One of the fun things about doing the kind of research that I do is that sometimes Morgan Freeman** shows up with a Television crew in tow. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be able to put together a show with him about some of the more cutting edge ideas of free will and determinism. The idea being that although we may have some freedom when it comes to an individual within society, once you scale these kinds of systems up towards millions the aggregate behavior starts to become quite predictable. While freedom may exist for an individual, do we indeed lose it as a society?
This question is particularly interesting when we start to consider the mathematical structures that appear time and again within insurgencies and war. From the timing of attacks through to the size distribution of attacks. The activities start to become ordered and predictable. When this order emerges do we lose some sense of free will? If even the way we choose to kill each other within a seemingly chaotic conflict is determined by a set of mathematical equations what does that say about our ability to collectively have free will?
Of course this is all nothing new to the Issac Assimov fans out there, and the fictional Professor Hari Seldon was/is a large proponent of galactic scale predictability with his version of psychohistory. With the emergence of global scale data collection and high performance computing systems available on demand – are we finally starting to brush up against this strange/scary concept?
I’m not sure I did quite enough Philosophy to answer this or any of the other challenging questions definitively. But it was certainly an interesting set of questions to ponder. It was a blast working with the ‘Through the Wormhole’ team, and great to be able to tell the story of the work I have been doing into understanding the mathematical structure of war and insurgency. And judging by the video you can see that is was also a great excuse to lace up the running spikes, get onto the track and get out over some hurdles — judging by the technique it’s been a while since I had this chance. You can watch some of the other clips from the show here including an interesting piece from Michael Gazzaniga aka the father of modern neuroscience.
**And because I know you are asking, I did of course get Morgan Freeman to record for me a voice message on my answer phone. Is there any other reason to work with him?