Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why cannot we know the future? Or, can we?

Well, many people might have asked this question many times in life. However, this current blog post is triggered after my friend commented on my previous post “What is Life?” and then said that she “wished” to know some things. I might not be able to provide the answers for all her questions, but I will try to give some pointers. Here is what she commented:

Hey.. Welcome back.. Sateesh.. good post..! now, I understand the double-slit experiment of quantum mechanics.. coming to the core insights you have given here.. Convincing..!! but, why can not one organism know.. its next transformation? I wish to know… if possible.. :-) And, why doesn’t every organism understand what other communicates? How would it be if everything can be understood? How can one develop such skills? Hehe… all weird questions... right? but, I wish to get answers.. :-)

Of course, we can know the so called transformations and know the future. However, there are two complex problems with that. One, we do not have awareness about all the forces involved in any action. We just know about the four forces: gravitational force, electro-magnetic force, strong and weak nuclear forces. Even if we knew about all these forces, we need to evaluate the infinite number of permutations and combinations that are affecting a single system at any given point in time. Let’s say you throw a ball into air and decide to predict where it would fall, you need certain data regarding some of the forces affecting the ball.

1. You have to evaluate your strength with which you threw the ball
2. The weight of the ball
3. The surface structure of the ball
4. The angle at which you threw
5. The air resistance
6. The temperature of the environment
7. The gravitational force of your environment; if you threw it from moon ;-)
8. The composition of different gases in the environment because different gases have different fluid dynamics

Now, your ability to predict where the ball will fall will depend on the accuracy of the data you have regarding these parameters, and then, the formula that you have to apply to get to the solution. Very interestingly, these two aspects reflect two important elements in life. The accurate data represents Knowledge, and the formula represents your Understanding of the Laws of Nature: knowing what it is and then knowing how it interacts with what is.

In life, generally, we miss either one of these elements. Sometimes, we have the wisdom but do not understand “how things happen like that”. We all know that a cyclone or storm will bring lightning and thunder; this is Knowledge. But, how many of us know exactly why lightning strikes only when there are storms or cyclone? Simple example, but not many of us know the intricate details of it.

Sometimes we might know how things happen, but we do not have the data. For instance, while I was first trying to learn how to play flute, I saw others playing flute and I knew that if I blow into the embouchure, it will produce beautiful sound. I knew how the air interacts with the flute and produces sound. But I did not know how much air to blow or at what angle to blow.

Now, to make life more interesting, there is another element, which is the “Why” of it. Even when I know how much to blow and at what angle to blow, I do not know why blowing at that angle produces sound. Advanced physicist might explain me that when the longitudinal mechanical waves that are triggered from the vibration of the air touching the edge of flute, it creates certain vibration in the wood at certain frequency and amplitude and wavelength and it produces the experience called sound at our ear drums. Wonderful! But, why does such and such interaction produce such an experience at all? These kinds of questions, irritating as they might seem, lead to the cliff from where you will find a seemingly endless abyss. It’s your choice to take the plunge into it or not. No one can tell what you will find if you plunge, or what you will miss if you don’t. You will know, only by jumping. But, you know that jumping is a risk. We have been conditioned to avoid risks from childhood, and probably even from prenatal period.

This is where Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle sneaks in. Who can tell whether you will jump or not? If I have to predict about certain event which involves you, I have to also know whether you will jump or not. But I do not know that since your choice is totally yours and it may not have any reasoning; it might just be pure “Intent” to which I do not have access. Then, can I predict?

I know I started the answer by saying that “Of course, we can…” I still stand by that statement. You can know provided you have both the Knowledge and Understanding of the complex interactions, which many cultures have been calling as “Wisdom”. To know all the forces in the universe, you should have access to the entire universe. For that, you need to communicate with the entire universe. How will you communicate to someone without knowing their language? Do you know how your brain communicates to your hands when you are typing? You don’t know. But you know that it communicates. You take it for granted because you believe that your brain and hands are part of the “you” and hence it is no big deal. So, when you realize that you are part of this universe just like your brain and hands are part of “you”, you will know how to communicate. This realization cannot be in the realms of belief. It has to be your “reality”. It cannot be something that you hope, believe, or accept. It has to be something that you “Know”.

How to develop such skills? Well, there is nothing to develop or learn here. In fact, you have to un learn whatever our conditioning has taught us from centuries. You have to break the boundaries of your ego and stop believing that you exist independently. A star across few million light years is as much a part of yourself as your hand!

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