Determinism

by Harry on March 12, 2010

(found at Luke Surl: H/T to CT commenter, tiredofblogs)

{ 113 comments }

1

rea 03.12.10 at 5:05 pm

It apparently doesn’t matter; you end up in the same place, either way

2

Substance McGravitas 03.12.10 at 5:12 pm

Pretty remarkable how many people are destined to buy me a beer. Buy now and cheat fate!

3

Salient 03.12.10 at 5:16 pm

Aww, they don’t show page 72:

The old man cracks you soundly over the head with his stick.

(Flip to next page.)

He insists that he had no choice in the matter, because modern neuroscience has proved that all our actions and decisions are merely the machinations of a predetermined universe and that our concept of ‘free will‘ is naught but a comforting illusion.

If you agree with this hypothesis, turn to page 72

If you disagree, turn to page 72

4

Salient 03.12.10 at 5:23 pm

This reminds me of that choose your own adventure that is, in a convoluted way, impossible to terminate, which furthermore had as its (impossible) win condition actual entrance into Heaven (a.k.a. Utopia).

Also the Time Warp something or other detective-esque knockoff choose your own adventures which sent you in loops until you made the “right” choice to exit each loop, which is really an abominable practice, although it thereby taught 10-year-olds geeky enough to read the things through the value of Turing machines.

If you agree with these comparisons, go to comment 4. If you disagree, go to comment 4

5

skidmarx 03.12.10 at 5:27 pm

rea – how do you know that Page 72 is the same in both cases? Apparently Schrodinger left his cat on one of them.
I tend to think that a hard determinism may be compatible with free will, just because you’re going to make the same decision given identical circumstances doesn’t mean it isn’t a real choice.

6

Ginger Yellow 03.12.10 at 5:31 pm

If you are Roger Penrose, let the book’s quantum waveform collapse to page 72.

7

Ginger Yellow 03.12.10 at 5:31 pm

“I tend to think that a hard determinism may be compatible with free will, just because you’re going to make the same decision given identical circumstances doesn’t mean it isn’t a real choice.”

That’s pretty much Dennett’s position, as I understand it. But I’m no philosopher.

8

Sebastian 03.12.10 at 6:00 pm

The problem with hard determinism is that it isn’t compatible with reliable thought. If you ‘study’ the science of the brain and ‘determine’ that all thoughts are purely the result of a particular brain’s inputs, you have undercut your own ability to reliably ‘study’ and ‘determine’ anything.

Which isn’t really to say that hard determinism is wrong, but that it is axiomatic, not provable.

9

Neil 03.12.10 at 6:04 pm

That’s pretty much Dennett’s position, as I understand it. But I’m no philosopher.

Dennett is a good philosopher, but he doesn’t get *all* the credit for two centuries of work in the metaphysics of agency.

10

JoB 03.12.10 at 6:44 pm

All true, but what the hell is ‘comforting’ about it?

11

Moby Hick 03.12.10 at 7:32 pm

It gives the defense attorney something to work with at the sentencing hearing.

12

qb 03.12.10 at 7:57 pm

I thought hard determinism was the view that determinism is true AND is incompatible with free will and/or moral responsibility? That’s what the ‘hard’ is for.

And I suppose the next move in the dialectic is to say that just because something is a real ‘choice’ doesn’t mean that the chooser had the sort of control over the choice required for her to be genuinely morally responisible for it (‘genuine’ here to mark the distinction between actually being responsible and merely being held responsible).

13

frankdawg 03.12.10 at 8:34 pm

I had planned on making some pithy (as in pith on everthhhing) but found that skidmarx did it shorter and better than I could have hoped:
“how do you know that Page 72 is the same in both cases? Apparently Schrodinger left his cat on one of them.”

You, sir (or madam) are the winner.

14

engels 03.12.10 at 8:43 pm

page 68

You meet Nietzsche, who explains the concept of eternal return.

Turn to page 68.

15

Biba 03.12.10 at 9:18 pm

There are 71 pages.

16

engels 03.12.10 at 9:19 pm

page 50

You meet Sartre, who explains the idea of existential bad faith.

You must now turn to page 51.

17

Ginger Yellow 03.12.10 at 9:30 pm

“Dennett is a good philosopher, but he doesn’t get all the credit for two centuries of work in the metaphysics of agency.”

Of course not. But he does seem to be the most prominent current proponent of a compatibilism (not a term he’d use, but still) between hard determinism and something meaningful labelled free will. And for most of the past two centuries you didn’t have the various quirks to deternimism like quantum fluctuations.

18

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.12.10 at 9:45 pm

The old man is right, of course. There’s only one reality, and no apparent reason to believe that another one is possible.

19

rea 03.12.10 at 10:09 pm

Au contraire, Henri, there is no apparent reason to believe that any reality is possible.

20

Martin 03.12.10 at 10:37 pm

The cartoon is great, but it suggests–as do some of the comments–a misleading way to think about determinism. Determinism is not committed to the truth of claims of the form “no matter what, x happens.” For example, this morning I had a cup of coffee. If determinism is true, then given the state of the world prior to my drinking the coffee, drinking coffee was the only possibility. Included in this prior state was the fact that I desired a cup of coffee. Now, it simply does not follow from determinism that, even if I hadn’t desired coffee, I would have had the coffee. Whether I had coffee this morning depended on my desiring it. No desire, no drinking coffee.

To take another example, consider the “clockwork” universe envisioned by Newtonian physics. Deterministic through and through. But now think about this statement:

The Earth would have had the orbit it did, even if Jupiter had not existed

According to Newtonian physics, this is patently false!

21

tomslee 03.12.10 at 10:43 pm

“And for most of the past two centuries you didn’t have the various quirks to deternimism like quantum fluctuations.”

Only just right. We have had them for more than a third of the past two centuries, and we’ve had some form of quantum mechanics for more than half of the past two centuries.

22

Matt 03.12.10 at 10:51 pm

This could almost be an instantiation of what I had considered writing, the “choose your own dissertation”. “If X follows, turn to p. 92, if ~X, turn to page 68.”

23

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.12.10 at 11:07 pm

The Earth would have had the orbit it did, even if Jupiter had not existed

See, it’s just as impossible for Jupiter not to exist as you you not to desire coffee this morning. “This morning” is a slice of time-space that always existed and will always exist, and in this slice you desire coffee.

24

Martin 03.12.10 at 11:39 pm

@22

Hi Henri,

I wasn’t suggesting that it was possible that Jupiter not exist. Rather, I was arguing that the “no matter what” formulation is misleading.

Think of it in terms of counterfactuals. I say that (1) is true and (2) is false:

(1) If I had not desired coffee this morning, then I would not have had coffee

(2) If I had not desired coffee this morning, then I would have had coffee

By the way, I sure hope determinism does not entail that we cannot evaluate the truth of counterfactuals!

One quick question: what does it mean to say that a slice of time-space *always* existed? Does it make sense to apply temporal attributes to time-space slices?

25

BillCinSD 03.13.10 at 1:43 am

page pi

You meet Timothy Leary who gives you some of his stash.

If you consume the stash

Turn on, tune in drop out

26

Michael Drake 03.13.10 at 4:18 am

Martin’s right – the cartoon collapses determinism and fatalism. But then it really couldn’t have been otherwise.

27

David 03.13.10 at 4:33 am

If you’re hardwired dyslexic, turn to page 27.

28

Delicious Pundit 03.13.10 at 5:05 am

In my experience, most dudes in rags who tell you to turn to a page in a book are talking about the Bible.

29

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.13.10 at 7:10 am

One quick question: what does it mean to say that a slice of time-space always existed?

It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just something that is said.

30

bad Jim 03.13.10 at 8:19 am

You could choose at random and find yourself in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

31

chris y 03.13.10 at 10:46 am

Given the book, I would certainly read this page and turn to page 57, regardless of the instructions. Whereas, had the text on page 56 offered the choice between different subsequent (or prior) pages to turn to, I’d probably pick one or the other, quite possibly based on honestly evaluating the question.

I suggest most people would react this way in real life. Which isn’t incompatible with determinism, but does suggest that there’s more to it than this.

32

JoB 03.13.10 at 11:30 am

“It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just something that is said.”

had to be said – Henri. At least in this here slice. Unless a quantum fluctuation has quirked us apart in what could be different different slices (conceivably at least) in which case I hope our various ‘I’-s will be recomposed by fortuitous opening of a set of worm holes.

But, nevermind, one of these days a ‘thought reading machine’ will be perfected by the hard working neuroscientists. At that point in time we don’t need to get up early in the morning anymore: we merely have to think of getting up early in the morning.

33

yabonn 03.13.10 at 1:25 pm

Sidestep :

p 72 :

The old man insists the joke works better if pages can’t test their input.

Nevertheless, if you came here agreeing with his hypothesis, go 89.

If you came here disagreeing with his hypothesis, go 90.

34

kid bitzer 03.13.10 at 1:46 pm

blimey, i wootn’t know wot to do.

if only he’d offer me a choice between one box or two!

35

Chris Bertram 03.13.10 at 3:46 pm

I know that old man and he said almost exactly that at our departmental seminar yesterday.

36

ScentOfViolets 03.13.10 at 5:01 pm

This sort of discussion about free will sounds very medieval[1]. And shouldn’t some sort of distinction be made between the qualia experienced by people and the external influences that give rise to them? One can argue ad infinitum about whether there is “really” such a thing as color; but the fact that proximate cause of color is the result of the human eye being exposed to electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths between 3800 and 7600 nanometers seems to be a pretty hard and fast observation.

[1]I’m rather rusty on this stuff and didn’t know it very well to begin with, but doesn’t the Western formulation of the idea of free will intimately connected with Christian theology?

37

Sebastian 03.13.10 at 6:09 pm

“And shouldn’t some sort of distinction be made between the qualia experienced by people and the external influences that give rise to them?”

Why? To a hard determinist there is no such distinction. :)

38

Thomas Stephenson 03.13.10 at 6:28 pm

You turn to page 72

A young man passes by and corrects the old man’s previous judgement, by noting that individual neurons behave nondeterministically, it is only in the limit of macroscopic existence in which we have the appearance of determinism. Thus even though our actions are not mechanical and predetermined, it is only through repetition of these chance events that the resistance of certain neural pathways are “streamlined” and we gain the appearance of free will.

Roll a die and turn to page 89+x_1 where x_1 is the number rolled. If you have been to this page n times before then turn to page 89+(x_1+x_2+x_3+…+x_n)/n, where x_1,…,x_n are the numbers rolled on each of the n times you have visited this page (round the result to the nearest whole number).

39

geo 03.13.10 at 7:06 pm

SOV@36: isn’t the Western formulation of the idea of free will intimately connected with Christian theology?

Yes, exactly. In fact, I suspect the notion of free will has no intellectual function whatever except to justify eternal punishment. There is no difficulty in justifying limited punishment in the absence of free will (as a means of education, deterrence, social stability, etc., or in the case of parent and child, simply as a spontaneous and necessary expression of feeling; see D. H. Lawrence, “The Education of the People,” in Phoenix, vol 1). But there’s no way of justifying unlimited punishment without free will. So I say, to Hell with it.

40

kid bitzer 03.13.10 at 8:18 pm

you guys just *might* want to look into the pre-christian history of debates about fate, determinism, moral responsibility, and so on.

i don’t want to get in the way of your hating on christianity and all, but when it comes to arguing over determinism and punishment, the christians really came late to the party, and mostly just repeated jokes that everyone had already heard.

41

geo 03.13.10 at 9:05 pm

kb: you guys just might want to look into the pre-christian history of debates about fate, determinism, moral responsibility, and so on

Any chance you could look into it for us and report back?

42

kid bitzer 03.13.10 at 9:25 pm

any chance you are connected to the internet and know how to use wikipedia or the stanford encyclopedia of philosophy?

43

geo 03.13.10 at 10:12 pm

Yes, of course, but since you already have some examples in mind, why not mention them and say how they’re to the point?

44

novakant 03.14.10 at 4:22 pm

The real problem is coming up with a satisfying description of how free will is actually supposed to work, i.e. when presented with two equally appealing or appalling alternative courses of action, how and when exactly is one “chosen” over the other and what is the exact nature of the mental state “making the choice”. Once you go beyond the language of pop psychology, things very quickly become really, really difficult…

45

jblaster 03.14.10 at 9:09 pm

I don’t know much on this subject, but the idea that everything is pre-determined seems off. There isn’t really any way of proving it either way and therefore we are waisting our time discussing this. The common belief that we have free will makes sense because we are presented with choices which completely alter our future in different ways depending on what we choose. However, this is arguably just an illusion[1].

One can argue ad infinitum about whether there is “really” such a thing as color; but the fact that proximate cause of color is the result of the human eye being exposed to electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths between 3800 and 7600 nanometers seems to be a pretty hard and fast observation.

@36
“What you call red, I also call red. But the color you call red is not the same color I call red.”
“You’re favourite color can be pink and mine can be blue, but what we are seeing is the exact same thing”

I don’t really know what side to take as both are possible. The color thing both sugests that we all have the same favourite color and like the same music (that we all like the same things but just call them different things). This could be used to back up both sides of the discussion depending on the context it is placed in.

This kind of discussion hurts the head as there is a lot of recursive thoughts involved and shortens your life span by 3.725%[2] due to the amount of braincells shorted out by the recursion. Therefore, this type of discussion disproves the one side of it[3].

[1]: The probability of this being an illusion seems unlikely because, for example, every time I use a knife I am presented with the possibility that I could slip and cut off one of my fingers (or hands), this would completely alter they way I deal with everything in the future and therefore be a “branch” in what could happen. (Slipping with a knife was not a choice seeing as there was no thought into it before it happened and could be seen as being predetermined).

[2]: Please keep in mind that a solid 33.5% of all statistics are all made up :)

[3]: In case you didn’t catch that, there is only one side to this discussion!

46

jblaster 03.14.10 at 9:35 pm

I just realized the the fact that windows comes pre-installed on PCs and IE comes preinstalled in windows disproves determinism: Who/What, with any logic whatsoever, would allow this to be predetermined??? (unless of course its to teach us a valuable lesson in patience… and the while(true) loop continues :-) )

47

Adam 03.14.10 at 9:51 pm

I tend to agree with Dennett that evolution through time has made us more able to choose and be ‘free’. The ‘illusion’ thing really doesn’t make any sense to me since we can’t tell what a system as complex as a brain/mind is going to do next except (maybe) probabilistically or in restricted circumstances. How can we say it’s ‘determined’ and its evolution doesn’t have surprises in store?

Of course a ‘determinist’ will then say ‘ but that’s just stochasticism’ – as in “the conceptual bucket I throw all ‘randomness’/’stuff we can’t predict’ in” but then can say “oh but there’s no ‘free-will’ determining the system’s evolution”. Huh? Unpredictable ‘quantum fluctuations’ and ‘sensitivity to initial conditions’ are allowed – utterly inexplicable physics ‘voodoo’ – but not any sort of ‘will free from physics’?

Not saying ‘free will’ doesn’t have a ‘physical’ explanation/correlation, but that the new wave determinists are making claims they can’t verify.

…And the inevitability of brain neuro-physics told me so.

48

bad Jim 03.15.10 at 7:48 am

When we ahead up a few posts we find a fresh entry on ethics, which would be a completely pointless sort of consideration if we didn’t generally presume a certain amount of freedom of action. How does it work for philosophers? If you sign on to determinism you get to skip ethics?

The rest of us remain stuck in the mire, wondering whether it’s fair to the drivers behind us to let a car get in front of us.

49

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.15.10 at 8:20 am

Every consideration is a completely pointless sort of consideration. Including this one.

50

JoB 03.15.10 at 9:59 am

In determinist orthodoxy, 49 should have ended: “Except this one.”

51

novakant 03.15.10 at 10:16 am

How does it work for philosophers? If you sign on to determinism you get to skip ethics?

The thing is: our need to presuppose “free will” in order to uphold our deeply ingrained ethical assumptions is not a sufficient argument for its existence. It’s be the same argumentative structure religious people employ, when they posit the “god” as a concept necessary to explain xyz and think they have thus proven its existence. Since we generally subscribe to a scientific world-view nowadays, the deck is stacked in favour of deterministic accounts, at least prima facie.

This is not to say that something like “free will” doesn’t exist, but the tough task is to explain what actually happens when we “make choices”, and this would involve answering difficult questions related to memory, consciousness, causality and personal identity in a manner consistent with scientific theory and evidence. Merely metaphysical arguments are unsatisfactory.

52

JoB 03.15.10 at 1:01 pm

novakant, are you saying that ‘it’s the free will’ functions the same as ‘it’s God’s will’? That would be an interesting comparison. I think it fails though – because ‘free will’ isn’t played as the trump card to stop discussions. The solution lies in something like Davidson’s ‘Anomalous Monism’ – if we know everything about a certain situation that situation allows to be described in a variety of ways, each description giving rise to a variety of ‘best’ choices. If so, free will is grounded – even if we do not know the actual mechanisms underlying actual choices. Whatever is the case – ‘free will’ has nothing to do with the statistical uncertainties proper to physics.

53

novakant 03.15.10 at 3:42 pm

are you saying that ‘it’s the free will’ functions the same as ‘it’s God’s will’? That would be an interesting comparison.

No – what I’m saying is that both posits are structurally similar in that an insufficiently explained concept is used to justify our given worldview. Proponents of religion need god for all sorts of purposes, without the concept everything falls apart for them – it’s the same with free will, since our moral judgements and our legal system are to a large extent based on the assumption that people possess free will and could have chosen to act differently. We need the concept, but the concept itself is not very well understood at all, in fact I would say we don’t really know what we’re talking about. And instead of trying to come up with definitions that suit our purposes, we should instead try to do justice to the phenomenon itself. I sincerely doubt that this can be done by armchair philosophy alone.

54

ScentOfViolets 03.15.10 at 3:46 pm

@36
“What you call red, I also call red. But the color you call red is not the same color I call red.”
“You’re favourite color can be pink and mine can be blue, but what we are seeing is the exact same thing”

I don’t really know what side to take as both are possible. The color thing both sugests that we all have the same favourite color and like the same music (that we all like the same things but just call them different things). This could be used to back up both sides of the discussion depending on the context it is placed in.

I’m not trying to be deep or mystical here. I’m only suggesting that free will, like color, is a subjective impression. That doesn’t make it any less real. For that matter it doesn’t make it any less the result of external, objective stimuli, just like color is the result of objective electromagnetic radiation stimulating photochemical reactions within the retina. At this point, I don’t think there’s really a lot more that you can add to the discussion until the underlying neurological mechanisms are better understood.

55

libertarian 03.15.10 at 3:53 pm

“machinations of a predetermined universe”

We’ve known since early last century that ain’t this universe. The neuroscientists should read some quantum mechanics.

56

Treilhard 03.15.10 at 4:23 pm

We’ve known since early last century that ain’t this universe.

QM and buzzwords like “uncertainty” really have no place in a discussion concerning causal determinism and free will. QM isn’t magick. It says nothing about spirituality or human freedom. It in no way rules out a deterministic universe. In fact, it’s probably our best shot at ever having something like a truly deterministic physical theory.

57

geo 03.15.10 at 4:45 pm

novakant@53: We need the concept
For what, exactly? Not for any terrestrial purpose, as far as I can see. Praise and blame, punishment and reward, are perfectly consistent with the absence of free will. It’s true that recognizing that all behavior is caused does take some wind out of the sails of people who want to ignore poverty and ignorance as causes of social pathology, preferring to simply let the unfortunates starve or lock ‘em up. But such people will always find phony theoretical reasons to be selfish.

On the other hand, organized religion cannot do without Hell, and Hell makes no sense without free will. So, ecrasez l’infame and “free will” talk will eventually fade away.

58

libertarian 03.15.10 at 5:00 pm

“It [QM] in no way rules out a deterministic universe. “

Publish Treilhard, you’ll be famous.

59

novakant 03.15.10 at 5:06 pm

Praise and blame, punishment and reward, are perfectly consistent with the absence of free will.

Only if you also find it consistent to blame or punish a lion for killing a gazelle …

60

geo 03.15.10 at 5:11 pm

If a marauding lion killed goats from your flock, of course you would punish him — you’d go out with the other villagers and hunt him. No need to speculate on whether or not the lion has free will.

61

Vance Maverick 03.15.10 at 5:19 pm

Or: if a robber is driven to rob by some combination of circumstances and propensities, then maybe we can prevent him from robbing by modifying the circumstances — say by making it clear that robbery will be punished. No need to decide whether he “freely” chooses among his options.

62

Treilhard 03.15.10 at 5:44 pm

Publish, Treilhard, you’ll be famous.

Not as famous as you’d think, libertarian. I mean, de Broglie has already collected the Noble Prize, and I can’t imagine becoming much more famous than David Bohm or John Bell for re-publishing arguments that are 60 years old. Do you have any actual knowledge of the relevant science, or do you just see a post titled “determinism” and respond with “Heisenberg said something once about uncertainty”?

Also, novakant, are you completely unaware of the rolled up newspaper treatment for misbehaving pooches?

63

geo 03.15.10 at 5:46 pm

Also, we should find out if he had Head Start and other requisites of a decent childhood, and whether unemployment in his home district is above the national average, and whether he stole to feed his family or his drug habit. And then we should use that knowledge (and the money we can easily raise by restoring progressive taxation and slashing the defense budget) to reduce the number of robbers in the next generation.

64

novakant 03.15.10 at 7:06 pm

geo, are you being wilfully obtuse or do you really not grasp the problem at hand?

65

ScentOfViolets 03.15.10 at 7:42 pm

We’ve known since early last century that ain’t this universe. The neuroscientists should read some quantum mechanics.

Not true. In fact, it wasn’t until near the end of the twentieth that this was ruled out, for some sufficiently sloppy values of determinism and quantum mechanics. And even in naive versions of QM the wave function evolves completely deterministically.

66

geo 03.15.10 at 7:50 pm

#64: No, I’m doing my best.

67

JoB 03.15.10 at 9:09 pm

novakant-53,

You wrote ‘no’, then went on to say ‘yes’. Your ‘I sincerely doubt that this can be done by armchair philosophy alone.’ functions exactly like ‘It’s Gods will.’

Why wouldn’t it be settleable by armchair philosophy alone. Because this would make you feel uneasy? Because you distrust armchair judges to come up with just rulings?

Anyway, if you don’t think my evidence is admissible because it’s devised in armchair thinking; no need to continue the discussion because I happen to believe that for some of us that do not go all wobbly-kneed on ‘neuroscience meets QM’ this is precisely the type of thing where armchair philosophers will carry the day ;-)

68

Aulus Gellius 03.15.10 at 9:42 pm

geo: there definitely was a significant pre-christian debate about free will (Stoic determinists vs. Epicurean free-willians, or whatever you call them), though I don’t know how the debate changed in Christian times. I don’t have any particular texts to hand, but I’ll try to come back to this thread with Long & Sedley when I get a chance.

It definitely wasn’t about justifying eternal reward or punishment, since the Epicureans believed in neither. There was a religious aspect on the Stoic side, though; fate was definitely God’s plan, and one of their arguments (though not the best) was, “if there were no fate, how could soothsayers do their job?”

69

geo 03.15.10 at 11:07 pm

Thanks, Aulus, I’m sure there was, and of course plenty of people nowadays argue about free will without any religious motivation whatever. What I meant by free will’s having no intellectual function except to justify Hell is that in every other context it is logically superfluous — a “fifth wheel to the coach,” as William James called it in “The Will to Believe” — in the sense that no conclusion requires it as a premise. If you want to blame or punish or attribute moral responsibility to someone for some act, you can do it with no less justification if you think all behavior (including choice) is caused. If you want to argue about whether giving kids a decent education and a reasonable prospect of economic security will have any effect on whether they turn to crime, you can argue that the ineffable mysteriousness of free will makes it impossible in principle to draw any conclusion from the data. The concept of free will has no cash value.

Hell is a different matter. No Hell, as Pascal recognized in formulating his wager, and the wisest thing is just to ignore the Church’s commands and have a good time in this life. But if there’s a Hell and no free will, then God must be a mad sadist. Hence free will is as necessary — and in the same way — to the legitimacy of Christianity as the numerous zombie ideas John Q. has been valiantly trying to re-inter are to the legitimacy of laissez-faire capitalism.

70

engels 03.15.10 at 11:29 pm

Why would God have to be a mad sadist? Couldn’t He just be trying to deter people from sinning, in much the same way that you want to deter them from committing crime? If you can support earthly punishments without free will why can’t God support posthumous ones? Or do you just think Hell is excessive and God would be within his rights to scare people with something a little less extreme?

71

Treilhard 03.15.10 at 11:42 pm

Engels, Hell isn’t traditionally thought of as a means of sin deterrence, but as the penalty for failing to make a single choice. Most protestant theologies heavily emphasize our freedom to make this choice, lest god come across as unjust. Some Calvinist and Lutheran schools of thought though are perfectly comfortable denying our ability to make the right choice, insisting that we were predestined from birth to either election or damnation. If that’s the case, then God is ineffably sadistic.

72

engels 03.16.10 at 12:01 am

…and similarly most apologists for criminal punishment emphasise our capacity to choose whether or not to offend. Geo rejects this, but believes punishments can still be meted out ‘with no less justification’ because this has good consequences.

Why can’t God reason in the same way? Why’s he a sadist if Geo isn’t?

73

geo 03.16.10 at 12:42 am

Engels: Hell is not merely “excessive”; it is infinite and everlasting, unlike every other punishment, or indeed every other experience. That’s the peculiar horror of it. The point is that God and organized religions couldn’t scare people sufficiently with anything less extreme — sufficiently, that is, to induce the unwilling to accept religious doctrine and abide by religious discipline.

74

john c. halasz 03.16.10 at 1:00 am

Yawn! How do these determinism arguments get started and why should we take them so seriously? Isn’t the totalized account of causality tout court somewhat suspect? A “complete” account of causality is projected, but by what? By “mind”? Which then needs to be accounted for in terms of its own projection of causality.

There’s no talk of the organization of causes, of disparate sorts, and the structures that constrain causal flows, which give rise to the emergent properties and capacities which solicit explanation. No, there must be one single totalized account!

To begin with, organism are a distinct causal organization that establish themselves by delimiting themselves from their environments, and intervene in distributed environmental causal events on the basis of the requirements of their metabolic organization. (The organism is “open” to its environment precisely to the extent that its is systemically “closed”). The “system” objection to the “Chinese Room Argument” that came up in a thread a while back suffers from the fact that there is no such thing as a “system” per se, only a system-environment relation, which point neither set of philosophers seems to recognize. (There’s also confusion in that the argument conflates semantic understanding with the existence of any sort of mental features per se, as if language were merely a projection of the mental and as if there weren’t non-or-pre-semantic mental capacities to be considered).

Once one gets the organism/environment relation straight, then it’s not hard to account for the emergent evolution of mental properties and capacities in a biological evolutionary context, as facilitating and mediating organism/environment interactions. And it’s not hard to jigger up some plausible accounts of neural causal processes that would result in the sort of openness, indeterminacy or under-determination, and variability that we would phenomenologically associate with mental phenomena. A sufficiently stochastic and multivalent, (i.e. where myriad different pathways lead to the same “result”), set-up would allow for mental properties and capacities to have a physical basis without any unique set of causal events corresponding to and thus determining/reducing the mental phenomena. And insofar as it is the pattern of neuronal events/firings rather than any discrete set of them that amounts to a mental phenomenon, say, a thought, then a pattern of neuronal events can induce a subsequent pattern of such events: hence mental causality, not just mental events causing other mental events, nor a parallelism of mental and physical causal events, but something mental intervening and effecting a difference in something physical. Without any meaningful formula for the reducibility of the mental to the physical. After all, what is real is what has efficacy, and if mental phenomena had not efficacy, made no difference, just why, pray tell, would they have emergently evolved? A neurally embedded primary-perceptual consciousness system would be an evolutionary real only if at least some part of the selective behavioral decisions of the organism were passed through it and that, in turn, made a behavioral difference, with selection advantages, to its interactions with its environment. And, of course, there is the anti-Cartesian presumption here: why would humans have mental features, such as consciousness, if such were not distributed among at least some other animal species, as evolutionary precursors?

But we’re still within the realm of causality here, even if mental causality is allowed, and if the totalization of a deterministic/reductionist account is defused, since it amounts to an epiphenomenalist account of the mental, which explains it away, rather than explaining it, and thus involves a self-denying ordinance and a kind of performative contradiction. We haven’t gotten to “freedom”, human agency. To explain that language/symbolic thinking is required, since only if there is a symbolic duplication of the environment/world can states-of-affairs be entertained in terms of their counter-factual possibilities and behavior selections be made in terms of those possibilities, rather than simply immediately and adaptively responding to environmental events or cycles of events. That’s the rudiment of human agency, “freedom”, as a real phenomenon, what ever its subsequent elaborations. But language/meaning is a non-causal set of relations, which can’t be derived from prior “meaningless” causal antecedents, even as an emergent/conjunctural phenomenon, nor reduced to a prior set of environmental phenonema that it would “reflect” or “represent”. (Causal chain accounts of reference, though of dubious value, presuppose, rather than account for, “meaning”, since only with “meaning” is there any need to account for reference). Communicative interaction between organisms don’t “cause” the respective mental states of the respective organisms, but rather bring about modal shifts in the relationships between said organisms, which can be accepted or rejected or lead on to further such interactions, as the respective mental states respond. The “circuits” of such communicative interactions are entirely irreducible, even notionally, to complicated sets of naturalistic causal events. There’s been a decisive “leap” from natural environmental explanation into socio-cultural forms-of-life, from environmental orientation to orientation toward a world, and “explanation” shifts to the constraining social structures comprised of and generated by action-and communication events. To be sure, conditioned by physical environmental and organic realities, and in no wise underwriting any metaphysical fantasies about unconditional “free will”. But also unamenable to equally metaphysical fantasies of totalized naturalistic determinism.

Nietzsche spoke of the “cause finding superstition”. And much of the project of providing a hyper-naturalistic account of “mind” amounts to such “Enlightened” higher superstition. But then modern human societies have so dominatively surmounted natural realities, to the point of disintegrating them and causing them to virtually disappear,- (with what consequences for such societies themselves?),- reversing the traditional polarity between societies and their subjection to the dominative/mythic “powers” of nature, that such projects operate in massive bad faith, reducing socio-cultural structures and human responsibility for them to “blind” adaption to the prevailing status quo.

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Ginger Yellow 03.16.10 at 9:57 am

fate was definitely God’s plan, and one of their arguments (though not the best) was, “if there were no fate, how could soothsayers do their job?”

Heh. Reminds me of the question begging fundamentalist argument: “If evolution is true, then Jesus died in vain.” Seems like his problem, not evolution’s, to me.

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novakant 03.16.10 at 10:40 am

That’s interesting John, and largely corresponds to my intuitions on the subject. Do you have any suggestions regarding literature that discusses these topics at greater length?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.16.10 at 1:17 pm

I don’t see how any of this refutes the hard-determinism hypothesis. In fact, I don’t see how anything, short of producing an actual alternative universe, can refute it.

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engels 03.16.10 at 1:37 pm

Henri — that could be because you have an incorrect understanding of what hard determinism means. Determinism is the view that everything in the universe (including human beings) could only have behaved and may only behave in the way that it has done and is pre-determined by the laws of physics to do in the future. This is, or is claimed to be, a scientific fact. Compatibilism is the view that this fact is consistent with human being’s having free will. Hard determinism is the view that it isn’t, and that free will is an illusion.

You haven’t given any argument for hard determinism here, only determinism. But most people who believe in free will are compatibilists, which means they accept that determinism is true will believing that people have free will.

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engels 03.16.10 at 2:01 pm

Also, what do you think of this?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.16.10 at 2:23 pm

No, I think I get the drift. But let’s say I do have these “metaphysical fantasies of totalized naturalistic determinism” (74). Can these fantasies be refuted?

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novakant 03.16.10 at 3:28 pm

For anybody who has the time, here are a couple of online papers on the matter ;).

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Ginger Yellow 03.16.10 at 4:58 pm

Compatibilism is the view that this fact is consistent with human being’s having free will. Hard determinism is the view that it isn’t, and that free will is an illusion.

What about people who believe in a deterministic universe, and free will, and that free will is an illusion?

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engels 03.16.10 at 5:34 pm

What about people who believe in … free will, and that free will is an illusion?

Do you have anyone particular in mind?

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engels 03.16.10 at 11:25 pm

Can these fantasies be refuted?

Don’t ask me. Some people think they have been because of the points about quantum mechanics mentioned above. My point was that many people who believe in free will think it’s possible to do so without doing this.

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libertarian 03.17.10 at 12:16 am

Treilhard @62:

Do you have any actual knowledge of the relevant science, or do you just see a post titled “determinism” and respond with “Heisenberg said something once about uncertainty”?

I know more than you think, Tryhard. Bohm, Bell, et al are not your friends when it comes to determinism. Their theories are necessarily non-deterministic when extended to cover quantum field theory (specifically, particle creation and annihilation).

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ScentOfViolets 03.17.10 at 1:41 am

I know more than you think, Tryhard. Bohm, Bell, et al are not your friends when it comes to determinism. Their theories are necessarily non-deterministic when extended to cover quantum field theory (specifically, particle creation and annihilation).

Sigh. You really don’t know what you’re talking about, do you? Since you claim to know this stuff, what part of “the wave equation evolves deterministically” don’t you get? I guess the handle was the tip-off that there’d be claims of massive expertise coupled with massive meta/incompetence.

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ScentOfViolets 03.17.10 at 1:58 am

The whole “randomness is necessary for free will” trope is pretty much a diversion too. Say I flip a coin twenty times and twenty times it comes up heads. Is the sequence HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH a random one?

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john c. halasz 03.17.10 at 2:39 am

Novakant @76:

On the neuro-physiological side of things, I’m partial to Gerald Edelman. “A Universe of Consciousness” by Edelman and Tononi is well-written and fairly accessible. (His first attempt at a popularization was terribly written; teaming up a junior partner greatly improved the discipline and quality of the prose, though the first effort remains of interest, if one ignores its flaws).

More generally, I’m operating under the influence of Whitehead’s “natural cosmology”/anti-reductionism realism with the key notion of emergent evolution, which is the opposite of Quine-style reductionist physicalism: I basically don’t think the notion of “nature” is adequately and coherently conceivable without some such account. (Curiously, Quine was beginning his career at Harvard just as Whitehead was finishing up his, so the former must have been exposed to his “refutation”, even before he elaborated his views. For that matter, Davidson was a classics student there at the time, who took a couple of Whitehead’s last courses: “anamolous monism” might be regarded as recuperating something of Whitehead in Quine’s Analytic idiom).

A case for anti-reductionist physicalism is made, in somewhat rambling style, by SFI theoretical biologist Stuart Kaufmann, which I largely agree with, though I utterly lack such a level of scientific competence, and don’t care much for the theme of the venue, in this video:

http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/beyond-belief-enlightenment-2-0/stuart-kauffman

I skipped going on about how language-use, as the “root” of human agency, is always and everywhere, one way or another, directly or indirectly, a relation to the other, and so how my agency/”freedom” is always bound up in that of others, as somewhat OT on this thread and as offensive to the delicate first-person sensibilities of the usual crowd here. But part of the motivation/aim of Levinas’ work is to recuperate the sense of human agency from without its multiple naturalistic dissolutions in modern thought, (most of all Nietzsche’s critique of morality, but also various natural-scientific, social-scientific and linguistic-semiological forms of it), without exactly denying their validity. One of Levinas’ key points is that “freedom” has always, at least implicitly, been “measured” against causality and the mastery thereof, “autonomy”, in Western (post-)metaphysical thinking, which is certainly and unoriginally reprised in Analytic “philosophy of mind”. So the Levinasian “paradox” that one’s responsibility precedes and exceeds one’s “freedom” is an utter offense to “reason”, until one realizes that such “freedom” is couched in terms of the relation to the other, rather than in terms of solipsistic self-mastery. Each and every irreducibly particular human existence, with the irreversible specificity of its fate, is existentially separate from each and every other such human existence. But existential separateness is not the same as the metaphysical ideal of “autonomy”. All real “freedom” is heteronomous, bound up in relation to the other, which is not the same as abject subjection to it. On the other hand, putting the case for human agency in contra-position to causality does bring out what a finite, constitutively limited, and structurally constrained “thing” it is, as a real phenomenon, which accords with existential thinking, at least in its less over-blown forms. But all this gets deep into the weeds of continental post-Heideggerian thinking, which is taboo here.

(P.S. I put “freedom” in scare quotes and prefer the idiom of human agency, because I’m suspicious of the ideological abuses of the notion of “freedom”. Such as, in liberal thinking, the autonomous ego is somehow, implausibly, the terminus ad quem of human history, or, in rightist thinking, the “freedom” of the sovereign is the sine qua non, or in economistic thinking, the “freedom” of markets is anything but a functionalistic account).

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john c. halasz 03.17.10 at 5:01 am

Henry Old-times @ 77 & 80:

Why exactly do you feel a need for a proof or disproof of metaphysical theses? And what difference would it make either way? What makes the terms of such “problems” so compelling? Rather why aren’t the formulations of such “problems” based on abstractive mistakes, such that, rather than “proving” or “disproving” either mistaken alternative, dissolving the “problem” is the better “strategy”?

There “must” be some mode of criticism that asks after what motivates the formulation of “problems” and why they are imperative or “necessary”. There’s no need to “prove” or “disprove” such metaphysical theses/fantasies, rather than identifying and analyzing the (sources of) the reified and occluded needfulness involved. And directed at just what the actual phenomenal basis that gives rise to such “problems” amounts to: else there’s no “evidence” involved and no explanadum to go with the expanans.

In short, there are a number of ways to explain something: as a real phenomenon, as an epiphenomenon, as a meaning, as a fantasy, as a mistake, etc. But just why would you find a totalized determinism such a compelling account? Because you want to perform a salto mortale with respect to the universe?

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onymous 03.17.10 at 5:56 am

I assume “libertarian” is the same guy who hilariously failed in his attempt to convince us he understood climate science a couple of weeks ago. Let’s watch as he hilariously fails to understand quantum mechanics! (Admittedly, I know a lot of people whose work involves quantum mechanics who don’t understand quantum mechanics, so he’s in good company.)

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novakant 03.17.10 at 12:11 pm

Thanks for the pointers, John. I’ll check out Edelman and Levinas, when I find some time. As it happens, I studied both Hegel and philosophy of mind at uni, so I’ve got some background even though it’s been ages.

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JoB 03.17.10 at 12:20 pm

I feel the urge to say something that will come over as petty and unhelpful (no surprise, I guess): @90, see my 52 … “anomalous monism”.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.17.10 at 1:07 pm

Fatalism is compelling because it helps reduce stress and frustration. I got that idea decades ago, from Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, and it still works for me.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.17.10 at 1:26 pm

…well, come to think of it, I was probably already conditioned by my grandmother, who lived through the most horrific events of 20th century Europe and somehow acquired this same disposition.

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bianca steele 03.17.10 at 1:33 pm

A thought experiment

Even if every individual micro-sized event was deterministic, if it could be proved that the fastest kind of Turing Machine (indeterministic, multiprocessing, multidimensional tape, whatever) would require resources equivalent to all of spacetime and ten times as long as the universe has existed in order to predict a single event accurately, would the universe then be deterministic? I think it would. The key seems to be the introduction of some inexplicable cause.

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JoB 03.17.10 at 1:36 pm

Hell, we’re all conditioned by Adam and Eve.

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novakant 03.17.10 at 2:03 pm

@91

jeekers JoB, I have read Davidson – as well as Quine, Putnam, Kim, Dennett, Dretske, the Churchlands and whathaveyou, sorry that I tend to find their answers somewhat lacking and am looking for other approaches

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JoB 03.17.10 at 2:27 pm

96- maybe so but John’s pointers included, non-coincidentally, Davidson. And if you put him in a list like the one above it is quite possible you missed the connection to AM, missed Davidson’s connection to Gadamer and missed how Levinas’ essentialness of the ‘Other’ is similar to Donald Davidson’s view on ‘triangulation’ and for that matter, the Habermasian view that our humanity starts with out ability to critically discuss with one another. But that’s just more ‘armchair’ ;-(

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bianca steele 03.17.10 at 2:58 pm

HV: Fatalism . . . helps reduce stress and frustration.

Yeah, a lot of the time fatalists work out their frustrations trying to get other people to see they ought to become more fatalistic.

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Walt 03.17.10 at 3:06 pm

Unless I’m misunderstanding, I don’t see how “the wave function evolves deterministically” is relevant. In any model with probability, the underlying probability law evolves deterministically.

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ScentOfViolets 03.17.10 at 3:34 pm

Even if every individual micro-sized event was deterministic, if it could be proved that the fastest kind of Turing Machine (indeterministic, multiprocessing, multidimensional tape, whatever) would require resources equivalent to all of spacetime and ten times as long as the universe has existed in order to predict a single event accurately, would the universe then be deterministic? I think it would. The key seems to be the introduction of some inexplicable cause.

Hmmm . . . speaking from a physics background, I don’t think this sort of question makes sense. If you’re using all the matter in the universe, what sort of stuff will be involved in the event you’re predicting?

This sort of experimenting appears to draw a distinction between two different sorts of determinism. On the one hand, you have that given the rules of the game and the initial setup you can predict all future moves and all future states. This seems to be what is commonly meant in the physical sense. On the other hand, you have the more metaphysical concept of reproducibility. In that case, you simply say that if the game is restarted from the initial setup, events will play out in exactly the same way as before. Iow, while you may not know the rules of the game, you do know that in the piece of it that you see that moves will always play out the same way regardless of how many times you do them over. So you have the similar but not the same notions of predictability and inevitability. One implies the other, but not vice versa. If pressed, I would have to say that physicists would tend to believe in the latter, but not the former, for example, Einstein’s block universe. Note btw the fact that predictability can be rather more easily proved in some sense than inevitability; short of having a Godlike view of the universe(if not Godlike comprehension), you can’t really be sure that what you see play out many times in a row is really inevitable vs very likely given what you can observe.

This works in a mathematical context as well; it’s easy to assign various sequences a “complexity number” so that those with small numbers are said to be “nonrandom” while those with numbers comparable to the size of the sequence itself are “random”. But there is no way to tell whether these sequences were actually randomly generated from, say, a series of coin flips or the result of some deterministic algorithm, say scanning a series of digits in the decimal expansion of pi.

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ScentOfViolets 03.17.10 at 3:59 pm

Unless I’m misunderstanding, I don’t see how “the wave function evolves deterministically” is relevant. In any model with probability, the underlying probability law evolves deterministically.

I’m not sure what you mean by “. . . the underlying probability law evolves deterministically.” But let me give you one of those philosphy scenarios to show you what I mean.

Let’s say that you roll a fair six-sided die so that each possible outcome has a one in six chance of appearing. Now, what we’ll do is take the person rolling the die and duplicate both them and their surrounding environment exactly, all the way down to the sub-sub-sub-atomic level with the exception of the die, so that in the end you have six identical people looking at six different distinct faces. Now, we know as the experimenter that the die will always come up “with every number”, and that’s completely deterministic. But each individual will look at the die and say that they had exactly a one-in-six chance of seeing what they saw.

And this is what the majority thought seems to be these days amongst physicists, if you can see the analogy. Whenever the subject rolls the die, the “universe splits” six different ways every time. But each individual is unable to communicate with the “other universes”, so they see themselves as only having one chance in six of seeing that particular outcome. The “Many Worlds” theory has a horribly bad name btw, and one which probably helped to keep it from being acknowledged for so long. The much more accurate terminology is that the wave function evolves deterministically so that there are six pieces of it that are roughly the same except for the number appearing on the die. We can’t see those other parts of the wave function though because of a phenomenon called “decoherence”. This isn’t anything mysterious; it merely means that, for example, while you may see distinct waves from a dropped pebble in a pond or three or five, you can’t see the waves when you chuck in a handful of gravel. That is, the waves are still there in accordance with physical law. You just can’t see them because they’re all mixed up and what you perceive is a chaotic surface. This is important enough that it deserves a link so I’ll give one:

The cumulative effect of the interactions is to make the photons look as if they were classical particles, taking one definite path or the other. They’re always quantum objects, though, and they always interfere. Decoherence just keeps you from seeing the pattern.

This is why I say that the standard Many-Worlds language about “separate universes” is pernicious and misleading. What’s going on here is not really a photon splitting into two photons in “separate universes,” one taking each path, it’s a photon wavefunction that is in a superposition state with random phases between the two pieces.

Good stuff that should be included in every high school student’s education.

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novakant 03.17.10 at 4:33 pm

@97

Hey, if you think AM solves the mind-body problem, and by extension the problem of free will – well, good for you. It simply doesn’t cut it for me and I am certainly not alone in that. As for me missing parallels to Levinas – maybe so, but since I haven’t read a word of Levinas, that’s hardly a fair allegation.

And yes, armchair philosophy alone won’t lead us to an answer, which doesn’t mean that it’s worthless, but rather that we need an integrated approach that tackles the problem from different angles, which in my book would also include, gasp, empirical psychology and linguistics as well as neuroscience.

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john c. halasz 03.17.10 at 6:27 pm

JoB @91 &96:

“Anomalous monism” is O.K. as a limited philosopher’s synoptic account, but the empirical, causal details matter, even if they’re more-than-astronomically complex, and these questions are mostly a matter for neuro-physiology in an evolutionary framework, rather than for “philosophy of mind”. As for the rest of Davidson, I’m ambivalent. I don’t think Tarski’s truth-conditional semantics can be adequately applied to natural language, (and neither did Tarski). I tend to regard Davidson as on a step program of recovery from Quine. At any rate, it was only at the end of his career that he recognized any affinity with Gadamer’s conception of interpretation.

Whitehead, I feel, has been unjustly neglected, perhaps because his work ran into the hegemonic heyday of logical positivism. Though much of what he was getting at with his odd revisionary “metaphysical” vocabulary, nowadays might be put more formally and precisely in terms of general systems theory.

Habermas’ “discourse ethics” is a part of an attempt at a systematic theory of social rationality/rational societies. I kinda lost the thread of him after TCA and haven’t followed out his later elaborations, though I would prefer a hermeneutically thicker and more conflicted account, rather than such an over-riding emphasis on “universal” consensus as the basis for social reality. But he’s rather OT here.

There is no Essential Other in Levinas, and he’s worlds away from either Davidson or Habermas. He’s working at a “primordial”, pre-logical level, working against Heidegger and Hegel, though peculiarly entangled with them. The other is neither an object, nor a presence, nor a phenomenal appearance, but a paradoxically non-appearing phenomenon, an enigma rather than something that can be consensually objective. The exteriority of the self in the “face” of the other is “prior” to any interiority, which could “constitute” a coherent object-world, “intersubjectivity”, and “preoccupies” it, which is very much the point: an ethics of the divided rather than self-referring-and-cohering self.

Of course, I get irritated and impatient with a lot of this Analytic “philosophy of mind” stuff and the way its problematics get set-up and the “arm-chair” approaches. The obsession with the causal basis of “mind” relying solely on prior logical analysis rather than looking at the empirical sorts of causality that might do is especially unfortunate. And, following on Hegel’s “Geist”, “mind” is as much a socio-cultural phenomenon as a biological one: “mind” does not equal brain, for all that they are peculiarly intertwined. But it’s also an entirely contingent phenomenon, like life itself: an account of “mind” tells us nothing about the “deep” structure of the universe, and there is no way the universe must be, so that mind must be, though conversely there may be ways “mind” must be, given the way the universe is. QM, needless to say, has nothing to do with the matter, though there may well be something wave-like,- neural pulses might be frequency modulated, for example,- and likely highly stochastic/indetermininistic about brain functioning, though the latter applies in some measure to biological causality in general: hence the confusion. And ill-formulated impasses leading to speculations about “panpsychism” is the height of folly: better to dissolve such “problems” than to pretend to “solve” them, and formulate the sorts of questions that can guide one in where to look for actual answers. I also don’t have much sympathy for artificial formalist-functionalist computational models of “mind”, which are philosophically tendentious and abstract from actual situated embodiment and thus actual causal bases. Besides which analogies to digital computers involve a scarcely disguised dualism, whereas, for good evolutionary biological reason, brains likely involve primarily analog processing. And there’s no willingness to entertain the possibility that “mind”, as well as being contingent, might be sheerly superfluous or even aberrant, since the approach through logical analysis allies with a latent instrumentalist account of rationality. (There is no evolutionary reason, for example, for human brains’ ability to do higher mathematics). And, of course, “mind” is not an isolated topic, to be “solved” progressively by specialists, but, philosophically speaking, always involves quasi-systematic implications with other issues, such as agency, knowledge, ethics, etc. There’s no monopoly on the matter, and always there’s a question as to what motivates a particular theoretic program or project and what “need” it evokes or seeks to fill.

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bianca steele 03.17.10 at 6:44 pm

SOV@100:

The issue may come down to a different definition of prediction. From where I’m coming from, if you can play out the situation on paper (construct a Turing machine to simulate it), you can predict it. IIRC Putnam and Penrose thought it was important that there were micro processes that a TM could neither calculate nor simulate. Personally, the existence of irrational numbers, or for that matter infinities countable or uncountable, don’t seem to be of deep significance either. Maybe we’re getting into “taming of chance” territory here.

I think, given that we are talking about physics, your two definitions of determinism amount to the same thing. If, philosophically, you don’t want to restrict yourself to what’s applicable to physics, it would seem you can’t restrict what’s possible by importing the discoveries of physics into your theory (asking whether nor QM introduces indeterminism). If so, you have admitted that in principle higher level events are produced by lower-level, physical events, and that there is no spiritual or mental plane that is not in any way itself physical but produces events in the physical sphere.

There may be all sorts of goodness, by the way, in the sort of thing jch is talking about, but to me it is absurd to require a concession that mental or spiritual events are actual intrusions into the physical. Even more absurd to think that an indeterministic QM is somehow going to be an acceptable substitute for this kind of intrusion.

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john c. halasz 03.17.10 at 6:46 pm

Henri Vieuxtemps @ 92 &93:

Again, fatalism is not the same as determinism. And any account of agency/”freedom” as strictly finite and constitutively limited involves a considerable burden of fate, though also openness to (the pressure of) the future.

Since you’re “over there” and my parents came from there, (having grown up into the War), I’ll venture to remark that a culturally engrained sense of fatalism is fairly common in your neck-of-the-woods. Over here, the usual default option among the folk is an unreflective and ad hoc assumption of voluntaristic individualism. Which, of course, leads to a kind of compulsive optimism and large doses of denial. If you’d want a simple explanation of how the U.S. financial system caused the global economy to collapse, I blame Prozac!

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john c. halasz 03.17.10 at 7:02 pm

So, SoV, beneath the level of any possible observation, there is an interference pattern that would theoretically determine the observable outcome?

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Walt 03.17.10 at 7:20 pm

SoV: You’re making my argument (I think). Take any model with probability in it. Postulate a different model where instead of things happening probabilistically that the world splits into multiple worlds, and every possibility happens. Then viola! you have a deterministic model.

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noen 03.17.10 at 7:25 pm

I really like what john c. halasz has said here.

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libertarian 03.17.10 at 9:03 pm

I assume “libertarian” is the same guy who hilariously failed in his attempt to convince us he understood climate science a couple of weeks ago. Let’s watch as he hilariously fails to understand quantum mechanics!

Onymous, I cannot hope to convince you that I understand QM, any more than I was able to convince you that I understand climate science. One needs to know *something* in order to know what one doesn’t know, and in your case even that much knowledge is clearly lacking.

Sigh. You really don’t know what you’re talking about, do you? Since you claim to know this stuff, what part of “the wave equation evolves deterministically” don’t you get? I guess the handle was the tip-off that there’d be claims of massive expertise coupled with massive meta/incompetence.

Deterministically evolving probability distributions are themselves deterministic? You should be a co-author with Tryhard, ScentOfViolence.

But please do carry on. I find the automatic assumption that any outsider must be ignorant a refreshing reminder of why academia has become so irrelevant.

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JoB 03.17.10 at 9:21 pm

102-103- Yeah, sure, multi-disciplinary, I wasn’t against thát. That being said – having read a lot of Davidson/Habermas and quite some Levinas – there is, imho, a link. John may well be right that it isn’t obvious but that’s the point of pointing to something: it is to point out something that is non-obvious.

To me the technical apparatus of Davidson (which is essentially empricial & dedicated to a multidisciplinary approach) allows to underpin what e.g. Habermas has to say. It’s clear that the work of showing this has to be done & I can’t do it. I can only hope to get somebody fired up and/or discussing with me; so, don’t shoot me ;-)

(I have to say I find Levinas a bit old hat (as I find John’s style a bit old hat, sorry) and I do not know why we have to revisit such density; it is not even so that he has literary genius, and before you know it you connect to the worst of French philosophy)

John, triangulation is pre-logical – discourse ethics is based on the idea that a person is socially constructed hence the social reality takes precedence over inidviduality – you may be too long for me to respond point by point but length is not a sign of authority – at least not with me

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Aulus Gellius 03.17.10 at 9:57 pm

We’ve gone way, way beyond my knowledge and comprehension here, plus I’m still too lazy to go pick up my Long & Sedley, but I do want to bring back the Epicureans briefly, for what might perhaps be a useful point.

It’s often pointed out how odd it is that the Epicureans believed in a mechanism with some similarity to, at least, an idiot’s understanding of QM: Epicurean atoms, every once in a while, will “swerve” a minimal unit, a movement that cannot possibly be predicted (the rest of the time, their movements are caused exclusively and regularly by gravity and bumping into each other). There wasn’t much good reason for believing this at all, and obviously the Epicureans didn’t have any of the evidence used for quantum theory; I don’t think there’s any trace of a historical connection there.

However, the swerve was central to the Epicurean belief in free will. Which suggests (here’s the actual point) that the relationship between QM and free will isn’t just a case of people grabbing a new scientific theory and inventing a relationship to their philosophical claim: the relationship actually pre-existed the scientific theory; which in turn suggests that the science, now that it’s really supported by evidence, is more likely to be legitimately relevant to the philosophy. Eh?

On another note, I’ve been trying to come up with a plan to tax libertarian for breathing. Do any of my fellow control freaks want to help out with that?

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john c. halasz 03.18.10 at 2:22 am

Hail, Aulus Gellius! Though I’d prefer you tax ‘em for farting. But you’re the Roman jurisprudent, so keep your own counsel.

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