* I see, via Jason Soon, that there is a long collection of short science pieces by various science-y people, many famous, at Edge.org. A couple of them bring up some topics long of interest: David Christian writes about the Noosphere (a great word, and concept, I think); and the old "is he is crazy, or not?" Omega Point physicist Frank Tipler (who supports Trump and is a climate change skeptic, so the "crazy" verdict is starting to look pretty convincing) gets to write again about parallel universes of the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics and free will. Here's the argument:
The free will question arises because the equations of physics are deterministic. Everything that you do today was determined by the initial state of all the universes at the beginning of time. But the equations of quantum mechanics say that although the future behavior of all the universes are determined exactly, it is also determined that in the various universes, the identical yous will make different choices at each instant, and thus the universes will differentiate over time. Say you are in an ice cream shop, trying to choose between vanilla and strawberry. What is determined is that in one world you will choose vanilla and in another you will choose strawberry. But before the two yous make the choice, you two are exactly identical. The laws of physics assert it makes no sense to say which one of you will choose vanilla and which strawberry. So before the choice is made, which universe you will be in after the choice is unknowable in the sense that it is meaningless to ask.
To me, this analysis shows that we indeed have free will, even though the evolution of the universe is totally deterministic. Even if you think my analysis has been too facile—entire books can and have been written on the free will problem—nevertheless, my simple analysis shows that these books are themselves too facile, because they never consider the implications of the existence of the parallel universes for the free will question.He's less sure what the Everett scenario of ever branching universes means for the problem of evil, but he does say:
No analysis of why evil exists can be considered reasonable unless it takes into account the existence of the parallel universes of quantum mechanics.I also liked Jim Holt's short entry on the mistake Einstein made in not calling his theory of relativity "invariant theory" instead.
OK, seeing Tipler brought up free will, I also can't go past commenting on the problem with Jerry Coyne's article asserting that there is no free will (and which physicist Bee endorses without reservation). The consequence, he says, is (my bold):
Now this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t punish criminals. We should—in order to remove them from society when they’re dangerous, reform them so they can rejoin us, and deter others from apeing bad behavior. But we shouldn’t imprison people as retribution—for making a “bad choice.”Um, in what sense can their be "reform" of criminals if it is not involving the idea of them using free will to not re-offend? Lobotomy? Operant conditioning?
See, if you don't believe in free will being behind personal responsibility, it logically opens the way for the State to seek to exert control over criminals/dissents via direct biological methods - the Clockwork Orange scenario - because that's the way the universe operates. You can't rely on logic and persuasion to work - indeed, if think they do work, aren't you re-opening the very question of free will that you deny?
CS Lewis wrote an essay about this back in (I think) the 1950's, and I still fail to see how the "no free will" atheists seriously address the issue. The essay contains a line which many conservative/libertarians love to quote (and rather irk me when they do so) - this one:
Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.The problem is, they cite it for trivial matters - a complaint about restrictive smoking laws, for example; they use it as if there is no valid Christian interest in governments making laws for the common good.
But despite that gripe of mine, it makes the argument against treating punishment as only being about reform or deterrence as relevantly today as it did when it was written.