Dr. Glenn,

When I read this essay about compatibilist determinism (Voss, 1997), I kept relating it to the Scientific Worldview that you describe in your book.
The essayist has many good points. He approaches the determinism / freewill debate with a Scientific Worldview that is very rare in modern thinkers. I thought you might like it. Perhaps I'm overly presumptuous. Sorry, if that's the case.

I've always had a feeling that the determinism / freewill debate is a false dichotomy. But that's as far as I ever got. I never cared enough to delve into the subject. Having your explanation of "Inner & Outer infinity" helped quite a bit. This essay put even more pieces of the puzzle together for me. Very often, clear thinking is muddled by concepts and words that have been misused to death. You almost have to make up your own new words.
I've never found any writing that does such a good job of resolving the so-called conflict between free will and determinism. Although he occasionally slips into describing some events as "random", I enjoyed this author's humility and his consideration of multiple perspectives.

I just spent a couple days' free time reading through your forum for 2009, and had a most delightful time catching up. It's a great remedy for all the non-sense I come across in science news, or TV shows showing beautiful Hubble images while the religious-toned narrative drones on about "black holes" or "heat death of the universe". Yuck!

I listened to your presentation at the NPA conference. Great job! Thanks!
I also am reading and re-reading ”The Physical Meaning of E=mc2”.
I'm so glad you put this out there. I appreciate your work.
I hope to see more professionals getting involved with this kind of work.

I appreciate your work because, since elementary school, I've always been fascinated by two things: 1. The idea of Infinity (both microcosmic and macrocosmic). 2. The problem caused by objectifying and even worshipping concepts that might be useful tools but are not actual things. Before reading your books, I thought that religion and statism were the main problems caused by objectified concepts. But, now I see how physics and astronomy are hugely affected by this problem of objectified concepts. Kinda sad, but exciting at the same time! I had my suspicions about cosmologists; there were just too many "ghosts in the machine" when they laid out their reasoning in mathematical equations. I thank you for pointing out the exact nature of the problem for me. TSW takes clear thinking to a new level.
Excerpts from Voss (1997):

"Time is the motion of matter. Time does not exist; time occurs."

"any action must be the action of an entity, and as such has to be caused by that entity - irrespective of the determinability of its causal mechanism"

"We do not live in time - time is a measure of change. The past and future exist only in our memories and imagination. It is only the present that exists - parameters and choices of the present create the future. The future is not written, it unfolds and develops according to both blind and aware choices."

"No system in the universe can know the state of every particle in the universe, far less project all of their future interactions. Yet much of the determinism-freewill debate assumes just such omniscience - it assumes a "theoretical" possibility of something that is impossible."

"Reductionism has an undeservedly bad reputation. ... The more simplistic, more fundamental perspective does not replace the high-level one, but adds to it.".

Go ahead and use my e-mail in your blog.
I'm very interested in your view of this "compatibilism" idea, since I've never seen you address it yet.
Use my name if you want. I'm not shy. I'm subscribed to your blog feed.

BTW, yesterday I re-listened to your presentation at the NPA conference. You briefly mentioned Free Will at the beginning. What you said about Free Will and Indeterminism made me want to put a short addendum to my e-mail.
I agree with you, that the phrase "Free Will" is (I think you said) "a waste of time". As it is understood by 95% of people, it is part of a mistaken conception of how the universe works, and it would be nice to be rid of that phrase. But, I feel the same way about the word "Determinism". It implies too much that infinity makes impossible.

For one thing, the word "determinism" sort of anthropomorphizes the infinite universe, and I think that belittles the concept of infinity.
It's an over-simplification that really does nothing to help us understand the infinite universe, and the part of it that we live in.

"Compatibilism" is defined as "the belief that free will and determinism are compatible ideas", but I think both "Free Will" and "Determinism" are weak concepts in need of a makeover.

I also don't think that "Free Will" equals or implies "Indeterminism", for the reasons outlined in the essay I sent you.
Like I said, I know he strays a bit, but I blame it on the inadequacies and habits of subjective language, specifically the word "chance". In one part, he does a fair job of defining "random chance" as "events and things beyond the limits of our observation" (my paraphrase), but he slips back into misusing the word "chance" a few times after that.

I'm sure you will have some critiques above and beyond the language problem.
I'm looking forward to your comments, if and when you read this guy's essay.

Looking forward to part 2 of your presentation at NPA. Great website - I'm just checking it out, thanks to your blog link.
I've read TTAOS twice, three times counting the chapter in TSW, so this was a great review.

But, beyond that, you did a good job adding a few analogies and personal touches to make the talk less dry.

Good job presenting such a potentially dry subject matter.


Rick Dutkiewicz
Allegan, Michigan


Thanks for your extremely perceptive questions and for your appreciative comments on my work. As I have mentioned many times, I consider the perpetual debate between the ideas of determinism and free will to be pretty much a waste of time. However, let me reiterate a bit on how I came to that position.

As I use the word “determinism,” it means “to deter.” That is, in neomechanics I assume that a microcosm traveling through the infinite universe per Newton’s First Law of Motion eventually will collide with and be “deterred” by still another microcosm. This produces a “cause-effect” relationship per Newton’s Second Law (In other words, this is how the universe works.) On the other hand, classical determinism, with its assumption of finity, is more associated with epistemology, that is, what can be known by a perceiving subject. With the universe being microcosmically and macrocosmically infinite, each cause-effect relationship is bathed in an infinity of particles, making it impossible to actually know (or “determine”) all the causes for even one effect, as mentioned under CAUSALITY and UNCERTAINTY in TTAOS and TSW. Thus I agree with you that there is a false dichotomy between classical determinism and free will. Some of the more perceptive folks actually will occasionally acknowledge that.

Nevertheless, I totally disagree with the compromise between determinism and indeterminism that has been known for ages as “compatibilism.” Compatibilism (the view that determinism does not contradict free will), agnosticism (the view that one cannot know whether or not a god exists), and accommodationism (the view that science and religion are not in conflict) all have the same evolutionary purpose, which is to moderate the philosophical struggle, primarily to the benefit of indeterminists, who have always dominated the intellectual-political landscape. Each of these compromises denies that a contradiction between determinism and indeterminism exists and denigrates determinism in its own way. But remember the door that I came in: “There are causes for all effects.” One either assumes that, or one does not. The upshot: “We don’t need no stinking free will.” The “feeling of freedom,” on the other hand, we have in abundance, and univironmental determinism teaches us just how to get more of it.

In arguing for compatibilism Voss (1997) concludes with the following, in which I have noted my objections from the standpoint of univironmental determinism (UD):

“The "freedom" in freewill is the glorious ability of our minds to reprogram themselves {The word “themselves” is a tip off that a microcosmic error is being made. Our minds work iteratively with the environment, not “by themselves.”} and to evaluate automatic thoughts and emotions. We all have this ability, and we all choose to utilize it to a greater or lesser degree. The effects of nature, nurture, random events, and past decisions are not eliminated, but can be modified {This is “The Myth of Exceptionalism,” which is chapter 13 in TSW} by our ability to project consequences and by our power to influence choices - by our awareness of freewill itself {free will neither exists nor occurs, so this is an awareness of nothing.}. All of this abstract thinking, projecting and deciding is the product of mechanistic causation, determined but not determinable {Agree.}. It is this freedom that makes us human. {Disagree. Other animals can’t figure stuff out either, but that doesn’t make them human. Also, I don’t see any real freedom in such causation. This would mean that the dumber we are, the more freedom we would have.}

Let's not squander our freewill by boxing ourselves in with irrational beliefs and counter-productive emotions, poor thinking, or lack of knowledge {A contradiction of the “not determinable” statement}. The widespread awareness of this new {No. It is old.} understanding of freewill may help to usher in a great new era of human development based on a morality of reason {all morality is based on reason. It has nothing to do with nonexistent “freewill”} and understanding, in which true knowledge of the nature of man leads us to a workable pro Optimal Living ethic and psychology, that minimize tribalism and foster individual responsibility. We can reach a new peak of human greatness: The third phase in human development - from primarily genetic determinism, to largely social determinism, to self-determination {more myth again}- is achieved by greater use of freewill {NO!} and reason {YES!}. The evolution of mankind is now in our own hands {NO. Myth again}, the genie of freewill is out of the bottle and we cannot put her back {Don’t worry, she never existed.}. Let's make the most of our free wishes {Good luck with that. Unfortunately, that is not how the world works. Wishing won’t get you anything. You have to DO stuff to “make the most” out of any situation.}

Rick, sorry to have sliced and diced this up so much, but I do want to make my position as clear as possible. Most folks, like Voss, would see it as extreme. If assuming that there are causes for all effects (including his essay) is extreme, so be it.


Voss, P., 1997, The nature of freewill, http://www.optimal.org/peter/freewill.htm.


Rick Doogie said...

Dr. Glenn,
Thanks so much for the clarifications. I agree that the debate over the concept of "free will" is mostly a waste of time, in the same way that it is a waste to argue about how many angels can sit on the head of a pin. There are more urgent and reality-based debates.
Slice and dice away! The more extreme, the better, IMO.
How can we learn anything without the pain of slicing and dicing the words and concepts in our minds (especially when many of our concepts are not rooted in reality, but wishful thinking, as you point out)?
One of my definitions of learning is "the painful process of relinquishing a fragment of what I mistakenly thought was my inner or outer world".
Best regards,

Glenn Borchardt said...


You are welcome. You also are right that we have bigger fish to fry. We just need to adhere to the deterministic assumption that there are "causes for all effects." Any philosophy that doesn't assume that, cannot be considered "scientific." Glad to see that you are so ready for that.

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