Saturday, February 7, 2009

Chaos Theory - Not a problem for a deterministic world view

I believe that our universe is deterministic, everything that happens has a preceeding cause, including our thoughts and behavior. Now many people object to this view on the basis of pure intuition i.e. it certainly feels as if I have free will therefore it must be so, but for reasons I will not write about now this is really a poor argument...


There are other less non-sensical arguments against the idea that the universe is determined and that there hence is no such thing as "free will" (depending on how you define that of course). One argument that I would not be able to meet completely is that at the quatum level there is the uncertainty principle according to which we cannot know the speed and the position of an electron simultaneously. All I can say is that I don't think this uncertainty translates into free will for human beings...

Another argument against free will is based on chaos theory. Chaos theory states that there are systems in the world which are unpredictable. At least that is what many people think chaos theory states, but this is not entirely true, rather chaos theory states that in some systems, more information about different variables will only make your predictions a tiny winy bit better... Let me explain.

The last couple of decades computers have become alot better and a lot faster. In spite of this fantastic development we have not seen a marked increase in weather predictions even though weather predictions are made by some quite powerful computers. This is because weather is a chaotic system. Very subtle differences in certain variables (humidity, winds and what not), can have huge effects in how the weather turns out. The old way of predicting the weather, "the weather tomorrow will be like the weather today", still comes close to the predictions of the best supercomputers.

Nevertheless, if Laplace's demon did exist i.e. if we knew the exact position of all particles in the universe and their velocity, if we did know that we would be able to predict the weather for as long as we wanted to and thus there is really no contradiction with a deterministic world view. All that chaos thery really means is that some systems are very sensitive to initial conditions and we are not well enough equipped to see these differences...


I have as some of you may have noticed not written for quite some time, the reason is that I have become a father. My daughter Lola was born on january 13th and me and my wife have been very busy taking care of her. We will see how much I write the coming months but my blog is not dead...

9 comments:

Jo said...

Congratulations to you on the birth of your daughter and best wishes to your wife!

I am also interested in complexity and chaos theory as it applies to psychology and particularly happiness. I've been working on understanding Losada's work on phase states in happiness. I have put some work in a wiki and put it aside when I got stuck at one point.

Any interest in collaborating?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we are all just characters in a cosmic novel. Our free will is just part of the plot. I play my part as you do yours.

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Rowan said...

The brilliant scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb has an answer to why quantum uncertainty does not scale to the macro level.

Quote: (TBS = Taleb's book The Black Swan)

"A: TBS has an entire chapter on the uncertainty of the phony. It is the uncertainty of quantum mechanics, rendered inconsequential because it is mild and obeys very tame statistical properties.

It is key that one’s skepticism be limited to areas in which our knowledge is softer than others. TBS makes the distinction between two domains: Mediocristan and Extremistan. The bright Wall Street Journal reviewer David Shaywitz explains it as follows: “If 100 random people gather in a room and the world’s tallest man walks in, the average height doesn’t change much. But if Bill Gates walks in, the average net worth rises dramatically.” The difference between domains is right there.

So quantum mechanics is from Mediocristan. It is not real uncertainty – it becomes inconsequential under averaging. Uncertainty is what might happen in Pakistan, not quantum mechanics."

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/05/21/straight-from-the-black-swans-mouth/

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