EdgarsBlog: Determinism And Free Will, How The Classical World Amplifies Quantum Randomness

Determinism and Free Will


How The Classical World Amplifies Quantum Randomness

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....... SUMMARY: Humans and other organisms have free will in the sense that at least some of their decisions and actions originate within the boundaries of their entire being rather than being completely determined by external causes. They often act in response to external influences, but in a manner not completely determined by those external influences. This is true only because humans, as all systems, are fundamentally quantum in nature. The quantum world is one of constrained randomness. That is it is probabilistically random within well defined mathematical constraints. The result is that the physical world, and by extension any subset of that world such as any biological organism, is always a mix of determinism spiced with randomness. Thus all bounded systems including biological organisms are free in the sense that their actions are never completely determined by causes external to their boundaries.

....... Further all apparent randomness at the classical level is actually due to classical amplifications of the underlying quantum randomness. There is no true randomness originating exclusively at the classical level. ALL of the true unpredictability of the classical world is due to amplification of quantum effects, though much that is apparently random is actually the results of non-computability, that is the determining events are just too complex to be comprehended. However in such complex causal, or better sequentially connected, networks there will always be some quantum level true randomness at work. Again the ideas in this paragraph are, so far as I know, original with me.


....... WHAT DOES FREE WILL MEAN AND WHO MIGHT HAVE IT? Most discussions of free will are muddled by defining it as something that the 'self' does or does not have and thus has to take place within 'self-consciousness' if at all. That's a rather tenuous assumption which we'll explore below. There is a persistent confusion of the self with one's actual being as a total organism in western thought. See my section on the self for a discussion. It is much more useful to begin with the question of whether the total organism considered as a whole has free will or not in the sense that at least some of its actions originate within its own boundaries and are not completely determined by external causes. That is clearly true. All one has to understand is that there is no complete determinism anywhere in the world because of random quantum effects. Thus the actions of any organism cannot be completely determined by external influences. Greatly so sure, but completely so impossible.

....... It is not so much your self consciousness that is free, but that your whole being is free. It is important to understand that 'you' are your total being, not just your self consciousness. Thus 'you' have free will since your entire being is free. All events are probabilistic at the quantum level and since the classical level emerges from that level the classical level is never exactly predictable nor deterministic. The effect at the classical level is a broad but not precise determinism always subject to considerable quantum randomness. So self consciousness is irrelevant to the discussion of whether you, the whole biological you, has free will or not. Thus it is clear that all organisms have free will in this sense.


....... UNDERSTANDING RANDOMNESS: There is more than one type of randomness, there are many variants, and many phenomena which are not properly random. The roll of dice is actually almost completely deterministic. Thrown exactly the same way we would expect the same result almost every time since the laws of classical mechanics are by far the main governing equations. The apparent randomness is due to the continual slight variations in the way the dice are thrown. There would be a very slight quantum effect due to quantum level differences in the molecules of the dice and landing surface from throw to throw so a few of a sequence of exactly identical rolls might come up differently.

....... But all in all the roll of dice is not random, rather it is non-computable, and it is non-reproducible with the sensitivity necessary to make every throw precisely the same. It's a very good example of how the output results of some types of dynamic systems are extremely sensitive to their inputs. The roll of dice demonstrates how at the truly random quantum level some systems are sensitive to their inputs and amplify the underlying quantum randomness, and some aren't.

....... Many people speak of chaos theory as demonstrating true randomness at the classical level, but where does the minute change that chaos amplifies into a dynamic system wide change originate from in the first place is the salient question here. I claim such original minute changes are always effects of quantum randomness, a few molecules vibrating this way instead of that way due to quantum uncertainty. Otherwise they are simply deterministic but non computable effects. There are certainly many such effects, but there are also those which are only quantum. It's the distinction between non computable determinism and true quantum randomness.


....... DOESN'T QUANTUM RANDOMNESS CANCEL AT THE CLASSICAL LEVEL? A surprising number of people, even some scientists, still believe in the Newtonian clockwork universe in which all classical level events are completely deterministic because all quantum randomness averages out at that level leaving only the determinism of classical physics. The example of a closed room full of a gas such as air is often used as an example of how quantum effects average out and disappear at the classical level as the gas approaches temperature and pressure equilibrium according to the second law of thermodynamics. But of course one can theoretically always detect variations in pressure and temperature in a room full of air with sensitive enough instruments. It never reaches an exact equilibrium where every molecule has exactly the same speed. Never. That is why the laws of thermodynamics are statistical rather than exact laws.

....... The basic error in this thinking is that classical aggregates of quantum processes always average to the same classical state. They don't. They average (decohere) to the same classical state with probabilities determined by the statistics of the aggregate so that the averages are never exact or certain. How exact or certain depends on the nature of the system and how likely randomness at the quantum level is to induce randomness at the aggregate level. That is how sensitive to its underlying quantum randomness a particular aspect of the classical world is.

....... With regards to the thermodynamics of a uniform gas in a closed chamber such sensitivity is pretty well known and rather small. Nevertheless it is precisely why the weather can be predicted only with a certain rather limited degree of certainty. Surely no one actually believes in a the clockwork universe fantasy in which the weather is completely deterministic into the distant future if we could only describe its components accurately enough?

....... When it comes to the freedom versus determinism of organisms the situation is much more complex since no one really knows why an organism initiates any action in all its precise details at a particular time. No one doubts that there is some determinism involved as many actions are clearly generated in response to external events. However the particular response is never predictable exactly in every aspect, in many cases even at the grossest level of action A versus B.

....... The reason is that human actions are quite obviously the result of an enormous hierarchy of internal processes each producing local results which are then processes and filtered upward as inputs to higher levels of the hierarchy. In any such hierarchical system there is a higher likelihood of the underlying quantum randomness affecting the gross outputs simply because the lower levels on the hierarchy are less complex relative to the quantum level than a single vast room full of identical gas molecules. The smaller the subsystem the more sensitive to its underlying quantum randomness and thus the more likely the randomness of that subsystem will filter up the decision making hierarchy introducing randomness at higher and higher levels. Since the human (or any biological) organism is a complex hierarchical system rather than a room full of identical molecules, it is inherently much more sensitive to the underlying quantum randomness in all things.

....... This is easy to see in the fact that the behavior of the room full of gas is predictable to a high level of certainty before quantum random effects are encountered. Human beings are obviously not predictable to anywhere near that level of certainty precisely because of their very complex hierarchical structure. That is why they are free in the sense that their actions contain a level of internal decision making which is often constrained by but not completely determined by external influences.

....... Again the reason for this is easy to see in the size of the lowest levels of the hierarchy. The behavior of a very small volume of air (say the size of a human cell) is much less predictable than that of a room full of air because the smaller sized aggregates are more sensitive to quantum fluctuations. The human body at its lowest level is composed of billions of such quantum randomness sensitive structures such as cells and the lower level even more sensitive structures within cells. Thus it is inevitable that a good degree of randomness filters up through the hierarchy to the highest level of decision making. That is how and why humans and other organisms exhibit free will in the sense that their gross actions are to a considerable degree the result of their own internal processes rather than being completely determined by external events.

....... Penrose among others suggests that random quantum effects operate at macroscopic levels within neurons. So long as everything is actually quantum random at its base it is simply impossible that the higher level effects be completely deterministic. All material things, even humans, especially smaller sized things like neurons, are subject to quantum random effects.


....... A LUCKY MIX! How lucky we are to live in a world in which both determinism and randomness and so neatly mixed. Without a lot of determinism the world would be completely and wildly different from second to second and there would be none of the certainty and continuity necessary for life to even exist.

....... But without the element of quantum randomness mixed in, life would be absolutely and completely predictable and so would our thoughts and actions. Without quantum randomness absolutely everything would be absolutely determined and predictable though we of course would be thinking our absolutely predictable thoughts whether or not they accurately reflected that reality.

....... Actually without quantum randomness pervading it the physical world, much less the chemical and thus the biological world, could not even exist, but that's another topic involving the fine tuning of the universe. Without our universe's fine balance of determinism and quantum randomness atoms and molecules couldn't even exist, much less we humans.


....... THE IMPLICATIONS OF A COMPLETELY DETERMINISTIC WORLD: In a completely deterministic world in which all quantum events self cancelled at the classical level things would be wildly different than they are. Every minute detail of the entire history of the universe would be pre-ordained from the moment of the big bang, including the period at the end of this sentence I place just now. And that includes the end of the universe perhaps billions of years in the future. There could be no purpose or meaning to anything, nor would there be any notion of personal responsibility and thus no criminality and no morality.

....... If there were no quantum randomness the entirety of the evolution of everything on earth would have been determined at the moment of the big bang. There would be none of the essential element of chance in evolutionary selection without quantum randomness operating at the macro biological level. So anyone who doesn't agree on this one has to abandon the basic tenet of evolutionary theory, that it is based on averages of chance occurrences. Without the element of chance there is no selection of the fittest, only the selection of the pre-ordained. There can be no evolution as science understands it.

....... And there is certainly another huge observable difference between a deterministic universe and one of constrained randomness. Quantum mechanics would simply not exist and since quantum effects are directly responsible for much of our actual physical reality, that reality would simply collapse!

....... On the other hand, judging by the painful inability of many people to change their minds when confronted with the truth, it is obvious that determinism, rather than freedom, remains a very powerful force in the minds of many. How much free will one has depends heavily on how determined by one's programming one is. Basically the more realistic alternatives one can imagine to choose between, the freer one is.

....... If everything is determined then your opinions are not your own, they cannot ever be considered true or correct. They are in fact pre-ordained from the beginning of time. That's all one could ever say of them - certainly never that they were correct, because there could never be any way of every corroborating a pre-ordained opinion against an equally pre-ordained real world, because the results of that supposed corroboration would itself be pre-ordained.

....... If everything is completely determined there simply is no science at all since science always involves the discrimination of truth from falsity, of actual real world states from false or less accurate descriptions of such. If the world is completely deterministic there can be no possible way to ever test one's thoughts against anything at all to establish their accuracy. Because all thoughts are always completely pre-determined, and the results will always be pre-ordained.

....... In essence anyone who believes in a completely deterministic world is claiming they, and everyone else, is simply a pre-programmed robot, and thus there is no sense at all in doing anything and certainly never discussing anything intellectual with such a robot, since it could never be subject to learning anything at all. It's a very sad and meaningless existence but of course completely unbelievable when one actually thinks it through.

....... One must also not conflate determinism with a human being able to predict everything or not as a few do. There is no relation at all. The operations of the real physical world don't depend on anyone's knowledge of those operations.


....... CONSCIOUSNESS AS QUALITY CONTROL OVER ORGANISMIC DECISION MAKING: Most decisions are made, organismic actions originated, at the pre-conscious level of the mind. That is the mind as a whole has free will, actually the organism as a whole since the mind makes decisions partially on the basis of homeostatic input from the rest of the body. It just isn't consciousness itself that has this type of free will or is making the decisions. In any case the external physical world is certainly not making the decisions for the organism. The external physical world doesn't even know how to make mental decisions since it doesn't have a brain.

....... However, there is some control by consciousness over decisions made by the pre-conscious mind. Consciousness does exert an ultimate quality control type of review of decisions made at 'lower' levels of the mind's hierarchy. Which is probably why it evolved precisely to fill that function by providing a last high level review of potentially questionable actions before they were impulsively acted upon and cause trouble.

....... Everyone is familiar with consciously waffling over a decision before making it, and changing one's mind at the last moment. That's the consciousness reviewing and modifying and exercising its quality control decision making function. Same with working a science problem. Possible solutions keep being offered up to consciousness by the pre-conscious mind where consciousness gives them the final evaluation before accepting or discarding them.

....... However most decisions are made at lower levels and are only noted by consciousness as they appear mysteriously from the unconscious. In fact a number of studies show that most mental decisions are actually made and even executed prior to registering in consciousness. Among these are the emergency response systems which initiate immediate actions in response to perceived emergencies such as the blinking of an eye in response to an object approaching it. We all have the experience of acting before thought in such emergencies.


....... STATED ANOTHER WAY: The universe is one of constrained randomness in that quantum random processes obey statistical laws in large aggregates. In some cases many single quantum events converge towards such a statistical mean. However there are many processes which involve only very few quantum events so there is no such opportunity to converge to any such statistical mean. These are typically cases in which there are many different types of quantum events occurring and they are all occurring together each in very small numbers. This occurs within cells for example. In such cases the random quantum events result in a degree of randomness in the cell's macro level behavior. That includes the macro level behavior of neurons. In almost every chemical process there is a statistical uncertainty that can never be reduced due to such quantum randomness. Even in the behavior of a gas one can never exactly predict temperature and pressure within an area the size of a human cell. That's because the smaller the structure the more it is subject to quantum randomness. When an organism like a human being is constructed of such very small quantum susceptible structures such as cells the result is that that randomness filters up through the organism's decision making hierarchy and its actions can never be determined completely by external causes.

....... That's why biological organisms are free in the sense that their actions are never completely determined by external causes. That is also why the physical universe itself is not deterministic. In is an extremely interesting and very fortunate mixture of determinism and randomness.


....... TURBULENCE AS THE CLASSICAL AMPLIFICATION OF QUANTUM RANDOMNESS: Some have criticized my thoughts on Free Will by offering turbulence as an example of true randomness at the classical level but actually turbulence is one of the best examples of the differences between the classical level amplification of true quantum randomness and classical level non-computability. Turbulence is one of the least understood of all classical level phenomena even though there are are mathematical approaches that provide statistical, non exact, descriptions to a very limited accuracy of some aspects of this behavior.

....... Consider a river running over rapids. The volume of water flowing over the rapids can be considered constant in the short term. However the flow and pulse of the water over the rapids is seen to be continually changing in an exceedingly complex and ever changing dance. Though it stays within some larger scale limits, even it's moderate level details are never exactly the same.

....... If the physical world were actually completely deterministic the water flow over the rapids would stay exactly the same in every last detail. It would not dance. And I mean exactly in every detail, but of course it does dance. That is because the quantum level randomness of individual water molecules is in fact amplified by the the non homeogenity of the river bed. In a non quantum system, all turbulence would be constant and at most repetitive. In real life it continually varies in a never repeating dance. Classical turbulence theory does not explain how that could happen with constant inputs (boundary conditions). It can only happen because of the amplification of quantum randomness. There is no other source of such minute continual stochastic variation.

....... Some physical situations amplify the underlying quantum randomness and some submerge it into near macro homeogenity. A continuous large scale medium such as a gas in an insulated box tends to submerge quantum randomness because there is no structural variation for it to interact with; however a complex riverbed with rocks tends to amplify it. Human, and other biological, organisms are extremely complex non-homeogenous structures. Therefore they amplifly the underlying quantum randomness. That is why the action of humans is even freer in the sense of being less dependent on external causality than the river over rapids, and enormously freer than gas in an insulated box.

....... The suggestion by some that swimming fish might interject randomness into turbulent rapids just doesn't hold water. In any case these are not 'random' but 'circumstantial' events. But even so, a fish swimming here not there or a bird landing in the water produces only a trivial and unmeasurable effect on the every varying dance of a powerful rapids. The observations of such events clearly show no such effects - even when multiplied by the assumed number of fish in the river. The dance of turbulence occurs also in small streams with no fish or landing birds. Such effects are inconsequential and certainly not strong enough to cause the variability in the rapids that continues day and night in all weather, and even whether or not a herd of wildebeast are fording upstream.

....... The ever varying dance is also clearly evident in controlled situations such as large scale models of fluid dynamics of both water and air in which such circumstantial effects are purposely eliminated.

....... The only thing that can account for that in my opinion is the amplification of the quantum uncertainty of the uncountable trillions of H2O molecules banging into each other and rebounding on slightly random trajectories. When the flow is laminar rather than turbulent such quantum effects are much less amplified and tend to cancel out as they are all in the same general direction.

....... I hope that explains classical amplification of quantum randomness because its precisely this amplification of underlying quantum randomness that gives the world its wonderful living variability. Without it the world would be incredibly dull and uninteresting. Without it there would be no dancing of water, and none of the wonderful music of water flowing over rocks. It would just be the same monotonous sound over and over made by a completely non-variable uninteresting flow of water.

....... Likewise the widespread class of chaotic systems in general, systems in which very small changes become amplified to produce large system wide changes, are all cases in which those very small changes all must originate in quantum random effects.