A little update: One reason I don’t really brood about the conclusions of really complex theories of anything is because they imply, even when stated explicitly otherwise, that we are on the verge of knowing everything. But then we find something new that causes us to rethink our positions. Here’s one I just read today, about scientists discovering temperatures below Absolute Zero, negative temperatures. What’s really interesting is that these negative temperatures are hotter than Absolute Zero, but colder than positive temperatures. Since objects with different temperatures tend to equalize by transferring the heat/cold, the upshot, as impossible as it may be to ever build one, you can theoretically have a negative temperature engine that could generate heat/energy to work, but which would absorb the heat produced, thus making an engine that works at more than 100% efficiency! Negative temperatures may also help explain dark energy. It may ultimately come to nothing, but it does indeed show that we don’t know everything.
I find Determinism both distressing and depressing. I first encountered it as a way of looking at the world through theology, specifically, Calvin’s Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. The contortions the writers went through to say that though God had created everything, thus condemning a large random number of souls to hell, this notion wasn’t to be be construed so as to imply that God was in any way the author of Evil were as baroque as an act in Cirque de Soleil, but lacking in entertainment value. I had many discussions (increasingly heated) with my pastor, who was an otherwise nice guy. But rejecting his core principles, and those of that particular denomination, there wasn’t anyway I could stay. I resolved the issue in my own mind and moved on.
The ugly idea that the entirety of life is fixed, immutable thing and we are merely going through the motions as we encounter each “now” raised its head again in Philosophy class. More heated discussions. On the positive side, I probably would never have read as widely or deeply as I did without that provocation (and I don’t mean to say I am in any way a philosopher). There’s no final proof, of course, but without any sort of free will I decided life just didn’t make any sense, and so I took the side of those authors who argued that we had at least some choice in the matter. Destiny or Free Will? As Forrest Gump said, maybe both.
Recently, though, reading Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality and The Fabric of the Cosmos, I ran up against determinism once again. Apparently, every theory of physics from General Relativity on comes to the ultimate conclusion that spacetime is just one big (if you want to call infinite “big”) loaf, completely unyielding to change. Even if we could go back into the past, it would be impossible to change anything. Oh, sure, there’s the alternate worlds escape hatch, but that doesn’t do much for me. If at every choice point (which I would think would be every single now) the universe splits into infinite alternatives in which each of the various possible choices becomes manifest, it only means that there are infinite fixed realities. Nothing actually happens; those alternatives, if the theories are right, must likewise be fixed and immutable.
Unless there is no such thing as the future. Unless our “now” is the leading point of time’s arrow. I’m sure, given the notion that ‘now’ is relative to a specific point of observation makes total hash of this idea, but that’s math for you. It works for me, though. Now I can look forward to getting up tomorrow and letting a day of choice unfold before me.
On a happier note, I’ve been on a Sherlock Holmes kick lately. You’ll be hearing more about that soon, but one of the highlights was finally sitting down and watching the 1937 Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes war. It is without doubt the goofiest Holmes film I’ve ever seen, with German matinee idol Hans Albers making an excellent if more Teutonic-than-I’m-used-to Holmes. It’s a comedy, first off, and Albers isn’t really Holmes at all. He and his pall are con men pretending to be Sherlock and Watson, and fooling everybody with the gambit except one loudly dressed man who laughs every time he says them (turns out he’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the only one who tips to the scam.) Of course, the duo are soon plunged into a complex mystery –it’s really a pretty good detective movie—but the highlight comes about half an hour in. Having conned their way into a ritzy hotel, the two men retire to separate bathrooms for good hot bubble baths. But they sing a musical number as they scrub away, with Watson standing up in the tub covered in bubbles. For those of you so inclined, the film is available on YouTube.
Have a good weekend.