THOUGHTS ON A SCIENCE OF LIFE|
Part IV: Free Will
by Arthur M. Young (1992)
I have always appreciated the admission of indeterminacy in physics, but have deplored the effort to switch from total belief in determinism to a total belief in probability. Thus after listening to Margenau give a lecture on the need to convert science to probability I asked him if he thought there was a possibility the desk would fly out the window. He said, yes, there was a remote possibility. I suppose I lost this argument, but with the third derivative I can now back it up.
Suppose we were investigating a murder, and it was established that the suspect had indeed planned and executed the murder; in other words, had caused it to happen. Could the murderer then say that he could not be convicted because there was no such thing as a Principle of Causality, and therefore he did not cause the murder? I think the principle of causality still holds. One could say the principle of uncertainty also applies because the bullet might not have fired, or the aim was defective. But the principle of causality was still operating.
It is not that causality should be banished; it is rather that there is a higher principle that uses causality. Causality may not be applicable in physics, but it applies in engineering and in human actions. Indeed without it life would not be possible. It is the third derivative which makes it possible to use determinism to store order, to attain growth and reproduction. This demotes determinism from the high status it once had in physics and puts it at the service of free will. Instead of denying free will, determinism increases its scope.
I could add that without the Principle of Causality there could be no such thing as morality or responsibility, but that would be dismissed by determined determinists as anthropomorphic. It is more relevant to point out that the third derivative -- the fact that force can in theory be directed and used -- is a scientific principle, having the same status as velocity and acceleration. Just as force = mass x the 2nd derivative, so the control of force is mass x the 3rd derivative.
Perhaps free will could be dismissed as anthropomorphic, but here again we can ask, on what grounds is free will impossible in nature? Or we could simply say that the question of whether or not there was free will is not involved in the issue I'm discussing. This issue is that the third derivative necessitates determinism, not as chief executive, but as one of his assistants. Even if it be agreed that the president has no free will (he must follow the will of the people, etc.), he still can use determinism to accomplish results -- which is what any leader must do -- as "head" of state.
This need not imply free will of electrons, because at this level there is no "matter" for free will to manipulate. It is only at the level of fairly complex molecules (polymers) that the third derivative can manifest -- not only because at this level material objects are available, but because only at this level is the "attention span" long enough to encompass the processes it uses.
I'm thinking about the absurdity of my having to become the advocate of the third derivative. It's not like being an advocate of ESP, or astrology. The third derivative is both obvious and of major importance. The failure of science to recognize it should be shouted from the housetops by all branches of knowledge. In a way it is more important than the Declaration of Independence, because it is not just a rival point of view, a "right" which depends on moral judgment and has its limitation. Does the thief have a "right" to steal?
The third derivative is a law of nature: Every machine must incorporate means for its control. Without this law life would not be possible. Its neglect by science, more than any other factor, has made it possible for science to replace religion.
Not that religion was without its own errors and its own misinterpretation of truth. In fact organized religion could be said to have taken upon itself the control of people. This may have been necessary for the childhood of humanity, but there is always a point when parental influence is replaced by self-government, much as a person learning to fly an airplane must solo.
The third derivative, or control, is what everyone who drives a car is learning today. It is both the opportunity to expand freedom, and the responsibility for one's own acts -- and has a direct connection with spiritual goals.
The problem of free will and determinism has a long history in science. What were the key developments?
1. Strict determinism was based on the success of Newton's formulation of laws of motion of inert bodies and was elevated into a dogma exemplified in the LaPlace mathematics.
To permit free will, its advocates in the past have had to resort to this breakdown of absolute determinism. Their claim was that just as the probability tables of insurance companies give accurate forecasts of life expectancy but cannot tell when a particular person will die, so free will can operate. This interpretation is confirmed in that, from the point of view of probability, it is not possible to distinguish free will from randomness. This is known as soft determinism; its advocates claim that free will is possible in spite of determinism.
2. In the 19th century, phenomena such as behavior of gases (thermodynamics), where it was a practical impossiblity to deal with individual molecules, led to the use of probability.
3. Then in the 20th century, quantum physics established the theoretical impossibility of determinism.
4. This development was based entirely on the explorations into the foundations of physics, assumed to be the behavior of particles. It made no attempt to deal with life. Nevertheless it was assumed that because molar bodies, planets, and other aggregates of billions of atoms would behave deterministically, living creatures would too.
From the point of view of the theory of process, however, this latter view is also mistaken:
1. This theory interprets the certainty of Level IV (together with its provision of a variety of molecules behaving according to law) as necessary to free will.
2. Also necessary to free will is the possibility of using the laws by control and direction of energy. Thus an automobile, or an artificial satellite exploring the solar system, is not violating the laws of nature. The operator by control of acceleration, including steering, is able to achieve goals that without the mechanism could not be achieved. Control of acceleration, which is the third derivative, has the same scientific status as the first and second derivatives, velocity and acceleration respectively, which are the very cornerstones of modern science -- first discovered by Newton and simultaneously by Leibniz, and the basis of calculus.
3. Some philosophers and scientists looked upon the discovery of the quantum of action and the fact that it implies a basic uncertainty at the very foundation of science as validation of free will. This hope was short-lived. As several expressed it, the quantum of action contained so little energy that it was not enough to even lift one's little finger. Arthur S. Eddington even introduced the trigger effect, but still required a life unit of many billions of atoms, and concluded "the indeterminacy would be insufficient to allow appreciable freedom."
What was necessary was the formula, or mathematical expression through which the minuscule quantum of action could control the unit of billions of atoms postulated by Eddington's conjecture. Watson and Crick discovered DNA, which is the billion-atom unit he surmised, but differs from it in that it is organic, a hierarchic structure of atoms capable of building and maintaining a multicellular organism of trillions of cells and controlled by a single quantum.
4. I don't think we will ever know whether the electron has free will. The point is that even if it had free will it couldn't do anything. This tells us why the universe is as it is. It is a vehicle for the expression of creation, much as language is a vehicle for the expression of thought. To fill the function of a vehicle it must first create matter, forces, and objects which afford a variety of ingredients which obey laws. Such laws are not possible at the microscopic or quantum level. In order that it have something to work with the sea of forces which is its first manifestation, it must create an alphabet of atoms, much as language creates an alphabet of letters. With this alphabet of atoms it then creates an unlimited variety of molecules, which obey laws and in turn can be organized into cells, much as language creates an unlimited variety of words which obey the rules of grammar and can be organized into sentences.
Free will having been provided with means for its expression, creativity can come into its own. This creativity is not determined by laws; it uses laws to increase its scope, much as an artist uses paint, or a poet uses words, or a composer uses music, a scientist uses microscopes, telescopes, or other instruments. Each in his own way is fulfilling the purpose of creation to express and to know itself.
5. We see then that there is no cause and effect on the descent, the left-hand side of the arc, and because there is no cause and effect there would be no possibility of free will achieving a goal. This could be disputed; it could be said that the properties of atoms cause the properties of molecules, that ignition of gunpowder causes an explosion. But, to answer the second example first, we should realize that gunpowder is not found in nature, it is a substance made by humans for the purpose of propelling bullets. As to the first, it is true that the properties of water could be traced to properties of its constituent atoms, hydrogen and oxygen, but such an undertaking would be very difficult; it would imply a complete accounting for all the millions of other molecules with which hydrogen combines. This brings out an aspect of the question that I had not thought of before -- that causality has an anthropomorphic taint because it suggests that purpose or intention is operating. Hydrogen was so named -- hydro = water, gen for engender -- because combined with oxygen it makes water, H2O; but it also makes many other molecules, the hydrocarbons, the carbohydrates, and innumerable organic and inorganic molecules. How could it have so many purposes?
I suspect something about causality, or the Principle of Causality, that connotes a purpose and hence free will. Since free will is ineffective until entities which obey laws are available for it to use, where life starts, we are entitled to reintroduce the determinism that has been dethroned by science -- but as we said, in a subordinate position as an agent of free will. This does not mean I'm advocating tyrannical government; on the contrary, I am saying that all living creatures do have access to control, more or less according to their evolutionary status.
Seen in this perspective the zeal of determinists to deny free will is also anthropomorphic, based on failure to recognize that the third derivative is as much a part of the laws of nature as is the law of determinism. Put it this way: if we were a rock or a tree we could not move about; but if we were an animal we could move about. The laws of Newton say that a body persists in its given state of rest or motion unless acted upon. An animal rests or moves at will and controls its motion. Helicopter designers would like to achieve the control of a hummingbird. Yet animals are parts of nature, and subject to its laws. More than that, there could not be any life at all if it were not for the laws of nature.
But animals have access to one law that non-life cannot take advantage of, the third derivative, control. As long as science ignores the third derivative it will not be able to deal with life, and will miss the point of cosmogenesis.
©1998 Anodos Foundation