## Decisions in Math

So I stumbled onto Determinism recently.  It’s something that I’ve seen and recognized for years but it’s only been in the last few months that I began to study it.  Simply put, the physical laws which we observe within the universe, the same ones that apply to us and all other living things, doesn’t make room for free will.  Philosophers have been debating this for millennia now but as we gain a stronger understanding of the universe, it’s become a rather bold assumption that we’re the ones in charge.

It’s a difficult concept for most people to wrap their heads around.  Some will suggest that if they stopped controlling themselves, they’d lay in bed and waste away.  I would suggest that they try it.  I’d bet good money they don’t last a day.  At some point, you’re going to have the urge to get up and do something.  And while you’re up, you might as well do something else. And so on, and so on.  But even if you did manage to stay in bed and waste away, it wouldn’t be because you decided to or because you chose to give up control.  It would be a result of the series of events which led to that moment.  You might think of it as a decision but the motivations, the considerations, and everything that went into that decision was present before the decision was made.  It was the only decision you were ever going to make.  What we typically think of a decision is more of an inflection point.

I was trying to describe this to a friend and it wasn’t easy.  He’s big on having control of his own destiny.  I was too.. we were very similar in that regard.  He along with most of the world don’t like the idea that they aren’t in control of their actions.  And it seems silly to suggest otherwise.  If you’re not in control of your actions then who is? If I tell myself to do something, I’m obviously the one doing it aren’t I?

A puppet is free when it believes it has no strings.

There’s a great scene in West World where Maeve is learning that she’s an AI for the first time.  The technicians tell her that everything that she does and says is according to her programming.  She persists and claims that her actions are her own and that she has free will.  To prove her otherwise, they show her a tablet with her speech algorithms on it.  She looks down and sees that the screen had predicted everything that she said.  And as she was about to comment on it, the screen predicted that too.  She couldn’t reconcile what she was seeing with her core programming and started to glitch.

Are we so different? Our programming resides in our subconscious and we behave according to our programming.  The difference seems to be that if I were to show them what they were going to say or before they said or did it, they could still choose to believe otherwise.  A remarkable and curious feature of the human mind.  I think a part of it may be that this perspective results in such a fundamental shift in how reality is perceived, that people need a clear and reasonable path to map this philosophy on to their normal lives.  You can’t just say that free will doesn’t exist.  You have to show why it doesn’t exist, and you have to show how it’s just a more honest way of seeing the world that we already know.  Easier said than done… but I had a shower thought.

I’ve said that the field of math is a demonstration and perhaps even evidence of determinism.  I’ve even suggested that an equation as simple as 2+2=4 represents a microcosm of a deterministic universe.  Yesterday, it also helped me better understand this inflection point that we call a decision.

If you thought about the number 10 and a big number 10 popped up in front of you, it would be reasonable to assume that you were responsible for creating that number 10.  If you did it 1000 times in a row and it popped up 1000 times, you would probably declare for certain that you were responsible for creating each of those number 10s.  But what if I told you that not once during those 1000 times that a 10 popped up in front of you, did you look behind you.  You were so focused on the product of the equation, that you never took the time to look for the equation itself.  For each of those 1000 times that a big number 10 popped up in front of you, there was a 5+5 behind you.  Without the 5+5, there would be no 10.  With the 5+5, the only number that would appear ahead of you is 10.

You…. are the equal sign.

That decision, or that inflection point, is where cause meets effect.  It’s where the equation leading up to that inflection point creates a product.  It’s where everything that was becomes what is.  It’s where everything that goes into making a decision becomes the path that you choose to take.  Except you didn’t really choose it because everything that went into that decision was only going to produce one path forward.  And that’s ok.  If I was going to choose to be any part of an equation it would probably be the equal sign. It’s like being in the front seat of the roller coaster.  You might be strapped in and on rails, and there’s no guarantee of safety, but you get to see all best parts as they happen and one way or another, it’s going to be an incredible ride.

## Determinism: Am I Going Crazy?

Back in university, I had this idea that the universe was unfolding like an elaborate chain reaction. I asked a friend who was taking physics and he shot down the idea, talking about chaos theory. I didn’t quite understand what he was saying but he knew physics better than I did so I left it. About 15 years later, the idea is still stuck in my head.

I’ve since learned that the idea is not an original thought and that it’s largely referred to as determinism. The reading that I’ve done on it fascinates me, particularly because it’s an area which draws the attention of mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers. For many years I’ve understood these individuals to be among the most genuine seekers of truth.  By no means am I an expert in any of these fields, but I’ve made some observations I can’t seem to disprove.

It rests on a 4 physical laws:

1. The Law of Conservation of Energy states that the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but can be neither created nor destroyed.

2. The Law of Conservation of Mass states that for any system closed to all transfers of matter and energy, the mass of the system must remain constant over time, as the system’s mass cannot change, no quantity can be added nor removed. Hence, the quantity of mass is conserved over time
3. Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity expresses the fact that mass and energy are the same physical entity and can be changed from one to another.
4. Newton’s third law states to every action there is always an opposing and equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.

Whatever the entirety of existence is, a universe, a multi-verse or something else we have still yet to comprehend, in it’s totality, it’s still a closed system.  And within this closed system, we have a set amount of matter and energy, which in effect, are the same physical entity.  In this closed system, nothing can be created nor destroyed.  If every action can only produce an equal and opposite reaction, every action operates with a fixed outcome. It’s why 2+2 always equals 4. When you ask why something has happened, you’re identifying cause and effect.  But every reaction is also an action in itself, like ripples from dropping a rock in a pond.  If you go to that last ripple that hit the shore and ask how it got there, you’d follow a chain of causation back to the rock that was dropped in.  Then you could ask why the rock was dropped.  Or how the rock got there.  The reality is that this chain of causation goes back further than even the existence of the rock or the lake.  It likely goes all the way back to the big bang.  In all likelihood, it goes back further than that.  Perhaps when the universe is done expanding, it will reverse course, eventually collapsing in on itself at the exact point and moment that another universe begins.

Anyway…

The problem with this theory seems to be the inability to prove or disprove it. If someone believes in free will, this is a direct challenge to their beliefs and they’ll want to see proof. I was big on free will when I was younger, if someone was talking to me about destiny, I’d say something like, ‘show me what I’m destined to do and I’ll just do otherwise’. Within the theory of determinism though, that entire conversation and outcome are just part of how the universe is unfolding.  As is everything that I’m discussing now.

It occurred to me that if determinism is true, it would be theoretically possible to predict the future to 100% certainty. The problem with testing that theory is that just like a math equation, to calculate an outcome to any level of certainty, you need to know the variables and how they’re interacting. Considering how interconnected everything is, and how little of the universe we’ve yet to grasp, it would be all but impossible to know every variable necessary to predict the next link in the chain. But if you could, theoretically, you could make that prediction with 100% certainty.

So if we accept that we may never be able to test this at a universal scale, can it be proven on a smaller scale? I asked myself, in what situations do we know 100% of the variables and look to predict an outcome? Nothing in the physical realm.. our efforts in predicting weather are a classic example of not being able to see the entire equation.  Then it hit me: Math! As simple as it may be, “2+2=” is a closed system in which 100% of the variables are known and we understand how they’re interacting.  As a result, we can predict the outcome to 100% accuracy. And it doesn’t matter how elaborate the equation becomes or how many variables you include. As long as you know the variables and how they interact with one another, the next step in the chain can be predicted to absolute certainty.

Once this sunk in, a lot of other things started to make sense to me. One was particularly significant though, the question ‘Why?’. When you ask why something has happened, you’re looking at the chain. You’re looking for the action that caused the reaction. Or maybe you’re looking for the action before that, or the action before that. It’s easy to do through the distilled lens of math where you tend to deal with isolated instances of cause and effect. Physics seems to be where we observe how these variables interact over longer periods of time like seconds or years. I suppose then, it’s the philosopher’s role to ask why again and again, until we realize that it is the longest of all roads and one which will always and ultimately take us back to the beginning.

Am I crazy?

I’m envisioning a flip book, the kind that you would doodle an animation with.  Each page is a universe wide, but only moment deep.  Each page looks nearly identical to the last and nearly identical to the next, but as you start to flip them you see the universe unfold.  Each page is a link in the chain of causality.  Each page leads only to the next page.  The story has already been drawn.

I would suggest that free will – the ability to make the universe as we see fit – is not our gift.  Instead, it was the universe that made us as it saw fit.  We were gifted with consciousness, the awareness of one’s self and their place within the universe.  I’ve found this awareness to be deeply humbling while providing a great sense of appreciation.  Consider that the matter and energy that makes up every bit of who I am has existed in this universe since long before I came along.  Well before our species came along.  Well before our planet was even formed.  And through some crazy chain of causation, I exist today, with an ability to recognize all this, and write about it.  And that even this moment here, is just part of the story.