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Stephen Hawking, the arch-determinist.

Many Worlds, but only One Reality: Stephen Hawking and the Determinist Fallacy

One can hardly broach the subject of agency without acknowledging the long-standing and unresolved philosophical debate regarding the agency vs. determination dichotomy. To provide an illustration of the extent of disagreement over this dualism, determinists, such as Stephen Hawking have argued that agency and free will are nothing but an illusion: …the molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets. Recent experiments in neuroscience support the view that it is our physical brain, following the known laws of science, that determines our actions and not some agency that exists outside those laws…so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion (Hawking and Mlodinow, 2010). Emphasis added. Indeed, Hawking’s deterministic perspective is so comprehensive that he believes if it were possible to build a computer that was sufficiently powerful to calculate each and every variable in the cosmos, then such a machine would be able to determine with absolute precision every aspect of every event that transpires in the universe from the big bang until the infinitely remote end of time. From Hawking’s perspective, nothing moves, interacts, appears or disappears in the universe without having been minutely pre-determined by a chain of causality that was set in motion at the origin of the universe. Now that is a hard core determinist. At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe in an indeterminate universe (Popper, 1988). Philosophies of indeterminacy take many forms, however, such perspectives tend to emphasize that endless varieties of random, inscrutable and uncertain phenomena render the universe ineluctably unpredictable. For example, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle asserts that it is impossible to determine both the velocity and position of any discrete particle: the process of determining one property has the effect of modifying the other property. Much to Einstein’s displeasure, Niels Bohr elaborated upon Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle by developing the theory of quantum mechanics. Bohr’s “Copenhagen interpretation” is predicated on the realization that, at the quantum level, classical expectations about the normal, predictable, apparently-determinate principles that operate in the macro universe do not apply at the infinitesimal scale of the quantum. In other words, the behavior of quantum-scale phenomena are downright bizarre: At the quantum level particles appear, disappear and reappear unpredictably and without having conventionally traversed the distances between the separate spaces they occupy. Entangled particles defy the laws of physics by exhibiting what Einstein referred to “spooky action at a distance.” Single particles behave as though they are interacting with other, non-existent particles when fired individually through a double-slit filter. Quantum phenomena exhibit “complementarity,” which means that phenomena will morph depending upon what type of techniques observers employ to examine the phenomena in question. Etc. Thus, those who believe in an indeterminate universe dismiss the idea that an infinitely complex, but, nonetheless, single chain of causality rigidly determines all subsequent events that transpire in the universe. For indeterminists, the universe is full of “actors” that often engage in unpredictable improvisation; their performances often change without notice and, occasionally, in open defiance of the “direction” that is essential to preserve a deterministic universe. This is true of the micro realm of quantum mechanics, and it is also true of the macro universe that ceaselessly confounds and astounds its unpredictable human observers (McGettigan, 2011). Advocates of the indeterminate perspective are generally of the opinion that, if it were somehow possible to replay the history of the universe, each new iteration of the universe would be identifiably unique. This is because random events would exert unique and unpredictable influences on the evolution of the cosmos–just as random events have generated widely divergent species on the planet earth: fostering the evolution of new species in some cases, and instigating widespread extinction in others. For his part, Hawking rejects the idea that quantum indeterminacy implies that the universe as a whole is non-deterministic. Although Hawking concedes that quantum events depart from the more deterministic patterns that operate with greater consistency in the macro universe, nevertheless, Hawking argues that Hugh Everett’s “Many Worlds” theory (Byrne, 2010) offers a theoretical framework through which to develop a deterministic model for quantum phenomena. Briefly, the Many Worlds theory proposes that “everything that is physically possible happens.” In other words, for any discrete event that takes place in the universe an infinite range of similar but slightly different events takes place in an infinite number of alternate universes. Hugh Everett developed the Many Worlds theory in order to solve the “measurement problem” associated with the collapse of the wave function in quantum mechanics. For the purposes of the present discussion, Hawking argues that, since the Many Worlds theory posits that everything which is physically possible occurs in an infinity of different universes, then everything that any individual could ever think or do–and much, much more!–actually does happen, and is therefore determined by the circumstances that unfold in each and everyone of the infinite multiverses in which the various chains of causality unfold. To put it more simply, imagine that in one universe a football player catches a pass to score a touchdown, while in another the very same player drops the ball, or trips over an opponent’s foot, or is blinded when a spectator hurls Gatorade at his eyes, or gets kidnapped by extraterrestrials, etc. Fascinating as the Many Worlds theory may be, there are problems with Hawking’s claim that the Many Worlds thesis offers proof that the universe remains deterministic in spite of pervasive quantum indeterminacy. First of all, valuable as the Many Worlds theory may be as a conceptual construct, there is no proof that the theory is true. For decades, scientists have speculated that alternate universes might exist, but no one has ever generated any proof that more than one universe does exist. Thus, Hawking’s belief that every possible outcome of events are determined by, and play out in an infinity of alternate universes is pure speculation. I could equally well claim that an omniscient genie foresees every possible outcome of every event that takes place in the universe, but forcibly ...

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Opening your eyes to the new Surveillance Networks

Now here's a kick in the head. They know where you are. And by "they" I mean everybody. Anybody with even a minimum online presence in today's surveillance/social networks leaves a global footprint that anybody can trace. Sounds reasonable if you are thinking about the police I suppose. Why worry if you don't have anything to hide right? But what about organized criminals? Far more useful it is for them to know when you are out on your own, away from home, vulnerable, and alone. Don't have any enemies? No exes looking to beat you down? Don't know anybody that wants to take things from you? Then you have nothing to fear! Tweet away but just be aware, "they" are watching you.

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The Sacred and the Profane: Religion, Military Occupation, and Intolerance in the Age of Reason

War. Hmm. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again. Ya, right. Actually, war is good for something. It is good for our western, resource hungry, consumer system. War allows us to control the resources in other countries, and allows to take those resources as we see fit. We were friends to the Afghan people when the Soviets controlled the oil (and we didn't like that), and now we're enemies because we want the oil just as bad as the Soviets, with predictable consequences of growing hatred, violence, and social disintegration.

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Lousy science.

Cajun Culture Wars: Another Victory for LouSEA Science Education

On June 2, 2011, Mark Guarino reported in the Christian Science Monitor that the Louisiana Science Education Act managed to survive a recent legal challenge in the Louisiana legislature. Sadly, that does not bode well for science education in Louisiana, or in the other states that are considering similar legislation.

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