The Web That Weaves (Itself)

This is a discussion on The Web That Weaves (Itself) within the General Discussions forums, part of the Community Boards category; First, a little background: The idea first occurred to me many years ago while I was reading Charlottes Web (a ...

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    Guest Sebastiani's Avatar
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    The Web That Weaves (Itself)

    First, a little background: The idea first occurred to me many years ago while I was reading Charlottes Web (a wonderful book, by the way), and has since left a great impression on me.

    At one point in the story, Charlotte (a spider, of course) tells her friend Wilbur (a piglet) that she will be "going away" (eg: die) soon, and then asks him to safely transport her "Magnum Opus" back to her web. A few days later, Wilbur discovers that the "cargo" was actually Charlottes offspring. In due time, each of the little hatchlings build themself a "wind-riding" net, bid their farewells, and depart (save for a few that stay behind to keep Wilbur company).

    What struck me was the fact that the spiders were simply born "knowing" how to spin a web. It just seemed impossible. Where is this knowledge stored? How is it transferred from generation to generation? As I grew older and learned about biological processes, reproduction, etc, the mystery only became more and more puzzling to me. None of these provided much insight into what mechanism(s) might be involved.

    Some people I've discussed the idea with have said that the information must be stored in the DNA, or as a complex chemical process, or some other combination of "known" physical processes. Yet, I am convinced that the principle must be rooted in something much more fundamental, if incalculable.

    Now, the irony: Recently, I was doing some geneological research and happened upon a paper written by my great-great-great grandfather (direct paternal) over one hundred years ago. Titled "Maternal Impressions", it discusses the possibility of the transmission of thought during pregnancy! As evidence, he describes several peculiar cases that he observed first-hand, as well as numerous accounts from others. He draws no real conclusions, though, but it is nontheless interesting that he chose that particular subject. Strange indeed, I thought, that we should both be so fascinated by this mysterious phenomena! A case of "paternal impressions", perhaps?

    Incidentally, over time I have begun to believe that this very "force" (or "field") may even be the answer to the riddle of quantum mechanics; Instead of assuming a truly "random" universe where "reality" emanates from "collapsing wave-functions", we propose that volition itself is the root of the uncertainty, and that it also obeys the Maxwell-Boltzmann probability distribution. Due to it's instrinsic nature, it's precise (deterministic) calculation also cannot be performed, and thus it is completely compatible with quantum mechanics! In fact, if this is true then the obvious conclusion is that randomness and determinism are really just a duality; both are equally valid and can be appropriately chosen by convention (as with the particle/wave duality). Moreover, it allows us to finally reconcile physics with "force of will", as we no longer have to "pretend" that conciousness plays no role in physical interaction. Best of all, the argument of God vs. Science is no longer an issue; Since volition is recognized as a first-class physical principle, we can leave it up to the religous astute (as well as the fanatics) to debate amongst themselves the implications!

    Anyway, I think the volition field would be a most plausible medium (with physical basis) for information such as intuition, knowledge, and understanding to "flow" through (even if it helps little to grasp the underlying mechanisms), providing a possible explanation of how things such as "impressions" might be transmitted from ancestor to ancestor.

    I could be way off, of course.

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    l'Anziano DavidP's Avatar
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    Yet, I am convinced that the principle must be rooted in something much more fundamental, if incalculable.
    God

    I will actually refrain from discussing religious aspects of this (because I know how heated religious discussions can get on this board).

    In regards to the science of it all: science still has a long way to go. We really honestly don't know very much as a human race, even with the amazing leaps we have made over the centuries, there is still so much out there yet to discover.

    In terms of the seemingly-unforseen-knowledge-passed-from-parent-to-child problem, can our current knowledge of biology, biomechanics, and dna really answer the question? It might be able to, and I just don't know enough about the subjects On the other hand, it might not be able to, and we still have a long ways to go before we discover those secrets.
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    Registered User whiteflags's Avatar
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    Yeah I don't know what storage instinct takes up, but I seem to remember that psychology sort of had an answer, as how some of our natural behaviors as humans are like that of animals. We all share an instict to find and protect a specific habitat.

    I don't find anything odd about DNA that can make a central nervous system also being capable of making one with instinctual knowledge.... maybe the brains of living things execute first boot programs to learn it

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    Guest Sebastiani's Avatar
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    God

    I will actually refrain from discussing religious aspects of this (because I know how heated religious discussions can get on this board).
    In fact, I invite that discussion here. I'd like to know what some religious opinions might be about this.

    Yeah I don't know what storage instinct takes up, but I seem to remember that psychology sort of had an answer, as how some of our natural behaviors as humans are like that of animals. We all share an instict to find and protect a specific habitat.
    A few years ago, a friend of mine convinced me to take in a puppy she'd adopted a puppy from a shelter (some friend!), as she was moving out of state. It was an Australian Blue Heeler. Well, at the time I had a very small yard, and this turned out to be a very bad thing, actually - apparently, it wasn't nearly enough room for the new dog. He would literally *race* along the length of the fence, round and round for hours on end! Besides that, he was hyperactive to the extreme, and would often 'nip' at people, for no apparent reason. Well, long story short, he eventually escaped by leaping the fence (which was 6 foot high!).

    Then one day I was watching a show on PBS which featured a story on Blue Heelers. Interestingly, they showed that you could take a young dog that had never been exposed to sheep/cattle, and they would *immediately* start 'herding'. Just by instinct. I even recognized the similarity between the demeanor, stance, and incredible running style of these dogs and the one that I had briefly owned.

    How much information would that represent, anyway? Well, consider this: The DNA sequence of a dog is roughly 3 billion base pairs. Since each of these can assume one of four values, this amounts to two bits per base. So in total, about 700 MB of data. Considering the complexity involved in building just the physical configuration of a multicellular organism, that probably doesn't leave too much room for things such as "chase sheep" or "run like the devil", does it?

    Incidentally, I just realized a very 'simple' experiment that could be used to determine whether or not the information is stored in the DNA: Sequence the genome for a particular creature. Reconstruct the DNA sequence mechanically and grow the gamete in a test tube. Observe behavior.

    The only restriction would be that you wouldn't be allowed to use any organic materials derived from that particular creature (to ensure a 'clean' result), which of course means you'd have make an artificial womb. That may be prohibitive for many creatures, but I would think that for something like a spider, this wouldn't be extremely difficult (I could be wrong, though).

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    (?<!re)tired Mario F.'s Avatar
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    I'm not sure exactly where, but I remember in the past learning about such terms as "cell memory" which essentially means the coded instructions necessary for autonomous operation. In a sense, we are filled by baby web-weaving spiders which where born with all the necessary knowledge on how to go about their business.

    Individually cells may not do much, but if we think at the animal scale with millions, billions, trillions of cells, things may start to shape up. Especially if we think of the cells in the animal's brain which were born from their mother and father DNA; a strand that has been specializing, shaping up and perfecting itself over the last millions of years. And today much more capable and producing bug-free and efficient coded instructions than in the past.

    The question is thus... can "cell memory" at the grand scale of trillions of individuals be the source of Charllote babies knowledge?

    ...

    Another interesting proposal:

    At the human scale, a web weaving spider is an impressive animal. However, the action is very mechanical and predictable. I shouldn't be very hard to code a robot to weave a web following the exact same pattern as real spiders. The instructions contained in such a program would probably never even come close to match a spider's single cell DNA storage capacity. Much less its whole brain.
    The programmer’s wife tells him: “Run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread. If they have eggs, get a dozen.”
    The programmer comes home with 12 loaves of bread.


    Originally Posted by brewbuck:
    Reimplementing a large system in another language to get a 25% performance boost is nonsense. It would be cheaper to just get a computer which is 25% faster.

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    Unregistered User Yarin's Avatar
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    Neat. I've don't think I've heard of the idea of instinctual knowledge being passed on like that before. It's an intriguing idea. But I doubt it really is that way, I mean think about it, how would that work for birds? The chick's brain doesn't even to start develop until after it's long left the mother.

    I think instinct is stored in the DNA. You mention how a dog's DNA is the equivalent of about 700 MiB, but that really doesn't mean much, it really is comparing apples with oranges. I agree that we know very little of what there is to know. I also think that quite a bit of what "we know" is no more than a desperate attempt at trying to explain the unknown.

    Unless you were to think that the god gives animals and/or people their instincts in a supernatural manner (which I don't), one's theistic views probably don't matter much.
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    Guest Sebastiani's Avatar
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    I'm not sure exactly where, but I remember in the past learning about such terms as "cell memory" which essentially means the coded instructions necessary for autonomous operation. In a sense, we are filled by baby web-weaving spiders which where born with all the necessary knowledge on how to go about their business.

    Individually cells may not do much, but if we think at the animal scale with millions, billions, trillions of cells, things may start to shape up. Especially if we think of the cells in the animal's brain which were born from their mother and father DNA; a strand that has been specializing, shaping up and perfecting itself over the last millions of years. And today much more capable and producing bug-free and efficient coded instructions than in the past.

    The question is thus... can "cell memory" at the grand scale of trillions of individuals be the source of Charllote babies knowledge?
    Very good point, and yes, that is the ultimate question. If it is, then the implications are that some impressive compression principles are being applied to the DNA to achieve so much in so little space.

    It's an intriguing idea. But I doubt it really is that way, I mean think about it, how would that work for birds? The chick's brain doesn't even to start develop until after it's long left the mother.
    Well, the hardest part is explaining the 'how', and I'm not sure there's an easy answer (given the semi-existential nature of my theory). On the other hand, if an experiment such as the one that I proposed earlier were conducted, it would at least allow one to definitively determine if, in fact, it originates from within the DNA or elsewhere (whatever that may turn out to be).

    Unless you were to think that the god gives animals and/or people their instincts in a supernatural manner (which I don't), one's theistic views probably don't matter much.
    The thing is, though, I see nothing supernatural about it. If there is in fact a 'volition field', as understood as a physical principle, then it would be reasonable to think that it may be capable of transmitting information. Indeed, if anyone doubts that it exists then I would ask them to examine and answer the following simple questions:

    1) Who is experiencing at this very moment?
    2) Who else experiences things?
    3) What does not experiences things?

    Here are some typical responses, along with possible comments:

    1) I am.
    - Correct. There is no doubt that conciousness exists, because I can verify that it is occuring right now.
    2) Other people, animals, and possibly plants.
    - Correct. I realize that this state is not unique to me, because I observe it in others.
    3) Everything other than #2.
    - Yet everything in #2 is composed of atoms, so it follows then that it must simply be a configuration of atoms that gives rise to cognition. If this is the case, then if the exact configuration of my body even momentarily (eg: randomly) aligned, say, within the center of the sun, then cognition would necessarily arise per force therein. Thus, the distinction between 'animate' and 'inanimate' may merely be an illusion. Indeed, it may in fact be the case that this force of cognition, or volition, is simply a property of energy itself.

    If cognition is not universal then I would argue that this actually creates bigger dilemma, as we are forced to explain why it is unique for the general case. In a sense, I think this is similar to the geocentric wordview of the last millenia. To wonder that the earth is not the center of the universe actually makes more sense than otherwise, but it was frankly a difficult thing to accept (especially given certain interpretations of Biblical text). [Interesting Trivia: Giordano Bruno was the first person to go on the record to suggest that not only was heliocentricism true (with respect to the Earth), but that the stars did not orbit the sun (it was just a star itself), and that many stars harbored life-bearing planets! He was burned at the stake in 1600.]

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    Malum in se abachler's Avatar
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    Instincts are encoded in DNA, they arise due to genetically determined neural pathways. A great deal of human knowledge is instinctual, such as how to use your eyes to see. It's not some magical field that transmits thought. Your ancestor was either a crackpot or very imaginative, probably both.

    Just as DNA encodes the minute details of e.g. Lobules in the liver, they can also encode fine structure in the neural pathways. Because the function of a neural pathway is largely a result of its structure of interconnections, such encoding can and does encode information. That is why healthy normal people learn to read in largely the same way, through vision, and not through some other sense like smell.
    Last edited by abachler; 10-28-2009 at 04:03 AM.
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    Guest Sebastiani's Avatar
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    Your ancestor was either a crackpot or very imaginative, probably both.
    Actually, he was a 3rd-generation physician and a surgeon (a rare thing in the mid-19th century) with over 30 years of experience at the time he wrote the article. That said, you might say that eccentricity runs in the family, so I won't argue with the 'imaginative' label.

    According to his account, though, only 20 out 2000 of the obstetrical cases he had attended to were notable, and of these only 2 were significant. One case involved a woman who, during delivery asked if the child was deformed. He asked why she thought that it might be and she indicated that during the pregnancy she had obsessed over the sight of her neighbor's amputated arm. Coincidentally, the child was in fact missing a forearm!

    Besides his personal accounts, he relates the anecdotes of other physicians with similar experiences. As I said before, though, he doesn't really speculate about the cause of the phenomena, nor does he insist that it even exists, although he does suggest that the matter warrants further examination/consideration.

    Instincts are encoded in DNA, they arise due to genetically determined neural pathways. A great deal of human knowledge is instinctual, such as how to use your eyes to see.
    Right, well that may indeed be the case, but again, given the limited bandwidth alloted to the DNA molecule, it does beg the question. I mean, the human genome is only around 750 MB. Granted, it's had plenty of time to work out an efficient system, but that's still cutting it pretty close. Hell, the OS I'm running now is like 3 GB (not to mention add-ons).

    It's not some magical field that transmits thought.
    But that's exactly my point. That "magical field" that we call conciousness is quite real. If it has no physical basis, then how is it "attached" to the atoms in your body? No matter what you do or where you go, it is always there. It's inexhaustible, if you think about it.

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    Registered User hk_mp5kpdw's Avatar
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    "Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods."
    -Christopher Hitchens

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    Guest Sebastiani's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hk_mp5kpdw View Post
    Except, all of these merely gloss over the subject and make very vague gestures in the direction of DNA, without revealing much insight. To be sure, I sort of straddle the fence here, because although I'd like to believe that ancestral impressions are related to my theory of the 'volition field', I also recognize that DNA may actually be the carrier. Fact is, if it (the genome) was significantly longer, I would find it a lot more plausible, but as it is, there's a fair chance that there just aren't enough 'bits' to encode everything.

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    l'Anziano DavidP's Avatar
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    That "magical field" that we call conciousness is quite real. If it has no physical basis, then how is it "attached" to the atoms in your body?
    I'd like to open up a spiritual vein in the discussion if I could. Coming from a Biblical standpoint, all things were created "spiritually" before they were created "physically".

    One of the key indicators of this is found in the 2nd chapter of Genesis which states:

    "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew" (verses 4-5, italics added)

    Another key indicator of this is found in the 11th chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews:

    "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." (verse 3, Italics added).

    Other scriptural references which I will not quote, but are excellent sources for finding out more information include: Proverbs 8:22-31 and Jeremiah 1:5.

    So my point in all of this: Biblical sources tell us that all things existed as spiritual "matter" before becoming physical. Some would call this a "supernatural theory", but I beg to differ. Is it that hard to believe that there are types of matter or elements or simply things that we cannot observe yet? Of course not. I believe this to be that "hook" gets consciousness to our body, and of course I recognize that not all will agree, but that is my belief.
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    Guest Sebastiani's Avatar
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    Thumbs up

    Excellent choice of scripture, David! Proverbs 8:22-31 was especially relevant. That whole principle of 'constant illumination of spirit' is indeed the root of inquiry that leads us to the spiritual path. People tend to ignore this due to their preference for ideas and conceptions, but by doing so, I think, we lose sight of the original meaning.

    All things considered, though, I think it would benefit us to realize that just as the material world originates from the spiritual, the realm of conciousness necessarily influences physical processes (to a much greater degree than some of us are willing to admit, perhaps). The two 'worlds' aren't inherently incompatible.
    Last edited by Sebastiani; 10-28-2009 at 09:33 AM.

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    (?<!re)tired Mario F.'s Avatar
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    We feel the notion of "self", but this does not mean it exists in the way I seem to think we are trying to say here. Consciousness is, first and foremost a complete mystery. Deeply stored in an area of our universe we still cannot touch.

    The moment we try to rationalize it, be through some obscure and unsustainable (because not demonstrable) theory, or through religious texts, we risk losing track of the discussion in here. Which was, I seem to recall, how is that baby spiders know how to weave webs -- or web, for the language purists

    ...

    I enjoy your vision Sebastiani, but its important for you to refrain from calling it a theory. It cannot be one until you are able to apply the scientific method to it. Otherwise we will not be talking science anymore. Instead we go into the realm of philosophy where things can indeed be become blurry and indistinct. There's been enough damage already done to science, to the point that the typical 21st Century man feels he has all the right to start discrediting it (remember a recent discussion on bipolar magnets?). What you have instead is a postulate. A elaborate explanation for some event completely produced by your intellect. It's a simple rationalization. And nothing could be more flawed or more inspiring. Flawed: Did our rationalization of the sun moving around the earth prove to be right? Inspiring: When did Pythagoras postulate that the earth must be round became a theory? When 2 centuries later Eratosthenes applied the scientific method to it.

    As for the practical purposes of the discussion of "self", what to say of people suffering from serious mental diseases who seem to reveal a complete lack of the "self" and yet perform menial tasks? What to say of the living world? Plants, at least so far, do not display any evidence of consciousness and more complex organisms there are that could draw us to a similar conclusion (worms, insects, ...). What to say of human newborns who seem to lack any notion of "me" and "them"? What to say of Coma, a dreamless sleep, states of unconsciousness? Where did the "self" go?

    It's very likely that cognition is simply a biological byproduct. An accident waiting to happen if the right conditions are met. These conditions being the right group of cells, the right coded instructions and the right biological interactions between these cells in a part of our body we call brain (but that on another alien species where the coded instructions evolved differenlyt may be in their leg).

    Alter these conditions and the "self" goes away. We observe in our natural world that "cognition" is apparently only possible on highly evolved species. We cannot yet "measure" cognition, so we cannot really say plants aren't cognitive although since they share a similar DNA to ours it is very safe to assume so due to their lack of a brain. But an Ice Worm has a brain and we just simply don't know for sure if this little animal is cognitive. What we do know however is that we are, dogs are, dolphins are, our newborns aren't, but newborn horses are.

    It all seems too tied to particular evolution patterns to be universally explained by one... ok, Theory of The Volition Field.
    Last edited by Mario F.; 10-28-2009 at 09:47 AM.
    The programmer’s wife tells him: “Run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread. If they have eggs, get a dozen.”
    The programmer comes home with 12 loaves of bread.


    Originally Posted by brewbuck:
    Reimplementing a large system in another language to get a 25% performance boost is nonsense. It would be cheaper to just get a computer which is 25% faster.

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    Guest Sebastiani's Avatar
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    I enjoy your vision Sebastiani, but its important for you to refrain from calling it a theory. It cannot be one until you are able to apply the scientific method to it. Otherwise we will not be talking science anymore. Instead we go into the realm of philosophy where things can indeed be become blurry and indistinct. There's been enough damage already done to science, to the point that the typical 21st Century man feels he has all the right to start discrediting it (remember a recent discussion on bipolar magnets?). What you have instead is a postulate.
    Well said, yes. It's definitely just a postulate at this point.

    As for the practical purposes of the discussion of "self", what to say of people suffering from serious mental diseases who seem to reveal a complete lack of the "self" and yet perform menial tasks? What to say of the living world? Plants, at least so far, do not display any evidence of consciousness and more complex organisms there are that could draw us to a similar conclusion (worms, insects, ...). What to say of human newborns who seem to lack any notion of "me" and "them"? What to say of Coma, a dreamless sleep, states of unconsciousness? Where did the "self" go?
    First of all, let me clarify what I mean by 'volition'. It is simply the quality of experiencing, and the root of impulse.

    Consider a plant that is floundering on a rather inert patch of soil. If nearby you install some nutrient-rich soil, the plant will extend in that direction - even the roots on the other side of the plant will reroute it's tendrils. This isn't merely some chemical reaction. This is an effect of volition; the plant is 'seeking' better soil.

    Self, I believe, is yet another effect of volition. First, let's assume that nothing smaller than a cell exhibits volition (but insist for a moment that cells do). The nexus of the collective experience of the cells in a multicellular organism give rise to an identity - a "governor", if you will - which might be thought as a sort of "interference pattern". This ego (identity) maintains things on a macroscopic scale, while the cells manage the microscopic. Now consider a group of multicellular organisms. These in turn represent yet a larger interference pattern - the herd mentality, social organization, what have you. Likewise, these operate on a higher level still (for common good, self-sacrifice, etc, with respect to the community as a whole).

    Beyond that, the nature of ego transcends artificial boundaries. On a particular beautiful day, for example, you may be enjoying a stroll, as a clear wind rustles through the trees, the sun warm and mellow. The birds sing joyfully, dogs play in the park, children laugh, and indeed, there is a pervading sense of contentment "in the air". This feeling of "tenderness" is simply an effect of your oneness with the environment - a sense of identity.

    I realize all of this is almost philosophical, but unfortunately, these things aren't easily measurable using conventional scientific techniques (assuming that it isn't all rubbish, that is)! With respect to physics (and this was my original point, but I'll try to keep it brief), it basically boils down to this:

    During the 18th century, a debate was ignited, quite by accident, by a little thought experiment. In writing a paper on techniques for calculating probabilities, Pierre-Simon Laplace asserted that if an entity were to exist that could know the exact state of the entire system of the universe at a given instant, it would then be able to predict the precise sequence of events that were to follow, for ever more. To be sure, in the context of the paper, he was really just trying to make the point that probablility itself was rooted in causation; that it was not merely that a system was random, but that there would always be a certain level of uncertainty due to the ignorance of preceding causes, and if any said causes were revealed, then that much less uncertainty, and hence all the less probablistic calculations needed. Yet, this inadvertantly raised a very important question (and quite a stir - later to be known as Laplace's Demon). If systems are purely deterministic in nature, then all known physical laws could be applied to predict the system. On the other hand, this necessarily meant that nothing can be affected by free will! The whole matter seemed an impasse.

    Then, in the 19th century, a new theory began to develop that seemed to provide a reasonable alternative. It all began when James Clerk Maxwell discovered that the probability distribution of a confinement of gases followed predictable curve. Later, using Maxwell's results, Maxwell Boltzmann derived new set of statistical laws which included a general equation for entropy: S = K log(W) (where 'K' is a constant, and 'W' is overall probability of a given system). While working on a solution to an important energy relationship, Max Planck realized that Boltzmann's entropy formula enabled him to simplify his equation to E = H F (where 'H' is a constant, and 'F' is the frequency of an electomagnetic signal). Albert Einstein, in turn, use these findings and Boltzmann's entropy formula to describe the photoelectric effect and his famous E = MC^2 relationship. From these, Louis de Broglie discovered that matter shared the same particle-wave duality as light. Finally, Werner Heisenberg determined that the uncertainty of measurement was directly proportional to de Broglie's equations and Planck's Constant. Which brings us back to Maxwell! At this point, probability had become essential to the formulation of Quantum Theory. Consider an electron barrelling toward a measurement device. According to Quantum Mechanics, the electron is essentially a wave function (or rather a superposition of many, taken together). At the moment of impact the superposition of states (the wave function) 'collapses', which is taken to mean that it arbitrarily 'decides' where to appear within some minima and maxima (which 'obeys' the Maxwell Distribution). Strange as it may sound, that is exactly how the process is understood. Note, however, that this is just 'mechanical' randomness - we still haven't really solved the problem of "free will".

    Simply put, my proposal is that 'volition' is the true source of this 'randomness'; that all matter is composed of energy, and all energy is imparted with 'volition'. That is to say, an electron barrelling down a tube has some influence over it's position and velocity, it interactions, and so forth. Thus, we preserve determinism in the strictist sense, eg: the result is what it is - no collapsing wave function, no mere chance, no paradoxical half-dead/half-living felines. On the other hand, "free will" is finally recognized as a first-class field/force, and so yes, we allow even subatomic particles the dignity to decide their own fate! Thus, the two are finally reconciled - Laplace can have his Demon, and Heisenberg his Uncertainty. Principle.

    It all sounds fairly crazy, I know, but consider this: 100 years ago if you were to ask someone if *any* creature other than humans were capable of experience, the majority would have answered "No way!". I predict that within 100 more years, when asked such a question, most will answer "Go ask the proton yourself - I'm busy!".

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