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A hallmark of most major religions is that God is omniscient, that he knows everything. He knows the future as well as the present and the past. This has spawned many an argument over the extent of free will.

Another look at God’s omniscience

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A hallmark of most major religions is that God is omniscient, that he knows everything. He knows the future as well as the present and the past. This has spawned many an argument over the extent of free will. If God knows the future, can it be changed? Has everything already been decided and I’m just acting out a predetermined path? Or do I have the ability to choose my actions? Whatever your viewpoint, I think the research of Professor Yakir Aharonov at Chapman University in California will astound you. 

The story takes place in the extreme world of quantum physics.  As far back as 1964, Aharonov wondered why two exact particles in the very same experiment behaved in different ways.  Most physicists threw up their hands and said that’s just quantum physics.  But Aharonov probed further.  He asked a forbidden question: Did the future affect the present?  Aharonov believed it did, and his work won him the National Medal of Science in 2011

In the bizarre world of quantum mechanics, the precise properties of subatomic particles are nearly impossible to probe. It took many years for Aharonov to devise an experiment to test his hypothesis. The problem was measuring the influence of something that has not happened without changing that happening. After much effort and research, Aharonov came up with a process called weak measurements. The basic idea was to assess the present in such a manner as to change the future only so slightly, that way any larger affect of the future on the present could still be modeled. 

Over the many years and the massive mounds of test data, Aharonov and his team verified their hypothesis. Quantum occurrences are not simply determined by their previous conditions; they are also influenced by events that have not yet happened.  We live in a collision between the past and the future.  More recently, Aharonov’s work has been repeated by other physicists, lending credibility to his findings. Time doesn’t just go forward, it flows in both directions. The future does indeed have a real impact on the present, at least in the quantum world. 

So if my world is made up of all these quantum functions, then is my own reality also decided by the future? Another group of scientists are at work right now to find out if Aharonov’s findings do actually extend outside of quantum physics. In fact, Aharonov wrote in a recent paper that the universe itself may have a fully determined state, meaning a final destiny (think the Christian Bible and the book of Revelation).  Just like the world has a beginning, it also has an end. So what does that mean for free will? If my past and my future have already been determined, I’m sort of squeezed into the middle, aren’t I? What choices do I really have?

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4 comments

  1. Dave of Hillsbend

    There is some thing else you should consider. Not all religions believe that the Divine is omnipotent and omniscient.

  2. That’s a good point. I assume you’re referring to some of the older religions that have become much more prominent recently? The physics alone seems to point to omniscience, though.

  3. Hmmm. Bruce, nifty post. You don’t believe that your intriguing question has a satisfactory answer, do you? : )

    I don’t have a well informed response. But I have come to believe that some outcomes in every human’s future are immutable, whereas others are shaped by a combination of human and environmental forces. Which outcomes are immutable and why is beyond me. Thoughts?

  4. I’m in agreement with you, Prabu, I think the answer is probably beyond human grasp. But I thought Aharonov’s research was a fascinating twist on an old problem that people have thought about for millennia. I always liked the Greek idea of Oedipus Rex. Oedipus had free choice in everything he did, yet no matter what he did he still fulfilled the prophecy.

    I’m looking forward to more research on this topic!

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