The Aliens Who Couldn’t Understand Freewill

Suppose we finally encounter the advanced
alien race we’ve always looked for, but due to a quirk of the universe, they move through
time in the opposite direction that we do. Our day of encounter is a solemn day for them.
They are there to say goodbye to us for the very last time, and we are there to encounter
them for the very first time. Conversations are easy for them, more difficult for us,
as they have learned to communicate with us in a wierd backwards logic, and their English
is perfect from over 1000 years of living on Earth. What interesting things they could tell us
about our own future, which is their past. Every event they have witnessed has played
out for them in a boggling way, and to us, their behavior is just as strange. They’ve
seen car wrecks reassemble themselves into cars and go screaming backwards around tracks.
The winner of the car race must return to the start line at the exact same time as all
the other cars, even though the losers have had a head start. The aliens have seen rotting logs, mere piles
of sawdust be ressurected into mighty oaks, and progressively shrink in on themselves,
becoming seeds. Every human decision, every war, every murder,
every death to disease or starvation, all of human misery or joy is a foregone conclusion
to them, and they see it happening in reverse, if they are there to observe it. There is
no mystery in our future because it is their past. There was one concept we were never able,
or rather, (will never be able) to explain to them, and that is (or was) free will. It’s
a meaningless concept to them. Our chain of causality is not their chain of causality.
We see every decision have a consequence. They see the consequence, and simply await
the predestined decision. We’ve tried, (or will try), I suppose, to
explain to them the concept of God, and why freewill is so important, but since they start
shaking their heads and shrugging their alien shoulders before we even speak, we know they
do not, will not understand. It would seem that free will doesn’t exist
to someone that does not share our precise perception of time. Interesting. Thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “The Aliens Who Couldn’t Understand Freewill

  • Part 3:

    The way the universe is, things do have to have causes (except perhaps in the Quantum world, which might actually be the thing that gives us free will).

    So, to the aliens, a broken-down car might be sitting on the grass…and then all of a sudden just start moving without any cause. This is impossible. Further, things happening without causes would make any intelligent life impossible, because intelligent life relies on cause and effect as a thinking mechanism. I could go on. Should I?

  • @Rationalific "(except perhaps in the Quantum world, which might actually be the thing that gives us free will)."

    With that phrase you have immediately aligned yourself with the likes of Deepak Chopra or the idiots who made What the Bleep do we Know.

    There is no reason to assume that thought processes are directly governed by quantum indeterminacy, much less that complex decisions hinge upon quantum events. Neurons simply don't work that way.

  • first time i saw that fight just now. if thompson knew how to box, he woulda stopped him in first 5 mins. if he knew ground game better, he woulda never let him up from the ground… leaned on him, tire him out and woulda won easily. dominated first seven mins of fight.

    would love to see lesnar fight someone like fujita. all lesnar has done is smother and lay on people. pathetic. he needs to fight someone he doesn't outweigh by 40 pounds!

  • Yes, to someone who experiences time in some special way free will is a meaningless concept. Just look at Manhattan from Watchmen who experiences all time at the same time. Well, the bigger question then is if it's even possible to experience time like that. If we can't show that this is little more than an interesting thought.

  • Time is an illusion of process. Causality and "Free Will" are part of this illusion. The particles that make up everything that can be known and unknown in the entirety of this cosmos are the same particles in different places and forms that existed at the start of the era of matter and energy. Those particles are here, in the eternal now. There are none left over to be *then*, at some other time. Or, for that matter, at all the infinite other *thens*.

  • Very good. Makes us see how biased our perception really is. The are millions of different perceptions that we can't even think of. Maybe they register time 10X as fast or as slow. Maybe they evolved with smell as they're main sensory instrument. Just such tiny modification of your sensory input and the whole perception of reality shifts. It is so weird it is fucked up. I sometimes can't handle it. Why for fuck sake? That is my question.

  • the probability of these aliens existing is zero since they violate the second law of thermodynamics continuously on a massive scale for eternity

  • I read a story in Analog once that was based on this very concept. I also saw the Red Dwarf episode kakamana1000 speaks of. The last gag was disturbing.

  • @poweredxbyxhope: Actually, I think you misunderstand. I don't mean that any "fiction" is useless. However, a fiction that changes the laws of the universe to such an extent by nature shouldn't be used to explain our universe. It has never been shown that time can run backwards and forwards in the same universe, and that is logically impossible.

    I know very well that for every cause there is an effect. However, in the aliens' world, this would not be true, and it would be impossible to live.

  • @poweredxbyxhope: Many people think that "time" is just like a video that we can rewind. This is far from the case, but also somewhat true in a way.

    It's false in that a video's information exists at all moments, yet we have no proof that either the future or the past "still" exists, or can't be changed.

    It is like a video in that if you start to watch a video backwards that you've never seen before, you'll still never be able to guess the beginning scene, just as we cannot guess the ending.

  • @Raptor302 Yep. It also means that you wrote your comment before mine, and i am writing this before either of them. Spooky kinda.

  • @N3CR1S It's not that simple. Knowing would change the universe and one would have to know how the knowing would change the universe and… infinite regress.

    See Chaos theory and Shroedinger's cat. Also, see Dennett's Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting.

    It's interesting but I suspect that free will or the lack there of is a chimera.

  • @poweredxbyxhope: My problem is not that other animals replace the roles as humans to act out things that are close enough to possible that they can teach us things. My problem is that a completely impossible setup of the universe won't tell us the truth about OUR universe.

    So, if you have a story with a man who is able to easily see with his eyes and touch with his body 26.5 dimensions instead of our 3 plus time (and possible hidden ones in string theory), this does nothing philosophical.

  • @poweredxbyxhope: Part 2

    Now imagine this. It's the aliens' last day (and our first meeting them) and they are leaving (arriving to us) and we shoot a nuclear warhead into the spaceship and destroy it. Thus, they are not with us in the future, and they had no past because we killed them so they can't "live it".

    You might say "No, no, no…we couldn't do that because there's no free will", but the more logical answer is that time can just never move backwards, and we can't affect the "past".

  • @poweredxbyxhope: Part 3:

    So, in the end, this video is sort of fun and thought-provoking in the same way that "Imagine that I went back in time and rode on a T-rex!" is, but it's not helpful in a philosophical sense.

    And again, even if you played a DVD backwards that you'd never seen in your life, you would still have no clue what the beginning scene was…just like the aliens would have no idea what their future held…making them no more able to claim that determinism is true than us.

  • …of course, they 'could' perceive themselves as having free will, but feel that we are the ones bound to specific chains of events…

  • qbslug:
    Well they could have negative mass, which according to the Lawrence Factor in Einstein's equations would mean they constantly travel faster than light–thus, backwards in time relative to us. It doesn't violate thermodynamics, but it does bring up a hell of a lot of weird relativistic problems regarding mass, length, and time.

    There's also the same causality situation in reverse: they would see us moving backwards in exactly the same manner that we see them.

  • Not true my friend. It is impossible to know everything. And there is still a degree of unpredictability in things.

  • "If they are there to observe it". Meaning they CAN choose to be there or not to be there. Does freewill truly dependent on time? If you describe creatures without freewill, then there are no "ifs" in their actions. Also, to claim that means to know about time more than anyone knows yet. Interesting thoughts, but bad example (IMHO). And yes perfect being is a ridicules thought. Creating is the process derived from need to create, can a perfect being have needs?

  • eehhhh… Didn't like this video too much. Too abstract and vague to have any real argument to it. Interesting theory, though.

  • @N3CR1S What you are saying is that if reality wasn't as it is….

    I'm sorry but that just won't work. The theory of Chaos is the effect of sensitive initial conditions. EVERY CONDITION. Sorry but I really do know what you are saying but there is a problem with what you are saying. A significant one that can't be glossed over or set aside in a hypothetical.

  • All events are predestined, even decision making. But the relationship of all things in the universe are intertwined and indeterminable. Prediction of future events is possible on a limited controlled basis, such as a mechanical or chemical reaction, but impossible to determine on a larger scale. Predictability ends as complexity increases, so 'will' might as well be perceived as free, even though it is not.

  • @N3CR1S You know, I was wrong. It's still a logically valid hypo. I spoke too soon. Sorry. Thanks for not ripping into me. 🙂

    I come off as an expert when I'm just an ameture who has read some stuff.

  • @unseenstrings

    Why do you say predestination is religious? Predestined simply mean inevitable through cause effect relations. If a club strikes a golf ball, the trajectory is predestined, but is indeterminable to the observer. The existing state of the universe directly influences the state of the universe a fraction of a second later. You use the term "predictable results" which implies a predestined result by controlling and knowing influential condition variables.

  • @unseenstrings

    I suppose you are right, (symmantics are inconsistent). Then I meant that the outcome of all events is inevitable or destined to occur before the event happens without divine intervention, but on a material basis. I wish there were a term for (Pre + Destined) that did not imply a divinity.

  • @LeopardFrogPilboxhat
    That's actually why I couched this argument as aliens who live backwards. These theoretical observers would exist in only one reality per quantum state. They would experience no spooky physics, no chaos. God, likewise, would be incapable of being uncertain of the outcome of any triggering event, since the outcome actually precedes the triggering event.

    Omniscience is not compatible with quantum uncertainty. Omniscience is incompatible with free will.

  • "given that the 2nd law makes things run downhill"

    That might be a problem if I were talking about a physical being conforming to known physical laws. No-one's worried about God violating the second law.

    My aliens are likewise protected by hypothetical force fields of anti-entropy that end at their skin. They call them "ad hoc suits".
    : )

  • Or would they just have reverse laws of physics, where entropy always decreases? OK, pointless argument.
    So will they tell us that they're gonna kidnap Santa from Mars and bring him back to Earth?

  • This is not really a video about physical beings. We aren't worried that actual aliens exist who move through time backwards. The premise is that omniscience and free will are incompatible. This example shows why quantum fluctuation is not an escape.

    Most causalities at the micro level make as much sense when viewed in reverse, except that the entropy of a closed system must always increase. That's the only asymmetry. Hence, the aliens use their "ad hoc" suits in the example.

  • I felt wonderment -as if in a time warp- for a few precious moments.

    Suspension of disbelief can work wonders.

    Thank you.

  • @iilikefeet
    If something has already occurred from the point of view of God, then there really isn't any other way it could be, therefore our choices are predetermined. We may have the illusion of freewill, but from the point of view of an omniscient entity, our actions are pre-destined. Note that predestined does not necessarily imply directed by "the observer", just that actions have only one possible outcome.

    Good conversation over coffee.

  • @iilikefeet

    "the counterpoint i have heard to the thought that God and free will are incompatible is that God is like a weatherman."

    Well that's a weak counterpoint. God isn't like a weatherman at all. He's supposed to have created the whole universe and personally intervened in human events; torching cities, smiting people, sending plagues of locusts, even being crucified.

    Really this argument boils down to the idea that an omnipotent god just doesn't care about what happens to us.


  • Brilliantly done.


    For me, I prescribe more to the philosophy that free will and predestination are both true. Most though cannot see this.

  • there's a general theory on the nature of causality in literature (formulated by russian formalists) that states that causality, as a function of explaining how something happened, works backwards (every event is determined by a predetermined ending). the structure of a fictional conversation, for instance, depends upon the effect that conversation has on something. your aliens would probably make good fiction writers.

  • @SingleSpiral
    Sure. The point is that if I were time inverted, I would know the outcomes of your actions before you chose to do them. Hence, you would have no freewill from my perspective.

    If God is omniscient/omnipotent, then she knows at least as much as a time-inverted alien, therefore freewill is incompatible with omniscience, from Her perspective.

  • One of the Doctor Who comics has a plot involving aliens like this. It's a very cool story and gives us a very unique perspective on things. Only the Doctor, a man to whom Time is objective, can bridge the gap between linear and reverse-linear.

  • It seems implausible to me that a backwards-traveling alien could possibly have a conversation with you. They couldn't respond to the things you've said because to them you wouldn't have said them yet. I always had the same complaint about Merlin because he supposedly lives backwards and remembers the future. The aliens would have to be omniscient to be able to predict causality like that, but I guess that's the point.

    I've always agreed that omniscience precludes the possiblity of free will.

  • @BeardedBill86 There is no section of the brain that's been definitively associated with a function so general as "decision-making" AFAIK. Rather, increased blood flow has been observed in certain portions when people were engaged in the process of conscious deliberation. That doesn't mean anything in the long run. We still don't understand how the brain actually works and we're not likely to for a while. What we have now are like those old tastebud diagrams. Bitter at the back, etc, remember?

  • so If they watched the movie `Jaws' , it's a movie about a shark that keeps throwing up people until they have to open a beach

  • @yohoothefirst
    The movie "Halloween" is about a miracle worker in a mask who runs around curing major injuries with a machete.
    : )

    Plus, Santa Claus is a thief who breaks into people's houses once a year and steals a pile of toys. and vomits milk and cookies onto a plate.

  • i don't really believe in free will everything is a big chain of cause and effect of laws i would like to hear a theoretical physicist's thoughts on this matter

  • Interesting indeed. 'Not sure where I stand on this. Suppose I am looking at my hands and I can move my left or right hand, or neither. There is no compulsion or need to move either, and I can spend all day deciding what to do. Nothing seems to influence my choice. So, isn't the fact that I have options in a completely pointless set of motions an example of free will?

  • @MrStillmans
    Excellent! You've gotten to the heart of this story. An omniscient or omnipotent God would already have knowledge of which of your arms you raised. The concept of omnipotence or omniscience eliminates the possibility of uncertainty about the future.

    You could argue that this fact negates free will. From the perspective of someone without linear time frame, causality is not a limitation.

  • I'm afraid I don't quite understand what it means to say that they "live their lives" in the opposite direction. Does that mean that their chain of causality runs in the opposite direction? If so, at least for "them" they'd understand causality perfectly well, even if the universe around them ran backward. *They* are born, grow up, live, & die, moving toward the beginning of time.

    If it was the other way, their thoughts would run in the same entropic direction as us & they'd be just like us.

  • @FatherofWorlds
    I'm sure you've heard the "God is outside of time" idea? Or how about "God is the First Cause"? Any being that does not share our limited perception of time or causality will not perceive the free will of others.

    I suspect people that retreat behind the defense you describe will contradict themselves in the very next sentence. There are many logically impossible things about any god.

  • As I am sure you are aware particles on a quantum scale can have a perspective much like your hypothetical aliens. In QED positrons can be considered to be electrons with a reversed arrow of time and in a photon's reference frame all events are simultaneous. At a fundamental level our notion of causality simply does not apply. We can only recognise causality and the arrow of time as a macroscopic and conscious phenomenon.

  • We know the past and don't know the future for good reason: entropy increases in the future. No aliens would experience time backwards, so the argument of the video is meaningless.
    Daniel Dennett wrote a good book "Freedom Evolves". He has a commonsense view in which free will is enabled by determinism.

  • I don't think the ability to think would be possible with a reversed chain of causality. Or are they just moving backwards through time in relation to us?

  • I have some suggestions that aliens also could be:
    -thinking slower (1 solving in 100 earth years)
    -thinking faster (1000 solving in nanosecond)
    -abiological beigs (looking to us like rocks, fluids, gas or just "some shiny thingys")
    -communicating differently than humans (out of our measureable range)
    -evolved that much further, so they have no interest in communicating with us
    (like humans and ants)
    So why such a big money are spent on searching biological or us-like behaving aliens?

  • this was really thought provoking, I've known about this for a long time, but seeing a video about it really helped, thanks C0nc0dance 🙂

  • Haha! That is the most ludicrous attempt I've ever seen to disprove Free Will. In "your theory" alien observations are incongruent with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Which means that they have different Laws of Science than we do. But this does not seem to be a problem for you??? You started with an assumption that has no basis for belief and attempted to use that axiom to disprove Free Will. Shameful science.

  • @dartplayer170
    *sigh* Sometimes people trying to appear smart show their own limitations instead. This is clearly meant to be an analogy for an omniscient super-being who exists without time. Anyone who lacks our causal reference frame will not perceive that we COULD have free will.

    The goal was to highlight the incompatibility of supernatural omniscience and free will. It was also fun to run some videos in reverse.

  • @pumpuppthevolume Theoretical physics has had no success at creating deterministic laws of Quantum Mechanics. All theories in particle physics and quantum physics are stochastic. Cause and Effect is actually a much more complex topic than most people realize. Experimental physics is based on empirical laws using measurements which are limited by statistical errors. Even 'deterministic' laws are really just mathematical models. The physics of the theory always assumes some inherent error.

  • @C0nc0rdance Why is it that every time I point out a flaw in your logic you resort to theistic arguments? I am not a theist, I never said I was a theist and I don't see any connection between theistic beliefs and the Free Will debate. You do realize that criticism is the most important facet of the scientific method. Without accepting criticism you will be unable to overcome your own prejudiced biases.

  • @C0nc0rdance This is one of the most enlightening videos and discussions i've ever seen. Thanks for sharing with us!

  • I've actually thought about this before but I soon realized this has really peculiar paradoxes, very much like the time travel paradox. Imagine someone started killing those aliens. Would they experience being magically created? Or is it somehow impossible to kill them?

  • @MrStillmans
    "Nothing seems to influence my choice"

    If truly nothing influences your choice then it is completely random, even to you. This is not what people usually mean by freewill – complete randomness – they usually mean that they have positive control of their decisions.

    But if you positively decide to act in a certain way, there is no justification for denying that the choice was based on the conditions leading up to the choice, even if you are unaware of those conditions.

  • @C0nc0rdance omniscience is compatible with free will they do not see things in reverse they see everything in the present there is no timeframe. A mere human cant comprehend exactly what this means but we can get an idea and speculate.

  • Not well thought through. Those aliens would, themselves, have free will, but it would look to us exactly as ours looks to them. This is a two sided coin: while they would see our end before our cause, we would also see their end before their cause. Thus, if we can look at them and have free will, they can look at us and have free will.

  • Free will is only useful in terms of what we know…
    in terms of the universe, our actions (forget quantum stuff, i'm talking about people / decisions) are cause and effect, but in terms of what we know about the future, that's uncertain

  • interesting video. "causality" may be multi-factorial. things can be "caused by" many factors, and so actions can have many "causes" (the factors) when time runs in reverse. anyway, Einstein's Relativity already put "causality" on the dock.

    btw "Omniscience and free will are incompatible" is a popular myth. maybe it's because we know so much now than before, but yet choose to do nothing about it!

  • I love how that space shuttle was just sucking up all its reaction mass, and neatly compressing it in its tanks. Seeing the world in reverse, and therefore "backwards" entropy is quite mindboggling.

    I know this is missing the point of the video, but having a reversal of the flow of time would really mess with our understaning of reality. It's fun, but also mindboggling, to think about.

  • On Doctor Who, the story arc of the Doctor and River Song during season 5 and 6 had a similar line. 

  • I think that part of the importance of the arrow of time is that it always goes in the same direction (from what we can see).

  • Interesting seeing this argument. You used a very different line of inquiry to what I'm used to when talking about free will. I usually explain a very Sam Harris inspired point of view, but I like this argument and I like that you arrived at the same conclusion as Mr Harris, through an entirely different line of inquiry. You truly have earned that name, Concordance! Thanks again for a great upload.

  • Imagine a race of creatures who perceive every point in space-time simultaneously. To them, the concept of causality is meaningless because every aspect of every instant of every location is fixed, and nothing can change it. To them, it doesn't matter if consequences precede decisions or decisions precede consequences, because both are eternally known and invariant.

  • What do you mean by precise perception of time?
    The requirement would be that the perceive time linearly and in the same direction. Different speed or chaining speed wouldn't be a problem.

  • You've touched upon a dark deep DEEP secret and you don't even know it. Most all highly biologically evolved alien life is extremely telepathic and psychic. These genes were manipulated out of humans over eons of genetic tweaking (Primates have 2 more chromosomes than humans). This is how we got "free will" – we are far less connected to our own – we don't feel each other as we should. We are not instantly and always connected to all people like more of the collective consciousnesses of other advanced species. This is a double edged sword. We have free will yes – but we can easily be deceived, manipulated and enslaved where as if we were physic, we'd know the lies and the intent. We are only a slight bit psychic. Animals however have not been tweaked in this way, that is why they see and sense things we cannot.

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