Proof of the existence of God
or how I achieved the miraculous state of being right all the time

By thelonious

Possibly one of the more important questions a person should examine at some time in their life is "Does God exist"? Or phrased differently, "How do I and my consciousness fit into the bigger universal picture"? It is a very personal search into one's self with regards to whom we give our information authority to. And what techniques of data collection we use to understand the cosmos swimming around our head. Unless you have already spoken directly with God, you might have asked yourself some version of this question.

For some the question has been answered for them. They have been taught at usually a young age and keep those same teachings with them. Every religion stresses the importance of teaching offspring and creating an environment with traditions that reinforce that particular religions vitality. Whether the young were taught the "correct religion" or not, they have taken their information on the subject from people they have believed to be authorities on the subject and there is no need for debate on the issue. For others the question becomes an unanswerable puzzle causing much speculation and even sleepless nights. However you fit into the debate, there are some things to keep in mind.

First of all, what is God? Many different takes on the subject, but we will use a generic definition here. A Supreme Being which, unlike us lesser beings is not tied to the universal laws we know as physics. Infact, the Supreme Being invented these rules, all the way down to subatomic forces. So we will further define the SB (Supreme Being) as someone capable of altering natural forces at whim. The SB would also have a consciousness. Being the original craftsman of thought and emotion, we would expect the SB to be self aware, and conscious of the fact that it is the SB. It may sound strange to describe the SB in such terms, but this is just to differentiate the ideas we will be talking about here from other ideas into the nature of the SB. Some may feel the SB is something akin to the Force in "Star Wars". Or some other life force like energy that does not have a single "thinking head" at it's core. For those who hold the belief in an SB it is most comfortable to think in terms of it as having a consciousness that can be talked to as though it were a single person. And that is the SB we will be postulating about.

There could be one SB, or many. Or many acting as one. Or existence outside of our normal geometrical universe might just force our tiny brains to attempt to perceive the SB as a single entity when in fact it is something we lack the sophistication in thought to clearly understand. In any case, for our definition, we would say that a SB is something separate from ourselves. This definition already raises problems with some belief systems that say the SB is a part of us. However, we will just sweep those concerns under the rug for now. We've already raised many other issues. Having many SBs seems to ask the question, which one is the supremist? For any idea that holds the belief in multiple SBs, we will simply regard them all as being equally supreme for the sake of argument. The point here is that each and every SB, be there one or many, could be envisioned as a separate individual with separate thoughts. Perhaps just really interesting in cooperating with other SBs. Maybe they grew up together.

If we are to look at human religious history as any kind of guide towards building knowledge, then approaching the matter by taking a rough average of major religious beliefs could help us in building a hypothesis. As a result, we see that for most systems to operate according to their dogma, it becomes necessary for a metaphysical component to exist. The SB is by definition metaphysical. Existing above and beyond the physical rules it put into play. No extensive understanding of the physical laws would be able to accuratly predict the actions of the SB. You might say the SB is the original source publisher. If the SB could be affected by the laws of this universe, the system falls apart. It would be as though Milton Bradley suddenly had to obey the rules of his board games. This does not conceptually fit with our open definition of a SB. The SB has unlimited power, for it is the creator of power. The SB has unlimited dominance, for it is the creator of the rules.

There is one other key troubling factor that must be examined for these religions to function properly. And that is the question of freewill. It is troubling for several reasons. If we do not have freewill, than any system of rewards or punnishment cease to be relavent. Naturally humans have spent much time studying the human organism. We are aware of some methods by which we obtain sensory information from our environment and process it. We have discovered hormones and what role they play in regulating emotions. There is much our sciences have shown in the way of a well regulated system going on under our skulls. Psychology and marketing as fields of study could not exist if there were not a good bit of human behavior that could be predicted, indicating a certain lack of originality. And yet there persists an idea of personal responsibilty, as though we were in control of our actions. Why is this?

As scientists through the ages have approached the admirable task of documenting the universe and it's operating system, this work has been done under the assumption that it all must be understandable. To demonstrate understandablity, one must be able to reproduce the same effects, by controlling and creating the same causes for the process under study. This is part of the scientific method. If you have full understanding of an event, you should be able to make it happen again. Provided of course that the forces and environmental variables are in your control. Merely observing a phenomenon and hypothosizing on it's causes is just that. Reproducability is the key.

Why would the SB want to be discoverable or provable through any logical means?

There are many views of universal cosmology which calculate varying amounts of time intelligent human beings have been on this earth . For the most part they all agree that we humans have been bumbling around on this planet for many many generations without scientific proof of the existence or nature of the SB. If such a verifiable discovery were to be made it would change the face of humanity forever. If the reality of a punnishment/reward system for our behavior were discovered all but the most rebelious would be inclined to spend much time discerning the true nature of the SB and how best to appease it. And no generation would ever be born afterwards that had to face such a question as to the existence of the SB. This would be an event to change the shape of the cosmos, so probably something that would occur near the end of the game. Just before some big non-interactive animation congratulating you on your completion.

However, just because discovery of physical proof that an SB is with us seems improbable in no way solidifies the idea that it could not exist. But it would certainly wipe out a few philosophy departments that I know of. Gone would be the question of "What is right and what is wrong?" Replaced only by the word of the SB. So many brains could finally rest and quit all their fancy thinking. And then, perhaps the SB wants us to use our brains and ponder over these matters. That would mean many religious people were in trouble.

Of what possible form could the proof be in?

Scientific? If we continue with our presumption that the SB must be operating on a set of rules that superscede our own physical laws, then what possible piece of scientific equipment could ever detect it's actions? It seems the only viable proof would be a negative one. Upon reaching a comprehensive understanding of all the forces in the unverise and their interactions, an experiment that continues to defy the predicted outcome in some arbitrary way. To which a scientist would by nature exclaim we had not reached the comprehensive understanding of the universe that we thought. And set about hypothisizing about that new force which had been discovered. It is the scientific community's version of a "God of the gaps", but this is a "non-God of the hidden variables". That is in the nature of the natural scientist. To never simply write down the cause of experimental observation as 'SB' and move on. Otherwise every unknown variable would be attributed to the SB, as some have speculated is the basis for the SB myth handed down through the ages.

How does the concept of freewill enter into this

As I mentioned before, the scientific approach makes the assumption that the universe is understandable. Meaning that our developed sense of symbolic logic can map all of our perceptions into a conveyable language all but the deluded could be taught to understand. It operates off the supposition that within the generic human is the ability to understand the basic mechanisms responsible for all of the universe. Or at least some future generation of humans given enough work towards establishing the building blocks of data categorization and heiarchical concept structure creation. Basically, if an understanding of quantum physics is necessary to conceptually map the universe then we obviously couldn't have had much in the way of "deep" understanding 1,000 years ago. But we have hope for the future. That being said, the ideas we arrive at logically should hold a greater chance of being congruous with reality than random hypothesis. Looking at a cosmology with a SB and a retribution system, it strikes us as only making sense to hold someone accountable for their actions if they are in fact the ones in control of their actions. We can imagine a intricate pinball universe of atoms the SB has created inwhich each of us is controlled completely by previous experience and current environmental stimuli, but this universe doesn't require anything to be said about it. It just is and our collective fate's are bound in the equations of physics.

Do we have freewill?

I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?. - Chuang Tzu

Well, depending upon which frame of reference you consider to be "true", your ideas about the other realm will be hard to untaint (from your "I need what I already believe to be truthful bias").

It makes for an interesting thought experiment to think about the possibility of freewill. The larger, looming question is what kind of difference would knowing the answer to this question make. And there we arrive at what I call the Bigfoot photographers club problem. Everyone who has taken a photograph of an alledged sighting of Bigfoot has unvoluntarily joined the Bigfoot photographers club. However, it seems that every single member in this club has the same problem. They cannot capture a focused image of Bigfoot. The reason is obvious, there is no Bigfoot and they are using obfuscating photography tricks to disguise the guy in the forest in the gorilla suit to look like anything but a guy in a gorilla suit. Not so fast there. We have completely diagnosed the Bigfoot photographers club's problem by making a big assumption. And that being that there is no Bigfoot. Let's forget for a moment that there is plenty of scientific data that makes the existence of Bigfoot as likely as a Loch Ness Monster. Imagine we lived in a world where Bigfoot roamed free. Sasquatch out under the stars dutifully removing all sasquatch droppings and eating their dead. And still the ever ellusive species.

If we belief that Sasquatch are on the planet, then a different set of ideas emmerge concerning the Bigfoot photographers club. First, what an unlucky/lucky group they are. They have been priviledged to have experienced an actual encounter. And yet, they never have the correct camera settings to capture the moment as their eyes witnessed. Perhaps the sasquatches are attuned to camera settings, light, contrast, exposure, iso, and are using it in their favor to remain "unproven". Or maybe it's just that people photographing nature are using the wrong settings to capture the quick movement. We can begin to speculate on a number of possible explanations for the blurry, grainy pictures we have seen so far.

So either we are currently on a planet with sasquatch, holding our beliefs about the existence of sasquatch, and making certain assumptions about the Bigfoot photographers club. Or, we are on a planet without sasquatch, still holing our beliefs about the existence of sasquatch, and still making the same assumptions about the club. The difference here is obviously our beliefs.

If we belive that there is no SB, then when we examine this issue of 'SB or no SB' we have two thought experiments going on. Similarly, if we believe that there is an SB and examine the issue there are two more thought experiments. It would be eroneous to consider that an SB belivers thought experiment of no SB would be the same as an SB non-belivers thought experiment of no SB. We are in one of those two possible universes. For example, if an SB beliver thought that the SB was the sole source of morality, they would see the non-believer's ideas about morality as stemming from observations from within a world created by the SB. And vice versa.

To the non-believer, the code of morality has grown as a species protection mechanism through the evolution of creatures, then language, then social concepts. The believer sees this process as having been significantly influenced by the SB's active manipulation. Such that the believer sees the non-believer as looking at the effects of the SB's touch and trying to explain it through behavior science. The non-believer sees the believer as trying to paint in an imaginary force onto history to explain what there is already an explanation for. Yet they are both looking at the same outcome.

The problem specifically comes to a head if you ask the question "What would you change if you were the SB?" If the answer is anything other than "Nothing", then you must not believe there is an all wise SB in control. That is, if we live in a SB occupied universe. All things being equal, nothing is equal.

One might believe...And then perfom thought experiment...Examine current world and arrive at...
There is no SBWhat if there were SBWhy would so many innocents die in natural disasters? Therefore, no SB.
There is SBWhat if no SBHow could a monkey ever evolve to do brain surgery. Therefore, SB.

The point here is that even when you (or "them") do a thought experiment and put themselves in a different universe, you usually haven't strayed all that far from the universe as you thought you understood it.

One might believe...And then perfom thought experiment...Examine current world and arrive at...
There is no SBWhat if there were SBWe are supposed to be made in God's image, yet so many obvious flaws. Therefore, no SB.
There is SBWhat if no SBOrder decays into chaos, yet so many layers of complexity in humans. Therefore, SB.

With that in mind, one must not only take precautions to ensure that observations are clear and unbiased, but also consider a secondary bias that may be applied to what may be honestly collected and recorded data.

One might believe...And then perfom thought experiment...Examine current world and arrive at...
There is no SBWhat if there were SBWhy did SB make existence so hard to understand and then create idiots? Therefore, no SB.
There is SBWhat if no SBWhy would SB provide such a simple formula for salvation unless SB knew there would be "over-analyzing intellectuals" and simpletons? Therefore, SB.

So, again, do we have freewill?

Add to this level of difficulty is that we are living in any experimental set without a control set. If freewill boils down to something we can only experience internally as a subjective phenomenon, then things would get murky. If there were some unique (waveform collapse due to observation by "us") experience that allowed each of us to have a different experience even given the same atomical expression, it would be...well, subjective. Are we that interested in pigeon-holing experience? If we already recognize that a person can be taught to "think for themselves" are we not already crying from discovering another layer of the onion to be peeled back? Science does not recognize the unreproducable experiment. What if we are the unreproducable experiment?

One last time, do we have freewill?

There are several sciences and professions devoted to examining and predicting human behavior. To some degree they achieve success, but they are no where near 100% accurate and they do not claim to be that accurate. Some read this as an indication that to a certain degree we are not in control anymore than a stick floating in a river controls it's direction. Being all human, there are certain predictable behaviors and emotions we all share. Losing something of importance causes grief. Achieving a goal at great effort causes elation. Uncertainty causes people to grasp for something tangeable. We share these cause and effect formulae. However, to suggest that underneath these reactions and interwoven into them are a layer of personal and distinct decision is to introduce again a metaphysical component. How can a body composed of patterns of atoms with specific masses and trajectories ever disobey the laws of physics and act contrary to predicted interactive models? Obviously it cannot by use of any known or knowable physical force. Forces do not make decisions or have preferences. Forces impart energy in the path easiest to take. If a mass has momentum, it will continue to exert force in the simpliest path possible for it the straight line. Even chemical reactions are just an exchange of energy in the easiest path of energy release. An electron does not want to travel to a positively charged ion, it just does so because it has been trying to escape it's proton attraction prison and finally has a nudge to help it in that direction. It has done so invariably under scientific experiment. In order for the much larger system of a human body to contradict the laws of energy in this universe, some piece or pieces of it must act against what nature decrees is the next step in the downhill run of energy interactions. The only thing that could make that happen would be a yet undiscovered source of energy. Or even a source of negative energy.

If this extra energy type were seen to cause particles to operate in a mannor not consistant with our current understanding of universal forces, science steps in to investigate. As is it's role, hypothesis will be postulated and experiments will be carried out. If the actions of this new force can be repeatably demonstrated to occur with predictable outcomes given known initial states, it will be named and catalogued and the scientists will become hopeful at someday discovering the particles that are responsible for being the medium of conducting this new energy's force.

Is there a "we" to have freewill

More sophisticated people than myself have pondered over this thing we call consciousness. Being aware that one is being aware of being. It is a quality we can easily digest, but difficult to explain. The strict Naturalistic view of the universe dictates that all energies are knowable. Perhaps not all at the same time, but there is not one motion in the universe that cannot be explained by some school of energy interaction. An experimenter can launch two particles on a collision path and with the correct equations, determine even before the interaction what will transpire. It is impossible to predict the actions of the entire universe because it would require another universe to perform all the calculations in. However, the Naturalistic view posits the following thought experiment. If all energy flows could be known and the direction and intensities could be plotted, then the entire history of the universe could be simulated. All planet formations, all asteroid collisions, black holes swallowing stars and meteors striking Jupiter could have been predicted a long time ago. All life changing events, personal epiphones, random encounters, triumphs and defeats have already been programmed into the dance of particles in this universe. We humans are a biological system, made up of smaller sub-systems that eventually reduce to the same particles and energies that trees, worms, rocks and stars are made of. So how do we get the idea that we are unique individuals capable of understanding the same universe of particles we swim in each day?

Isn't this just a case of 'greedy reductionism'?

Some people may feel inclined to argue that attempting to understand life at the level of quantum physics is like trying to find an atom of happiness. We can easily demonstrate the vast complexities of matter and interactions involved in a living creature. Any system is inherently made up of more than one particle. Trying to understand a clock by getting a count on how many iron atoms it contains does little to convey meaning. For it is this meaning we are searching without understanding what 'meaning' is. This term is a creating of the human mind. One might say that looking at the universe as a massive collection of particles interacting with each other causes the concept to lose all meaning. And this may well seem like common sense. However, it requires the assumption that meaning was there in the first place. If something has meaning, it conveys understanding. If something was meaningful we have an understaning of it. Or at least many things in common with it. An inportant document spoken in a language you do not understand has no meaning to you. Does this imply that it's message is meaningless? Of course not. If we take the same text and translate it so that it can be understood, does it gain meaning?

Suppose we take this text we are trying to understand and break it down into smaller parts to see where there may be some meaning. And after many division we find the text contains; 43,276 letter As, 32,948 letter Bs, 27,942 letter Cs, and so on...are we closer to understanding? Some would say not, that this is a prime example of 'greedy reductionism' raising it's obfuscating head. However, the message of the text has been summarized to some degree. If we further discover that all groupings of letters that contain an adject letter i and letter e usually have them in that order, then we have started to piece together a rule of the language used. But it is only in the pulling together of the pieces that humans have decided is a way to have meaning. Concepts must be built upon other concepts, or we label them as meaningless. We seem to do this naturally. If we do not have enough of a conceptual jigsaw puzzle built so that we may find a socket that accepts the next piece of information we are given, we toss it away as meaningless. You might agree that this is a strage way to build a jigsaw puzzle. Starting with one piece and throwing everything out that doesn't attach directly. However, as long as you don't destroy the pieces and mearly set them aside, you will eventually reach completion. Assuming you have started piecing together what is a whole and intact jigsaw puzzle. Which is an assumption we all like to make. That hopefully everything fits nicely together. This is why scientists smarter than you or I are looking for the Grand Unification Theory. Because then the entire universe might finally have meaning for us.

What is the meaning of life?

So how does envisioning the universe as nothing more than a swiriling pile of interacting energies and particles help us with understanding? For starters it insists that there is no such thing as freewill. Everytime your brain performs that computation step known as making a decision you can now realize that you didn't have any part of it. It was 'your' decision, possessivly, and you 'made' it. But it was as much of a task as a boulder deciding to fall over after enough of it's supporting earth has been erroded away. Thought as a neurological chemical process is nothing more than the interaction of particles based on their environment. Whether subatomic or super atomic, these interactions have been observed, duplicated, and duly recorded as laws.

What about the uncertainty principle?

Much research as of late in the course of human existance has been put towards examining particles and interactions at the smallest scale possible. Well, to be honest that has been the goal of the physical sciences for the longest time. Recently (in the grand scheme of things) the scales have shrank at surprising speed. Many interesting and intriguing results have been observed at the quantum level. However, these quantum laws seem to operate on a scale so small as to have an all but negligable effect on the large scale world of molecules and atoms. They seem to average out and impart no noticable change. Much like the thought experiment of having everyone in China jump at the same time. It would not change the Earth's orbit. At least some people think that's how it must work. We obviously do not live in a universe that operates according to these rules in a large scale kind of way. Objects cannot be in two places at once. Multiple objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Things don't just vanish and appear at a distance. All documented observations from quantum physics exploration.

So how can that far removed scale of interaction ever have affect upon our larger particle world? Wouldn't that require some kind of interface between that level of activity and ours? Such as, a quantum physics experimentation device? Wouldn't that insert into our reality data/information that wasn't previously there and cause disruption in the otherwise 'normal' flow of things? Wouldn't receptors of anykind delicate enough to be affected by these so called quantum forces then become a kind of portal, bleeding in strange, new data from beyond our safe world of large, common sense particles? Ah, I see where you are going with the questions, my friend. And it is straight to DVD with a science fiction hit! Although you may have to deal with some copyright red tape from the Asimov family due to the book "The Gods Themselves" and in particular the chapter aptly named 'Against stupidity'.

Yes, but now that we know about these strange principles, that information is new and unique to our super atomic world, and will affect changes. For example, if I set up a device to demonstrate particle entanglement, and I decide to call out "Yeeeeahhh", or purchase stock, or douse a cat in cyanide every time it demonstrates that principle, then the quantuum world will suddenly have a vessle through which to make greater affects in this world then was previously possible.
Yes, that is true. But again you think you are making a decision about these matters. The data structures in your mind that have made you arrive at that 'decision' are still just based upon tangeable information that had meaning to you. So nothing different in the approach. The fact that the information came from sources you don't fully understand makes it no different than any other of the billions of pieces of data you have received and 'understood' without verifying. Besides, I am sure the quantuum physics rules will eventually be shown to be completly understandable, rational, predictable and without an arbitrary nature.
But how can you be so certain of that? Aren't you using some faith there making that assumption? Perhaps this activity at the quantum scale is not just a lower level of activity but a gateway of some sort. Like a hole in the ice on a frozen lake suddenly reveals to us a world of singing fish and dancing lobsters. Maybe that world is where the meta physcial interactions exist that you claim are required for free will to be possible.

First, I'm going to pretend that you didn't just try and invoke Disney. Second, I'm not the one requiring meta physical-ness for free will to exist, the regular day-to-day successful functioning of the universe requires all things to operate based on their current orientations and the net result of any force acting upon it to predictably lead to it's next state of existence. Without any magic involved that could cause it to act in just the opposite way.

If this magical world existed, we could expect a few things from it as we poke and prod it through the hole in the ice. For starters, we shouldn't be able to expect anything consistent. What we would be experimenting with would be presumably the ingredients of consciousness or free will. If every time we poked it with particle X we got reaction Y, that would just be further proof of a deterministic world on the other side of that hole.

There are even some successful experiments to use this strange world of entangled particles to produce an encryption for transmitted messages that could not be comprimised without knowledge. Does this sound like something you could accomplish with particle relationships that did not follow very strict and predictable rules? Does something that follows very strict and predictable rules sound like something that is the source of free will and self determinism?

I suppose not. But why do some people get so exited about quantum physics as being the proof that our universe is not as it seems?

Indeed the experiments are exciting and point to a whole different level of interaction than general physics ever could have dreamed existed. Each and every experiment or interpretation of experimental data in this field, like any other, has to be couched with a certain appreciation of bias. To those looking for proof of something magical in this universe, this whole matter of bizarre interactions discovered through quantum physics experiments must have looked like finding the philosopher's stone or the doorway to Narnia. And indeed, many of the things discovered have parallels in the world of professional entertainment magicians. Making things be in two places at once. Causing one thing to affect another without any discerable connection between the two. But when these things can be demonstrated predictably over and over, it is clear this is just a new type and level of interaction we have just started to understand. And yet already have practicle applications planned for what we have learned so far.

If some type of particle/energy interaction were found that demonstrated randomness, and this interaction could be seen to affect larger scale interactions, there would be a clear contender for the "ghost in the machine" we would be looking for. Chances are such a discovery would lead to the discovering of a blanket or field of such effect that surrounds all matter, and not just those non-unique atoms found in humans. So it would be difficult to point to this large field of randomness that occasionally had enough effect to be determined without sophisticated and precise measurement as being the seat of freewill. Besides, who would be rolling the dice? If deep within all subatomic particles is a random number generator controlling our behavior, it does not paint an appealing picture as to the true nature of freewill. For it would be built of random dice rolls and we aren't even the one rolling. Ultimately the mechanism that causes consciousness or at least the free deterministic part, will be either a predictable, repeatable, knowable variable in an equation(ie scientifically recognizable). Or it will be something that science cannot even find. It wouldn't show up on any detector and would be completely up to subjective interpretation.

So you are saying that if we physical beings could ever be considered to have free choice in making decisions there would necessarily need to be a component to our existence that is completely independant to the masses and engergies of this universe? Not only that, but in order for us to be the one in control it would have to be a system that is driven by thought itself. Which would make reality a completely subjective experience.

I didn't quite say all that. But those considerations would have to be examined before claiming true free thought existed. We know that there is an intimate bond between what we perceive as reality and our physical bodies. Beyond just the sensory organs, there are physical and chemical changes that can be made to the brain that have dramatic effect on one's conscious state and ability to interact with what the rest of us call reality. On the surface this very physical and intimate bond would suggest that our consciousness and sense of being are a 100% physical/chemical phenomenon. If we consider the act of thinking to be electrical brain activity, the firing of synapses and networking of signals, then you would be talking about a closed loop system that has acquired enough circuitry to take control of itself. While that makes for an interesting concept, we are still talking about the same matter and energy that respond predictably and without variance when interacting with all the other matter and energy around it. So, on the surface, it seems there cannot be true free thought.

You said "on the surface" twice. Rivers run deep?

Miles to go before I sleep.

Out of body experience, astral projection?

Pure conjection.

Let's look at this a different way. We have been talking about free will as though we both understood what that term means, but people sometimes have their own subtle technical nuance they add so let's look at a common thought experiment some people use to describe what this free will looks like. There are those who say to have free will means being able to "rewind" the universe backwards in time to a point where a decision was made and there should be the possibility that you could have made a different choice. Have you heard this example used?

Yes, I have. I should be able to run the universe back to the moment this morning I selected the socks I would be wearing and I should be able to make any other choice. Including the no-sock option.

I am glad you spared us the no-sock option, Dr. Schols. And furthermore, I am glad there was no way you could have made any other decision than what you did.

And how do you know that decision to be so firmly etched in time?

If we look back to the moment before you selected the socks you would pick, your mind was working on the problem just prior to it. This work was being done with more or less attention than normal, utilizing your previous experiences with socks, fashion, with what type of day and activites you were expected, weather conditions, accompanying footwear, or maybe this decision was made half asleep and nearly all on auto-pilot. But if we went back to that exact moment you made your choice, what would change any of these considerations in your choice?

Are you suggesting that a universe with free will would be indistinquishable from one without it?

Something along those lines. Might I simply suggest that our definitions of free will need more careful analysis than the 'rewind the universe' idea.

Hmm, ok. But don't you think it odd that this discussion between you and I is even happening? That we are talking about not having freewill. Why do you suppose the universe would be programmed to build such a delicate and complex, organic system as we humans are, place it on this arbitrary, remote planet in the arm of the Milky Way, and then have it discuss whether or not it can have actions independant of the forces of the Universe?

Not odd at all. We have seen that given the forces of physics and creation of reactive particles that biological life systems are formed and evolve. Our minds are simply buffers that allow us to store information regarding previous states of our environments. In order to access these memories and not confuse them for current sensory input it makes sense to have an objective processing unit that can actively peruse the store of information while still processing incoming signals as a separate task. Imaging how confusing it would be to get those two signals crossed.

Indeed. Sitting around thinking about previous experiences of eating food for a week instead of eating new food would be very detrimental to one's health.
Rightly so. If you are going to build an organism that is capable of storing past experiences internally and using those experiences to compare against current input, you need an objective processing function that knows the difference between the two.
So which came first? The first memory storage device or the first function for examining memories and remembering data as separate from current experiences?
???
!!!
I suppose the memory would have to be first. A simple storage piece like a computer bit that would hold some state in response to some outside stimulus. In the initial unrefined stage of development, it would probable be very simplistic. Being occasionally overwritten by random events but still holding some information for longer than the stimulus that caused it persists.
Similar to a tape loop then. Sometimes playing back a certain experience while sometimes overwriting it with a new one?
Sure, let's run with that analogy.
But how could such a thing be beneficial to survival in that state? Recalling what we said about eating, this would not be a good experience for an organism. To be suddenly acting as though the environment were in a different, previous configuration, when something different is going on right in front of you.
Yes, I see. But on the other hand, if memories are just a chemical and therefore physical reaction to stimuli, then everything is a memory.
uh
Like the moon. It's surface is a memory of all the meteors that have made contact with it. A crude memory that can be easily overwriten. And one that doesn't store a lot of information about it's status prior to the impact, but a memory of physical events. It simply lacks an internal object functioning agent to "recall" the memories. If it had one, I would probable be having this conversation with it instead of you. Your skin is also a kind of memory. I can tell by the scars you have that you are no stranger to bar fights.
Or your tattoos. I can see you are no stranger to cheap women and booze.
I'd leave my tats out of this converstaion, unless you want to make some more memories.
But everything cannot be a memory. Sure, the position of a billiard ball on a table tells you that some forces moved it to that exact spot, but you have no idea if I placed it there with my hand or my cue. And if each separate particle can only store the information "I am here so something must have put me here", then how do we arrive at a system whereby the starting position of the ball is recorded and persists to have affect later, to be compared to the current position? Given that the particles used to store that information would themselves simply be memories of the forces that acted upon them? Everything can't be a memory of everything else. There's no room for data storage. It's like saying that the universe is simultaneously a recording and playback machine. And that that type of medium by nature becomes a breeding ground for objective data recalling and comparision agents.
Are you suggesting that the particles or essence of an observer unit must necessarily be composed of stuff that is not constantly under the unending bombardment of universal forces, directing it's every action?
No. I don't think I was. At least I didn't use any fancy terms like "stuff".
You are talking perhaps of certain quantum physics experiments that seem to necessitate an observer in order to demonstrate their most peculiar properties?
No. I didn't say anything like that.
Well let's just pretend that you did. What one sometimes fails to recognize is what is meant by observing. Humans cannot see atomic particles. Much less subatomic particles. An "observer" in these experiments is a device. A very precisely tuned device that can detect things we are incapable of.
Like your wit?

Errhumph, I continue. In order for these dectectors to do their detecting there must be physical contact made. Either with a stream of photons or other such energy conveying mechanisms. But every particle in the universe is already an observer of the ones adjacent to it. To suggest that an experiment can occur without being observed, is to suggest that an experiment can be done which has zero affect on any other part of the universe. And we are learning that even the vacuum of space is not so empty. It has it's own field energy and potentials.

So who is observing the quantuum experiments when it is not a human?
No one. That is my point. To observe a quantuum state requires only the correct detection equipment. And as always, an "observation" is actually an encounter with one or more particles to others. This type of "observation" happens all the time, whether it is accomplished by a stream of particles emitted by a human created device or not. Any two particles that are capable of interaction, when placed in proximity will interact. Whether or not they were arranged as part of a scientific experiment or arranged through the normal forces of the universe. Which is really the same thing.
Has not it been demonstrated that the effect of these observations can have cause over particles at great distance, such that it seems probability waves collpase at greater than the speed of light?

It has been demonstrated for certain. You must look at the larger environment however for true answers. The exact moment at which an observer "decides" to activate the observing process is already dictated by the actions and energies of the particles that make up the observer. We've already talked about how there is not a real entity called a decision, so this moment in which an experiment is carried out is escentially scripted. And yet, we seem inclined to be at awe that the results also seem scripted. Grouping of quark states after the whole experiment was predestined in the first place seems very straightforward. It's only when we forget that the initial conditions of the experiment are predetermined that we start seeing the magic unfold.

If we view this microscopic world of particle interaction as being the barrier into the metaphysical, then everything on this side is still in the deterministic world. So the moment at which we start experiments, end experiments, or hit button 'A' on an experiment, are all predetermined. As fantastic and as reproducable as the results may seem, they are all keyed by actions on this side, and result in repetative results from that side. As long as those results continue to happen in a predictive, reproducable manner, you may as well be interacting with the normal non-magical particles on this side of the looking glass.

Aren't you over simplifying things?

Only to the degree that you are over complicating them.

Of course, given this type of arrangement is the correct model of the universe, it makes it impossible to have the kind of laugh at other people's beliefes and actions that you could with a non-mechanistic universe. You really cannot laugh at someone for believing in the powers of Zod to save them when it was actually the natural arrangement of the universe that created all of their decisions and they had no part in it. But again, my words are falling apart here, there really was no "they" to have the decisions and you can laugh all you want because there is no "you" to laugh. Just know that whatever decision you choose to make, you didn't, and the universe what just about to do it that way anyway. In fact there is no such thing as a decision, or tooth fairy, or Santa Claus. You do not decide to believe in the tooth fairy, you are merely presented with compelling evidence from an authoritative figure in whom you have placed your trust.

So what does this all mean?

In a mechanistic universe, you cannot change anything. Equally, you cannot keep anything the same. You are constantly surrounded by the whirling and buzzing activity of the universe, but like a stick floating in a stream, you are just being carried along. Let's just imagine for a moment that it is beneficial for us to refer to people as individual thinking machines. The trillions of cells that make up my body do indeed seem to stay arranged in a somewhat static formation. Over a relatively short period of time. Add another 100 years or so to my equation and there's no telling where you will find the atoms I am using or in what configuration. But check back with me tomorrow and chances are good that you will be able to recognize the system you identified as "me" the day before. I might have some facial hair growth showing. Or I might have gotten a haircut, which will cause a circuit in your brain to fire and you will utter the phase "You got a haircut", but you will still know it is me. Try as you might, you will be forced to utter some form of casual and obvious observation like "you got a haircut".

Well that's just silly.

Perhaps. But it is easy enough to identify a person as a unique system, worthy of some kind of distinct label. Like a leaf on a tree. You don't consider that all leaves on a tree are the same leaf. But when looking at the ecological systems of a forest, one rarely has time to consider individual leaves but must work in the larger more macro unit of trees, wherein the contribution of individual leaves are more or less averaged together for the purpose of not getting bogged down with too many variables. Similarly with mathematics, if you wish to add the value 100 to another value you do not have to add the number 1 to it 100 times. There are times when it is mot beneficial to view a collection as a single entity. So perhaps we should look at the population on this planet with a similar set of goggles. It's easy enough to identify on individual as a separate system, but is it meaningful to spend much time contemplating such an existence in the light of the network of tribes, civilizations and empires that exist today?

But so many people profess belief in the SB. Is this a sign of mass dellusion?

Entirely so. This belief of an SB is a fabrication of mankind. Just like science.

Doesn't this imply that no one is responsible for their actions?

In a philisophical sense, yes. If a boulder rolled down a mountain side and crushed a village in it's path, would you put the boulder in prison? Of course not, it would not make sense. If our bodies are compiled of nothing more than atoms responding to outside forces according to the "Rules of the Universe", then how does it make sense to imprision anything for simply rolling down a mountain?

For one, there's the practicle sense. The boulder in question is not going to climb back to the top of the mountain for another go at it. The act of the boulder falling would in all likelihood inspire a team of engineers to investigate the source of the loose boulder and eliminate other similar occurances. Whereas the boulder itself is not held to be responsible for it's actions, it might find itself at the cause of much more anti-boulder action then it ever dreamed of.

Secondly, if the survivors of the village disaster decide to use explosives and permanently remove the source of their woes, it wont matter that the boulder played no direct role in his roll. Volcanic pressure he did not control may have pushed him up from the sea bed 20 million years ago but that wont stop the villagers from their act of vengeance. Or clean up.

One might be tempted to take the position that if the boulder was blown up out of spite that it is not a rational decision and should not have happened. Well, one would be wrong. Because there are no real decisions being made here, what happens to the boulder will always be the exact thing that should happen to the boulder. Without decision, the word "should" becomes meaningless. Looking at things in this light one could reason, I may not be able to stop these emotional villagers from their act of illogical destruction, but I will do my best to see to it that all boulders everywhere are treated better. If you were to take on this silly life mission, it would be exactly what you "should" have done after witnessing such boulder injustice.

But shouldn't we try and teach people the silliness of trying to hold boulders accountible for their actions?

That is for you to "decide".

And how can I make an informed decision regarding this potentially life changing mission if I do not have a conscious mind or control of anything?

Hmm, that can be problematical.

So what is the point of anything? What is the motivation to act? Why do you get up in the morning?

I like the taste of toast

So is that the measuring stick you use to determine what things in life have importance? Your own selfish desires? Isn't it better to try and see things for what they truly are, conceptual illusions, rather than to dive into the self-centered pleasures of the world?

I like to share toast too

But doesn't traveling through life as a temporary flurry of activity on the network, surrounded by illusions and other deluded entites make you the least bit uneasy?

And I like beer

That explains much. But it doesn't explain why some decisions are easy and some are difficult. For example, let's look at some critical decision like, which beer to purchase at the store.

Now we are speaking the same language.

There may be many factors that determine which brand I select. I am, after all a worldly fellow and have a wide spectrum of tastes.

So it's the cheap stuff or the really cheap stuff?

Harrumph. As I was saying, there are many factors. How much expendible beer money I currently have. Is there a beer sale in progress. What kind of mood I am in, do I feel like trying something new. Will I be having the beer with dinner and will it be a light or heavy dinner. There are all these factors of differing importance to be weighed out before the final decision can be made. If, as you suggest the decision is made for me then why does it seem that I am doing all the work. Why must I be conscious of what's going on "under the hood" all the way to the level of feeling like I am marching these factors out one by one and manually weighing them against each other?

Perhaps it is just a matter of misplaced perception. Let's go back in time just prior to the great internal beer debate and discuss why you didn't also mention the great which store to go to debate. Did it seem like that "decision" was already made for you?

I suppose so. There were fewer factors to consider there. I've always gone to that store. It's on the way home. So for all intents and purposes that decision is a no-brainer.

For which you are unquestionably qualified.

So the conversation wanders from beer for a moment and your neandertal manners start to return? I think there is a special help group for that.

Touche. Never the less, there are some decisions you make that seem to be made for you. Yet you do not sit back watching your body drive your car to your familiar store and wonder what has happened to make yourself go there. Would you agree that every action requires a preceding decision to action?

Well, I suppose that every action does happen only after some type of mental process has occurred. I cannot speak for what may be in control of those who sleep walk on Ambien, but I would be willing to say that in a majority of cases involving sober, conscious individuals every action they take has been preceeded by a decision to take that action.

Well then friend, I notice you seem to be holding your right hand in your left. Do you mind if I ask you to recall the moment you made the decision to place your hands in that exact formation?

I didn't really give it any thought. In fact I didn't notice it until you mentioned it.

Quite right. The decision had been made for you, and you gave it no thought. Or to put it another way, you didn't focus any attention on that decision.

But it is such a trivial matter. In the matter of what position I rest my hands in I had no desire at that time to take an interest in directing their final resting position. I gave it no thought because that acton is of negligable consequence. If I were a concert pianist I would have taken much more care in arranging my hands.

Ah, but do you put less focus on inconsequential actions, or do you have the decision in that regard? Do actively decide to allow inconsequential decisions to run on automatic?

Yes. In a matter of speaking. I mean, they are of little importance, so I do not focus on them.

So if this is a decision you have made, I suppose just for fun it would be possible for you to reverse that decision for a moment and allow the important things to run on automatic and the little things be manual.

Your tone reminds me that I have a hand position I haven't shown you in a while.

Such a rude jesture. What were you saying about manners?

Let's stick to what we shall call conscious decisions. Those decisions we are all well aware of and that we seem to do all the work for.

Ok, let me ask you an arbitrary question. How would you decide if it was time to empty your kitchen trash can?

Ah, well, it would depend on how full the can was. Or if it were the night before trash day. Or if there were something really smelly in it. Or if I were about to host a party and wanted it emptied.

And that's as good of a rule set as I'v ever heard. So if I put a robot in charge of emptying your kitchen trash can using these rules, I suspect you would be satisfied with it's performance?

Indeed. A robot that could have knowledge of smelly things and when my next party was would come in quite handy.

What if I suggested that given this set of rules in your head for when the kitchen trash should be emptied that you unconsciously make the decision several times a day that it is not the time to empty the kitchen trash. That periodically throughout the day, anytime a reference to garbage or kitchen or whatever you would relate to that subject causes your brain to make the decision that the importance of deciding about the kitchen garbage has not come to a point of needing more attention put on it, just yet.

This would sound like you are suggesting I am already a garbage robot!

At some point, say just as you put together the information that it is the night before trash is supposed to be picked up, there is a rule that says "now is the time to make kitchen trash emptying time a primary focus", and you begin what you call a deliberation process concerning the garbage.

hmmm


I humbly appologize to these great worldly consciousness contributors for assimilating some of their work, only to butcher/shred/decompose/mutilate or otherwise hash/hack their works beyond all meaning. I whole-heartedly endorse consuming any publications these people have had a hand in. So hopefully an unsolicited plug will balance things out in the grand scheme of things.

Douglas R. Hofstadter - Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern

Isaac Asimov - The Gods Themselves