If you’re beginning to feel confused by the last two posts, don’t worry. Time is a very complex and confusing thing. Scientists can’t even explain why time seems to flow in the direction it does. You’ll hear a lot of things about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, entropy, and the arrow of time, but what it boils down to is: “we have no idea what time really is!”
When we start to look at free will in connection with the various theories I discussed last time, we find the following:
- Relativity Theory does not allow free will. Because everything is deterministic (there is only cause and effect, and choice plays no part in the equation), free will cannot exist.
- Quantum Theory does not allow free will, either. Everything is statistical and all events have a random factor controlling them that plays the predominating role. Because of this, cause and effect are stripped of much of their power, and free will cannot exist.
- Biological theories ultimately derive from other scientific theories (see below), so they don’t allow free will either. They see nothing but physical and chemical processes, and are incapable of measuring anything else. Our thoughts cannot be seen; only the physiology they are involved with can be measured physically and chemically.
The last point probably requires some explanation. When I was studying chemistry, I remarked to the professor during a physical chemistry class that I didn’t understand why we had to learn so much about quantum mechanics. He took me to his office after the class and spent a long time talking to me about the importance of learning physics in order to understand chemistry. He quoted: “biology turns into chemistry; chemistry turns into physics; physics turns into mathematics; mathematics turns into philosophy and music.” I’m not sure where the quotation comes from.
It took me a long time to realise what he was actually telling me. You cannot understand biology until you know about the chemistry that drives the biological processes. You cannot understand chemistry until you understand the physical processes that underlie the chemical ones. You need mathematics in order to describe physical processes. And, I believe, until you understand the philosophical underpinnings (the theories) and their beauty (the music), you cannot understand anything.
Now back to the main theme. If Relativity Theory, Quantum Theory and biology all agree that there is no free will, even if for different reasons, why do we believe that free will exists? For free will certainly does exist; we sense it every day and see its actions all around us.
I believe that the problem arises because all of these theories are reductionist (that is, they reduce complete systems to their component parts). The individual parts have no free will, and therefore scientists often conclude that the whole systems from which they derive also have no free will. They forget that the whole can very well be more than the sum of its parts. These so-called emergent systems derive their existence from the whole and the parts, but do not belong to any of them directly. It requires a holistic approach (building up to the whole) for the emergent systems to become apparent.
Furthermore, it seems to me, in the case of free will, that the main point of emergence lies in the interfaces between the relativistic, quantum, and biological theories. This can perhaps best be shown by the famous Double Slit experiment (explanations can be found at Wikipedia and High Existence). Decisions made at the macro level of existence affect experiments observing the micro world. The reverse is also true: whether or not an atom splits determines the fate of Schrödinger’s cat.
So many of these clues seem to point to our thoughts, our free will, affecting the world in ways that we can’t even begin to understand. This lack of understanding probably exists because we cannot see the whole, the interfaces are obscured, and J.B.S. Haldane was correct when he said: “the universe is not only queerer than we imagine, it’s queerer than we can imagine.”