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Would you consider yourself a determinist?

  1. Apr 11, 2008 #1
    Just curious. I would say that I believe it to be true, but I seem to notice that a sizeable portion of pure scientists I come into contact with use quantum mechanics as a loop-hole for free will. I initially thought that the randomness attributed to QM could just be a gap in knowledge, but further reading on the subject has made me shy away from saying that when discussing determinism.

    I don't know, I say that even if a level of randomness exists, the door for free will doesn't seem to open any wider when I try to rationalize it out. Thoughts?
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  3. Apr 11, 2008 #2
  4. Apr 11, 2008 #3

    Doc Al

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    I agree that any inherent quantum randomness cannot rescue "libertarian" or contra-causal free will.

  5. Apr 11, 2008 #4
    I'm am a compatibilist and would like to argue that all versions of freedom worth wanting is compatible with our behavior being caused. In fact, I would argue that all forms of freedom (and moral responsibility) presuppose that our behavior has a causal connection to our brains and our surroundings. I think that our brains and environment have a causal connection to out behavior and actions.

    Two good books on the topic from that perspective is "Freedom Evolves" by Daniel Dennett and Richard Carrier's "Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism" (pp. 97-118)
  6. Apr 11, 2008 #5
    Consciousness works on a different level than quantum mechanics.
    Random or not, the brain does not control QM, nor do thoughts, which means no matter how the physical system works, the mind, if built upon such a system, will always be a 'slave' to that system.
  7. Apr 11, 2008 #6


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    QM is not proof of non-determinism. It has a statistical element to it, but I don't think we even consider statistics non-determinant. I would like to argue that it's less determinant, but I have nothing to qualify or quantify that.

    One of the analogies I came up with is a path-independent integral (I don't know the technical mathematical term, but it pertains to conservative forces in physics)

    after you've taken the integral as your dependent variable goes form limit a to limit b, it always sums to the same result, no matter what path you take from a to b.

    The analogy would be to compare it to freewill and determinism, where the end and beginning of the universe is determined (in terms of location of particles and time), but the path's the individual particles take over time is not necissarily determined.
  8. Apr 11, 2008 #7


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    Is there such a thing as eitherwayilism? The way I see it, if there is freewill or isn't, we should base our actions on the assumption that there is. That's the lesson of Oedipus.

    Note: I believe in freewill and not determinism.
  9. Apr 11, 2008 #8
    You know how that story ended, right?
  10. Apr 12, 2008 #9
    I would argue that free will presupposes determinism in some form. What do you think about such an argument?
  11. Apr 12, 2008 #10


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  12. Apr 12, 2008 #11


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    Not much without an explanation....
  13. Apr 12, 2008 #12
    Well ok, but Oedipus, the story, was about fate. There is literally nothing Oedipus could have done, nor anyone else, to change his fate. This sort of thinking was common in that time, where people tended towards the view that the gods were capricious and that life was cruel as a result.

    So it really didn't matter how good or bad Oedipus was, he was doomed from the moment he was born, simply because that was his fate. Thats not exactly 'determinism' but it doesn't really support any standard idea of freewill either. Stoicism and fatalism are more appropriate.

    Basically, I don't understand why you would reference Oedipus in the context you did.
  14. Apr 13, 2008 #13


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    You're only halfway there: by trying to change his fate, he (and his parents) actually made it happen. So the message is that instead of trying to run from your fate, just live your life as if you own it and whatever will happen will happen.
    Do you really think Oedipus would have killed his father and married his mother if he knew who they were? Would all that have happened if his father hadn't gone to the Oracle? Incidentally, the Oracle in The Matrix has exactly the same function, but in Neo's case led one way by telling him the opposite.

    In any case, whether you agree with my interpretation or not*, Oedipus is the classic example for the topic of this thread.

    *Heck, it doesn't even have to be Sophocles's intention, though I suspect that posing the question and the irony (and perhaps not suggesting any answer at all) were his intent.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2008
  15. Apr 13, 2008 #14
    But that is NOT determinism. Determinism is about cause and effect, its a distinctly different idea than fate. With fate, in the classical sense, nothing can be done to avoid it.... so it is not causal. The point of the story, from the ancient perspective is that even a king is subject to the 'whims' of fate and the gods. No action can prevent ones fate. This is not determinism, which means that action is predictable based on cause and effect not revelation by an oracle or god.

    In terms of the story, absolutely yes. Somehow it would have happened. Its about fate. No knowledge on his part would have prevented it. The point is, even though Oedipus is a good and noble man, his tragic fate is still completely unavoidable. Its where the word fatalism comes from.

    Ugh....and don't even get me started on the Matrix... in terms of philosophy it was a great special effects film.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2008
  16. Apr 13, 2008 #15
    On determinism (or in my case, on compatibilism), our actions proceed causally from our nature. Who we are determine what we do (along with environmental influences and sense perception). However, if this type of determinism, our actions have no causal relationship with who we are. They are, for a lack of a better term, random. I would like to argue that libertarian free will implies that are our actions are arbitrary and random.

    Determinism does not imply inevitability. In fact, it implies evitability to a high degree. This is the ability of an agent to anticipate likely consequences and act to avoid undesirable ones. Evitability is entirely compatible with, and actually requires, human action being deterministic, since evitability is impossible on libertarian free will.

    If Oedipus had the knowledge it would have made him able to anticipate the likely consqeuences and act to avoid undesireable ones, in a wholly deterministic fashion.

    Last edited: Apr 13, 2008
  17. Apr 13, 2008 #16
    Why do you say this? And even more so how can you back it up.

    I don't understand how determinism can imply anything but inevitability, and you've come no closer to convincing me of such.
    If one cause leads to an effect, and that effect leads to other effects and causes, then by definition the whole system is 100% predictable from the very moment it starts, there's no way around it.
    The problem is consciousness seems to have the ability to interfer with this process, simply because it can know its choices. So how does that work?
    Which makes no sense and doesn't explain anything, if you don't mind me saying.
  18. Apr 13, 2008 #17
    If determinism is true, then how we act must be a direct result of who we are and what sense perception we receive. If it is the case that the physical brain states define who you are, then your actions is a direct result, that is, determined, by those physical brain states translating sense perception to some form of action. This is rather uncontroversial. In my view, the crucial thing here is how we define "me", because one of the central questions is, naturally, what it means for a decision to be "up to me". I'd wager that more than half of the free will debate revolves around semantics. Now let's see what the negation of determinism gives us. If determinism for human behavior is false, then it cannot be the case that our actions are determined by the physical configuration in our brain and environmental influences. But that has unacceptable consequences. For if our behavior is not caused by who we are, or what we know about the world, our desires or thoughts, then our actions must be the result of something that is not what we are, or what we know about the world. If your behavior is not causally determined, it must be random?

    I see no contradiction in being determined to change or being determined to avoid something. Oedipus can thus be thought of as being determined by the facts he has just acquired in our thought experiment to stop just before he kills his father. The act of murdering his father was avoided.

    Dennett, 2003 (p. 57) makes the following argument (a very interesying book by the way).

    "In some deterministic worlds there are avoiders avoiding harms*.
    Therefore, in some deterministic worlds some things are avoided.
    Whatever is avoided is avoidable or evitable.
    Therefore, in some deterministic worlds not everything is inevitable.
    Therefore determinism does not imply inevitability."

    * Say, a primitive hominid sees a predator coming towards him from a far on the plains, which combined with evolutionary adaptations of fear and flight-response, determines his behavior, which could in this case be to, say, flee into the jungle. So this hominid is an avoider, avoiding harm. Natural selection makes better avoiders.

    This is at least an interesting place to start.
  19. Apr 14, 2008 #18
    I think determinism remains a "common sense" view. This is because interpretations of QM that view the world as indeterministic are notoriously controversial. It is very hard to account for what an indeterministic world has to be like - how we can ultimately account for the fundamental probabilities at work in it.

    But still, I have an intuition that the world could be indeterministic, that the question is empirical. If so, the problem of what an indeterministic world has to be like (metaphysically) remains interesting whichever opinion you adopt about the actual world.
  20. Apr 14, 2008 #19
    When I refer to determinism, I do not necessarily mean the sort of Einsteinian determinism (which is incompatible with the Copenhagen Interpretation, which is mainstream), rather that our behavior are causally connected to physical brain states and our environment. That is why I prefer the term compatibilism.

    It would seem, to me at least, that quantum effects are on another level than behavior, and of course, quantum 'randomness' wouldn't seem give us any libertarian free will anyway.
  21. Apr 14, 2008 #20
    That's interesting..

    I think there are a couple problems though.
    For one no one has any solid definition of "me", it may be the result of all things I've experienced, my brain, the way my brain processes, and all the physical configurations needed.
    In such a world it would be a determined will as you say.
    But the problem is, what happens in a determined mind/world when the mind is aware of the choices it has?
    There's two basic components to choice, there's the awareness of choice, and the action that occurs after.
    An action can be any physical event, ranging from the brain to something external of the body.
    Awareness of choice is harder to define, and I don't think anyone has succeeded, but it could be said to be a mental state that predicts physical actions and their outcomes.

    If all choice is action (physical and determined), what is awareness of choice?
    If all action comes after awareness, what is awareness that causes an action? Is it another action?
    If all action comes before choice however, then where is the choice?
    Do we not make any choices at all, we just go along for the ride, but then what is awareness?

    It may be semantics as you say, but the idea remains the same.
    A human can look down a crossroad, and there's nothing to stop him from going either way, what determines the path he takes, action or choice?
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