September 10, 2007


Caption: Does this wild turkey move from choice, chance or necessity?

El Cabrero has been thinking about determinism lately. I couldn't help it...

Determinism is the idea that all things follow strict laws of nature and causality. That seems to have been a driving--if contested--force in the development of the natural sciences. After all, the apparent laws of physics seem to hold up pretty well to repeat observation most of the time. The speed of light doesn't vary a whole lot from day to day.

While most people would probably agree to the rule of law and causality in much of the natural world, it gets a little stickier in the case of living things and especially people. If strict determinism was the universal law of nature, it would be pretty odd to exempt ourselves from the rest of the world.

But is it?

The iconic physicist Albert Einstein spent much of his later career fighting a desperate rearguard action against quantum theory, which he ironically helped to launch. Quantum investigations--don't even ask me exactly what that means--seemed to suggest indeterminacy and a universe at least partially based on chance and probability.

In opposing this view, Einstein was probably more driven by temperament and philosophical preference than evidence.

In a long running and friendly debate with quantum theorist Niels Bohr, the deterministic Einstein used to insist that "God does not play dice with the universe."

Bohr countered by saying, "Who are you to tell God what to do?"

While the thoughts of Einstein and Bohr--let alone God--are far beyond this simple goatherd, I can't help believing that God loves dice--and that maybe dice-ness and God-ness are not two entirely separate things.

(Note: the contemporary physicist Stephen Hawking once said that "God not only plays dice, but sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen.")

Next time: Spinoza's stone.



RE: DOMESTIC SPYING, this is not a shock.

STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT. On a global scale, the difference in life expectancy between the rich and the poor is now 30 years, which is nothing to sneeze at. Prepositional correction: at which this is nothing to sneeze.

"UNLEASHING" DISASTER CAPITALISM. Here's an item by the UK Guardian about "markets" and violence.



Jamie said...

A Robert Frost poem to 'consider':

A Considerable Speck

A speck that would have been beneath my sight
On any but a paper sheet so white
Set off across what I had written there.
And I had idly poised my pen in air
To stop it with a period of ink,
When something strange about it made me think.
This was no dust speck by my breathing blown,
But unmistakably a living mite
With inclinations it could call its own.
It paused as with suspicion of my pen,
And then came racing wildly on again
To where my manuscript was not yet dry;
Then paused again and either drank or smelt--
With loathing, for again it turned to fly.
Plainly with an intelligence I dealt.
It seemed too tiny to have room for feet,
Yet must have had a set of them complete
To express how much it didn't want to die.
It ran with terror and with cunning crept.
It faltered: I could see it hesitate;
Then in the middle of the open sheet
Cower down in desperation to accept
Whatever I accorded it of fate.
I have none of the tenderer-than-thou
Collectivistic regimenting love
With which the modern world is being swept.
But this poor microscopic item now!
Since it was nothing I knew evil of
I let it lie there till I hope it slept.
I have a mind myself and recognize
Mind when I meet with it in any guise.
No one can know how glad I am to find
On any sheet the least display of mind.

Babs in OH said...

Wow - I've never read that poem by Frost before.
Cuz, this is probably a silly question, but have you read Deepak's books (esp. "How To Find God"), and do you think they say anything worthwhile?

El Cabrero said...

Great poem, Jamie--thanks! I hadn't seen that one before.

Hey Cousin, I haven't read anything by him so I couldn't say.

By the way, our birds are calmer now that peacock mating season is over. Do yours get whacked out on a yearly basis or is that just a peacock thing?

Cuz in oh said...

Oh my gosh! Hormone season around here (May, June and July mainly) is awful. Marco threatens to leave. Sunny, our yellow headed Amazon is the worst. And since she can talk, during that time of year, she says things like "hi", "hello" and "come here" very seductively. It's surprising. But our screaming level around here is pretty much over till next spring also. Peacocks and Parrots: birds of a feather.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Hmmm. So Determinism is by and large valid except when it isn’t?

El Cabrero said...

Nick, I think that's an excellent summary of my probably indefensible position.