are going to define determinism. Many people are aware that related to Chaos Theory (Non-linear Dynamics) there is a famous concept called the butterfly effect. It propounds, in a nutshell, that even a seemingly small change can cause a major upheaval in the overall scheme of things. We see in our course of life that seemingly small decisions and events can cause a sea change in our lives. So if non-determinism is involved in a system even in very small ways, it has the capability to influence big events (the subsequent state of the whole world). Hence if we can show the existence of even one case of non-determinism, then we are forced to consider the entire existence as non-deterministic.

But if something is deterministic, then there may exist a way of knowing it! So if we know it (or somehow find out), which should theoretically be possible in a deterministic world (the reason it's called deterministic!), we may also be in a position to change it. If we have prior knowledge that something is going to happen (e.g., what we are going to eat at a give point of time) we may intentionally decide to change details, and may also succeed. And if we really do succeed in our endeavor then the world will no longer remain deterministic.

This is a paradox. Hence if the above logic is correct then our world can't be deterministic!

P.S: These are random thoughts... I'm not putting them down for an audience, but mostly as a documentation of my thoughts. However I'll welcome any insights into these musings.

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