DETERMINISM, FREE WILL, AND FATE
With ARTHUR M. YOUNG
JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. Today we're going to be exploring "Determinism, Free Will, and Fate." My guest, Arthur Young, is the inventor of the Bell helicopter, also a philosopher and a cosmologist, and the author of The Reflexive Universe and The Geometry of Meaning. Welcome, Arthur.
ARTHUR M. YOUNG: Hello.
MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you here. Arthur, when you spent much of your life developing the Bell helicopter, the first commercially licensed helicopter, you came up with some interesting concepts about free will, because, as I understand it, in the helicopter for the first time a human being could move in any direction in space -- up, down, right, left, forward, back -- quite freely. And from the physics of the helicopter you developed a notion of free will, didn't you?
YOUNG: You could say so, right.
MISHLOVE: Can we get into that a bit?
YOUNG: Well, we're talking really about determinism, which is always considered to be the antithesis of free will.
MISHLOVE: In classical physics, yes -- and still amongst many people today.
YOUNG: The freedom which you referred to in the helicopter is because the helicopter is determined. If you pushed the control and it didn't work, or if you put on the brakes in your car and they don't apply the brakes, then you don't have as much freedom as you have if the car works. A great deal of our time making the helicopter was what we called getting the bugs out -- getting the uncertainties out of the mechanism. The bug was an uncertainty, a little will of its own that would battle you.
MISHLOVE: Like gremlins or something.
YOUNG: Gremlins, right, but they were referred to as bugs. But when you get the bugs out, then the machine is entirely determined. Determined by what? By the operator. It'll go where you want it to go. Of course it won't go a thousand miles an hour, but within its range of performance, you have complete freedom to control it.
MISHLOVE: What you seem to be saying, then, is that in the macro world mechanical objects, when they work perfectly, are perfectly determined, and that somehow gives us humans, who operate and use these machines, freedom.
YOUNG: Right, although it's generally read the other way. For instance, on one occasion I was being introduced to a class that I was going to talk to about philosophy. I was introduced as a "soft determinist," which is the position you took when we were talking before this -- a soft determinist as contrasted with a hard determinist. A hard determinist says determinism determines everything, period; a soft determinist says, well, there are little leaks and holes and things where it doesn't quite fit, and that's indeterminate, so that's soft determinism.
MISHLOVE: That would tend to be very close to my position. But you're saying that's not really yours.
YOUNG: I say it's not a question of determinism versus free will; it's free will on top of determinism. And if the determinism isn't thorough or almost complete, then your car isn't going to work the way you want it to. Your machine, your body, whatever -- if it has its own bugs, its own free will, then you don't have as much free will.
MISHLOVE: So in the case of the helicopter -- if we can continue to stay with this metaphor -- the pilot who controls the stick of the helicopter and can move in any direction in space is exerting his free will. And of course his body must obey him perfectly for him to do that.
YOUNG: Well, that's what learning to fly would be -- teaching your body what motions to do. I remember flying the helicopter without touching the stick, just by moving my body this way and that. You could make it fly in any direction.
MISHLOVE: Is that right? Was that an early version?
YOUNG: No, that was in fact fairly late, but it was just sort of a stunt. But of course people like to have a control stick. It makes them feel better.
MISHLOVE: I would think so. But if the body then obeys the will, the part of us that does will, then the body, you're saying, is like a machine as well. It's like a helicopter. It is mechanical in some sense.
YOUNG: Yes. I'm perfectly willing to take the position that the body is a machine, but it's a much more intricate machine than anything we make. One single cell of our body, of which there are many trillions, one single cell is more complex than the entire organization of General Motors.
MISHLOVE: Well, in that complexity is there a way in which free will emerges from the complexity -- that it's so complex that it can't really be determined?
YOUNG: No, it's the other way around. The reason it's complex is because it's grown always under the control of the function that it's supposed to have. If it deviated from that function at any point in its evolution, it would collapse, it wouldn't survive. It's taken millions of years to create this device that can survive. For instance, just to digest sugar, there are a hundred different chemical reactions per second occurring in each cell, and this is all done in a very precise way, and there are certain molecules that provide templates that, as it were, create a million times more probability that a certain chemical reaction will occur. So it's made as certain as it possibly can be. Nothing is left to chance, except bossing the thing.
MISHLOVE: It's extraordinarily complex, and yet exquisitely designed.
YOUNG: In order that you can play with it. You do what you want with it.
MISHLOVE: Now, you're a designer. You're an inventor. You invented one of the most important and relatively complex machines that we have around, the helicopter. I suppose as you look at the human body, you begin to wonder yourself about the inventor of the body.
YOUNG: Oh, it's way beyond me. But everything I find is more detail on the intricacy and complexity and precision of the body. But there's another thing about the helicopter that might help with this free will thing; in fact it led me to, you could say, the mathematical proof thereof.
MISHLOVE: The mathematical proof of free will?
YOUNG: Right. Have you ever thought of such a thing?
YOUNG: Well, I think it's interesting that you can mathematically demonstrate it.
MISHLOVE: That would be interesting.
YOUNG: In the helicopter rotor, the blades move in a circle, a swept disc, represented by my hand. Now, if I'm in the helicopter and I want to go toward you, I cause a motion which will control the rotor to tip that way, and then it's pulled that way. Or, if I want it to go sideways, I tip it this way and go that way. Well, how do I tip the rotor? This was the secret I latched onto early on. The control has to be ninety degrees in advance of the direction that you want to dip.
MISHLOVE: All right -- anticipating it somehow.
YOUNG: Anticipating it. It's like a gyroscope. And that control, at ninety degrees to the desired force, can be translated directly into human language. You control a situation by anticipating ninety degrees ahead of it. It's much the way the judge judges a tennis match; he has to be at right angles to the play of the opponents. If he favors one or the other it isn't right. See, we even get our meaning of the word right from that angle.
MISHLOVE: This is an interesting aspect of your philosophy, where you'll take linguistics and somehow combine it with geometry and with mechanistics --
YOUNG: Right, right.
MISHLOVE: And at that point my mind usually goes, "Huh?"
YOUNG: Yes, but that's how
our language came that way
MISHLOVE: Now, are you connecting this with free will?
YOUNG: Yes, because I'm saying free will is at right angles to the situation it's controlling. If you're biased one way or the other, you can't be free.
MISHLOVE: You know, in a funny way what you're saying reminds me of an American folk cliche that comes so much from the evangelists, when they say, "Get right with God."
YOUNG: Well, OK. Well, then that gives determinism its function. It's a very useful thing. But it also leaves freedom able to use the determinism, instead of putting them at loggerheads as though they were fighting one another.
MISHLOVE: Sort of by staying one step ahead?
YOUNG: No, I'd rather say above, because control controls what it can comprehend. It can't control the higher things beyond it. That's the way your body works, you see. Each function -- the hand controls its fingers, but the arm controls the hand, and you control the arm.
MISHLOVE: Now, I remember when I first attended one of your lectures, Arthur, well over ten years ago, you made an intriguing statement that really caught my attention. You dealt with quantum physics and the notion of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and what you said was that free will is the flip side of uncertainty. Is that still your position?
YOUNG: Right. Well, there were two basic things I said when I was going to prove the mathematics of freedom. One is that it's at a right angle, and if you translate that into mathematics it's the derivative of acceleration.
MISHLOVE: The derivative of acceleration.
YOUNG: I want to come to your point about indeterminacy, but first I want to clear up this one. Everyone who drives a car actually is more advanced in their science than is science itself. Science is limited to consideration of the first and second derivatives, velocity and acceleration. It explains the motion of the planets in terms of velocity and acceleration. That was what Newton's contribution was.
MISHLOVE: In other words, acceleration is a derivative in calculus, I think, from velocity.
YOUNG: Right -- the rate of change.
MISHLOVE: And velocity is a derivative of length, isn't it?
MISHLOVE: The derivative of velocity itself is the next one --
YOUNG: Is acceleration. Now, what do you think the derivative of acceleration is?
MISHLOVE: Which is the one that you're introducing now. The derivative of acceleration would be to acceleration what acceleration is to velocity, so it would be a change in --
YOUNG: Change in acceleration.
MISHLOVE: In acceleration.
YOUNG: What do you do when you drive a car?
MISHLOVE: Well, you do that, you change acceleration.
YOUNG: Change acceleration -- put on the brake, push the accelerator, and steering is another form of change, because you're changing the direction. Now, that third derivative, that steering, is not mentioned in the textbooks.
MISHLOVE: It's not.
YOUNG: In the physics textbooks. And I've tried over and over again to convince good physicists and engineers, and they just look blank, and either they don't agree with me, or if they do agree with the third derivative, they say, why bother with it?
MISHLOVE: It's only free will; it has nothing to do with us.
YOUNG: Right, right. Well, that's the first principle, because the third derivative is control. It's not just something floating around. It has a station, a sanction, in mathematics. Now, the next thing is what uses that control.
MISHLOVE: Aha! I was going to ask you about that.
YOUNG: Well, that's where the uncertainty principle comes in, because if I know exactly what you're going to do, then as far as I'm concerned you're not dangerous.
MISHLOVE: Because I'm predictable.
YOUNG: Yes. But if you have freedom and can do something I don't know, can't predict, then you're -- well, you're uncertain to me and I'm afraid of you, you see. I don't know what's going to happen.
YOUNG: So that's what I meant by freedom is the flip side of uncertainty.
MISHLOVE: What you seem to be saying is there's a fear here of free will.
YOUNG: Well, the fear is one form. Most people are afraid of uncertainty.
MISHLOVE: We might be amazed by it, or excited, or there might be other emotions. I'm just curious why you mention fear.
YOUNG: I just asked somebody what Lotto was. Well, that's uncertainty, but then people enjoy that. They hope they'll get the ticket.
MISHLOVE: So fear is just one example. What you're saying is we confront free will at an emotional level.
YOUNG: Right. Well, the point is that the treatment that the uncertainty is given by physics -- because physics discovered this, you see -- is to treat it as something bad. They shove it under the rug and say, oh well, that's the third decimal point or the fourth decimal point; we don't need to bother with it.
MISHLOVE: You mean uncertainty?
MISHLOVE: The Heisenberg uncertainty principle has been kind of an embarrassment to physicists.
YOUNG: One aspect of it, you see.
MISHLOVE: But uncertainty, like the bugs in your helicopter.
YOUNG: Right. Well, you don't want the uncertainty in the helicopter. You don't want it to be in the things you're going to use. You want to have the uncertainty yourself, which you use as you please. So you see, you have to look at it from two sides. My attitude toward your uncertainty is that it's threatening. But if I were inside of you, that would be your freedom.
MISHLOVE: In other words, let's say me. I might not know what question I'm going to ask you next, but that gives me the freedom, that gives me options. If I knew exactly every question I was going to ask you, I would not be free.
YOUNG: Also this is how you tap intuition. Remember the story about somebody who said to the woman, "Why don't you think what you're going to say before you speak?" And she said, "Well, how do I know what I think unless I've heard myself speak?" Often you can come out with things that surprise yourself, if you let go, let that uncertainty reign.
MISHLOVE: Let me just twist this around to you, and talk about the creative process, the process of invention. You did something remarkable that changed the planet in a way by developing the helicopter. Where did your free will or your intuition fit into that, Arthur?
YOUNG: Well, it's difficult to know. You see, you're hedged about with various things. You want to go to lunch, or you want to stop working, or you don't want to -- There are all kinds of things, so if you're perfectly free you may just be like water, just roll down the nearest hill.
MISHLOVE: The path of least resistance.
YOUNG: The path of least resistance. But on the other hand, to be open to your intuition is a true freedom, but it requires that you be free of your rational mind. Now, Frederick Marion, who was a remarkable psychometrist that I worked with --
MISHLOVE: In other words, a psychic.
YOUNG: A psychic, in fact the most impressive that I've known.
MISHLOVE: And you've known many.
YOUNG: He tried to teach people, and part of this teaching was to buy tickets for the best show in town, go to the theater, and just as you enter the door, tear up the tickets and go home. Be free from commitment to something, just because it's rational.
MISHLOVE: That's amazing. I find that very impressive.
YOUNG: Now, there was another one similar to that. One of the helicopter pilots made a study of the no-shows when there's an accident. When a plane has a crash, they have a list of who are the no-shows. And there were more no-shows in the trips that ended fatally than in the regular trips.
MISHLOVE: That's right.
YOUNG: Showing that somebody was obeying their inner knowing.
MISHLOVE: Their intuition about avoiding.
YOUNG: Right. So something is going to happen, and you give yourself the chance to know, to tap your intuition.
MISHLOVE: And to do that you sometimes have to avoid the certain, like a deterministic force, that patterns events and sets them into motion.
YOUNG: The rational --
MISHLOVE: You may have tickets, you have plans, expectations. And the ability to exercise your free will, to change those plans, is somehow related now to intuition.
YOUNG: Yes, it is related to intuition, but it's related to a higher plan that's larger than your own plan. Well, that's the thing --
MISHLOVE: It sounds like we're talking about fate.
YOUNG: If you can tap into that, then things like inventing come naturally. I frequently found I would invent something before there was any need for it, and then later on it turned out that it was the right invention to lead up to this other invention. It was as though I was fitting something together, but I didn't know what I was doing.
MISHLOVE: As if you yourself were an instrument of some sort of higher intelligence.
YOUNG: Right, precisely. I think we are all, to the extent that things happen on a larger scale, we are parts of a plan larger than ourselves. And that would be fate.
MISHLOVE: Well, Arthur, after you invented the helicopter, which was about 1947, you've devoted the rest of your life to really plumbing these mysteries of philosophies and man's role in the universe, and our relationship to our own consciousness and to higher consciousness. What more can you say about fate in this regard?
YOUNG: Well, one of the first things to say -- you have to say them in a certain order, because people have ideas about it. Fate conflicts with free will, is what people think. Well, that's very similar to the conflict of determinism and free will. There's a hierarchy between them. An example I give of freedom is at the time that I had my basic design ready of the helicopter -- a stable model that I could fly out the door and back again -- I was looking for a backer, but I looked for almost two years. There were people coming to see me, and I was going to different places -- the Navy, the Army. I had a dozen different --
MISHLOVE: All kinds of effort and energy was being expended on your part.
YOUNG: Possible backers, yes.
MISHLOVE: To no avail for two years.
YOUNG: And I had perfect freedom about this. I was perfectly free to hammer on the door, but the door didn't open until fate opened it. Fate controls what is going to happen on a larger scale. It doesn't prevent you from doing things.
MISHLOVE: You know, I think I'm beginning to understand the remark you made before the show began, that there's a sandwich with determinism, free will, and fate. It's as if we're in the middle with our free will, and we have deterministic control, in a sense, over our bodies, over our machines; but we are also under this larger umbrella of fate -- the environment --
YOUNG: And I've come to look at that larger umbrella as beneficial. It is what make your petty actions enlarge. I could predict now, from the fact that the time Arthur Bloch called me, the moon was in Pisces -- well, now, at the moment of this show, the moon is in Pisces, but it's just past Jupiter, which means that Jupiter will come to the moon, which means that this whole thing will get large expansion, my estimate would be a year and a half from now.
MISHLOVE: Now, you really have thrown me for a loop here. What will happen in a year and a half from now, and why is this related to Jupiter and the moon?
YOUNG: Our efforts will be on a large scale. We'll be on big time, or something.
MISHLOVE: Millions of people.
YOUNG: Right -- I'm talking about Jupiter coming to the moon. The moon is the image, the thing that television is dealing with. You know, it shines by reflected light, and so on. Jupiter is the principle of expansion, and when Jupiter comes to the image, the image gets larger and larger.
MISHLOVE: You know, Arthur, I have to say this. I don't entirely follow you at this point, but I think the significant thing here, if I understand you, is that somehow in the symbolism of these events and the archetypal forces that are represented by the moon and by Jupiter, there is a handle on which you as an inventor, as a scientist, feel that we can begin to understand the larger nature of things.
YOUNG: Well, I'm being very naughty, you might say, in putting my thing on the line, but I'm trying to illustrate what we're talking about -- a larger script, shall we say, in which we're a part.
MISHLOVE: Well, I think it's valuable that you're looking at this, because so many people, the debunkers, so to speak, say that no decent scientist or person who thinks, would ever deal with this language, would ever employ the kind of concepts you're using. And the very fact you're willing to commit yourself on television in this regard -- and I know your theories amplify this in great detail, in a very precise and also elegant way -- stands in contradiction to that. And it's important for people to be aware of that.
YOUNG: Well, it's a question of you try to listen to what nature is saying, and if you listen you learn something. And I haven't listened to scientists, but I've listened to nature. Now, when I was making the helicopter, I had to make models and let them fly, and find out what was wrong, irrespective of what the theories were. I found the theories that prevailed were not correct. But you can't say nature is incorrect because it doesn't obey the theory; you have to go by what nature says. And in the case of astrology, well, I've just checked it out, and it works the way they said it worked -- I mean, the way that the ancients said it worked, not that the moderns say it works.
MISHLOVE: Well, probably very few people in this country, in our society, might think that a person of your sophistication and intelligence might think that way, but you're a testimony to that in the accomplishments of your life.
YOUNG: Well, I've been looking for intelligent people all my life, and I find most of them are quite familiar with astrology. It's not the hidden thing it's supposed to be. It might not be to scientists, but they're a special breed. You have to grow them in the dark, like mushrooms.
MISHLOVE: Arthur, we're out of time. It's been a pleasure having you on this program, and we're certainly going to have to have you on again, to go into these things in even greater depth. Thank you very much for being with us.
YOUNG: Thank you, Jeff.