Monday, March 01, 2010

Can the knowledge of the observer alter the subject of observation?

There are at least two well known novels where a character is capable of "seeing" the future, the first one is Foundation from Isaac Asimov and the second is Dune from Frank Herbert.
In Foundation, a mathematician name Hari Seldon develops a branch of Mathematics named PsychoHistory which he uses to model the universe (more specifically the interactions across a galaxy-wide humanity) and predict how it would behave. Hari discovers that the galactic empire is about to fall (within the next hundreds of years) and he uses PsychoHistory to interfere with this fall in order to minimize it and create a Foundation for the creation of a new empire.
In Dune, Paul Muad'Dib, the Kwisatz Haderach, has the power to see the future through trances induced by Spice, a mysterious drug. In Dune, many are able to see hints of the future thanks to the spice but Paul is the only one that can clearly see the future of human kind, much like Hari Seldon, as much as his own.
Both are tragic characters, like Cassandra from Greek mythology, and their gift of vision into the future eventually becomes their ruin.
These two examples along with memories from my Logic classes and Goedel Incompleteness Theorem (basically a system of rules cannot contain itself and thus cannot self-validate) made me think that any observer could be classified into at least three categories: (a) An observer with little knowledge (predictive power) of the subject being observed, (b) an observer with total knowledge of the object and (c) an observer with knowledge of the object and itself.
In the first case the object's properties are independent of the observer's existence and thus the observer may find the subject "unpredictable" or predictable but showing some "noise" or "error".
In the second case the observer knows in advance the next state of the subject of observation. Considering that this is known ahead of time only to the observer, does it imply that the object is determined by the observer? Does the observer see the future or does he create it?
The third case is the most elaborate: the observer not only knows how the subject will behave but also how he (the observer) will react to this and thus the subject is aware of an immutable future in which he is trapped.
Seldon and Muad'Dib also had another ace in their sleeves: both were leaders of men and eventually were believed as Oracles, Seldon after death, MuadDib in life. Seldon continued to guide his followers through video recordings that explained the current state of matters and how they should act. Was Seldon using these communications as a way of shaping the future? Were his predictions nothing more than tricks that made people believe that he could actually see the future and thus they would do as he said, thus creating a future foreseen by him?
Muad'Dib becomes emperor of the known universe with the goal of avoiding a great tragedy that would eradicate mankind. Eventually he becomes the cruelest tyrant in History in his desperate attempt to steer mankind into the right direction. No matter how much he tried, the universe found a way of slipping through his fingers and returning to his apocalyptic visions. Eventually he realizes that his own existence and his influence in others was the key log that kept that terrible future immutable and he decides to walk into the desert alone towards death.
So comes the final question: do we have really free will or are we only deluded because of our lack of knowledge of the universe and ourselves?