sábado, 18 de junio de 2016

We humans are mere mortals, incapable of understanding the totality of being,

Determinism: Science Commits Suicide

by George Stanciu

"... the map is not the territory liberated me from materialism, Marxism, capitalism, nationalism, and every ideology that constrains the human spirit and denies that one glory of human life is the spontaneous discovery of the unexpected. In the territory, we should be intellectual travelers, not ideological tourists. We humans are mere mortals, incapable of understanding the totality of being, although virtually no physicist, neuroscientist, biologist—or philosopher or political thinker, for that matter—can resist the temptation to be God, to claim he or she captured the whole show in three equations or in one intellectual insight or in a clever political slogan. We must rely upon multiple maps to guide us in our pilgrimage through life. Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Sophocles and Shakespeare, Machiavelli and Marx, Newton and Heisenberg, every profound mapmaker reveals to us a partial glimpse of the territory, yet profound mysteries always remain."

Despite the advent of relativity, quantum physics, and chaos theory, most scientists, including most physicists, intellectually inhabit the Newtonian Cosmos. In stark contrast to the Aristotelian Cosmos, where plants and animals possess an inner agency that causes them to emulate the Prime Mover, the Newtonian Cosmos is mechanical, where lifeless matter as well as animate beings is moved solely by pushes and pulls. The Newtonian clockwork universe obeys precise, rigid mathematical laws that determine its evolution; consequently, free will in this cosmos is impossible.In his Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, published in 1814, French mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace made explicit the determinism that would dominate the thinking of scientists for the next two hundred years.“We ought then to regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its anterior state and as the cause of the one which is to follow,” he wrote.“Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and of the respective situation of the beings who compose it—an intelligence sufficiently vast to submit these data to analysis—it would embrace in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atom; for it nothing would be uncertain and the future, as the past, would be present to its eyes.”[1]

In the Newtonian Cosmos, if the mass, location, and velocity of every particle is given at a particular time, what physicists call “the initial conditions,” then Newton’s three laws of motion determine the future andthe past of the universe. Laplace’s super-intelligent being knows the entire history of the universe, from the Big Bang to the Big Freeze, including the rise and fall of the American Empire and me writing and you reading this paragraph.

Laplace’s super-intelligent being would be banned from playing roulette, craps, and other games of chance in every Las Vegas casino; for such a being, chance does not exist. The outcome of a ball tossed into a spinning roulette wheel or dice tumbling on the crap table can be calculated with infinite precision. Chance is an illusion rooted in human ignorance.

Psychologist Joshua Greene and neurobiologist Jonathan Cohen give an excellent statement of the determinism adhered to by most scientists. “Intuitively, the idea is that a deterministic universe starts however it starts and then ticks along like clockwork from there. Given a set of prior conditions in the universe and a set of physical laws that completely govern the way the universe evolves, there is only one way that things can actually proceed.”[2] In this picture, the current state of the world is completely determined by the laws of physics and by any one of its past states.

Greene and Cohen rightly point out that in the Newtonian Cosmos every event with the possible exception of the Big Bang results from prior mechanical causes. That I would appear in the universe with a small mole on my right temple was in the cards one second after the Big Bang. Yesterday, a long chain of mechanical causes made my wife buy a new, Marimekko dress. The precise attunement of particles in the early universe led Francis Crick and James Watson to discover the structure of DNA, Charles Townes to conceive the laser, da Vinci to paint the Mona Lisa, and Mozart to compose the Requiem Mass in D Minor. The deterministic outlook that permeates all science necessarily proclaims that human beings possess no free will, that we are machines, mere pawns moved about by mindlessly forces in a mechanical universe.

The determinism that is a basic aspect of the Newtonian Cosmos is false, for two reasons—quantum physics and chaos theory. In the twentieth century, physicists discovered individual events on the atomic level are not predictable. Consider uranium 238, a commonly occurring radioactive substance. A gram of uranium 238 contains approximately 2.5×1021identical uranium nuclei; about 12,000 of those uranium nuclei decay every second into an alpha particle and a thorium 234 nucleus. Quantum physics can predict the probability that a given uranium 238 nucleus will decay but not when it will. The exact moment of decay is intrinsically unknowable. Unpredictability thus is an integral part of nature.

On the macroscopic scale, chaos theory killed determinism. The basic element of chaos theory first appeared in the astronomical investigations of French mathematician Henri Poincaré at the end of the nineteen century, but only in the latter part of the twentieth century with the advent of computers did physicists and mathematicians see the full significance of his work. While investigating a system of three gravitating bodies, such as the Earth, Moon, and Sun, the so-called “three body problem,” Poincaré discovered that unpredictable behavior occurs in deterministic systems, a fact that has startling implications for the mathematical modeling of physical systems. Before his revolutionary work, physicists and mathematicians assumed that small errors in the initial conditions of any dynamical system produced only small errors in the mathematical prediction of the future state of the system. Poincaré’s analysis of the three-body problem is brilliant and highly technical; yet, the basic result can be easily stated, as Poincaré himself did in his popular book Science and Method: “It may happen that small differences in the initial conditions [of a mechanical system] produce very great ones in the final phenomena. A small error in the former will produce an enormous error in the latter. Prediction becomes impossible, and we have the fortuitous phenomenon.”[3]

Meteorologist Edward Lorenz called what Poincaré discovered fifty years before his own work the “butterfly effect,” where a flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas. Because of the impossibility of measuring initial atmospheric conditions precisely the weather cannot be predicted accurately more than a week or so in advance. Vladimir I. Arnol’d, a Russian mathematician, proved, in 1963, that depending upon the initial conditions the motion of three gravitating bodies can be either predictable or chaotic. Advances in computer technology have made it possible to begin to directly address the long-term evolution of the solar system. The results of Gerald Jay Sussman and Jack Wisdom suggest that the solar system as a whole is chaotic, making its long-term behavior uncomputable.[4] In particular, their computer models indicate that the Pluto has a chaotic orbit and that astronomers cannot predict whether the planet will be on this side of the Sun (relative to the Earth’s position) or on the other side ten millions years from now.[5] In his book Newton’s Clock: Chaos in the Solar System, Ivars Peterson concludes, “Long held up as a model of perfection and the symbol of a predictable mechanical universe, the solar system no longer conforms to the image of a precision machine. Chaos and uncertainty have stealthily invaded the clockwork.”[6]

The chaos that Poincaré discovered in the Newtonian Cosmos is often called deterministic chaos to emphasize that in an ideal world with infinite precision and without rounding errors in computations the future behavior of a mechanical system is fully determined by its initial conditions. The Newtonian Cosmos, however, is a map of the physical world drawn with mathematical lines that are breadthless, and points, which are dimensionless. Mathematical lines and points are idealizations that approximate the physical world. In the Newtonian map, the shape and location of objects can be specified with infinite precession. However, no perfect circle exists in nature, and the boundary of a physical object is fuzzy, not a sharply-defined concept as in mathematics. In the Newtonian map, the laws of physics are eternal, abstract, and never fully embodied in actual matter. Such a mathematical map often helps a scientist to understand a system or situation but the real world always differs in significant ways from the map.


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