Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Omniscience Vs. Free Will: A VERY Old Web Page I Wrote

Years ago I wrote the following about the logical inconsistency between free will and omniscience. I hadn't thought about or read the page in a long time, but it came to mind today when someone sent an email asking to translate the website I had back in the early 2000s.

The Basic Premise

The concepts of omniscience and free will and mutually exclusive. If there exists omniscience, then no being is able to make choices other than those known by the omniscient being. If free will exists, then there can be no such thing as omniscience.

What Is Omniscience?

Omniscience: having infinite awareness, understanding and insightpossessed of universal or complete knowledge
A being with omniscience is one that has complete knowledge of the universe. There can be no knowledge that this being does not possess. Nothing for it to learn since learning would require a form of limited knowledge where information is not contained in one state and then is contained in another state.

What Is Free Will?

Free Will: freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or divine intervention
In order for a being to have free will, it must be able to choose any possible action when a decision action is presented. Any choice that is possible must be allowed without external intervention or influence.

So, What's The Problem?

With omniscience, all knowledge is known, including the choice made by each being at every stage. It is not possible for a being to make a choice other than what is already known via omniscience, thereby precluding any chance for free will. A being cannot make any choice that would contradict omniscience, since omniscience by nature requires that all choices be predetermined.

So what?

What if the omniscient being is outside of our space-time?

Well, whether that being is confined to our universe or is somehow able to exist outside of our universe, if it has omniscience with regards to our universe then it directly affects the free will of beings within out universe. The contradiction comes from our choices being decided before they are made within our flow of time.

Can't the being outside of our universe view our choices to learn them? 

Sure. But, that is not omniscience: it is limited knowledge. Omniscience is, by definition, infinite knowledge. Since it is impossible to combine enough finite elements to reach infinity, a being cannot reach omniscience by learning.

An Example Of The Contradiction

I wake up and decide to have oatmeal for breakfast rather than eggs.

Have I made a choice of my own free will?

That depends. If there is a being with omniscience, then my choice to have oatmeal was dictated before the morning in question. I did not make a choice; instead, I acted out a script that only superficially looks like free will. The choice to have oatmeal was made by something other than myself and I could only follow along acting out a script and not making a choice of my own free will.

The problem is that omniscience requires 100% perfect knowledge. This leaves no room for variation. When each decision fork is reached, only one branch can be followed: the one previously decided via omniscience.

But, Don't We Have Free Will?

Apparently, yes, we do. But, that's not the issue. The contradiction does not mean that we do not have free will. Since we seem to have free will, the only way to resolve the contradiction is to admit that there cannot exist a being with omniscience.

Can Omniscience Be Learned?

No. The process of learning is based on having limited knowledge. Since omniscience is the state of having infinite knowledge, you can't accumulate knowledge until you finally have infinite knowledge. The problem is that there is no such thing as infinity minus one. How can you be one unit of knowledge away from having infinite knowledge?

Can't A Being Have Foreknowledge Instead?

Sure! But, foreknowledge is not the same as omniscience. Foreknowledge is merely the knowledge of something in advance, and is based on limited knowledge. A being can have foreknowledge without being omniscience.

You do not become omniscient by watching a movie backwards, for example. Omniscience would require a being to know the entire movie inside and out before ever actually observing the film.

Why Can't A Being Have Progressive Omniscience?

Progressive omniscience is a meaningless phrase. This would be knowledge gained, and is discussed above under the header Can Omniscience Be Learned?