Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Astrology & Free Will

signs of zodiac
I never had any faith in Astrology.

Let's take the zodiac, for instance. Now, can one take this seriously? I mean, how could 1/12th of humanity fall under one category? And on top of that the predictions are so generic. One could swap around the predictions that appear in the dailies and you wouldn't know the difference.

But what about horoscope? That does not divide mankind into 12 parts. Each horoscope is unique and depends on the latitude and longitude and the time of birth. Can planets and stars have any impact on human actions?

Hmmm... let us investigate.

The multiplicative difficulty leading to the need of greater and greater precision in assumptions can be illustrated with the following simple exercise concerning the prediction of the movements of billiard balls on the table. I use the example as computed by the mathematician Michael Berry. If you know a set of basic parameters concerning the ball at rest, can compute the resistance of the table (quite elementary), and can gauge the strength of the impact, then it is rather easy to predict what would happen at the first hit. The second impact becomes more complicated, but possible; you need to be more careful about your knowledge of the initial states, and more precision is called for. The problem is that to compute the ninth impact, you need to take into account the gravitational pull of someone standing next to the table (modestly, Berry's computations use a weight of less than 150 pounds). And to compute the fifty-sixth impact, every single particle of the universe needs to be present in your assumptions! An electron at the edge of the universe, separated from us by 10 billion light-years, must figure in the calculations, since it exerts a meaningful effect on the outcome.

This information is mind-blowing, and I will assume it to be correct. So perhaps ancient Indian astrology did have a point. The planets do have an influence on us.

But does it make us puppets of a deterministic system? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I wouldn't be able to say. I have friends who swear by astrology. But then they have at least one friend (me!) who does not believe in astrology at all.

However, just because there is no scientific proof does not mean it is incorrect. If there is enough evidence of something, we need to take that into cognisance.

But what about free will? Human beings are not bound by past or future. We can think and make a difference. That has been my stand.

On the other hand, I  could take the above extract from The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to its limit. If every person on earth can be influenced by a set of planet, then what appears to be free will is actually a pre-determined action influenced by the universe.

Perhaps, it doesn't matter. As long as we do the right things and get the right results whether it is being done under the influence of some planet or a result of chaotic interaction of free will does not matter.

However, I have been taught a lesson. Just because a bizarre idea does not fit my existing thought framework, it need not be incorrect. I may not accept it; at the same time, I cannot reject the idea.

I still do not believe in astrology. But at least I will not make fun of those who do.

Picture courtesy: ADMANE Samir

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Nal said...

Hi Amitabh..thanks for your comments on my blog! Very good suggestion about the empty side bar..except I don't really know how to add anything to it!

Will check it out..and great blog that you are writing..very different from the usual.

Thanks again,

Anonymous said...

Hi there- thanks for the comments on my blog...Loved your post! Very interesting.

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