Sunday, January 22, 2012

Free Will: The First Derivative

By Rob Watson

(Wikipedia had a great segment describing first derivatives) 

In a recent Physics class (Physics For Elementary Teachers), up at the local college, there was one advanced student among a group of regular students. The advanced student had lots of Physics background and lots of higher mathematics. The regular students had none of either. One day the class took up the subject of Newton's Second Law of Motion. It describes how things move under ideal conditions. In simple terms, that law states: Force equals mass times acceleration. (F=MA) Related topics included kinetic energy and momentum. Kinetic energy is one half the mass times the velocity squared.(KE=1/2 MV^2) Momentum is simply mass times velocity. (MO=MV) As with all complex things, the regular students brains swirled in confusion. The professor strove to explain the concepts while the advanced student’s mind drifted. 

After a bit the advanced student drifted back to the subject at hand. He understood mass and velocity, kinetic energy, and force, but momentum seemed not to click. The more he studied, the more kinetic energy and momentum became inseparably entwined. Roll a bowling ball down the ally. It has momentum. It has kinetic energy. The ball hits the pins. The pins go flying off, taking with them some of the kinetic energy and some of the momentum. Why are the equations different but contain the same mass? The same velocity? There was nothing to do but ask. He raised his hand. 

The professor eyed him suspiciously (Knowing full well that an advanced question would not rest well with the other students) then asked what his question was. “Sir, what is the difference between kinetic energy and momentum?” The answer came back: “It is related to higher mathematics and I would prefer to answer later” The professor was hoping this seemingly innocent question had simply flown over the heads of the regular students. But, as he glanced around the room he could see such was not the case. The professor knew the necessarily complex answer was not going to help the regular students. The advanced student had unintentionally put him on the spot. Then an idea took root. If the advanced student could catch onto a mathematical code word, the question could be answered and the regular students would not slide deeper into confusion. His eyes swept the room again as he contemplated the possibilities. Then his eyes settled on the advanced student and he said: “Momentum is the first derivative of kinetic energy” The advanced student threw up his hands in surprise and understanding, said “Oh... yeah, Thanks.” Almost immediately, from the back of the room came a very sarcastic “Oh... yeah, Thanks.” followed by general laughter among the regular students. Then another voice questioned: “What do you have to have, calculus to understand that?” The professor answered a simple “yes” and then proceeded with his description of Newton's Second Law. 

Do you understand what these two, the professor and his advanced student were talking about. Did you understand the question, Did you understand the answer? Well if you are befuddled you are in the right state of mind. 

A few days after this, the advanced student went to church where the pastor touched on the problem of how God could let all the evil, that happens in this world, continue. While evil has many components: greed, hatred, lust, religious zealots, mental illness, prejudice, and many other situations. Like kinetic energy and momentum, evil is really very difficult to understand... A man drives drunk and crashes his truck into a van carrying 8 athletes, killing them all...rape and murder an attractive young woman... savagely beat a young man and tie him, naked, to a fence in the dead of a Wyoming winter... Blow yourself up to kill a few innocent people... fly an airplane full of people into a building full of people... “Lord, God Almighty, How can you let this happen?!” is the question that immediately comes to mind. 

Evil has a core component that allows all the others to function. That is “free will”. The free will to drink into insensibility, the free will to enjoy lust and murder, the free will to hate. This is to say, the first derivative, the enabling core component, of evil, is free will. 

What about good; work, self control, love, generosity, self sacrifice, honor, duty, faith in God. Are these decisions that we make as a free will choice. Is not the core component, the first derivative, of all that is good, also free will? So the first derivative of all that is evil and all that is good is the same: free will. Would you give up free will so that evil could not exist? And, if you would give it up, How would you live? And why? Unlike our professor, God has chosen to answer later. I am sure we will all understand when we face Him at His judgement seat.

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