Chaos, Computational Irreducibility, and the Meaning of Life

Manuel Brenner
9 min readSep 24, 2020

It’s scary how much people believe in science.
Stephen Wolfram

Immanuel Kant, perhaps the most important philosopher of modernity, hated determinism. How could man retain what made him most humane in the face of the unfolding clockwork of the universe? (Wo)man, after all, is (wo)man only because she chooses, and choosing what is right allows her to act morally, allows her to realize her innermost humaneness.

If it were possible to know the position and velocity of every particle in the universe, then we could predict with utter precision the future of those particles and, therefore, the future of the universe.
Isaac Newton

Since the days of Newton, professional thinkers and non-professional thinkers alike have been struggling with the idea of determinism. For us, caught up in the heat of the moment, trapped in the light cone of relativity that limits the boundaries of what we can ever know anything about, our heads filled with an inference machine trying to predict the future based on sparse information flowing in from the outside in real time, determinism manifestly does not agree with our day-to-day experience.

I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined look before they cross the road.
Stephen Hawking

The implications of determinism are usually caricatured as sucking all spontaneity and choice out of life. Determinism is billiard balls smashing into each other. Determinism is stale…