What is providence theory?
Providence Theory was introduced by Seth Fentress in 2019 and suggests that the probabilistic nature of the universe may have a warping effect on the past creating the illusion of providence (not divine providence).
Does weird stuff happen?
Life has evolved to expend the least unnecessary calories as possible. Makes sense right? Things that have to replenish calories less often are more likely to survive in times of drought and are thus more likely to reach a reproductive age. Stress is a mental and physical activity which consumes a lot of calories, so it makes sense that our bodies don’t like it.
Stress is just a word we use to describe what happens to our bodies when we become uncertain about the future. This uncertainty causes us to store hormones that allow us to take action. This is the classic “fight or flight” state. When a deliberation for fight or flight can not be reached, a stalemate occurs and those chemicals get trapped. We call this build up stress.
Most living things display some fight or flight stress response, however humans have a special burden when it comes to this. Not only do we have to deal with stressful situations as they occur, we also have to deal with the ability to predict and imagine stressful events deep into the future. This imaginative ability has given us a massive evolutionary advantage in terms of preparation for the future but at an incredible caloric cost.
Because of this, we are prone to want to see things that make us feel less stressed, to believe things that excuse us from expending calories in the future (for anything other than short term survival payoffs), and to lean towards anything that might deliver us from paying the full price of our most precious gift of prediction. That price being the awareness of our mortality.
What kind of weird stuff?
This is where the conversation gets difficult and thus why I prefaced with so much talk on the evolutionary pressures of stress avoidance. In one sense, yes by “providence” or the illusion of providence, I’m talking about inexplicable dreams, serendipity, synchronicity, and other sometimes difficult to explain events we observe. Of course there are usually simple explanations for these; observer bias, the anthropic principle, group think, coincidence, etc.
I imagine most of these intuitions have simply evolved as stress avoidance mechanisms. The question is, do these explanations resolve every instance of apparent providence? Perhaps they do, but I’m not entirely convinced. Acknowledging that there may be undiscovered external forces at play does not then grant us a license to label those forces with whatever iconography our particular culture has raised us with as mankind has done throughout the ages with gods, spirits, karma, demons, angels, thetans etc. Especially considering none of the proposed, and usually contradictory, explanations tend to leave “hey it was me who did this, the thing that your particular culture raised you to believe was the thing that did this, it was me” cards afterwards.
Providence Theory is making an extraordinary claim, that something “like” providence, synchronicity, etc. may actually occur, but that the cause could be an emergent phenomena born from natural processes. Here’s how:
How does Providence Theory work?
Why are physicists concerned with whether or not light is a wave or a particle? One reason is that there is a really important implication if it is a wave. A wave implies determinism or causal events. A row of dominoes can be thought of as a wave. One domino falls and hits another and another and so on. Things that are deterministic (like waves) can be calculated, predicted, and thus manipulated. As it turns out, light (and everything) is rendered as both a deterministic wave at one scale and a probabilistic particle at another.
Many subscribed interpretations of quantum mechanics point to a universe that, at its core, is probabilistically rendered. Meaning that domino D does not technically fall because domino A hit domino B hit domino C hit domino D. Rather, domino D (technically) falls because it was most probable at that time that domino D would fall. This is most notably demonstrated in the double slit experiment (a few links on that: Down The Rabbit Hole, Hardy’s Paradox, Popular Mechanics). You might then be asking, “isn’t that just semantics? What’s interesting here?” The interesting bit is how reality is being constructed.
From quantum mechanics we can extrapolate that reality is being produced from instance to instance in a probabilistic way. But there seems to be a contradiction with what quantum mechanics is telling us about a probabilistic reality of infinite possibilities and the seemingly static space time existence that special relativity tells us about where in time and space can be out of sync yet causality remains preserved because, in some sense, all of space and time exists simultaneously (some links on that: Are Space And Time an Illusion, The Geometry of Causality, Spacetime and the Relativity of Simultaneity).
If the universe is rendered probabilistically, this means to some extent, it has to work to appear sensible about its distribution of matter over time (using personification here). For instance in the case of the double slit experiment, the interference pattern which indicates the presence of a wave, collapses when observed, but if the experiment got canceled that day and all the scientists were at home, there would be nothing manifesting where the experiment was to take place at all. So then somewhere between the experiment not happening and happening, there seems to be a tipping point at which the universe starts rendering particles here or there.
We can imagine then, that up until the introduction of intelligence in the universe, the arrangement of energy and matter might have been a fairly routine game of pinball for the universe. Consider how this might get more difficult (or conducive of generating anomalies) with this example:
Imagine there is a solar system similar to ours in terms of age, size, planets etc. The only difference being there is no life anywhere on it. The planet in this system that most resemble’s Earth is just a lifeless sphere, one of the tens of millions we empirically know to exist today thanks to Kepler and other modern telescopes. Imagine a large meteor leftover from that system’s formation, slams into the northern hemisphere of its third planet. The range of outcomes from this event should be fairly predictable, or at least the range of this event’s effect on anything outside of its own solar system, if not the planet itself, should be fairly limited. In short, and personifying a bit here, the universe won’t have to work very hard concerning its probabilistic rendering of the total space time grid regarding this event.
Now lets imagine a similar scenario on Earth. One where a meteor comes crashing through the atmosphere and slams into a playground and some debris just barely hits a small child, maiming him, causing him to hate all things outer space. Now imagine instead, the meteor fell exactly one centimeter away from where it fell in the previous scenario, and the boy does not get hurt, falls deeply in love with what he just witnessed and goes on to invent faster than light travel. Or becomes a necessary part in the chain of events that lead up to such technology, of which without him wouldn’t exist.
Imagine that technology continues to evolve to the extent that humans go from planetary scale energy control, to controlling the energy of stars, to controlling energy and matter at a galactic scale and larger (meaning trivially rearranging entire galaxies, clusters or larger). So then if all of the past and future exists simultaneously within space time, this means that an event such as the placement of a simple meteor collision into a planet, in one instance means a few local speed and placement shifts of a handful of rocks, dust particles and debris around a single star and in the case of Earth and the boy, potentially the existence or non existence of entire galaxies. If in some sense space time exists simultaneously, this would mean huge swaths of it would be constantly changing thanks to the introduction of human level intelligence.
Given the chance, nature tends to pick the path of least resistance. Examples of this can be found in thermodynamics, as well as in biology, as in the example I gave earlier about stress. Living things don’t like expending unnecessary calories. Physics doesn’t like taking unnecessary steps. Perhaps then, in some way we don’t understand, it costs the universe less to bend the past rather than constantly adding and removing entire galaxies to space time due to the unfathomable number of potential outcomes generated from interactions of human level intelligence.
There are other examples in nature which indicate that certain physical extremes reach tipping points and produce emergent phenomena. Water has a temperature at which it freezes. Stars have a tipping point at which their density can only get so high before collapsing in on itself, transforming into a black hole. There are lots of examples of nature hitting extremes giving rise to emergent phenomena that seem counter-intuitive to our everyday experience. I would be surprised if human level intelligence was incapable of triggering phenomena at least as bizarre as that of black holes.
So as water has a freezing and boiling point, perhaps there is a point at which the probability of something occurring gets so high it becomes less expensive for nature to manipulate the past rather than constantly adjust large portions of space time. Especially when referring to the placement of massive amounts of energy and matter, such as stars or even whole galaxies as may be the result of human level (or other) intelligent life.
There are some bizarre conclusions we might draw from this idea. For instance the question “are people cosmically rewarded for doing good?” Potentially, maybe at least within some meaningful segment of time. When we say good, typically we’re referring to the well being of conscious creatures. If that well being leads to the continued organization and technological development that ultimately leads to the galactic scale energy manipulation that has reached a tipping point of likeliness to occur and has thus been locked into space time, then ensuring the well being of agents working towards that future, might be a way in which the past could appear warped to create legs for the future to stand on. If this is happening, then from our perspective this would create the illusion of providence.
If this phenomena were true, it would match up three observations: That the universe is rendered probabilistically but also deterministically (after reaching the right temperature to borrow some symbolism) and that asynchronous events, which can sometimes appear like providence, do indeed occur.
I see this working like some kind of water or air pressure system, like any other physical system that naturally levels itself out. Something like the future manipulating the past once the probability of that future occurring reaches a kind of critical mass in terms of its likelihood. To us the unfolding of events might look insane, miraculous, or impossible. But zoomed out from another perspective, it may simply appear like ice patterns crystallizing in water or a bridge buckling from too much weight.
Are some people special then?
No. I don’t think so. I don’t know if my idea is right or how many layers there may be to it if it is, but I don’t think it points to a chosen people. I think there may be types of behavior which either lend oneself to the pillars which the future must stand on due to it reaching a probability critical mass of occurring, and ones that don’t. I’m also not suggesting that the universe pays some sort of partiality to one person over another.
I don’t think the future cares who or what composes its pillars. It’s just going to compress, bend, or manipulate in some way the past into place until it becomes stable, similarly to if you were to place an item on a platform to heavy to hold it, the platform is going to buckle and break and crumble upon itself until the broken pieces beneath become compacted enough (given that the item doesn’t just roll away in the process) to hold it up.
Perhaps a person’s behavior, in some scenarios, acts like a steering mechanism pushing them towards events which have reached a probability critical mass of occurring. In that sense, behavior and events may function similarly to objects getting caught in the gravity well of stellar bodies. I think the universe is indifferent to who or what gets caught in the well.
I don’t think this points to some kind of ultimate good. Even if the future is indeed manipulating the past, creating the illusion of providence or synchronicity at times, and in some way, seeming to reward behavior we might call “good, orderly, faithful, brave, heroic, loving” (what ever behavior leads to the future outcomes which have reached a probability critical mass of occurring), it could very well mean that the organization and technological advancement we’re working towards, ultimately is responsible for destroying us tens of thousands of years down the road.
So the future may be warping the past, creating the appearance that we’re getting kickbacks to help us along our way, but ones that may ultimately aid in destroying humanity. Or not. I have no idea. I don’t think the universe cares though. It’s just mindlessly bending the past to make massive areas of particles it has to render in the future make sense in the right locations.
I have thought about this idea in relationship to gravity. What if gravity was actually the future warping the past in order to avoid collisions in the same way it was shaping the past to support events in the future? What if in fact these two phenomena were one in the same, just perceived at macro and micro scales.
This would explain why gravitational force increases the closer items get to each other. As the probability increases that two particles will be rendered into the same location, the manipulative force of the future on the past must get stronger to stop everything from constantly exploding. Otherwise there would be nothing to stop nearby particles from being rendered into the same location leading to a near infinite chain of atomic fusion or splitting. Even if the universe only probabilistically rendered one in every hundred trillion atoms into the same space, that would be enough for all of existence to constantly be on fire.
This idea has been slowly piecing itself together in my mind for the past couple of years. As you can tell by some of the run-on sentences, these ideas are not yet fully formed. None the less, they are formed enough that I wanted to share them and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about them!