20111026

Freewill and Fatalism


William Westmiller asks:

“I agree with your criticism of solipsism (we control the universe) and fatalism (the universe controls us) as irrational extremes. However, determinism seems to preclude human free will. If all of our actions are determined by prior states (micro or macro), do we have any ability to make choices?”

[William, once you read TSW you will understand the difference between classical determinism and univironmental determinism. I will restate it here because it a common question that I get. TSW was predicated on the idea that there is no freewill—all interactions in the universe are determined by what went on before. This is because, as a scientist, I regard the entire universe and everything in it to be natural. Determinists (and the best scientists) believe that there are material causes for all effects. That means also that any interpretation that leads to a freewill conclusion must involve a theoretical mistake. Even those indeterminists who believe their choices have no causes expect their choices to have effects.

Classical determinism was based on classical mechanics, with its belief in finite universal causality. This form of determinism was best illustrated by Laplace’s Demon, a super intelligent being who could predict the future by knowing the position and velocity of every particle in the universe. Classical determinism, classical mechanics and Laplace’s Demon were destroyed by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which I interpret as the Third Assumption of Science, uncertainty (It is impossible to know everything about anything, but it is possible to know more about anything). This is consupponible with the Second Assumption of Science, causality (All effects have an infinite number of material causes) and the Eighth Assumption of Science, infinity (The universe is infinite, both in the microcosmic and macrocosmic directions). Infinity is what makes assumptions necessary and allows us to have “the feeling of freedom,” which indeterminists often mistake for an acausal freewill. The correct theoretical position, however, is not to follow this solipsistic tendency or its opposite, fatalism, but to adopt univironmental determinism (UD), the belief that what happens to a portion of the universe is determined by the matter in motion within and without. Univironmental determinism is not only the correct philosophy, but it is at once the universal mechanism of evolution.

So do we have the ability to make choices? Of course. Can choices be made independently of the univironment? Of course not. Should we give up, as fatalists do, saying that “it is all predetermined anyway.” Of course not. Each of us changes the world, whether we realize it or not. Even fatalists and couch potatoes take up space. We can have “the feeling of freedom” while changing the world for better or worse. What UD adds, now that you know the secret, is the theoretical framework pointing the way toward the material conditions that need to be changed within and without.]


10 comments:

Westmiller said...

Glenn wrote:
"... We can have 'the feeling of freedom' while changing the world for better or worse."

This seems self-contradictory. If there is merely the 'feeling of freedom', it is entirely a self-delusion. In that case, "we" do not chose what changes to make, nor what is "better or worse", for the world. Everything we do ... we must do.

Isn't that fatalism, in a nutshell?

"... What UD adds, now that you know the secret, is the theoretical framework pointing the way toward the material conditions that need to be changed within and without."

Doesn't UD say that those changes will occur, whether we chose to make the changes or not? Isn't that inconsistent with saying that "we" will decide what "need(s) to be changed", since the "need" is not ours, but determined entirely by the univironment, far beyond our control?

"... Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which I interpret as the Third Assumption of Science, uncertainty (It is impossible to know everything about anything, but it is possible to know more about anything)."

Heisenberg's Principle is usually invoked as a barrier to full knowledge of quantum-level events, because acquiring knowledge at that level is an event with consequences. Therefore, it is NOT possible to know more about a quantum event than the attendant probabilities. That seems to conflict with your statement that it is "possible to know more" about those kind of events.

"... All effects have an infinite number of material causes"

I might qualify that to exclude events beyond our light cone, since a supernova that occurred 13.6 billion years ago might have no effect on "us" for another million years. If that is true, then the number of material causes cannot be "infinite", since the sensible universe (things that can affect us) is finite. Of course, that assumes that the speed of light is a constant and a maxima.

I'll leave those few questions and two more ... for now:

1. I assume that you acknowledge that relevance to our human existence is a reasonable factor to consider ... while we ponder all of the near-infinite influences on our being. The "Butterfly Effect" is hardly relevant to whether or not I respond to your comments today or tomorrow.

2. Why does believing in UD give me any advantage over not believing in UD? It's a psychological question: will I be happier or sadder if I believe that I have no choice about whether to believe in it or not?

William Westmiller

Glenn Borchardt said...

20111027aa Comment Freewill

Glenn wrote:

"... We can have 'the feeling of freedom' while changing the world for better or worse."

William wrote:

This seems self-contradictory. If there is merely the 'feeling of freedom', it is entirely a self-delusion. In that case, "we" do not chose what changes to make, nor what is "better or worse", for the world. Everything we do ... we must do. Isn't that fatalism, in a nutshell?

Glenn:

[No. Fatalism is the erroneous belief the macrocosm controls us. Solipsism, its opposite, is the belief that we control the macrocosm. Univironmental determinism, the correct philosophy, claims that what happens to us is determined by the infinite matter in motion within and without. Everything in the universe works this way; it could be no other way. We are part of nature, and that is just how it must work. While the usual conception of “freewill” is a delusion, the “feeling of freedom” is not. Determinism assumes that there are material causes for all effects. Are you trying to say that some effects have no material causes? Your definition of fatalism theoretically estranges us from the universe. Thankfully, that is not something we can do in practice.]

"... What UD adds, now that you know the secret, is the theoretical framework pointing the way toward the material conditions that need to be changed within and without."

Doesn't UD say that those changes will occur, whether we chose to make the changes or not? Isn't that inconsistent with saying that "we" will decide what "need(s) to be changed", since the "need" is not ours, but determined entirely by the univironment, far beyond our control?

Glenn:

[Anyone’s choice to make a change or not also is a result of UD. I have a “need” to eat food, a need entirely determined by the univironment. So what? I love to eat delicious things anyway.]

Glenn Borchardt said...

Glenn wrote:

"... Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which I interpret as the Third Assumption of Science, uncertainty (It is impossible to know everything about anything, but it is possible to know more about anything)."

Heisenberg's Principle is usually invoked as a barrier to full knowledge of quantum-level events, because acquiring knowledge at that level is an event with consequences. Therefore, it is NOT possible to know more about a quantum event than the attendant probabilities. That seems to conflict with your statement that it is "possible to know more" about those kind of events.

Glenn:

[Probability is a measure of what we do not know. In other words, it is a measure of observer ignorance. We always reach this point when studying any particular microcosm in detail. That is why every measurement has a plus or minus. Bohm argued that subquantum events might be possible. If a new instrument or technique achieved that, we could then hypothesize that subsubquantum events are possible. Because every microcosm is infinitely subdividable, this process could continue indefinitely without ever reaching the point at which we had complete knowledge. That is just how the infinite universe operates. As causality assumes, all effects have an infinite number of material causes. You are sort of correct, then, in stating that there are limits to knowledge. The upshot is that we will always be too ignorant to know exactly what they are.]

"... All effects have an infinite number of material causes"

I might qualify that to exclude events beyond our light cone, since a supernova that occurred 13.6 billion years ago might have no effect on "us" for another million years. If that is true, then the number of material causes cannot be "infinite", since the sensible universe (things that can affect us) is finite. Of course, that assumes that the speed of light is a constant and a maxima.

Glenn:

[Your statement that “the number of material causes cannot be "infinite", since the sensible universe (things that can affect us) is finite” is incorrect, although it is consupponible with your belief in classical mechanics and elementary particles. The Eighth Assumption of Science, infinity (The universe is infinite, both in the microcosmic and macrocosmic directions) is what makes neomechanics possible and necessary. There are no microcosms that are not subdividable. We live in a sea of particles consisting of nitrogen, aether, subaether, subsubaether, ad infinitum. That is what produces causality (All effects have an infinite number of material causes). The main assumption of classical mechanics, that there can be a finite number of causes for any effect, must be discarded as obsolete.]

Glenn Borchardt said...

William wrote:

I'll leave those few questions and two more ... for now:

1. I assume that you acknowledge that relevance to our human existence is a reasonable factor to consider ... while we ponder all of the near-infinite influences on our being. The "Butterfly Effect" is hardly relevant to whether or not I respond to your comments today or tomorrow.

Glenn:

[This is an easy one. The relevance of a cause is generally an inverse function of distance and a direct function of the mass and velocity of the particular microcosm involved.]

William wrote:

2. Why does believing in UD give me any advantage over not believing in UD? It's a psychological question: will I be happier or sadder if I believe that I have no choice about whether to believe in it or not?

Glenn:

[That all comes down to your use of causality in your life. You need to know where to look for causes. You could overemphasize internal causes, as systems philosophers do, and predict incorrectly half the time. This is what the unemployed sometimes do, blaming themselves, instead of the economy. Mentally ill people are notorious for being overly microcosmic thinkers. Would UD make them happier? Of course. A depressed person needs to get out more, interact with others, take the right drugs, etc. We can change ourselves by putting ourselves into a better environment. That’s what restaurants, theaters, and schools are for. We all realize this at some gut level. UD just moves it from the subconscious to the conscious level.]

Glenn Borchardt said...

William:

Thanks so much for all your comments. You have proven one thing: That the determinism vs. freewill debate goes on forever, just like the infinite universe.

For that reason I generally don’t debate determinism, I just assume it. We will have to wrap this up, as I feel that my audience may be getting a bit restless.

Glenn wrote:

"... Are you trying to say that some effects have no material causes?

I was only suggesting that your statement seemed contradictory: if all our choices are dictated by (internal and external) initial conditions, then we can't 'chose to make changes'.

[We choose to make changes all the time. Looks like you are thinking of some kind of transcendence, which I don’t believe in either.]

I realize this isn't MY forum, so I'll post my perspective at the end of this post.

"... I have a 'need' to eat food ... So what? I love to eat delicious things anyway.

So, you're saying that 'need' is determined, but not 'love'? Most determinists claim that emotions are just biochemical dictates: you can't choose not to love Vanilla Ice Cream (or whatever flavor suits your chemical balance).

[Love, like everything else in the universe is determined by what went before. Hooray for good biochemical dictates!]

"Probability is a measure of what we do not know. In other words, it is a measure of observer ignorance.
I agree, but Heisenberg and Bohm might not. A lot of quantum philosophy claims that nature is "intentionally" unpredictable: an event is always probable, never certain.

[Probability, according to Bohm, is a human construct. Aristotle’s pure chance does not exist (see TTAOS or TSW on uncertainty). We can never be certain about a prediction because of the infinity of microcosms involved.]

"... You are sort of correct, then, in stating that there are limits to knowledge."

Which seems inconsistent with your assertion that "it is possible to know more about anything"?

[The limits involve infinity, not probability, like the Copenhageners claim.]

"... The main assumption of classical mechanics, that there can be a finite number of causes for any effect, must be discarded as obsolete.

So, you disagree with the finite limitations of the speed of light? How can a supernova, whose effects have not reached me, affect me?

[They can’t. This is why the infinity of causes must also involve microcosmic infinity. There are an infinite number of kinds of infinity (e.g., an infinite number of even numbers and an infinite number of odd numbers, etc.).]

Glenn Borchardt said...

William wrote:

I promised to provide my view, which is "mitigated determinism".

All events have causes, but the laws of physics do not apply to human conceptual abstractions. That is, we can imagine something that is totally impossible ... and that fantasy can and does affect our choices. The structural components of our neural connections are materially determined, but their content is not.

[What means “but their content is not.” Where does this “content” exist or occur? In some other universe?]


For example, we can imagine a bunny dancing in orbit around Jupiter ... even though that is entirely impossible on many physical and material levels. However, that fantasy can motivate us to go dancing, or to dance like a bunny, or to dance around a simulated planet, even though none of those physical objects had any effect on our choice. Therefore, the laws of physics apply to everything ... except human imagination.

The example is frivolous, but it's the basis for all types of human creativity, innovation, and most (if not all) of our concrete decisions about how to act. The univironment effectively ends where my thoughts begin.

[In other words, your thoughts have nothing to do with your brain? Check out the section in TSW on the difference between the mind and the brain (hint: mind is the motion of the brain). The upshot of all this is that infinity makes assumptions necessary, just as it makes them unprovable. We choose assumptions on how well they fit with what we already know and how well they work for us in the future.]

Glenn Borchardt said...

More on the interminable determinism vs. free will debate.

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/readers-comments-on-my-free-will-piece-and-my-responses/

Glenn Borchardt said...

Quote of the day

"Finally, there is the worry that to reject free will is to render all of life pointless: why would you bother with anything if it has all long since been determined? The answer is that you will bother because you are a human, and that is what humans do. Even if you decide, as part of a little intellectual exercise, that you are going to sit around and do nothing because you have concluded that you have no free will, you are eventually going to get up and make yourself a sandwich. And if you do not, you have got bigger problems than philosophy can fix."

—p. 1784 in Greene, J., and J. Cohen. 2004. For the law, neuroscience changes nothing and everything. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 359:1775-85.

From: Jerry Coyne at http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/author/whyevolutionistrue/

Glenn Borchardt said...

The first step in doing scientific philosophy is to deny free will. Those still wondering about it should read Jerry Coyne's most excellent blog. It is a follow-up on an article against free will that he published in USA Today:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/am-i-unsophisticated-about-free-will/

Glenn Borchardt said...

Another great blog from Jerry Coyne on freewill:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/sunday-free-will-pseudo-dualism/

This one reviews the "compatibilism" that denies determinism--just a little bit--preventing students of philosophy from advancing beyond the elementary stage.

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