The Clockwork Universe

Who are You in a Deterministic, Materialistic, Reductionistic & Objectively Real World?

And the day came when man conceived of a materialistic, deterministic, reductionistic, objectively real clockwork universe made of space, time, energy and matter governed by fixed, unchanging physical constants and laws …

In the words of mathematician and astronomer Pierre Simon de Laplace:

"We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at any given moment knew all of the forces that animate nature and the mutual positions of the beings that compose it, if this intellect were vast enough to submit the data to analysis, could condense into a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and that of the lightest atom; for such an intellect nothing could be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes."  Marquis Pierre Simon de Laplace

Microscopic particles that become atoms that become molecules that become macroscopic, perceivable, concrete, tangible stuff. Randomness and disorder that transforms into order that transforms into patterns that transform into self-organisation. Simple chunks of inanimate matter that evolve into complex, organised chunks of animate matter that somehow evolve into self-aware, conscious chunks of matter that are able to think, feel, experience, share, create, communicate…

Here we have an immense, expanding material universe that came out of a space-less timeless infinitely dense point of energy that came out of nothingness. An incredibly simple universe evolving into an incredibly complex universe that does so by just following a few deterministic, immutable physical laws. A Goldilocks universe that is able to convert disorganised bits of dead matter into self-organised bits of living matter simply because the conditions happen to be just right. A universe that sprouts life and consciousness, intelligence and technology without any reason, purpose or goal. A universe that comes into existence, changes, evolves and ends up observing itself just because it was meant to do so…  

But the important question is… who are you in this universe? You are basically a rather insignificant collection of interacting particles in a vast, gigantic, purposeless, meaningless universe. A collection of particles that somehow, inexplicably became self-aware; a collection of particles that became conscious, started to perceive, started to think, started to feel… These particles don’t just exist but, strangely, they have acquired the ability to have an inner experience: as a collective, they appear to know, to feel, to experience what it is like to be “you”. However, in this universe, this differentiated “you” can only be the result of accidents coexisting within a landscape ultimately ruled by pre-determined physical laws.

“What we are – what each of us is, what you are, what I am – is approximately a hundred trillion little cellular robots. That’s what we are made of. No other ingredients at all.”  Daniel Dennet

You are a unique combination of atoms, molecules and cells… which is separate from other unique combinations of atoms, molecules and cells. But your uniqueness simply originates from mutations and combinations in a process that ultimately seeks no particular goal. You came into this world thanks to a long evolutionary chain which has no reason to be, no meaning, no purpose, no direction. You are a piece of flesh not only separate from other pieces of flesh but also separate from the rest of the universe; a chunk of matter who has developed an illusory sense of self, a non-existent “I”. You are ultimately nothing but a collection of particles interacting with each other and the immediate environment, a collection of particles immersed in this vast, gigantic universe which obviously exists outside of yourself.

Consciousness is just a bunch of tricks in the brain”  Daniel Dennet

“The problem is free will is just a non-starter, philosophically and scientifically. Unlike many other illusions, there is no way you can describe the universe so as to make sense of this notion of free will.”  Sam Harris

In this kind of universe, qualia and free will are just an elaborate illusion. Even your own consciousness may be an illusion. Physical matter and energy, the fabric of space-time, the laws of physics, the external world around you; all these are of course objectively real. These are the really real things. On the other hand, your own mind, your thoughts, your feelings, your phenomenal experience, your free will and your conscious intent, all of which you experience every single moment of your life, they are just epiphenomena emerging out of material particles and their physical interactions; they are subjective secondary events, they can be illusory, and hence they are neither reliable nor primary, they are not fundamental, not objectively real.

And what about your experience of time? There is nothing that distinguishes the present, the now moment, in the deterministic, reversible, symmetric classical equations of physics. Nor there is anything in these equations that singles out the forward direction of time as the only valid one. Therefore, if neither the arrow of time nor consciousness are fundamental, your experience of the passage of time can’t be real either: past, present and future are composed of physical events which must exist all at once in this mechanistic, pre-determined block universe. Your familiar experience of the now moment and your perception of change, temporal order, directionality and duration which, it can be argued, define the essence of time itself, can only be an illusion of the mind. And since mind is just an emergent concept, not fundamental, your overall experience of time can neither be real nor fundamental.

In this clockwork universe cause and effect rule the world; causality is always linear and physical, self-contained within this space-time-matter Universe. Everything that exists must have a physical cause, it must be the result of a mechanistic physical process. The whole of your existence hence can be reduced to the interactions of tiny bits of physical matter governed by physical laws occurring inside this causally closed Universe. Your entire life, your emotions, hopes, fears, ambitions, expectations, decisions, your imagination, intuition, creativity… all of these can ultimately be explained via lengthy linear, bottom-up causal chains that are the result of material particles following specific physical laws… and these causal chains can ultimately be traced back to the very beginning of space-time, the moment of the Big Bang.

“I want to sit down to write, but then I want something else – to exercise, perhaps. Which impulse will win? […] What finally causes the balance to swing? I cannot know subjectively – but I can be sure that electrochemical events in my brain decide the matter. […] Therefore, I can take no credit for the fact that I got to the end of this paragraph.” Sam Harris, Free Will and the Reality of Love, 2013

Think about it for a moment. Your self-awareness, your intelligence, your thoughts, your choices and decisions, … , your entire conscious experience, can only be produced by some piece of machinery following deterministic physical laws. Your consciousness must be just a complicated by-product of material particles and their physical interactions. In fact, at the most basic level ,your mind must be reducible to all these particle interactions occurring within your brain, hence what you call mind can be nothing but your brain, clearly defined, firmly located, permanently imprisoned, within a limited region of space-time.

“Consciousness clearly has something to do with brains, and it is something that emerges from brains. When brains get sufficiently big, presumably, as human brains have, consciousness seems to emerge.”  Richard Dawkins

"A person’s mental activities are entirely due to the behaviour of nerve cells, glial cells, and the atoms, ions, and molecules that make up and influence them.”   Francis Crick

Similarly, your sense of self can only be a product of the matter and the physical processes that govern your body; so you are no more than the amalgamation of a bunch of particles and physical processes which form this separate body you insist in calling “I”. Your mind and sense of self are therefore limited by the physical confines of the matter where they are located… the confines of the flesh which forms your brain and the confines of the flesh which constitutes your body.

So here you are, this object which somehow sprouted an illusory sense of self, an illusory consciousness, an illusory sense of time, and an illusory free will… This being which experiences a pre-packaged, pre-determined, illusory one-way journey from past to future called life. Not only do your genetic make-up and the external environment in which you exist influence your actions and thoughts, but they uniquely determine who you are at the core, they determine how your life unfolds, what you do, what you feel, what you think, what you create, moment after moment after moment.

You are a locked up prisoner hopelessly looking at your own movie through the bars of your cell, you are a detached spectator watching a fateful story unfold, a story with a script which was written 13.8 billion years ago, a story in which you have no input, a story which you have never and will never be able to direct. You are a puppet on invisible strings, a passive observer living a meaningless, purposeless, pointless life inside a meaningless, purposeless, pointless Universe.

…….. REALLY…….? 

"Everyone takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the world." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Your belief systems limit your reality to a sub-set of the solution space that does not contain the answer” Tom Campbell

Is this the world you live in? Do you see yourself as an insignificant bunch of atoms in a vast meaningless universe? Do you really believe you are a puppet on strings, a kind of automaton with no personal agency whatsoever? Do you think that time, your consciousness or your free will are just an elaborate illusion?

What if this model of reality turns out to be … a little bit outdated? What if this model of reality, which is essentially based on materialism, Descartes’ reductionism, Laplace’s determinism, classical physics and local-realism has already been falsified?

"A philosopher once said: 'It is necessary for the very existence of science that the same conditions always produce the same result'. … Well, they don't! […] In fact, it is necessary for the very existence of science that minds exist which do not allow that nature must satisfy some preconceived conditions, like those of our philosopher!"  Richard Feynman


What if the most fundamental elements of reality are not the laws of physics, space-time and matter, but information, free will, time and evolution instead?

How would you see yourself in such a universe?


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12 comments on “The Clockwork Universe
  1. Benjamin says:

    Our consciousness is not needed to observe time, matter observes time and we observe matter. It just happens that we are able to observe our physical selves observe the universe. Our consciousness has no relationship with the construct of the universe, it is just an evolutionary advance, like a tusk on an elephant or a flipper on a dolphin, as a way to make our lives easier and like all evolutionary benefits they happen by chance. Everything else would continue as normal whether we were aware of it or not. If life never became advanced and was blessed with consciousness, the effects of time and special relativity would be the same.

    • Benjamin says:


      I'm getting so excited about your new video. I think it's because I don't agree with the premis, but yet I have no idea what the content of this theory will be. I'm just very very very excited. I hope it's all going well, I'm so glad you're doing it. Thank you!

  2. Jorge F Curiel says:

    I really like your videos. However my perspective differs on two view points covered on this video. 

    The Universe does have a meaning. It's creation is its purpose. 

    Creation, it's existence, and the cosmos is not necessarily  meaningless. "Life has no meaning a priori… It is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that you choose."

    Jean-Paul Sartre

  3. pebird says:

    If consciousness is an illusion, for what/whom/agent is it so?  Or, how can there be illusions in a deterministic universe?   The illusions themselves must have been determined, hence the criticism of them is also a criticism of the determinate nature of the universe.

    My head hurts. 

    • Jorge F Curiel says:

      @pebird consciousness when perceived is no longer an illusion, it is then real; wether that be a critical thinker perceiving or an animal that is following it's nature.

  4. Dmitry says:


    I think you probably would be interested in ideas of Ervin Bauer (about stable nonequilibrium)

    short info
    longer one

  5. Brett Grose says:

    The study of consciousness is the last great frontier of science. Opposing view points, speculation and hypothesis are welcome. The only imperative is progress. I percieve that the quantum processes in Orch OR Theory is on the right track. 

  6. Marcos says:

    This is what I call Art, Just increditable, perfect…no words to described it. THANK YOU! You should write a science fiction movie.

  7. Robert says:

    The truth is somewhere inside you.
    E.g. I rather think Nassim Harramein (inside and outside seeker) is more right with his physics therory than the most just other outside-seekers.
    Quantum Physics Theory, Information Theory and a Holograph Universe Theory is some kind of fingerpost to come from outside in a fractal way back to inside…
    …and again…
    …and again…
    I like your videos!

  8. “I grant you ample leave 
    To use the hoary formula ‘I am’
    Naming the emptiness where thought is not;
    But fill the void with definition, ‘I’ 
    Will be no more a datum than the words 
    You link false inference with, the ‘since’ & ‘so’
    That, true or not, make up the atom-whirl. 
    Resolve your ‘Ego’, it is all one web 
    With vibrant ether clotted into worlds: 
    Your subject, self, or self-assertive ‘I’ 
    Turns nought but object, melts to molecules, 
    Is stripped from naked Being with the rest 
    Of those rag-garments named the Universe. 
    Or if, in strife to keep your ‘Ego’ strong 
    You make it weaver of the etherial light, 
    Space, motion, solids & the dream of Time—
    Why, still ’tis Being looking from the dark, 
    The core, the centre of your consciousness, 
    That notes your bubble-world: sense, pleasure, pain,
    What are they but a shifting otherness, 
    Phantasmal flux of moments?—”

    — George Eliot

  9. Robert says:

    Alien Message to Earth – Do You Wish That We Show Up?


  10. Ken Wais says:

    I justed finished watching your video on youtube. I am extremely impressed. I was expecting a version of physics for dummies and found an intelligent and respectful voyage into the difficultsubject of physico-philosphic notions of time.

    First, a little about me, I'm a math logician with a deep interest in math physics. Your discussion of the metaphysical aspect of quantum theory had me swooning. Though, I'm a novice in physics, I've done some reading about the Sch-equation and how it collapses as a diff equation upon measurement and this implies a conscious observer and thus leads to the paradoxes concerning time's nature.

    What you hinted at in your video (which is gripping I must say) but didn't delve far into is. well..I mean there is no other way to say it: if we allowa  greater   dimensional space (in the topological sense of superstring with N-tuples) we don't have to rely on this idea of a conscious 3D observer. Can't you see if a particle X of the wave function undergoes a transformation via the Sch-d equation is not actualized by some 3D observer? If this is a 4D or higher phonemonen beyond us, this particle it's actualization doesn't depend on the observer at all!  We are not needed in this scenario…yes this would get into an infinite spatial projection which topologist would accept, but not QM.

    I can't accept the notion of time w/o a spatial component abstractly, BTW. Sequence of any sort evenly abstractly must require space to be understandable. But, that's my one objection.

    I have a problem with the injection of a conscious entity into a  formal description of a physical reality (space-time). I think M-theory provides an out on this one. If we have infinite spatial systems, the Sch-D equation can't be seen as applied to any N-tuple and thus needing our consciousness to actualize it. This equation was constructed to apply to observation in 3D space.  Of course, I'm way way outside my area now, I admit, I've always frowned on analysis mathematics and its application in theoretic physics. But, the notion of there being a nescessity that a conscious being interact macrosopically to establish validity at the quantum scale is disconcerting to me. But, I wanna believe! I'm no Platonist mathematician. I accept Brouwer and all that implies in my field.

    And on time, the idea of backward causation seems well-founded I agree. But, again with the caveat that it  is a multidimensional, and random.  I hope I don't seem to naive to you, I admit to a lack of deep knowledge of quantum physics, I'm still reading and familiarizing myself with it. Though, most of the concepts are accessible to me thru the applied math.

    Don't laugh too hard at this post please?


    Thanks for listening.


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