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 Post subject: Thoughts Related to The Universe Function Idea
PostPosted: Sun Nov 09, 2008 9:02 am 
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As is probably obvious, this is based on the essay "The Universe as a Mathematical Function." I'll start with a few preliminaries:

First, I’m randomly curious: what brought about the idea of a universe function?

Second, I give notice now: what follows is rather unpolished. I tried to smooth things out a bit, but honestly it was enough of a challenge for me to rough-cut some of these ideas, let alone trying to work them into a more polished state and order.

And as a third preliminary (though getting closer to the point): I’ve got to admit that through much of this essay, I was rather out of my league. I think this could be traced in part (though I'm sure not fully) to the fact that it dealt with a math concept. Math was a longstanding nemesis of mine. We did finally come to something of a peace treaty, but there’s never been friendship between us. As you may be able to surmise from the personification there, literature has always been my more natural ally. Ironically in light of that, however, I did get through quite a bit of math in high school – up through calculus (at least the beginnings), so I can appreciate the idea of a function as an image (again with the literary-mindedness) if not as… well, a mathematical function.

But to begin working out what we’re actually dealing with in this image – since it has now been at least five years since I’ve had to do any serious work with functions – am I correct in remembering that the domain in a function F(x) would be “x”? It seems fairly straightforward, even to me, that “x” would be the input, but again, it’s been a while, and as stated, math is not one of my strengths.

Given all that, what I think (assuming there was no misunderstanding involved) I was able to take away was something of a help in understanding possible interactions between free will and time.

Basically… hmm. Some setting for the problem I see this relating to might help. It hails back to a college philosophy class that dealt with various arguments posed to either prove or disprove the existence of God. I think it was in a discussion with the professor that he suggested that foreknowledge on God’s part implied a deterministic universe (if it is knowable, then it must already be determined). And a deterministic universe would preclude free will. I would tend to ground God’s foreknowledge in His being outside of time, but I think the reply to this was somewhere along the lines of, “If there’s an ‘outside’ to time, then the timeline (so to speak) must already all be in existence from the start, which means everything is already determined.” (It occurs to me now that I could conceive of a sense in which “determined” and “deterministic” were not the same things… but just as "nondeterminism" and "ignorance of determinism," though different, would be indistinguishable from within time and the universe, so I think might these). The subject came up when we were discussing the problem of evil as an argument against God’s existence, since my answer to this argument depends in large part on free will.

So back around to the function, free will, and foreknowledge. I think the function, as an image, gives me slightly more ability to conceive of an “outside” to time that doesn’t necessarily imply determinism than does, say, the above-mentioned idea of a “timeline.” (Even if functions, now that I think about it, often did result in lines on a graph. Meh :P .) I think I can picture willful components within a function – components not entirely determined by the function, but rather by their own choice – while at the same time seeing that for one outside the function, the answer, so to speak, is still the answer and was all along. I’m not sure how much this image would aid me in a resumption of the above-mentioned discussion with my professor (which probably indicates the limits of how well I understand it), or what he might answer to it. I suppose he might respond that he was not sure what I meant by willful function components. And come to mention it, I’m not entirely sure I do. What, conceptually, would such a thing be?

On second thought, I’m going to have to put that question on hold, because in trying to work it out, I think I landed on something relevant, but entirely different. This would be the matter of cause and effect, which I believe you said you didn’t get into very deeply. I’m curious as to what part cause and effect play in the universe function. Because if I consider how a function works… you have one static or constant set of mathematical operations, in which a variable “x” plays at least one, and often several, roles. Of course in this case, “x” is time. But then what is functioning as the static or constant set of operations? I could, perhaps, guess the laws of physics, but I can’t think of any other possibilities. And if it’s just the laws of physics… I’m uncertain whether I could consider this complete or not. If I think of the creation of the universe (the creation of the function) as a combination of the setting-in-place of the laws of physics (the establishment of the constant operations) and the creation of “stuff” (matter, creatures, etc.) for those laws to work on, maybe I can begin to see it… if the relationship between the output for one given time and the output for the next moment in time were established. This is something on which I’m unclear where the universe function model is concerned. It sorta seems to leave each moment in time disconnected from and unrelated to the last… to the extent where I can’t see how the one could relate to the other in any sort of causal fashion. I believe you said you wanted to leave things open to people to conceive of a continuous or a discrete sequence where time was concerned. However… I don’t see how this could work in a universe where the “output” or “state of things” at any given moment is dependent in part on the output/state of things of the moment prior. I don’t see how any function, if it remains the same function, could also be partially influenced by the results of prior inputs in a progressing sequence. Is there/could there be any kind of operation that would, in essence, say, “insert the results from the last step in the sequence here”? Would something along the lines of f(x-1) as an operation within the function "f" represent that connection? Or does that work into something of a mathematical infinite regress, since if the function itself appears as an operation within the function, the same would happen each time? :?

See, I told you, I'm dealing with math that's out of my league. But in short, I’m not sure how a function with time as the variable could work as a reflection of the universe as a whole unless there was some way, within the function, of also expressing the impact of the point in time prior to whatever given time you're working with.

And after all that, I’m not sure I have enough steam left to try and return to the question that came before it – that of what a willful function component would be. Maybe I’ll have to either pose it as a question, or leave it for a later time.

*Looks at the above. Looks at the clock.* Yeah, I think that’s enough for the moment. There were other thoughts, but I’m sorta finding holes in them, and I should probably limit the amount of mental wandering I inflict with any one post, anyway. :P
I guess I’ll end with my two main questions:
Does any of that make sense?
Any thoughts?
:)

_________________
“And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. […] they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Heb. 11: 13b, 16


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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts Related to The Universe Function Idea
PostPosted: Sun Nov 09, 2008 1:17 pm 
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Quote:
what brought about the idea of a universe function?

I can't really say with any precision. Many arguments in metaphysics, particularly in relation to time, seemed to be different perspectives on the same thing rather than proper disagreements. I thought that these could best be illustrated in relation to the different perspectives one could have of a mathematical function. Where disagreements were actually substantial, the differences could be illustrated by differences in the underlying mathematical model. I guess this only helps to the extent that one has a mathematical intuition.

Quote:
am I correct in remembering that the domain in a function F(x) would be “x”?

Yes. In simple terms, the domain of a function is the set of possible input values, and the range is the set of possible output values. In the case of the universe function, the input is a timestamp, and the output is the state of the universe at that moment. This is supposed to capture the idea that the universe has a state at any given moment, and whenever we refer to a particular moment, we are always referring to the same state. Or, putting it in a non-mathematical way, "history doesn't change". If you want to model a universe in which history does change (a la "Back to the Future"), you need a set of functions or a multi-dimensional concept of time. Most of the interesting discussion centres around the simple model of time, so I don't explore the multi-dimensional one. The model does not inherently preclude time travel, but the kind of time travel that it can represent is limited.

Quote:
I think it was in a discussion with the professor that he suggested that foreknowledge on God’s part implied a deterministic universe (if it is knowable, then it must already be determined). And a deterministic universe would preclude free will.

First, an aside. If you want a discussion on free will and foreknowledge that uses popular culture rather than mathematics as its illustrative medium, see The Oracle from The Matrix, and Freedom, Fatalism, and Foreknowledge.

Having said that, a lot of misunderstandings in relation to free will and foreknowledge arise in relation to the use of temporal language, like "already determined". From God's perspective, the whole of history is already determined; from our perspective it's not. Our perspective is a relative thing -- you have to specify the x-value of the universe function when you talk about our perspective. God's perspective sees the function as a whole -- a static, unchanging, determined set of events.

In any case, those misunderstandings are just a sideshow. What's being missed is that free will and determinism can be compatible. Assume that the future is, in fact, "already determined" in some sense. This is logical fatalism: the simple tautology that "whatever will be will be". The important question is "how does it become what it will be?" What we really want to know is whether the future is shaped by our free wills -- not whether it is "determined" an any other sense.

Let's assume an extremely hostile universe, from the perspective of free will: a rigidly mathematical, clockwork universe that unfolds according to simple mathematical rules applied to its present condition, with no external influences. Is there any room for free will in such a universe? Precisely two things determine the shape of this universe over time: the mathematical rules themselves, and the initial conditions at time zero. As it happens, then, free wills can have an influence on the unfolding of this universe if they form a part of the mathematical rules of the universe itself, or are codified into the initial conditions.

Here's where the sceptic says, "waitasec -- God establishes the rules and the initial conditions, so that means the universe unfolds according to his will and only his will (thus the problem of evil)." This is where I step in and raise an unexpected "O RLY?" Let's assume for a moment that we do have free wills, and that the overall rigidity of the universe means that wills must either influence the rules of the universe itself, or its initial conditions. Both of these are feats which transcend the boundaries of space and time, and so we would naturally attribute them to God. But we are specially made in the image of God -- in his likeness. Could it be that your free will is, in some sense, your own personal input into the laws of physics that operate in this universe?

It certainly doesn't seem to us that we have any control over the laws of physics, nor do we have any control over the initial state of the universe (a past event, pre-dating our personal influence, from our perspective). In fact, we wouldn't know how to influence the world in the delicate way we do through our personal being (like typing on a keyboard) by manipulating laws of physics or tweaking initial conditions. This is where I must simply shrug and point out that we don't really have any clue how we do anything in a general sense. Speak? See? Hear? Think? Feel? How does a pile of atoms have a temporal experience of any sort, let alone one as rich as ours? It's all utterly baffling. Free will would just be another bafflingly supernatural aspect of this existence: our free will has the appearance of being located within us, and expressed through our bodily actions, but the truth of the matter could be written into the laws of physics themselves.

At this point I've probably divided the audience into two categories: the totally lost, and the unconvinced. Maybe there's a third category who understand what I'm saying and agree with me, and bravo if there is. To the unconvinced, however, I think the remaining difficulty can be expressed as follows: how can God create a will independent of his own? Part of the difficulty here is that we have no idea how to do it ourselves. If I were to make an artificial intelligence of some sort, it would not be a "free will" in the sense we seek here. It would be totally determined by the initial conditions, the rules under which it operates, and the external inputs it receives. There would be no "will", no "self", which acts as an original source of decisions beyond these factors. When we picture God creating man in his own image with an independent free will, we have no earthly parallel on which to draw. This can produce a general denial of the possibility of free will, and this is where most hard-core free will sceptics ultimately stand, I think

To them, I would say, "the problem of consciousness should overpower your scepticism". But I've drifted far enough away from the original topic at this point, and won't pursue that line of argument any further.

Quote:
Is there/could there be any kind of operation that would, in essence, say, “insert the results from the last step in the sequence here”? Would something along the lines of f(x-1) as an operation within the function "f" represent that connection? Or does that work into something of a mathematical infinite regress, since if the function itself appears as an operation within the function, the same would happen each time?

Yes, it's quite fair to define a mathematical function in this manner. You need to define an initial state (for x=0) explicitly, and the remainder of the function can be described in terms of a manipulation of the previous state. This is basically the model that I used in my discussion above. If you want to, you can explicitly define the output of the function for each and every input, and it's still a mathematical function in a strict sense. Consider the function which enumerates the prime numbers so that f(1) = 2, f(2) = 3, f(3) = 5, and so on. We can write computer programs to implement this function, but we can't define it recursively or as an equation.

Confusingly, you can often define a function several different ways. I could define the "identity" function as the equation "f(x) = x", as the recursive rules "f(0) = 0; f(x) = f(x-1) + 1", and as the explicit infinite sequence "f(0) = 0; f(1) = 1; f(2) = 2; ...". These are ultimately all the same function because the inputs and outputs map to the same values.

On the matter of cause and effect that you mention, I steer away from it because it can only be answered in terms of the internal workings of the universe function, and I treat the function as a black box just to keep the scope of analysis under control. Cause and effect are hard to define, but a recursive or iterative function might give us the kind of distinctions we need to distinguish cause from effect. If the internal workings of the universe function are more like an equation, then asking "did X cause Y" might be like asking "what causes one plus one to be equal to two?" There is no cause in this latter case: mathematical statements are simply either true or false, not "caused".

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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts Related to The Universe Function Idea
PostPosted: Mon Nov 10, 2008 6:01 pm 
i'm not lost and i agree.

What you're exploring is the paradox between free will and predestination (or foreknowledge) and you're postulating sort of another dimension, another degree of freedom, which allows them to be compatible.

There are a couple things i find fascinating here (and i haven't read ur essay, just this post, so maybe u address these). If what you're saying is true (or, let's say, a valid way of looking at creation) then god has, indeed, given up some control. Even considering that all things are foreknown by god, they are foreknown to be a certain way not due to his explicit will, but mine. Or sadam husseins. Or osama bin laden's. Now, in a weird, way, if he "chose to give up his control", he still, retains control. Since it was his will to give up that control.

Another thing that is interesting / troubling is that the passing of time sort of becomes an illusion. Or maybe better said, the unrolling of causality over time is an illusion. All the causes and effects are already "done". Like a movie that's already done on the DVD. the passing of time becomes just a way to view the movie. Just like that DVD, we have no way of "taking it in all at once." It has to unfold.

The other thing that bothers me here, is that people can't then "change". One can't be "bad" at the start of the movie, and turn "good". He would have had to be a "bad-turned-good" person for all time. But i feel myself wanting to give all men a chance to change.

And what of preaching the gospel? Everyone to whom one would preach would be already either "bad", "good" or "bad-turned-good". Or perhaps, even, "good-turned-bad". The bible says the "good" category doesnt exist, but even the "bad-turned-good" category it seems like just scenery to preach to them. They were "bad-turned-good" before you preached to the, and after their "conversion" they are still "bad-turned-good." Nothing really, "changed", it just "unfolded". And there would be nothing one could do for the "bad" people.

Another very interesting question to me is what happens to the omnipotence of god? What if some human creature somewhere along the timeline of mankind willed that they themselves be omnipotent? This reminds me of the man finding a genie and wishing for "infinite wishes."

An answer to that question may be that the world in which my free will is exercised is, in the end, my own mind. While my free will may have an effect on the universe, it is limited, and the only "place" i can have absolute, uninhibited control, is in the mini universe of my own experience. And so, even then, god is giving up his control--but in a very curious way.

God says, i give you yourself. You are now god. You may choose whatever you want, and do whatever you want in this 'space' called yourself. And if you choose to exclude me, you will find that you have omnipotence to do that. I will not resist. The catch is, if that person takes up that mantle of control, then that person will not have god anymore. And the other catch is that god is the very definition of meaning and love. And while there is, and will always be, a hint, a faint breese of the truth and love of god flowing thru that person's being, it is trivially resisted. And there is free will in that scope.

Alternatively, one may abandon that ominipotence, and choose to align themselves with god's will. In which case, by not opposing god's willfulness and omnipotence, they can participate in same, and in a sense join with him in being the definition of meaning and love.

What do you think?


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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts Related to The Universe Function Idea
PostPosted: Mon Nov 10, 2008 9:38 pm 
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anon again wrote:
If what you're saying is true (or, let's say, a valid way of looking at creation) then god has, indeed, given up some control. Even considering that all things are foreknown by god, they are foreknown to be a certain way not due to his explicit will, but mine.

Yes, to grant the possibility of wills other than one's own is to cede control to some degree.

anon again wrote:
Now, in a weird, way, if he "chose to give up his control", he still, retains control. Since it was his will to give up that control.

Quite so. Also, the question of whether or not he remains in control is, in my opinion, largely decided by whether his will can override that of others. If God can win every possible contest of wills, then he's all-powerful so far as I'm concerned. (That's the tangent of this argument that covers the old saw about whether an omnipotent God can create a rock too heavy for him to lift. That's a distraction: an omnipotent God need only be unconditionally more powerful than the sum of all other powers, not more powerful than himself.)

anon again wrote:
Another thing that is interesting / troubling is that the passing of time sort of becomes an illusion. ... The other thing that bothers me here, is that people can't then "change". One can't be "bad" at the start of the movie, and turn "good". He would have had to be a "bad-turned-good" person for all time. But i feel myself wanting to give all men a chance to change.

Ah, but people can and do change: it's just that they only get to change once. You don't get to re-live your life differently. Change is difference with regards to time. To not change means to remain in the same state over a period of time. The character in a story can change over the course of the story, even though the story as a whole is fixed. So it is with our lives in this universe: reality as a whole (from time's start to time's end) is a fixed and static thing, but the change within that static whole can be seen as differences along the time axis. The universe function expresses this quite well: each possible input to the function gives a static and invariant output, but change is the difference between two outputs, given two inputs.

So yes, the passage of time is an illusion. Change (the dynamic) is the way we perceive contrast between static things which differ in a static way. But why is this surprising? We live in the days of video, and it's pretty common knowledge that video is nothing but a sequence of still images. Don't let that fool you into thinking that nothing changes, though: it's just that change isn't what you thought it was. There's less to it than you'd think! Change is what you get when you combine static things which differ along an axis called "time".

anon again wrote:
And what of preaching the gospel? Everyone to whom one would preach would be already either "bad", "good" or "bad-turned-good". Or perhaps, even, "good-turned-bad". The bible says the "good" category doesnt exist, but even the "bad-turned-good" category it seems like just scenery to preach to them. They were "bad-turned-good" before you preached to the, and after their "conversion" they are still "bad-turned-good." Nothing really, "changed", it just "unfolded".

Again, change is difference with regards to time. The repentant sinner is the perfect example of change: he has a change of heart; a change of attitude. The sinful past is not erased or changed, but his future should stand in contrast to it. That contrast is the change.

Whether you call it "change" or an "unfolding" makes no difference. Both are compatible, reasonable views. Neither implies that our actions are ineffectual. On the contrary, difference with regards to time always has a motivating force behind it, whether it be the laws of physics or an act of free will. Just as you can choose to catch a ball, interrupting its natural trajectory, your actions have an influence on the decisions of others around you. All outcomes are "predestined" in the sense that there is only one future (just as there is only one past), but that future is shaped by your decisions, and will be the way it is (rather than some possible way it could have been) in part because of what you decide to do.

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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts Related to The Universe Function Idea
PostPosted: Mon Nov 17, 2008 1:16 am 
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So it would appear that I’m only capable of concerted philosophical reflection once a week, as the other times this past week I’ve attempted to sit down to this I’ve either bogged myself down in wandering-thought-thread-tangle, almost immediately gotten too tired (physically) to continue, or hey, even both! Then there’s also the fact that I’m addicted to IM and even, occasionally, the fact that I’m a student, and studentish things crop up. But anyway… many apologies for taking so long to reply! (And for the length. Believe it or not I looked back to try and trim... and just ended up adding here and there. :P So much for that. :roll: )

I’m afraid I’m really only going to get to TFBW’s first post in reply to mine. This is mostly because the discussion following seemed to branch off into implication of these points about time and free will, and I’m still working through kinks in understanding them and how they might work. I also think those points were mostly covered – I found things I would’ve worded differently, but in the end I think the concepts would’ve been the same. And then of course there’s the fact that if I tried to go into anything more… the resulting post would be even more ridiculously long than it is, and just might take another week to finish. :P

Most of what follows may amount to a translation of what’s already been said into whatever language my mind speaks, since it really doesn’t have what you call “mathematical intuition” (good term, actually). And really, I know I understand something when I can put it into my own words. There may be some elaboration of things, though, too.

TFBW wrote:
In any case, those misunderstandings are just a sideshow. What's being missed is that free will and determinism can be compatible. Assume that the future is, in fact, "already determined" in some sense. This is logical fatalism: the simple tautology that "whatever will be will be". The important question is "how does it become what it will be?" What we really want to know is whether the future is shaped by our free wills -- not whether it is "determined" an any other sense.


Okay, basically, this is saying that it doesn’t matter if everything is “already determined” or “already established” because our free choice can still “have been” part of what determined it. The fact that we don’t know what comes next, or that we have the subjective experience of making a choice and experiencing a before and after to that process, doesn’t mean we didn’t “already choose” from God’s perspective outside “the function,” or outside the flow of time.

If this is the case, it would seem that in a sense, for a given decision, we might have chosen and not chosen at the same time… which really does seem to flout logic (non-contradiction!). But then again, I can see how this would only be a seeming, because even the law of non-contradiction, as I learned it, is pointedly time-based: a thing cannot both be and not be (or be and not be itself, or I suppose there could be other variants) in the same sense in the same place at the same time. And I suppose in a special sense, within time and outside of time would always have to be two “different times.” It’s not that “right now” (or at any given moment) a choice could both not yet be made (within time) and already made (outside time). It’s that there is no “right now,” in our sense of the words, outside of time; only within time. So in a strict sense, there would be no “same time” shared between “within time” and “outside of time”. Because of this, it would be possible for there to be no “hasn’t happened yet” outside of time, but only within time, because “yet” is time-dependent. But it’s hard, if not impossible, to conceive of things without reference to time, and so even the idea “outside of time” we basically drag back into time, and this is where the contradictions crop up.

Or, since the timeline is a common image, I could see it in those terms. In my experience of time, going along the line, I reach a place where I must either go right or left. The difficulty is put that either I have free will, in which case the line doesn’t exist ahead of me but is only created by my passing, or I don’t have free will, and the line already exists going in whichever direction I’m about to “choose,” but I didn’t really choose it, because it was already set in place before I had the chance. But on the theory that determinism and free will can be compatible, this would be a false dichotomy. Because instead when I come to the point of choice, the line does already exist in front of me, and anyone looking down on the line from above would be able to see it… but it still exists going in the direction it does because (in the causal sense) I choose the direction I do rather than the other. If I chose the other direction, the line would already exist ahead of me in that direction instead. It’s not self-contradictory, again, because of the difference of being inside time and being outside of time.

So if all this works, I can see the possibility. Or at least the removal of the impossibility usually suggested. Now, on to modality…

You give a couple of options for the ways in which freedom of wills might be accomplished: namely, it would be included either in the initial conditions of the universe or related to the laws of physics by which the universe operates. So taking these one at a time…

Freeness of wills as part of initial conditions of universe
I’m not sure I see how the initial conditions could in any way be impacted by us, or even how the freedom of our wills could be included in them. But then, part of the point is that just because we can’t see how something can be, that doesn’t mean it’s not the case. Some of these things we can’t see because we are limited by being within time, among other things. Still… I can think of nothing that would help me wrap my mind around the idea, so I’m going to leave this option at that – possible, but not one I can formulate at all.

Freeness of wills as related to the laws of physics
I think I was a little unclear on this one – I could see it working in two ways, and wasn’t sure which was intended (or whether it could work with either one). 1) I could see the freedom of wills being one of the laws of physics – same kind of thing as gravity, etc. Or 2) I could see freedom of wills as being the ability given to the will (through creation in the image of God) to somehow interact with the laws of physics – influence them, trigger them, have input into them – more directly than we would through our physical bodies. (This may fit what you were saying better… but again, not sure)

I guess at this point, looking at relating freedom of wills to the laws of physics, I’ve got to step back and ask what is necessary to establish a will as free. In non-universe function terms, I’d say for a will to be free, its decisions would have to at least partially be undetermined by the flow of cause and effect or God’s choosing. These decisions would be causes, of course. However, there would be an extent to which the will making them would, in its deciding process, be independent of other causes. Not that such a will must be utterly free of outside influences, but the decisions it made could not be purely and only effects of the general cause-effect chain or of God’s choice. In universe function terms… I’m having trouble thinking how to distinguish this idea. The universe function allows me to see, to an extent, how freedom of wills could be written in, but not the necessary conditions for considering wills free.

My reason for plunging off into that, though, is that given such an idea of a free will, I don’t see how option 2 of the two relations to the laws of physics could result in free will. It allows them to be causes in a rather interesting way, but I don’t see how this could accomplish the limited independence described above.

That said, I could see how option 1 could theoretically achieve this independence. It could actually, in effect, write independence in: these particular beings (humans, and perhaps others as well) are free, which means that x limits are set for the extent to which their decisions can be influenced by anything outside themselves.

So I guess at this point I’ll close with… did I understand everything correctly, and is there anything I just said that doesn’t work?

_________________
“And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. […] they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Heb. 11: 13b, 16


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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts Related to The Universe Function Idea
PostPosted: Mon Nov 17, 2008 8:34 am 
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Wayfarer wrote:
But on the theory that determinism and free will can be compatible, this would be a false dichotomy. Because instead when I come to the point of choice, the line does already exist in front of me, and anyone looking down on the line from above would be able to see it… but it still exists going in the direction it does because (in the causal sense) I choose the direction I do rather than the other. If I chose the other direction, the line would already exist ahead of me in that direction instead. It’s not self-contradictory, again, because of the difference of being inside time and being outside of time.

This is basically the idea of compatibility that I intend to convey. If the idea of being inside or outside of time is still a little hard to grasp, then think of it in terms of a video recording. If we were to capture your decision-making process on camera, the fact that the camera is present and recording does not restrict your freedom of will in any way. A person reviewing the recording is quite able to view any part of the process in any order, so they can see the result of your choice and then see the decision-making process knowing full well what your decision will be, yet have no influence over your decision at all.

The only limitation of this illustration is that we're still operating within time as a whole: you can say that all this video-watching has no influence on the decision-making process because it necessarily comes afterwards. I'm not sure how we can improve on the illustration, though.

Wayfarer wrote:
I guess at this point, looking at relating freedom of wills to the laws of physics, I’ve got to step back and ask what is necessary to establish a will as free. In non-universe function terms, I’d say for a will to be free, its decisions would have to at least partially be undetermined by the flow of cause and effect or God’s choosing. These decisions would be causes, of course. However, there would be an extent to which the will making them would, in its deciding process, be independent of other causes. Not that such a will must be utterly free of outside influences, but the decisions it made could not be purely and only effects of the general cause-effect chain or of God’s choice.

This sounds like a viable model. We're interested in a relationship called "determined by". If we consider a ball in free-fall, its future path will be determined by the laws of physics and the matter with which it interacts while in free fall. (The matter with which it interacts is potentially "the rest of the universe" as a whole, although most of that will have a negligible impact.) If we consider a ball in the grip of your hand, its future path is not so readily determined: it depends primarily on what you decide to do with it. There are limits on your capabilities in this regard: you lack the personal strength to toss the ball such that it hits the moon, for example, but the possibilities remain diverse relative to the somewhat predictable laws of physics.

But here we can point to the fact that your body is also matter, subject to the same laws of physics as all other matter. Where does free will interject in such a way as to become a direct cause of your "voluntary" bodily actions? I've identified two possible points of entry by which free will can influence a universe: either in establishing initial conditions, or by direct influence (in the style of the laws of physics). Let's get a little less abstract about this and engage in some speculation. I don't much like to speculate, because speculation is usually wrong, but let's speculate for the purposes of illustrating possibilities (by which I mean to say that this is not an attempt to construct a scientific theory of free will, even if it could serve as such).

When I said earlier that the laws of physics were "somewhat predictable", I fully intended there to be some room for variation in the possible outcomes. One possibility for variation seems to be afforded by the quantum realm, in which things have a probabilistic state rather than a concrete state. A free will could influence the state of the world through quantum outcomes, for example. In this manner, the sum total of "quantum uncertainty" in your body (particularly in your brain, I suppose) could set possible bounds on your free will actions. The sum total of quantum uncertainty in a free-falling ball isn't enough to make its trajectory unpredictable, but the same degree of uncertainty applied to your brain (a complex device that can produce large differences in outcome from small variations) is enough to make general prediction impossible.

So far, that gives us the right flexibility within the laws of physics themselves. What we need to supply now is the causality, as you rightly point out. If this speculative model of free will is right (and it probably isn't, but bear with me), then a free will is a causal agent that has the ability to direct quantum outcomes in such a way as to influence the actions of a human body (or other free-willed material thing, if any exist). This means that a free will is a rather clever thing, because it needs to be able to compute the right kind of influence it must exert to achieve a particular outcome. Beyond this point, I can't flesh out any further details, because I lack sufficient knowledge of both quantum physics and neurobiology -- not to mention a certain amount of general physics and chemistry knowledge required to bridge the gap between the two.

This explanation moves away from the "universe function" model of things. It's still compatible with that model, but we can ignore it because it's not bringing anything useful into the illustration. Instead, we think of a free will as a causal agent which operates at the very subtle level of quantum uncertainty. Given the right kind of influence over quantum outcomes, magnified through a complex piece of machinery like the human brain and body, free will can have the "macro" effects that we see in daily life. This puts some flesh on the bones of your idea, "I could see freedom of wills as being the ability given to the will (through creation in the image of God) to somehow interact with the laws of physics – influence them, trigger them, have input into them – more directly than we would through our physical bodies," with the important distinction that our free will is the causal agency which effects our voluntary bodily actions.

Thus, in terms of a cause-and-effect model, our bodily actions can be said to be fully determined by the laws of physics, with the caveat that those laws contain a degree of nondeterminism. Free will can fill this gap, and thus be the ultimate cause of many of our bodily actions (specifically those we call "voluntary").

Is that helpful?

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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts Related to The Universe Function Idea
PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2008 8:18 pm 
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TFBW wrote:
Is that helpful?

In short, yes.

…But what fun would life be if we left things in their short form? 8)

I’ll start with this:
TFBW wrote:
The only limitation of this illustration is that we're still operating within time as a whole: you can say that all this video-watching has no influence on the decision-making process because it necessarily comes afterwards. I'm not sure how we can improve on the illustration, though.

I think the problem you point out here is precisely the difficulty I would have with the illustration. I do find it easy to slip out of the mindset in which it makes any sense at all to talk about an “outside of time,” but I think the only way I’m able to deal with that is just to keep reasoning through what does make it click, if only temporarily: remembering that outside of time means (at least partially) not being bound by the limitations and dynamics of time, and remembering what those limitations and dynamics are (to the best of my knowledge), and imagining (as best I can) what it would mean to be without them.

TFBW wrote:
…then a free will is a causal agent that has the ability to direct quantum outcomes in such a way as to influence the actions of a human body (or other free-willed material thing, if any exist).

Concerning this discussion, basically what I have to say is that it makes sense. It deals, of course, with things that are unprovable. But they’re possible, and where free will/determinism discussions are concerned, we’re mostly dealing in terms of either possibility or impossibility in principle (rather than terms of actuality through proven means), anyway.

I would add to that it’s interesting to me, when we reach this point, to wonder whether the connection between a person’s soul/spirit (I have a vague understanding that these are at times used to refer to something different, but I’m not sure of the difference, so I’ll leave it at that) and their body is in any way related to the connection between a free will and a physical body. This is a vague and tentative thought, and I know in some would even debate their existence (which I bring up only as an acknowledgment that it would, in such cases, add another level of complexity to the discussion).

TFBW wrote:
This means that a free will is a rather clever thing, because it needs to be able to compute the right kind of influence it must exert to achieve a particular outcome.

I do have to wonder whether this is true, though. I mean, stepping back for a moment from how a free will would influence the physical realm as a cause… to put things simply and perhaps rather obviously, I as a person do not need to understand how the chemical formulations work in my brain or how signals through my body and end in my muscles moving in order to be able to tap my fingers on a keyboard or be able to write out a message or be able to walk to lunch (like I’m going to do once I’m done here). It would seem that I don’t need to understand how my body works in order to control it. Either this is only true in my consciousness, but on some level I – through my free will – do understand these things; or there’s something in how I/my free will has been connected to my body that removes the necessity of understanding how the physics and chemistry of it all work in order to control it (within limits) how I wish. I think, to some extent, that’s why I think of the connection between soul/spirit and body. Of course we don’t know how that works or what it is. But it is an example of something intangible being intrinsically tied to something physical – and in such a way that an absence can be seen when it’s gone. (People talk about something missing when they look at a dead body – something that causes them to say, “That’s not [the person I knew]; that’s a shell.”) Somehow I don’t see the connection between soul/spirit and body needing to involve knowledge of the body’s make-up on the part of the soul/spirit, per se. But perhaps all this ends up boiling down to little more than reasoning that I do not understand the body's make-up, and yet my fingers tap when I wish. So once again it comes down to whatever that means.

But any case, I also want to add a thank you. As I see it, we’re nearing the place where we've covered at least a rough outline of free will/determinism compatibility as related to the issue of time). As a last question, at least as far as what I can think of: are there any books you’d suggest related to the topic? I know there were some books you cited in your essay that looked interesting. Are there any of those in particular that have bearing on this, or any that weren’t cited that you’d say are good? Just whatever might occur to you off the top of your head. It may be a while before I have a chance to get any reading on the matter, but if I have some titles to keep in mind, that would be a step.

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“And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. […] they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Heb. 11: 13b, 16


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