12 May 2013

Physical Determinism and Free Will

Religious 63 Comments

An interesting discussion about free will and whether the physical universe is deterministic, which makes me reiterate my own view on these matters. When it comes to the vexing problems of dualism and also evolution, I think belief in an intelligent Designer (I have to make it a capital “D” since I’m talking about the universe itself with the former issue, not just life on earth) solves the problems–or at least, pushes them back a step. In contrast, if you don’t believe in an intelligent Designer, then I think you run into some serious philosophical problems.

==> There is an obvious sense in which humans have free will. In our subjective experience, we certainly seem to be able to “control matter with our minds.” I can look at my fingers, and make them move with my will. We just take this for granted, but if I could do the same thing with a mannequin’s fingers across the room, then people would think I was a wizard.

==> At the same time, the whole enterprise of modern physics, chemistry, and biology seeks to explain the mindless laws governing the operation of the objects in the material universe. They need to proceed in this way; in order to be intelligible to us, these “laws” have to be laws.

==> So already we see the problem. If my fingers are moving at time T2 because of the state of the physical universe at time T1, then it doesn’t seem as if there’s any room for my discretion. At best, my “free will” is correlated with my finger movements due to a third factor. In other words, the state of the universe at T1 causes my fingers to move, and causes my mind to think “I want to move my fingers,” at T2.

==> Some people (like Gene and Ken B. at the link above) handle this by saying they are just different levels of explanation; others try to handle it by saying the physical universe is NOT deterministic, and that quantum mechanics can reconcile the apparent paradox. I personally don’t see exactly how this is supposed to work, though I confess I would need to really get into it before saying for sure. Yet here’s my quick reaction: If the future state of the physical universe is indeterminate (in a particular sense, specified by quantum theory), that doesn’t leave a window through which one’s mind can influence the future. For example, if the electron has a 50/50 chance of going through the top or the bottom slit, then we have no more control over what happens, than if there were the Newtonian 100/0 situation.

==> However, I realize that one of the best ways to explain the experimental results of the two-slit experiment is to say, “The electrons/photons don’t choose a slit, until we know they went a particular way,” and that certainly seems to link the human subjective mind with the objective, physical universe in a fundamental way. So my guess is that these “quantum mind” theorists are on to something, I’m just saying I don’t think it is as simple as saying, “Phew! The physical universe is NOT deterministic, so free will isn’t an illusion after all.”

==> To (finally) recapitulate my own solution to these vexing problems: Imagine that a filmmaker could perfectly anticipate where everyone in the movie theater would look, for 2 hours straight. He makes a film accordingly. The people then go sit in the theater, and they soon realize as they’re watching the screen, that each person apparently has a little colored dot assigned just to him/her. That is, each person is looking at the screen, and sees a dot (or the person’s name spelled out, if you prefer) and–no matter how the person moves his/her eyes–that dot (or letters spelling the name) moves around perfectly in response. After just a few moments of this, the people in the theater would be certain that there was some kind of advanced technology, whereby sensors in the theater tracked their eye movements, and then in response moved the images on the screen. But nope, there is no such interaction at all; the dots (or letters) on the screen are just light that is being shot out of the projector in the back of the theater, using the same processes as the Disney move in the next theater. The crucial difference is (to repeat), the filmmaker on this particular film somehow knew exactly what everybody would choose to do, beforehand.

==> If you get my analogy, then you can see why I think an intelligent Creator can solve the mind/body problem. You have a soul with free will. You perceive the unfolding universe through the perspective of your physical body, and you appear to have (limited) control over what happens in the physical universe. However, if we focus on any portion of the physical universe, it doesn’t seem to be controlled by your intangible soul at all; that doesn’t even make sense. We can “explain” everything perfectly well without invoking a soul at all, except we’re left with this gaping hole of why the heck are we conscious and does it sure SEEM like we’re controlling things with our minds?! (My answer is that God created our souls and the physical universe such that there was a symmetry between them, where our truly free choices dovetailed perfectly with the mindless operation of the laws of physics in the material universe.) Yet we just ignore that question as “unscientific,” and don’t really worry about it because it’s so commonplace–just like new, human minds coming into existence and being based inside of organic creatures that shoot out of mother’s wombs every day.

63 Responses to “Physical Determinism and Free Will”

  1. Z says:

    I think you’re pretty spot on, in my opinion. This is a big problem, and if we don’t get this straightened out, we’ll have to throw out our whole concept of morality along with it as well, since that’s dependent on free will.

    I think it will require a lot more than quantum mechanics to salvage free will. For one thing, there is no neuroscience evidence that there is any free will. We haven’t gotten too deep into the workings of the brain and individual neurons, but from what we have, there is no evidence for it. The only explanation at this point, if free will actually does exist, is to invoke an outside supernatural force, such as a god.

    Second, we’ll have to come up with a difference between humans and everything else on the planet that we don’t think has free will. If there is such a thing as free will naturally in the world, then why can we not find it in a computer, for example? When Windows vista started to cause problems in computers across the world, noone blamed it on free will. Noone suggested that computers had all of a sudden acquired free will and were wrecking havoc. Instead, people blamed the code, and indeed, the programmers went in and found the problematic lines and attempted to correct it. So why are we different than computers when we’re made of essentially the same elements? There is no real reason to assume we have it either.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      I don’t understand why you think free will is to be “salvaged.”

      “We haven’t gotten too deep into the workings of the brain and individual neurons, but from what we have, there is no evidence for it.”

      Oh that’s why. You believe knowledge only arises via observation. Well, you’ll never find free will that way. Free will can only be known via self-reflection of a conscious being. Studying the workings of the brain is only studying the deterministic attributes of parts of the brain divorced from the whole consciousness.

      “The only explanation at this point, if free will actually does exist, is to invoke an outside supernatural force, such as a god.”

      Yay false dichotomy.

      “Second, we’ll have to come up with a difference between humans and everything else on the planet that we don’t think has free will. If there is such a thing as free will naturally in the world, then why can we not find it in a computer, for example?”

      Because the previously separated matter out of which a computer is composed is not the same previously separated matter out of which a human is composed, and so the emergent phenomena relating to a computer, is different from the emergent phenomena relating to human.

      There is no reason to assume that free will has to arise out of every collection of previously separated matter.

      Why did you pick a computer anyway? Why didn’t you ask “How come we can’t find free will in a potato?”

      • Z says:

        “and so the emergent phenomena relating to a computer, is different from the emergent phenomena relating to human.”

        and you know this how?

        • Major_Freedom says:

          Because computers behave differently from humans.

          • Z says:

            and one human behaves differently from another human as well. a human with down’s syndrome behaves very differently from you or I.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              You just discovered a good example of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions.

              Different behavior is sufficient for there being different emergent phenomena, but different behavior is not necessary for the existence of free will in another object.

      • Matt Tanous says:

        “You believe knowledge only arises via observation.”

        Always a strange position to take, given that it relies on so much a priori truth. You can’t have knowledge gained through observation without already knowing of causality, constancy, existence of observed/observer, existence of knowledge, and so forth.

        • Z says:

          I don’t believe knowledge arises only from observation. But I believe in this case it is the only way, if that. We are only conscious of certain thoughts, we don’t know if they arise from previous ‘thoughts’ we are not conscious to. That’s why I am very skeptical in this instance when major freedom says free will is known through self reflection. And he has still not answered the computer question. his answer only leaves open the possibility of a difference in free will between humans a computer.

  2. Ivan Jankovic says:

    But, why is there any ‘problem’ of the body and the soul? What is ‘soul’? In order to be able to claim certain relationship between the two phenomena you would have first to establish or define or experimentally isolate both of them. We have certain empirical knowledge about physical body. But “soul”? That is a metaphysical assumption which is a part of a peculiar religious vocabulary inspired by the Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy. It does not belong even to the original Christianity. In the Gospels we see Jesus physically resurrecting and the promise to the believers is that when he comes down for the second time the dead bodies, not souls, will be raised from dead (and that is the reasons why Christians bury the dead bodies instead of burning them as Pagans were doing). It was only after the fusion of Christianity with neo-Platonism in the 3rd century and later that Christians accepted the concept about the immortality of the soul.

    So, the free will absolutely does not depend on the acceptance of the idea of the ‘soul’. This is just a metaphysical appendix which only neo-Platonic and neo-Cartesian philosophers and their theological counterparts need

    • Bob Murphy says:

      “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” — Jesus

      • Major_Freedom says:

        “What good is sacrificing the whole world for the soul, when there is no reason to think that both are anything but finite and temporary? ” – Major_Freedom

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Fair enough, I was just responding to the claim that the gospels don’t invoke the concept of a soul.

          • Ken B says:

            Translation issue. We’ve discussed this before. Soul in this passage does mean what you seem to think it means here.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              Way to miss the point.

              I was being snarky, but Murphy’s point is valid.

              Jankovic said

              “But “soul”? That is a metaphysical assumption which is a part of a peculiar religious vocabulary inspired by the Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy. It does not belong even to the original Christianity. In the Gospels we see Jesus physically resurrecting and the promise to the believers is that when he comes down for the second time the dead bodies, not souls, will be raised from dead (and that is the reasons why Christians bury the dead bodies instead of burning them as Pagans were doing).”

              Bob’s single quote blows that out of the water.

              I think it’s fair to say that if you have a problem with a definition of a soul, it’s not really Murphy’s problem. You and Jankovic have to take it up with Jesus (I don’t mean that literally, but figuratively).

        • Silas Barta says:

          If you say “mortal”, “finite”, and “temporary”, it *really* bums out dragons, or so I’ve heard.

      • Yosef says:

        The answer is “the whole world.” It’s one of those trick questions, like “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” The answer is right in the question.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          So if a company spends $100 billion and takes in $110 billion in revenues, its profit is $110 billion?

          • Yosef says:

            Bob, the quote says “if he gains the whole world”. The gain on something already incorporates the cost of it. Your gain on a stock (for example) is the price you sold minus the price you paid. That is your profit.

            • Matt Tanous says:

              “The gain on something already incorporates the cost of it.”

              Nonsense. The gain on something is the amount that it can amplify an electronic signal. What a fool you are!

              Or we can go to the actual definition that was used at the time – to gain something is just to obtain it. So in this case, it would be the “revenue”.

              • Yosef says:

                Matt, yes the gain is the amount it can amplify an electronic signal. Amplify, as in, increase the signal. So once again we see that gain is already a concept of increasing, taking into account the original signal. Therefore it is still a profit!

      • Ivan Jankovic says:

        But, that is just a metaphor, the way in which even the agnostics and atheists today often speak about somebody who has become much oriented towards material goods as ‘loosing his soul’:but give me one quotation from the Gospels where Jesus teaches that those who follow him will have their soul saved in the world to come, or that the soul was immortal. There is none, because that is a Greek, neo-Platonistic later addition. Closest you get to any depiction of the body soul dichotomy in the New Testament is Paul’s description of the resurrected Jesus as “pneuma’ which is a finer and more subtle kind of physical matter than the body, but not yet the neo-Platonistic “immortal soul”. That stuff came much, much later.

        • Ken B says:

          Plus one. Plus way more than one.

        • Drigan says:

          I think you may be mistaken: the second book of Maccabees clearly shows a belief in resurrection that does not involve their current bodies. (Which were being tortured to the point of effective destruction.) If they are going to have new bodies, what remains of who they are? Clearly their souls was what remained.

          Here’s one of several quotes showing a belief in bodily resurrection *after* physical destruction of the body:
          In derision of the cruel tyrant, she leaned over close to her son and said in their native language: “Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age.
          28
          2 I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things; and in the same way the human race came into existence.
          29
          Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with them.”

      • Ivan Jankovic says:

        And another problem: our four Gospels were written in Greek language, some 40-60 years after Jesus’ death by the highly educated Greek intellectuals, trained in Greek philosophy and rhetoric. Jesus was a poor country-boy from Palestine who spoke Aramaic and as far as we know could not pronounce a word of Greek. We even don’t know whether Jesus ever mentioned the word ‘soul’. What is the Aramaic original word for what Greek writers describe as “soul” and what is the evidence that this original word meant “something fundamentally different from the body”?

        • Ken B says:

          Ivan, we’ve had this discussion before on FA. I and others have made the same points you make here. I think you should expect the same result …

      • Ken B says:

        Aaack. Sorry but I grew up with the real KJV, and these modern readings grate. It’s like some people care about the meaning more than the language!!

        • Major_Freedom says:

          “It’s like some people care about the meaning more than the language!!”

          Haha, ya think?

          No no no no no, the burning bush is a parable for telling children that masturbation is immoral.

    • Z says:

      “So, the free will absolutely does not depend on the acceptance of the idea of the ‘soul’. This is just a metaphysical appendix which only neo-Platonic and neo-Cartesian philosophers and their theological counterparts need”

      It doesn’t have to depend on the acceptance of the religious idea of the soul, but we certainly need a heck of a lot more than what we have through science today to accept the idea of free will.

  3. Mike C. says:

    Here is another solution:

    Consciousness is simply a characteristic of matter, like mass. All matter is consciousness and all consciousness is connected. But our brains do a very good job of bringing a lot of complex information to a point, so one (or more) atoms of consciousness become super-conscious. It is possible for more than one consciousness to inhabit our brain and we can’t really tell the difference. We obviously do not have complete control over our bodies, so how could we tell if there were another living spirit within us that was having a very similar experience?

    the actions of our consciousness are aware to this heightened degree because of the physical makeup of the brain, so it isn’t really correct to say that it exists independently of the brain. All things are conscious, but brains enable a different level of awareness by bringing so much information together.

    Also, it is not necessarily true that consciousness is associated with a particular atom. A classic vortex is not associated with a particular atom of water or air. It is a physical phenomenon that has characteristics that depend on the macroscopic arrangement and motion of particles.

    In any case, since heightened consciousness is associated with certain states of matter, it determines the state of the future because the state of the future depends on the current state of matter.

    Now you could argue that in this explanation consciousness doesn’t really “do” anything. A universe without consciousness but with those same material states would progress just the same as ours. This is unlike a universe without say, mass or electrical charge. But why should I care? This particular state of matter is conscious. It is me. And the future depends on me.

    That is, I think the important question is if the future depends on whether I am in state A or state B, and not on whether we could conceive of a state A and a state B that were not conscious.

  4. The Existential Christian says:

    “[...] just like new, human minds coming into existence and being based inside of organic creatures that shoot out of mother’s wombs every day.”

    In my experience, they do anything but shoot out. More like forced out slowly against their will.

  5. konst says:

    First of all, pretty good summation of the various opinions. I don’t agree with any of them.

    My idea is that the universe of ordinary matter, i.e. matter that is not living, is a static unchanging 4 dimension structure like a sculpture in 4 dimensions. it spans the 3 dimensions of space and the 1 dimension we call time as one space-time structure whose extent is from T0, when the universe was created to Tz, Tz being some point in the future (the z is just a name, had to call it something). You can think of this 4-d structure as like a scroll being unrolled, which represents the history of the universe.

    In the beginning empty static 4-d space-time is laid out from T0 to Tz. Then at stage 2 energy/light is laid out from T0 to Tz as one static unchanging 4-d structure. Then at stage 3 static unchanging 4-d matter was laid out from T0 to Tz…
    All those stages add new creations like layers onto the previously created 4-d structure. All those creation are totally static 4-d structures and predetermined, i.e. they don’t change.
    I said that they are static because in physics, at least in classical physics, space and time are inexorably linked and form a type of static 4-d structure that extends from the time of the big bang to the infinite or finite future.

    So far this resembles some of the your, i.e. Bob Murphy’s, opinion of the universe as “predetermined” (at least as I understood it from the example of the film,etc.) except you seem to imply that things move through time.

    The difference is that where as you think all actions and movements are predetermined, I don’t. By the way, your example would imply that people cannot be held accountable for their actions since their actions are predetermined (at least that’s the way you seemed to describe it in previous versions of your theory).

    Here is where I suggest something new (at least I don’t think anyone else suggested it before). Where as the actions and movement of matter are indeed predetermined, man by virtue of his having free will can change the 4-d structure (though limited by his use of the energy at his disposal). Man has the ability to create a new future which didn’t exist before, i.e. man’s free will transcends the laws of physics. Even though the future is predetermined man can change it and that means man’s actions don’t yet exist in time; they, the actions, come into being when man chooses to act and become a part of the changed 4-d static universe. As such, mans actions are generally undetermined. However even though mans actions are undetermined and don’t exist in the future until man chooses to act to bring them into being, God still knows them since God’s nature is beyond anything that can be imagined or known.

    Some consequences of this theory are that even though some things can be predicted, human actions are not so predictable.

  6. Major_Freedom says:

    I think both determinism and free will are true.

    Beings with free will are 100% caused and could not have been any other way, but at the same time, beings with free will can bring about effects that are 100% caused by free will.

    “When Windows vista started to cause problems in computers across the world, noone blamed it on free will. Noone suggested that computers had all of a sudden acquired free will and were wrecking havoc. Instead, people blamed the code, and indeed, the programmers went in and found the problematic lines and attempted to correct it. So why are we different than computers when we’re made of essentially the same elements? There is no real reason to assume we have it either.”

    I see no real reason to deny that emergent phenomena can introduce new properties of matter that does not exist before when that matter was in a different form.

    Water has properties fundamentally different from hydrogen gas oxygen gas. I know this because I can survive by ingesting water, but I cannot survive ingesting hydrogen gas and oxygen gas. Water has properties that are different from its constituent components separated.

    I think the same thing is true for humans and free will. All the atoms in our body, separated, do not have the same properties as that matter in the particular form of a human. I think free will is an emergent phenomena that arises out of previously deterministic phenomena.

    All the explanations and assumptions that hold determinism doesn’t end with humans, that out behavior is determined, are inducing from the past. Yet the past does not tell us with 100% certainty what will happen in the future. The notion that it can, is an assumption which simply denies free will in what is being studied. I think the universe is of a nature whereby new phenomena come into being that did not exist before, and could not be known through inducing from the past, until that phenomena itself emerged, after which the past does contain such phenomena.

    Just like water has properties fundamentally different from hydrogen gas and oxygen gas, so too do human beings have properties fundamentally different from the seaprated matter from which humans are composed. This is not to say that humans are different from previously separated matter in the exact same way that water differs from gases, just that it does differ, as water differs.

    Since we are composed of previously deterministic matter, I think this is how we even come to know determinism in the first place. Free will is emergent because determinism preceded it. And since it is emergent, it is more difficult to accept using induction.

    If we instead imagine a universe where free will is first, then that universe’s philosophers who use induction would be talking about how the whole universe is “obviously” free will, while the anti-induction philosophers would be talking about determinism is an emergent phenomena, the knowledge of which is not grounded on induction.

    Free will, because it cannot be observed, has unfortunately acquired a negative aura of mysticism. If it can’t be observed, then it’s nothing but assumptions and prejudices. But my view is that some phenomena can only be known self-reflectively. Free will arises in previously deterministically behaving matter, but once that matter is in a particular form, new phenomena emerges. Free will is a phenomena that is learnt self-reflectively, and cannot be known through observing other entities.

    This is why free will is so contested. The debate is not whether free will exists, or whether determinism exists. The debate is over how knowledge arises in the universe. Rationalists hold that knowledge arises, or at least some knowledge can arise, self-reflectively. This is why most rationalists accept free will. Positivists on the other hand hold that knowledge arises through observation only. This is why most positivists accept determinism.

    Methodological dualists, like myself, hold that knowledge does not arise only one way. We hold that there are at least two methods of acquiring knowledge. Observation and self-reflection. However, this is not to say that they are interchangeable, that either one is applicable in every situation. No, we hold that each phenomena in the universe has only one corresponding method of learning. (Human) action can only be learned self-reflectively. Non-activity can only be learned observationally. Using self-reflection to try to learn about non-activity phenomena is doomed to failure. Using observation to try to learn about (human) action phenomena is doomed to failure.

    Methodological monism is so attractive because it’s singular, parsimonious: typically the attributes that are considered “pure”.

    Methodological dualism is less attractive because it’s multitfaceted, complex: typically the attributes that are considered “impure”.

    Every philosophy ever thought of by humans has had a dualist framework. God and the creation of the universe. Ego and Non-Ego. Good and Evil. Singularity and Diversity. Eternal and temporal. Finite and Infinite.

    I think these are all manifestations of the fact that humans have free will and deterministic qualities.

    • Z says:

      “I see no real reason to deny that emergent phenomena can introduce new properties of matter that does not exist before when that matter was in a different form.”

      I wasn’t denying that emergent phenomena can exist, I was saying I see no evidence for it. If I don’t see any evidence for something, then I don’t seriously open the door to the possibility of it existing. It seems to me that we believe in free will simply because we want to, not because we see some evidence for it. I also don’t understand your point about not being able to observe free will. Surely we can determine if free will exists in a computer, for example. We can program it with a certain code, and if it goes off the code, then the computer has free will, assuming that there is no hardware problem. the fact that noone serious has claimed to see such activity seems like a big red flag. The same way, at some point in the future, we may be able to stimulate the brain in a certain way, observe the result, and if it follows a previously calculated path, then there is no free will, and otherwise there is free will. Or maybe I’m not understanding you correctly?

      • Major_Freedom says:

        “I wasn’t denying that emergent phenomena can exist, I was saying I see no evidence for it.”

        There is evidence all over the place. What are you talking about? I keep using the rather overused water as an example, but there is lots of evidence of emergent phenomenon relating to oxygen and hydrogen into water. Water has properties that are different from the properties of hydrogen gas and oxygen gas (or atoms) in isolation.

        Is it really so hard to believe that humans have properties that are different from the properties of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and iron (in isolation)?

        “It seems to me that we believe in free will simply because we want to, not because we see some evidence for it.”

        One cannot observe free will through the senses. There is no “evidence” for it.

        “I also don’t understand your point about not being able to observe free will. Surely we can determine if free will exists in a computer, for example.”

        You could only ever infer it in the computer, by comparing it with yourself. You won’t be able to see it making choices. How could you? Seeing can only ever tell you something about the photons that are released from it. It can’t tell you whether free will was responsible for that wavelength, or whether determinism was responsible.

        If a human dents a car with a rock, or if a rock falls from a mountain and dents the car, you can’t tell just by looking at the dent in the car whether a human threw the rock or whether it fell from some geological process.

        The same thing is the case with free will. If you observe a set of photons from an object, you can’t tell by the effects of those photons whether the object has free will. Free will isn’t alienable. It is not communicated. It is not sent via photon packets. There is nothing in photons that contains free will information. There is nothing in the air that contains free will information.

        Free will is retained by the entity. It is always “private”.

        This is very easy to understand in many other examples. If I showed you a piece of paper with the printed letters “F W E” on them, can you tell, by the appearance of the paper and letters alone, whether a human planned those letters in that pattern, or whether a random letter generating computer program did it? I say you cannot. Well, a similar thing is true for free will. You cannot observe whether I am behaving due to determinism, or due to free will.

        “We can program it with a certain code, and if it goes off the code, then the computer has free will, assuming that there is no hardware problem. the fact that noone serious has claimed to see such activity seems like a big red flag.”

        Haha, “no one serious”, as if someone intelligent has to grant stupid individuals free will.

        “The same way, at some point in the future, we may be able to stimulate the brain in a certain way, observe the result, and if it follows a previously calculated path, then there is no free will, and otherwise there is free will. Or maybe I’m not understanding you correctly?”

        You mean if I kick you, and I predict that you will feel pain, and you do feel pain, that I performed an experiment that can test free will?

        What you are doing is guessing what might occur, based on your current philosophical convictions.

        • Z says:

          You make a good point about observations of free will. I accept it.
          But the primary point/question still stands. First, I didn’t say I don’t believe in emergent phenomenon (e.g water etc). I said in this instance, what makes you say there was emergent phenomenon?

          • Major_Freedom says:

            “I said in this instance, what makes you say there was emergent phenomenon?”

            The fact that I behave differently than the atoms in my body should they be separated.

  7. Razer says:

    More importantly, why does this sky fairy you call god concern himself so much with masturbation?

    • Major_Freedom says:

      Because Christians can’t attract as many members if men inseminate the air instead of females.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        And Muslims, and Catholics, and…

        • Christopher says:

          Did you just say “Christians and Muslims and Catholics…” ?

          • Major_Freedom says:

            Yes.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              Jesus wasn’t Mary.

              Mohammed wasn’t Jesus.

              • Christopher says:

                lol

      • Z says:

        That may or may not be true, you’ll have to ask Bob, but how is that much if any different from the purpose for our current moral taboo against murder as crafted over thousands of years by evolution and natural selection?

        • Major_Freedom says:

          Crafted over thousands of years? I think stopping murder was always justified.

          • Z says:

            I don’t think you know that. If that’s the case, why do lions murder baby lions all the time when they take over a pride? This is clearly a morality that has been selected for or crafted in some creatures and not in others.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              “I don’t think you know that.”

              OK, but I think I do.

              Now what? Settle for skepticism/denial?

              “If that’s the case, why do lions murder baby lions all the time when they take over a pride? This is clearly a morality that has been selected for or crafted in some creatures and not in others.”

              Morality requires choice, and it is not unreasonable to assume that lions do not make choices.

              • Z says:

                well, if you say so.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                Egads anything but that standard.

  8. Bruce Koerber says:

    Divine economy theory is really just the recognition that the equilibrium power operating in the world of human affairs is infinite and therefore incomprehensible to the limited mind of humans. But all humans who fool themselves into thinking that they can understand all of the consequences of their intervention into the economy (for the sake of humankind) over the entire time horizon are ego-driven and have no moral authority. The best and quickest way to define and describe the beautiful force of equilibrium operating in the economy is to call it the divine economy.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      How do you “recognize” anything to be infinite when by your stipulation your mind can only grasp the finite?

    • Major_Freedom says:

      Talking about infinite this and infinity that, and then saying infinite is incomprehensible to the human mind, would seem to suggest you don’t have a human mind.

      WHAT ARE YOU?!?!?

  9. Sam Geoghegan says:

    It’s fairly important to understand that what science does, is explain unknown quantities, by other unknown quantities, within set criterion. Scientists, like all of us, observe patterns and seek replicability, which is defined by the parameters of observation and experiment. The answers yielded by these methods, are expressed in constructs and nomenclature, but they aren’t the phenomena we observed.
    This is all useful, predictive and interesting, but there’s a tendency for some people; especially proponents of scientism, to conflate cause and effect with truth. Surely this is not scientific, but an extrapolation of the scientific method.

    None of this explains ‘in-between’ cause and effect; the seemingly tangential qualities of aesthetics, consciousness, emotion and purpose. How do we know that positivism is not in service to the incommensurable, as opposed to a nihilistic universe, which spat out errant self-awareness and a very clear objective to evolve?
    Seems pretty clear to me that science is poorly equipped to deal with these questions.

  10. Shane Killian says:

    The way quantum mechanics works is that it shows the universe to be fundamentally probabilistic, not deterministic. The universe only appears deterministic because, on the scale of molecules and above, these probabilities tend to converge on 0 or 100%. That’s why I think the whole free will/determinism thing is a false dichotomy.

    There doesn’t seem to be any part of our will that’s separate from the physical brain. If a certain part of the brain is damaged in a certain way, the person will suddenly make different decisions–a peaceful person may become violent, for example. I read of one case where a woman who had a corpus callosotomy (surgery to separate the two brain hemispheres) ended up with one side of her brain believing in God and the other side being an atheist. Note that this isn’t a split personality; it’s one personality, who is either theist or atheist depending on which hemisphere is making the decision at the time.

  11. Ken B says:

    Do you believe in electro negativity, covalent bonds? You can do chemistry with those as primitives. You might extrapolate from them to physics hypotheses for example. When quantum physics explains the chemistry and refutes the hypotheses do you reject covalent bonds and electro negativity, or just accept they are not what you first thought they were, and don’t imply what you thought they implied?

  12. Z says:

    Here’s a question Bob? is eating meat murder? You should discuss this one day.

  13. Travis says:

    Bob, what’s interesting about this post is that, like the issue of hell, you seem to be very much in line with Orthodox Christian thought. The early Fathers of the Church were always very clear that dualism is not compatible with Christianity – human beings are wholistic creatures. The soul and the body, together, constitute what we are. We are not pure spirit trapped in a body, nor are we strictly made of matter. In fact, according to the Orthodox Church, humans were made to be a microcosm of the universe, called to take on God’s divine nature of perfect, co-suffering love. And this kind of thought isn’t necessarily limited to Eastern ChristIanity. Rob Bell, the evangelical pastor who wrote “Love Wins”, has written an interesting book that touches on what you’ve written here titled: “What We Talk About When We Talk About God”. It’s well worth checking out.

  14. Jake says:

    Here’s a set of assumptions:

    1) God created and designed the whole universe, including humans
    2) God is perfect
    3) Humans have free will

    I don’t see how all three of these could be true at the same time.

  15. Ken P says:

    This reminds me of Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence. If matter in the universe is finite and time is infinite, everything is bound to repeat itself. It’s a clever theory, but has some flaws, such as the fact that distances could be infinitely divisible. That may not matter because there may be finite numbers of outcomes, like either you get in a wreck at a stop light or you don’t and the infinite number of almosts don’t count. It also doesn’t take into account that patterns could develop towards some repetitive equilibrium of events that exclude previously experienced events.

    The routing of the laryngeal nerve in the giraffe is a major obstacle to any intelligent design theory that does not allow the designer to use evolution as a paintbrush. An intelligent designer would not route it that way; legacy hardware baggage as a consequence of evolution makes much more sense.

    If we were to look at mind as a society of neurons, consciousness could arguably be emergent. Many theories of consciousness especially those among artificial intelligence thinkers see the concept of “I” as an illusion.

    Bacterial cultures are groups of genetically identical cells that communicate about their environment and behavior like swarming emerges. This is somewhat analogous to a network of neurons. They tend to do things in a statistical manner, as if maybe 10% are contrarians that can take things a different direction if the majority make the wrong decision. It seems quite Bayesian. Of course, one could also posit that such a bacterial society is actually making deterministic decisions. Perhaps there are rules/patterns to be followed such as “if all of my bacterial neighbors are making the- glucose is high let’s party- reaction, then I must make the contrarian decision as if glucose is low regardless of what my own glucose readings are telling me.

    When it comes to the physics question, I think perturbation is the big problem. I find it interesting that in quantum gravity, things like gravity and space-time are emergent phenomena.

  16. Jonathan Bartlett says:

    Great post on a difficult topic! I want to chime in with a few things you missed, though. Indeterminism *does* help the mind/body problem, even if it is statistical. Statistically random processes are only statistically random when run over an infinite time period, and can suffer any finite amount of influence and still be random. Therefore, if a particle has a 50/50 chance of doing X, a mind could influence that outcome, and it wouldn’t have a negative effect on the long-term probabilities *at all*.

    Second, I think that the option you chose is problematic, because it means that the natural appearance of causation is false. I think this is hazardous, because it divorces one of our most primary methods of knowledge (correlating effects with actions we take) from reality. If this were the case, then all of our knowledge is suspect.

    As to whether or not everything “looks” physically caused, the fact is it doesn’t. Only certain phenomena behave in the manner that you specify. It’s a selection effect. Physics tends to study things that give material-causation-like answers. However, even they are coming against walls and having to invoke probabilities to describe their phenomena (which is another way of saying that it *doesn’t* actually follow physics).

    Finally, there are many phenomena which go against the sort of reductionisms which are present in physics. Creativity is one of these areas (specifically, programming goes against physicalist assumptions — the ability to program is a violation of the Halting Problem, which is only a problem for physicalist ideas of the mind).

    I gave a talk on physicalism and dualism last year that you and your philosophically-inclined readers might be interested in: http://www.blythinstitute.org/site/sections/37

  17. Bob Robertson says:

    Deterministic or Free Will is a false dichotomy. If there is Free Will, then there’s no issue. If it’s all deterministic, then the illusion of “Free Will” is irrelevant. Believing in Free Will would be predetermined.

    None of this requires any gods. Life, like the free market, is sufficiently complex that what seems like “order” emerges out of chaos. Chemical processes that work, complex molecules that last, do. Those that don’t work, or don’t last, don’t.

    The inability for people to grasp the immense gulf of time in which these random forces nurture survival is no different than the Keynesian who thinks that a pencil magically appears on his desk, unable to grasp the vast interactions of people with no knowledge of each other who do their own thing, and make a pencil.

    I’ve been surprised that someone so well versed in emergent order out of the chaos of the Free Market could be incapable of grasping the emergent order of natural selection out of the chaos that is life.

    They are the same thing. They work for the same reasons.

    If evolution is not a fact, where are “antibiotic-resistant bacteria” coming from?

  18. Jonathan Bartlett says:

    Bob Robertson -

    Austrian economics is actually inherently, methodologically, dualistic. The economic actually isn’t spontaneous order. The only thing that is spontaneous is price, and that is from well-defined social rules governing money and purchasing, rather than happenstance and luck. The rest of it comes from creativity, not spontaneity.

    In addition, your understanding of evolution and its alternatives are rather poor. I don’t see why antibiotic-resistant bacteria are an argument for evolution. If by “evolution” you simply mean “change”, then there is literally no one who disagrees. If by evolution, you mean the developing of complex mechanisms, then your example is quite problematic, because most antibiotic resistance comes from dismantling of complex systems rather than new ones. The places where variation does lead to novel genes (i.e. adaptive immunity), usually the organism had pre-existing information directing the mutations to the right spot to deliver the mutations. In the case of adaptive immunity, the cell focuses mutations down from 3,000,000,000 base pairs to about 600. That’s not emergence, that’s design.

    For more information on evolution, you should take a look at my article on the many types of evolution.

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