Social Question

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

Is it theoretically possible to "predict the future?"?

Asked by ABoyNamedBoobs03 (7491 points ) August 25th, 2009

In order for this to be possible one would require an absolute understanding of sub atomic physics. Essentially one would have to know a few things that we essentially know nothing about currently. One, how and why sub atomic particles behave the way they do (which, currently, seems very chaotic, mind you)

However, if these certain events are not actually chaotic, but occur under specific conditions for specific purposes, that means one could accurately predict the probability of each event. (much like predicting that two hydrogen atoms combined with an oxygen atom will most likely produce water)

Two, if we gain a specific understanding of sub atomic interactions, would we then be able to understand how our brains work on it’s smallest level? I’ll use a very basic and dumbed down example. What if we discovered that when a certain group of Photons react a certain way in our brains, we picture the image of our pet dog, sparky?

Would it then be possible, if paired with the possibility of reaching the “Computing Singularity”, would we be able to predict the actions and reactions of a group of people?

I’m not sure how much sense this actually makes, but bear with me.

If one can map out every single particle in person X’s body, and understand the probablity of all possible events that can occur in that person’s body, could you accurately predict that person’s behaviour?

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91 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

It is theoretically possible to do anything.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

and a small note:
if such a theory like this is in fact true, does that essentially remove the idea of free will? Seeing as all of our choices are nothing more than the probable reactions between sub atomic particles?

markyy's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 only if you believe time is linear :)

gailcalled's avatar

@AstroChuck: And this from a 6-yr.old? I should trust you, little man?

barumonkey's avatar

I predict that someone will post an answer after I do. I also predict that, if I throw a ball up in the air, it will come down again.

rebbel's avatar

For me, i think ”(the) require(ment to have) an absolute understanding of sub atomic physics” is needed to give you an answer.

AstroChuck's avatar

@gailcalled- Theoretic science dictates that a theoretic possibility has to have some basis in science. You must at least be able to do thought expirements, even if they can’t be carried out literally.

barumonkey's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03: In response to your small note, the answer is either “yes” or “that depends how you define free will.”

ragingloli's avatar

if you can find a way to circumvent the heisenberg uncertainty principle, yes.

gailcalled's avatar

@AstroChuck: Help me to think that the judge tonight in traffic court will let me pay my speeding ticket and also lower the penalty to a non-moving violation.

rebbel's avatar

@ragingloli Wasn’t that the burning zeppelin?

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@barumonkey that’s what I’m getting at. If you have the computing ability to handle the pure amount of data, and if you can bypass the uncertainty principle as @ragingloli mentioned, could one predict the actions of a person or group just as easily you could the falling ball?

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@markyy this actually doesn’t have much to do with time. More so the electro magnetic reactions between sub atomic particles, time doesn’t really need to enter the equation at all.

ragingloli's avatar

@rebbel
no that was the hindenburg

barumonkey's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03: I believe the answer to that question is: If there is free will then you could predict vague probabilities; if there is not free will, then yes, you could accurately predict all actions.

Jayne's avatar

No, there’s too much Quantum lying about the place.

ragingloli's avatar

@barumonkey
actually, no. if you can predict every particle interaction, then there is no free will. if you can not predict it, then there still might not be free will.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@Jayne I think that’s what I’m leaning towards, I feel the need to challenge quantum mechanics, the math is all fine and dandy but there’s just so many holes.

nikipedia's avatar

Doesn’t the lack of free will presume that free will isn’t a material phenomenon?

Jack79's avatar

I think from the way you describe it, it’s pretty clear that it is theoretically possible. Whether it is practically possible, is a different issue.

For example, whenever I throw a die, you cannot guess the roll because you don’t know the exact strength with which I’m going to throw it, the distance to the table and the exact original position in my hand. Even if you had that information, there would be other, smaller parameters, which we as humans consider “random”: wind speed (even in an airtight room there could be a minor draught), air density, gravity and of course the exact conditions of the surface upon which I’ll throw the die (not just texture, but also temperature and even colour), moisture and so on. If you did eventually put ALL the data into a supercomputer (including what I had for breakfast) and knew the exact movement I would make (which could only be predicted if I were a robot), then yes, you could eventually guess what roll I was going to bring.

Now multiply that complexity (of a simple d6 roll) to the infinite possible results of any single action by any single person (some of whom might simply die in the process and no longer play their role), then multiply that by all the number of people, but also animals and plants (a cat crosses the street, you steer to avoid it and hit a tree that wouldn’t even be there if it hadn’t received enough rain during a drought 20 years earlier). Then add all the other parameters and yes, you could theoretically predict the future. But it’s not really worth the hassle (it would probably require an infinitely large computer working for an infinite amount of time). You’d have more chances getting it right by simply looking at a crystal ball.

markyy's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 You’re right I was referring to your first post, but I misunderstood. I was under the impression you wanted to predict the time and place of just atoms, instead of predicting their impact on their surrounding atoms. And use this information to make some sort of blueprint of every unique brain. I hope I understood correctly this time. I do however not hope we are doomed to react purely based on how our brain is constructed. I do hope our brain’s development is under the influence of unknown variables and experiences as we are not born into a vacuum but a very complex and interwoven world.

The rest of my answer was very much like what @Jack79 just said but more poorly formulated. If you could predict everything in a vacuum, that leaves out the other (more important) 99% of that which affects your descissions.

wundayatta's avatar

Can’t be done. Not if quantum mechanics are an accurate hypothesis about the way the universe works. Even if there were not uncertainty about every interaction in the universe, the only way you could build an accurate model would be to build an exact copy of the universe itself. The only model that could accurately predict the future would be the actual thing, itself. Of course, given quantum mechanics, even that model would be inaccurate.

markyy's avatar

Good thing I’m not high or something like that, because the possibility that we are an exact copy of another universe that is trying to predict the future would make my head explode.

ragingloli's avatar

@markyy
one of the exact copies

ragingloli's avatar

also you could not only predict the future, but extrapolate the past down to the big bang as well.

Christian95's avatar

If you use the current theories than it’s not possible cause Heinsberg’s uncertainity principle says that you can’t know the position and velocity of a particle with same accuracy(the most accurate is one,less accurate is the other one).This stops you from predicting the future,but you can calculate the probability to happen a certain event.So unless we don’t find a theory which contradicts Heinsberg we won’t be able to predict future at a quantum level or greater.

Christian95's avatar

I don’t know what to say about the second part with the brain but everything is possible.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

I’m not sure if you’d need to replicate the universe in order for it to be appropriately accurate.

For instance, if you simply put someone in a room, present them with a cube and a sphere and say “pick one” you wouldn’t need to know how the various elements in Beetlejuice are interacting with eachother. you could isolate your feild to just the person/room.

Unless sub atomic intereactions are so delicate that the mere vibrations or magnetic pull from various weak forces effect their nature greatly.

mind you, I know that in order to know for certain, yes you’d have to take into account a nearly incomprehensible amount of data, but in order to get something like “there is a 75.287714% chance subject ‘X’ will pick the sphere” you could simplify (by atomic terms) your data feild.

wundayatta's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 You could, but you’d make your model increasingly inaccurate. If you want to ask can you predict the future with some accuracy, then of course we can. It depends on how much of the universe you are making predictions about and how you define accuracy.

But you mentioned the computational singularity, so I made the assumption you were talking about the entire universe with complete accuracy. If you loosen the parameters, than prediction is not only possible, but it happens all the time. Why, I predict you will write on fluther again before you die.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@daloon see but the difference between you predicting me writing again on fluther is more or less just a hunch, or educated guess.

I was hinting at more of a mathematical mode to predict the reactions of a human, thus the second segment of my original question about particle specific neurology and free will.

but I agree with you, replicated the entire universe in a mathematic fashion would be near impossible.

CMaz's avatar

“If one can map out every single particle in person X’s body, and understand the probability of all possible events that can occur in that person’s body, could you accurately predict that person’s behavior?”

Yes

But you would have to also do that with everyone and everything around that person.

I put my car into drive. It goes down the road. I know where it will end up. If I know the condition of the car, every molecule. And, I know what is going on around it.
As my car goes dow the road, heading for a wall, another car can come out and hit it. My car could run out of gas or have an engine failure.
But if I know all theses things, there there is no doubt I can predict the future.

Pre determination.

Jayne's avatar

There already is a computer that can take into account everything in existence to predict the future; it’s called the universe. There is no logical way to make any computer that is smaller than the entire universe while still storing the same amount of data. Another identical universe were created, it might still come to different conclusions, however, because of the apparent fundamental randomness of quantum theory.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

correct. That’s why I’m speaking specifically of human reaction, not the entire known universe.

Jayne's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03; in that case, of course, your model may be highly inaccurate.

markyy's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 Maybe I’m putting too much effort into trying to save my ass after you called me on my mistake ;) BUT..

What if something happened to your subject earlier. Lets say he was playing soccer before you put him in that room. Wouldn’t he just maybe lean towards the round object, or the opposite. Could you have predicted that? maybe, but like you said it would have been a hell of a lot of data. I just don’t agree with this ‘Minority report’ like scenario that knowing how a person might react proves your prediction.

@ChazMaz and then 10 meters after you start your car a meteor hits your car. You probably think this is an over the top scenario and will never happen? I agree, you cannot predict this scenario as it is so unlikely it is easyto discard. But my problem is that everything that has already been predicted to occur after this event would be wrong.

Anyway I will stop littering the topic, this is certainly not my field of expertise.

wundayatta's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 I’d like to think that my prediction was much more than a hunch. I’d like to think that it’s based on a model that is probably more complete and more complex than most people’s models of human behavior.

I’d also like to point out that math is a language. It may be a precise language, with terms more clearly defined, but that doesn’t mean we can’t build equally accurate or even better models using other languages, or even no language at all. You might call it a hunch or a guess, but I think that’s an error in your model. I think it makes much more sense to consider that black box predictions are made using relevant data that is processed in a way that is inaccessible to our conscious minds.

I’d be happy to put our models to a comparative test if we could design a test that we both agree would measure the effectiveness of our models fairly. Hmmph. There I go again. Always insisting on defining terms as precisely as possible.

CMaz's avatar

“and then 10 meters after you start your car a meteor hits your car. ”

I explained that.

You would have to also do that with everyone and everything around that person.
That would include meteors.

“everything that has already been predicted to occur after this event would be wrong.”
Nope, it is ALWAYS the beginning of a continuum.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@daloon as you said, Mathematics are far more precise, that’s why I don’t think the two compare.

@markyy I’m not saying it would definitively prove the prediction, I’m just saying it theoretically would be a mathematical way to show the probability of a previously unmeasurable concept.

@ChazMaz again, I’m speaking solely of internal forces within a single orangism.

I feel that human thought/reaction, is nothing more than a complex pattern of interactions between subatomic particles, theoretically if you could map out those reactions and measure the probability of each reaction occuring, you could predict with a certain level of confidence what the test subject would think/do.

CMaz's avatar

“I’m speaking solely of internal forces within a single orangism.”

That is like saying, can I predict the movement of a car by adjusting the seat.

markyy's avatar

Ok one more post :)

This is turning into a topic about semantics.
@ABoyNamedBoobs03 probability? Yes I think we all agree you could get very good results, but this is a topic about predicting! (semantics)
@ChazMaz I agree, but not just around this person. Butterfly effect.. (and again semantics)

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@ChazMaz not at all, it’s more like saying, I know how a combustion engine works and specific mechanics of the car, so I know if I push down the gas peddle the car will move foward. My question has absolutely nothing to do with outside forces impeding a controlled event.

CMaz's avatar

Even in a “controlled” event. Outside forces are applying. So you need to take them also into consideration. If you want to “predict” the future accurately.

wundayatta's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 I said that mathematics was a more precise language, not that the use of the language results in more precise predictions.

Shuttle128's avatar

Man, I had to track this topic down again after my computer got shut down in the computer lab.

Psychology is a fairly accurate way of determining someone’s actions. It’s accuracy depends on how well the patient’s personality is known though. I know quite a bit about very near friends of mine and can predict their answers or reactions to a very large portion of situations based on previous experience. It is not always necessary for a model to be mathematical for it to be surprisingly accurate.

It is highly likely that the brain functions on principles that are not highly effected by quantum effects. The majority of thought processes lies in the structure and state of individual neurons. Provided you could analyze, fairly accurately, the structure of neurons in the brain you could model a brain using a neural network. If you had a singularity computer, as you suggest, it would be fairly simple to determine reactions to certain circumstances. You could certainly make more assumptions on brain activity based on what we know already of what parts of the brain are used for different activities to create a less detailed model and still get relatively accurate predictions.

It is not far fetched at all to think that brains will one day be simulated on a computer or that non-biological brains might emerge.

Zuma's avatar

“If one can map out every single particle in person X’s body, and understand the probability of all possible events that can occur in that person’s body, could you accurately predict that person’s behaviour?”

No.

Mapping the body down to the last quark and electron spin is not going to help you predict human behavior because the determinants of that behavior are social, psychological, technological and historical. Unmeasured in your model are all the emergent “macro” phenomena, like minds, social systems, cities, economies, nation-states, and historical trends whose strange will be things like emotional attachments, social movements, ideas, prices ideologies, and zeitgeists (respectively).

These are all nested, interpenetrating and, interactive systems. A tipping point here, a strange attractor there, could cause cascades of ripple effects, phase transitions or turbulence at multiple levels; it would make the whole thing too complicated.

You would need a massively parallel computer, to track the multiple dynamic systems involved, you wouldn’t be able to program it by conventional means. You would have to use evolutionary principles to write your code. Even if you figured out how to program a model that complex, you would never be able to specify the initial conditions with sufficient specificity to make the simulation track real world events.

To quote Werner Von Braun, “The human mind is still the most sophisticated computer that can be reliably made with unskilled human labor.” If we can’t predict with all the evolutionary programming we possess, then it probably can’t be done soon.

Shuttle128's avatar

@MontyZuma Do I see some Deutsch philosophy coming out of you? (I love his explanation on anti-reductionism) I do agree that in order to perfectly predict all of the future it would be impossible without devoting an entire Universe worth of computation to the problem (by then it wouldn’t make much sense anyway) and theories that cover phenomena not covered by the hard sciences. However, a sufficiently powerful computer could easily predict the outcome of one mind, provided it knew the mind’s state of initial conditions.

The initial conditions of the mind is the problem. Obviously the mind is not walled off from the rest of the universe and is effected by other outside influences. However, if the scan of the brain is recent enough the outside influences that could change the model are minimal and a very good prediction could result.

filmfann's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 It is possible to predict the future. Nostradamas did it, with mixed results. You do not need to have an understanding of sub-atomic structure.

Zuma's avatar

@Shuttle128 Yes, how perceptive. David Deutsch is one of the smartest people I’ve ever read.

Shuttle128's avatar

@MontyZuma I picked up Fabric of Reality on a whim at the library. Ever since I’ve had a vastly different approach to understanding science. His is one of the only philosophies of science that I can’t find much problem with. I should probably buy the book since I’m sure I wouldn’t mind reading it again.

derekpaperscissors's avatar

If you get past the 4th dimension…

gailcalled's avatar

I predicted the outcome at traffic court tonight re: my recent speeding ticket. Does that count?

mattbrowne's avatar

Predicting the weather in Punxsutawney, PA for February 2, 2010 today is impossible because it would require a computer made of more than 10^80 atoms. Too many variables. Even a supersmart groundhog emerging from its burrow can’t do it this year.

So the answer to your question is: No.

(yet some people think the future happens twice…)

ragingloli's avatar

@mattbrowne
that are practial hurdles, not theoretical impossibilities.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ragingloli – So what is your theoretical approach to remove the practical hurdles?

critter1982's avatar

Just my non-scientific opinion: Your question, “Is it scientifically possible to predict the future, excluded the word accurately. Without the word accurately or within some degree of certainty, one would have to assume that mathematically you could predict the future. Mathematically possible because even for an infinite amount of outcomes, the possibility that one will occur is highly probable if not definite. For example, @gailcalled predicted her outcome in traffic court (congrats BTW). Perhaps this was lucky but she did in fact predict the future outcome of an event that had not yet occurred. Similarly, I can predict that by 8:00 tomorrow morning I will see the sun rising. Predicting the future is possible but predicting the future with high certaintly I don’t believe is or will ever be theoretically possible, unless of course we determine that free will is not real and sub atomic particles react in some non-random way. This also begs the question which @mattbrowne just stated, do we have a theoretical approach to mapping subatomic particle behavior and their interactions with each other?

Dr_C's avatar

I knew you were going to ask this question…

Zuma's avatar

The quetion here is not whether you can predict the future per se, but whether you can predict human behavior using pysiological data.

mattbrowne's avatar

@MontyZuma – Can you predict @ABoyNamedBoobs03‘s behavior on February 2, 2010 from 10:47 till 10:49 am? We’ll give you all his neurons and their content. You write it on a piece of paper, seal it and I lock it away safely. At 10:50 am on February 2, 2010 we’ll ask @ABoyNamedBoobs03, then retrieve your piece of paper. If you succeed I’ll buy you a beer. No, make that a crate of German beer. You pick the brand.

Zuma's avatar

@mattbrowne The answer is still No, for reasons stated in my long answer above. I could, perhaps do some sort of time series computation that would give a satisfyingly high probability of what he would be doing at T2, especially if he was asleep, but if he was awake in a room full of distractions, such as a crowded restaurant or knew about the prediction experiment, he could easily defeat the prediction.

There are simply too many exogenous variables to make a prediction even for such a short span of time. The human mind is in a delicately balanced state of chaotic equilibrium. The least little thing can quickly change matters. See Ian Stewart’s Does God Play Dice?

mattbrowne's avatar

@MontyZuma – All right, let’s wait for Kurzweil’s singularity to tame the uncertainty of electrons. Somebody ought to put a stop to all this chaos around us. Love playing dice, huh? My God, notorious gambling is a forbidden vice! And let’s see what this does to @ABoyNamedBoobs03‘s behavior on February 2, 2010…

filmfann's avatar

@mattbrowne Is that the day he hits puberty?
(yes, I saw the weather post)

mattbrowne's avatar

@filmfann – Well, I was hoping it’s the day he unravels the mystery behind dark energy…

Dr_C's avatar

@filmfann not the day he hits puberty.. he graduates potty training! (with honors btw)

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@Dr_C my mommy already bought the blue ribbon and urvrything.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@mattbrowne patience, one day I’ll get around to it ;)

LostInParadise's avatar

Two points:
Firstly, the Butterfly Effect principle says that even the smallest errors in measurement eventually become so significant and lead to so many possibilities that a probabilistic approach is fruitless.

Secondly, there is LostInParadise’s Paradox (okay, I am sure somebody else has thought of this, but I have not seen it mentioned): What I like about this, is that it makes no scientific assumptions. Suppose you can predict everything. That would have to include your own behavior. But you can always make some change in what you do, no matter how small, that differs from what is predicted.

LostInParadise's avatar

The second point is more general than how I stated it and is related to the time travel question of whether you can alter the present by changing something that happened in the past. The present is the past of the future. What happens if you change something that affects something that is predicted to happen in the future?

ragingloli's avatar

@LostInParadise
But you can always make some change in what you do, no matter how small, that differs from what is predicted.
then you could not predict everything

Zuma's avatar

@LostInParadise _
@ragingloli

“But you can always make some change in what you do, no matter how small, that differs from what is predicted.”

And not only you, but everyone else. When the prediction concerns phenomena at chaotic or dynamic equilibrium, then the long-term accuracy of the prediction falls off in geometric proportion to the system’s sensitivity to initial conditions. Conversely, when the prediction concerns phenomena near a strange attractor (or a source) the reverse applies; the accuracy of long-term predictions increases in geometric proportion to the strength of the strange attractor or sources acting on the system.

Think of a pencil balanced on it’s point. Predicting where it will be a few seconds hence depends strongly on initial conditions. But a pencil that is laying on it’s side (having already been pulled toward the attractors acting on it) will be far easier to predict. Likewise, a pencil standing on it’s point next to a source that is emitting puffs of air is going to be fairly easy to predict.

So, it’s not a question as to whether you can predict something, but the accuracy of predictions—which runs along a curve from “accurate” in the very short term and “inaccurate” in the long term under chaotic equilibrium, to “accurate” in both the short and long term in systems that are strongly affected by strange attractors.

Each human being is a dynamic system in chaotic equilibrium within certain bounds. A leader can spontaneously arise and create a tipping point causing a cascade throughout the population of individuals. There is no way to predict which of those individuals will emerge as a leader, or which way the tipping point will break. But, once having broken, it is fairly easy to predict that it will continue in the same direction.

Populations of individuals reach asymptotes which also make their behaviors easier to predict.

As for going back in time, the further away you land from the tipping point, the more effort it will require to achieve the same result. If you land on a tipping point, the ripple of causation will be fairly large. If you land close to a strange attractor, your influence would be imperceptible, even in the distant future, although perhaps not in the very far distant future.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

this has turned into a great conversation. I’ve been pretty busy lately but I’ll try to jump back into this soon, I just wanted to thank everyone for all your input :).

LostInParadise's avatar

@Zuma , Strange attractors come and go. Your bathtub drain makes for a good strange attractor, but not for very long.

Zuma's avatar

@LostInParadise The thing about strange attractors is that they are the most stable part of a dynamic system. The drain is there whether there is any water there or not. It isn’t till you tear your bath tub out that the drain goes away, if it does. Of course, it all depends on what you mean by “for very long.” There are black holes at the centers of galaxies that seem to endure for a very long time.

LostInParadise's avatar

What I meant was that the water going down the drain does not last long. Additionally, strange attractors are stable only in a statistical sense. Things move into and even occasionally move out of black holes.

Zuma's avatar

@LostInParadise “strange attractors are stable only in a statistical sense.”

Not sure what you mean here, what other sense is there?

LostInParadise's avatar

Saying something is stable in a statistical sense can mask a lot of underlying flux. You can say that the water cycle on Earth is stable, but there can still be a lot going on, like hurricances and lakes drying out in one place and forming in another.

Zuma's avatar

@LostInParadise I wouldn’t call the flux masked exactly. The strange attractor defines the limits of flux within a phase space, not the flux itself. The turbulence of the flux itself depends on where the system is relative to a phase transition point. As a flow nears a phase transition point, the more chaotic or turbulent it becomes. Conversely, as you move off from that point, you get a more stable, orderly regime.

Also, as you correctly note, what may appear stable at a distance (e.g. climate) may appear turbulent up close (weather). Naturally, the accuracy of a prediction is going to be affected by the turbulence at the scale at which the prediction applies.

I don’t think we really disagree; we are looking at two sides of the same coin. Yes, it is difficult to predict into areas of turbulence; but on the flip side, you can make satisfyingly accurate predictions into the more orderly areas of a dynamic system, such as those near strange attractors, those far from phase transition points, and at a scale where underlying phenomena reach their asymptotes (such as when you extend the time scale in the drawings in the link above).

LostInParadise's avatar

I will let you have the last word on this. I do think we are basically in agreement. Unfortunately, I only have a little bit of informal knowledge of attractors and will have to take you at your word.

Desmos's avatar

It might seem under your current assumptions that it would be possible, however you are leaving one key point out. Let me return to that later.

First of all let me add a assumption to your question. That the system under observation is completely closed and we know all relevant information without having to observe any of it. Second, that the amount of computation to simulate the system is able to be achieved with the matter outside of that system.

If these two assumptions are fulfilled then it is computationally achievable almost by definition.

Under your current assumptions it may not be possible. If the system under computation is not completely closed from the system computing its future, than it is possible that the computation itself has some kind of effect on the simulation. Therefore, this link would need to be taken into account and its effects computed. However it is likely the amount of change (thought linking with the system) this additional computational material would have to the system under observation would mean we would need more computational material to compute it etc.

Second, we cannot simulate our universe at real-time because it would require the whole universe to do so (we cannot make more calculations in a subset of the universe than the universe itself can). This means we are limited in the size of a simulation we can carry out. Theoretically at maximum, we can only simulate one half of the universe with the other.

If your assumptions are wrong and there is a probabilistic effect, then all bets are off.

Zuma's avatar

@Desmos Welcome to Fluther!

The way the question was originally posed asks whether you can predict human behavior using physiological data data alone. I say No, because what you are attempting to predict is a dynamic system which has exogenous variables acting upon it which are not included in the physiological level of analysis. To complicate matters further, you have interacting chaotic effects within levels of analysis and between levels of (social) and (physiological) analysis.

Even if you had a quantum computer distributing the computational task over multiple universes, you could theoretically compute all possible scenarios in superposition, but you wouldn’t necessarily know which solution was your best prediction, because it would change from moment to moment. Plus, if the person whose behavior you were trying to predict was aware of the experiment, he could always act in ways that defeat the prediction.

LostInParadise's avatar

The question comes down to whether it is possible to discount very remote events. For example, suppose we confined ourselves to the Solar System. Even ignoring Heisenberg uncertainty, the Butterfly Effect says that eventually what happens outside the Solar System would have a significant effect on things happening within it.

Zuma's avatar

@LostInParadise Everything is, of course, connected to everything else. Unless you are proposing some sort of weird astrological action-at-a-distance-type influence, I would suspect that the local effects would be pretty slight.

They would certainly be swamped by social effects, which is the zone of maximum complexity on any scale. I was reading in a new math book I just got that we humans (and our culture) are basically in the middle of the scale beginning at the Planck scale on the micro end and galactic clusters at the macro end. Things very much smaller than us, like viruses, have limited complexity due to the nature of the forces involved at that scale. Likewise, when you get into systems on a planetary scale or larger, complexity is constrained by the effects of gravity.

So, maximum complexity and unpredictability appear to be inherent at our scale.

mattbrowne's avatar

@LostInParadise – Yes, but when? Could more than 2 billion years in the future when our galaxy is merging with Andromeda. Could be 1.4 million years when Gliese 710 might come dangerously close to our solar system. Quite a butterfly.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

I think what’s gradually been lost here is that I don’t think something like this would ever be able to be 100% certain as many have insisted it would need to be. But in a small, controled environment I think it could be very possible to predict certain actions. We’ve already begun behavioral prediction, studies have been done where subjects were given a choice to either push a large button in front of them, or to refuse. Researches were able to predict what each subject would do with over a 96% percent certainty up to, and in certain situations more than, five seconds before they actually made the choice.

Eventually, with a higher understanding of sub atomic interactions, coupled with greater computing power, a large number of possibilities linking the connections between sub atomic physics and neurology can be made.

LostInParadise's avatar

@mattbrowne , @ABoyNamedBoobs03
The Uncertainty Principle plus the Butterrly Effect mean that our predictions are going to be very much limited in scope and time.

For an interesting recent development see:
http://www.siobhanroberts.com/pdf/free.pdf

mattbrowne's avatar

@LostInParadise – Yes, we can’t even calculate whether the solar system is stable or not.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N-body_problem

HungryGuy's avatar

Yes, if you knew the exact quantum position and velocity of every particle in the universe, you could theoretically predict the exact state of every particle infinitely into the future (so much for free will). But the Heisenberg uncertainty principle prevents you from knowing the position and velocity of any particle; measuring a particle’s position disturbs its velocity, and measuring its velocity disturbs its position.

Crashsequence2012's avatar

Absolutely.

If Obama gets another term without the restricting factor of needing to be liked enough to win another ALL HELL IS GOING TO BREAK LOOSE.

If I turn out to be wrong I promise to make like Jeremy Clarkson and EAT MY OWN HAIR.

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