Tue 20 Nov, 2012 06:41 am
A flip of a coin is said to be a random event, but is it really so?
There are many factors that affect the outcome of this event, like the force of the flip, where exactly you hit, the properties of the coin such as mass and density and surface, atmospheric conditions, and even other celestial bodies because they too exert an influence (this being gravity) on the coin, etc etc.
So what appears to be random in fact has causes and were one to have a precise measurement of all those causes it would have been possible to know the outcome of the flip.
So the ages long philosophical question is whether randomness is real or whether its an illusion due to one's inability to have a precise knowledge of the conditions that affect this event, and the conditions that affect those conditions and like this ad infinitum? Or is it "ad prime cause", that is, is causality finite or infinite?
On the other hand, early 20th century discoveries in quantum physics suggest that there is randomness in the subatomic world, but the world seems to be following precise rules, prompting Einstein to object that "God doesn't play dice", so how to reconcile the two? Is randomness "God's pseudonym when he doesn't want to sign", i.e, a superior cause we haven't reached yet or can never reach?
So much for the physical world. But the human being is another issue. Schopenhauer said "a man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills". In other words, what are the causes of our actions, are they predetermined or are they free will?
On one hand people can act differently in similar situations, and when we are faced with choices we make decisions based on our judgement or impulse. On the other hand what are the driving forces of our actions, what are those "wills", are they input into our design so that we are made to follow them?
Then again, some people are good, some are evil, apparently predisposed so by their nature. But some were good and turned bad, while others were bad and turned good - were these people exhibiting free will or were they predestined to change, given some circumstances?
And what would it mean to have free will? If its not something that is predetermined, is it random, and if its random, is it a will, for will should be intended. Is free will self creation, but if you self create you had to be there in the first place?
On the subject of free will:
Assuming that the brain functions on the same principles as everything else in the universe (The same interactions between fundamental particles etc), I see no reason why we should have any form of "free will" in its classic definition. As an example, if time were to be reversed 5 years, the initial conditions would be identical, so every interaction between every particle and wave should in theory play out in the same way, in turn meaning that the same stimulus are presented to the brains of anything living, and their brain would interpret these stimuli in the same way, therefore making them react in the same way. The whole 5 years should play out exactly as before. Though we perceive ourselves as having free will, our mind is simply working based on the stimuli around it, so our actions could be seen as been entirely determined. Of course this doesn't account for any strange quantum mechanics, which I have limited understanding of, not to mention that how the brain itself functions is still largely a mystery.