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David Cowles

Apr 15, 2024

“Things are the way they are simply because they are the way they are.”

In Thoughts While Shaving (3/26/2024),  we introduced the notion of a Block Universe (BU). According to this model, Universe is best represented as a static block. People used to write about the Block Universe but now we know that there are multiple models of BU. Each of these models has a different look and feel. However, it remains to be seen which of these various ideas, if any, are denotatively distinct.

We explored two models of BU: Classical Determinism (CD, Laplace) and Many Worlds (MW, Everett). We’ll briefly recap these two models and then explore some other possible Block cosmologies, ultimately focusing on our title topic, Super-Determinism.

The principle of Classical Determinism is well known. If we could specify the location and the momentum of every element in the Universe, we could calculate the state of the Universe at any time, past or future. Maybe so…but we can’t do it! 

Turns out that location and momentum are not entirely independent, so it is never possible to measure both at once without there being a certain amount of ‘fuzziness’ in the data (and fuzzy is fatal when it comes to determinism – I mean, one flap of a butterfly’s wing can throw all our plans and predictions into a cocked hat: no picnic today!)

In fact, if we could know location with the precision required for a deterministic calculation, it would come at the expense of any knowledge whatsoever concerning momentum. Fortunately for us, the relationship between location and momentum is not linear. There is a ‘sweet spot’ where we have enough information about location and momentum to make informal, imprecise, predictions re the evolution of affairs. No picnic…but probably no asteroid collision either.

Hugh Everett salvaged the picnic. He posited that any event that can happen (even a picnic) does happen…but in its own universe. We no longer need to rely on knowing position and momentum to predict the future: whatever can happen does happen! 

Predictions can be made with 100% certainty and 100% accuracy. No predicted event has ever failed to materialize…nor will it…ever. Riddle: If a prediction is guaranteed in advance to be correct, is it a ‘prediction’? 

Many Worlds is irrefutable, but not very useful. It’s really just a device to get around the paradoxes of Quantum Mechanics. The inventory of ‘worlds’ explodes super-exponentially and there is no way to prefer one universe over any other: they’re all just happening! 

Question: Is ‘everything happening’ the same as ‘nothing happening’? If everything occurs, does anything occur? When do we start saying silly things like, “I know it’s happening but is it really happening?”

Laplace or Everett, either way your experience is the same; you live in just one world – because either that’s all there is (CD) or, what amounts to the same thing, that’s all there is for you. Your actual trajectory is unique according to either model. No matter what choices you appear to make, which alternatives you seem to choose, Everett-World will still be your world, and therefore phenomenally indistinguishable from Laplace-World

CD and MW describe the same World. In both cases, actuality is singular. CD brings us back to Shakespeare: “To be or not to be.” And to Looney Tunes: “That’s all folks!” One and done. It either is or it is not. If it is, it is what is! Welcome to Hell – but don’t worry, it’s all-inclusive.

Many Worlds relieves the boredom of CD… but at a price: chaos! According to MW, there is a universe in which I ordered lasagna and a universe where I ordered fish. Some wedding…lucky me! Well, not really. I only know from fish or pasta – like meat and dairy, I can’t experience both at the same time if I’m keeping a kosher diet; I can’t combine the two. In another universe, somebody ate lasagna, but not me; I only got to taste fish. Rats!

Of course, the bifurcation of reality does not stop at wedding menus. Everything you do functions as a node, a bifurcation point…you and every other human being…you and every other living organism…you and each one of the 30 trillion independent cells that make you up…you and… A person could lose count! 

It’s possible, I suppose, that one of these models (CD, MW) might be correct. I’ll concede that there’s probably no way to ‘falsify’ either one, i.e., to prove it wrong.  One reason these models can’t be falsified is that they don’t tell us anything very useful. As a result, they fail out of the gate because they don’t account for the world as we actually experience it. 

Turns out, MW and CD are the same! In both models, what happens just happens. There is no causal contingency. There’s nothing recognizable as agency, and of course, there’s no free will. Wait! According to CD, ‘only one thing happens’; while according to MW, whatever can happen does happen. How can the two models be the same? 

Thanks to Bill Clinton, we can resolve this paradox: it all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is. MW applies ‘is’ to all possible pathways; CD applies it to just one actual pathway.

On 3/26/2004, I proposed a modification to Everett’s Many Worlds model. Call it ‘Many Worlds Modified’ (MM). Suppose ‘the world tree’ (Yggdrasil) is convergent as well as divergent. We know from Botany that roots and branches can converge and reconnect; why not divergent ‘world lines’ as well? 

If we treat the World as a computer simulation, made up entirely of 1’s and 0’s, it is easier to see how two different number streams could settle at a single shared value. According to MM, the inventory of ‘worlds’ grows, but as a linear function of time…a big improvement I think you’ll agree.

Speaking of Yggdrasil, according to Norse Mythology 3 norns (Macbeth’s witches) weave the World (Fate) from 3 skeins of yarn. How Trinitarian! MM is consistent with Norse cosmology. The textile, aka the World, accretes arithmetically over time. No stasis, no kaos, just logos

But am I too late to the party? 75 years ago, renowned physicist Richard Feynman created another theoretical framework that offers to bridge CD and MW. Like Everett 25 years later, Feynman takes ‘can happen, does happen’ as his starting point. But he treats ‘does happen’ in terms of mathematical probability rather than physical process. 

“Does happen” means “happens with a probability greater than 0 but less than 1”. Simplistically, with Laplace there is never any ‘event’ per se, with Everett there are inconceivably many ‘events’, while with Feynman there is exactly one ‘event’ per region of spacetime. Ah, fresh air!  

Feynman integrates many virtual (probabilistic) events into one actual (physical) event: the path integral. As with Schrödinger’s puss, at some point the Universe has to declare itself: “Is you is, or is you ain’t, my baby?” That actual, real declaration is a function of the probability of each of the potential, virtual declarations. 

But that’s only the beginning of Feynman’s genius! He went on to suggest that, while the probabilistic wave function does collapse into the specific actual event that we ‘see’, ALL the virtual pathways that ‘sum’ to that event pass on intact to the future. Such influences are transmitted noumenally, rather than phenomenally, according to Feynman’s model, which he appropriately called Sum Over Histories (SH). The result is a world that is ‘loosely causal’ – remarkably like the ‘real world’ of our everyday experience. 

Even though neither Laplace nor Everett can be debunked mathematically, their models are not very satisfying. One is totally rigid; the other wildly chaotic. One is fixed, the other grows super-exponentially. The problem is that neither remotely resembles the World we experience. Our World is stable but not frozen, dynamic but not chaotic. SH to the rescue! 

According to SH, all potential pathways influence the world-line noumenally, but the intensity of each influence is in direct proportion to its probability. What we experience, dubiously, as ‘phenomenal causation’ is just a gross approximation of ‘noumenal causation’. 

SH is much richer than my paltry effort (MM). However, it introduces complexities from Quantum Mechanics that are not strictly necessary. MM is like an n-1 dimensional sketch of SH.

All of which brings us back, finally, to various schools of so-called Super-Determinism (SD). SD duplicates the rigidity of CD but dispenses with the illusion of causation. A secular version of SD states that the Universe just is and is as it is. There’s no time, no space, no causation, no process, no true becoming or perishing. Connections among events are real…but they are not causal. Things are the way they are simply because they are the way they are. 

Other versions of SD invoke a transcendent agent, e.g. God. The Universe is the way it is because God made it that way…end of! SD comes in a variety of ‘transcendent’ (theocratic) versions as well as the one ‘immanent’ (secular) version outlined above. Theocratic SD often takes the form of God’s Will or Divine Providence or Best of all Possible Worlds (Leibniz). 

SD, secular or otherwise, is an intellectually honest version of CD. It applies Occam’s Razor Strop to Laplace. ‘Time’ and ‘causation’ are superfluous terms, so SD eliminates them. But then the world where SD applies is removed even farther from the world of everyday experience. 

‘It is what it is’ begs the question, “Why? Why is what is, the way it is?” Of course, the theocratic model answers that, “It’s God’s will;” but that just kicks the can down the road. It begs the further question, “Why is this what God wills?” And presto, we’re back into the world of transcendent values. 

The Five Books of Moses (Torah), indeed the entire Old Testament (OT), affirm our right, as value driven human beings, to question God’s judgment. We are God’s conscience, his Jiminy Cricket. The Book of Job explicitly asserts ‘the right of disputation’. Job takes God to cosmic court and wins! According to OT, God is powerful and benevolent but ‘morally confused’. 

Riddle: How is God like my grandmother (as described by her teacher)? He means well but he doesn’t always do well (at least not as we see things).

SD, secular or theocratic, needs to address three questions:

The world we experience seems riddled with Value; arguably (Whitehead), it is only Value. Yet SD is a world without even a category for Value. What is, is – don’t judge, deal! Can such a model shine any light on the world as we experience it?


David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at


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