Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Free Will and Butterflies

The problem is, the universe is still pretty predictable. Like, clockwork.

And so are you.

We can predict lots of things the universe is going to do. Sunrises. Sunsets. Eclipses. Rainbows. Lots of things.

We can predict lots of things you're going to do. Given enough information. You'll eat. Sleep. Poop. Grow. Learn things.

But the other problem is, we can't predict everything. Most things. Lots of things. But not everything.

So we don't really know if you have a little bit of free will, or a lot, or almost none.

It's hard to tell.

There's this thing called Chaos Theory. It says that although the universe and nature and stuff are MOSTLY predictable, every now and then, things get really really unpredictable.
Butterflies. Trying to destroy the world.
Not very good at it yet.

It's called the Butterfly Effect. It says that sometimes, something as small as the flapping of a butterfly wing can set off a series of events that cause something HUGE to happen. Like a hurricane or a tornado.

Every now and then.

So mostly you are predictable (you and the universe), but every now and then,

You are really really unpredictable.

Does that mean you have free will?

Ah. No. Not completely.

It says that just because we didn't know what made you do whatever weird, bizarre, possibly illegal and immoral thing that you did, there could have been something that made you do it.

So although it's possible for you to have free will, we still don't know if you actually have it.

What there is, is the possibility for free will to exist.

Because the universe is not completely deterministic, thanks to quantum things and chaotic things, it's possible for you to have free will.

It's clearly not predetermined that you have free will.

Ouch. That's confusing.

Because here's the thing. Most of the time, we act like we have free will, but whether or not we are actually making free will decisions is hard to say.

Mostly, we don't.

That is, we are little puppies slobbering when the bell rings.

You know. Pavlov's Dogs. All of that. That's when this guy named Pavlov (great name for a Star Trek character) trained a bunch of dogs to salivate when they heard a bell ring by ringing a bell and feeding them doggy vittles.

After awhile, all he had to do was ring the bell, and looky there! Doggy slobber. Even without vittles. After another while, eventually one would guess that the doggies would figure out that they weren't getting any snacks and stop slobbering.

We're like the dogs. We are (largely?)(totally?)(that's the problem - don't really know) influenced by cultural bells.

We are (largely?)(totally?) influenced by our culture. By our friends. Magazines. Movies. TV shows. Celebrities. Families.

We dress the way we dress, cut our hair, decorate our homes, buy the things we buy, read the things we read, listen to and watch what we listen to and watch because of the little bubbles that we live in.

Our hearts also beat and our lungs breathe and our entire bodies work constantly without us making any decisions about any of it.

That's a good thing. If we had to constantly think about keeping our hearts beating and our lungs breathing and our spleens spleening, we'd die at night.

A lot of the things we do when we're awake and asleep, we do on autopilot. We don't think much about it. We have trained ourselves to walk, talk, drive, run, jump, eat, and do all the things we do without thinking about them very much.

And that's a good thing.

But the question is, are we (largely?)(totally?) controlled by our autopilots? What are the decisions that we make? Are (none?)(some?)(any?)(all?) of them free will decisions?

Turns out, it's really hard to tell.

Behavioralist BF Skinner said that none of them are. He called it "conditioned responses". Everything we do, we do because we have been trained or conditioned to do so. Even, apparently, become famous behavioralists.

I think that's a bit of a stretch.

But it's really hard to tell where free will actually starts, since we are so heavily (completely?) influenced by outside factors, outside of our ability even to be aware that it's happening. We are truly conditioned to do most things.

The question is, are there things that we do outside of conditioning? As free will decisions?

And the answer is ...

You have the potential to do things that you are not conditioned to do.

Whether or not you actually ever do that, is the question.

And the answer is, maybe, every now and then. Like a hostile butterfly. 

Maybe, every now and then, we do something unpredictable. We make a free will decision. Maybe.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Free Will is Back. Sort of.

So. Do we have free will, and does God exist?

Well, if you're going to get rid of them again, you're gonna have to have a darn good reason. Better than, I DON'T THINK SO! That's so lame.

Let's talk about it for a minute.

If you are someone who doesn't believe in free will (and feel free, btw), then you could be accused of not thinking clearly about it.

Because if you are also (as there is an excellent chance) a person who detests religion and all this God talk, then you are not making any sense.

Because (you know where this is going, don't you?) if there's no free will, then all of the religious people have no choice but to be religious. All caps warning. It's not their fault. I changed my mind about the all caps. You gotta lay off. Stop hassling them. The particles made them religious, ultimately.

And you, btw, are irreligious, atheist, agnostic, and/or skeptical not because you are so smart. You have no choice. The particles made you that way. Lucky you.

None of us get to claim any credit or take any blame for our looks, brains, success, talent, skills, experience, hard work, money, possessions, achievements, or anything. For our failures, shortcomings, flaws, zits, flatulence, body odor, obesity, baldness, bad posture, terrible grades, lousiness at sports, friendlessness, ugliness, or anything.

So if you or anyone are taking any credit or blame for anything and if you don't believe in free will, then you are no less an idiot than religious people.

Actually, to be totally precise, none of you are idiots. If free will does not exist. You only have the capacity to be an idiot if free will exists.

So if you think religious people are idiots, or if you think atheists are idiots, or if you think anybody anywhere for any reason at any time is an idiot, then, really, the only way for that to be true is if

(you know where this is going, don't you?)

Free will exists. And by extension, God might also exist.

WTH?, you might exclaim with some heat and passion. H, to remind you, is Heck, because crapload is our swearing limit. It's like a law of physics.

Newton. Not Newman. Pay attention.
Because, we reiterate, the smart guys used the deterministic infinite universe to get rid of both Free Will and God. And the most recent group of smart guys have not been able (or motivated) to update that. Atheists are Newtonians all. I'm so embarrassed for them. You. Whatever. You're still using a Newtonian universe to get rid of God, unbeknownst to you. You also think that God doesn't exist because religious people are idiots, which, I remind you, is only true if Free Will exists, and if Free Will exists, then so does God. It's like Catch-22, which I should not admit is my favorite book of all time.

Major Major Major Major. I just had to say that.

You should be nicer to idiots, btw. If free will doesn't exist. 

If it does, then, well, they're idiots. Still. Better to be nice. There's that naughtiness thing lurking out there somewhere. Plus, we are each an idiot about something. Einstein said that. Paraphrased.

Symmetry. By Da Vinci as a child.
Summing up. The only way that religious people are idiots is if free will exists, and if free will exists, then (it is highly likely) God exists.

So summing up again. The only way that religious people are idiots is if God exists.

That's some nice symmetry.

So if free will does not exist, then you can't be an idiot (nobody can) and nothing is your fault and making fun of idiots or someone else's beliefs is not a fully informed thing to do. Though, of course, if there is no free will, then making fun of others is not your fault.

Yeah. See. Nobody lives like that.

We completely and totally act like people actually are idiots and things are someone's fault, otherwise nobody could ever go to jail for doing anything wrong or evil, and in fact, evil would not exist. Good, neither. There would be no good or evil, because for you to do something evil or something good would take a free will decision on your part, which you could not do if free will doesn't exist. The particles made you do it.

So we all spend all of our time acting like we all have free will. Even the scientists who think we don't have free will, act like they have free will.


Free Will. Not Free Willy.
Pay attention.
That doesn't mean we have free will, though.

There's this Newtonian concept called Determinism, and another one called Mechanism. They are the problem.

Determinism says that everything is predetermined by things that happened already. Again, it's all about the particles.

Mechanism says that, because of the laws of physics, everything acts like a machine, and what a machine is, is predictable. Everything happens the same way that it has always happened, so we can predict what's going to happen.

So the laws tell the particles what to do, whether they are single particles or a galaxy made of particles, and the particles do just that.

And since you are made of particles, theoretically we can look at the way you have ever done anything and predict what you will do next.

There you go. No free will. Even in a universe with a starting point.

Since we still have to answer the question of where the laws and the universe came from, God is still theoretically around even if free will is not.


This is all Newtonian. That's not the universe we live in. Well, it is, in part, but only the dull and boring and predictable parts.

It's really a Quantum thing.

It's pretty simple.

The Newtonian thing says, if you know everything about the particles (where they are, how fast they're going, stuff like that), then you can predict where they will go and what happens when they get there.

And you lose your free will. Because you are made of particles.

But the Quantum thing says (wait for it), 

you cannot know everything about the particles. Any particle. Not even one.

It's called Quantum Uncertainty. You can't know where they are, or if they are, or where they're going, or if they're going.

And since we can't predict what the particles are going to do, and you are made of particles, then theoretically we can't predict what you are going to do.

And now. Theoretically. You get your free will back.

We're not really sure what that means, of course.

That's the problem.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Brief History of Free Will

And punctuation mistakes. Making that up, too.
Rather than doing actual research, I'm just going to make this up.

If free will exists, then I get to do that. Make this up, that is.

If free will does not exist, then I apparently have no choice but to just make it up.

So. It always felt a lot like we had free will when we still thought we had free will. I mean, there was no question. Right or left. Up or down. Do a bad thing, don't do a bad thing. Or a good thing. Eat this, don't eat that. Go here, go there. 

My brain (speaking metaphorically about all brains) felt very much as though it was faced with decisions all the time and got to make up its own mind, since it was, in fact, a mind.

But then Newton came along and discovered that the universe worked according to laws and rules and regulations. All the time. Never stopped. Never took time off for a vacay. No coffee breaks or weekends at the beach.

And this meant that everything worked according to the laws. All the time.

And the laws had always been there. Since the universe was infinitely old and large and all of that.

You and me and everything and everyone are made of tiny little particles that work according to the laws. All the time.

Pretty soon, some smart guys said to themselves, huh. THAT'S interesting.

Because what that means is that since our brains are made of little particles that work according to the rules all the time, then ...

What we THINK is a free will decision is actually just something that the particles did. The laws had been working forever, making all the particles in the universe do stuff, and eventually, some of the particles ended up in my brain making me say something stupid to this really hot girl in high school instead of something smooth and smart and urbane and debonair which would have in turn made all of her brain particles want to run off with me and pursue connubial bliss and live happily ever after.

So. All caps coming.


Good to know. Sort of.

To review. Since the universe has always been there and the laws have always been there, then there's no free will. Ever. Never. Not possible. Not gonna happen.

And oh btw, we also don't need God to explain how things work, since the laws make everything work and the laws had always been there so we didn't need God to start the game, get the ball rolling, blow the whistle, wave the flag. The game was eternal, had always been the game.

So the smart guys said to themselves, huh. Sweet. No God. So we can do whatever we want. And no free will. So it's not our fault. The particles made me do it. Niiiiice.

There was one tiny little teensy weensy hardly-worth-mentioning problem.

Ahem. The universe had not always been there. Neither had the laws. Everything had a starting point.


Here's where we are, then.

We THOUGHT we didn't have free will because the universe was infinitely large and old and the laws had always been there making us do things that we THOUGHT was free will but wasn't and history was an infinitely long string of laws making particles do stuff that included all the stuff that we were each doing that we THOUGHT was stuff we decided to do but didn't really.

But this was entirely totally absolutely dependent on the universe and the laws being infinitely old.

But. They aren't.

Which means that the universe and the laws used to not be here. At all.

So since we used the infinite universe to get rid of both God and free will, then since the universe isn't infinite, then the possibility that both God and free will exist, um, exists. It's possible. Not definite. But definitely possible.

You probably didn't know that's how we got rid of both God and free will. 'Tis, though. We sorta forgot that.

Then when Big Bang showed up (thanks, Albert), all of sudden things got complicated. Science didn't even like Big Bang (Albert didn't even like Big Bang) because it meant that we would have to start talking about God and religion and going to church or temple or mosque or Mecca or Jerusalem or Rome or Tokyo (Tokyo?) and cleaning up our acts naughtiness-wise and

nobody really wanted to do that.

But it all worked out because religious people didn't like Big Bang either because (science was right) they're idiots. With apologies to religious people. OK, not really.

In fairness to religious people, we should probably mention why they didn't like Big Bang. They believe that God instantaneously created the universe out of nothing, but Big Bang Theory says that the universe suddenly popped into being out of nothing.

You can see the problem.

Yeah, me neither. I just don't get it.

Anyway. So. Free will might be back. That's not the movie about the whale, btw. Which, btw, my British friends think the title of which is hysterical.

To sum up. Free will (and God) went away because of the infinite universe, and they came back maybe because it's not infinite. Time-wise, that is. Space-wise, we'll never know.

And I'm out of time. But not space. Ha. Hysterical.