Eric Wasiolek

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Universal Randomness and Determinacy

Philosophical Papers --- 4/24/2020


I have done a cursory investigation of the question of determinacy versus randomness in the universe which is a scientifico-philosophical question.  But, this is a very deep question which is heavily both a scientific and philosophical question that needs more than just a cursory examination.  This may take a while.

To what extent is the universe random or determined is a question that requires more investigation.  There is a theory, popular among atheists, that the universe is a set of purely random events.  I.e., a belief that all of the order in nature came about by strictly random processes. Some theologians have ridiculed this idea by saying, yes, hereís a car, it was formed by body parts that just happened to get thrown together in the right way, and then magically and randomly an engine came out of nowhere as was magically set in the car, and then the tire just happened to roll up and the perfectly functional car was formed randomly.  These are the same theologians that argue if the car has a design there must have been a designer.  Now, itís not exactly as stupid as that as they believe order was established by random processes ruled by physical laws.  So immediately we are saying that the universe is not strictly random as there are universal physical laws which order random processes.  But do physical laws determine which ordered processes and stuffs will occur or evolve in the universe?  Could the universe have been significantly otherwise?  I think again the atheists would argue yes and the determinists or even theists who believe in a divine plan would say no.  Note you can be a determinist without any appeal to a deity.  Certainly, our universe has a design.  But is it a design that is just a result of universal physical laws applied to random events? And by the way, where did the universal physical laws come from?  Iíll leave that question aside for a moment.  It seems that yes there is randomness in the universe and there is order in the chaos.  We know also that there are universal physical laws.  Take the Big Bang.  There was a tremendous explosion which took place which spread subatomic particles throughout space.  But physical laws resulted in these quarks being brought together to form atoms.  At first they were just the simplest atoms:  hydrogen and helium.  And forgive me for not telling the story of the Big Bang quite right, I would have to read up on it.  Gases of helium and hydrogen condensed due to gravity (where did gravity come from) and formed stars.  Extreme temperatures and pressures according to physical laws resulted in atoms fusing and performing nucleogenesis which resulted in heavier elements.  These stars eventually condensed and exploded (a supernova) and spread the heavier elements throughout space, many in stellar clouds.  In these stellar clouds more events happened according to physical laws, atoms under the right temperature and pressure and conditions began forming simple molecules.  The story goes on.  But what is happening here in what I have described so far?  Events like explosions create chaos and atoms being close to each other may be random events but physical forces (like gravity) and laws act on the chaos to bring about heavier atoms and molecules.  Could it have been otherwise?  Or was it determined that stars would be formed from the condensation of hydrogen and helium in space and heavier atoms would be formed in solar furnaces and molecules would be formed in stellar clouds?  I would say it looks like what happened had to happen because of physical forces which we describe with universal laws on somewhat random things like clouds of elements.  I.e., there was determinism (of physical forces) determining what would happen in somewhat chaotic and random environments.  Thatís why I said the universe is a largely determined (and Iím not saying by God necessarily but by physical forces) set of events operating on some random chaos (there is some randomness too, but not ONLY randomness).  And then in evolution there is volition involved too.  Where did volition and consciousness come from?  We may say consciousness just came from the brain, and thatís possible.  But how did something undetermined like volition come from a determined universe? Now if you take something like the formation of life on earth.  Since overwhelmingly most planets donít have life (I am supposing there is life outside of earth) it is clear that you have to have an unusual coincidence of conditions for life to occur on a planet.  That set of conditions seems somewhat random.  It does seem if you have those conditions (a magnetic shield from ultraviolet radiation, liquid water from being not too close or too far from a star, the right molecules existing in the air and water, etc.) then the determinant physical forces will give you some sort of life.  So, you clearly have a bunch of randomness in what planets will have those conditions and then you have physical forces that will create life if you have those conditions:  determinism working on some type of random chaos.

Is Randomness Determinacy?

I want to explore the idea that randomness is actually determinacy.  When investigating the movement of molecules in kinetic energy, as for example the heating of a solution to a gaseous state we believe in some sense the movement of these molecules are random.  But is their movement perhaps completely determinant yet appearing random just because we donít know the exact forces acting on each  molecule.  If we did we could perhaps determine their movements with billiard ball type precision while they ďappearĒ random.  If this is the case in the movement of molecules during  kinetic energy is it true perhaps of all seemingly random events in the universe?  I.e., is randomness just determinacy with a limited epistemological state?  We say there is ďrandomnessí in the earth being positioned just far enough from the sun for liquid water to exist, but, is that random.  The physical forces which determined the formation and placements of the planets from the rotating disk of stellar debris were determinate and hence the resulting placement of the planets must also have been determinate.  Now the physical forces that produce a planet the exact distance from its start to support liquid water happens relatively rarely but a rare concurrence of determinate forces is not a random occurrence.  If we knew all of the forces involved and could study their concurrence, we would know through determinate physical laws that such a planet placement would occur.  Here again I would say apparent randomness is actual determinacy epistemologically qualified. Is there hence any truly random set of events in the universe?  Or are all random events mere epistemologically limited determinate events in which case the physical universe in its entirety is determinate and not random?

Volition and Determinacy

Now as I have stated there is volition in the biological and psychosocial universe.  And I have contended that volition is non-determinate although has a determinate effect on the physical world, i.e., it is not caused but causes and when it causes through intentional action the caused event participates in the causal chain of a physically determined universe.

Determinacy and Quantum Mechanics

Letís return to the determinacy or randomness of the physical universe.  There is of course quantum mechanics which some may call indeterminate.  But is it actually indeterminate or only epistemologically indeterminate?  If I want to contend that the physical universe may be complete determinate with only epistemological randomness (a term which I am creating) then the quantum mechanical world must be determinate.  In the transition in atomic theory from Bohrís atom where the position and trajectory of an electron could be calculated (like that of a moon orbiting a planet) and epistemological problem was encountered, which manifested itself as a measurement or instrumentation problem.  For atoms with 2 or more electrons the Bohr (determinate) approach became infeasible.  Using the Bohr approach with atoms with 2 or more electrons the calculation of the energy and wavelength (of an electron?) showed a 5% error (unacceptable in Physics).  Hence these errors appeared even in calculating the energy and wavelength of helium atoms.  Hence a new approach was taken, the wave theory when the amplitude of the wave function can be computed against its position in a container.  However, (the epistemological point) the particles position became probabilistic (non-determinate), i.e., ďthe square of the value of the wave function at any point is equal to the relative probability of finding the particle at that point.Ē  The wave theory canít determine the path of particles (but can determine their energies.  This is very different from a deterministic system like Newtonian mechanics which can precisely predict the path of a particle (with vectors etc.). To be investigated, it seems at a certain point, perhaps based upon the size of the system, when the microphenomenal quantum mechanical indeterminate solution becomes big enough it turns into a determinate macrophenomenal Newtonian solution.  (Eric, investigate exactly how this is the case).  It may be the case that macrophenomenal events are determinate and only epistemologically random but are microphenomenal events truly random or also merely epistemologically random?  Newtonianism is the system where macrophenomenal events are determined as is relativity theory a determined system for super-phenomenal events.  Einstein must have been aware that there is much chaos in the super-phenomenal universe yet felt that it could be explained by a determinate system based upon non-Euclidean and Lobachevskian geometry, and frames of reference.  Newt too explained the macrophenomenal universe with Euclidean geometry, algebra, and Calculus mathematically determinate laws.

Chaos Theory as Epistemologically Random Determinate Systems

What about Chaos Theory which seems to claim the universe has a certain amount of randomness that violates mathematically determined laws.  Or is it deterministic chaos? Chaos theory states that a complex determinate system may appear or even act as a random or partly random system which may be unpredictable.  Note that Chaos Theory is stating that the complex system is deterministic.  Is the apparent randomness epistemological in the sense that at some point the complex system becomes immeasurable and hence unpredictable?  Chaos Theory states that predictability in a complex determinate system is a function of time, knowledge of the initial state of the system, and degree of uncertainty that can be tolerated in the forecast. Clearly knowledge of the initial conditions and even time become epistemological constraints when try to, for example, predict the placement of a planet in a solar system based upon initial formation.  Degree of acceptable uncertainty is somewhat arbitrary although it can be stated probabilistically and hence is an epistemological factor.  Time is clearly an epistemological factor as we canít go back in time and see the formation of the solar system, nor go forever forward in time in a meteorological system to forecast years out.  We have a temporal epistemological constraint.  Chaos Theory is hence an excellent candidate for epistemologically random deterministic systems (my term and my point all along that this is the way the universe may be).The universe may just be an epistemologically random deterministic system.  More on Chaos Theory.  Points in the dynamic system may have different trajectories.  A perturbation in a trajectory may fundamentally change the future behavior of the entire system.  The time constraint can be seen in meteorological systems where the complexity of meterological events can only be predicted a week or so out.  Dynamic systems may be highly sensitive to initial conditions, which becomes epistemological when we have limited knowledge of initial conditions such as the formation of the solar system.

Volitional Systems are Largely Unpredictable but Chaos Theory Systems are Mostly Non-Volitional Yet Unpredictable

Chaos theory is applied to non-volitional systems, either physical systems or artificial engineering systems.  When volition is involved you immediate have a high degree of unpredictability.  Even with a volitional entity, such as an animal (itís often said that although animal behavior is stereotypic often and based upon established patterns there is a degree of unpredictability as for example when Siegfried and Roy who worked with white tigers for years were suddenly attacked.  So, it is with people. People are partly predictable but can do things completely out of character (true of my life and others I know).  We canít really PREDICT how they will act, as volition is involved, and with social phenomena (large groups of people) we canít predict how they will act either (such as the stock market or any crowd or large social event) with any certainty and therefore need to use statistical models in sociological disciplines (even economics which is based upon mass volitional behavior).  Volition creates unpredictability, but chaos systems are non-volitional and have unpredictability which is just epistemological. Now a few Chaos Theory Systems may have a volitional component such as predator-prey systems.

Epistemological Randomness and Epistemological Quantification

We need to distinguish between purely random processes or apparently purely random processes or equiprobable processes and partly random processes or processes with non-equiprobability.  By equiprobable I am claiming that no judgement can be made about whether the event will occur or not, it is equiprobable that it occurs or doesnít occur.  This can apply for example to location where a probability of 1 will indicate that it definitely will occur at a certain location and a probability of zero that it will definitely not occur at that location and a probability in between will give varying degrees of likelihood of it occurring at a certain location.  Such probability judgements are used in determining the position of an electron or particle in quantum mechanics with the location of an electron given in a probability cloud.  The position is never Ďknowní but is only likely to occur in a certain location at a certain time.  We can say that knowledge or certainty exists in probability when that probability is set to one and that determine systems have a probability of one.  But unpredictable determinate systems such as those discussed in Chaos Theory are given non-one probabilities and may ultimately be completely unpredictable or equiprobable (having a probability of .5).  We contend that such systems are determined and should be known with certainty (probability one) but due to epistemological reasons (limits of knowledge) are uncertain, unpredictable, and perhaps equiprobable.  Probability is epistemological in the sense that we are ascribing a degree of knowledge to an event.  I.e., we donít know the event for sure, but we know something about it.  Now in situations like the placement of a planet there may be several probabilities involved and combined to say how probable it is for the planet to have such a placement.  There is the science of probability theory to tell us how to combine these probabilities.

I started this discussion as the topic of ďrandomness and chanceĒ and the basic relation seems to be that events are random to various extents (usually not completely random and only completely non-random in the case of determinacy) as described by the language of probability. I would consider probability epistemological quantification (or perhaps quantified epistemology).  If I know something for sure p=1; if I donítí know it at all p=0.  If I know something to some degree then 0<p<1.  So how does this relate to an epistemologically random determined universe?  One would say the epistemological randomness is described as probabilities (0<p<1) whereas the actual case is p=1 (the determining physical forces If they were all known).  The unpredictable system is described as (0<p<1) -> p=0, i.e., when the system becomes so unpredictable that we can no longer say anything about it (as in a large time parameter in a Chaos System).  Or we could say that the apparent randomness approaches determinacy (0<p<1) -> p=1, as more is known about the system and enough is eventually known that we can describe it as a determinate system, the determinate system that it is.

Copyright Eric Wasiolek 4/24/20

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