Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Fractal Future

Humans spend much of the present pondering the future. Christians have a branch of theology for the subject (eschatology, the "doctrine of the last things"). As a general rule, our beliefs about the future influence our choices in the present, and, conversely, our choices in the present contribute to the outcomes in the future.

Our instinctive understanding of time tempts the average human to try to "figure out the future." Some people lean towards fatalism ("I guess I'm destined to fail") while others try to outwit fate ("I won't meet Death in the marketplace!"). Either way, they react to some particular picture of the future.

Einstein's conception of time made him reject ancient Judaism and much of twentieth century science. Einstein believed the universe was governed by iron laws that determined every outcome from the beginning, and therefore rejected the notion of a personal God who judged men for their choices. He famously disagreed with Niels Bohr over quantum physics, insisting that "God does not play dice with the universe." It was his second great blunder (the other was his admitted "fudging" his own calculations to eliminate the evidence for an expanding universe well before Edwin Hubbell discovered that galaxies are flying away from each other).

Einstein thought of time as a fixed line out of an infinite past into an infinite future. Aristotle had a different idea--he did not believe in "the future," as such. He discussed the truth value of the statement, "There will be a sea-battle tomorrow" and concluded that a statement about the future has no truth value. Today's "Open Theists" enlarge upon Aristotle's position--they say that God knows everything that is, but does not know the future, because "the future" does not exist.

David Deutsch goes to the opposite extreme: in The Fabric of Reality, he argues that every possible future exists. Einstein's time is a one-dimensional line, Deutsch sees time expanding into a two-dimensional plane of possibilities. (Deutsch might argue that all time's branches form a multidimensional hypersolid.)

I'd like to suggest another option--a fractal future. In this model, some but not all futures become actual. I'll try to explain the implications of this in a later post.