The universe is not what it seems to be. All is illusion.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” Shakespeare.
“The more precisely the position of a particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known.” Heisenberg
Do molecules have morals? Are there “bad” amoeba and “good” amoeba? Do ants have compassion? Evil wolves and kindly wolves?
We assume there are bad and good people, so at what point do we assume living creatures have a moral code?
Morals presuppose free will. You cannot be moral or immoral, bad or good, unless you have conscious control over your actions.
So, to assume people are bad and good, we must assume people have at least some modicum of control over their actions.
But is this assumption sound? Do we really control our actions?
Previously, (here and here) I wrote to you about “free will,” or specifically the fact that despite what our intuition tells us, free will does not exist. Free will is an illusion.
Every effect has a cause. The actions of every quark, every proton, electron, and neutron, every atom and molecule and field and force, are affected by a previous chain of other quantum particles and forces, which in turn, are affected by others, going back through time.
There is no known mechanism for your brain having free will, any more than your car, your “smart” phone or your refrigerator having free will.
Unless and until someone develops an alternative physics, in which the atoms of human brains do not respond to the other atoms in the universe, or do not direct our actions, beliefs, and emotions, we must acknowledge the physical impossibility of free will.
And this line of logic leads directly to the notion of infinitely pre-programmed time.
If at both the macro and the micro levels, every effect has a prior cause, then there is no alternative to the deterministic idea that everything that will be, already is programmed by what has been.
You might visualize an infinitely long reel of movie film, moving by at light speed, in which the past exists in earlier cells, “now” exists in one cell, and the future exists in later cells.
The past, the present, and the future, as with a movie film, all have been written and all exist simultaneously as a continuum called “time,” immutable by any mysterious, undiscovered, non-physical, nonexistent force we refer to as “free will.”
Is that infinite “movie film” a straight line, with no beginning and no end? Or, is it a circle, where moments of a distant future blend seamlessly into a distant past — also with no beginning and no end? Does trillion-year history repeat endlessly?
Nature is loaded with cycles, repetitions or near-repetitions, that hint time might be something of a helictical circle (like a Slinky, with both ends attached), where cycles are adjacent points on the circle.
The helix is strangely common in nature. Is this time’s imprint on matter and energy?
Viewed that way, the notion of time travel jumps out at you, since merely moving from one cycle to a nearby cycle could take you years into the past or the future. (Wormholes, anyone?)
Yet, even a time jump, which presumably could change the future and/or the past, wouldn’t affect the idea that free will does not exist.
Your decision to time-jump still would be pre-programmed, and the results of your jump already have been written.
I recently was asked, “If everything is pre-programmed, why should I even bother to try?”
My answer is, “You can’t help it. Your every thought and every emotion is determined by the atoms and fields in your brain, and they are influenced by other atoms and fields.
You are an actor in the movie, and your brain’s arrangement today and tomorrow already have been determined by the script.”
If all of this seems fanciful, even absurd, be assured that currently-debated, even accepted hypotheses are no less fanciful.
Consider the “many-worlds” interpretation, which posits that everything that possibly could have happened — i.e. every movement by every quantum particle — actually has happened in a separate universe.
This not only requires an essentially infinite number of universes now, but infinitely more universes a tiny fraction of a second from now — far more complete universes than the number of particles in our universe.
Infinite copies of you, would read infinite variations of this post now, and that number would increase, second by second, infinitely. Fanciful?
Yet it seriously has been considered by such luminaries as Stephan Hawking and Roger Penrose — at least in my current universe. In other universes, perhaps not.
Even time travel or an infinite number of universes does not provide for free will in even one universe, even one planet, even one organism. Consider a common, sci-fi situation in which someone goes back in time and does something that alters the future.
This does not imply the person has free will, since his trip to the past, and his actions there merely would be a projection of the past. Everything has been written, like the pages of a novel.
Somehow, the original quantum particles were created and set in motion. Everything after that has resulted from that original “script.” There is nothing you or I can do to change it.
Though we imagine we can, via force of will, change the trajectory of the universe’s quantum particles, that is an illusion. We can no more change the future than we can change the past.
All is illusion, created by our brains. Hold your hand in front of your face. What do you see? Your fingers?
No, your brain experiences light photons, and converts that sensation into the illusion of fingers. Everything you see, hear, feel, smell, taste, and believe is an illusion, created by your brain’s quantum particles in response to other quantum particles.
Just as you can’t see your fingers, you can’t hear a violin, or taste chocolate, or feel an itch, or believe anything in this post. Your brain’s quantum particles create and interpret illusions.
A hologram can illustrate an object from any angle in 3-dimensional space. It is not a photographic replica, but rather its what your eyes and brain interpret as an organized picture from a seemingly unorganized group of atoms.
A hologram is an illusion.
Some scientists suggest the universe is a hologram, with two-dimensional arrangements of quantum particles interpreted as three-dimensional by your brain.
It would be another example of reality differing from what our intuition tells us.
Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
You cannot experience the same fingers, the same violin, the same chocolate, or the same itch, twice. Every second your eyes experience different photons; your ears experience different sound wave molecules; your taste buds experience different chemicals.
Your brain continually re-interprets these changing inputs into a smooth constant, not because you “will” it to, but because it must.
This leads to the question, “Why is there consistency?” Look at this page. Now look away and look back again. The page still appears to be there.
If all is an illusion, created by quantum particles that began their trajectories billions of years ago, wouldn’t they by now, have become so randomized, that each moment would appear different to my brain?
And indeed, each moment is different. The light quanta coming off your computer screen change trillions of times each second, as do the atoms of your brain, yet the illusion persists that you and the screen stay the same.
Awake or asleep, my brain receives and recreates sensory input, from which it creates the universe you know. Thus, a dream is no less real than an awake experience. It may be different.
Solipsism says that nothing is real and everything is invented by the brain. Descartes wrote, “I think, therefore I exist,” to create a foundation of reality, but never was able to claim the nature of “I.”
The phrase not only expressed the foundation of knowledge, but the limit of knowledge. It purports to be the limit of what we can know about reality.
In summary, I exist as something. I experience a unique existence that is is an illusion created by me. I believe this illusion to be in response to all the particles and fields that may have existed in an infinite universe for an infinite time.
For me, the illusion is extraordinarily powerful. I believe with all my head, heart, and soul that I exist in a certain form, and that you do, too.
Consider railroad signal lights. You see them as moving back and forth, though you know this is an illusion. Illusions are hard to overcome.
My emotions say I have “free will,” though my logic tells me this is not possible.
I believe I decided to write this article, though I know of no scientific basis for my being able to decide anything; it all has been determined from the beginning.
I am an actor in a story, doing what I am programmed to do, neither more nor less. I have come to this conclusion because I must. There are no alternatives.
And all of this begs the question, “Who wrote the “novel?” Who/what created the original quantum particles and set them in motion?
We are limited by the imagination we have been given. We cannot imagine “always.”
Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
Twitter: @rodgermitchell; Search #monetarysovereignty
Facebook: Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
34 thoughts on “Our counterfeit reality”
The one flaw I see in your analysis that we have no free will, is that the actions of individual quantum particles is generally not predictable.
For subatomic particles, the lower the mass, the more wavelike their behavior. And this wavelike behavior can only be predicted as a range of possibilities – usually more than 0% and less than 100%.
In my opinion, this leaves room for free will.
Predictability has nothing to do with it.
I still have not heard of a mechanism that allows you to control the actions of the quantum particles that constitute your brain, and to override cause/effect.
You initial assumption about cause and effect is invalid. At least to the extent that we are able to observe and measure it.
The same cause may have different effects. And going in reverse, the same effect may be generated by different causes.
At the quantum level, experiments that provide particles with multiple paths find some particles take one path, some take another. As far as we can tell, the individual particles were sent on their way in the exact same manner (identical causes) but achieved different results. And since time seems to operate symmetrically for sub-atomic particles, when dealing with quantum effects, the same end result may be achieved with different causes.
This still doesn’t provide you with a mechanism for free will, but it does mean our cause-and-effect universe always has room for unexpected surprises.
Personally, I don’t think we will ever find a physical mechanism for free will that resides completely within our physical universe. Any explanation for free will, will probably involve a mechanism from outside. And the lack of perfect correlation between cause and effect in quantum interactions is probably the interface for such outside interference.
The key phrase is: “As far as we can tell . . .”
When “as far as we can tell” identical particles take two different paths, there is a reason, unless science is telling you that things can happen with zero reasons whatsoever.
Do you believe things can happen with zero reasons, whatsoever? Or do you believe that things happen for reasons we don’t yet understand?
And yes, you are right. This is a separate discussion, having nothing to do with the existence of free will, but rather with our ability to predict the already-written future.
If you want an example of something happening for no reason at all, take a look at our universe. It exists! There is nothing within our universe that could cause it to exist.
Scientists, philosophers, and adherents to various religions can talk about the Big Bang and other theories regarding the existence of the universe, but the cause – if there is one, is outside the universe.
An excellent post, Rodger.
I agree wholeheartedly with almost all of what you have to say. I’ve been working on answers to those same questions for the past 50 years.
However, I disagree with you on one important point. Although I agree that our lives are path-dependent, at any given moment there are many possibilities as to how we will act or react to some event. This is where free will comes into the picture. While our choices may be limited by our past, that does not mean they are completely pre-determined. As sentient beings with a moral code (generally speaking), we can make decisions, depending on the circumstances of an event, that are consistent with our moral code or not consistent, depending on other factors, such as a gun to one’s head.
My point is that although our lives are path-dependent, the future is not completely pre-determined because we have decision-making power over our lives.
Remember, we don’t know the state of the quantum particle until we observe it.
I do not know of any mechanism that allows us to control the “possibilities as to how we will act or react to some event.”
Here’s my article published today in the review “Independent Australia” https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/the-facts-of-modern-monetary-theory,11889
See what you think?
I had to correct your site address. I believe your comments are correct. I should add that other than agreeing with the basics, I am not an MMT follower. I disagree with some MMT positions, i.e. taxes are necessary to give value to money, the Jobs Guarantee, etc.
Thanks! Here’s my take on those positions of yours,1] Taxes drive both employment and currency. That is government uses taxes to coerce us to work so we get money to pay tax. 2] Because of this government is responsible for employment [our need to work] Government is therefore responsible for the level of employment as theoretically they have to give the opportunity for a job to everyone. [The private sector has no such obligation]. There are, as you say, plenty of jobs. but the private sector has no obligation to pay for them. It’s up to government to organise the actuation of the necessary number of jobs for full employment. It’s their basic duty.
1) The need for money to buy things coerces us to work. No need for taxes.
2) The government is responsible for providing benefits, not for making us work. We do not organize governments so we can be forced to labor. We organize governments to make our lives better, safer, easier, and more pleasant, not harsher.
1] It’s the law that we pay taxes, not need. That’s the coercion factor. Taxes today are still obligatory as they always were. They just don’t stop the government from spending.
2] The benefits are supplementary. [still an obligation]. They don’t stop it from providing job opportunities. Someone has to! And it’s not the private sector. There is more than one obligation to us by our government. Nothing to do with being harsh.
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1) The MMT position is that taxes are needed to provide value to money. Your position seems to be that taxes are needed to force work, a completely different concept.
Interestingly, the people who labor hardest pay the least taxes. The people who pay the most, hardly work at all. I, for one, haven’t worked for money in many years, but I pay significant taxes.
2) Labor is not a universal goal. Benefits are. JG forces people to jump through hoops in order to attain the benefits the government could give them without the hoop-jumping.
Would you rather have free health care, or be forced to work to pay for your health care?
JG assumes people would rather earn their benefits than be given them. Utter nonsense. Labor is not a moral imperative.
Yes point 1 is a different concept.
2] Labour is a choice, but the government is obliged to make jobs available to all who want them. Free health care is just another obligation, independent of having a job. Unless or until we crash our economy obliges us to work. So if you get ill, there will be a doctor who will see you and a nurse who will minister to you. If no one chose to work there would be no benefits worth having. We enjoy benefits because other workers provide them, and these workers hope to be able to enjoy benefits as well. Government provides benefits because they pay workers to do the work.
John, there are plenty of jobs, millions of jobs, way more jobs than people looking for jobs.
Answer two questions:
1) Why aren’t these jobs filled?
2) What will a government bureaucrat do about that?
I agree. The jobs are not filled. They await promotion/ activation by the government. This will then lead to the private sector expanding its job creation as well.
As to the government, it depends on competence. Competence has become an issue as conservative [and democratic] administrations are deliberately de- skilled by neoliberal malfeasance. That’s going to take a generation to reverse.
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The jobs are not filled because they are not the right jobs – wrong locations, wrong salaries, wrong type of jobs.
Look on any job site and ask yourself how many of those jobs you would accept or be hired for.
Do you believe a government bureaucrat will solve those problems for people all over America?
SOME jobs are not the right jobs. I think you are over egging the position. There will be jobs that don’t suit Phd’s or lazy sods but plenty of outdoor jobs are going unfilled because the authorities are not enabling them.. The Government is DUTY BOUND to find work for anyone who wants a job. Obviously it isn’t that straightforward but it not an insuperable problem. They also have to make sure wages are adequate. We see Walton’s staff on food stamps. The whole scene is beyond ridiculous. It’s not as venal here in Aus
but plenty of people are looking for work.
Perhaps Australia is different from America.
Perhaps in Australia, if you don’t want an “outdoor job,” like picking trash from the roadside, lumberjacking, farming, construction work or being a lifeguard, you would be considered a “lazy sod.”
In America, we believe people are people, not just pieces to be placed into jobs they hate. If a 40-year-old businessman, who can’t find an office job, but won’t take a minimum wage job on the garbage truck, he isn’t a lazy sod.
Different cultures, I guess.
Anyway, the Ten Steps to Prosperity are a far, far, far, far, far better solution that forcing people into awful jobs.
I think our jobs ethic is better here. At least we pay $15/hr.[ $22in $A] I’m not against your 10 steps, just the jobs issue. I also advocate a BI for those who are unable to work for whatever reason except just not wanting to [ie lazy sods] It’s a choice. You choose to not work, you don’t earn a handout. You cadge off your family and friends at your or their cost. If you want a job, the government will make sure there is one for you, or more than one, as it used to be post WW2.
Are these millions of jobs Government jobs? I would doubt it.
Plants “make decisions” in the same way you make decisions. It’s automatic. Neither you nor plants have free will.
I have a free will. I never paid a dime for it.
Exactly what a free will is worth
You said: “Every effect has a cause. The actions of every quark, every proton, electron, and neutron, every atom and molecule and field and force, are affected by a previous chain of other quantum particles and forces, which in turn, are affected by others, going back through time. Every effect has a cause. There is no known mechanism for your brain having free will, any more than your car, your “smart” phone or your refrigerator having free will.”
We aren’t brains or bodies. We are consciousness or awareness. Without consciousness, we don’t exist. Our consciousness is our perceptions, emotions and thoughts, plus our subconscious, consisting of memory, reason, decision and desire. Decision is free will. The quantum particles, forces etc are only known within our perceptions and memory. They can apparently only exist within consciousness. The universe is consciousness.
If you don’t have free will, or decision making ability, then your desires are illusions, and there’s nothing wrong with the way things are and there’s no need to explain economics to anyone. So there is a contradiction between your Determinist philosophy and your desire to improve society economically.
You are correct that we are consciousness. (“I think therefore I am.”) Our desires are illusions, but that does not translate into “there’s nothing wrong with the way things are and there’s no need to explain economics to anyone.”
I have no control and no free will. I can’t control if I don’t like “the way things are.” I can’t control my “desire to improve society economically.”
I can’t control my thoughts. Control (free will) is an illusion.
What makes me type this response?
All my thoughts, desires, attitudes, and actions are programmed by what came before.
It is an extremely powerful illusion. But there is no known mechanism for my consciousness to control the atoms of my brain (if such an object as a brain actually exists.)
Of what is your consciousness made?
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It’s not as bleak as all that. For one thing, if I disagree with you, and I do, yet I also function in the world as do you, does that not prove there are alternate, “programs” that answer the same world issues differently, and thus A leads to B is not actually determined?
There is free will in this way: at the quantum level, things are random. The brain therefore, at its most reduced subdecision level, can “fire off” A or B, 0 or 1, in equal amounts. Yet, our instinct, experience, and finally, consciousness (though probably less of that than we’d like to believe), chooses one choice over the other, or perhaps more accurately at the final, conscious level, choose an aggregate of hundreds, or millions, of subchoices over another.
There’s actually some proof of this going back to the mid-nineteenth century.
Phineas P. Gage (1823–1860) was an American railroad construction foreman remembered for his improbable [B1] :19 survival of an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying much of his brain’s left frontal lobe, and for that injury’s reported effects on his personality and behavior over the remaining 12 years of his life—effects sufficiently profound (for a time at least) that friends saw him as “no longer Gage”.
More detailed: Gage became irascible whereas before he was calm and controlled; he became prone to violent fits, whereas before he was the foreman who prevented them among his men.
Now, I think we can agree that the iron rod that went through his head as the result of an explosion did not “impart” these characteristics. That is, they were there all along, but suppressed. His brain, intact, exercised control over its more destructive impulses, but they were there, waiting to manifest themselves once the controlling part – the Free Will – was gone. The ability to exercise Free Will was driven out by the iron rod.
To decide to do one thing, and not the other, is our Free Will. It is NOT to simply conjure the “right” thing to do out of nothing. The wrong thing to do is in the brain too, but at least most of us, most of the time, aggregate all those subdecisions, unconsciously and instantaneously, and do the “right” thing. I show it in quotes because “right” is a term that has preoccupied scholars, religionists, and philosophers throughout human history. That’s what happens when millions of subdecisons are aggregated.
Nothing in the universe is random. What we may think of as random actually is ignorance of cause.
As for Mr. Gage’s iron bar, it substantiates my point. He had what he perceived as “free will.” Then an object affected the atoms of his brain and suddenly he had a different “free will” — which he could not control.
He (and you and I and everyone else) is a slave to the atoms of our brain, which are affected by the atoms of the universe.
Do you think bugs have free will, or is free only for advance animals, or only for humans?
Yesterday, I was sitting in my backyard when a butterfly began to flit over some flowers. It hovered over one, then another, briefly touched down on a 3rd, and finally settled on a 4th and began to drink nectar.
Was the butterfly exercising free will, or was it a slave to the atoms of its nervous system?
And if you still think “free will” exists, of what is it made? In what physical form is free will?
The point, I think (which may be predetermined), is that both potentialities existed in Gage, as they must in all of us. Why is the brain organized this way? It must be because at the most base level, there is randomness that cannot be avoided. We do not pull the “right” solution out of nothing, but rather the “right” and “wrong” solutions exist at the same time, and it is the mind, which is deterministic even while individual quantum events are not, that chooses one or the other. Interfere with the marco operation of the mind – via a metal rod through the neocortex or some other method – and the randomness remains, but the pruning tree of Free Will is damaged so that the “wrong” decisions are made more frequently. They are always there, but unblocked. Perhaps this is why we have criminals; they make poor decisions as a result of subtle brain damage, whether organic or through the environment, which changes the brain too.
In support of this theorem, somewhat, I offer this link: https://www.museumofconceptualart.com/science/randomness_consciousness.html
Like the author, I reject the theory that the “right” decision is inspired by taping to “God’s Will” but I also believe that a functional society encourages some decisions more than others. It is not hard to see that society does not function well if everyone is free to take whatever they want, and say whatever lie they manufacture…uh, oh…
I see you ignored everything I wrote in my previous comment. Will that be your pattern? If so, it would indicate you have no wish to learn, but rather to “win” an argument.
Randomness does not exist in this universe. Random means, “lacking a definite plan, purpose, or pattern.” Nothing in the universe meets that description, because it would require an effect not to have a cause. I know of no effects that lack a cause. So-called “randomness” is ignorance of cause.
For instance, many people say the digits in the value of Pi occur at random. They don’t. They are the result of a formula, which always provides the same digits when repeated.
If you can give me an example of an effect that has no cause, I will be interested in learning about it.
In any event, the supposed randomness implied in quantum mechanics does not provide any basis for free will.
What exactly is the “pruning tree of free will.” Where is it in the brain? How does it function? Does “free will” involve the cells of the brain, or is it some ethereal magic, floating above us?
If you can explain a mechanism for free will, I will be interested in hearing it.
How do you control your decisions and beliefs without using the atoms in your brain?
You said, “Perhaps this is why we have criminals; they make poor decisions as a result of subtle brain damage, whether organic or through the environment, which changes the brain too.”
Correct. That subtle (physical) brain damage changes so-called “free will.” What causes the brain damage? Atoms?
What moves the atoms that cause the brain damage? Other atoms?
And by the way, did the butterfly have free will?
I suggest you to focus on economics, not else.
What is your focus
This is correct = Nothing in the universe is random. What we may think of as random actually is ignorance of cause.
You can’t have cause w/o effect anymore than you can have your shadow without you, or an in-side without an out-side. These are co-existing functions.
There’s also a very interesting, simple mathematical principle of “underlying order in all randomness.” I won’t go into it here but leave it to the reader to Google.
You might also google “A Fuller Explanation: Chapter Seven” to see how to treat free will mathematically. Freedom is not totally free; it comes in degrees of Relative freedom.