Does Physics Prove that Freedom is Bad? – Opting Out


Entropy describes the level of disorganisation in systems. Simply put, the more of a cluster-F something is, the more entropy it has. When you leave any system alone, the entropy mostly just carries on and on in endless chaos until it becomes disparate, cold and dead. A bit like a few relationships you’ve been in, I’m sure.

Physicists say these systems won’t just spontaneously reorganise. It needs some other force to come in to bring it all back together. Given that the universe itself doesn’t appear to have some outside force to reorganise, it seems fairly logical that in some impossible-to-comprehend period of time, the universe will become that cold, dead thing.

In thus lies the implicit justification of political agents that, in theory, create order out of otherwise chaotic social systems. If humans are made of the same stuff as all the other matter, and subject to the same rules, surely we’re destined for the same outcome? That is unless a benevolent philosopher king creates the rules that restore order.

Economists and political scientists with physics envy don’t see humans as decision-making agents, perhaps with the ability to create order by trade and cooperation, but as atoms bouncing against each other, that unfettered, will disorganise into the entropic abyss.

But you know what? Maybe viewing human beings, as just slightly more complex dust bunnies, might not be appropriate if we’re actually trying to understand how social systems work.

It seems to most people who operate in the real world that humans do not behave like bits of matter being thrown about by forces beyond our control. They at least appear to have free will on which they act. It seems reasonable to assume, when someone Tweets childish insults at us, that they have intended to do so.

At this point the Science Bros are sure to acktually me in the comments, telling me that the so-called “decisions” we make in the brain are no less the product of material forces than rainfall. Fine fellas, but do this experiment for me: Go about your day as if everyone you interact with doesn’t have a will with which they can make decisions, and that everything they do could theoretically have been predicted in a lab. My guess is that people wouldn’t like you very much.

The point is that in every day life we behave as if people have free will. This is logical as it is pragmatic. To be precise, as Ludwig von Mises says that people are rational agents, though “rational” obviously doesn’t mean that every decision we make is perfect. We have preferences, and we act in a way to satisfy those preferences.

You don’t have to do an empirical experiment to figure this out. You realise it by just sitting there and thinking about the logic of why you or anybody else does anything. Regardless of whether that “decision-making process” involves a metaphysical will, or the result of a deterministic process of firing neuron patterns, that’s how it looks in our world.

Moreover, the bumped-up hall monitors that invoke physics to deny free will are implying political solutions. They’re not satisfied to dismiss the idea of human cooperation and civilisation and resign to a world of rapidly expanding chaos. They think it implies that there should be an elite group that is given the right to tell you what to do.

Why that “solution” ought to follow from their premise is far from demonstrable. What makes the political man an agent where the citizen is not? What grants the politician agency, and how is the citizen deprived? If humans behave basically randomly, how do you expect another randomly behaving input to create order out of the rest?

This brings to mind the self-contradicting Hobbesian ‘original sin’ argument for the state, which points out the obvious fact that us humans aren’t perfect, and are quite keen on beating each other up with only mild encouragement, and therefore we need to be controlled and regulated to mitigate our barbaric tendencies. But who or what is to be the controller? Hobbes’ answer: that very same human with barbaric tendencies.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.