Deterministic Watches and Indeterministic Watches
Are most people determinists?
Determinism seems to be a default view of the world. It’s insanity to repeat the same thing and expect a different result. Right?
In a world of computers, cars, rockets, etc. Yes. The same action always produces the same result. Unless …
Unless the computer glitches. Unless the car fails to start. Unless the rocket explodes. Unless … . Unless all sorts of mechanical problems. And unless there’s an element of indeterminism.
What is indeterminism? Indeterminism says that sometimes the same action in the same context does not produce the same result. This is contrasted with determinism, which says the same action in the same context always produces the same result. How can indeterminism be? Let’s give an example.
Say a watch is floating around in outer space. The watch is made of things, of springs, gears, and so forth. And all these things are in a certain configuration. This is the context of the watch for the results that follow. For our purposes, the watch does not interact with anything outside of it (or maybe the interaction is that the result gets observed, but this won’t matter; any other subtle interactions won’t matter either).
Next let’s duplicate the watch and its context, with the only exception to the context that the duplicate watch is some non-interactive distance away from the original watch.
Finally, let’s pass some time. Let’s go make some coffee (in our spaceship). Let’s go see a movie.
When we return to the watches to observe them, what might we see?
We might see that their hands are ticking away in the same position as one another. Eveything about them looks to be the same as well. But what if we don’t? We might see that the hands are pointing in different directions. We might see that their hands are pointing the same way, but one watch has deteriorated. Its gold has lost its sheen.
So the watches might be the same or they might be different. This is what separates determinism and indeterminism.
Determinism says that duplicate things in duplicate contexts will never become different from their originals.
Indeterminism says that duplicate things in duplicate contexts will sometimes become different from their originals.
Which one is the correct view of the things in our world? That’s a good question for a different article. As a preliminary, it’s good to know the difference.