I got so sick of the smug attitudes that Rosenberg, Coyne, Harris and others derive from their acceptance of determinism — obviously without having looked much into the issue — that I delved into the topic a bit more in depth myself. As a result, I’ve become agnostic about determinism, and I highly recommend the same position to anyone seriously interested in these topics (as opposed to anyone using his bad understanding of physics and philosophy to score rhetorical points).
A good starting point from which to get a grip on the nuances and complexities of discussions concerning determinism is a very nicely written article by Carl Hoefer in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, as well as several of the primary sources cited there, particularly John Earman's Primer on Determinism.
So, here are some of the somewhat surprising things you’ll learn from Hoefer’s article that you may want to raise the next time “determinism!” is hurled at you in the midst of a philosophical discussion:
* The philosophical roots of the notion of determinism are to be found in Leibniz’s (now largely discredited) principle of sufficient reason, though modern discussions of it can be recast avoiding Leibniz.
* Predictability is an issue entirely separate from determinism, since we can have deterministic (chaotic) systems that are for all effective purposes unpredictable, and (possibly, more on this in a moment) stochastic (quantum) systems that are nonetheless predictable to a very high degree of accuracy.
* As John Earman said (in the above mentioned book), when people talk about causal determinism they often “seek to explain a vague concept — determinism — in terms of a truly obscure one — causation.” And good luck with both. (See Bertrand Russell’s well known critique of the notion of causation, published in 1912: Russell, B., “On the Notion of Cause,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 13: 1–26.)
* Believers in determinism frequently cite the notion of laws of nature as if it were uncontroversial, but this is far from being the case. Talk of nature’s laws is metaphorical, and many philosophers simply take “laws of nature” to be our best assessment of regularities in the history of the universe, regularities that for all we know could be contingent, or have a limited domain of application. There are also philosophers who think that laws of nature are, as Hoefer puts it, ontologically derivative, with actual physical events playing the role of brute facts that make laws (as opposed to the other way around). Moreover, some philosophers (Nancy Cartwright and Bas van Fraassen, for instance) hold to the position that laws of nature simply do not exist. I am agnostic on this point, but again the issue is far from settled, and if you believe in laws of nature you do need to come up with an account of their ontology (and if you are not a theist, obviously you can’t avail yourself of a law giver).
* Because of chaos, it may very well be impossible on empirical grounds to establish whether the universe is deterministic or not, which would clearly take the debate out of science altogether, pace Rosenberg. Hoefer cites a 1993 paper by Suppes which concludes: “There are processes which can equally well be analyzed as deterministic systems of classical mechanics or as indeterministic semi-Markov processes, no matter how many observations are made ... Deterministic metaphysicians can comfortably hold to their view knowing they cannot be empirically refuted, but so can indeterministic ones as well.” Oops.
* Contra popular misconceptions, current theories of physics do not settle the question of determinism at all. As it turns out, even classical mechanics is compatible with indeterminism, in a variety of technical ways explained by Hoefer and the references he cites. Special relativity is most friendly to determinism, but we know it’s incomplete. General relativity is — on the contrary — very friendly to indeterminism (did you know that? I didn’t. It has to do with the existence of so-called naked singularities). As for quantum mechanics, the well known standard Copenhagen interpretation of it leans toward indeterminism, while the empirically equivalent Bohm interpretation is deterministic. We don’t know which is correct, and in fact we know that both quantum mechanics and general relativity are incorrect (or at the least incomplete).
* Not even future theories of physics are likely to settle the issue. Again, Hoefer: “first, we may have difficulty establishing whether the Final Theory is deterministic or not — depending on whether the theory comes loaded with unsolved interpretational or mathematical puzzles. Second, we may have reason to worry that the Final Theory, if indeterministic, has an empirically equivalent yet deterministic rival.”
* And one final point: particularly when it comes to discussions of free will, we keep hearing that the latter is impossible because in a deterministic universe the past determines the future. But as Hoefer points out (and he has expanded on this in a 2002 paper: Hoefer, C., “Freedom From the Inside Out,” in Time, Reality and Experience, C. Callender (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 201–222), the “laws” of physics treat time as symmetrical, which means that the present and the future “fix” the past just in the same way in which the past “fixes” the present and the future. No particular area of the time axis has priority over the others. Chew on that for a while.
The next time someone confidently says that this or that “surely” follows from the “fact” that science has now established the notion of determinism, go over the above list (or better, Hoefer’s original article) and use it to punch a nice hole in their inflated metaphysical balloon. And please, let me know what happens.
" the “laws” of physics treat time as symmetrical, which means that the present and the future “fix” the past just in the same way in which the past “fixes” the present and the future. No particular area of the time axis has priority over the others. Chew on that for a while."ReplyDelete
Not sure what your point is there. The determinist account of free will is dependant on the "fixed" nature of events, not the arrow of causation - although granted that would make people stop and think for a bit.
> And one final point: particularly when it comes to discussions of free will, we keep hearing that the latter is impossible because in a deterministic universe the past determines the future. But as Hoefer points out [...], the “laws” of physics treat time as symmetrical, which means that the present and the future “fix” the past just in the same way in which the past “fixes” the present and the future. No particular area of the time axis has priority over the others. Chew on that for a while.
The future "fixing" the past isn't a contradiction of determinism; rather, it's sort of the whole point. Rather than look at the universe as a dynamical 3-dimensional system evolving in time, look at the universe as a static 4-dimensional system. The perspective is illuminating; you should chew on it for a while.
> The next time someone confidently says that this or that “surely” follows from the “fact” that science has now established the notion of determinism, go over the above list (or better, Hoefer’s original article) and use it to punch a nice hole in their inflated metaphysical balloon. And please, let me know what happens.
Massimo, your position seems to be "indeterminism-of-the-gaps". If you believe that your pet theory hasn't been borne out because those darned scientists just haven't been looking in the right places and you will be vindicated in time, that's your prerogative. However, your cherry-picked list doesn't include their respective weighting in the scientific and philosophical communities, and doesn't achieve the nuance (I assume) you're striving for.
Tl;dr: When your arguments boil down to, "I don't agree with the laws of physics, therefore X", it's hard to take someone seriously.
1. The static interpretation of the universe is possible simply because as far as we know all equations of motion obey relativity. But you can still assume a 3-dimensional space and SOLVE those equations to show how it traces out a 4-dimensional history. Given two or more equivalent interpretations, I think the most illuminating view is the one that (ESTD) reconciles them all.Delete
2. Determinism is the "of-the-gaps" position, because it requires faith that the future either is pre-arranged as an exact destiny or unfolds from a unified error-free dynamic.
Not sure Bohm is the defender of all things deterministic as this SEP article makes him out to be. He certainly allows determinism by virtue of a pilot-wave always guiding a particle's path, but does not postulate it.ReplyDelete
But before we worry about determinism we have to have objects. Whereas the Copenhagen interpretation of QM does not allow for the existence of objects independent of observers, Bohm's does, but he also does not allow for the existence of objects independent of - every other object! He sees particles and their placement in time and space as a holographic image of a singleton.
Then there's that other white meat - "Many-Worlds", which also posits an observer-dependent reality, but its wider playing field still does not negate determinism.
I'm no expert on the topic of free will, but it seems to me that even if determinism turns out to be only locally true, or perhaps not true at all, this would not settle the question of free will. Just because my choices are not "determined" by physical processes fixed by past states and physical "laws" governing state transitions it would not follow that I can "freely" choose to do other than I do, since the elimination of determinism would not seem to answer the more fundamental question of who--or what--is doing the "choosing". If we could connect our brains to random number generators that caused us to choose one way or another based on what sort of number was randomly generated, that would be an indeterministic process, but it manifestly would not be "free will" in choice making. I think you are quite right to point out that (most) versions of determinism take causation for granted, but that causation is itself a truly obscure concept. Isn't the problem of free will more deeply bound up with the problem of causation than with determinism? "What is the *cause* of my choosing one way rather than another?" seems to me to be a question that can be asked independently of questions about determinism.ReplyDelete
Massimo: Predictability is an issue entirely separate from determinism...ReplyDelete
I felt my interest in the topic drop when I read this line. I'm not sure exactly why, but I suppose that it stems from a pragmatic bias, or an assumption that predictability has obvious practical value (e.g. as a means of survival and goal achievement), whereas the metaphysical doctrines of determinism and indeterminism do not - or at least no more so than the religious doctrines that occupy theologians (e.g. as a means of socialization and intellectual exercise).
"What is the *cause* of my choosing one way rather than another?" Sometimes it's the fly that sat on the rim of my coffee cup. Accompanied by neutrinos clocked faster than light.ReplyDelete
And the *knowledge* that time is no more than the measure of sequential change.
And that chaos is necessarily indeterminate, while determinism requires a dead universe.
I think to hang determinism on the Bohm interpretation is to basically admit defeat. The Bohm interpretation is possible, but very few people think it is actual.ReplyDelete
Put it this way: different interpretations of QM may make identical predictions, but they tend to suggest different directions for future theories. If there are future theoretical developments, I would bet on them coming from Copenhagen or MWI, not from Bohm.
I fail to understand why you would claim that Massimo 'cherry picked' anything. As I see matters, Massimo is pointing out that views on ultimate causation / determinism-indeterminism are varied within the philosophical community. Thus, he points to philosophers who view laws of nature as essentially ceteris paribus statistical generalizations.
That aside, where is this scientific consensus on quantum determinism? My theoretical physicist friends are not proponents of a deterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics. In fact, from my experience with physicists, the Bohm and MW interpretations remain minority views. Most still adhere to some version of a Copenhagen interpretation.(Interestingly, most interpretations on offer are indeterministic interpretations.)
Nevertheless, I could press you and ask why do you insist on forcing determinism into an interpretation of QM? Of course the Bohm and MW interpretations are empirically equivalent to most Copenhagen formulations, but there is something- something rather important- to be said about the *appearance* of genuine stochastic processes in the experimental results.
I am largely sympathetic to your comment: it seems that determinists insist upon imposing a metaphysical predilection upon an interpretation of scientific theory.
For myself, I am an agnostic about ultimate causation and determinism and instead find a largely instrumentalist view of science appealing.
Too much for me to handle in a short period! But thanks, Dr. Pigliucci, for giving me a reading list to tackle!ReplyDelete
first, consider Eamon's response above. Second:
> The future "fixing" the past isn't a contradiction of determinism; rather, it's sort of the whole point <
I know, but this means that the future fixes the past just as much as the reverse, so that statements like "you cannot but do what you are doing because of the past" are missing a big part of the picture, perhaps betraying their proponents' lack of understanding of the underlying metaphysics. Hoefer, in the 2002 paper refer to in the post, explains why this is relevant to free will discussions.
> If you believe that your pet theory hasn't been borne out because those darned scientists just haven't been looking in the right places and you will be vindicated in time, that's your prerogative. <
I don't have a pet theory here, I am simply pointing out the carelessness (and, often, intellectual arrogance) of people who club everyone else on their metaphysical head while shouting "determinism!," clearly unaware of the actual status of the doctrine and of its alternatives. One more time: the laws of physics do not establish determinism, and in fact at the moment seem to undermine it.
Scott, I don't want to rehash the full discussion on free will here. See the recent post here at RS and its thread. However, briefly, if one defines free will as the ability to make uncaused decisions, then neither determinism nor indeterminism will help, and the notion is coherent. I'm not interested in that. However, there is a problem of how human volition is achieved, and there two-step theories of "free will" are the best bet around, as far as I can see.
Baron, chaos in the sense of chaos theory is the opposite of being necessarily indeterminate, it is necessarily determinate.
>"As the panelists made clear, nobody has seriously been thinking about free will as some type of a-causal process for a while. But the issues of the biological basis and philosophical implications of human volition remain."
If causal/non causal content is no longer an issue when discussing free will....it seems that the debate has been changed to the question of the "will" (volition). When the will gets it's way....should the will be held responsible for it's effects? Or should one consider the causes of the will willing what it does be held responsible? If cause is no longer an issue with "free will"....wouldn't it follow that cause is no longer in question when it comes to the will (volition)? First, a redefinition of physics is tried....then a redefinition of "free-will" replaces the old understanding with a "free volition" that now somehow can be viewed as having moral responsibility whereas "free will" does not. Very complex hoops are being created at both ends....in an effort to save free will, in my view, because of the supposed and feared implications of not saving it.Why else would people be putting up such resistance to the idea? Do you believe that the issue is purely objectively driven...with no underlying motives having pushed the controversy and the arguments into finer and finer details. It reminds me of the debates about nature/nurture years ago. The social "scientists" were so biased that the many studies were flawed and their significance blown out of proportion. I believe this issue is burdened and driven by the same types of biases. Biases that are driven by the concern about the effects on society or on the individual's views of the self, of the acceptance of one view rather than the other. It's not much different than arguments about the existence of god....or the existence of objective morals actually existing "out there" somewhere. History is repeating itself, this time concerning the final frontier of understanding the universe. Understanding humans in the same terms tat we understand the rest of the the universe.Except, instead of saying "god made him do it" we say "his free will made him do it" There is as much resistance to giving up the latter as there was against giving up the former. There seems to be too much at stake. It is this too much at stake intuition that drives the resistance....and the search for a non-existent way out.
Simply put...An "uncaused volition" makes no more sense than an "uncaused will" as in "uncaused free will"
Massimo, as to chaos, you are most absolutely wrong. A chaotic system cannot be determinate. It has to be probabilistic to survive as a system at all. Our evidently indeterminate system is clearly probabilistic.ReplyDelete
But then to agree with me, you'd have to consider that systematic probabilities exist to serve a purpose, and that's your Achilles heel (or as you see it, mine).
And free will is not the ability to make uncaused decision. It's the ability to select and provide the most proximately determinant cause.ReplyDelete
I have no idea what the hell the point of referencing quantum physics to cast doubt on macroscopic determinism is. Even if at the microscopic level the universe behaves randomly or semi-randomly, it doesn't mean that large-level aggregates aren't deterministic.ReplyDelete
Let's remember that your post here is about determinism (versus indeterminism), and the assumption would be that you are using "determinate" in that context. But chaos theory as I understand it uses "determinate" in a probabilistic context.
If not, then I admittedly don't understand it.
It is nomologically possible, though absurdly improbable, that a macro physical object should behave in a manner consonant with a micro physical particle. E.g., the cola in a can of Coke could phase through the can, though, for very complex, but well known reasons, we should only expect this to happen once or twice in, say, a couple of trillion years.
In brief, so-called deterministic macro physical state descriptions are broadly probabilistic descriptions of fundamentally random processes.
You certain cite all the important recent thinkers about determinism. Most of what you cite from what they say is reliable about the current state of play in the philosophy of science. I am on board with all of it.
There is nothing in "The Atheist's Guide to Reality" that contradicts any of that. In fact, the only matter regarding determinism I take sides on in that book is this brace of claims: First, our universe is indeterministic in its fundamental laws of working (unless we can make empirical sense of superpositions). Second, once you get to macromolecules and anything else of relevance to human affairs, nature is asymptotically deterministic (expect for some mutations).
I think you are reacting to, and objecting to, the book's assumption (and it is indeed an assumption I dont argue much for) that physics is causally complete and causally closed so that it fixes all the facts. That is the assumption I need, not determinism, to get the answers I claim science provides to all the "persistent" questions of philosophy about reality, purpose, meaning, thought, human values and our future as a species.
There is certainly enough in those chapters of "The Atheist's Guide to Reality" to disagree with without dragging in determinism.
Another enormously satisfying post. I have long felt that "Because of chaos, it may very well be impossible on empirical grounds to establish whether the universe is deterministic or not," and am pleased to see that I'm not alone in believing so. And the point about General Relativity being compatible with indeterminism was indeed a surprise!
I think you've misunderstood Massimo's point; he's talking about chaos "theory". As explained by the SEP, "Chaos is typically understood as a mathematical property of a dynamical system. A dynamical system is a deterministic mathematical model, where time can be either a continuous or a discrete variable."
1) While Bohmian mechanics may be the majority view held by physcists, no less than John Bell who established theoretically that non-locality is fundamental to QM (this resolving the EPR question in a way not favorable to Einstein) regarded it as the best understanding of QM to date. Additionally the French physicist Alain Aspect who carried out the the first experiments verifying Bell's theory has the same view of Bohmian mechanics.
2) As I see it causality is real and exists as the outcome of the interactive connection of things that exist objectively in spacetime that are constituted of or exist in the form of mass and energy.
@The Analyst, Eamon (Paraconsistent): Macroscopic objects are subject to quantum effects, too. Experimental results are less than 15 years old, so the conclusions are not in stone. But with Bose-Einstein condensates used to slow light to the speed of a bicycle, quantum computing, and many other real-world applications of QM at an aggregate level, one is hard put to continue the myth that the building blocks have one nature, yet their resultant structures have a wholly different nature. Vlatko Vedral is an example of a quantum physicist who thinks there is no boundary between the subatomic and the larger world. I was interested in his take on determinism.ReplyDelete
Here is his answer, and the article even has has pictures: ....Vedral says "Maybe".
He has also climbed aboard the 'All is information' bandwagon. So because he is such a nice guy, here's his take on that.
....Vedral Guardian Interview
Scott, if you read the entire article at SEP, you will note that, whatever Massimo meant, or I misunderstood him to mean, there's an overall agreement with my understanding that chaotic systems in the real world are probabilistic at best. There would seem to be no fully or purely deterministic systems outside of mathematical models. The article seems to also note that even theistic systems will need in the end to operate as indeterminate.ReplyDelete
I am also a bit agnostic about determinism at the moment, and have actually commented on JC's blog that I consider free will to be a useful concept even if determinism is true, as you also argued in your previous post on the issue. I nevertheless find your constant indignation difficult to understand.ReplyDelete
A great many people continually blog-post their opinions on a great many issues, and they generally do not limit themselves to the very narrow fields they are specialists in. They may get things right or wrong sometimes, but it does not make sense to call every opinion, e.g. of a mathematician blogging on creationism or a virologist commenting on politics, a "smug attitude" just because they are not officially certified experts in that area. Not least because you do the same thing yourself. (Although you would perhaps argue that philosophy includes everything and therefore you have, in contrast to a biologist, the authority to pronounce on every issue that ever comes up...?)
What bugs me most about this determinism issue, however, is that the examples for in-determinism generally take place at levels or in places where they probably have no effect whatsoever on us and our putatively free-willed decisions. Okay, so there are random fluctuations in the vacuum - does that mean that anything is non-deterministic in my brain? Well perhaps if somebody wishes to make a very snarky comment on the contents of my head, but I like to think that there is no vacuum there to undergo random fluctuations. So there does not seem to be anything deterministic about when a given unstable atom will decay, but put a thousand of them onto a heap and we can fairly well say when five hundred of them will have decayed. Similarly, while certainly not being a physicist, I get the feeling that all this quantum behaviour of particles and electron clouds and whatnot basically collapses into very regular, determinate patterns at the atomic and molecular levels. So what is left to be non-determinate at the level that matters for this discussion, really?
I see some mistakes about QM in the comments, but since all I know about QM is from a freshman seminar I took, I'll leave it to others - except to encourage people to read "The Strange World of Quantum Mechanics" by Styer. We used it as our course book and it was great, although it might be slightly out-of-date by now. I remember my prof saying probably only 2 or 3 people were working on the Bohm interpretation, so it's surprising to me to see so many people espousing it.ReplyDelete
Props on the post, Massimo (although I'd be reluctant to tie the issue to free will).
sorry, but chaos is deterministic:
thanks for your comments. Indeed, a full discussion of your book needs to be postponed. Still, it seems to me you need both causal completeness and determinism, if you want to avoid, say, two-step models of free will and the like. You also need to argue that the laws of nature are actually laws (instead of statistical generalization), as well as that there are no truly emergent properties in the universe (though I guess the latter would fall under the issue of causal completeness, which you admit you do not argue for), etc. Looking forward to having all those discussions.
about the relevance of quantum mechanics to the macroscopic world, see several of the comments so far. Besides, if the universe got started with a quantum fluctuation it means that the whole of reality as we understand it could have been different (perhaps different laws of physics, even), which means that indeterminism has huge consequences.
As for my tone, believe me, I try to restrain myself, I am very conscious of it. But if you truly think that people like Coyne, Dawkins, etc. are not smug in their metaphysical position you are not reading them even superficially.
As I understand the article, the issue is one of mapping between deterministic mathematical models and the real world. If the real world turned out to be indeterministic, then any such mapping would fail (strictly speaking) and therefore chaos (as mathematically defined) would not exist in the real world.
But you and I seem to be reading different articles. The article I read was extremely diffident about drawing any particular conclusions concerning determinism in the real world. For example:
"The SD argument does not go through as smoothly as some of its advocates have thought, however... For instance, just because quantum effects might influence macroscopic chaotic systems doesn't guarantee that determinism fails for such systems. Whether quantum interactions with nonlinear macroscopic systems exhibiting SDIC contribute indeterministically to the outcomes of such systems depends on the currently undecidable question of indeterminism in quantum mechanics and the measurement problem."
Eamon: Given your comments on the "Free Will Roundtable" post here, I'm not surprised to learn that we agree on a "largely instrumentalist view of science."ReplyDelete
Massimo: I've perceived plenty of smugness on both sides of this debate; but, even if we assume that the deterministic side has cornered the market on smugness, I wonder how much of that is an emotional reaction to quantum woo or other common, fallacious uses of indeterminacy. Of course, it's not the best response - I'm just sayin.'
A simple, empirical explanation for the concept of laws of nature:ReplyDelete
Physics makes different predictions if particles are distinguishable versus if they're identical. We see results indicating very strongly that elementary particles are identical: one electron with given quantum numbers acts exactly like any other electron with those quantum numbers. Identical things interact identically, leading to regular patterns which we formulate mathematically as laws. We also find that there are symmetries under which systems are invariant (translation, rotation, etc.) and these lead to conservation laws (momentum, angular momentum, etc.).
Well, I agree with you at least this far: "determinism" should not be thrown around willy-nilly as if its implications for human action were obvious, as Coyne and Harris did so handwavily in the two articles recently discussed here.ReplyDelete
Scott, we read the same article, but came to different conclusions. But we can perhaps agree that it leaves the question open, which as I noted, seems to leave us with a probabilistic real world at best.ReplyDelete
Massimo's example of mathematically determinative chaos fits with what SEP had pointed out. But again, it doesn't even attempt to say that the chaotic real world is deterministic in the fatalistic sense of the inevitable future.
But Massimo, once he makes a pronouncement, can be misunderstood, but cannot ever be wrong. He lives by his own argumentation here in a non deterministic determinatively chaotic world.
As to the SEP article, and chaos, I don't think there's a doubt raised as to chaos in the real world. The doubt was concerning chaos as deterministic in the real world.
But of course in Massimo's agnostic view, our world may or may not be deterministic, and therefor we may or may not be chaotic.
I'm not sure what you mean by "chaos in the real world." The mathematical theory of chaotic systems, which is what I and the SEP articles were referring to, is most definitely deterministic, and you are empirically wrong on your accusation of me never admitting of being wrong.
that is not the point, everyone can come up with examples of "laws" of nature. The problem is what is the ontological status of these laws, i.e. in what sense they are laws. Are they empirical generalizations? Are they a way to conceptualize how the world works. Or are there more deep structures to the fabric of the universe that deserve the name of law?
Jerry Coyne weighed in on this:ReplyDelete
He makes some good points, and I do admit to taking a swipe at him (briefly) in my post, but if anyone here wants to see what real smugness and contempt look like, be my guests. And perhaps someone will eventually explain to me exactly what Jerry has against my three degrees. An inferiority complex?
The SEP article refers to BOTH the mathematical theory of chaotic systems and the question of its "real world" applications. And there is no denial that this real world is chaotic. There is no confirmation (or attempt to confirm), however, that it's deterministic in the sense that the mathematical models would imply. There is a clear measure of doubt expressed in that respect. As well as doubt expressed in your own citations here.ReplyDelete
And I did not say that you've never admitted being wrong. I said, "once he makes a pronouncement, can be misunderstood, but cannot ever be wrong." But of course I was wrong if in fact you can be.
And (or but) Jerry Coyne, as a philosopher, makes a barely adequate evolutionary biologist.ReplyDelete
A few thoughts:ReplyDelete
* I agree that a lot of people have a fairly weak or naive notion of causality, but it's not clear to me that you actually need to solve this problem to talk about a certain type of determinism. You can divide spacetime into two pieces (not necessarily past and future), and then ask whether knowing "everything" (all in-theory empirically accessible facts) about one segment uniquely determines everything about the other according to the known laws of physics. If you had a generic answer to this question, you might find that a) determinism holds no matter what, b) indeterminism holds no matter what, c) determinism sometimes holds, or d) you can be somewhat sneaky and find a new or refined definition of "past" that causes determinism to hold.
*All examples of classical indeterminacy (of which I am aware) rely on situations on the "edges" of their applicability, ones that seem to be either impossible or have probability zero (are not "generic") in practice. I find this suspicious. Naked singularities actually seem to be generic in GR now, but by their very nature require a theory of quantum gravity to be understood, which makes them only a curiosity, in my personal opinion.
* I am (still) convinced that the Everett interpretation is by a significant margin the most conservative interpretation of quantum mechanics (not in the social sense, since the Copenhagen not-quite-a-real-interpretation is historically most popular, but in terms of having strictly fewer assumptions than any other interpretation with predictions that align with QM). One should note that, under the Everett interpretation, the world is deterministic, but not predictable by beings living within it. So you could add this to the list of situations that distinguish determinism and predictability.
*It seems to me that any indeterminacy within a physical theory would be confined to picking values from some probability distribution (even if that is a uniform or maximum entropy distribution of possible outcomes). If all phenomena are produced by a suitable combination of a deterministic setting of probabilities, and undetermined random noise, I don't see how this benefits any conception of free will. (Relatedly, William Lane Craig has a funny habit of dividing causes into "physical" and "personal" ones when defending the Kalam argument; I have never understood why, other than because it makes his argument easier. It's hard to find a clear account of what a "personal" but non-physical cause would be like.)
*I agree with Hoefer that determinism probably can't be settled by a Final Theory. But one can take the attitude of simply not caring about a sufficiently inaccessible form of determinism/indeterminism.
*In a relativistic universe, a B-theory of time seems much easier to make sense of. In a world where the future is just as "real" as the past, the purest form of libertarian free will seems to be dead whether or not determinism holds. From a detached, "outside of time" perspective, human beings are not arbitrating between possible futures, but simply executing the unique world history in which they live. Even if the four dimensional history of the universe is indeterministic (the futureward parts not uniquely determined by the pastward ones), such a structure still exists and all human actions (almost tautologically) must be compatible with it.
Sorry for putting links in my comments - did not know they are useless here. Anyway, looked at Coyne's blog and thought many of the comments are worth reading.ReplyDelete
from your last comment I think I see where the problem lies. The mathematical theory referred to as "chaos theory" is indeed deterministic, it's based on sets of solvable differential equations, no random coefficients included.
But there is an issue as to if and how much chaos theory applies to real "chaotic" systems, meaning complex systems with practically unpredictable behavior. To avoid confusion, these systems should not be called chaotic, because they are so in a vernacular sense, not in the technical sense of chaos theory.
Massimo et alReplyDelete
Does the finding of indeterminacy imply that individuals are indeed responsible for their moral or immoral actions? Does it imply free will?
Massimo, either that or they should refine the assumptions that the mathematical model is based on.ReplyDelete
As an example, if the apparent chaos (as in disorder and confusion) in the universe was actually representative of an eclectic mix of strategies and counter strategies, you couldn't tell that from a model that was structured without those optional assumptions in its programming.
"and I do admit to taking a swipe at him (briefly) in my post, but if anyone here wants to see what real smugness and contempt look like, be my guests. And perhaps someone will eventually explain to me exactly what Jerry has against my three degrees. An inferiority complex?"ReplyDelete
I think your comment about Jerry's alleged smugness was inappropriate. Didn't you apologize a while back about previous comments about Jerry? I read this blog and Jerry's and I don't find him smug at all. I would label his references to your three degrees as friendly teasing.
Your point and counterpoint with Jerry's worldview is a potentially useful education for all of us and I think the personal comments drag down the quality of discourse.
I agree that the sniping is distracting from a pretty good object-level discussion.ReplyDelete
Indeterminacy implies that effects do not consistently completely match their causes.
Re: 'Does the finding of indeterminacy imply that individuals are indeed responsible for their moral or immoral actions? Does it imply free will?'
Nope, not at all, but free will is not at issue here, but rather whether it is determinism all the way down.
thanks for your thoughts and clarifications. Seems to me that the issue of determinism remains a question about which agnosticism is the best bet. As for free will, two-step processes are an interesting way of combining quantum indeterminacy with something like true volition, on the model of the two-step process of natural selection. Finally, I share several commenters' view that there is evidence and reason to believe that quantum effects do creep into the macro-world in several relevant ways. If they don't, wouldn't that reduce the most fundamental theory in physics to little more than a curiosity with no implications for most of the universe?
> Does the finding of indeterminacy imply that individuals are indeed responsible for their moral or immoral actions? Does it imply free will? <
It may, if two-step models are correct or insightful.
> I think your comment about Jerry's alleged smugness was inappropriate. Didn't you apologize a while back about previous comments about Jerry? I read this blog and Jerry's and I don't find him smug at all <
Well, obviously we have a different perception of what smugness is. Yes, I did apologize to Jerry at one point because of a specific episode that lead to an unseemly escalation on both of our sides. He did not even have the grace of reciprocating the gesture.
@DJD: In any case, you don't need to link indeterminism to moral responsibility. Think of both a person and society as fully deterministic machines. When a person commits a crime against society, (1) society moves to protect itself via removal of some of the person's capabilities to harm others. (2) punishment is meted out as inducements to behavioral change as well as provide others with a sense of balance. The person now has a different set of input factors which may affect whether a crime is or is not committed the following weekReplyDelete
No need for free will or indeterminism here
Some people even think determinism is required for free will. (http://lesswrong.com/lw/r0/thou_art_physics/)ReplyDelete
If you are an agnostic in the determinism vs. free will debate then is it not appropriate to also be an agnostic in the theism vs. atheism debate? Both determinism and evolution are based on theoretical extension of fragmentary scientific evidence. Getting self-awareness out of quarks and photons is just as fantastic as looking for determinism in that billiard-balls effect of micro-molecular interactions. But it’s understandable that a plausible case can be made for biological evolution – at our present level of understanding of physical sciences – while it is difficult to make such a case for determinism considering our lack of understanding of such an infinitesimally microscopic physical phenomena. I’ve written a blogpost on this issue which you may like to take a look at:ReplyDelete
The fact remains that we have a dichotomy, either what happens must happen for some reason (natural physical laws, divine predestination) or it doesn't and we're left with something like randomness. Notice it's hard to find freedom in one and room for willing things to happen in the other. Free will seems to be an illusion simply created by the grammatical fact that the two words can be juxtaposed.ReplyDelete
Re: 'If you are an agnostic in the determinism vs. free will debate then is it not appropriate to also be an agnostic in the theism vs. atheism debate?'ReplyDelete
I see no reason to remain agnostic about the existence of a supernatural agency if I am also agnostic about fundamental causation and determinism. Having to do so would require something like one of the following conditionals: 'If there is a supernatural agency, then there is (most likely) fundamental determinism' or 'If there is a supernatural agency, then there is (most likely) fundamental indeterminism.'
I see no reason to accept either conditional. Moreover, the atheist can (and often does) reject the existence of a supernatural agency on the grounds that (1) such an hypothesis is incoherent, (2) such an hypothesis is an complexity monster because any explanation which employs theism entail some psychology-based explanatory model, and (3) such an hypothesis entails a contradiction (e.g., an immaterial substance, or omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, and our morally suboptimal world, etc.).
> The fact remains that we have a dichotomy, either what happens must happen for some reason (natural physical laws, divine predestination) or it doesn't and we're left with something like randomness. <
No, I don't think that's a dichotomy. Free will without causes (or with supernatural causes) doesn't make any sense. The question is to make sense of human volition.
> Free will seems to be an illusion simply created by the grammatical fact that the two words can be juxtaposed. <
Well, again, yes if by "free" one means uncaused. But to say that free will in the sense of humans' ability to make decisions is an illusion is a grand statement that seems to me to be based on questionable metaphysics and entirely unsettled science.
My view on this is that really all it means for a system to be deterministic is that meaningful relations of implication** can be established between its initial states and its end states (which may be probabilistic). Laws of nature are nothing other than useful general cases of such relations of implication; thus the notion of law of nature presupposes that of deterministic system, and we can have laws of nature only to the extent that the universe is deterministic. Predictions, btw, are simply particular applications of laws or would-be laws, and hence also presuppose determinism.ReplyDelete
**note: implication rather than entailment as physical laws are not logically necessary.
Regarding the free will issue, determinism says only that if we were put in precisely the same situation twice, we would make the same decision both times. This doesn't rule out freedom; we're just being consistent;)
Here is a lengthy commentary by physicist Sean Carroll on this post:ReplyDelete
Sean Carroll makes sense in general except when he says this:ReplyDelete
"We can imagine four different possibilities: determinism + free will, indeterminism + free will, determinism + no free will, and indeterminism + no free will. All of these are logically possible, and in fact beliefs that some people actually hold! Bringing determinism into discussions of free will is a red herring."
Full determinism would determine your will, and determine perhaps that you felt it to be free - except of course that it wouldn't be. Determinism plus no free will would be logically possible if determinism were possible, although the scenario itself belongs in a different and likely dead universe.
Indeterminism and no free will would seem to require a universe with no energy capable of evolving life.
Indeterminism and free will would seem then to win by default.
Correction: One must remain agnostic on theism if one is agnostic on determinism if and only if one of the following biconditionals follows: 'There is a supernatural agency if and only if there is (most likely) fundamental determinism' or 'There is a supernatural agency if and only if there is (most likely) fundamental indeterminism'.ReplyDelete
I am unsure how the distinction you propose between "empirical generalizations" and "deep structures in the fabric of the universe" applies to my comment. We come up with models based on the idea of deep structure in the fabric of the universe, and then we do experiments to see if those models appear to be correct. So far, then, the empirical generalizations suggest deep structure in the universe. We do know that our current descriptions of that structure only apply below a certain temperature (symmetries broke as the early universe expanded and cooled), but that suggests that we have found limiting cases of a more comprehensive model, not that no such model exists.ReplyDelete
The point of my comment was to illustrate why asking whether laws of nature are "ontologically derivative" might be a confused question. If the universe is made up of identical particles, which it appears to be, then structure is inherent, as are the regularities that we call laws. I suppose you could take the question back a step and ask why the universe is made up of identical particles, but it's not clear to me that we have any solid reason to expect otherwise.
How about a Rationally Speaking podcast episode with Rosenberg as a guest, or a Bloggingheads or Philosophy TV conversation?ReplyDelete
Rosenberg has thus far had at least four recent interesting appearances concerning the book:
Recently got into a discussion on free will where someone was making grand pronouncements against compatibilism, and taking great delight in labelling compatibilism a dogma. Then I read this: "(as opposed to anyone using his bad understanding of physics and philosophy to score rhetorical points)" and it was such a succinct summation of the situation that it made me smile to read it.ReplyDelete
the discussion about laws of nature is complicated. This is a good primer:
That SEP discussion unfortunately says nothing concerning the necessity of any natural law to have a regulatory capacity - i.e., laws are shown as arguably regular without the necessity for regulation. Presumably laws cannot be theistically or supernaturally regulated, and self-regulation would involve some element of strategic intelligence that also would appear to be missing from the universe.ReplyDelete
Regarding lawfulness and free will, does anyone have any thoughts on the following quote from Chapter One of Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time"?ReplyDelete
"Now, if you believe that the universe is not arbitrary, but governed by definite laws, you ultimately have to combine the partial theories into a complete unified theory that will describe everything in the universe. But there is a fundamental paradox in the search for such a complete unified theory. The ideas about scientific theories outlined above assume we are rational beings who are free to observe the universe as we want and to draw logical deductions from what we see. In such a scheme it is reasonable to suppose that we might progress ever closer toward the laws that govern the universe. Yet if there really is a complete unified theory, it would also presumably determine our actions. And so the theory itself would determine the outcome of our search for it! And why should it determine that we come to the right conclusions from the evidence? Might it not equally well determine that we draw the wrong conclusion? Or no conclusion at all?
So that is Hawking's fundamental paradox...how is science possible when we aren't "free rational beings"?
Conway and Kochen raise a similar point in their paper, The Free Will Theorem:
"It is hard to take science seriously in a universe that in fact controls all the choices experimenters think they make. Nature could be in an insidious conspiracy to 'confirm' laws by denying us the freedom to make the tests that would refute them. Physical induction, the primary tool of science, disappears if we are denied access to random samples."
It ranks right up there with "I might just be dreaming"...."Son Of Solipsism Returns In The Night" Good book, but I didn't like the movie.ReplyDelete
"As for quantum mechanics, the well known standard Copenhagen interpretation of it leans toward indeterminism, while the empirically equivalent Bohm interpretation is deterministic"ReplyDelete
I was under the impression that hidden variables had been ruled out by the Bell inequality, which showed that they were not empirically equivalent formulations.
"It may, if two-step models are correct or insightful"ReplyDelete
Good, now you can explain how indeterminacy is relevantly dissimilar from the outcomes of a random generator. If it is not dissimilar, you can explain what it would mean to impute "responsibility" to an action that is precipitated by random fluctuations in one's brain, over which one exercises no control.
"But to say that free will in the sense of humans' ability to make decisions is an illusion is a grand statement that seems to me to be based on questionable metaphysics and entirely unsettled science"ReplyDelete
Recourse to metaphysics and science is an exercise in extraneousness.
Indeterminacy refers to a system that determines probability (and reliability), and indetermines certainty.ReplyDelete
It's all about the implications....the meaning that flows from recognizing and accepting that we(humans) are just like everything else in nature. The thought that we are mere products of forces we did not choose....that all our moral beliefs, our aspirations, our hopes, our sense of "better than thou"....is all predetermined,is more than most can take. Thus, the desperate attempts to create intellectual arguments to preserve our self esteem. The funny thing is....after everyone accepts determinism and lack of free will.....not much will be changed. Massimo's introduction of virtue ethics leaves us with values. Perhaps not moral values of the sort "you ought to"...but of the sort that one has virtues...skills, abilities, powers, beauty, that is better than the rest. The virtues that have value to the group will be elevated....and individuals will be able to take pride in the fact that they have abilities that are useful and valued by the group. Virtue ethics will replace morality...but in a way that most do not expect. After morality...there will be virtue. Virtues as defined as valuable to the group....and as empowering to the individual. We will look up to and desire to emulate and attain their skills....because having those skills will raise our status....because those skills will have value to the group. So....once determinism wipes out moral responsibility, and morality generally....we will still have value. The valuing of individuals strengths, skills and abilities. We don't need free will for this to occur.
That was straight out of Marx and Engels deterministic communist manifesto.ReplyDelete
from what I understand the idea of two-step models is simple: randomness provides variation, consciousness makes choices. It is analogous to the mutation-selection process in evolution, which works...
Or has that turned out to be the selection-mutation process?ReplyDelete
Thanks for responding, Massimo. I figure I may as well clarify one step further:ReplyDelete
"As for free will, two-step processes are an interesting way of combining quantum indeterminacy with something like true volition, on the model of the two-step process of natural selection. Finally, I share several commenters' view that there is evidence and reason to believe that quantum effects do creep into the macro-world in several relevant ways."
I agree that quantum effects do sneak into the real world in various ways; I'm not sure if/why you thought I disputed that? My comment about "sufficiently inaccessible" forms of (in)determinism was targeted more towards "hidden variables" sorts of ideas, where there is something in physical reality that influences the question, but which is not even in principle discoverable by science (or human beings in general). This is one of the few situations where I will play the pragmatist's card and simply say that if I can't find out about it, I don't care about it.
As for two-stage processes, I simply don't understand what the motivation is for considering random quantum events different from, say, pseudorandom thermal events. That's not to say that it wouldn't be interesting to know whether or not our brains take advantage of this sort of "noise", but I don't see how any conception of free will can benefit from a "true" quantum indeterminacy rather than an "effective" thermal/chaotic indeterminacy.
The only benefit that quantum mechanics would seem to confer would be in the form of quantum computing. Given the various limitations related to decoherence (such as isolation and temperature), it seems radically unlikely to me that brains actually contain quantum computers.
"I was under the impression that hidden variables had been ruled out by the Bell inequality, which showed that they were not empirically equivalent formulations."
Local hidden variable theories have been ruled out. The Bohm interpretation sidesteps that problem by having non-local hidden variables, at the cost of introducing some other difficulties regarding relativity and causality. I'm not necessarily optimistic about the project, but it seems like it is at least possible for it to produce a deterministic, single-world flavor of quantum mechanics.
thanks for the clarifications, particularly your position about quantum effects sneaking up into the "real" world (is the quantum world not real? ;-)
I also tend to agree with you that macroscopic randomness is enough for a meaningful concept of human volition (as you'll notice, I'm trying to stay away from the metaphysically and often theologically loaded term of free will). However, I suppose that "true" randomness would guarantee that one simply cannot say something along the lines of "given the same circumstances the same things are bound to happen," which makes for a stronger sense of randomness in a metaphysical sense. But I agree that pragmatically it makes no difference.
I just do not understand what physics has got to do with human freedom.ReplyDelete
My kid is 3 months old and is definitely not free. As we speak he is just gaining control over his body, arms flipping around like crazy, poking himself in the eye.
In time he will learn how to make decisions, take responsibility for his actions, know good from bad, use his imagination. If the word "Free Will" isn't about those things, and it probably isn't, then it's nothing to do with human freedom.
Humans learn how to be free. You don't learn to conform to a new law of physics, that's stupid.
In fact, Free Will is a distraction, for what purpose I can't figure out, which stops us figuring out how to teach people to use their clear as daylight capacity for voluntary action in the best way possible.
It would be fine if we had an accepted way of talking about learned human freedom, but because, somehow, philosophers have managed to make us think the Free Will argument is about human freedom, the whole thing is in stasis.
>"I just do not understand what physics has got to do with human freedom."
That depends on what you mean by 'human freedom'
We argue determinism with an eye on the things people think and do, and hint at the need to understand or even define consciousness better in order to get a better read on concepts like 'will'.ReplyDelete
Two great papers which
- get to the core of Bell's Inequality and its scientific and historical significance: "Is the Moon There When Nobody Looks"? by Mermin in 1985.
The E-P-R paradox is explained and illustrated in simple detail using visuals circa 1935. It really helps to understand what Bell was solving before the second paper, which
- gets to the core of the question "Is the Moon There When Nobody Looks": "Mysticism in Quantum Physics: The Forgotten Controversy" by Marin in 2009.
This one recounts how the 'subjective elements' of QM put Einstein's woo-detector in the red, and had him accusing Bohr of introducing mysticism to physics.
If somehow after reading or browsing these papers and you want more, try the Leggett-Garg inequality, which some say answer the moon question not exactly in Einstein's favor. Many interpretations of this inequality say it applies to arbitrarily large macroscopic systems. If that holds, then we don't need QM behavior to bubble up into the real world - it pretty much is the real world, as diehards have been saying all along. Jury is still out on this one, but one can dream.
""from what I understand the idea of two-step models is simple: randomness provides variation, consciousness makes choices. It is analogous to the mutation-selection process in evolution, which works…"ReplyDelete
What is the mechanism unique to "choices" that renders volitions distinct from causally necessitated outcomes? What distinguishes the process of "choosing" from among randomly generated possibiilites from the strict causal necessitation of one of these possibilities by antecedent factors? and where exactly does "moral responsibility" occur?
answers to those questions and arguments to support them have either been made or linked to.
Instead, let me ask you (and others) something: allegedly the conclusion that there is no meaningful "free will" (as I said, I'd rather avoid the term because of its theleo-metaphysical baggage) is derived from science. If it is science, it ought to be testable.
So what sort of experiment or observation would demonstrate (or falsify) the idea that the sentences I'm writing now where fixed from the Big Bang? Please, elaborate.
> So what sort of experiment or observation would demonstrate (or falsify) the idea that the sentences I'm writing now where [sic] fixed from the Big Bang? Please, elaborate.
Continue the neuroscience project to its ultimate conclusion. Continue the projects of physics, chemistry, genetics, systems biology, economics, cognition, etc.
If every molecule, every atom in the brain can be associated with an explanation, and every human action can be explained via the laws of physics up to the resolution of measuring instruments, and "subjective experience" is shown to be a property of an objective brain state, and "volition" is shown to be constrained by physics, and the deterministic interpretations of physical reality are accepted, then the hypothesis of deterministic behaviour can be accepted, up to the standard uncertainty that we're all just playthings of a capricious devil, or I'm just a Boltzmann brain, or we're all brains in a vat, etc.
You typed your sentences due to a confluence of factors beyond your control and observation, as I typed mine. However, there is no evidence that you exercised "volition" to "choose" those words. Instead, we both are entangled quantum states evolving deterministically, descended from quantum processes that maximized propagation potential.
What else did you want to be?
none of this has much to do with the question I asked. It sounds like a lot of hope but not much empirical substance. Neurobiology will never settle the issue, for reasons made very clear in Adina Roskies in the paper linked to from the free will thread.
Of course something is going on in the brain when we make decisions, how could it not? But would you say that, for instance, language is an illusion because what's *really* going on is that certain areas of the brain are active when we *seem* to speak? No, but the logic is equally bizarre when applied to volition.
As for physics, good luck waiting for the day your conditions are going to be fulfilled. Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for a way to test empirically the statement that I am writing this sentence because I had no other choice.
*However, there is no evidence that you exercised "volition" to "choose" those words*ReplyDelete
Meaning I suppose that the words that logically fit the specific situation and the solving of that instance of today's specific problem were logically selected by some intelligence in the universe a few zillion years ago without such logical choice making existing in that lifeless universe.
Living in an ultimately indeterminate world allows you to make an argument for determinism while, arguably, living in a determinate world would make such argumentation not only unnecessary but logically impossible.ReplyDelete
Are you implying that science is only that which can be accomplished within the timespan of a human life? Among my suggestions, which were not empirical studies?
I'm willing to acknowledge that certain questions won't be answered in my lifetime, but the lack of timely answer doesn't mean the question cannot be answered scientifically.
Moreso, I've read Roskie's paper and it seems to more nuanced than "neurobiology will never settle the issue". For instance, what differentiates "endogenous action" from "exogenous action"? Is it the immediacy of external stimulation? If so, how 'immediate' is an exogenous action, and how 'delayed' is an endogenous action?
And your "language as illusion" statement is revealing. Yes, "language" is an illusion; it is only a placeholder term for a collection of physical processes that occur between what we label "people", utilizing "air", "vibrations", "thinking" and "hearing". You seem to mistake the high-level terms we apply to gross properties of phenomena for actual objects.
Similarly, "volition" seems to be a high-level term we apply to a complicated set of properties that a human brain performs in our common environment, but my contention is that it's all physics, and mostly-understood physics at that.
> Are you implying that science is only that which can be accomplished within the timespan of a human life? <
That's a different discussion. I am simply asking for an empirical test of the claim that is being made - now - on behalf of science that this phrase was predestined to be written at the Big Bang. Please engage the question.
> Moreso, I've read Roskie's paper and it seems to more nuanced than "neurobiology will never settle the issue". <
From p. 112 of the paper:
"Some neuroscientists seem to think that neuroscientific work is able to illuminate the truth or falsity of determinism, by identifying the neural manifestation of indeterminism in randomness, noise, or stochastic behavior of neural systems. This, I believe, is mistaken, for at least two reasons."
Seems pretty clear to me.
> And your "language as illusion" statement is revealing. Yes, "language" is an illusion; it is only a placeholder term for a collection of physical processes that occur between what we label "people", utilizing "air", "vibrations", "thinking" and "hearing". <
Oh my. If you really think so you are missing so much of human experience that I don't know where to begin. Language is made possible by a collection of physical processes, it is not a physical process itself. Just like thinking about numbers is made possible by physical processes, but numbers themselves are not physical objects.
> I am simply asking for an empirical test of the claim that is being made - now - on behalf of science that this phrase was predestined to be written at the Big Bang. Please engage the question.
I engaged the question. You just don't like the answer. There is no current test that can tell if determinism is true. There's just the weight of evidence now, and the expectation of future studies to buttress or weaken. Your insistence on "an empirical test of the claim that is being made - now" is petty.
> Seems pretty clear to me [re: Roskies 2010].
Roskies is referring to the epistemic limits of neuroscience, in isolation. He (rightly) elides a discussion involving a broader study of nature, where neuroscience is just one part.
> Oh my. If you really think so you are missing so much of human experience that I don't know where to begin. Language is made possible by a collection of physical processes, it is not a physical process itself.
Oh my, indeed. How do you think numbers and language are made possible by physical processes, yet are not physical processes? What would be the difference between something "that is only made possible via a physical process yet not a physical process", and a "complete" physical process? Where does "physical process" stop, and "number" begin?
I think my human experience is pretty full, thank you very much. Perhaps that is what is biasing you, an expectation that a deterministic worldview is somehow experiencing less as a human.
Take a step back.
So what sort of experiment or observation would demonstrate (or falsify) the idea that the sentences I'm writing now where [sic] fixed from the Big Bang? Please, elaborate.ReplyDelete
An experiment would probably be more useful than observations, whether or not the observations were visions or statements. One way I would go about it is call it proven when multiple entities are regularly able to predict events like what you will write or even better and communicate the predictions to others. The predictions would be held to the same standards as today's predictions about weather, length of projects, or even an election. A better test might take on a more normative flavor, and ask the multiple entities to predict four strange things that will happen to you in the span of say a day or maybe a few days (2 of those events are considered strange by you and you alone, and two of those events are considered strange by you and most people.)
Over the years, we have been able to predict more and more events regularly and independently, and with wider scope of event types. Predictive powers increase with technology, right? I think they do. When both Eastern religions and Western 20th c science tells you that time, space, and stuff are human constructs, then whether or not you are a fan of either, it might be a rational idea to heed two dissimilar streams saying the same thing (although to be fair, both of these streams are also sort-of human), fold arms and wait maybe 10 generations, maybe 100 generations, but it should get done, and by that I mean, the technology will exist so that someone should be able to go somewhere and take a picture of the stuff you put to paper way, way later. It might be a fuzzy picture, but if you could get one scraped off the inner wall of one of those holographic multiverses Greene likes and 'prove' this information is no different from any other bit you can scrape off, you should be good after proving that the info comes from your universe.
The reason I would switch the test is that what you will write is a bit more predictable than an event that happens to you. I mean, that multiverse wall scraper might not be able to get to the sentences, but will have enough relevant info it could fake it. But name the strange events? An experiment done in the year 2211 by the standards of 50% you and 50% your fellow 2311ers? That would be pretty cool.
You might be uncomfortable with a number of things here, including the fuzziness inherent in any prediction. This is not necessarily a time travel thing, it’s more about how predictions and memories of things get increasingly fuzzier with time. You may say, no, I want the exact words as written, this blog, that font, blah blah blah. We will get into issues of image reproduction, and all sorts of communications issues that distort the original goal, but will finally agree on a transmission medium and message. But there’s the falsification, because you are not going to get your words the way you transmitted them. The info retrieval process will introduce errors, any one of which can be claimed as a no-go
But predictions should be doable.
Determinists tend not to worry about their logic. If it's conceptually bad, that's only because it was long determined by a physical process to be so.ReplyDelete
And no-one so far has predicted to any exactitude an accident.ReplyDelete
> I engaged the question. You just don't like the answer. ... Your insistence on "an empirical test of the claim that is being made - now" is petty. <
It's not petty, it's science. The claim being made is that science tells us - now - that our exchange was foreordained at the time of the Big Bang. It's not a promissory note, so pay up or maintain a much more reasonable agnosticism, which is what I was suggesting as the most reasonable position in the post.
> Roskies is referring to the epistemic limits of neuroscience, in isolation. He (rightly) elides a discussion involving a broader study of nature, where neuroscience is just one part. <
She, not he. Of course neuroscience is just one part of science, but my claim was that neuroscience cannot settle the question, for the reasons Roskies elaborates on. The point remains valid, since I wasn't talking about science at large.
> What would be the difference between something "that is only made possible via a physical process yet not a physical process", and a "complete" physical process? <
Ever heard of concepts? Concepts are not physical objects (try to weigh a number), nor are they physical processes (what sort of processes anyway?). There is nothing mystical here, just the acknowledgment that not everything that exists - in a significant sense of "existing" - is physical. It really shouldn't be controversial, unless one is ideologically wedded to the idea (a concept, not a physical object!) that everything must be made of matter/energy.
As you might know, the ontology of concepts, mathematical objects, laws of logic and so forth is still controversial. One thing that is clear, however, is that they are not physical objects.
I don't think that comes even close to the mark. First, several people - including Jesse Prinz at the panel discussion - have made it clear that predictability is an entirely separate issue. We can make fairly accurate predictions even in an indeterministic universe (quantum mechanical theory gets twelve decimal points on their statistical predictions). Second, chaos theory shows that one can have a completely deterministic system and yet predictions become pretty much impossible because of high sensitivity from initial conditions. Third, what you are describing is not possible now anyway, which makes my point that to claim *now* that the hypothesis in question is scientific is baloney. Lastly, I don't even know where to go with multiverse scraping, given how far fetched it is at the moment.
Massimo, in order,ReplyDelete
I remain agnostic on the question up to where the evidence lacks. Currently, the existing evidence points to determinism, but that's only a trend. I'm willing to argue based upon the trend, with the caveat that future study can overturn my position. If that's not a scientific position, then we have different definitions for that, too.
I concede that you were talking about neuroscience in isolation. However, I don't believe neuroscience exists in isolation, so it is a false dichotomy to only talk about "just neurobiology". Neuroscience rests upon the pillar of accepted science; if underlying physics are accepted as deterministic, that will bubble up to neuroscience.
Finally, you didn't answer my question. Is "lack of weight" your measure of a concept? If so, is a photon a concept? Are virtual particles concepts? Where were these concepts before humans? Where do they go when you sleep?
Laws of logic, ideas, numbers, language, and all the other "weightless" things you call concepts, are shared physical processes occurring in human brains; physical processes that have a (useful) correspondence to reality. You refer to "laws of logic". You actually mean, "one set of patterns of symbol manipulation accepted by many members of the human mathematical community (and integrated into computer chips) that map to relationships commonly occurring in our perception of macroscopic reality at velocities much less than c".
I would have thought a philosopher would be interested in knowing what words actually mean and how thinking actually occurs...
The anticipatory strategies that make the universe run are (so far mysterious) conceptions that allow for the operation of the functions that shape and evolve (what to some appear now as) material to reach the point at present where they sophisticatedly use strategic concepts to determine their best options for successfully selecting and directing their continuous path of anticipatory reactions to the probabilities they've early on discovered in chance. Or possibly not.ReplyDelete
@Massimo - Yeah, I did not see or hear the panel discussion, but was aware that predictions may not cut it. As I understand it, we get around this by deleting all references to predictions, and just ask for evidence of stuff that can be proven to have been present very close to BB such that this stuff requires your sentences to exist yesterday. I would hope you allow some acceptable range of fuzziness that may not return the exact words due to problems inherent in information transmission. Anyway, would add two things. (1) Try proving the sentences in their 'original form' (whatever that means) even exist today. Move on to your toothbrush, your computer and anything else you like, if you feel this is getting too abstract (2) Re ...is not possible now anyway, which makes my point that to claim *now* that the hypothesis in question is scientific is baloney Hitch up your belt a bit, look determinism in the eye and inform it that our 'now' can easily be considered to start just a bit after the BB, and end with the destruction of the universe, so exactly what is the question your existence poses?ReplyDelete
Re your answer to Sharkey about the ontology of concepts being controversial, come on, man - the ontology allowing your toothbrush to exist is pretty controversial. I honestly do not understand why the same people who do buy the basics of QM they have managed to understand do not see there is a serious problem with objective reality. Luckily, there is nothing in the literature, popular or intellectual (other these Rationality movements? :) ) that suggest such ontologies are not fast fading.
But will see what you have to say in your future post on existence today.
"what sort of experiment or observation would demonstrate (or falsify) the idea that the sentences I'm writing now where fixed from the Big Bang? Please, elaborate"ReplyDelete
For the umpteenth time, this is not an empirical question -- since you advance no intelligible alternative by which any line of reasoning can ensue, there can be no rational justification for your claims.
> I concede that you were talking about neuroscience in isolation. However, I don't believe neuroscience exists in isolation, so it is a false dichotomy to only talk about "just neurobiology". Neuroscience rests upon the pillar of accepted science; if underlying physics are accepted as deterministic, that will bubble up to neuroscience. <
Sorry, but no. Of course neurobiology is connected to other sciences, but the claims based by individual sciences using their own methodologies and conceptual framework ought to be testable within those sciences, taking everything else as background. So the conclusion that neuroscience has nothing whatsoever to say about these matters stands.
> Laws of logic, ideas, numbers, language, and all the other "weightless" things you call concepts, are shared physical processes occurring in human brains <
One more time: no. They are made *possible* by physical processes, but it makes no sense to say that, for instance, numbers are "physical processes," unless you have a concept of physical process that is highly peculiar, in which case you need to defend it.
> For the umpteenth time, this is not an empirical question. -- since you advance no intelligible alternative by which any line of reasoning can ensue, there can be no rational justification for your claims. <
Great, so it ain't science we are talking about, excellent, we are making progress. And for the umpteenth time: alternatives have been given , you are simply ignoring them. And no, nobody gets to win by default.
> Of course neurobiology is connected to other sciences, but the claims based by individual sciences using their own methodologies and conceptual framework ought to be testable within those sciences, taking everything else as background.
The claim is that neuroscience shows a weight of evidence for determinism, up to the background assumed by physics and the limitations of current experiments (due to technological and ethical factors). The sciences are not isolated; they rest upon each other. Your past as a biologist should make this clear: evolution rests upon geology, biology, paleontology, genetics, chemistry, etc.
> One more time: no. They are made *possible* by physical processes, but it makes no sense to say that, for instance, numbers are "physical processes," unless you have a concept of physical process that is highly peculiar, in which case you need to defend it.
One more time: yes. Numbers are physical processes in human brains. For instance, there are systems of numbers that are linked to computation, which is the physical process I am referring to. Church numerals are a method of describing a "number" as a function, and includes the mechanisms for consistently combining the numerals in ways we would identify with addition, multiplication, etc. I doubt our brains use Church numerals, but a similar physical process occurs when dealing with numbers. And that is all "numbers" are: a useful physical process happening inside human brains that has a correspondence to reality.
Where is your evidence that numbers are not a physical process? You're the one postulating a non-mystical but non-physical entity that exists but cannot be measured, how about you defend your position?
@Sharkey, Massimo: I love it, y'all are getting to root of the problem and Sharkey is correctly steering this to to the 'left' of dualism. Ya got yer physicalists on the right, saying everything is physical in nature. Your dualists to the left saying there is both a non-physical and a physical, and further to the left, the tables turn. Nothing is physical, numbers, tables, emotions, gods, same shit different clothing.ReplyDelete
Good stuff - keep going!
"Great, so it ain't science we are talking about, excellent, we are making progress. And for the umpteenth time: alternatives have been given , you are simply ignoring them. And no, nobody gets to win by default"ReplyDelete
Indeed, it ain't. Insofar as you are concerned with the topics of "free-will" (pointlessly renamed "volition") and "moral responsibility", Strawson has foreclosed the possibility of such conceptual aberrations on purely logical grounds. The empirical findings of neuroscience are irrelevant (at least, to the now-belabored question of whether or not volition is free). Show me a two-stage model that escapes Strawson's analysis, and I will concede defeat.
> The claim is that neuroscience shows a weight of evidence for determinism <
And that claim is simply wrong, as explained in detail by Roskies.
> Numbers are physical processes in human brains. For instance, there are systems of numbers that are linked to computation, which is the physical process I am referring to. <
You keep making the same mistake, confusing a physical process for its outcome. I don't know how to explain this any better, sorry.
> Insofar as you are concerned with the topics of "free-will" (pointlessly renamed "volition") and "moral responsibility", Strawson has foreclosed the possibility of such conceptual aberrations on purely logical grounds. <
First of all, Strawson criticized determinism-based views of moral responsibility, but he is a compatibilist. So his position is not a problem for me (though I do not agree with some of his specific takes on moral responsibility). Second, his views are far from being universally accepted by philosophers. See:
> And that claim is simply wrong, as explained in detail by Roskies.
From Roskies's paper: "Thus, in order to make judgments about determinism from neuroscientific data, we would need to know far more about the microphysical makeup of neurons than our neurophysiological techniques tell us, as well as to have complete information about the global state of the system impinging upon the neurons from which we are recording."
That sounds familiar, somehow...
> You keep making the same mistake, confusing a physical process for its outcome. I don't know how to explain this any better, sorry.
You're not explaining anything. You're just asserting. Explain how a "number" (or "language", or "laws of logic") are non-physical yet non-mystical and exist but cannot be measured.
My contention is that numbers et al are uniquely identified by the physical processes that enable them.
I see (via Wikipedia) there is a PhD published that attempts to refute the idea I've been describing, but my French is pretty rusty. I'll try to give it a go anyways: http://iridia.ulb.ac.be/~marchal/lillethesis/CPC.pdf
Strawson is emphatic that the truth or falsity of determinism is irrelevant.ReplyDelete
To characterize Strawson as a compatibilist seems more than a little inane. The question is not whether "volition" is compatible with determinism, but rather, whether the random generation of alternative possibilities is compatible with any given set of preferences in any situation.
"His views are far from being universally accepted by philosophers" — so what?
DJD said: "once determinism wipes out moral responsibility, and morality generally....we will still have value"ReplyDelete
Massimo said: "though I do not agree with some of his specific takes on moral responsibility"
"Moral responsibility" can be ruled out using logic alone.
> Strawson is emphatic that the truth or falsity of determinism is irrelevant. ... To characterize Strawson as a compatibilist seems more than a little inane. <
That's not at all the impression I got from the SEP entry. Did you even read it?
> "His views are far from being universally accepted by philosophers" — so what? <
So your confident talk that Strawson has done X, besides apparently not being a correct interpretation of Strawson, ought to be at least qualified, considering that many experts in the same field do not agree.
I'm referring to Galen -- whose “The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility” is cited in the SEP entry.ReplyDelete
"considering that many experts in the same field do not agree"
The field should close down because it is a quagmire of mediocrity and intellectual impotence.
I think that this sense of determinism is irrelevant, in the discussion of the plausibility of a "strong" free-will.ReplyDelete
"Strong" free will posits free will more or less as a "natural phenomenon" of the universe, not quite subject to physics (only "weakly", even though arguably enough to counter the sense of free will anyway), and then it's to be contrasted with "physical determination", which includes even the possibility that physics itself in a way may be indeterministic. As long as the alternative isn't some sort of "animistic physics", a notion that the universe behaves by "will" of particles and/or systems (as opposed of non-volitional constraints of such things), then it does not matter at all.
Non-volitional constraints would not exist if there were no volitional determinations to constrain.ReplyDelete