Class Warfare Blog

May 16, 2020

Oh, Boy, I Never Thought of This Before

Filed under: History,Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:31 am
Tags: , ,

Like many of you I have been binge watching things available on cable TV services. I ran across a British series, Quark Science, on Amazon Prime that I have been enjoying, and even learned a thing or two. The episode I watched last night was on entropy and chaos theory and as they went into explaining chaos theory, I had quite a string of revelations.

For those of you who haven’t considered chaos theory it basically describes systems with multiple parts that contain feedback, which is basically all natural systems, and that such systems are inherently chaotic in that they cannot be predicted. The reason being is that they are very sensitive to the “initial conditions” and minor variations in those initial conditions affect substantially the final outcome. This is where the “Butterfly Effect” inherent in the question “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” comes from (and all of its other variants over the years).

In any case, I had a number of revelations from this excursion through science for the people.

#1 Chaos theory explains why determinism isn’t a possibility. In the centuries long free will debates there is often a road block in the form of the question as to whether we live in a deterministic universe, or not. If we actually live in a “clockwork universe” are all of our choices determine by stimuli and responses that are perfectly predictable? If we do live in a deterministic universe, then free will is an illusion. We are just robots responding to the stimuli we receive. Well, chaos theory shows us that we cannot live in a deterministic universe, because minor variations in any system can produced vastly different outcomes.

#2 Predicting the future is not possible. Since determinism isn’t possible, there is no basis, no cause-effect chain, that allows predicting of the future. As ancient people, we were obsessed with predicting the future. The reason was if you could predict what was going to happen, you could protect yourself from adverse changes and take advantage of the others. The Romans, for example, were very interested in Judaism because of their written records of prophecies (and their claims of accuracy). Chaos theory explains why weather prediction is about as good as it will get right now.

#3 Emergent properties make a lot more sense now. Emergent properties are properties that break any and all causal relationships established before then emerged. Chaos theory makes these more understandable.

#4 Chaos theory explains why the universe is the way it is. The laws of physics describe a transition during the Big Expansion of the universe, aka “The Big Bang,” from its initial almost all energy state to the formation of particles and then atoms. Those laws indicate that there should have been equal amounts of matter and anti-matter created. But our universe is almost all matter . . . where is all the antimatter? Why the asymmetry between the creation of matter and antimatter? The scenario goes like this: as the particles formed, there would be equal amounts of matter and anti-matter which would self-annihilate and produce light and so the universe would become an expanding sphere of light, The End. But the data show that a part per billion excess of matter over anti-matter would yield the universe we know now. In that scenario, the particles would form and the matter and anti-matter particles would annihilate, producing an immense flask of light (later to become the Cosmic Background Radiation) but a part per billion concentration of matter would be left over, enough to create all of the stars, planets and galaxies in the universe.

But where could a 1 ppb difference between the two forms of matter come from? Well, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and chaos theory almost guarantee these two forms would not be created in exactly equal amounts, and voila! (Note To grasp the size of a part per billion, take quite a large swimming pool and fill it with pinto beans. Then throw in one black bean. Stir. The concentration of black beans in the mixture is roughly 1 ppb.)

Interestingly, we don’t really know which form of matter survived. We call the one that survived matter and the one that did not anti-matter, but since their properties are opposites of one another, we just really know they are opposites, not which one we have.

There is much, much more that the chaos theory helps clarify, such as the self-organization of matter and so on. All of these things fly, splat!, into the face of our limited thinking. Most of us, me included, are still immersed in the “clockwork universe” thinking we inherited from Victorians. We still think of the world around us as being mechanisms, complex mechanism for sure, but much like the gears and levers in a mechanical device. Scientists have passed beyond that previous view and moved on but many of the rest of us, me included, haven’t followed because thinking about such things is hard! Really hard.

But programs, or rather programmes, like Quark Science make them much, much easier to understand. I recommend the series to you.

And, since I am in speculation mode, I suspect that my clinging to the clockwork universe paradigm is an artifact of my education. As scientists we are taught classical sciences before we are taught “modern sciences.” Our early thinking patterns are determined by the paradigms of classical science. This is why we find the transition to modern science difficult. And, if one goes on to study ancient science, it is hard to learn also because they were thinking quite differently from how we think now.


  1. I think you’re wrong, but only half way. Determinism is real, but the amount of increasing interactions makes prediction impossible. The outcome of one ball falling on a mousetrap is pretty easy to predict. But, when we scale up, and add time…


    Comment by john zande — May 16, 2020 @ 10:59 am | Reply

    • I saw that same demonstration played out in a program on determinism/free will. Couldn’t find *that* one, but the above works even if it is for something else 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by john zande — May 16, 2020 @ 11:00 am | Reply

      • That’s the point, unless you know what that first action is … exactly, then the uncertainty in all of the following steps just balloons. This is why there are necessarily many parts engaged and that feedback is part of the process. Now, I am not claiming I understand this profoundly because, well, I do not. I am a chemist, not a physicist, but I would love to hear your take if you watch the video.


        Comment by Steve Ruis — May 16, 2020 @ 12:10 pm | Reply

        • Balloon, yes, but theoretically possible to predict. Of course, there’s no chance in hell of predicting every possible outcome. So we can say determinism is real, but it doesn’t help anyone, so we might as well just act like it isn’t.


          Comment by john zande — May 16, 2020 @ 3:18 pm | Reply

          • It seems to devolve down to my personal philosophy, being proven many years after I formulated it. Are you ready? here it is: *What is is; shit happens*. This is the sum total of my conclusions regarding philosophy from 50+ years of study and consideration.

            On Sat, May 16, 2020 at 3:18 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


            Liked by 2 people

            Comment by Steve Ruis — May 17, 2020 @ 1:23 pm | Reply

  2. I’m with John. Chaos theory and complex systems, in and of themselves, don’t rule out determinism, but they do add snowballing uncertainty to any attempt to model systems predictively. At best, we can only model the possible states the system might go into up, with the uncertainty increasing rapidly until the variances are so wide it’s pointless.


    Comment by SelfAwarePatterns — May 16, 2020 @ 3:12 pm | Reply

    • But that is the point. Nothing can be predicted and therefore determined *in all cases* as is the claims for a deterministic universe make. No god can set the “mechanism” in motion and have knowledge of what will come of it. Too many systems are capable of chaotic behavior and substantial uncertainty.

      On Sat, May 16, 2020 at 3:12 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — May 17, 2020 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

      • I suppose you could argue that the distinction between deterministic in principle and deterministic in practice is invalid. But just because a complex system can’t be modeled to high precision arbitrarily far into the future, doesn’t mean there can’t be useful predictive models of it.

        For example, I live in a hurricane region. It’s impossible to predict where a hurricane will go with perfect accuracy. But it’s still possible to get a 3-5 day probability cone, which remains far better than nothing. But to produce the probability cone, models based on an understanding of atmospheric phenomena, a deterministic cause and effect understanding, are still required.


        Comment by SelfAwarePatterns — May 17, 2020 @ 3:24 pm | Reply

        • Philosophically, a determinist believes that everything happens because of cause and effect chains. I have argued in the past the same as you that in many of these chains there is error that accumulates that makes exact dependence upon those chains for predictions or for a proof against us having free will. For example, the more parts in a car, the more things can go wrong. This does not mean that one cannot make probabilistic predictions or any predictions at all, it is just that there are limits upon such things.

          I have expanded my argument further to claim that a deterministic universe is basically impossible … *as philosophers state it*. Their thinking, I suspect, was influenced by the ideas of Victorian era scientist who thought that all we need do is measure more and more carefully and all of the mechanisms of nature would become known to us, like reverse engineering a computer chip.

          So exact predictions of the future are not allowed, but probabilistic ones are and as I mentioned, our current ability to predict the weather is probably about as good as it is going to get.

          The weather people contributed mightily to chaos theory by discovering that no matter what kind of weather prediction algorithm are used, they are very, very sensitive to the conditions at the start of the simulation and slight variations in them produce vastly different forecasts. Same is true for climate change simulations although those have been far more accurate that everyone gave them credit for. They were criticized by the know nothings for being too pessimistic and now we find that the changes they predicted are happening much faster that predicted. (Early predictions suffered from poor input data (extrapolated numbers). When those simulations were re-run with actual data they were really quite accurate, so the al;gorithms were good, it was just garbage in–garbage out.

          On Sun, May 17, 2020 at 3:24 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Steve Ruis — May 17, 2020 @ 9:32 pm | Reply

  3. Ah, shit. Do we need to get teeshirts made now?


    Comment by Steve Ruis — May 17, 2020 @ 9:32 pm | Reply

  4. I have seen the first couple of episodes of Quark Science and I love it. I just need more time to catch the rest.


    Comment by shelldigger — May 18, 2020 @ 1:02 pm | Reply

    • ;o)

      On Mon, May 18, 2020 at 1:02 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — May 18, 2020 @ 2:12 pm | Reply

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