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Free Will & Big Data

Updated: May 24, 2021

With rapid advances in data analytics, the distant philosophical debate between ‘free will’ and ‘determinism’ is coming closer to leadership teams.

In 1814, the Marquis de Laplace, a French mathematician, held the following argument in his Philosophical Essay on Probabilities: ‘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.’

Given a specific way things are at any given time, the way things go after that is fixed as a matter of natural law. Cause-effects relationships are mechanically unbreakable, in line with the idea of determinism. The present informs the past and the future, which is thus pre-determined. The ‘intellect,’ which Laplace calls a super-intelligent ‘demon,’ sees it all, as anyone in its position would.

Anticipating that knowable future is precisely what data scientists are attempting to do. to reach this objective, they are developing advanced predictive tools in manufacturing or supply chain management and 'nowcasting' solutions in macroeconomics.

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1 Comment

May 28, 2021

Instead of Laplace, I would refer you the 20th century physicist Werner Heisenberg. His uncertainty principle undermines the principle of absolute determinism- at a quantum level probabilities are all we can work with.

Though I agree for most practical purposes we don't need to look at a quantum level, I think for markets this is a more appropriate analogy. In the world of markets, observance of model outputs will lead to have an action which has an effect on the markets themselves. It's similar to how in quantum-theory wave-particle duality is influenced by the observer, measuring position affects momentum and you can only know one or the other at once.

Imagine as the Fed I view the data inputs. I…

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