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Liberation from determinism - the reality of an open future

 Our world is determined, i.e. the state of the present strictly determines the state of the future. This causal statement follows from the ...

 Our world is determined, i.e. the state of the present strictly determines the state of the future. This causal statement follows from the determination of the interactions of our physical world by the laws of physics that govern the events in our universe.

Our experience of the world shows that a physical system in a given configuration always and only changes according to the laws of physics. And the validity of physical laws also appears to be a strict scientific statement. Our world is determined.

Determinism and the validity of physical laws are equivalent statements that strictly define the nature of our world. Even the fact that certain systems behave chaotically, or interactions in the quantum dimension are probabilistic, does not alter the deterministic nature of our world. 

In the first case, the illusion of non-deterministic behavior is a consequence of the lack of accuracy of our knowledge about the given system, as some systems are highly sensitive to the initial configuration. Although quantum mechanical systems appear to behave in a truly random way, the occurrence of possible events is determined by a strictly defined probability distribution of the wave function. Chaos and quantum randomness are no exemption from determinism.

Such a determined world, however, once we know its laws and its state, becomes sadly boring. The past and the future, like us in it, are determined in a way that can be deduced from the present. A determined world is interesting only until we know it. And this is a strict limit even if the world to be known seems inexhaustible.

The way our world works is an objective reality. This world is given to us. Yet human, personal experience suggests, at least on a subjective level, we can have choices in our actions, we can influence our future.

Is it an illusion or is it reality? Am I, along with the world, completely determined, are my actions only a consequence of my current state, or am I really able to shape the determined future which is possible to me? The usual answer to this question tends to be a desire-driven philosophy, maybe filled with supernatural content, or just the inevitable acquiescence.

However, there can be an escape from the captivity of strict determinism within conformity with physical laws, which can also correspond to our subjective experience. How? What could render the future not strictly determined in a deterministic world?

We cannot, of course, step out of the world, but we, as part of the world, constitute a special complex system. We are able to remember our past. For us, not only does our present exist, but our past exists simultaneously in our memory as well. And this fact fundamentally modifies the function of determinism for us.

An electron obviously cannot remember its past. The past is present in the life of an electron, because its present moment was created by its entire past. However, the future of an electron is determined only by its actually existing present. This is strict determinism, the way much of the world works.

However, determinism works differently for material structures, for which the past is not just the actual moment in time of the present, but which are able to remember their past.

When a system remembers its past, when the past states of the system are physically represented in its actual state, when the past not only determines the present of the system but also leaves a trace in the system, the future for such systems is determined in a different way.

Both the remembering system and the non-remembering system are deterministic, yet, given the same environmental state, a non-remembering system always progresses strictly in the same manner, whereas a remembering system may progress into different states.

If an electron is placed in exactly the same external conditions twice, the electron, even if the wave function collapses randomly, will behave according to the strict rules of quantum mechanics, the same way both times, regardless of the life path it has followed between the two identical states. 

Remembering systems, such as humans, do not necessarily behave in the same way in different times, and in fact, typically, if we are in the same circumstances twice, we likely behave differently. 

Two remembering systems would only behave identically under the same circumstances at two instants in time if they traveled the exact same chronological path between the two instants, which is impossible in an absolute sense.

The systems that exist in the world can therefore be divided into two groups according to determinism. Those structures whose current internal state does not physically represent the life path of the structure are strictly, classically determined systems. They are those that always behave in the same way under the same external conditions, regardless of their previous history.

There is, however, another determinism that works for suitable complex systems, where the past life history of the structure is actually represented in the internal state of the system, where the system has a memory of its past. These are structures that can behave in different ways under the same conditions. These are complex, deterministic systems that are able to express internally derived differences.

However, the objection can be raised: the internal state of the remembering system changes according to the actual life course, so in fact, the system is not the same at different times. Hence, different systems react to the same external circumstances, and of course, naturally behave differently, therefore the functions of the remembering systems are not a refutation of validity of the strict determinism. The objection is true, but it does not alter the claim that the deterministic behavior of the two different types of determined systems are different.

Remembering systems do not realize a history independent, a kind of free-from-the-past future either, but they enable the past to be an active part of the present, rather than a passive agent, which creates the present but no longer exists after. The world is still determined, but in the remembering systems, the present realizes the future in a more sophisticated way than would follow from strict determinism, by the cooperation of the active past.

Remembering systems create a much more complex deterministic world than strict determinism can create. This kind of world can be interesting, because such a world could be boringly determined only for the one in whom the complete past of the world actively exists. And even the totality of the world would not be capable of this. 

For us, as remembering deterministic systems, in whom the past actively exists, yet only our own past, the outside world remains inscrutable, and therefore interesting.

And remembering the past also implements a new feature for those deterministic systems. It realizes quasi-free will. This is the will that can exist by the laws of our determined natural world, which can exist for us.

To an outside observer, or observing it by our own consciousness, remembering deterministic systems have free will, they seem capable of functioning in a way that is not merely determined by the given external circumstances. In reality, determinism also applies to these systems. Classical free will, independent of the past, still does not exist for them, but the present behaves in a much more complex way for those systems.

This quasi-free will exists for us, a will created by experience, which builds on past events to distinguish between the future possibilities of the present state.

That is the nature of our free will, and it seems enough for us. With this quasi-free will we become capable of creating a new world for ourselves in a determined universe.

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