Saturday, January 04, 2014

No such thing as free will

Sometimes you know something, but it's stuck in a compartment in your mind: you don't apply it to other stuff you think you know. Many people, for example,  know that our current understanding of fundamental physics - the standard model of quantum mechanics plus relativity - can successfully account for all observed phenomena at the level of molecules and their atomic and subatomic constituents - with no exceptions.

And this has consequences, given that you are constituted from molecules, as theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder writes.
"All known fundamental laws of nature are either deterministic or random. To our best present knowledge, the universe evolves in a mixture of both, but just exactly how that mixture looks like will not be relevant in the following.

Having said that, I need to explain just exactly what I mean by the absence of free will:

a) If your future decisions are determined by the past, you do not have free will.

b) If your future decisions are random, meaning nothing can influence them, you do not have free will.

c) If your decisions are any mixture of a) and b) you do not have free will either."
Read the full piece here.

Evolution has similar implications. Somewhere in "The Selfish Gene" Richard Dawkins wrote that once evolution had been discovered, all previous discussions of philosophy, sociology, psychology and morality pertaining to the human condition were rendered obsolete. E. O. Wilson made similar remarks in his impressive book "Sociobiology".

The impact of these insights on contemporary culture has been largely zero.