Laws or Habits?

A constant theme in science is that there are laws of nature.  Now, what is meant by law?  Typically, I think what is meant is some persistent, intransigent, structural given that enforces the way things unfold.  Also, typically, I think that, at least in science, these laws are considered mindless. There is no intentionality associated with them.  The laws just do what they do with no purpose in mind.  This should obviously lead to a mechanistic worldview. Everything is determined by necessity and chance.  What we have in the universe is an autonomic system that just does what it does.

The implications of this are also, I think, obvious.  There is no real meaning, no free will, no moral high ground.  Everything just unfolds autonomically; a machine just doing what it does.  Anyone who denies this should offer some other causal ingredient to the mix.  Otherwise, their arguments are specious.

But what if what we call laws are just habits?  So what are habits?  Habits are not intransigent. They are part of the intention milieu of the mind.  They offer some sort of structural purpose to make things stable and regular but they are intentional to serve some purpose. If those habits don’t serve the inherent goals they can be changed.  Maybe a habit creates an environment where good things can happen but in some situations, it doesn’t serve the ultimate goal. For example, eating a healthy diet may be a great habit but there may be times for psychological or social reasons it’s fine to pig out for some comfort or in social situations.  The healthy habit remains but a slight divergence does no harm and may be a benefit.  The ultimate purpose is not the habit but the underlying goal. Habits serve the ultimate purpose and are not an end to themselves. They are intentionally regular to serve a purpose.

So, is this what is going on with the regularities that are discovered in science? Perhaps.  After all, science works well with simple systems.  Reductionist science can be precise because it investigates simple systems with very few degrees of freedom.  Once, the degrees of freedom begin to increase, reductionist science falters. No definitive, precise descriptions can be provided.  We see this with physics envy in other fields like psychology, sociology, biology, etc.  Once the level of complexity gets to a certain point the precision of predictions becomes suspect.  There have been meta-studies that have shown that the vast majority of scientific studies end up being wrong.  Now, there can be a lot of factors associated with this including, inadequate data samples, poor evaluative techniques, confirmation bias, etc.  Or it just could be that once the number of contributing factors increase to a certain level things are just not that predictable.  So, some would say that all is needed are better models, less bias, etc.  Perhaps.

But what if there is an inherent teleology at work.  What if the regularities we see at fundamental levels are just the purposeful plan to create a space where life can exist, grow, change, and in some cases embrace a divine purpose for life.  The regularities are essential just as healthy habits can be essential to well being.  But there could also be an openness to creativity and moving beyond an autonomic where habits are not really a separate category of causation but just part the purposeful unfolding of life.

Now, I think it is important here to emphasize that “habits” are not something discontinuous with the purposeful events in the world.  It might be tempting because of our acculturation to the law paradigm to think of habits as something to be overridden for some purpose. Not so.  The regularities we see are not something that needs to be overridden from time to time for some goal.  They are inherent in teleology.    Here let me offer a metaphor. The Juggler.  There is a stability of the juggle so that the balls will not fall.  But the juggler can also make slight changes to create novelty and interest.  It’s all intentional.  It might be said that included in the “habits” are the habits of teleology.  If we think of God continuously creating the universe in every second, then God does that by creating both the stabilities (regularities) that science is able to characterize and the novelties that also serve the underlying goals of God.

So, how would this fit in with science?  At the fundamental level of physics, all we have are probabilities.  Over a large sample, these probabilities are very accurate. But what about individual events?  The aggregate results of probabilities show a life-giving regularity that is necessary. But individual events can also have powerful effects.  In the aggregate as single quantum event might seem trivial but that event might result in something much more profound.  The fundamental science will remain the same and the mathematics will remain accurate in the aggregate. But single events or a multitude of particular similar events could create something that cannot be captured within reductionist science.

Then on top of this, there is the area of emergence where properties occur when there is a large enough collective but that cannot be deduced from the fundamental principals.  For those who are interested, check out Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin’s work in this area.

Now, this is all speculative and may remain that way for a long time. But for those who may wonder about teleology in this world, it might offer a way to embrace the divine workings in reality that is totally compatible with science.  In this view, God creates where habits provide for stability such that life can exist but also where there can be creativity and teleology in its unfolding.