Farewell to determinism

An interesting post on why determinism is false. As someone who is not a hard determinist, I agreed with the author until toward the end when he declared that “superdeterminism” would imply that we can’t know anything about physics. I’m not a superdeterminist, but this didn’t seem to follow for me. I’m also a little suspicious of the references to free will and religion at the end.

The many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics comes up in the comments, and some argue that this post is more epistemic (about what we can know) than ontological (about what actually is). To me, this raises the question, if the universe is epistemically indeterministic, isn’t any assertion of ontological determinism essentially just a supposition, an untestable hypothesis?

Scientia Salon

Ilc_9yr_moll4096by Marko Vojinovic


Ever since the formulation of Newton’s laws of motion (and maybe even before that), one of the popular philosophical ways of looking at the world was determinism as captured by the so-called “Clockwork Universe” metaphor [1]. This has raised countless debates about various concepts in philosophy, regarding free will, fate, religion, responsibility, morality, and so on. However, with the advent of modern science, especially quantum mechanics, determinism fell out of favor as a scientifically valid point of view. This was nicely phrased in the famous urban legend of the Einstein-Bohr dialogue:

Einstein: “God does not play dice.”

Bohr: “Stop telling God what to do with his dice.”

Despite all developments of modern science in the last century, a surprising number of laypeople (i.e., those who are not familiar with the inner workings of quantum mechanics) still appear to favor determinism over indeterminism. The point of this…

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6 thoughts on “Farewell to determinism

    1. Hmmm, I’m not familiar with the concept of supra or overdeterminate. (Of course, I wasn’t familiar with superdeterminism until today 🙂 Just looked up Desmond. His stuff looks interesting. Thanks for mentioning him!


  1. Marko Vojinovic’s article “Farewell to determinism” represents the view of the current physics paradigm, but it is wrong. I have commented on it at Scientia Salon with two comments (http://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/farewell-to-determinism/comment-page-4/#comment-8041 and http://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/farewell-to-determinism/comment-page-5/#comment-8106 ).

    As this is truly a ‘central’ issue both in physics and in philosophy, the wrongness of this article does great ‘harm’ for the advancement of human knowledge. I thus would like to use your great site to make one more point.

    The author tried to show two points (in fact, those are the view of the current ‘paradigm’).
    One, the ‘undeterminacy’ is ‘fundamental’ while the determinacy is only an illusion (superficial).
    Two, this undeterminacy is the consequence of {delta P x delta S > ħ} although he used three other supporting arguments.

    With these two, he ignores (intentionally or not) all other ‘facts’ which I have showed in my previous comments. Let me try to right that wrong one more time.

    The protons collisions at LHC are mainly governed by the laws of Quantum Mechanics. The final states of those many trillion collisions are a bit over 100. But, by all means, those many trillions data are big mess (mess, …, mess, …). However, we are still able to sort those mess out and discovered a new boson in 2012. All those undeterministic dancing was unable to stop us to ‘determine’ that a new boson was hiding among those mess. No, no undeterministic monkey is able to stop ‘us’ (human) to sort out any mess to a ‘determined’ order. Practically, we have not yet found such a monkey in this universe. I will briefly discuss that there is no such monkey in ‘principle’.

    Historically, we have called {delta P x delta S > ħ} the ‘Uncertainty Principle’. But, I have showed that {delta P x delta S > ħ} is the ‘source’ for the dark energy which accelerates the expansion of this universe (see, http://prebabel.blogspot.com/2013/11/why-does-dark-energy-make-universe.html ), and this is in ‘essence’ nothing about the ‘uncertainty’ but is about ‘not to stay put’ for this universe.

    Maximus has discussed the ‘relation’ issue of physics and math. It is nice that we human has representing the ‘quantum’ state with an ‘invented’ math formula (the wave function), and this ‘representation’ has verified experimentally zillion times. This truly shows the great human ingenuity. But, when we ‘add’ some additional ‘interpretations’ to that representation, we could make some great mistakes too. The first great error of this quantum interpretation is that wave function of a ‘particle’ is probabilistic, and thus the ‘particle’ is ‘superpositioned’. This superposition-nonsense leads to many further QM interpretations.

    No. {delta P x delta S > ħ} is all about the ‘growth’ of this universe, absolutely not about the ‘measurement’ of any quantum particle. {delta P x delta S > ħ} describes the ‘essence’ of ‘space-time’, not about the particle. Electron is as solid as a ‘bullet’, and its wave-like property is the result of moving in the ‘wave’ of space-time (see http://putnamphil.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-measurement-problem-in-qm.html?showComment=1402087925047#c6965420756934878751 ). By the way, 99.9999…% of quantum measurements are not done by human. There is no superposition issue in the ‘nature’ physics.

    I have showed that the key of one lock in the four-lock litmus test can always open all other locks. {delta P x delta S > ħ} is one of the four locks. When we discovered its key {F = K ħ/( delta P x delta S)}, this key does in fact opens all other three locks.

    No. Nature physics has no ‘uncertainty’ problem but is ‘growing’ with {delta P x delta S}. The space-time is wave-like while the electron is as solid as a bullet.


    1. Tienzen,
      I appreciate your comment. I don’t think it’s controversial that large numbers of quantum events follow statistically predictable patterns. This manifests as apparent determinism at macroscopic levels. I think Vojinovic’s assertion is that, within the margins of error of our measurements, we can’t know that they don’t deviate unpredictably, laying the seeds that blossom under the butterfly effect, making complex systems inherently unpredictable in principle. Of course, complex systems can be unpredictable in practice with no quantum uncertainty coming into the mix, so this is an assertion that is (at least currently) impossible to demonstrate or refute.

      On the uncertainty principle being the cause of dark energy, I don’t really know enough physics to comment. You might want to discuss with physicists like Coel.


  2. Huh, interesting. I didn’t even know Quantum mechanics had a hand in arguments about determinism or not.

    Out of curiosity, have you ever heard anything about the view of compatibilism? The idea that determinism and free will go hand-in-hand rather than they are opposed to one another?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually am a compatibilist. I can’t see how adding random indeterminacy makes one responsible where they might not have been with hard determinism. To me, trying to assess responsibility with physics is a category error, an incorrect mixing of concepts at different layers of abstraction.


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