Monday, January 02, 2012

On Time and Free Will: What does physics teach us about determinism?

by Tam Hunt
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. Read More

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