I know this has been discussed before, but I have read Sam Harris' book Free Will and Michael Shermer's book The Believing Brain, and I must say that I agree with both authors. Studies show that our brains make a decision on an unconscious level three tenths of a second and sometimes more before we even consciously know we're going to act. To take a short quote from Shermer's book: "The neural activity that precedes the intention to act is inaccessible to our conscious mind, so we experience a sense of free will. But it is an illusion, caused by the fact that we cannot identify the cause of the awareness of our intention to act".

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Ramesh Balsekar often says, "The thought comes from the source," saying that it comes from "outside." Thought is usually represented by the electrochemical activity in the brain. Michio Kaku says, "Light is a vibration in the 5th dimension."

Does this "light" have anything to do with the micro-electric currents that travel between neurons? If the 5th dimension is something that cannot be measured and resides in a domain outside space and time, is this what's meant by thought derives from an "outside source"? Rob Bryanton of the 10thdim YouTube channel believes that we "grab our free will from the 5th dimension."

If it's the case that the electric currents in our brain are somehow derived from a "higher dimension," could it be that they have a direct correlate in the human brain as they're manifested through our neuronal activity? Are these phenomena intertwined as implied in Bohm's Quantum Mind? Perhaps this is why consciousness is such a conundrum to to neuroscience. It seems the question of determinism, free will, etc. will not be satisfied until we've got a complete understanding of superstring theory or perhaps if one takes it upon themselves to ask this question at the height of a psychedelic experience.

Ramesh Balsekar - The Source of Thought

Just a note. I have always thought it misguided to draw philosophical inferences from either Heisenberg Uncertainty or Gödel Incompleteness. Heisenberg Uncertainty is an essential feature of the mathematics of quantum mechanics. Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems show that an axiomatic system robust enough to generate arithmetic is 1) not capable to proving every true theorem of the system; and 2) incapable of proving its own consistency.

Well, I guess my point was how can we truly know Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is an essential feature? That's why I alluded to Hidden Variable theory. And why does mathematical logic even exist to reveal that any form of axiomatic arithmetic always will contain limitations? 

As I said, I'm not mathematician or even a physicist, but perhaps there's some type of underlying cause for both of these instances. It's as though the Hidden Variable theory is the physicist's instinctive skepticism that perhaps Heisenberg's mathematics in somehow incomplete, likewise Gödel's emphasis of these limitations are perhaps due to something that is not accounted for.

Now, I'm not saying any of that is true, it's simply my opinion.

Well, I guess my point was how can we truly know Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is an essential feature?

The only known formulations of quantum mechanics involve non-commuting observables and uncertainty derives from that in a purely mathematical way.

When quantum mechanics was being developed, physicists were not as mathematically sophisticated as they needed to be for the new theory, but Heisenberg in his original formulation recognized the necessity of using non-commuting observables. The uncertainty principle is a direct result. Max Born recognized Heisenberg's calculations were just matrix algebra,  well known in mathematics long before, and thus matrix mechanics was born.

In 1932 the twenty-seven year old John von Neumann wrote a stunning book, Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, that provided a formulation of quantum mechanics using Hermitian operators in Hilbert Space. It greatly clarified everything and has remained a classic. While his formulation is equivalent to matrix mechanics, it is mathematically far more enlightening. The book caused a revolution in theoretical physics. In this book von Neumann discusses the uncertainty relations and remarks that, while non-intuitive, they do not in fact conflict in any way with classical experience. Our classical intuition is wrong, but not the experimental results.

And why does mathematical logic even exist to reveal that any form of axiomatic arithmetic always will contain limitations?

I cannot understand the meaning of this question at all.

Gödel's results are of a radically different kind. His assumptions are quite modest and his conclusions not the least bit paradoxical. The results have been known and studied now for eighty years with the result that they are no longer surprising. Paul Cohen's result on the continuum hypothesis is fifty years old and is well understood.

You know, in the same vein that Jonathan Chang says in a post above, "Well pardon my insolence, but I think Michio Kaku is demonstrably wrong in this instance," but then humbly adds, "or rather that he is deliberately vague," in a very similar fashion, I express my opinion.

It's a safe bet that Jonathan Chang is probably not a theoretical physicist, and it's likely none of us are, but nevertheless he retains his skepticism over Kaku's comment despite the fact that Michio Kaku is a world-renowned physicist, graduated summa cum laude at Harvard University in 1968 and was first in his physics class.

Well, as laymen and as atheists, etc., we're aware that science is this painstaking process of assimilating nature, it's constantly proving itself wrong, etc. Likewise, the mathematics involved in describing nature doesn't always stand to years of scrutiny. There are physicists that believe that Einstein's "Theory of Relativity" actually breaks down at the center of a black hole. The mathematics ceases to make sense that that point.

Likewise, I've mentioned the Hidden variable theory which is espoused by those physicists who believe that quantum mechanics is unfinished. That a complete model would not include any uncertainty that would lead to indeterminism. It's a skeptical intuition that there may be hidden factors that may be cause for this indeterminism.

Now, I would never even pretend to know the mathematics behind Gödel's incompleteness theorems, and perhaps you've worked 'em out, but if there's "inherent limitations" in all arithmetical axiomatic systems, perhaps it's not a limitation within the system itself, but a limitation inherent within our logic itself or perhaps even the human mind.

Perhaps I'm more lay than yourself, but there is a metaphor in eastern philosophy regarding the notion of Brahman, the "ultimate reality" as described in Hinduism. It's said that Brahman is an unbroken wholeness that is never the object of its own knowledge. They also call this non-duality which is the complete absence of duality. That absence of the separation of "I" and "thou," the "you" as separate from the "universe." Just as a knife cannot cut itself, a fire cannot burn itself, light never illuminates itself, the eye cannot see itself… It's always an endless mystery to itself. Could it be that this principle applies to Heisenberg's concepts as well as Gödel's?

Now, I understand that this may be a false analogy, nevertheless despite the fact that I do not understand in mathematical verbatim Gödel's incompleteness theorems, I only express my opinion in the same vein that Chang challenged Kaku's statement.

Skepticism and challenge to authority are good things when they are based on understanding. Rarely does any major new scientific claim appear without disagreement from others in the field. Such challenges are always more than just opinion. They are specific and draw their validity from knowledge of the field. They may indicate the need for further research and new experiments.

In your suggestion that hidden variables may eliminate Heisenberg uncertainty or that the Gödel incompleteness theorems may be wrong, I do not find evidence, convincing reasoning, or deep understanding of what is involved that would lend credence to your notion.

First you must understand what it is you are challenging and then you need to offer evidence to support your ideas.

Sure, I understand that, and of course, but by definition "hidden variables" alludes to something that, as of yet, we cannot measure or prove. It's often said that of M-theory that we cannot prove M-theory or superstring theory because in cosmology an experiment would be very difficult to perform. You'd have to literally create a baby universe, and as far as contemporary scientific experiments go, that's currently not possible.

So due to lack of experimental data, the theoretical physicist cannot rely on the Scientific Method, and instead has to make huge extrapolations governed, of course, by logic and reason.

However, having said all that, I don't think it takes a theoretical physicist to recognize that a lot of this is unfinished work. I'm not speaking of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle in particular, but I suppose Einstein's "unfinished work." The so-called UFT (unified field theory) or maybe even the ToE or GUT.

I'm not a nihilist, especially not a solipsist, but just as Einstein could not accept that "God plays dice," I've an intuition in myself that cannot accept it, either. Maybe I have different reasons for this intuition than Einstein. Perhaps you're familiar  somewhat with my output here at AN, and I've recently wrote an extensive blog on this point-of-view, and I do realize that intuition and the raw data of experience can be misleading, but I'm not referring to subtle feelings or even the type of profound experiences one receives when viewing a grand waterfall, but something quite different. It's espoused at "EgoDeath.com," etc. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. I do get your point, and it is a very valid point, if you're going to be skeptical, you must have the understanding and evidence in your favor. Is my point-of-view a delusion? Perhaps, but it's still something I cannot deny, and it's also something many people throughout millennia have experienced.

If you're interested, I'll link to my blog below.

Perennial Philosophy

In recent years the possibility of entirely explaining quantum mechanics through local hidden variables has been ruled out. Non-local hidden variables are far less intuitive but quantum entanglement requires them.

A scientific theory to be completely satisfying must do at least two things: 1) satisfactorily account for all the things already observed and 2) make predictions that can be tested, at least in theory, through experiment. One thing it need not do is fit human intuition. A very good example is Feynman's path integral formulation of quantum mechanics. It produces the right answers and led to significant further advances, but remains highly non-intuitive.

For most of us intuition has developed out of everyday experience, that is to say, experience localized in space and time at relatively slow speeds within temperature variation that is small. It does not extend to great extents of time and space, speeds at which relativistic effects obtain, or exceedingly high temperatures.

The history of science could well be written as a process of overcoming intuition with reason developed out of careful and unbiased observation.

The psychologist William James had mystical experiences from inhaiing nitrous oxide, experiences which he was convinced were significant. He published a short paper in Mind in 1882 and mentions his experiences in his celebrated book, The Varieties of Religious Experience.

The paper is available online:


In the book James notes that individuals having mystical experiences are affected so strongly that they cannot ever believe that what they have experienced is not real and a portal to ultimate and universal truth. He seems to have felt that way about his own intoxication with nitrous oxide although he does note that the insights are not permanent.

I know that classical Hidden Variable theories have been ruled out, but there are other forms that haven't been entirely dismissed as in Bohm's Hidden variable theory, and yet there are other physicists who claim they have proof that quantum theory is a done deal when the entire thing is still indeterminate, unpredictable, etc. So, I don't know. Go figure.

As for intuition. I'm not referring to a vague or subtle "gut feeling" when speaking about intuition . I'm talking about the intuition that arises out of the so-called "religious experience." I am familiar with the work of William James, and in retrospect, I cannot believe I forgot to mention him in my blog. I'm going to have to edit it now.

James' interest with nitrous oxide and peyote was simply because those were the only methods known to the western world to engage in these altered states. The knowledge about ayahuasca (DMT), mushrooms (psilocybin), etc. hadn't surfaced 'til well after his death.

While James never really got into the topic of intuition particularly, other mystics like Yogananda Paramahansa seemed to emphasizes it quite greatly, and perhaps James did in his own way through an indirect reference by calling it a "religious experience" with allusions to "God" and so forth.

Yogananda once said, "Intuition is the soul's power to know God." This intuition inside the mystical experience gives you the impression of omniscience. I sort of go over this in the blog, but it's not intellectual in any sense of the word as in you couldn't be asked any intellectual question while you're having this experience, and be able to answer. It seems to be purely intuitive.

I found this page on the internet just now that sort of goes over this stuff. I mean, you don't have to view it, but I found the information to be relevant to this phenomenon.

Yogananda Paramahansa - Intuition

Another name I mention, however, is the work of Richard M. Bucke who influenced William James. Bucke wrote about his own experiences of what he called "Cosmic consciousness" instead of "religious experience," and historical figures he believed to have experienced this phenomenon in consciousness such as JesusSaint Paul,PlotinusDanteFrancis BaconWilliam BlakeBuddha, and Ramakrishna.

What I've noticed is a lot of these mystics and sages or people who claim to have had this "mystical experience" always seem to point towards a "hard determinism." After all, what else could 'ego death' mean if it doesn't mean the realization that you are not the author of your actions?

In my own experience, this is something that I hadn't even thought about in my life until I had this experience for myself. Prior to that, I could have cared less about religion or philosophy, etc. I mean, I dabbled as a pothead teenager, but was never obsessed as I am now after having this experience. 

And, in fact, I felt that the message or perhaps one aspect of the message was one of "no free will," and so I even took the time to Google this to see if anyone else was getting this impression, and to my surprise at the time, I found plenty of accounts of such experiences.

I thought all this intensely interesting, and I find it strange that more atheists are not into this. I think it has the potential to answer a lot of these religious conundrums, and I can see why James thought it of utmost importance. If it's "temporary," it's only 'cause this experience is temporary. The notion of Savikalpa samadhi in Hinduism can describe this somewhat. It's like gold dust running through your fingers and it fades away in the same way a dream fades. You're witness to this seemingly immense and incomprehensible "reality," but then it fades and you can barely grab ahold of anything from the experience.

Anyway, it's late, and there's more I wanted to say about that, but I suppose I'll save it for another post.

…other physicists who claim they have proof that quantum theory is a done deal when the entire thing is still indeterminate, unpredictable, etc.

That seems to me an inaccurate description of what physicists believe. First of all quantum mechanics makes very exact predictions and despite its non-intuitive nature provides an excellent description of the segment of reality to which it applies.

Second, although in retirement I follow these things at quite a distance, my impression is that no one expects to find a replacement for quantum mechanics that eliminates the uncertainty principle. In fact in his book Nothingness, German physicist Henning Genz says explicitly

"Indeed we have to conclude that there cannot be a deeper theory at the basis of quantum mechanics—a theory that would be able to predict the precise result of every measurement of a particle's location."

As far as I can tell, that is the widespread consensus.

That book looks like a very interesting read. I'm going to have to assume that you own that one. You know, on Google, you can search for an exact phrase by putting it in quotations, and I did that to your quote and only two instances came up. The actual page that in which this text appears in Google books, and the Atheist Nexus page that this quote is mentioned, i.e. your post.

From the page, it's said that these determined probabilities have become extremely accurate, although not perfectly certain. Perhaps you're familiar with Hawking's notion of "adequate determinism."

This is the idea that quantum indeterminacy can be ignored for most macroscopic events due to quantum decoherence.  So, he believes that libertarian free will is an illusion, and instead what we have at best is compatibilistic free will which is nevertheless determined. I'll quote Hawking: 

 "The microscopic world of quantum mechanics is one of determined probabilities. That is, quantum effects rarely alter the predictions of classical mechanics, which are quite accurate (albeit still not perfectly certain) at larger scales.[24] Something as large as an animal cell, then, would be "adequately determined" (even in light of quantum indeterminacy)."

Okay, that's all based on consensus, as you said, now for some wishful thinking, and if that puts you off, you might want to stop reading at this point.

The notion arising out of the mystical state seems to be one of predeterminism, so if we posit for a moment that this is the case, then in the double-split experiment, for instance, these photons that are shot one by one against a screen and seem to land in different spots each time, but nevertheless create an interference pattern that resembles waves.

As this single photon is fired,  the distribution of its collisions with the target can be calculated reliably, and although it's not certain, its likelihood of where it may hit can be determined.

The problem I've always had with this is that whenever you hear about this experiment, the forces that create this interference pattern is the one thing that is out of control of the experiment. Is it something within the electromagnetism of the photon itself for cause of this interference pattern? Is it gravitational waves within the particle? Is it external gravity itself? Are there other fundamental forces at play? Is it a combination of all these things? There's too many complexities to be accounted for in the experiment to yield any satisfying result despite the fact that physicists try and keep things simple as possible in these experiments, and I didn't even mention the observer's influence on these experiments (as if it weren't complicated enough). Could it be that if we understood all these forces that cause this interference and are present in this experiment, we could then predict perfectly where a photon may collide on the screen instead of only predicting precise probable outcomes?

It's like the quantum fluctuation in a coin toss. Could one really account the momentum that arises out of the spin of every subatomic particles around the nucleus of an atom or the any momentum that might come out of the quantum of chaos of each subatomic particle, etc.?

I've actually heard of a coin flipper machine that'd hit a coin with a specific momentum on a specific point on the coin, and lo and behold, the coin would always land on a certain side each time, but anyway, that's beside the point.

It's a tough call for human beings to make, and the topic of "free will" certainly aims to address it. I mean, if we knew the answers to these questions, if someone could come up with the equations of the unified field theory, then we'd know for sure how "determined" we are, wouldn't we? 

Tyson made an interesting comment once. Perhaps you've seen the video, but he spoke about a "fascinatingly disturbing thought" where he posited a species more evolved than human beings. He made the comment that this higher evolved species would "intuit" string theory. You see, I've become convinced through a powerful intuition that occurs in the mystical experience that everything is truly predetermined, but intellectually because of all this quantum madness, it hasn't really caught on. I suppose that's why I always hold this doubt in skepticism towards modern quantum mechanics, but as I said, that's just me and perhaps it's merely wishful thinking, but it's something I cannot seem to deny due to having such an experience.

Neils deGrass Tyson - Fascinatingly Disturbing Thought



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