I spent this weekend with family and friends. This weekend marked the 1-year death anniversary of a close friend of mine. He was only 26 years old when he passed away in an unfortunate accident. At times like this, I always take some time away from work, albeit 1-2 days, and think about the people close to me and step back and take a look at my own life.
It is not uncommon for people with Indian values to rationalize, or rather accept, unfortunate incidents by casually saying that “it’s fate”. Having been brought up with Indian values myself, I commonly use phrases like “if it’s meant to be” in day-to-day life; not necessarily believing entirely in the concept of fate, but just as a matter of habit. Just to be clear, I define fate as “a course of events that will inevitably happen in the future”. There’s nothing terribly religious about this concept. Having said that, most religious people tend to believe in fate at some level or the other. Extremely scientific people *also* believe in fate; that genes dictate, in many ways, what will happen to you, your potential, risk of disease, et cetera. In fact, I strongly recommend reading Matt Ridley’s The Genome if genetics fascinate you at any level. It’s a very interesting, eye-opening book into the world of genetics targetted at people with a basic understanding of Biology and Chemistry. In case you’re not into books like that, watch the movie Gataca and that will provide you with some insight into what I’m referring to.
In any case, as a person who believes in something greater than myself and a man of science, I find myself wondering: “If genes define who you are -and- hypothetically given all the knowledge in the world and infinite computational power, can you predict what will happen in the future?” More specifically, given the current state of the universe including every piece of data and having the knowledge and computational power to model what will happen in the next fraction of a second with a probability of 1, you can tell the future with a simple feedback loop. Clearly, this is hypothetical as we can’t possibly have all the knowledge or the computational power, however, that’s not the point. The scary point is that *if* we did, we would… which implies that we are determined to do what we will do; that there is fate. In an effort to convince myself that this isn’t true, I created a completely bogus and unscientific way of proving that our futures are not deterministic; that there is an element of uncertainity, not because of lack of knowledge or a turing machine, but rather because not everything in this world can be known; that the affect of just one unknown element in this infinite universe can derail the deterministic path.
So let me describe my model and assumptions to you. Keep in mind that this is completely unscientific… it’s more food for thought than a proof of any kind. Let’s assume that the universe is infinite and therefore there are an infinite of factors or variables that affect our world. Furthermore for simplicity, which is not true, let’s assume that these variables are independent. Let’s also assume we have complete knowledge of all these variables and infinite computional power to calculate the state of the universe after a very small period of time. Lastly, let’s assume that there’s one element (out of the infinite) that is an unknown. Given these assumptions, what’s the probability that we will be able to calculate the state of the universe after infinite time?
Given the above assumptions (which are overly simplistic) , one can arguably (again, I’m sure the hardcore Math majors will disagree) say the probability that the turing machine/computer with the infinite computational power will return the correct state of the world is:
lim [(p – 1)/p]^p as p approaches infinity.
The (-1) is for the one element we do not know. If we did, the equation would be 1^p as p-> infinity which is equal to 1.
Believe it or not, this limit converges to approximatey 0.36. How do I know this? The limit above is just 1/e. What this means is that even if everything was known; even with all the knowledge in the world; even with all the computational power in the world, the best we can do is be about 1/3 correct…. 1 unknown, whatever that may be, can have a tremendous affect in a world full of an infinite factors.
Just something to think about. I had some long conversations with friends of mine that hold PhD degrees in Biology and Chemistry who told me that this model is completely wrong: that nothing can be deterministic because there’s chaos at the smallest level resulting in an unpredictable universe. I pushed back and said, but is the unpredictability itself controllable? That question would then lead into conversation that went from scientific to philosophical…. At the end of all of this, I came to one conclusion… that while there is an element of fate, more than half our future and lives is yet to be determined.