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« Free Will Free Fall | Main | Too Many Words!!!!!!!!!!! »

Einstein WRONG on Free Will

Readers of my last post have appealed to Einstein the Eminent as the final authority on free will but haven’t produced a definitive quote. Below is one with which Daniel Wegner closes his book The Illusion of Conscious Will. Wegner cites the article “Einstein and Tagore: Man, Nature and Mysticism,” by D. Home and A. Robinson, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2: 167-179, 1995:

If the moon, in the act of completing its eternal way around the earth, were gifted with self-consciousness, it would feel thoroughly convinced that it was traveling its way of its own accord… So would a Being, endowed with higher insight and more perfect intelligence, watching man and his doings, smile about man’s illusion that he was acting according to his own free will.

Wow, pretty chilling, eh? As I said in a recent Times essay, oracular utterances such as this one—as much as his scientific work—have transformed Einstein into the sage of our age. But Einstein (and it gives me no pleasure to say this, well, maybe a little) was clearly wrong—wrong wrong wrong!--about free will. Can anyone tell me why?



Because - if the higher being could predict exactly what we were going to do he could _tell us_. We could then decide not to do it. Oh, but he knew we'd do that. So he tells us that we'll change our mind, so we don't. In fact he can never tell us what we are going to do without us having the freedom to not do exactly that.

Thus, while he may have the ability to predict what we will do in _some_ circumstances, he cannot have the ability to predict what we will do in all circumstances.

Tom Clark

To say why Einstein was wrong, wrong, wrong about free will requires that you 1) define what you mean by free will (do you mean contra-causal or compatibilist?), and then 2) show that it exists.

Einstein was pretty clearly talking about contra-causal free will, and he was right we don't have it. There's no scientific support whatsoever for the idea that human beings aren't fully caused to be who they are, and do what they do. And as David Hume pointed out long ago, any *indeterministic* factor in the making of our character and choices wouldn't give us a free will worth wanting, only add randomness.

And there's nothing "chilling" about not having contra-causal freedom. We discover ourselves fully connected to the natural world, pay attention to the actual causes of human behavior, and become more understanding of human faults and virtues instead of chalking them up to a self-created self.

Seriously, what's not to like about giving up the illusion of contra-causal free will? It conforms to science, *and* it has beneficial consequences. What's not to like, of course, is that it requires people to question a fundamental belief about themselves. But science has forced all sorts of revisions to our worldview, and no doubt will continue to do so.

Hal K

When Einstein talks about a "Being, endowed with higher insight" he is referring to a hypothetical viewpoint that we could never share, so I am not sure how meaningful it is for us.

Einstein also said something like "God doesn’t play dice with the universe." He had trouble accepting the randomness of quantum mechanics because it contradicted his deterministic view of reality.

It could be that the anthropic principle has some validity and indicates an essential ingredient of free will. Here is an article that has to do with this:

If the past only exists by virtue of its relation to the present it sort of turns the whole notion of causality on its head.

James McWilliams

Tom, forgive me but i'm not going to acceopt something just because you say so. ;)
I want proof. So I won't give up any so called illusions until I see real proof of what you suggest.

It seems more like a philosophy to me.

Andrei Kirilyuk

One doesn't need to look for another “guiding” Einsteinian citation in order to see that all his science and related philosophy directly contradict any kind of “genuine” freedom, from true randomness in simple physical systems (the “God-dice” dilemma) to free decision choice for complex biological systems. Einsteinian science represents the logical, inevitable peak and quintessence of mechanism (or “mechanicism”), which just states that everything goes on totally deterministic circles; one may simply have very many crossing “circles” of various sizes and shapes PRACTICALLY indistinguishable from genuine chaoticity (and therefore giving a strong enough illusion of freedom). [The whole official “chaoplexity” is actually based in THAT, mechanistic idea of randomness and complexity, irrespective of any added “philosophy”.]

Indeed, according to the general relativity concept that inserts even time into the unified geometry of the world (“there is nothing but geometry”), everything in this world is but a case of peculiar space-time geometry existing “always”, of course, as any pure geometry. It should be completed yet by inclusion of other basic forces of nature into the same fixed, abstract world of pure geometry, and that was exactly the “super-task” Einstein was unsuccessfully working upon in the second part of his life (using also the work of various, often poorly known “collaborators”). The WHOLE official, scholar, “ending” science is based on that same concept, which starts with Newton and pretends very seriously to the ultimate, absolutely universal basis of being. And it IS a logically consistent approach because the fall of mechanism in any single problem implies inevitably its general fall (thus Einstein's “strangely” stubborn quest for the unified field theory was totally justified: he understood very well that failure to include everything into his “geometric” picture means automatically that even its classical, gravitational and dynamical, parts are basically wrong).

This is to say, one should properly see the real sides and scale of the conflict around SCIENTIFICALLY considered “free will”. If you have any strong conviction that free will can indeed be free, then you are rejecting the logical tissue of the whole official science. By stating that Einstein was wrong about free will (or e.g. about “God not playing dice”) you are automatically stating that he was wrong with his major, super-praised scheme of general relativity (and related field theory approach). Or else, if you want to remain a “true friend of Einstein”, even after his science has ended with no clear explanation of reality, you're forced to admit that John Horgan is a fluctuation of space-time geometry that can be quite appreciated by other fluctuations of that geometry, but remains a purely geometric curiosity, as everything else in Einsteinian world. [And don't refer to either events or your emotions about them as something beyond geometry: it's all “included” into geometry from the beginning, even your illusions that all those “human”, “spiritual” components can never, never be just geometry, and another old friend and strong proponent of the most sophisticated mechanicism, Roger Penrose, can very logically and “scientifically” explain you why.]

Now to the main question of the day, why the mechanistic, Einsteinian science and its intrinsic idea of the absent free will is totally and completely wrong. This is because every interaction lying behind any real entity or phenomenon (including our “conscious actions”) gives rise to many equally real but incompatible results, and therefore the driving interaction itself (rather than any irrational “master” or outside “environment”) forces the system to choose only one of those multiple, equally real system configurations, or “realisations”, at random (just because they are equally real!) before changing it, in the same “causally random” way, to another realisation, and so on (which gives rise to the physically real, irreversibly flowing time). Further details and references can be found in my previous comments (e.g. “The End of Mechanistic Psi-ence” at ).

The origin and observed features of (now provably genuine and real) free will phenomenon can be consistently explained within that “universal science of complexity” as interactive comparison between levels of “unreduced dynamic complexity” of interacting (usually “intelligent”) systems: the system with higher complexity (the latter now being unambiguously and universally determined by system realisation number) has potentially higher freedom to realise its free will, whereas smaller-complexity systems are forced to “obey” their more intelligent (complex) masters and therefore their theoretically also real free will appears to be practically, more or less strongly (but never totally), limited. As my complexity definition includes inherent dynamic randomness, all the related contradictions involving randomness are consistently resolved.

Is it so difficult to be greater than the great Einstein? [See the cited John's article in Times for a positive answer to this question.] No, if one has higher complexity, which should not be so difficult because the unreduced complexity of ALL mechanistic science constructions is equal to zero, rigorously. Enough with Einstein, however. Touching sacred cows can indeed reveal strong practical limits to one's free will (e.g. to search for the truth). Although I do think that all those mechanistic sciences and philosophies being taken seriously turn into a complete delirium (even though they can provide relatively useful calculation schemes), in order to reconstitute the equilibrium, I am ready to demonstrate now that the opposite truth expressed by John Horgan's too optimistic ideas about the existence of (his or general) free will is equally wrong, at least at this level of development.

John Horgan concludes on free will (see previous post): “Our choices are real, not illusory; they can alter the trajectory of reality.” Another example showing that being shorter is better (never could follow it myself!): the first part of the statement is rather universal, but it is the second one, the possibility to actually (essentially) alter the trajectory of reality (in the whole) that reveals indeed the free fall (and not necessarily of John Horgan, maybe rather of reality whose trajectory cannot be changed by an individual free will). I mean that although the free will is quite real by its fundamental ORIGIN (see above) mainly discussed in John's posts, its PRACTICAL REALISATION in the human world we live in is strongly limited to (eventually) emerging collective, relatively very slow changes (which actually means NO real, REALISABLE, individual free will).

I call it “molecular”, or “Brownian-motion”, free will. Indeed, a molecule from a hotter part of a vessel trying to transmit its excessive energy to fellow molecules in its colder part, can also be considered as an entity realising its free will (to exchange energy). The problem is that it is only a collective result of a huge number of such individual actions that may have any practical meaning (and usually it will be a rather smooth, slow system evolution).

Such is also the actual, “feasible” free will realisation for humans in any of their societies known until now: individuals can only TRY to transmit their “energy” (e.g. ideas), but the real result will almost always be reduced to collective “dissipation” processes. And the more “liberal” and “democratic” is a form of society (at this level of development), the smaller is the number of rare exceptions from that rule (examples are evident). In other words, the formal, fundamentally defined free will exists, but it can actually be realised at a very restricted level of “small” actions of “everyday life”, while the “trajectory of reality” in the whole continues to turn on the same, maybe slowly evolving (degrading) circles. This is still the same, ancient “world of necessity”, despite any formal “liberties”, as opposed to the world of (genuine, individual) freedom, where every person's (or even artificial system's!) free will can be realised (quasi-)completely and exactly in proportion to the underlying personal dynamic complexity (see the above rigorous definition of free will and genuine complexity).

Examples of “molecular” free will in modern societies are everywhere: the notorious peer-review system is an explicit, easily visible limitation to free will (idea) realisation in science (in addition to even stronger implicit limitations!) ; John Horgan was able to realise his (genuine) free will to write his End of Science book (and propagate his respective ideas) due to his generally unpredictable “trajectory” to the position of leading science journalist in a very big magazine in the richest country, related or unrelated “connections” among publishers, etc. (having the same ideas without those very special “practical” conditions would rather produce no “measurable” result). [Even so, those ideas being variously confirmed in any possible way are apparently very strongly limited in their “social impact”, contrary to explicitly falling, but still dominating ideas of “conventional”, officially accepted science, its multi-billion worth but absolutely unnecessary “experiments”, etc.] After all, this is what real, today's democracy is made of: stupid majority over-votes clever minority (= e.g. the end of science by itself, even apart from any objective “limits of knowledge”).

I also can't get rid of a similar impression from those recent “optimistic” ideas of the play in questions and answers (mentioned in a recent post, ). Only few among many dozens of the most advanced world intellectuals (according to multiple praising citations) dared to express themselves in the sense that today's optimism is reduced, at best, to a vague hope that one day modern state of society and consciousness will be replaced by something essentially different. So it's like in the army, even at the top intellectual level: if the sergeant cries out “Are you optimistic?!”, the soldiers in the row have no other choice as to cry all together “Yes, Sir!”... Compare it to nature's “free will” realisation in the “infinite” diversity of its ecosystems, with many contradictions, collaborations, just neutral, often “strange” differences. What do you see in a forest? Diversity. What do you see in formally not less complex (democratic) human society? Unanimity, hardly structured by very superficial distinctions, just external “clothes”. Unanimous scientific “consensus” (peer review), unanimous optimism, unanimous lies, standard desires and life purposes ... If it is the result of “free will”, then it is not really needed, there is only one kind of opinion anyway, only insignificant details or rare exceptions can vary to demonstrate “democracy”.

Contrary to modern system statements of its own “best possible” kind of society, I think that society with genuine, fully realised, individual free will is possible, but it needs essentially higher levels of consciousness (and thus of free will) or “civilisation”. Because it involves strong interaction of many human “components”, transition to that superior civilisation level cannot be smooth, but needs some “extraordinary” changes, similar to a “phase transition” in a molecular system that can alone increase essentially the level of “molecular freedom”. Until then, one can only have a happy Brownian motion around one's predetermined position, i.e. change (a little) at most one's own trajectory, far from that of the whole reality. Note that this is, of course, a “falsifiable” statement and I would like to see an exception from the above rule (especially for my own ideas, as my personal free will inevitably demands!). Modern resurgence of free will discussions may show that, internally, ever more people would like to see its different realisation...

I am sorry, John, for another long discussion, but you tend yourself to choose such intricate problems of interest involving many different issues (while I tend to insist on finding THE ANSWER, here and now, I acknowledge my sin). Thinking about that hypothetical “superior” society with properly realised individual free will for at least a reasonable majority of its members, its opinions and public interactions would probably look extremely “turbulent”, incorrect and impolite, in the eyes of happy adherents to modern, unitary democracy...



I agree:

"... Einsteinian science ... states that everything goes on totally deterministic circles..."

That's the spacetime continuum. Einstein totally ignored quantum field theory, although he started to doubt the continuum as the structure of spacetime after quantum field theory succeeded in predicting the magnetic moment of the electron using renormalization (Feynman writes somewhere of lecturing before Einstein, Pauli, Wigner etc., with all of them giving negative reactions at first!):

‘All these fifty years of conscious brooding have brought me no nearer to the answer to the question, 'What are light quanta?' Nowadays every Tom, Dick and Harry [ie, every stringy theorist] thinks he knows it, but he is mistaken. ... I consider it quite possible that physics cannot be based on the field concept, i.e., on continuous structures. In that case, nothing remains of my entire castle in the air, gravitation theory included, [and of] the rest of modern physics.’

- Letter of Einstein to Besso, 1954,

Einstein's general relativity is not entirely wrong, however. The vacuum is a continuum below the "infrared cutoff", ie, beyond 10^{-15} metre from a fermion. The random quantum nature of the field only exists in very strong fields above that cutoff, where the electric field strength is over about 10^{20} volts/metre.

It would probably have been impossible for Einstein to have come up with a final theory, even he had been interested in quantum field theory. That's because the correct quantum field theory Yang-Mills equation for all Standard Model forces was only discovered in 1954 and experimental verification was only completed in 1983 at CERN when the electroweak gauge bosons were detected.

You can't hope to build a big theory, like a theory of everything, without a lot of hard experimental facts (which is why string theory is vacuous). Particle physics was still in chaos when Einstein died, and he was probably sensible to keep out of it. All the theories from those times are today deemed crackpot.

Jason S.

I can't comment on whether or not Einstein’s view of the universe is correct but, if he was right, I don't see what his being of "more perfect intelligence" would have to smile about. After all, wouldn't he realize that his smugness was merely the result of deterministic forces outside his control too?

Tom Clark

He's smiling (not being smug) because he knows that being *undetermined* wouldn't add a whit to his powers. It's the smile of the Buddha, knowing clearly that all existence arises interdependently. Once you understand clearly that contra-causal free will is an illusion, you can take your proper place in nature. Not that it's all sweetness and light, but at least you're no longer deluded in this particular respect. And that's something to smile about.

John, you still owe us your explanation of why Einstein was wrong.

James McWilliams

So it really is just a philosophy then.

Mike Cook

Eh, what? Space-time is a frozen milieu. Otherwise, little things like time-reversed light and particles being totally equivalent to their anti-particles traveling backwards in time make no sense at all. What we call consciousness is only a window moving along the frozen picture, looking where we choose but in no sense empowering us to "cause" something new.

Now, dynamical machine consciousness is a wonderful theory (see my post two threads ago) which basically postulates that local rules allow certain physical things to happen UNLESS THE REST OF THE UNIVERSE IS LOOKING which is the role the observer plays in the double slit experiment. When an observer is looking, then all the math kicks in that Kirilyuk so elegantly has developed about entities interacting according to Hamiltonian principles and thereby generating new levels of complexity that actually have power to direct or select certain physical events.

But this control is not changing the course of space-time, only describing why certain events up-river in time always produce certain types of results down-river.

In the other thread I stated that dynamical machine consciousness reflects the reality that the universe is pre-disposed to recognize when certain environmental regimes finally appear and then at that moment certain "potentialities" are expressed.

Are those potentialities pre-existing, or are they in some fashion which Dr. Kirilyuk only hints at evolved by the system of interacting entities as a whole as a solution to challenges faced by the domain of interacting units as a whole?

Here is the funny thing about chaos theory as I understand it. Chaos is actually pretty deterministic, but if only one unit of the domain of interacting units covered by Kirilyuk's elegant equations has free will, then that free will can tilt the whole system.

In other words, not everybody needs free will. Even if all the other units are expressing values according to some totally random system, the unit which has free will and in fact proves it by expressing non-random inputs into the holistic equation is in the driver's seat.

Mike Cook

I should say, the unit which has free will and proves it by expressing non-random inputs or otherwise non-forced inputs into the holistic equation is in the driver's seat.

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