by Elaine Walker
by Elaine Walker
(Left) Rat Neurons. Credit: Paul De Koninck, Universite Laval; (Right) Large Scale Structure of the Universe. Credit: Courtesy V. Springel & the Virgo Consortium.
Part of the definition of chaos theory is that it is deterministic. The material world seems to be made of a whacky indeterministic fabric, but at some tiny size, matter and motion pile up to become probabilistic, and at an even larger and more massive scale—although still microscopic from our point of view—the probabilities are so high as to be safely labeled “deterministic”. Things on our level are so deterministic that, in linear systems at least, we can make mindbogglingly accurate predictions.
Yet at the same time, our causal universe is not “predetermined”, which is a word that is often misused, and probably better off not used at all. It makes no sense and serves no purpose even for a Determinist. Even if there was no probability involved (and there certainly is on the level of quarks) and everything was entirely deterministic down to the pinpoint, the universe as a whole is already busy computing its entire self incrementally, laying out the world before us moment to moment, so it has no extra mechanism, let alone purpose, for figuring itself out beforehand. Nor does it have a storage device, let alone an infinitely large storage device, on which to store the data and then from which to replay it so that we can live out or pre-calculated fate. It is the “pre” in predeterminism where this ridiculous misunderstanding stems from.
The conclusion I find so beautiful is that we are all riding a wave-of-determining together, the future still completely undetermined. It is just a much larger scale example of the potential of a quantum particle before being “collapsed” into the “present”, thereby creating only one cohesive past as we go. The beauty also lies in the realization that as sentient beings we are consciously carving bits of this wave-of-determining as we go.