Sunday 8 March 2015

"Quantum physics proves free will is true and determinism is wrong!"

This is something people often say to me: "If you look at the double slit experiment and the quantum eraser experiment, you see that determinism is an old classical physics idea that has been superseded. The observer determines reality. Therefore, free will exists."

And my response:

Quantum physics cannot show that determinism is wrong. That is impossible, because there is no way to prove that randomness exists (even Bell's Theorem may in fact indicate superdeterminism despite the general understanding of it: We don't know if there is a better way of expressing quantum physics aside from probabilities. So far, our formulas work based on probability. But in the future, we could have more exact math.

And even if randomness were somehow the case, that still would not allow for free will, which is logically impossible regardless of what physics you may think you know. If your choices are generated at random, is that what you call free will? Information Philosophy has an interesting take on this, showing how it is *possible* that randomness co-exists with determinism, such that creativity comes randomly out of some infinite pool of possibility, and is then narrowed down deterministically. In this way, there is indeterminism, in the sense that the future can never be known, yet causality is not broken. "Free will" is redefined as "freedom, then (determined) will" or "free/will." According to Buddhism, the future can be known, so I'm not sure that this I-Phi stuff has any merit apart from being a theoretically interesting proposition.

The observer effect has nothing to do with free will, either. In fact, the observer doesn't need to be a human. It can be an instrument (and it is, always--no experiment on quantum physics is done without instruments, and those observing instruments cannot observe without also influencing the behavior of that which they are observing, just as your eye cannot perceive a photon without capturing it from the scene).

You are positing something that is neither random, nor deterministic. So what is it? What makes "free will" tick? Why choose one thing over another thing? You say it is very subtle. But if it is too subtle for even you to understand, perhaps it is just a simple delusion. So far, nobody has been able to give any logical argument or even been able to define free will logically. If you can do that, you might win a Nobel Prize.

P.S. Please see my post on determinism vs dependent origination.

Also see my post on whether consciousness can create conditions instead of vice versa.

"Buddhists must simply not Know God as *I* do!"

Many people have a real personal and "magical" relationship with what they think of as a personal God.

Buddha supposedly said it is better to believe in a personal God than it is to believe only in this material reality, since at least then you are hoping to overcome selfishness.

But I find that the belief in a personal God is often just a way to obscure the selfishness and subsume it into the idea of serving God (to say nothing of holy war). Of course, there are folks like Peace Pilgrim who seemed to have a "better" God to talk to, but the problem is that her God is not the same God that others are talking to, so ultimately the idea of getting answers from God is almost as bad as getting answers from a magic 8-ball. The real answer you need to get is, the answer to the question, "Are questions simply appearing automatically in this mind due to conditions?"

First of all, what is God? Many people think that God is the "being" that created the universe. Of course, if the universe had a beginning, then logically God must also. If God is beginningless, then the universe could also be beginningless (i.e. Big Bang after Big Bang etc.), thus making God just a useless conceptual addition. In any case, nobody has ever had any evidence that the God they talk to is the creator of the Universe, so what really are we talking about?

Basically, people are talking to some "being" that seems to know everything, and is all-loving, and has some kind of divine quality that can't be easily described. "I" "myself" have talked to such a God on various occasions.

But the one thing that this all-knowing "God" being never seems to know about is dependent origination. Why? Because if God were to explain dependent origination to someone, then they would realize that there is no self, and thus no God either. Instead, this "God" character usually seems strangely concerned with how to help the one talking to him to have a better life and avoid danger--in other words, how to better "live the dream" (the dream of self).

I used to be very hesitant to accept Buddha's teaching of no self/dependent origination, because of these amazing God experiences I'd had. It wasn't until I read "What is Self" by Catholic nun Bernadette Roberts, that I realized that God is merely that which is beyond the self. When perceived from the point of view of a self, the "beyond" or "divine" becomes reified into this God being. Once self is gone, the personal God too is gone, and the "divine" is all that remains, without any beings/labels/concepts to split it up. I think that in Buddhism, the term for this divine nature of all things is "suchness." It is pretty hilarious to imagine using a term like suchness instead of "divinity," I admit!

Here is an excellent post by Soh Wei Yu on his experience of divinity post-realization of anatta (no self).