© 2005 All Rights Reserved. Do not distribute or repurpose this work without written permission from the copyright holder(s).
Printed from https://www.damninteresting.com/this-is-damn-interesting/
Science tells us that the laws of physics are not subject to change, and that these laws determine the interaction of all matter and energy in existence. If no matter or energy— at any level— is outside of the influence of these immutable laws, it could be suggested that every event which ever occurs is the inevitable result of a series of events which began at the inception of the universe.
For the sake of argument, let us suggest that there is no true randomness in the universe, only unpredictability. This would mean that all of the matter and energy which was ejected from the Big Bang followed a set path as the universe expanded. Each particle went where the laws of physics determined it must, depending on its inertia, gravitational influence, friction, etc.
Every object that ever existed was formed by the interaction of matter and energy, working within these laws. Consequently, stars, planets, puppies, and brown paper packages tied up with string all exist because each particle in the collection of particles that make them up followed the laws of physics, from the moment they sprang into existence until the moment they came together to form the object. Furthermore, the path that physics set these particles upon will eventually lead them elsewhere, where they will contribute to the temporary existence of some other inevitable assembly of particles. If it were possible to observe every particle in the universe at once, and one had a complete knowledge of the laws of physics, the future would not be a mystery, it would be predictable with 100% accuracy.
Clearly, this website is the unavoidable product of the creation of the universe. It had to spring into existence at exactly the moment it did. The laws of physics demanded it.
© 2005 All Rights Reserved. Do not distribute or repurpose this work without written permission from the copyright holder(s).
Printed from https://www.damninteresting.com/this-is-damn-interesting/
Since you enjoyed our work enough to print it out, and read it clear to the end, would you consider donating a few dollars at https://www.damninteresting.com/donate ?
“If a tree falls in a forrest, does it make a sound?” Sorry, I just had to do that. And yes, to a limited degree, I do understand the little ditty used by scientists who “get it”. As you see, when we “take a look” at quantum physics, do we change the behaviour of that we have seen just by “looking at it”. Would it still have “behaved” the same way or would it have veered of into another delightful law of physics track. Disrupting laws of physics can be quite dangerous. Splitting the atom, well, makes quite a difference. Does just looking at it change it’s direction? I wonder if I even care anymore.
I’ve had debates about this notion of an immutable web of physical cause-and-effect that is responsible for everything, and after having pondered this for innumerable hours, I have discovered it’s flaw: it ignores (non-physical) informational causation.
At least where life exists and has the perceptive faculties to make decisions based on information obtained by perception, there is causation that cannot be described in terms of physics, but only in terms of meaning and informational relationships.
For example, my response to this article and the entire process of someone typing this article up, uploading it, and my viewing it in a browser and the light coming through my monitor into my eyes and reaching my brain as a signal and being shot around by my neurons can be broken down into physical events, and each event can be described in terms of physics, but physics cannot explain the meaning I perceive, nor my motivation to type this response, nor any of that. These events and the chain of cause and effect that occur are totally independent of the physics, and happen in the realm of information and meaning.
One illustration of the independence of informational/semantic causation and physical causation is that there can be an infinite set of physical variance that is informationally inconsequential (for example, exactly which photons hit my retna, in what order, the particular state of the molecules of the air through which the photons travel, the exact frequency and intensity of the light, etc. and the state of the world entire universe of my perception) and even such things as the font used etc. None of the physical causes and effects I mentioned are consequential to my response here; all of the causation is due to information and perception.
The big question is, where does information arrise? If immaterial information actually exists, the implications are profound. I believe it does, because information can be divorced from the medium that carries it and even remain unchanged in differing media and even languages (though I suspect information cannot exist without some sort of medium). But the corollary to this is that information does not exist without perception. For example, I can look at a grove of trees, and obtain the information that there are five trees and that they have fruit that I can eat, and thus the information about those trees comes into existance. If no animal nor human were to look upon these hypothetical fruit trees and perceive that they have fruit, then this information would not exist, even if the fruit trees (in what ever number) exist. Their “fiveness” and the quality of being fruit bearing are informational, and this cannot be described in terms of physics. (Strangely though, physics can be described with information/meaning/semantics).
My thesis, therefore, is this: because physical laws of cause and effect can only describe and govern physical processes, they cannot explain (and do not fully govern) informational events and events with informational dependencies. Thus, any event (physical or informational) that is that is not in some way resultant from physical events exclusively cannot be described in terms of physics alone.
Corollary: Life itself is goverend by immense informational processes (DNA, mRNA, transcription, etc.). On top of that, informational causation, whether it is of predators observing and making a decision to take prey, or humans typing on computers, only occurs in living beings with perception and discernment of information. Therefore, life itself must have been started with some sort of informational governance and causation, and cannot be merely the outcome of the initial physical state of the universe.
Corollary: Informational causation is independent of physical causation (unless information needed for a decision is being gathered from the observation of physical events themseves, not including the observation of physical media for the sake of the information they bear) and thus any event contingent on informational causation cannot be deterministically resultant of the physical state of the universe when it came into being.
Corollary: Since informational causation is not exclusively and deterministically resultant of the physical state of the universe, it is at least possible for free will to exist.
I don’t see why everything cannot be explained physically? The information from this article enters your brain, neurons fire and cause reactions in the brain that govern your response. Just because we don’t know the exact method by which you come to the response you have to the article, doesn’t mean there’s anything magical going on inside your brain.
What do you mean by “physics cannot explain the meaning i percieve”? Are you implying that there is something in your brain which defies physics, or is able to alter something outside the bounds of physics (from within a physical construct, which is again defying the laws of physics)?
Wow, I found the first article. This site truly is damn interesting, I could spend hours reading it all.
As for the idea that physics could determine a path for all particles in the universe; I definitely ate too much pie because that was the set path for the pie particles since the big bang.
The idea of determinism states that there are predictable results for everything, and that our thoughts too are matters of physics (see: materialism). As to whether our thoughts are separate from our actions, one would need to decide which arguments one prefers. There are theories, such as dualism, which says the two can coexist, but many of these refer back to God in order to be proved, which is beyond the realm of my beliefs. The main problem of each of these that believe that thoughts are immaterial is how they can affect and be affected by the physical. There is a theory, however, that states that ‘God’ may have made all thoughts and physical aspects pre-determined to coexist in perfect harmony. This, however, contradicts free will, as does complete physical determinism, which is what the article refers to.
Thank you, philosophy 101.
I know I did an only so-so job of explaining, but that’s a very basic overview of the ideas of free will and determinism.
YES! I finally made it through all the archives. Wow what a long strange trip that was
So this is the first article.
One thing that this theory Choices that individuals make. The flicker of an eye movement or the whether or not a specific memory comes into you conciseness at an exact moment could change a choice a given individual makes. The Idea that physics could account for that level preordained behavior seams implausible. Of course this theory is not really something to be pondered by scientist and physicists it really is more of a philosophical debate, one that can never be answered or tested.
Ooo, #1. Let’s boil it down, simple is good. The question is…
“If the universe were to do its biggy bangy thing again, but in the same manner – that is, particles being sent out the same way – would the chain of events that follow, the history of everything, also run in the same manner?”
Here’s a sometimes overlooked version – don’t time travelers avoid interference so the future isn’t affected? So that the unmodified conditions of the past can cause the original chain of events leading to the same future?
An interesting conclusion then, is that if there is an X-factor that would make a repeat big bang have different results, then those time traveling folk should probably review their plans.
Shit. There are no more ‘Older Articles’. What am I meant to do now?
Damn you, you damn interesting website.
I’ve finally managed to complete this wild, strange, twisted and crazy trip through all of the archives. My work days will now be less interesting since I have no more articles to read. YOU MAKE MY HEART GO PEE =(. Such a DI site!!!!
Alan, though you are controlled by the demands of physics and therefore cannot take any credit for this site, I want to thank you for your participation in the assemblance of this group of particles. Without it, the survivability of my workday would depend on the materialization of something Damn Interesting from the particles that make up my office. That ain’t gonna happen ;)
First! (Joining the club of backward readers.)
What utter balderdash. “Meaning” is irrelevant to physics. Physics describes the laws of the Universe. The rules of baseball don’t tell you how people enjoy the game, just how it is to be played, but enjoyment can still be had by following those rules. In the same way, the laws of physics determine how your senses and your brain work, and those laws do produce what you perceive as “meanings” or “motivations” and all of that. So, it is all a product of physics.
Despite your assertions, there is no evidence that our brains are magically in contact with immaterial information. The actions of neurons and neurochemicals can be explained (thanks to physics) in fairly simple terms, and they are the basis for all brain function. Their interaction is complex, yes, but not magical or supernatural.
Your argument is simply circular reasoning stating that some things don’t follow physical laws because (you believe) some things don’t follow physical laws. You don’t make any attempt to prove that point though, you simply repeat the statement as though doing so makes it true. For example:
Actually, all of the physical causes and effects you mentioned affected your response here, and those physical causes are what provided your perception with the signals that went to the brain, triggering further physical reactions within the brain that affected your response here.
Brains have been studied while perceiving all sorts of things, and neurons have been found that are activated by all sorts of particular stimuli, from a line at a particular angle, to seeing one particular face. Just because you can’t see or feel the physical reactions in the brain and the information represented in the brain isn’t obviously recognizable doesn’t mean that there is no physical cause.
Your “informational causation” is simply a nonsense term, because all information is represented in physical form of one sort or another, and it is that physical form that interacts with other physical forms in a cause and effect relationship. The fact that that some physical form represents information is irrelevant as far as physics is concerned, but we have evolved to take advantage of physics to store and recall information in the physical medium of the brain.
Seriously, if you can show any evidence for storage and retrieval of non-physical information, go get yourself a Nobel prize, because so far there is no good evidence that any such thing is even remotely possible.
Yeah… Take that Berkana!
By the way, I thought starting from the back would be a better idea, so see you at the present articles in a few weeks!
Re: Berkana’s comment
C.S. Lewis uses similar logic in his book “Miracles” to declare that there must be a supernatural. The thinking goes (roughly – I recommend the book highly if for no other reason than to clear up what I may have muddled): It seems from physics that the Universe is governed by strict cause/effect relationships – that nothing comes about except by as an effect of a cause. If that is the case, then how do we evaluate logic itself? If we make the decisions and determinations we do based only on how chemical and electrical signals interact in our brains, as determined at the Big Bang, then how can we claim that any logic is true? To claim logic to be definitely true, it would require that our thought process in some way be allowed to make its determinations without being ‘enslaved’ to this Universe’s predetermination. Therefore, since we do claim that our reasoning does arrive at truth, we then must believe that every thought is at least partly an invasion into the known universe from beyond it – a miracle.
Lewis also extended that reasoning, saying that Reason itself must have a source from beyond the bounds of this Universe, and that Reason cannot arise from a foundation of Unreason. So there must be an ultimate source of Reason – God.
I’m sure I over simplified his argument & may not have gotten it completely right, but it makes sense to me. Now was I predestined for it to make sense, or did Reason from beyond the physical world help me see it? :-) Cheers!
BTW, what an amazing web site. I have learned a lot.
I’d like to respond to the first comment by justanothername: in quantum mechanics we change things by measuring them because of our limitations, we need to bounce photons off of things to measure position and momentum. These collisions, however, follow physical rules (as do all things, if you accept science itself as capable of accurately describing our universe). According to the views expressed by this article, the idea that there is no true randomness human evolution, behavior and even thoughts can be looked at as one long physical chain reaction of events that, given their beginning and the closed system that is the universe, were inevitable. Therefore, us measuring the momentum of that electron was inevitable, us aiming that photon was inevitable, the deflection of that particle was inevitable, all is explained by physics. Also, “splitting the atom” does not change physical laws. The laws of physics, though not entirely understood and extremely complex, do not change. Fission and fusion existed long before we discovered them, and our role in these physical processes can be viewed as matter interacting with matter in, yet another, physical process. Damn Interesting stuff.
Side note: It is generally accepted that there is true randomness on the quantum scale, thus throwing a wrench in things for the arguments of this article. This uncertainty is not related to measurement, though it is often erroneously assumed to be. Sad though, it was pretty thought provoking while it lasted, and the article does stipulate that you should “assume no true randomness”. Alas, this is not the case in the strange world we inhabit.
Questions for those who can answer: Why is the first article (I assume this one is) number 10 in the url? Also, when you keep hitting the next article link/button why are the articles not in numerical order in the url?
I made it! I finally made it to the end! (beginning, whatever..)
it should be noted that quantum physics is a relatively new field of study. though currently the best-fit theory (& almost universally accepted), it is still _possible_ that there is no true randomness in this universe.
on another note, implications that there is some nonphysical force at work within our minds (generally referred to as our ‘souls’) would require extraordinary evidence. after all, the words ‘affect’, ‘modify’, ‘move’, etc are all implicitly physical verbs, necessitating a physical cause; how might one contend that something nonphysical could interact physically on any level whatsoever?
Enter your reply text here. OK
Made the journey to the start. You guys are silly to seriously make debate statements about astrophysics when “nobody knows nothing” (Hollywood). The laws of physics someday will be archaic when we comprehend infinity.
I have a love crush on Cynthia Nixon’s brain.
And “Floj” I love eating Pie!
Alan Bellows – Thank You.
Enter your reply text here. OK
Nobody’s perfect: above I meant Cynthia Wood. (not nixon)
(the name was just from memorization)
Panda Bear made it! I really don’t know what I am gonna do with my lunchtimes now. I shall be expecting my Every Article plaque soon. I have cleared out a place on my mantle for it.
Laplace’s Demon! :D
One small step for man, one giant leap for me to find this article :-D
Thank-you for existing.
On a more brain-intensive note, who would win in a fight: Chuck Norris or Alan Bellows?
Chuck Bellows only fights with quantum ducks……Quark, quark, quark!
Finally made it to the beginning(?) after several days of reading. This site is truly engrossing and definitely Damn Interesting.
Made all the better for the community of commentators that have built around it and added another layer of even more Damn Interesting information ;)
This happens all the time and science zealots wet themselves with glee. Common stupid mistakes of science.
1) “I don’t see it, therefore it does not exist, cannot exist, has never existed, will never exist.” [at least within the context of the point i’m trying to make right now…next week when discovery X is made that used to be something believed only by late night radio whack jobs you’ll make a 180 and now accept what you’ve been arguing against all along]
Seriously….just because there isn’t any observable method of non phsyical memory storage this means that it cannot exist? I mean…so you’ve been to the future and you know this? The only thing you can say is fact is that you don’t know ANY facts…for EVERYTHING we observe and take for facts is based on assumptions. We assume we are observing what we believe we are observing. We assume that we measure accurately. We assume that accurate measurement gives us license to call something fact. When the paradigm shift occurs and the flat world becomes round…then you understand how crappy your “facts” were. When is the next paradigm shift going to occur? I expect an apology for all these assumptions trotted abot as facts :D
2) “Wewt! I wrote a mathematical solution that describes some observable behviour…this means that there can be no OTHER explanation.” [Meanwhile you still have NO idea WHY it behaves in that observable manner…this doesn’t seem to matter to you..but WHY?]
..and yet you say…
So meaning is not part of physics but it defines how we gain meaning? There aren’t two sides two that coin?
Everything that was once called magic and has now been catelogued as “explained” is testiment to the fact that our brains COULD be in contact (or have the capability to,…maybe yours does not) with a magical cloud of information. All your brain chemicals and BS are just observations of what you can observe…but what about the stuff you cannot observe? Oh noes! Something unobservable can exist! You cannot “see” gravity, only its effects..but you believe it because its holding you in that uncomfy chair right now. Powers of magnetism invite you to believe in, harness, patent and use more invisible magic powers :D
Yours is circular too. Nothing you’ve stated makes it not true. *cough* Something that is no a coincidence…what is true is always true wether you have observed it or not. Sorry pal…thems the breaks. Next decade when we’ve observed more, we’ll know more…that doesn’t mean there aren’t more magic clouds of information to discover. The truth is already out there…we just haven’t discovered it all yet.
Philosopher and brain surgeon. Just because you can observe certain activity doesnt mean that you understand it…or that we don’t have a crucial peice called “free choice” to choose what to do with that set of stimuli. The argument you make is that its ALL phsyics. I have no choice in my reaction? You said it yourself….it “effects” our decision, but only to the degree of giving us information….at that point, the effect is no longer ruled by the law of physics but by my free agency.
Lets suppose that there is an as yet undiscovered law of physics which allows for, or better yet, relies on free choice of certain intelligences that exist to make random free choices. That makes a lot more sense than quantumn mechanics…
Evolution is a theory. There are plenty of holes and it has yet to accurately predict “macro” evolution. There are countless millions of missing fossils for the in between stages of evolution. Micro evolution, however, is a different matter entirely.
Now, our brains store data “physically” so far as we can tell, this must be true. However, we are not mere physics machines incapable of making choices completely defiant to an predicted behaviour…why do I feel like a photon under observation…i can choose one or both ways to behave or be in both places at once yay!
Wait, you’re right. I’m really an organic robot with no free will…unfortunately, I have been programmed to eat your brain. Brains!
I think college students do this during every exam they take. ;)
Can you define non-physical…cause like,….this string theory thing demands 7 more dimensions than what we currently experience…so…when we start gaining data from the other nonphysical dimensions…is that physical or not?
I think what he is getting at is “free will” or at least that physics cannot describe, predict, etc what choice we make FROM the physical stimulus. So, you can measure the light that hits my eyes and blah blah blah, but you cannot write a law that describes what I do with it. This means that my free will I can cause some physical change in where these big bang particles are going to end up just by deciding to do something different or at least not predictable. Information seems to be in this realm. I don’t believe he is saying it exists in any non media. In fact it was written that it has to exist on SOME media.
I personally believe in an omnipotent observer, and thus, by that definition, all data does exist somewhere on a medium and there cannot be a stand of 5 trees where no one observes.
The cherry pie comment earlier sums it up nicely.
If the elements were predestined by the big bang to be where they are and must have occured that way which results in my writing this run on sentence and gross misspellings and was comletely inevitable because the “laws of physics” govern EVERYTHING then all the overeating i do is because the big bang made me do it. I’m telling my wife that and see if she’ll let me off this diet. *cry*
Clearly we are out of the forced reaction for every reaction. The particles that make up my body, while subject to the laws of physics, go where I want them to.
So when HiEv says that phsyics/chemistry can describe everything that goes on in the brain so therefore we are just a natural result of physics, then that takes away all my personal responsibility. See..now i can go and eat mr Hievs brain because a certain set of stimuli tells me I have to. whats your address? The zombie apocalypse was inevitable.
Oh wow.. i made it all the way back to the first article. Feels like im 4 years back in time in time haha.
I believe in reason and logic. There is an explanation for everything (sometimes we just don’t know it yet). I am pretty sure that there is more to physics than meets the eye. As we advance in technology we will very likely unlock amazing truths that will blow our minds away. Hey, there was a time when flying was impossible. There was also a time when people believed the going faster than 30mph would result in your organs coming out..
Whether everything is on a set path or not is irrelevant. If a man commits a crime, should we send him to jail? His actions were Inevitable weren’t they? But then again him being punished and going to prison is part of the plot that is already written isn’t it? The argument can go on forever. In the end, whether everything is random or not does not matter in our everyday lives. Cos if the future is already set, then why bother doing anything? Whatever happens was going to happen anyway right? I am sure that even the most unrelenting believer in “the future is already set” will still wipe their back side after dropping a load in the toilet.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is we live our lives by the choices we make. Whether those choices are random or predetermined is beyond us. There is no way of proving anything …well with today’s technology that is.
But nevertheless, it sure is a hell of an interesting topic to debate.
HiEv, there may be no evidence of any form storage and retrieval of non-physical information to date. But there is also no evidence proving the Big Bang. It is after all, a theory. So as strong as your argument may be, it is based on a mere theory..
As for free will… Id like to think that it is something more than just protons and electrons reactiong to each other. But no matter what, there is no way of proving anything with today’s technology, is there….?
No, it isn’t.
“…a scientific theory is constructed from … empirical data about observable phenomena. A scientific theory is used as a plausible general principle or body of principles offered to explain a phenomenon.”
So, simplified, if there is no observable phenomenon to be explained, you have not even a theory. “Non-Physical information” (Whatever that actually means) is at best a thought experiment or Science Fiction.
Actually i think that the Big Bang idea comes from the observation of everything in the universe expanding and moving away from a particular point in space. The idea is… since everything is moving away from a point in space it must have….. u get the idea right?
I’m sorry, I think I misunderstood your meaning.
I thought you were referring to this “Non-physical information” thing as a theory.
The Big-Bang is, of course, a theory.
Yea i was referring to the Big Bang. Never heard of ‘Non-physical information’ before. Speaking from a logical point of view, there cant be anything that is non physical. If its not physical, then its not there.
I was here
My journey has ended,
The battles are won.
But what of those articles,
He’s not yet to write?
The fight for DI’s just begun.
o 3o Awesome site, I think I might just have to reread some of the content for lulz. Thanks for making work fun, Allen! <3
This is still my favorite Damn Interesting article of all time. I know I am ten days late but.. Happy 5th Birthday DamnInteresting.com :)
So this is where is all began…the meaning of life, the universe, and everything…especially pie! I never thought I would find the first article. wow
Thank you so much for providing me with education while I’m at school. You are about 10000000 times more interesting than my work.
Berkana said “For example, I can look at a grove of trees, and obtain the information that there are five trees and that they have fruit that I can eat, and thus the information about those trees comes into existance. If no animal nor human were to look upon these hypothetical fruit trees and perceive that they have fruit, then this information would not exist, even if the fruit trees (in what ever number) exist. Their “fiveness” and the quality of being fruit bearing are informational, and this cannot be described in terms of physics. (Strangely though, physics can be described with information/meaning/semantics).”
I would like to bring up a small point about the five trees that have been so discussed. Does a physical object’s information need to be duplicated in order to be proven to exist? I mean a tree standing alone on an island is its own physical record of itself. Or am I wrong? A person observing the tree and writing down “tree” on a piece of paper does not make the tree any more or less a piece of reality. The information of their existence is represented IN their existence. Information is not the singular result of observation, sound, or smell. Information has several definitions (I am looking at one part of what information is for the sake of this argument, please do not bring up how information is also a service on your telephone), and one is along the lines of “facts provided or learned about something or someone.” The tree is providing information of its existence by existing, of its location by being where it is, and it even tells you it grows fruit because it grows that fruit. I would argue that existence itself is the medium upon which all information is accessible/recorded for life forms (such as humans) who use existence as their frame of reference.
A quick example is sound. Sounds cannot be accurately recorded in any medium other than sound. What sound is this? “ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ” is that the sound of a sleeping person, an alarm, a fly passing your ear? Yes, we have CDs and Vinyl as examples of recorded music. But without the use of a device to play these items we cannot look at the object and know what the sound recorded is without prior knowledge. The sound itself can only be received as information by an individual (a human) if it is transmitted as a sound.
We do not currently have the information about how to transplant a human brain from one body into another and people believe that it is an impossible task. If we learned to do it 50 years from now then the information would exist in a physical form (most likely written). But does that mean the information does not exist today? Or does it simply mean that the information exists and we just have yet to either discover it or to properly comprehend it? I really don’t know, all of this is based on my personal thoughts and experiences and is not an attack on anyone or idea, but it is fun to think about.
Also, this also marks my moment of finishing the site up to its current point. From article #361 all the way back to announcement #1. Unlike when finishing a book I feel great because this site is alive and growing and I look forward to reading it regularly (as regularly as the articles appear) for many more years. Thanks to Alan Bellows and all the other writers, admins and people who use the comments to continue to make me think.
Well I finally read every single article
Twelve years ordained at the moment of the Big Bang.
It’s hard to believe that that much time has passed.
Of course, that’s assuming that time actually exists.
Just checking back in.