Monday, April 2, 2012

On Time and Free Will

In any attempt to bridge the domains of experience belonging to the spiritual and physical sides of our nature, time occupies the key position.
—Arthur Stanley Eddington, 1928

Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for insects as well as for the stars. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.
—Albert Einstein

Even very smart people can be wrong. After all, Einstein showed with his theories of relativity that Newton, another very smart guy, didn’t have the whole picture on the nature of space or time. But nor did Einstein, it seems, as I’ll describe. It is becoming increasingly clear that Einstein was wrong about the nature of time and determinism.

What is time? For Einstein and most physicists, time is considered an additional dimension akin to a spatial dimension — sometimes described as “the spatialization of time.” We arrive at a four-dimensional universe in which time is reversible and there is no real difference between past, present, and future. Past, present, and future are all just different coordinates in an unchanging and eternal “block universe.” Einstein made this view explicit in a 1955 letter to a friend; the appearance of past, present, and future as distinct features of our experience, he wrote, is a “stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Sometimes, developments that seem like advances can actually be setbacks. Einstein’s views on time have become prevalent in science and philosophy, but what is far less prevalent is the understanding that in a world where time is an illusion and the universe is deterministic, there is no room for free will.

Free will is an active area of interest in psychology and philosophy. There is an increasing — and disturbing — trend toward a kind of hard-nosed acceptance that we don’t have free will. The attitude is something like: “Science is increasingly showing us that we are not that important. Copernicus showed us that we’re not at the center of the universe, Darwin showed us that we’re just another animal, and physics has shown us that there is nothing special about consciousness and that we suffer from an illusion of free will because past, present, and future all exist at the same time.”

This attitude, while increasingly pervasive, goes too far in my view. Much of it is, of course, correct: We are not at the center of the universe, and we have evolved just as all other creatures have evolved on this blue/green planet of ours. But we are also the leading edge of that creative process, with our highly complex consciousness and associated attributes. Even though many things are indeed beyond our conscious control, it is not the case that we are conscious automatons in a deterministic world. New physical ideas support this view, and we are now seeing the dissemination of these ideas slowly but surely, steadily eroding Einsteinian determinism.

Read the rest here.


  1. From: Time and Initiative by David Applebaum

    By positing a beginningless, independent time (In Beelzebub's Tales called “the Heropass”) that precedes creation of the world and is coeval with the Creator. Preoriginary, anarchical time plays a key role in sparking the initiative to create the universe. Time with no origin devours the place with no displacement. Anarchical time would “sooner or later bring about the complete destruction of this sole place of His Being.” The most poignant effect of creation is to modify, if not time itself, at least time's inner workings.
    Time's transformation occupies the heart of Gurdjieff's cosmology...
    Two Scales of Time:
    1. “Heropass”: A beginningless, independent time that precedes creation of the world and is coeval with the Creator
    2. Redesigned Time (Two Types)
    “Foolasnitamnian” - Time for perfecting the self
    “Itoklanos” - Time for occasioning mechanical events

  2. Very nice post.really I apperciate your blog.Thanks for sharing.keep sharing more blogs.