Is the Universe Deterministic?

I see you used determines/determined/determining in your comment. Are you a determinist? :astonished: Whilst I’m sure you are right that that nuclear decay is related to the number of protons and neutrons in an isotope, decay rates are statistical and there is no way to predict when a particular nucleus will decay. I think that is sufficient to claim the universe we live in is not strictly determined.

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The fact that current science is unable to predict when a particular nucleus will decay does not in itself prove that the universe is not determined. It might be that there are laws we are unaware of that dictate the exact moment of decay. (And yes, I know you will tell me that the majority of physicists don’t think so, but the majority is not always right.) In any case, why scramble so desperately for evidence that the universe is not strictly determined, when in our own daily lives we experience freedom of choice, which leaves the future “open” rather than determined?


No. I tend towards the non-determinist interpretation of QM.

That’s exactly what I was saying, only replacing the “related” with “determined” which have the same meaning in that context. As another example, the interference pattern in Young’s double slit experiment is determined by the size of the slits, the distance between the slits, and the characteristics of the particle going through the slits. However, the path of a single particle is not deterministic.

Would you say that observations are consistent with a non-deterministic universe? If not, how should these observations be different if they are non-deterministic?

I will fully agree that scientific conclusions are tentative. However, that doesn’t mean we have to ignore the fit between theory and observation.

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The observations can be made consistent with either view; one can always postulate the existence of unknown natural laws which lie behind apparently random changes. But it’s a curious thing that a number of biologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, etc. seem bound and determined to show that human free will is illusory, because in the end purely mechanistic behavior of neurons, hormones, etc. causes all our wishes, choices, etc., but have no problem allowing that subhuman things like electrons are free from determinism.



                  **Ah-hah!   "A touch!"**

What observation, if made, would be inconsistent with a deterministic view?

I don’t understand why you think this is so strange since the same paradigm exists for macroscopic non-life. Earth’s systems function in a deterministic fashion while the particles that make up the Earth obey non-deterministic quantum mechanics.

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I known, right? Imagine, accepting the conclusions that appear to be best supported by the evidence! What a bunch of weirdos.

I wasn’t speaking of “Earth’s systems” (hydrological, geological, climatological, etc.) but of the human mind and human free will.

I do accept the conclusions that appear to best supported by the evidence. And the evidence that mind and free will are not reducible to mechanical causes is greater than the evidence to the contrary. But that would be a new topic, so if someone wants to start in on free will or the nature of mind, let him start a new discussion elsewhere on the site!

Citation please. Jerry Coyne is the only biologist I can think of who posits strict determinism with regard to human choice.


How about Will Provine?

I’m familiar with Provine’s scepticism on genetic drift. Was he a determinist?

Well, I’m probably least qualified to pontificate on the subject of causes, dualism, free will and whether you need to invent a soul to explain a mind but I don’t lack for opinions on the issues, only the time to express them. I’ll maybe have a go.

It seems that @Eddie is determined to think of the universe as determined.



Depending upon the premises, he could be making an assertion about the philosophy of science, or

He could be making a theological assertion.

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It seems like there are three, related but distinct, issues going on here:

  1. Is quantum mechanics fundamentally deterministic or not? This has not been settled, and we don’t yet have experiments able to distinguish between the deterministic (many worlds, deBroglie-Bohmian) and non-deterministic (Copenhagen) interpretations.
  2. If QM is not deterministic, when can we treat objects as deterministic? In quantum chemistry we use rules of thumb like the de Broglie wavelength being on the order of the domain of the problem. An electron’s de Broglie wavelength is about the size of an atom, so we have to treat it quantum mechanically. A fastball’s de Broglie wavelength is many orders of magnitude smaller than the width of a bat, therefore a batter can’t claim indeterminacy for striking out. Similarly, we can mostly model proteins using classical mechanics without resorting to QM. At least the majority of objects can be treated deterministically, even if QM is non-deterministic.
  3. Is free will or mind related to physical determinacy (QM, etc.)?


Nice assessment.

But let’s add a little bit more granularity, yes? Connected to point [3] is point [4]:

[4] Does God require a deterministic QM in order to know what sub-atomic particles will do?

[5] If we assert that God has the ability to know even the non-determinant things in the Universe, does this logically entail that these things are not Free of God’s “predestinated future”? [@GBrooks9 has the position of NO, God can know something without ordaining it.]

[6] My personal point, which probably may not be especially believable or “rational” to some audiences, that if the soul or the personality are 100% derived only from neural patterns of excitation and inhibition, how can human thoughts be truly free? And what does it even mean for thoughts to be non-determined?: wouldn’t that require that a person’s thinking and behavior was so chaotic that they might be perceived as mentally disburbed?

The considerations described in the paragraph above leads me to conclude the biological system we call the brain is not the source of the soul or the personality, but the metaphysical “channeller” of one’s thoughts and soul operating in a part of the space-time reality which may be associated with one of the proposed dimensions (even if it is one of the tiny ones!).

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I was talking about Earth’s systems. Wouldn’t you agree that they operate in a deterministic manner even though the particles that make up the Earth don’t appear to follow deterministic rules at the quantum level?

Every other macroscopic system in the universe appears to follow deterministic rules, so it is you who needs to explain why the human brain is the exception to this rule.

First, I would call the brain an organ rather than a system.

Second, you have made a jump from “mind” (which was talking about) to “brain” (which I wasn’t), as if it’s just obvious that the two can be equated. You make a large metaphysical assumption, apparently without noticing that you do so.

“Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear, and I must say that these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposeful forces of any kind, no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be completely dead. That’s just all—that’s gonna be the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.”