With ongoing discussions between neuroscientists and philosophers on the existence, or not, of free will, and with so many people, even in the so-called ‘enlightened’ West, still believing that their fate is somehow linked to the movements of the stars and planets, what does modern physics have to say on the matter of determinism and chance? Indeed, is our future preordained? This lecture will be a whistle-stop tour of modern physics and whether the future is knowable.
Jim will describe how our views have changed on the subject over the centuries. Starting with Newton’s notion of a ‘clockwork universe’ in which, if we were able to know the positions and states of motion of all the particles in the universe we should, in principle, be able to compute its state at an point in the future – assuming we had a supercomputer powerful enough. He then moves on to Pierre-Simon Laplace and his future predicting demon and Einstein and his block universe of four-dimensional spacetime. But can quantum mechanics, resting as it does in the realms of chance and probability, provided the fuzziness that might give us back an open future, and with it our free will? Or maybe chaos theory can rescue free will. The final conclusion might shock and disturb, but it shows that this subject is still as fascinating and infuriating as ever.