GDAY WORLD!!! #155 – On Energy, String Theory and Free Will

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Yesterday my mate Shane Williamson in Sydney skyped me (long time listeners might remember him from G’Day World #3) and then he conferenced in our mate Brenton Perry (who was on G’Day World #132) at home in Texas. Shane, Brenton and I all used to work in the same team at Microsoft back in ’98. The conversation quickly centered around the definition of “energy” and string theory and then morphed into a debate about free will. As I had Skylook running it automatically got recorded and I thought the conversation was interesting and you might all enjoy it. The sound quality isn’t the best (due to the fact that I was sitting on my $25 USB headset on the desktop (which has a fan which sounds like a Boeing engine) but it’s okay if you can ignore the background buzz and occasional echo. I bring you into the conversation about 20 minutes in.

The G’Day World Theme Song: “Save Me” by The Napoleon Blown Aparts, America’s baddest rock n’ roll band!

41 thoughts on “GDAY WORLD!!! #155 – On Energy, String Theory and Free Will

  1. Wasn’t it Buddha who said “Events happen, deeds are done – but there is no doer thereof”. If we take ‘time’ out of the equation it can be seen that there is just ‘this’ – life spontaneously happening of its own accord.

  2. I don’t claim to know what energy is, but I can say, that you’re all expending a lot of it on discussing what it is. Maybe for a clearer definition by an expert Cam, next podcast you should conference in the Energiser Bunny.
    Free will or no free will? I guess we have a ‘choice’ to make. If we have no free will then we should be very tolerant of those that choose to believe we do have free will because they have no control over that decision it’s merely a series of events that have let up to that belief – right Brenton?

  3. Actually, given I have done a bit of meditation in my time and have done single point of focus meditations before I can say that whilst I may not be perfectly accomplished in controlling my thoughts I can keep thoughts out of my head. If you like I can tell you the exact series of actions one takes to stop thinking.

    I agree that our ‘decisions’ are based on electrical signals in our brains however wherever our personality is kept in our head (and I’m not entirely sure that it is necessarily in our heads as such) it does have some level of control over our actions.

    The real test of your belief in lack of free will is: would you absolve a serial rapist or child abuser of his or her guilt on the basis that they have no free will.

  4. Actually Kym, you are catching on to emergence. Yes, we “should” be tolerant but it doesn’t change the underlying reality. I like where you’re going though.

    Cam, we need to chat about emergence as it relates to our perceived reality and how it affects morality – which on one level doesn’t exist. 🙂

  5. Miriam, what you need to contemplate is this: when you are meditating the stop thinking, the original idea “I want to stop my thinking”, how did you create that thought?

    As for the child molester, no I would not absolve them, and that’s because our legal system should be built around responsibility for our actions even without the concept of free will. Even if you have no control over the fact that you are a psycho, you should still be kept off the streets and, hopefully, rehabilitated.

  6. On String “Theory”:
    “The New Yorker is running a story on whether String Theory is really a scientific theory or just an abstract exercise in math designed to churn out papers and Ph.Ds for the established academics. The article reviews two current books, by Lee Smolin and Peter Woit, laying out the case against string theory.” From the article: “Dozens of string-theory conferences have been held, hundreds of new Ph.D.s have been minted, and thousands of papers have been written. Yet… not a single new testable prediction has been made, not a single theoretical puzzle has been solved. In fact, there is no theory so far — just a set of hunches and calculations suggesting that a theory might exist. And, even if it does, this theory will come in such a bewildering number of versions that it will be of no practical use: a Theory of Nothing… String theory has always had a few vocal skeptics… Sheldon Glashow, who won a Nobel Prize for making one of the last great advances in physics before the beginning of the string-theory era, has likened string theory to a ‘new version of medieval theology,’ and campaigned to keep string theorists out of his own department at Harvard. (He failed.)”

  7. I just found this quote from Einstein via Wikipedia:
    “I do not believe in freedom of the will. Schopenhauer’s words: “Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills ” accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of freedom of will preserves me from taking too seriously myself and my fellow men as acting and deciding individuals and from losing my temper.”

  8. In the Podcast we agreed the definition to be “Ability to make a decision”

    Looking at a trusted and reknown source, the Merriam-Webster definition of Free Will is
    Main Entry: free will
    Function: noun
    1 : voluntary choice or decision
    2 : freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention

    So the issue of this debate is really what people think the definition means not what it actually is.

    Whilst Brenton & Cameron want to believe there is no Free Will and I choose to believe that there is, surely this demonstrates the “ability to make a decision”.

    I believe that thinking is like breathing, once you stop it you die. Not being able to stop thoughts is not evidence of a universe without Free Will.

    I thank God we live in a world where we have Free Will, where we can think for ourselves, where we can create and more importantly, one where we can choose what to believe.

  9. Shane, on the show we agreed that MW is an archaic source of information and I decided to use Wikipedia’s opening line instead:
    “The problem of free will is the problem of whether humans and other animals exercise control over their own actions and decisions.”

    As we agreed on the show, yes, decisions get made. But the point is that you are not in control of those decisions, which is the point of free will. If you can’t control the thoughts, how can you claim to have free will? Your thinking is mechanistic.

  10. Wendii, I know Scott’s a huge fan of the show, so it’s not that surprising. It’s a little known fact that the Pointy-Haired Boss is actually based on one of my former managers at Microsoft. He doesn’t look like that but the insanity is all him.

  11. To have free will, we would have to be able to see into and consciously control the place from which experiences arise into consciousness.

    I experience, but can’t see the content of the place from where experience arise, so I cant see how I can have free will.


  12. So if I understand you Cam, your saying is that something creates thoughts orginially, right? So if we don’t have free will, something must be controlling our will, right?

    If you believe this, you therefor have proven God! Right? Other wise who is controlling our thoughts?

    I agree with Shane, your definition has changed.

    PS. I would love you to have the same conversation with Fr. Bob with the same test!

  13. Molly, who says there has to be a “who” controlling anything? That’s a very typical Christian anthropomorphic view of things. It’s all chemistry and physics as far as I can tell. If you have evidence of anything else, please do tell.

  14. Just also thinking about your definition of free will. In order for us to have free will (under your definition), we as people would have to have the ability to kill ourselves by just thinking (or not thinking) about it, right?

    I am not sure that I agree with your definition of Free will (although my arguement is pretty week as I don’t have a good altnerative definition) as I believe that below the level of free will in the brain there is a level of unconditional self sustaining programed into the body. I.e. I don’t think about breathing but I breath. Is that because I have no free will or because the body was designed (by god or evolution or by spagetti monsters, etc, etc) to sustain its self.

    Also, I have heard you argue that people should get off there ass and get a job, or do this, or do that. If what you are saying is true and we have no free will, then why make those requests as the people have no free will to do that? Is it a case where we don’t have total free will (using your definition) but in fact we have limited free will. I.e. its my choice to think about footy and not reading some book you recomend, but I can’t just stop breathing or thinking because I need those things to survive.

    Just a thought and to be honest I am discusing this from a position of weakness because you are much much smarter then I and are a better arguee as well (perhaps you have better energy then me! 😉 ).

  15. Cam, Where did the chemistry come from? Did energy create it? And if we don’t have free will, that suggest the will is controlled and if so, what controlls it, and what controls the thing that contrils our free will (or lack of it)?

  16. re getting off your collective asses – why do I make the request if you have no free will??? Well (1) I have no choice as *I* have no free will and (2) perhaps my contant input in the form of nagging and harassing will effect the chemical state of someone’s brain and actually create a thought which says “time to get off my ass!”.

    The chemistry… yes, it came about after the big bang as a result of nuclear physics. And our “will” or “thoughts” are controlled by conditioning and genetics, which at a deeper level are represented in our brains as chemistry and biology and at an ever deeper level are represented as quantum events.

  17. This is getting off the point. Whether it’s energy, God, consciousness, Tao or whatever…it aint individual free will!


    PS. Molly, if it IS God, what brought God into being? 🙂

  18. Rob, I don’t know if its god or not or even if I am imagining this whole universe but my arguement is that you can’t prove or disprove god so its only an entertainment thing to even worry about it.

  19. Guys, Girls:
    if you have not already done so:
    read on the experiments of Bejamin Libet, which have been since verified by many scientists (Prof Roth in Germany etc, etc).

    In a nutshell:

    The decision (readiness potential in the neurons) to grab a cup of water is being made before “You” think that you are deciding to grab it. The brain synchronizes the two times so that it seems simultanous and constructs the appearance of free will. This appearance of cause (decision) and act (effect) psychologists argue is important for us not to go mad. is that really so :-).

    read for example at:


    or make “your own” observations.


  20. Hmmm…. I think I can reconcile this. You can have God without free will.

    First you take it as given that every thought in your head is a product of experience, which is a product of action, which is a product of thought.

    Then you agree with Bill Hicks that “There’s a living God inside each and everyone of us”. Or alternatively you agree that God is an experience you have had/will have/are having (delete appropriate).

    So if God is an expereince he goes into the loop just the same as reading an article in the newspaper. Wether God exists is a moot point, if he exerts any will at all, then the will isn’t free…

  21. On God,

    Is there a god(s)?. I don’t know but…

    The fundamental problem with god being as the Christian god is conceptualized, is that he has to many physiological problems that are very limited and limiting in nature. ( this is not limited to the Christian god, merely an example for this post )

    Anger: According to the Bible, Adam and Eve did something that got god angry, so angry in fact that he condemned all human souls to hell…unless they live a life of servitude to him.

    We know though various meditative and contemplative practices that anger is caused by patterns running in the subconscious and that they can be successfully dealt with.

    Jealousy: Same as Anger, and if humans with the right training can deal with it, how is it that an all –powerful, all-knowing god cannot?

    I could go on, the bible is full of examples, but the bottom line here is that humans appear to have a capacity that god does not.

    We are capable of transcending our conditioning, and if we do survive as a race, we will have dealt with that things that cause us to suffer in a fraction of the time its taken god.

    Again, this is not to say there is no “God”, but I’m not sure any of the concepts of God(s) humans have created quite nail it.


  22. Let’s close the loop guys! During the podcast U 3 discussed picking up in a week’s time from where U left off. It aint happened yet but the postings have kept me going. Wotz the chance of a follow-up podcast.
    Tks heaps, Warrick.

  23. Free Will relates back to choice. Choice boils down to me trying to get something by making the right choice.
    My choices you will have to agree are limited by my experience. I can only choose from my memory, what I know and have been fed. If I give you a choice between koek and moeder how can you choose if you have no reference.
    In Afrikaans an actual language of South Africa, koek is cake and moeder is mother.
    Choice implies and creates 2, it generates separation where fundamentally there is none.
    You may have heard something similar to “The truth is a paradox.” it seems to contain opposites.
    Controlling though is paranoia and says in itself that we are not in control, thinker.
    Interestingly all English speaking people talk of I and mind, what if this I is in fact One and the same I and mind is also a singular thing.

  24. on Cameron’s obsession with defining energy: you can’t capture the essence of anything or no-thing in words. Words are not the thing pointed to; they are objects in themselves, which point to other objects (or sometimes to no-thing). Same goes for all language, including scientific and mathematical.

    Science is a word and number game to describe the relationships between terms which have practical, not essential definitions. It can be further described as a name for our efforts to satisfy our curiosity about objects and to help fulfill our desire to manipulate objects. It’s not about the essence of anything, including energy.

    So the best definition of energy you’ll ever be able to pose will be something like: how we describe what appears to us as movement. You can substitute “measure” for “describe.”

    Didn’t someone say that the closer you look at something, the more it disappears? Or something.

  25. Hi Carol – that all makes sense except when people tell me stuff like “I can see your energy aura”. Or “you’re giving off negative energy”. Or “the whole universe is made out of energy”. What is this thing people are talking about? It doesn’t sound like some sort of measurement to me…

  26. I remember first hearing this show! I was reminded of this show by your recent “news update” podcast. I remember this Show 155 being longer though. Wasn’t there a bit in this show where you ask,” so which neuron do you squeeze for a thought”? I also remember you asking “so if you have control over your thoughts, how come you can’t stop thinking?” Yep, I remember this particular podcast being longer, or am I thinking of a different show?

    Anyway, great stuff Cameron and keep ’em coming!

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