A Subatomic Solution to the Question of Fate
So here we come to the existential dilemma that has plagued the collective mind of humanity – as well as every individual who has ever been a part of this collective. It is, of course, the free-will question: are our actions, our thoughts (nay, our very existence) ruled by the invisible hand of fate? Or is what makes us us derived of something so far past the confines of metaphysics, that we must actually look inside ourselves to find it?
Perhaps no other question gnaws at our minds so incessantly. There is no doubt great passion to be found by individuals on both sides of the argument. To date along the historical timeline of human thought and the scientific method, there has been no accepted proof of one hypothesis or another on this subject. Plausibly, it is not an easy question to answer. …which is exactly why we’ve chosen to answer it in the following text. This article will apply the scientific method to the fate question and no less than settle the matter once and finally.
First, some assumptions before we state our hypothesis:
1. Probabilities for past events are always either zero or one. That is, either an event did or did not occur, and it must fall into one of these two states with absolute certainty.
2. Time has dimension. That is, it is not a singularity which exists in an infinitesimally brief window.
Recall the basic outlay of the Scientific Method – nothing can actually be proved, only disproved. Now we’re ready to state our hypothesis: the universe operates in a deterministic fashion, and all future outcomes are fixed from the beginning of time. Furthermore, time has a linear form, with “past” and “future” as separate points along this line.
Fate is defined as the inevitable outcome or course of events. An outcome is something that has not yet occurred at the current moment, but could occur at a future point in time.
Under fate’s rule, the future is written just as deterministically, factually, and completely as the past. Even though we have no certainty about the future and only limited (incomplete) information about the past, these limitations arise from our own imperfect understanding, not from fallacies in the events themselves. Therefore, if the true probability for a future event’s occurrence is really only zero or one – just as it is for any event in the past – does it then follow that the Future – if only from a certain perspective – is indistinguishable from the Past?
The statements above are based on the presumption that the probability for past, “recorded” events is always zero or one. In other words, an event either did or did not occur, and it must have done so with absolute certainty. Adherents to Godel’s incompleteness theorem may argue that we cannot have complete understanding of a past event – even a simple, binary one – with absolute certainty. But Godel’s incompleteness refers only to our own understanding/interpretation/comprehension of an event, not the actual event itself. By definition, Incompleteness applies to a mathematical (or other language’s) explanation of something. In other words, the model is incomplete, not the universe itself.
At a subatomic level:
It has been shown that potential future outcomes, each with a certain probability of occurrence can produce multiple actual outcomes simultaneously. One such example is physicist Richard Feynman’s “sum-over-paths” description of a photon traveling from a source to a receiving point through a screen with multiple slits. Feynman showed that rather than traveling through one slit or the other on its way to the receiving point, the photon actually travels through both. Indeed, Feynman concluded that the photon actually takes every possible path through the universe to get from point A to point B. It is only when we observe the photon at any singular point in time, will we detect it at a particular locality. (Although from Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle, we will not know its angular momentum, and thus from which direction it is traveling.) See Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe, p. 110 for a more thorough description of Feynman’s postulate.
This is important because we’re now in conflict with the first stated assumption in our hypothesis. Rather than the electron of history passing through either slot A or slot B in Feynman’s experiment, it also passed through both or neither at the same time.
At this point we’ve disputed one of the conditions for fate to exist – at least at a subatomic level. How (and whether) subatomic behavior ascends its way up the macroverse, is a matter that still rages in physics today.
Leaving behind this piece of the argument for a moment, we turn now to the time-dependency of fate. Specifically, we must ask if fate is not time-dependent, and fate is assumed to exist, does time then exist in the sense that there is a true distinction between past and future? An equivalent question to whether or not the universe is governed by fate, would then be whether it was really possible for past events to have unfolded (or gone into history) differently. And could it be proven that a single past event did transpire differently according to perspective?
The crux of the Solution:
If that future has already been written (even without our knowledge of it), then does time play any role in the universe? The future is just as much a statement of fact as the past – is there a distinction between the two at that point, beyond conscious perception? If Fate exists, then how can Causality exist? One event cannot seemingly cause another, if the other were to occur regardless. Fate and Causality seem opposed to each other. Which again leads back to the question: without cause and effect, does Time exist? By reversing the order of the statements and starting with the assumption that Time does exist, this would imply causality exists, which would negate the idea that the future is already written.
The Fate question can be reconstructed into the familiar God paradox which poses whether God could create a stone so heavy that he himself could not lift it. Put in terms of fate and time: “Could God create an absolute certain set of events (the universe), so rigid that even he himself could not interfere with it?”
One possible solution to these paradoxes emerges if Time is removed from consideration. A linear extrapolation of these questions implies God at one point sets up the absolute rigidity of the initial constraint, and then at a later point tries to undo this setup – thus arises the paradox. But if Time is shrunk to a dimensionless point, there are no relativistic concepts of later or earlier. There are just is and isn’t. And for God to set the conditions once, would be the same as setting them through all eternity.
This answer seems to imply that Fate – as a manifestation of absolute determinism – can only exist without Time. So perhaps an equivalent question to whether Fate exists, is whether Time exists – that is whether Past and Future are really separate, different temporal entities.
The question isn’t as easy to answer as we might at first think. The obvious answer is “of course past and future are different; I can distinguish the two consciously”. But we constantly juggle two opposing perspectives on this question simultaneously. On one hand, we have recollection of the Past (which can hypothetically be ultimately broken down to chemical sequences within the brain), but no such recollection of the Future. So our minds distinguish the two chemically, and our consciousness distinguishes the two conceptually. Whether these two are actually the same thing is another matter left for a Philosophy of Mind essay.
However, our minds treat Past and Future the same in one important sense: our ability to conceive both are abstractions. We remember the past and picture the future. But we only actually experience the Present. Remembrance and Imagination are both abstractions in the mind, they don’t actually exist. Only the Present exists.
“We’re at NOW now”
So, we have two contradictory explanations to whether Past and Future are different. We perceive them the same, and yet we perceive them differently – that we do allows us to distinguish them. If Fate’s existence depends upon only a perceptual difference we make of the universe’s passing – and no such passing actually occurs (because all time is but an instant) – it means we’re endowed with a remarkable ability to stretch a dimensionless, infinitesimally small attribute into what we regard as linear time. Even then, how do we reconcile fate’s single outcome with the paradoxes of multi-comes put forth by quantum physics?
In any event, for fate to exist in these conditions means we have violated the second assumption of our stated hypothesis. It seems therefore plausible the idea of fate – at least as we usually think of it in terms of guiding our actions without our knowledge – seems doomed in a universe where time unfolds over a nonzero period, and not at an instant.
So with the existence of fate now in doubt, you can use your newly-invigorated sense of free will to indulge in my other chapters of creative verse here.
Copyright 2010, Kevin McMahon