I started 2022 with a post titled Things I Think Are True. It was an echo of the Hard Problems post I’d done to start 2021. That earlier post listed a (possibly surprising) number of open questions in physics. Not trivial questions, either, but big ones like: “What is time?” and “What is the shape and size of the universe?”
The post in 2022 was more of an opinion piece about things that, in the context of those open questions, I think are true. Pure speculation on my part, some of it close to mainstream thinking, some of it rather less so (but all, I would argue, grounded in what we do know).
This year, for contrast, I thought I’d make a list of stuff I don’t believe is true.
At one point I had the idea that I was going write a bunch of For The Record posts — position papers that attempt to be final words on a topic (at least until new considerations came into play). Other one about guns (back in 2015), I never really followed through.
In a sense, all posts, are final words (until further consideration), so all posts can be seen as FTR. The question is whether it makes any sense to mark an expressed opinion as more official or duly considered rather than off the cuff or casual. That was my thought, anyway.
So, seven years later, FTR take two: Free Will
The ideas of free will, causality, and determinism, often factor into discussions about religion, morality, society, consciousness, or life in general. The first and last of these ideas seem at odds; if the world is strictly determined, there can be no free will.
But we are confronted with the appearance of free will — choices we make appear to affect the future. Even choosing not to make choices seems to affect our future. If reality is just a ride on fixed rails, then all that choosing must be a trick our brains play.
These questions are central to lives, but answers have remained elusive, in part from differing views of what the key ideas even mean.
Last time I explored five physical systems. This time I want to implement those five systems as information systems, by which I mean numeric versions of those five systems. The requirement is that everything has to be done with numbers and simple manipulations of numbers.
Of course, to be useful, some parts of the system need to interact with the physical world, so, in terms of their primary information, these systems convert physical inputs into numbers and convert numbers into physical outputs.
Our goal is for the numeric systems to fully replace the physical systems.
Recently, I’ve been involved in some discussions about causality, and some of those discussions have struggled to find any resolution, which I find frustrating. I don’t think people need to agree on ideas, but my experience is that usually people can agree on how to frame and talk about those ideas.
I sometimes get the feeling people are so set on disagreeing that they don’t always engage on what the other party is saying. I never know if it’s a lack of comprehension, a lack of willingness, or (on my part) a lack of communication skill or sufficient explanation.
So here are some things I think (I hope) are uncontroversial.
Lately I’ve been reading about compatibilism with regard to free will. While I’ve considered free will before, especially in the context of determinism, I’ve never explored compatibilism, and I decided it was time I got around to checking it out.
What triggered my renewed interest was, firstly, the movie Arrival (and the short story on which it’s based), and secondly, the HBO series, Westworld. Both have thoughtful science fiction with themes concerning free will (or its lack).
When one of my favorite physics bloggers, Sabine Hossenfelder, wrote a post about free will, it inspired me to write one, too. Monkey see, monkey do!