I was watching a very interesting set of videos the other night called “Impossible Physics.” They were using fiction and fictional science as a starting point to understand why those fictional science ideas would be impossible according to the real laws of physics.
They were doing this to try to make movies less enjoyable but to use that as a more interesting reason to understand physics. The first thing the guy talked about was the square cubed law.
It’s why large animals such as elephants have very slow heart rates while tiny animals like mice have very fast heart rates, because of the square cube law. Every time you double something in size you will increase the volume by a factor of three. Every time animal gets twice as tall its heart becomes three times as powerful.
As animals increases in size it’s heart will increase and pumping capacity quicker that it increases in size and so as it increases in size the heart will have to pump slower to get the same flow rate that its body needs whereas the more an animal shrinks the pumping capacity will fall off quicker than the shrinking size of the animal.
If you took a human, for example, and you started growing your body in some kind of magical machine like the opposite of “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” or “Ant Man and the Wasp,” and you started to grow your body you would soon get to a point where your heart was far too powerful. It would explode all of your blood vessels.
As your heart was increasing in size it would be increasing pumping volume and pumping pressure very quickly but the walls of your blood vessels would only be doubling in size and soon you would get to a point where the pumping capacity of your heart was too much for the thickness of your blood vessels to withstand and all of your blood vessels would shatter.
Passed Out Ant People
Similarly if you started to shrink down pretty soon your heart rate would be too slow to feed all of your body including your brain and so as you shrink down you’d eventually get to the point where you just pass out from lack of oxygen to the brain.
There’s a very ancient idea and philosophy centered around free will. Free will is kind of a cornerstone of both Western religions and Western law. One of the core concepts of the Catholic church is we don’t know much but every human has free will. Every act we do is a choice. We can choose God or we can choose Satan.
If you have a surveillance video of yourself doing some kind of crime and it’s clear that it’s you, if there’s a clear image of your face, it would be very difficult to argue in court that yes that was your body doing that thing but it wasn’t my choice. My free will was temporarily turned off. That would be extremely difficult to argue in court.
Super Genius Demons
There’s an idea called Laplace’s demon. Laplace was a mathematician and he had this philosophical mental experiment. What if there was an entity that could somehow know all of the positions of every single particle in the universe? If this entity could understand the position of every single particle of the universe, then it could theoretically predict the next position in the next subsequent phase of time.
If this was possible, if there was such an entity that could predict every single position of every single particle in the universe and therefore every single position after that moment in time, how does this handle free will?
A very common metaphor for the relationship between the conscious mind in the subconscious mind is that the conscious mind is the captain of the ship and the subconscious mind is the ship. As metaphors go this one is a enticing metaphor and makes us think that our conscious minds have a whole lot of control.
We Love Our Metaphors
As a metaphor it’s also only an approximation. It’s a map not the territory. For example you have to ask what is the size of the ship? If you’re a small little boat with an outboard motor and your conscious mind is the captain you have a lot of control over every single action. You can go any direction you want. You can change direction very quickly, but you can’t go very far and you can’t go very fast and you can’t carry much stuff.
On the other hand, if your conscious mind is the captain the ship, a gigantic tanker carrying tons of stuff across the ocean, you have a lot of power. You have a lot of capacity. You are capable of going a long ways. But changing directions going to take a very long time. Not only is changing direction going to take a very long time but you have to be very careful before you start changing direction.
Because changing direction takes such a long time, and if you change direction and you realize you’re going in the wrong direction and you have to change back it will take even longer, it’s almost so big so powerful you have to choose your starting point you have your choose your ending point before you even start across the ocean.
If You Like Your Metaphor You Can Keep Your Metaphor
The question is, if you like this metaphor, that your conscious mind is the captain and your subconscious mind is the ship, what kind of a ship are you? Are you the kind of ship that can change direction very quickly and can’t get very far? Or are you the kind of captain of a ship that can choose your direction very carefully and have a lot of power and have a lot of capacity and have a lot of reach of how far you can go?
It seems that these two things are kind of locked together. The more you want to exercise your free will in the moment the more your kind of constrained to run around in circles in a very small area. The more you’re willing to give up moment to moment free will power, the more you can gain the ability to go long distances and go to great lengths and carry a great deal of cargo and have a huge powerful engine.
Of course if Laplace’s demon is an actual thing, if we could actually maybe create some supercomputer, either now or maybe 100 years in the future, that could possibly measure the position of every single particle in your brain then it would be able to predict the next position of every single particle in your brain. If we could create a computer that could do this what does that say about your free will?
My Body But Not My Choice
While it would be impossible to argue against your free will in a court of law, we all have plenty of experiences exercising free will with absolute utter failure. Everyone has tried to lose weight. Deciding to lose weight was a free will choice that you are overruled by your instincts.
Deciding to wake up early every morning is a free will choice but then you are overruled by your subconscious mind. Deciding to go and talk to somebody is a free will choice that you are overruled by your fears. What does all of this say about our free will?
One of the interesting ideas they talked about in the impossible physics videos was the idea that whatever is possible, is mandatory. Meaning the laws of physics are not like human laws, where you’re driving down a street and you see a posted speed limit. The law says you can’t drive over the speed limit. That’s really kind of a suggestion.
Laws As Recommendations
You can drive any reasonable speed up to that speed limit, but the laws of physics don’t operate like that. The laws of conservation of energy and matter are always in effect. You can never deviate from the laws of physics.
So you have this idea that our entire universe is made up of this mass energy-particle system. This mass energy particle system that is absolutely constrained by these mandatory laws of physics that they have to obey every single second.
How does our free will, how does our consciousness, how does our self-awareness arise from such a system?
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