The Will to Power–Is “Free Will” All in Your Head?: Scientific American

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This from Scientific American raises interesting questions regarding knowledge: The Will to Power–Is “Free Will” All in Your Head?

The author, Christof Koch, apparently wants to balance philosophical questions with scientific ones. I appreciate his trying—but he doesn’t succeed. Not even if we ignore the oddly inappropriate allusion to Nietzsche in the title (for which Koch may not be responsible, as titles are often written by editors instead).

His topic is the perceptual effects experienced by patients during brain surgery. Neurosurgeons have long used electrical stimulation to test what is going on in regions of the brain near where they are working. Patients, who are under local anesthetic, report various perceptual experiences during these surgeries, or their limbs may move without any intention on their part. The current article touches on both perception and motion. It describes a sensation scientists have termed “intention,” described by patients as “an urge to move a limb,” or the feeling of “a need to move the leg, elbow, or arm.” Or, as stated in one French study,

Patients made comments (in French) such as “It felt like I wanted to move my foot. Not sure how to explain,” “I had a desire to move my right hand,” or “I had a desire to roll my tongue in my mouth.” In none of these cases did they actually carry out the movement to which they referred. But the external stimulation caused an unambiguous conscious feeling of wanting to move. And this feeling arose from within, without any prompting by the examiner and not during sham stimulation.

The question this raises, as indicated in the article’s title, is whether this means intentionality is just a neural process; and if it is, whether that means that deciding to do what we do is just a neural (physical/chemical) process, too, and if our sensation of intentional decision-making is misleading. If so, that implies that human free will is an illusion.

One one level Koch seems quite appropriately cautious. His closing sentence reads,

In the debate concerning the meaning of personal freedom, these discoveries represent true progress, beyond the eternal metaphysical question of free will that will never be answered.

Scientists have made progress, he says, but there never will be an answer. Now, I’m thankful he did not jump to the materialist conclusion that the mind is necessarily a purely physical entity, subject to the same physical necessities as any other physical system. That would be a typical naturalistic/materialistic response. I applaud him for his restraint on that. He was not quite so even-handed, however, near the beginning of his article:

Surely there must have been times in high school or college when you laid in bed, late at night, and wondered where your “free will” came from? What part of the brain—if it is the brain—is responsible for deciding to act one way or another? One traditional answer is that this is not the job of the brain at all but rather of the soul. Hovering above the brain like Casper the Friendly Ghost, the soul freely perturbs the networks of the brain, thereby triggering the neural activity that will ultimately lead to behavior.

Although such dualistic accounts are emotionally reassuring and intuitively satisfying, they break down as soon as one digs a bit deeper. How can this ghost, made out of some kind of metaphysical ectoplasm, influence brain matter without being detected? What sort of laws does Casper follow? Science has abandoned strong dualistic explanations in favor of natural accounts that assign causes and responsibility to specific actors and mechanisms that can be further studied. And so it is with the notion of the will.

The “Casper” caricature is not very “Friendly” to serious discourse on the topic. The language of “emotionally reassuring and intuitively satisfying” is rather patronizing. And “metaphysical ectoplasm“? Really, now.

What’s especially telling, however, is the question, “What sort of laws does Casper follow?” It reminds me of Steven Schafersman’s absurdly stated willingness to accept the spiritual if only we discover the “mechanism” by which it operates. Here’s what Koch is saying: Some people believe Casper provides humans with free will, but science can’t accept that possibility because (among other things) it doesn’t know what laws govern Casper’s action. But what does this mean? Scientists cannot accept the reality of free will unless we can discover the laws that rule it!

It’s an absurd thing to say: free will can only make sense if it’s ruled by law, which in the world of natural science, is fairly well synonymous with necessity. Free will is doing what you must do by necessity.

The confusion appears to be that of the scientistic mindset, that cannot break free of natural-law-rules-all thinking long enough to recognize what an absurdity it is.

What’s also on display here is the assumption that there is no knowledge but that which can be gained by science. Now, it’s perfectly appropriate for science to “abandon” a search for “strong dualistic explanations,” for that’s not the kind of thing that science is competent to search for. Here’s what I mean by that: if there are strong dualistic explanations out there, and if they are true ones, they may or may not be discoverable, but they will certainly not be discoverable by means of science, any more than you could discover a sliver of hay in a needle-stack by searching with a magnet. It’s the wrong way to go about looking for it. You might find all kinds of other things, but not what you’re really after.

Koch might recognize that science isn’t the only way to study matters like free will, but if so, he surely didn’t say so. He apparently assumes the soul can be studied only if its effects can be detected somehow (apparently its interaction with the brain doesn’t count). He assumes the soul can be studied only if the laws governing its action can be sorted out. He knows that neither of these will ever happen. And so he concludes free will is an “eternal metaphysical question … that will never be answered.”

It will never be answered by science; that’s true enough. Does that mean it will never be answered? For my part, I’m quite sure that science isn’t our only way to know true things about the world. And I’m quite sure this “eternal metaphysical question” already has been answered. If you think I’m wrong on that, then please feel free to choose to disagree.

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160 Responses to “ The Will to Power–Is “Free Will” All in Your Head?: Scientific American ”

  1. I intentionally passed by another point Koch made in this article: the interaction problem, or just how it is that the non-physical can stand in a causal relationship with the physical. Let me add two points by way of footnote here.

    One, what interested me in the article was Koch’s implicit view of knowledge, and I’m hoping whatever discussion follows here will focus on that.

    Two, if anyone does want to discuss the interaction problem, your challenge will be to state the problem in such a way that it does not commit Schaferman’s or Koch’s error of assuming that the soul/mind/spiritual aspect of reality must act like some kind of mechanism or interact with physical reality in some mechanistic way. If you can state the problem without begging the question for materialism in that way, then it will become interesting to talk about. Otherwise I’ll call you on your logical fallacy in advance.

  2. Fundamentally no mechanism = fundamentally random.

    When you choose X without any mechanism for choosing X, you have chosen X for no reason whatsoever. Your choice was random. Please don’t say it’s not random because you chose it. That’s like saying that neutron decay isn’t random because it was this particular neutron which decayed. The necessity that you be involved in your own decisions cannot make it non-random, any more than the necessity that a neutron be involved in its own decay can make it non-random.

    What was the reason you chose X? If you had a reason, you had a mechanism.

    Note: rationalization doesn’t count. If I randomly chose to buy a Toyota instead of a Ford, I know I could later come up with reasons that a person might use to support a similar decision. This would be different from me doing an analysis a head of time which revealed an unambiguous reason for choosing Toyota, and making my choice mechanistic.

    Also, if your choice was partially determined, then something fundamentally random was the tiebreaker.

    You guys have never answered this. You just insist that it’s not determined and not random, as if there can be square circles.

    Finally, how we assign responsibility for mechanistic decisions is irrelevant to the question at hand. Please put it out of your head. It will just bias your analysis. Your subconscious is busy saying that “personal responsibility will evaporate if compatibilism is true, and that will be horrible.” Please ignore it.

  3. DL,

    What was the reason you chose X? If you had a reason, you had a mechanism.

    Adding to Tom’s comment…are incorrect/invalid/irrational reasons the result of a different mechanism, and how do you (or the methods of science) distinguish between these mechanisms and the mechanisms of correct/valid/rational reasons?

  4. Tom,

    When you say “I chose X because of Y” you are citing a reason for your decision. You mean by such a statement that Y mechanistically caused you to choose X. If you don’t mean this, what could you mean?

    I suppose you could mean “I chose X for no actual reason at all, but there could exist a hypothetical mechanism that would use Y as the mechanistic cause of choosing X.” (rationalizing)

  5. DL,

    You mean by such a statement that Y mechanistically caused you to choose X.

    You must be using the word ‘mechanistic’ in a metaphorical sense because there is no an actual, physical mechanism at work here.

  6. That’s like saying that neutron decay isn’t random because it was this particular neutron which decayed.

    Bad physics, worse philosophizing.

    Neutron decay is not ontologically random. If it were truly random in that sense, then indeed there would be no causal mechanism… But, we know well DL’s a priori unscientific and pseudo-philosophical rejection of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and hence we understand what animates his error. We also know DL believes (because he’s stated so categorically) that the only things we can know are our ideas–not the things themselves. So, he believes we can simply think things through and impose them on reality no matter how hard reality objects to such nonsense. That’s why DL’s opening volley (the equation) is so silly.

    Regarding the quantum world, we’re currently forced to employ statistical methods and statistically-based mathematical formalisms to describe quantum-level events because of our epistemic limitations. But those limitations no more impose themselves upon quantum-level realities than the mathematical formalisms DL implies actualize reality.

    What was the reason you chose X? If you had a reason, you had a mechanism.

    No. Again, flawed thinking… and Tom spotted this immediately. If one has a reason for choosing, that choice demands an explanation… unless, of course, one is a priori wedded to (1) a rejection of the PSR and (2) that reality is reducible to physical mechanisms. It’s not a physical mechanism but a causal relation that is at issue, and one should not merely swallow reductionist accounts that causal events are physical mechanistic events.

    That’s also why this gem is such an ignorant statement: You just insist that it’s not determined and not random. Choices are not mechanistically determined, but that in no way makes them random, i.e., without causal explanation. “Never answered the question”? Puhleez… just because DL doesn’t accept rational arguments from critical thinkers doesn’t mean we haven’t “answered” his reductionist objections.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if DL came clean and stated clearly whether, within the bounds of human nature (i.e., we can’t “will” to fly just like DL can’t “will” reductionism upon everything), he believes we have the capacity for free will. If he insists we don’t have free wills, then why is DL trying to convince us to change our minds (i.e., choose… which presupposes a free will)? Why would someone trying to deny free will be trying to do so, well, freely? What possible “purpose” could that serve?

    If, on the other hand, he insists we do have free wills, why would he try so emotionally (leaving aside the question-begging of allegedly knowing what’s going on in other peoples’ subconsciouses) plead with critical thinkers (“Please put it out of your head. It will just bias your analysis. Your subconscious is busy saying… Please ignore it”) to have us ignore the question of moral responsibility… which is incoherent without a free will? DL, of course, implies he is without bias and would have us believe he really knows what’s going on.

  7. Thanks for that good analysis, Holopupenko.

    Your final two paragraphs echo the last thing I said in the blog post:

    If you think I’m wrong on that, then please feel free to choose to disagree.

  8. Holopupenko wrote:

    Bad physics, worse philosophizing.

    Neutron decay is not ontologically random. If it were truly random in that sense, then indeed there would be no causal mechanism…

    You’re wrong, Holopupenko. The orthodox (Copenhagen) quantum theory holds that quantum randomness is indeed ontological. Attempts to reduce it to epistemological randomness (e. g. hidden variables) have been a failure.

  9. DL, you asked,

    When you say “I chose X because of Y” you are citing a reason for your decision. You mean by such a statement that Y mechanistically caused you to choose X. If you don’t mean this, what could you mean?

    In your world there seem to be only two forces: absolute mechanistic necessity and randomness. (I’m using “forces” loosely, I’m sure you understand.) On what grounds do you say these are the only two possible forces? Why cannot a reason be a third? If you take an a priori stand that there is only necessity and randomness, then you are assuming naturalism; you are begging the question. Or do you suppose that in debates about God we must impose the same ontological restrictions on God himself? Could God himself have no freedom of will, even hypothetically?

    Further: if there is only randomness and necessity, what happens to human agency? Is there any sense in which a person, a self, actually does anything? Does human decision-making mean anything whatever?

    Further: if there is only randomness and necessity, what is the ontological source of our disagreement? Are we both operating in randomness? Then why would either of us think there’s any rationality in either of our positions? Are we both operating out of necessity? Then we have to believe what we believe, regardless of rationality, and rationality in fact is removed from the argument entirely. Is one of us operating more in necessity and the other more in randomness? What would be left of reasoning in that case?

    Further: you think I’m wrong. Did you feel free to choose to disagree? Were you in fact free to choose to disagree? If you say you did not choose to disagree, then you ought also to acknowledge you did not choose to disagree on the basis of any reasons for disagreement. What could reasons have to do with your choice of position, when you did not choose your position in the first place?

  10. Whether the Copenhagen interpretation is right or wrong, this attempt to limit all causation to necessity and chance still requires some non-question-begging philosophical support. I could happily accept that in the natural world (defined as that which is at least in principle accessible to study by the natural sciences), all causation is either by necessity or chance. But to jump from there to saying that all causation whatsoever is either by necessity or chance is simply to assume that there is no God and no spiritual reality. That’s a great start to a circular argument against the existence of God and of spiritual reality.

  11. Tom,

    Think about the meaning of necessity. There’s a trivial sense in which everything that happens happens necessarily. In a physicalist world, you could even say that a random neutron decay was necessary in some trivial sense, as in, history is what it is. However, we’re not interested in that.

    We are interested in the past (or in constants) necessitating events in the future. I drop a mass from the Tower of Pisa, and it must necessarily fall to the ground because the past determines the future (at least in a physicalist picture of what is happening.

    So this is where we get a definition of determinism. The outcome of an event is determined when it is made necessary by factors in the past or by constant factors outside of time, e.g., by factors outside our spacetime continuum.

    Whether one is a physicalist or not, it is possible that there could be an event outcome that is not determined. Now, presumably, you would agree that an event that is determined by nothing whatsoever is random. I can’t imagine anything more random.

    So, I have covered the two extreme cases, total necessity/determination, and total lack of determination giving us total randomness.

    The interesting question is what happens in the cases that are partially determined. After all, even in neutron decay, not everything about the final state is random. There are conservation laws that dictate that only certain final state energy and momentum are allowed for the decay products. However, the direction of the particles in the decay seems to be random.

    How is partial determinism handled in quantum mechanics?

    Quantum mechanics says that the probability of an outcome is what is determined by physical laws. So there might be a 66% chance of seeing spin-up and a 33% chance of seeing spin down. How is the outcome actually realized? Basically, we throw 2 red balls and one green ball in a tub, and draw randomly.

    If QM described your decision to buy a car, it might say there’s a 69% chance you’ll buy a Ford, and a 31% chance you’ll buy a Toyota. When you actually decide, you would do the equivalent of put 69 red balls and 31 green balls in a big barrel, and draw a ball at random. If the ball is red, you decided on Toyota.

    To sum up, when combining determinism with randomness, you get a random draw from a determined probability.

    You might wonder whether you can get away from this sort of picture. Can the draw from the barrel be non-random? No. If it was non-random, there would have to be a reason for drawing non-randomly. Any such reason would be determining the draw, and so it would be changing the probability distribution. This would contradict the initial assumption that we had accounted for determined factors with the probability distribution.

    Suppose that you are deciding whether to buy a Ford or a Toyota (and these are your only two options). What possible reason could you come up with for buying the Ford over the Toyota? Let’s say you cite the aesthetics of the exterior design. This reason existed before you made your decision. If you like pointy-shaped cars, that is part of your pre-existing condition, and so I would have factored this into the probability distribution. Maybe you think the Toyota is too pricey. You are well-known to be a thrifty person, so we would have incorporated this potential reason into our probability distribution, etc.

    You might say that your selection of a reason to act did not predate the decision. But then, if your selection of a reason depended on nothing, it too was random because nothing inside or outside the universe could determine it.

    Either way, there’s no way to escape the picture of a random selection from a probability distribution.

    Just one note, here. Maybe we actually agree on this, and it’s just the terminology that is problematic for you.

    If you are saying that the non-deterministic part of your choice does not depend on anything in the past, then we are actually in complete agreement. In that case, you would simply be reading more into the definition of random than I am. For me, determinism and randomness are terms that are defined independently of any moral connotation. However, if you always define determinism and randomness to have moral connotation, then you won’t be able to see what I am saying.

    Another note. What do I assume when I discuss determinism and randomness above? I assume that it is meaningful to ask whether an event located in time is necessarily caused by something in its past or by something outside of time (i.e., a constant). This assumption is as valid under dualism as it is under naturalism.

    Indeed, everything I have said works just as well under dualism. Make the reasoning process non-physical, and my argument applies just as well. Thoughts are either determined and necessitated by past thoughts and experiences, or they are random, or they are a combination of the two (a random draw from a determined distribution).

    You tell me there is another possibility, but that is logically incoherent to me.

  12. BTW, I do believe I have free will, but I define it differently.

    A decision is free when
    1) I perceive that I could act in several different ways,
    2) I perceive that my analysis of the outcome of my possible actions will determine which action I select,
    3) I simulate the outcome of my different actions,
    4) I select the action I will take,
    5) most of the time, the outcome of my action is as I predicted it would be.

    Nothing in this definition is problematic in a deterministic world, or a world that is mostly deterministic.

    I intuit that, if I rewound the clock back to the point I bought my last car, had I then preferred a different car, I could have bought a different car.

    It is NOT my intuition that, if I rewound the clock back to the point I bought my last car, and everything was identical such that I preferred the car I originally purchased, I might have purchased a different car. That would be a confounding of my free will.

    So, determinism is consistent with free will, and lack of determinism confounds it.

  13. olegt:

    You’re telling me, an associate professor of physics with a nuclear engineering background to boot, that the Copenhagen interpretation (which is not scientific) is the “orthodox” one? Really? Leaving aside my bona fides, you’re quite ignorant of the many quantum interpretations and controversies out there… even that bastion of sound-bite pseudo-intellectualism known as Wikipedia would take issue with you. This just isn’t sinking in: our mathematical descriptions of reality neither exhaust reality nor do they actualize reality. Your clear belief is just because we employ statistical formalisms to describe quantum-level reality then reality IS ontologically random (i.e., without causal explanation). Unbelievable.

    Your philosophical ignorance is no better: “epistemological randomness (hidden variables)”? Huh? Did you just equate these two concepts because you thought they were the same thing and because you think you sound profound in doing so?

  14. Holopupenko,

    Leave your credentials out of the equation. They would cancel out against mine, I assure you.

    The Copenhagen interpretation is the orthodox one. We teach it to our undergraduate and graduate students. Forget Wikipedia, crack open some recent books. In Quantum Enigma, a book that thoroughly reviews the various interpretations of QM, Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner—physicists at UC Santa Cruz—write in Ch. 10:

    Indeed, most physicists want to avoid dealing with that skeleton in the closet, the role of conscious observer. The Copenhagen interpretation allows that avoidance. It is our discipline’s “orthodox” interpretation.

    I am unimpressed with their dated emphasis of the conscious observer*, but they are spot on about the place of the Copenhagen interpretation in modern physics.

    *That’s sooo 1930s. Read some Wojciech Zurek is you want the modern perspective.

  15. To add to my previous comment:

    And no, quantum randomness is not like the randomness of a non-integrable classical system. The latter stems from our ignorance about the exact initial conditions, the former does not: you can know everything there is to know about a quantum system, yet the outcome of a measurement may not be predetermined. That’s Copenhagen, of course.

  16. Tom:

    It IS irrelevant–that’s the whole point!

    olegt:

    You’re personal opinion is duly noted… but it would be nice to understand why you so sloppily equivocated “ontological limitations” with “hidden variables”. In addition, claiming that something is somehow not correct simply because it’s old (that’s sooo 1930’s) is unscientific and the fallacy of historicism. Even if we accept that fallacy, this means that in, say, two minutes, your personal interpretations are, well, sooo old. And, on top of the mathematical actualization of reality you keep imposing, you keep missing Tom’s point: the interpretations are not scientific ones, but you impart scientific weight to that particular interpretation that fits your personal notions of what reality must be. Finally, your very dear Copenhagen Interpretation permits avoiding conscious observers? Really? Do me a favor: reread that claim and let the implication sink in. Did it ever occur to you how incoherent it is to claim (by implication) that the observer is permitted to (again, by implication) step outside the universe which contains him? Admittedly, we’ve gone beyond the point of this post… but only because you’re bringing things in that are (1) irrelevant to Tom’s point (2) wrong… along the lines of the unscientific claims of Mermin and Singham.

  17. doctor(logic),

    Your 10:41 am response leaves me with several questions.

    1. Why are we not interested in the “trivial” sense in which everything that happens happens necessarily? I thought that was the whole question of determinism.

    2. You define a continuum that ranges from completely determined to completely random, and in between there are events that are partly determined. I am wondering whether this is necessarily a one-dimensional continuum. It’s the same question I asked in my 9:25 am comment, worded differently: is there only chance and necessity in your ontology? If so, then why? What is your evidence for that? How do we know that there is not a third point of causation, so that causation is (metaphorically) situated on a triangle: one vertex is chance, one is necessity, and one is choice made by free persons?

    3. You say that “another possibility … is logically incoherent for me.” It’s only logically incoherent if we know by some logical deduction that there exists only the one-dimensional, chance-necessity continuum.

    4. What is your response to my point that the unidimensional chance-necessity pair is a circular way of defining God out of existence? When you think of God as a hypothetical being who is being debated, do you think of that God as being subject to the same chance and necessity? If so, then you are arguing against a God nobody believes in here. If not, then your ontology must admit that there is more to causation than chance and necessity.

    Regarding your 10:49 am comment:

    Who or what is the “I” that is making these choices? It seems to me it is not doctor(logic) the agent who does things, but doctor(logic) the hapless passenger on the train of chance and necessity who is watching what chance and necessity do; falsely thinking that he is driving the train.

    Here’s another way of asking the question: You repeat the word “perceive” in your first two steps. What if it’s only perception, and the perception is a lie? Then you could not act in several different ways, and your analysis of the outcome of your actions has no effect on what you do, and (by extension) you do not simulate the outcome of different actions, and you do not select the action you prefer.

    Finally, as far as I can tell you did not answer two crucial questions I asked at 9:25. I’ll give you another chance:

    Further: if there is only randomness and necessity, what is the ontological source of our disagreement? Are we both operating in randomness? Then why would either of us think there’s any rationality in either of our positions? Are we both operating out of necessity? Then we have to believe what we believe, regardless of rationality, and rationality in fact is removed from the argument entirely. Is one of us operating more in necessity and the other more in randomness? What would be left of reasoning in that case?

    Further: you think I’m wrong. Did you feel free to choose to disagree? Were you in fact free to choose to disagree? If you say you did not choose to disagree, then you ought also to acknowledge you did not choose to disagree on the basis of any reasons for disagreement. What could reasons have to do with your choice of position, when you did not choose your position in the first place?

  18. Tom,

    1. Why are we not interested in the “trivial” sense in which everything that happens happens necessarily? I thought that was the whole question of determinism.

    A non-trivial law says that whenever you have condition A, you get outcome B. That is, a non-trivial law is a generalization that applies to many events. Conceivably, some laws might be applicable only to rare situations, e.g., maybe condition A obtains in only a few rare situations, but A always causes outcome B.

    Now imagine a universe in which every event outcome is random. There are then two ways of looking at this universe. In the first and most familiar way of looking at this universe, we might say that there are no laws at all. That is, the definition of a law doesn’t apply.

    The other possibility is to say that there are as many “laws” as there are events, and each one of these “laws” applies only to the one event it describes. That is, no law is general. I think this is a degenerate and uninteresting case. That’s all I’m saying.

    2. You define a continuum that ranges from completely determined to completely random, and in between there are events that are partly determined. I am wondering whether this is necessarily a one-dimensional continuum.

    Tom, it’s one-dimensional because it is the answer to a single question and not two questions. The question is, is the outcome of the event determined/necessitated by the past (or by constant factors) or not. If there was another question we were asking, we could add more dimensions, but there isn’t, in this context.

    Where the question is applicable, you get only one dimension. And the questionis applicable to any event which is located in time, such as a decision.

    3. You say that “another possibility … is logically incoherent for me.” It’s only logically incoherent if we know by some logical deduction that there exists only the one-dimensional, chance-necessity continuum.

    Spot on.

    4. What is your response to my point that the unidimensional chance-necessity pair is a circular way of defining God out of existence?

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Calvinists don’t believe in contra-causal free will. Clearly, it is possible to believe in a God within a uni-dimensional picture.

    Also, if God always makes the best decision he possibly can, that seems quite compatible with determinism. If God is faced with several equally good choices, he chooses randomly, for if he had a reason to choose one over the other, the one he chooses could not be equally as good as the choices he rejected.

    You repeat the word “perceive” in your first two steps. What if it’s only perception, and the perception is a lie? Then you could not act in several different ways, and your analysis of the outcome of your actions has no effect on what you do, and (by extension) you do not simulate the outcome of different actions, and you do not select the action you prefer.

    Well, what I perceive is that I am going to weigh the likely outcome of each action, and I’m going to settle on one of them. While it may be necessary that I settle on the one I’ll settle upon, I don’t know which one that is until I go through the process of weighing. Decision-making is real because decision-making is a process that leads to the outcome. It’s not as if the outcome would occur without the weighing and deciding.

    Weighing a decision, then, is a process like, say, ignition. Suppose that there is ignition, and the spark creates a fire, and the fire may burn the forest to ashes. However, it may be that the fire will burn itself out before it spreads to the rest of the forest. If determinism is true, and, say, the forest will burn to ashes, that doesn’t mean it will burn to ashes without there having been ignition. Ignition is part of the process, and without it, there cannot be ashes where the forest was. Likewise, if I act to, say, buy a Ford, I can’t take that action unless I have weighed whether I prefer Ford or Toyota. It makes no sense to me to say I didn’t choose because the outcome was determined. If I didn’t choose, I would take no actions at all.

  19. Holopupenko wrote:

    Your clear belief is just because we employ statistical formalisms to describe quantum-level reality then reality IS ontologically random (i.e., without causal explanation). Unbelievable.

    That’s not just me, Holopupenko, that’s orthodox quantum mechanics. Take the pure state of an electron spin pointing up along the z axis. If you then measure the x projection of the spin you get +1/2 and −1/2 with equal probabilities. Note that the state is pure and therefore it has zero entropy. It is thus not the lack of knowledge that prevents us from predicting the outcome of the measurement, it is the raw, intrinsic randomness of this outcome. So says the standard, Copenhagen version of quantum mechanics.

    You’re personal opinion is duly noted… but it would be nice to understand why you so sloppily equivocated “ontological limitations” with “hidden variables”.

    I didn’t. Go back and reread what I wrote.

    In addition, claiming that something is somehow not correct simply because it’s old (that’s sooo 1930’s) is unscientific and the fallacy of historicism. Even if we accept that fallacy, this means that in, say, two minutes, your personal interpretations are, well, sooo old.

    It’s not just the age, Holopupenko. People have made progress since the 1930s. Back then you could tell a nice tale of Schroedinger’s cat, but these days we have a quantum theory of measurement that deals with decoherence without invoking a conscious observer. Read Zurek to get a (much needed) update.

    And, on top of the mathematical actualization of reality you keep imposing, you keep missing Tom’s point: the interpretations are not scientific ones, but you impart scientific weight to that particular interpretation that fits your personal notions of what reality must be.

    You’re wrong. The Copenhagen interpretation is a misnomer. Unlike the other interpretations that appeared mostly recently, the Copenhagen “interpretation” is merely the standard formulation of the quantum theory. Here is a historian of physics Helge Kragh in his recent book Quantum Generations: A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century:

    The complementarity principle became the cornerstone of what was later referred to as the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. Pauli even stated that quantum mechanics might be called “complementarity theory,” in analogy with “relativity theory.” And Peierls later claimed that “when you refer to the Copenhagen interpretation of the mechanics what you really mean is quantum mechanics” (Whittaker 1996, 160)… In fact, the term “Copenhagen interpretation” was not used in the 1930s but first entered the physicists’ vocabulary in 1955, when Heisenberg used it in criticizing certain unorthodox interpretations of quantum mechanics.

    That’s why I prefer to say Copenhagen formulation.

    Finally, your very dear Copenhagen Interpretation permits avoiding conscious observers? Really? Do me a favor: reread that claim and let the implication sink in. Did it ever occur to you how incoherent it is to claim (by implication) that the observer is permitted to (again, by implication) step outside the universe which contains him?

    Sounds like you have never heard of the density matrix, my dear colleague. It’s a physical quantity that was invented specifically for describing the quantum state of a system that is entangled with the rest of the Universe. Landau and Lifshitz, Vol. 3, Ch. 14. Enjoy!

  20. Tom:

    If you take an a priori stand that there is only necessity and randomness, then you are assuming naturalism; you are begging the question.

    To understand the natural world, you basically need observation, deduction and induction. Assuming the supernatural (free will, the soul, God) exists, how would you characterize its effect on the natural world as measured by observation, deduction and induction?

    If the effect isn’t random, it seems to me it would be detectable by applying deductive reasoning to inductive observations. But if the effect is random, I don’t see how it would provide any hope or help to believers.

    Note that I’m still in the process of understanding the basics of your belief, Tom. Feel free to point me to prior posts for insight.

  21. From the OP:

    What part of the brain—if it is the brain—is responsible for deciding to act one way or another?

    I’d like one of the materialists or anti-theists to explain what they think the significance of that statement is.

  22. William Bradford:

    From the OP:

    What part of the brain—if it is the brain—is responsible for deciding to act one way or another?

    I’d like one of the materialists or anti-theists to explain what they think the significance of that statement is.

    As a materialist, I would say the question is akin to asking:
    What part of a computer’s CPU is responsible for output given a particular input?

    A fairly uninteresting question unless you’re really interested in transistors.

  23. olegt:

    You’re limiting yourself to mathematics and imposing that abstract descriptive formalism as actualizing reality. That’s bad philosophizing (exactly what mathematical formalism buttresses your philosophizing?) and really bad physics. Your “density matrix” suggestion is a perfect example: quite literally you’re saying the math actualizes the world to be what it is–exactly flipping reality on its head.

    Observations dictate the descriptor–not the other way around: the map doesn’t actualize the territory–yet you buy into an unscientific interpretation (“formulation” is a convenient mask behind which you hide) that asserts precisely that. Did you really miss Tom’s point that an “I” is always involved? I don’t care what mathematico-physical formalism you bandy about: some “I” had to formulate them.

    You’re taking the same unscientific approach to philosophical interpretations as “Al Gore” imposes upon the myth of anthropogenic global warming: “it’s settled!” Really? The philosophical error known as the Copenhagen Interpretation is now unassailable? There are no other interpretations out there? Physics is no longer contingent upon new evidence, knowledge, etc.? Really?

    No one is arguing against the fact the act of measuring changes the situation, but it’s an utter non sequitur to conclude from that to ontological randomness. It’s the same kind of nonsense of those who think mathematical rules “govern” physical reality: they do nothing of the kind. Mathematical “rules” describe the reality upon which they are based in the first place. It’s also the same kind of nonsense spouted by those who reduce physics to a “question of the method, rather than the subject.” It’s the same kind of nonsense that animated Mermin’s ridiculous claim that the moon isn’t there if we don’t observe it.

    You reference physics texts and mathematical formalisms as if they somehow are able to address ontological considerations in any serious, rigorous way. Please… I can do the same with Wolfgang Smith or Stanley Jaki. But what’s the point? You’re from МФТИ, I’m from MIT: what’s your point? Are you really so swallowed up in physico-mathematical theories to suggest the quadratic equation describing free fall makes (“governs”) the object fall along a certain parabolic trajectory? Is that what “we teach our graduates and undergraduates” means?

    Then you claim you did not equivocate between “epistemological limitations” with “hidden variables”. Yet, here’s what you wrote: “Attempts to reduce it to epistemological randomness (e. g. hidden variables) have been a failure.” Randomness is, epistemologically speaking, a limit on what we know. You most certainly DID equivocate.

    Really, olegt, it’s hard to take seriously someone who responds to broader questions with math and physics… which is why no one should take seriously Weinberg “the laws of nature are as real as the rocks in the field,” or Tegmark “Everything in our world is purely mathematical–including you” or Wilson “Everything… ultimately reducible… to the laws of physics,” or Guth, or Singham, or Stenger, or any other philosophically challenged physicists. Are you sure you’re happy to be a reductionist physicist with a very embarrassing command of philosophical principles that don’t permit your hypermathematization a sanity check?

    If you want a good laugh, try convincing us all that it’s physics and mathematics that disprove God or animate your atheism.

  24. Woodchuck64:

    As a materialist, I would say the question is akin to asking: What part of a computer’s CPU is responsible for output given a particular input?

    As a design advocate my advice would be that you look at the programming and the engineering (and the thinking behind it) if you are interested in anything more than a trivial analysis of computer function or consciousness.

  25. doctor(logic)

    Apparently we’re asking different questions. No wonder we’re getting different answers! This begins with my question, and is followed by your answer:

    2. You define a continuum that ranges from completely determined to completely random, and in between there are events that are partly determined. I am wondering whether this is necessarily a one-dimensional continuum.

    Tom, it’s one-dimensional because it is the answer to a single question and not two questions. The question is, is the outcome of the event determined/necessitated by the past (or by constant factors) or not. If there was another question we were asking, we could add more dimensions, but there isn’t, in this context.

    The question I thought we had been asking was whether free will exists. You have somehow wrestled that question into a one-dimensional continuum, wherein the answer must be that we have no free will whatever (necessity rules all), or there is nothing but randomness, or there is some mix of the two along that unidimensional continuum. By that definition the answer is no, there is no free will; everything that happens is by chance or necessity. Under necessity there is no freedom, under chance and necessity there is no will, no agency.

    So you have taken one question and turned it into another one, and in so doing you propose to answer the first one, but in fact you have just begged the first question.

    You say “spot on” to my point 3. Apparently the implication there didn’t bother you: you have not shown by logical deduction that the one-dimensional continuum defines all causation.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Calvinists don’t believe in contra-causal free will. Clearly, it is possible to believe in a God within a uni-dimensional picture.

    That’s a caricature of Calvinism. It’s too complicated to go into here, but let me abbreviate the answer by saying that Calvinism provides no refuge for uni-dimensional causation.

    Also, if God always makes the best decision he possibly can, that seems quite compatible with determinism. If God is faced with several equally good choices, he chooses randomly, for if he had a reason to choose one over the other, the one he chooses could not be equally as good as the choices he rejected.

    There is some truth here but you miss the point. Does God ever act freely? If so, then free will and agency exist at least somewhere in reality. If he freely makes the best possible decision, then the term “determinism” does not apply, or if it does, it means something entirely different than it does in the rest of this discussion. You’re equivocating. If he freely makes a choice among equally good choices, then you can call it random if you want, but again it’s an equivocation, because he is still freely making a choice according to his own decision and his own will. Free will exists, and agency exists as well.

    Your response to my question about the word “perceive” completely missed the question. I asked, what if that perception is illusory? You did not answer that.

  26. Woodchuck64,

    Thanks for the question. It’s a very large one, and I can only outline the answer.

    First, the supernatural can also be known by revelation.

    Second, we can observe free will in ourselves. To assume that observation is false requires one to assume physicalism is true,* and that assumption itself requires philosophical support (which is problematic, to say the least). The observation itself, the experience we all have, is of freedom of the will.

    Third: I don’t know of any deductively valid reason that we must view all causation as either by necessity or by chance. Do you?

    Fourth, free will can be deduced by a reductio argument. It starts with the questions doctor(logic) has now twice failed or refused to answer. I asked them at 9:25 am and again at 3:08 pm. I’ll repeat them one more time:

    Further: if there is only randomness and necessity, what is the ontological source of our disagreement? Are we both operating in randomness? Then why would either of us think there’s any rationality in either of our positions? Are we both operating out of necessity? Then we have to believe what we believe, regardless of rationality, and rationality in fact is removed from the argument entirely. Is one of us operating more in necessity and the other more in randomness? What would be left of reasoning in that case?

    Further: you think I’m wrong. Did you feel free to choose to disagree? Were you in fact free to choose to disagree? If you say you did not choose to disagree, then you ought also to acknowledge you did not choose to disagree on the basis of any reasons for disagreement. What could reasons have to do with your choice of position, when you did not choose your position in the first place?

    I did not originally formulate these as premises in an argument, but I think you can see how they lead that way. If all causation is either by necessity or chance, then the deductive process by which one concludes that all causation is by necessity or chance is invalidated.

    That’s a very quick outline of a response, woodchuck64. Please feel free to keep pushing the question forward, based on whatever questions or ideas this may raise.

    *There may also be some religions that deny free will yet accept a spiritual reality, but I don’t know much about them and I don’t think they are open options for those of us in this discussion anyway, so I won’t try to follow that path.

  27. By the way, I knew this discussion was going to head this direction (does free will exist?), but I still think there’s another question of high interest in the OP: The assumption that there is no knowledge except for that which can be gained by science. Is that assumption really there in the article I was blogging on, or did I read it into it? I think it was there. And I think it is such a pervasive assumption that hardly anybody would notice it unless they were sensitized to looking for it.

  28. Tom,

    The assumption that there is no knowledge except for that which can be gained by science. Is that assumption really there in the article I was blogging on, or did I read it into it? I think it was there.

    I think it was there, and it’s here in the comments of this blog too.

    Greg Koukl, in a recent radio show, discussed this briefly. Those that subscribe to the notion that knowledge comes from science say if science doesn’t know something then we don’t know something, and you are wrong to say you know something science doesn’t know (we’re looking at you, you religious zealots). Hope you were able to follow that.

    Greg explained that this notion is a self-imposed epistemological limit of science, and not an actual epistemological limit of the human mind. Science must say “I don’t know” when it is asked to work outside its limits, but that doesn’t mean we can’t say “I know”.

  29. To listen to Greg Koukl’s comments in context regarding “I don’t know”, go here (about the 1hr 07min mark). I attributed more to Greg’s comments than what he actually said. My apologies, even though I suspect he wouldn’t disagree with what I said. He was talking about “gap” explanations, miracles and ID at the time. Give it a listen.

  30. Tom, thanks for the provocative post! I don’t know that I have the time to contribute much to this discussion, but I would like to say you’ve hit the right direction in your discussion with DL: the fundamental question to focus on in free-will discussions is TRUTH.

    To assert that something is true means to deny all the neighboring alternatives that masquerade as truth. To deny something, to say “no,” requires free will. Thus, to assert truth requires free will.

    So a person cannot claim any TRUTH–even “there is no free will”–unless he does so freely. The problem with denying the reality of free will is that it is fundamentally self-contradictory, so it cannot really be a truth claim.

    Come to think of it, maybe you shouldn’t blame DL for his errors: what appear to be truth claims are not. Either his statements are necessitated by some sort of mechanism (addiction? ego? compulsion?) or else it’s just random noise flowing from his fingertips into his keyboard. 😉

    LG

  31. In support of Lawrence Gage’s point, I just reread the following (excerpted) from DL’s 17 Nov 10:49 comment… and was amazed:

         I do believe I have free will
         …
         I perceive that I could act in several different ways
         …
         Nothing in this definition is problematic in a deterministic world, or a world that is mostly deterministic.
         …
         So determinism is consistent with free will, and lack of determinism confounds it.

    Let’s leave aside the obvious sloppy/ambiguous language (we know from Chesterton that evil always takes advantage of ambiguity: label it something else so as to mask true intentions): one does not “perceive” the possibility of acting in several different ways: one understands, conceptualizes; despite his labeling it a “definition,” DL does no such thing in the rigorous sense… although it does approach a weak operational definition; what does “mostly” deterministic mean… is it like claiming “I’m kinda pregnant”?

    It’s the manipulation of the meanings of “determinism” and “free will” to fit an a priori commitment to the pseudo-philosophical ideology known as ontological naturalism that’s the problem. That is what’s behind the real incoherence of the last (bolded) claim above. At the end of the day, critical thinkers are correctly left scratching their heads in awe over the inanity of someone claiming both “I perceive [sic] that I could act in several different ways” and “So determinism is consistent with free will.”

    Again, this kind of nonsense is animated by an a priori ideological commitment rather than a commitment to truth (per LG). What else could it be… cognitive dissonance? If the latter, then it’s the sign of a disordered mind (i.e., one not ordered to truth)… but isn’t that what atheism is all about? It’s kinda like reasoning… sort of… maybe… not.

  32. Holopupenko,

    You keep twisting my words, so I am starting to lose interest in engaging you. I have no intention of refuting every one of your latest straw-man assertions, but here are a few.

    I am not limiting myself to mathematics, I am talking about a physical theory. Someone claiming to be a professor of physics ought to know the difference. The density matrix does not “actualize” reality but merely describes it. Specifically, it provides a quantum-mechanical description of a system entangled with the rest of the world.

    You are under the wrong impression that the “Copenhagen interpretation” is a superfluous philosophical decoration on top of quantum mechanics. It’s not and never has been. It’s the orthodox quantum theory itself. The word interpretation in the name is a misnomer. You’re arguing against standard QM.

    I have explained two times already the difference between classical and quantum randomness. Maybe the third time’s a charm. (I am not holding my breath.)

    Randomness of a classical dynamical system is related to our ignorance, i.e. incomplete knowledge of the system’s initial state. The uncertainty, initially small, grows exponentially with time and pretty soon we have no ability to predict the outcome. This type of randomness is epistemological. Quantum randomness is different. The system’s wavefunction provides a complete description of a system in a pure state. Yet the outcome of a measurement can be uncertain. This uncertainty is not related to our ignorance: the state of the system is fully specified, there is nothing else that one can know about it (according to orthodox QM), so that uncertainty of the measurement is not epistemological, it is ontological.

    Lastly, don’t make assertions about my views, you don’t know them. You’ll just look silly. For example, I am totally against reductionism. Elsewhere on this forum I mentioned Phil Anderson’s essay More is Different. Read it if you want my perspective. Neither do I think that science can disprove God. It only can make him irrelevant in certain contexts.

  33. olegt:

    I’ll end by this exchange by pointing out a new error on top of the others (and I stand by my earlier criticisms–many leveled against your own words):

    Neither do I think that science can disprove God. It only can make him irrelevant in certain contexts.

    I would characterize that as a DL-ism.

    Doesn’t the first sentence presuppose a non-(as opposed to “un-“) scientific basis for making such a claim?

    The second sentence is a beauty: “Irrelevant”? Really? Isn’t that a value judgement? How do any of the modern empirical sciences (MESs) do that… and in which “contexts”? The MESs have the ability to pontificate “relevance” or “irrelevance”… of the Creator no less? Were you doing science there, olegt? Isn’t that illicitly ascribing to the MESs a power they don’t have… a power over God? You’ve just answered Tom’s “pervasive assumption” question in the affirmative… and you can’t hide behind deflections of “twisting my words.”

  34. I thought I might add a brief quote from the entry Quantum approaches to consciousness in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on the subject of randomness in quantum mechanics.

    Quantum theory introduced an element of randomness standing out against the previous deterministic worldview, in which randomness, if it occurred at all, simply indicated our ignorance of a more detailed description (as in statistical physics). In sharp contrast to such epistemic randomness, quantum randomness in processes such as spontaneous emission of light, radioactive decay, or other examples of state reduction was considered a fundamental feature of nature, independent of our ignorance or knowledge. To be precise, this feature refers to individual quantum events, whereas the behavior of ensembles of such events is statistically determined. The indeterminism of individual quantum events is constrained by statistical laws.

    Is that, too, a case of bad philosophizing, Prof. Holopupenko? Enquiring minds want to know.

  35. Holopupenko wrote:

    “Irrelevant”? Really? Isn’t that a value judgement? How do any of the modern empirical sciences (MESs) do that… and in which “contexts”? The MESs have the ability to pontificate “relevance” or “irrelevance”… of the Creator no less?

    For Christ’s sake, Holopupenko, learn some history of science. I discussed one such example last week right on this forum.

  36. olegt:

    Why, yes… the example you provide is indeed very bad philosophizing. Consider this excerpt: “…whereas the behavior of ensembles of such events is statistically determined. The indeterminism of individual quantum events is constrained by statistical laws.” No it’s not; no they are not. The statistically-based mathematical formalisms do not “determine” or “constrain” or actualize the behavior of ensembles or individuals. It’s something you fail to come clean on over and over and over again when dealing with quantum systems.

    From where do you think the mathematical formalisms arose? From observations, of course: data correlated into those formalisms. Yet, you assert it’s those formalisms that actualize quantum reality… and you offer some bad philosophizing from an encyclopedia as your authority figure. How can you seriously hold such a nonsensical position? Statistically-based mathematical formalisms that describe quantum reality are highly abstracted by their very nature. Even classically-based mathematical formalisms are high abstractions leaving much of reality behind. That’s their job: to narrowly focus on certain aspects of reality to describe it well. How much more so quantum theory? (Admittedly, quantum-level entities are so reduced in their ontological status and in such pathological states when observed that they are susceptible to mostly mathematical descriptions.)

    Regarding your second response, I can only shake my head in sadness… Your November 9, 2009 at 6:03 pm (notwithstanding its begging the question of whether my prior comment was even addressed) is a classic example of falling for Newton’s own mechanistic vision of reality, and his reference to an intelligent agent does not save him. The irony is not only you, but the IDT-ers partially buy into this as well. The bedfellows are strange indeed…

  37. Holopupenko wrote:

    Why, yes… the example you provide is indeed very bad philosophizing. Consider this excerpt: “…whereas the behavior of ensembles of such events is statistically determined. The indeterminism of individual quantum events is constrained by statistical laws.” No it’s not; no they are not. The statistically-based mathematical formalisms do not “determine” or “constrain” or actualize the behavior of ensembles or individuals. It’s something you fail to come clean on over and over and over again when dealing with quantum systems.

    Ummm, I’m beginning to doubt that you are a professional physicist, Holopupenko. You don’t seem to know quantum mechanics even at the undergraduate level. Let me parse the above quote from the encyclopedia for you. While the outcomes of certain types of quantum measurements are random at the individual level, a multiple repetition of the same experiment reveals that these events have well-defined probabilities. In the case of the spin to which I referred above, the odds for it to point along +x and −x are 50-50. Yes, there is indeterminism, but it is constrained by statistics. Individual events are not constrained, ensembles are. That’s what the encyclopedia entry says. It’s totally sensible.

    From where do you think the mathematical formalisms arose? From observations, of course: data correlated into those formalisms. Yet, you assert it’s those formalisms that actualize quantum reality… and you offer some bad philosophizing from an encyclopedia as your authority figure. How can you seriously hold such a nonsensical position?

    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is written by experts and is peer-reviewed. So, unlike, say Wikipedia, this source maintains at least minimal standards of excellence. I can only chuckle when some amateur on teh interwebz slams it as “bad philosophizing.”

    Statistically-based mathematical formalisms that describe quantum reality are highly abstracted by their very nature. Even classically-based mathematical formalisms are high abstractions leaving much of reality behind. That’s their job: to narrowly focus on certain aspects of reality to describe it well. How much more so quantum theory? (Admittedly, quantum-level entities are so reduced in their ontological status and in such pathological states when observed that they are susceptible to mostly mathematical descriptions.)

    Physics is a description of the real world that heavily relies on math. What else is new? Why the heck do you think a system that obeys some equations is pathological? Are planets in a pathological state? Their motion is pretty well described by Kepler’s laws.

    Regarding your second response, I can only shake my head in sadness… Your November 9, 2009 at 6:03 pm (notwithstanding its begging the question of whether my prior comment was even addressed) is a classic example of falling for Newton’s own mechanistic vision of reality, and his reference to an intelligent agent does not save him. The irony is not only you, but the IDT-ers partially buy into this as well. The bedfellows are strange indeed…

    Alright, let me condense it for you. Newton couldn’t find a naturalistic explanation for the observation that planets are all set to rotate in a single plane and even in the same direction. So he threw up his hands and said God must have set it up at the beginning. That’s creationism, god of the gaps, same thing IDers are attempting to do. After a while a naturalistic theory was found and this phenomenon no longer needed a supernatural explanation. I’m not buying Newton’s explanation, I’m just pointing out that god of the gaps is bad science and bad theology.

  38. Thanks, olegt.

    I think if I can jump in for (I hope) a closing comment on this topic, your major disagreement with Holo is not where you think it is. When he said that the indeterminism of individual quantum events is not constrained by statistical laws or mathematical formalisms, I think what he meant was that the numbers do not cause the events.

    The bell curve does not cause any events, nor does it “constrain” any. The numbers and the statistical distributions (whether it’s actually a normal distribution or some other curve) are descriptions of what happens, they are not what causes it. The cause is unknown. There is no hidden variable, according to the best recent research. Some people even say quantum events are uncaused, which I doubt. Let that remain controversial: but regardless, the description is not the cause.

    It’s not that he doesn’t know his physics, it’s that he recognizes the role of numbers in the world: what they are for, what they can do, what they cannot do.

  39. Tom,

    Of course no physicist seriously thinks that a number applies a force and constrains a physical object! The word constraint is used figuratively, not literally there. (Here is another example: Exit Routes from the Transition State: Angular Momentum Constraints on the Formation of Products. The authors of that paper do not mean to say that angular momentum literally stops a physical process. They simply use the empirical fact that angular momentum does not change during a chemical reaction, reflecting certain properties of atomic interactions.) If Holopupenko tried to make that point it would be silly (for a physicist) but entirely harmless.

    But my disagreement with Holopupenko goes much deeper. He asserted that

    Regarding the quantum world, we’re currently forced to employ statistical methods and statistically-based mathematical formalisms to describe quantum-level events because of our epistemic limitations.

    That goes against the grain of orthodox quantum mechanics. Quantum randomness is not epistemic. Quantum theory posits that a wavefunction provides a complete description of a physical system. No uncertainty remains, there is nothing else to know. It’s not our ignorance that causes the uncertainty of a measurement outcome. Such is the nature of the quantum world. Randomness is an intrinsic part of it, according to standard QM. So Holopupenko was totally wrong when he said that it was bad physics.

    Bad philosophy is also wrong: the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a well-regarded source. So I hope you can see that this side show isn’t just fireworks.

  40. Tom:

    I think the discussion got off on a tangent because it seems olegt is trying to “locate” free will and the mind in the gap of the alleged (incorrect!) ontological indeterminacy/randomness of quantum reality. Correct me if I’m wrong, olegt (and I very well may be incorrect), because it’s difficult to parse out what you believe in this regard.

    olegt:

    Tom is correct: you missed the whole boat. Yet, you continue to cling to the mathematics actualizes reality issue. On the one hand you try to from your error by noting the “figurative” use of terms, but then you continue on with blithe disregard for that qualification:

    (1) “Yes, there is indeterminism, but it is CONSTRAINED BY STATISTICS“;
    (2) “Why the heck do you think a system that OBEYS some equations is pathological?”
    (3) “Quantum theory posits that a wavefunction [i.e., a mathematical formalism] provides a complete description of a physical system. No uncertainty remains, there is nothing else to know. [?!? That’s “coyote ugly” physics!] It’s not our ignorance that causes the uncertainty of a measurement outcome. Such is the nature of the quantum world. Randomness is an intrinsic part of it, according to standard QM.

    The third one above is an in-your-face example of the problem: a wavefunction provides a complete description… randomness is an intrinsic part of [the quantum world]. There’s no more hiding: what that explicitly implies is the wavefunction [a mathematical construct] somehow “proves” or “demonstrates” or “asserts” or “guides” or “constrains” or “governs” the quantum world to be “random” by its very nature.” The absurdity is not only the tail wagging the dog (math driving the reality) but a lack of understanding of what “randomness” itself is. For something to be random by its very nature is an impossibility, for that means there’s no cause. A random or chance event morphs (animated by Copenhagen) from properly being (a) the intersection of two independent lines of causality to (b)an event utterly without cause.

    Get that straight, olegt: true randomness would mean uncaused, and just because the quantum mathematical formalisms are statistical in their limited and highly-abstract descriptive nature doesn’t imply in any way, shape, or form that the beingness of reality is “statistical” (i.e., random). Again, it’s WE who employ statistics to describe–it’s not that reality itself is “statistical.”

    That is the bad physics behind the pseudo-philosophical nonsense called the Copenhagen Interpretation: it posits things can occur without cause. Why does it posit such nonsense? Because the mathematical formalisms–limited as they currently are–cannot (despite olegt’s incorrect assertion to the contrary) capture reality fully–and yet Copenhagen illicitly imbues them with that power: they came from and are based upon observations of reality, but they are not complete. Note that I’m not arguing for the “hidden variables” deflection you employed earlier. I exposing your lack of understanding of the limited nature of the highly abstract mathematical formalisms… and yet notwithstanding this misunderstanding of the limited nature of mathematical formalisms, you apply them in absolutist terms to reality, to wit and to repeat your own words: “a wavefunction [i.e., a mathematical formalism] provides a complete description of a physical system.” No it doesn’t. It doesn’t in the same way any classical or any quantum mathematical formalism cannot capture the full import of beingness of any physical system.

    But do you provide any substantive response to this? No. You lean heavily on one pseudo-philosophical interpretation–providing references as if this constitutes an argument, and you couch that in terms of “standard” or “orthodox” view… and you do so quite unscientifically. If challenging your personal commitment to an erroneous philosophical “orthodoxy” makes me an “unprofessional physicist,” then I stand guilty as accused.

    The second example is a howler: Why the heck do you think a system that obeys some equations is pathological? Leaving aside the “obeys” nonsense, that’s not what I said. Here are my previous words: “…quantum-level entities are so reduced in their ontological status and in such pathological states when observed“.

    How would you propose we observe an electron? To isolate it we have to somehow knock it out of its “natural” state. How do we knock it out of that state? Choose your weapon: ionization, scattering, particle accelerators, whatever. In other words, we tear apart physical reality to get to its constituent parts. That’s what was meant (it’s a philosophical term of art) by “pathological state.” (Your allusion to my supposedly claiming planets are in a pathological state was a joke, right?)

    There’s no way (at least for now) that we can observe an electron in its natural state in an atom of a molecule in the woody fibers of a board making up a table top. The beingness of that electron is “tied up” or (philosophically speaking) “subsumed” under the higher and hierarchical ontological realities of the atom, molecule, woody fiber, wooden board.

    The only way (at least currently) you can observe that electron is to rip it out of its state with your weapon of choice. (The act of observing changes the electron’s state–agreed, but how does it follow that the electron “system” is therefore “random” by its nature or only exists under observation (Mermin’s foolishness)? It doesn’t.) Then, laughably, after removing it from its natural state, you assign a wavefunction to it (based on correlated data per its behavior outside of its normal subsumed existence in the chair), then you claim (even more laughably) that the wavefunction “provides a complete description of the physical system” (!!), and then you claim (hyena laughably and very unscientifically) that quantum reality itself is random by its very nature.

    Finally, there’s a cute irony in all this. You criticize Newton (perhaps rightly): “So he threw up his hands and said God must have set it up at the beginning.” Yet, notice how similar that is to what you’re doing: instead of God you substitute in “randomness” to cover the gap, and your “theology” is the Copenhagen Interpretation. We should stop pursuing that gap is what you imply, isn’t it? Why? Because a disordered interpretation is enough for physicists who don’t want their “orthodoxy” challenged.

  41. Tom,

    The question I thought we were asking was whether free will exists. You have somehow wrestled that question into a one-dimensional continuum, wherein the answer must be that we have no free will whatever (necessity rules all), or there is nothing but randomness, or there is some mix of the two along that unidimensional continuum. By that definition the answer is no, there is no free will; everything that happens is by chance or necessity. Under necessity there is no freedom, under chance and necessity there is no will, no agency.

    The question is whether free will and determinism are in conflict. In the above, you have given no argument that they are in conflict, you’ve have merely assumed that they are.

    In order to create a multi-dimensional continuum, you need two questions, not one. For you, those two questions are:

    1) Determinism: is the final state necessitated by the initial state? and
    2) Freedom: Is a decision free?

    The problem is that you assume that freedom is defined to be in opposition to both randomness and determinism, so question/dimension 2 is:

    2′) Randomness: Is the outcome of an event random?

    Thus, when I say that randomness is the logical complement of determinism, distinction (2′) is eliminated, you conclude from my statement that there is no freedom.

    There are several problems with your responses.

    (i) You haven’t given any reason why distinction (1) is question-begging. Distinction (1) creates the first dimension of our conversation, and it’s as valid a distinction in dualism as in naturalism. Should I assume you are okay with such distinctions being made?

    (ii) If you agree that this distinction is valid, then the logical complement of determinism is something which is determined by nothing at all. That part of an outcome not determined by the past or by timeless factors has nothing left to depend upon. This is because the set of all things not in time but in the past and not outside of time, is just the set of things in the future. If the future isn’t causing the past, there’s literally nothing left for an outcome to depend upon. It is uncaused.

    (iii) You haven’t defined freedom in any positive sense. Instead, you have defined it in opposition to both determinism and randomness. If free will is defined that way, we would indeed be forced to conclude that free will does not exist. Yet you have given no reason why anyone should consider free will (so-defined) to be of any value at all. In reality, it’s not that free will doesn’t exist, it’s that your definition of free will was incoherent from the start.

    (iv) You have given no counter-argument to my claim that randomness is the complement to determinism. An outcome that is not fully determined (i.e., which has all its determinism filtered out into a probability distribution) depends on nothing whatsoever. Any reason there could be for picking a particular outcome beyond the probability distribution cannot exist because, if it existed, it would already have been factored into the probability distribution, and the probabilities would be 1 or 0. This is NOT an naturalistic assumption, but a matter of logical necessity, even in dualist pictures. You can’t square your circles and say that free will is not random.

  42. doctor(logic), you wrote,

    The problem is that you assume that freedom is defined to be in opposition to both randomness and determinism.

    The problem also is that after three tries you haven’t responded to these questions (need I link to the prior comments where you can see those three tries?):

    Further: if there is only randomness and necessity, what is the ontological source of our disagreement? Are we both operating in randomness? Then why would either of us think there’s any rationality in either of our positions? Are we both operating out of necessity? Then we have to believe what we believe, regardless of rationality, and rationality in fact is removed from the argument entirely. Is one of us operating more in necessity and the other more in randomness? What would be left of reasoning in that case?

    Further: you think I’m wrong. Did you feel free to choose to disagree? Were you in fact free to choose to disagree? If you say you did not choose to disagree, then you ought also to acknowledge you did not choose to disagree on the basis of any reasons for disagreement. What could reasons have to do with your choice of position, when you did not choose your position in the first place?

    I could bring out other things I’ve written that refute what you’ve said here in your most recent comment, but I really do think it’s your turn to answer this. It is most relevant to your current points, by the way. You respond to these in some reasoned way, and then I’ll pick up your current questions and respond to them.

  43. Holopupenko,

    You are, as usual, completely wrong.

    Physicists consider quantum uncertainty to likely reflect true randomness, not just epistemic randomness.

    Could it be epistemic randomness? It could, but there are a lot of constraints on “hidden variable” theories, and this leads most physicists to think of quantum randomness as fundamental.

    Moreover, while an equation “constraining” a physical system doesn’t actually constrain the system, it is a description of a real constraint.

    Finally, you insist that fundamental randomness is an impossibility because it would imply that some event outcomes are uncaused. Well, good for you, Holopupenko! You now see what QM is all about. Causality is fuzzy in QM and that’s the whole point.

    You have not one good reason for your claim that uncaused events or fundamental randomness are impossible. If some events are fundamentally random, e.g., quantum events, the world would look exactly the same. Just because it’s not pretty for you doesn’t make it impossible.

    To claim with certainty that QM events are fundamentally random is as bad as claiming with certainty that QM events are deterministic and that QM randomness is epistemic. I haven’t see olegt claim with certainty that it is random (I think he/she has been nuanced), but I have seen you claim with certainty that it is deterministic. In other words, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  44. Tom,

    I believe I’ve answered your questions, but I’m happy to be more explicit.

    Are we both operating out of necessity? Then we have to believe what we believe, regardless of rationality, and rationality in fact is removed from the argument entirely. Is one of us operating more in necessity and the other more in randomness? What would be left of reasoning in that case?

    We are both operating out of mostly necessity. However, it is false to conclude that “we have to believe what we believe, regardless of rationality.”

    Suppose a physical process can exhibit rationality in the same way a physical process can exhibit combustion. It would be nonsense for me to say that a burning powder would have to burn with a red flame, regardless of the underlying combustion. It would be nonsense in two ways. First, there would be no flame at all without combustion. Second, depending on the details of the combustion, the flame might be red or green or a whole range of other colors.

    Instead, it is sensible to say that the color of the flame is a function of the process of combustion, and it does not make the combustion irrelevant.

    Rational beliefs are to rational thinking as flames are to combustion. The beliefs I hold are held for reasons that I perceive. (Okay, it’s rather complicated in that our right brains perceive stuff, and our left brains typically rationalize the right brain’s conclusions, but the right brain can learn to trust the left brain, etc etc.)

    What could reasons have to do with your choice of position, when you did not choose your position in the first place?

    Your underlying assumption is false. You assume that determinism destroys choice. But that’s like saying that determinism destroys combustion. It makes no sense. Just because you know that in the future the forest will be burnt to ash does not mean that combustion never occurred.

    There’s nothing in our experience that can tell us that our uncertainty about the future isn’t epistemic. Before I decided to X, I didn’t know I would X, because to compute whether I would X required me to actually go through the process of deciding. In principle, a sufficiently powerful simulation could have predicted my decision, but in order to predict the decision it had to simulate me deciding. (Just like a simulation that reveals what color flame will be produced in an explosion has to simulate combustion.)

  45. Hmmm…

    Rational beliefs are to rational thinking as flames are to combustion. The beliefs I hold are held for reasons that I perceive.

    Flames:Combustion::Beliefs:Thinking

    Do flames cause combustion? Do beliefs cause thoughts?

  46. Hmmm…. and hmmm… again:

    Suppose a physical process can exhibit rationality in the same way a physical process can exhibit combustion.

    And you accused me of smuggling in assumptions! Did you not notice you used the word “suppose?” Shall I take your supposition as the premise for an argument? On what grounds?

    And which is the more intuitively likely: my “smuggled assumption” that freedom is opposed to randomness (uncaused-ness) and determinism? Or yours, that a physical process can “exhibit” rationality?

    Well, I yield the point if you really do limit it to “exhibiting” rationality; that is, if you’re saying that rationality can be detectable in the output of a physical process. That’s what happens every time you read a word on a page: you see rationality exhibited in the output of a physical process. But I think you probably meant to say something stronger than that, such as, a physical process can exhibit the practice of being rational in itself. If that’s what you meant, it’s serious smuggling: philosophical contraband that can’t be permitted across the border into reasoned discussion. Not without at least some argument to carry it there.

  47. Tom,

    Flames:Combustion::Beliefs:Thinking

    Do flames cause combustion? Do beliefs cause thoughts?

    Well, flames are hot plasmas and exhaust, and if they come into contact with combustible materials, they will trigger combustion in those materials. So, yes.

    Rational beliefs are the result of rational thought processes, and they serve as inputs to further rational thought processes. So, again, yes.

    Did you not notice you used the word “suppose?” Shall I take your supposition as the premise for an argument? On what grounds?

    I was very deliberate in using the word suppose. I know you don’t accept the premise. The questions is, why would you not accept this premise?

    “My gut intuition says No” is not a rational response because “gut intuition” isn’t a reason. A reason would be in the form of a reductio ad absurdum or some prediction about experience that doesn’t hold true.

    I’m not interested in what you intuitively think is more likely. I’m interested in what is rationally more likely.

    Just to be clear, I am not saying free will is an illusion. I’m saying that the conflict between determinism and free will is illusory.

    My experience of free will is 100% consistent with determinism. For example, I know that before I have made a decision, I don’t know how I will decide. Also, my sense is that, if I went back in time to make my decision again, if I had preferred another option, I could have chosen it. However, the statement “if I had preferred another option” is counterfactual. I DID prefer the option I chose. It’s like saying, “if it had not been raining that day, the forest fire would have kept on burning.” Well, sure, but it WAS raining, so the fire went out. That doesn’t mean that determinism doesn’t apply to the forest fire.

    There’s no smuggling going on here, thanks to the word “suppose”. If you assume rational thinking is a process, there are no contradictions. In contrast, if you try to argue that a non-deterministic decision is non-random, you get a blatant contradiction. There is literally nothing (inside or outside the universe) for the non-deterministic part of the decision to depend upon because all the dependency has been extracted out into a probability distribution. The non-determined part of the decision is a brute fact of the universe. That’s as random as it gets.

  48. I think your combustion analogy was better than you thought in the first place, and that you have violated it here, but it was only an analogy so I won’t press you further on it.

    Could you describe, though, how a physical process can exhibit rationality in the sense that it exhibits the practice of being rational in itself? I do consider it to be intuitively, plainly impossible. A rational process is one that operates based on reasons, and I do not know where you locate reasons in physical processes. I can only see that physical processes operate on necessity and on uncaused chance (assuming the Copenhagen interpretation of QM). I can see how those processes might lead a person to hold a belief x or ~x, but I cannot see that there is any reason in the causal processes that would include. It would only involve physics and chemistry.

    You’ll still have to give me something stronger than “suppose that…”

  49. DL,

    Rational beliefs are the result of rational thought processes, and they serve as inputs to further rational thought processes. So, again, yes.

    This reminds me of a question I asked that was never answered. What exactly makes a mechanistic process a rational process?

    Can the mechanistic process of a ticking clock be considered a rational process, and can the resulting time displayed on it’s face be considered a rational belief? Why or why not?

  50. Further on that: I would like to know if you believe in the causal closure of the physical, that every cause is a physical cause. Is that your position?

  51. Tom,

    Could you describe, though, how a physical process can exhibit rationality in the sense that it exhibits the practice of being rational in itself?

    I’ve done this before, but I’ll try again.

    Human rationality requires several things. The first is abstraction. If I say “A rabbit is under my desk,” the terms “rabbit” and “desk” and “under” are abstractions. The term “rabbit” does not refer to particular images of rabbits I have seen in the past. It’s not a brittle reference. If it were a brittle reference, then a red rabbit would not be a rabbit, an upside-down rabbit would not be a rabbit, and a rabbit without a tail would not be a rabbit. Rather, the term “rabbit” refers to any appearance I would (flexibly) recognize as a rabbit. Very few mechanical systems have abstractions, i.e., flexible recognition systems.

    Consider a vending machine. It has a rigid mathematical model of what a $10 bill looks like. Fold the bill, wet the bill, draw extra lines on it, and the machine’s recognizer will fail. Meanwhile, you and I have no trouble accepting money that is tattered and written on with sharpie markers.

    Flexible recognition is abstraction because it defines a class of what is recognized versus not recognized.

    Second, human rationality requires self-organization. I learn to define a class of rabbits by experiencing various aspects of particular instances rabbits. I don’t need someone to tell me about rabbits in advance. If I had never seen nor heard of a non-human animal in my life, I would still be able to learn that there are small, furry, autonomous, multi-limbed creatures with long ears. I might not refer to them as rabbits, but whatever word I used would mean rabbit. Self-organization makes our references properly intentional. “Rabbit”, in my language, refers to whatever I would recognize as a rabbit-like pattern.

    Third, human rationality requires sensitivity to consistency. A single rabbit cannot be both under my desk and on top of it at the same time. Why not? Because it is inherent in the patterns “on top of” and “under” that they are mutually exclusive. It is inherent in the patterns “rabbit” and “desk” that each is spatially-located. Being able to know that some patterns are compatible and some are not is a requirement of rational thinking. Perhaps the ability to reason by reductio ad absurdum is also a requirement.

    Now, there could be several other things that are required for rational thinking. It’s possible that language and reflection are required, i.e., that a human who had intuitive understanding of consistency and had intentional ideas, but who lacked language and reflection might not be regarded as rational.

    In any case, you’re not going to find rational thinking in any system which lacks these attributes. Deep Blue, the chess-playing computer, lacks abstraction, self-organization and any ability to reason by reductio ad absurdum. Deep Blue is not a rational machine, despite the fact it seems to play chess like one. However, there are systems that have abstraction and self-organization – they’re called Hierarchical Temporal Networks (or Bayesian networks). I see no reason to doubt that machines could find consistency patterns between abstractions.

  52. Tom,

    I want to put what I just described into context. I maintain that if you describe the ingredients of rational thinking in detail, you’ll get something you can execute mechanically, e.g., with a physical brain.

    How do we know about these ingredients? Well, it seems obvious to me that if you could give a person a drug to prevent them from creating self-organized abstractions, you would deprive them of intentional/rational thinking. If you could drug someone to prevent them from seeing which abstractions were logically incompatible, you would deprive them of logical/rational thinking.

    While it may seem counter-intuitive to you that machines can think, you don’t seem to have produced any arguments to that effect. You’re saying that you don’t know what mechanism could be responsible for rational thought, but that’s a gaps argument, not an exclusive argument to impossibility. In order to argue that machine thinking is impossible, you’ll have to define thinking with enough precision to show clearly that it is impossible for physical system to think that way.

    I don’t see anyone here giving detailed models of thought processes so as to show that they would be impossible to implement physically. You guys like to give examples of machines (like Deep Blue) which lack all the ingredients for thinking, and then claim (quite correctly) that the provided examples cannot think, and then conclude (wrongly) that these examples somehow prove machines cannot think. You’re trying to use counter-examples to prove a general impossibility. That’s like claiming that there are no animals larger than cows by citing monkeys.

  53. Tom,

    Further on that: I would like to know if you believe in the causal closure of the physical, that every cause is a physical cause. Is that your position?

    A posteriori, I believe that every cause is physical. It’s not a starting point. That is, I believe that every cause is physical in the same way you believe that you are an American. However, it can be argued that the physical/non-physical distinction cannot be maintained (Hempel’s Dilemma).

    I’m assuming your next step is to ask how we can define, say, numbers, since numbers aren’t thought of as physical. In anticipation, I’ll say that if a mind can recursively create abstractions, it can get to numbers. If I can self-organize an abstraction for two rabbits and two scones and two cars, etc., I can recursively self-organize around a pattern of “two”, because the pattern “two” is common to all those experiences.

  54. While it may seem counter-intuitive to you that machines can think, you don’t seem to have produced any arguments to that effect. You’re saying that you don’t know what mechanism could be responsible for rational thought, but that’s a gaps argument, not an exclusive argument to impossibility. In order to argue that machine thinking is impossible, you’ll have to define thinking with enough precision to show clearly that it is impossible for physical system to think that way.

    Searle did that with the Chinese Room argument. If rational thinking is a process of following certain rules then by that one definition a machine can think rationally. This isn’t close to what WE mean by rational thinking so there’s some equivocation going on. The machine will always lack the ability to KNOW anything about what it is processing whereas WE do have that knowledge.

  55. Steve,

    Searle did nothing of the sort.

    If you were to simulate a human brain with a computer, you might do that by simulating one neuron after the other. Each neuron loads its saved state, gets inputs, writes it outputs based on inputs, and saves its state again. Well, this is precisely what the man in the Chinese Room is doing. So Searle merely showed that an individual neuron (or, perhaps, the CPU which is sequentially simulating each individual neuron), does not understand Chinese. Well, big duh! Of course, a single neuron doesn’t understand Chinese. Likewise, a single heart cell can’t pump blood or feel pain, but that doesn’t prevent assemblies of cells from pumping blood or feeling pain. Searle’s argument says nothing at all about the collective function of assemblies.

  56. Tom’s reply #31 to my question #25:

    First, the supernatural can also be known by revelation.

    Knowledge of the supernatural, if useful for the natural world, would be detectable in the natural world. Religious people usually claim that their knowledge gives them special abilities or qualities that the non-religious do not have. These are testable claims (although I won’t say they’ve been exhaustively tested).

    Second, we can observe free will in ourselves. To assume that observation is false requires one to assume physicalism is true,* and that assumption itself requires philosophical support (which is problematic, to say the least). The observation itself, the experience we all have, is of freedom of the will.

    I experience free will but I do not experience a will free from my desires. That experience is compatible and consistent with naturalism (my will is caused by my desires which are eventually beyond my control) so I don’t see how it provides anything useful about the supernatural.

    Third: I don’t know of any deductively valid reason that we must view all causation as either by necessity or by chance. Do you?

    No. But I also don’t have a deductively valid reason to trust induction either. So my criteria for approaches is more pragmatism than anything else: is it useful? So that’s the direction I would go with causation/supernatural.

    Fourth, free will can be deduced by a reductio argument.

    if there is only randomness and necessity, what is the ontological source of our disagreement?

    I believe we are both operating out of necessity, but we are both causes and effects and therefore it is entirely possible that your reasoning is a cause that will affect a change in my thinking, or vice-versa.

    If we are operating out of necessity, we have also been caused to value reason somewhere back in time (probably in early schooling) and so we can only be a cause and effect to each other by following the rules of logic.

    If we are operating out of necessity, we have been caused to want to influence others as well as learn (part of that may be biological, part learned).

    So put that all together, and we can have a rational argument without any free will, from what I can see.

    Did you feel free to choose to disagree? Were you in fact free to choose to disagree? If you say you did not choose to disagree, then you ought also to acknowledge you did not choose to disagree on the basis of any reasons for disagreement. What could reasons have to do with your choice of position, when you did not choose your position in the first place?

    My disagreement would not be free, but that may not be the issue, here. That is, I consult my beliefs born out of experience and find a clash with something you write, but I don’t choose that clash, it’s just there and jumps out.

    However, the choice to disagree is a choice whether or not to post a comment to your website expressing disagreement. I was certainly free to post a comment or not, based entirely on what I wanted to do. However, I was not free of my desires. I was not free to post a comment if I really didn’t want to. I was not free to not post a comment if I really wanted to (and all external constraints permitted me to).

    The reasons for my desire to post are memories, experiences, thought patterns, abstractions. And if I were to want to justify my reason for posting disagreement (as compared to my reason for disagreement), I would reference those memories, experiences, thought patterns, abstractions, etc.. Have I answered the questions?

  57. DL,

    Pardon my obtuseness, but I’m still not sure whether you take all causation as physical. You say “it can be argued” that the distinction cannot be maintained, yet you say you accept a posteriori that all causes are physical.

    Can you define your actual position (as opposed to what can be argued) more clearly? If you’re keeping your options open that’s fine, I’m just asking for clarification.

  58. Woodchuck64, you reference the rules of logic as having some causal effect. Are they matters of physical necessity or of chance, or of something that exists on a continuum between the two?

  59. DL,

    Searle’s argument says nothing at all about the collective function of assemblies.

    His argument is a thought experiment so he doesn’t really talk about systems or assemblies. Because the thought experiment can be demonstrated to be true using the human mind as the machine in question – meaning that the person in the room doesn’t actually KNOW anything about the symbols he is processing – there is no reason to think other machines can know this.

    So there is no “gap thinking” going on with Searle. I do see you filling the gap with something though.

  60. woodchuck64:

    Knowledge of the supernatural, if useful for the natural world, would be detectable in the natural world.

    You detect it in the lives of those who have been transformed by God.

    I experience free will but I do not experience a will free from my desires.

    Evidence of free will would be behavoir that opposes rather than conforms to physical desire.

  61. You can buy a Bible in most bookstores…

    If I was drinking milk, it would have been coming out of the nose. 🙂

  62. I was certainly free to post a comment or not, based entirely on what I wanted to do. However, I was not free of my desires.

    Reminded me of an invalid argument I once heard that charged God with committing evil simply because he gave us the ability to desire evil. Or another invalid argument that said being born with a tendancy to desire a gay lifestyle means you can’t chose otherwise.

    It really is all about the will, isn’t it?

  63. I could be wrong, but it seems DL is violating his epistemological rules here. He says we can’t detect evil in the physical act of rape, therefore we must conclude it is a subjective perception and moral relativism rules the day. But what about detecting rational thinking in a physical process? Seems that would be equally subjective and equally relative to personal opinion as well under DL’s rules.

  64. Tom,

    I would describe myself as a naturalist, not a physicalist. Every proper explanation is natural, i.e., lawful and predictive, even if only in predicting a probability distribution. (Merely restating data doesn’t explain that data.) Physics is natural because it is predictive, but non-physical stuff could be natural, in principle. For example, if the human will could reliably override physical conservation laws, say, through telepathy or telekinesis, then the supremacy of will, the basic nature of will, would be a natural law. Harry Potter magic would be natural if it was reliable (which it is). I have no problem with such dualism, if it were true, though science clearly says it isn’t true.

    Consequently, I am happy to entertain the possibility of non-physical entities such as God, faeries, etc., but such entities must exist as predictive theories about how such entities are manifest. For example, personalities are predictive.

    If there’s no law (=reason) why an event occurs, that event outcome is a brute fact. Brute facts are fundamentally random and inexplicable. Thus, there is no such thing as a supernatural explanation, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing supernatural. Indeed, I expect that not everything has a natural explanation, but, again, that which lacks a natural explanation is inexplicable. A theory of everything, should one exist, would be inexplicable in deeper terms, and would therefore be a supernatural brute fact by my definition. However, I don’t see a way to gain high confidence that any particular thing is supernatural because evidence will never accumulate for brute facts. All you’ll ever know is that you have yet to come up with a better explanation. In fact, any explanation (even one unsupported by evidence) is on a par with the claim that an event was supernatural.

    The world is mostly deterministic. There may be some fundamental randomness in the universe, and I’m fine with that. My experience of free will is consistent with determinism, and, for me, that compatibility is intuitive.

    By the way, I have no clue why you would say that Searle’s work only applies to single neurons. Please elucidate. The man in the Chinese room was not a single neuron.

    But he is pretending to be a single neuron, one neuron at a time. What does the man do in the room? He is capable of moving symbols around, as ordered. That’s it. He’s like a computer CPU or a neuron in a brain of a billion neurons. The only difference is that while all billion neurons in a brain are operating simultaneously, the man is simulating the action of one neuron after the other: a sequential simulation of a parallel process.

    Suppose that we devise a similar room representing the visual processing of a cat. Instead of being fed a question in Chinese, the man is fed a series of pixel values representing nerve firings from the cat’s retina. These pixel values are number between one and ten. By recording the pixel values in arrays on graph paper, making notations and calculations, going to books to see what array values go where, etc, he eventually outputs a “recognition number” corresponding to the cat seeing a mouse (versus, say, a ball of string). We can say that the man obviously can’t recognize a ball of string or a mouse by looking at nerve impulses from a cat’s retina, therefore, the room cannot recognize mice or balls of string. Would anyone seriously take this as an argument against cat brains being able to recognize balls of string?

  65. DL quoted this comment, I assume it was from Tom, but I can’t find it anywhere on the page. Where was this comment made?

    By the way, I have no clue why you would say that Searle’s work only applies to single neurons. Please elucidate. The man in the Chinese room was not a single neuron.

  66. DL,

    Suppose that we devise a similar room representing the visual processing of a cat. Instead of being fed a question in Chinese, the man is fed a series of pixel values representing nerve firings from the cat’s retina……

    You are smuggling again. Here you smuggle in KNOWLEDGE that ties the symbols to something already known by the system or network. In reality this room would be just like the other, unable to know anything about the symbols it is processing and unable to get knowledge from any other part of the network because it is dealing with the same problem. A neural network starts without any knowledge and must obtain it via billions of Chinese Rooms.

  67. Tom at #65:

    Woodchuck64, you reference the rules of logic as having some causal effect. Are they matters of physical necessity or of chance, or of something that exists on a continuum between the two?

    I think physical necessity. The same question (or condundrum) would apply to a software program running on a computer that controls an automobile assembly robot . Software is not physical (or supernatural), yet it clearly affects the physical.

    I think of logic as a software program running on the human brain. Of course the brain is vastly more complicated than our most complex computers.

  68. William Bradford at #68:

    Knowledge of the supernatural, if useful for the natural world, would be detectable in the natural world.

    You detect it in the lives of those who have been transformed by God.

    Yes, and that should give us a way to test the supernatural, at least in theory. But I’m more interested in knowing where the boundaries and limitations are.

    I experience free will but I do not experience a will free from my desires.

    Evidence of free will would be behavoir that opposes rather than conforms to physical desire.

    When I refer to “desires”, I refer to all desires. The desire to be good, the desire to be bad. The desire to obey God’s will. The desire to give in to self. Assuming I am not completely schizophrenic, I will consider all these desires, reflect on experience (assuming I desire to), add a dose of rationality (again, if I want), and reach a decision based on the sum strengths of all.

  69. Has no one noticed how incoherent this claim is (given a naturalist worldview): Software is not physical… yet it clearly affects the physical ?

    Okay, we’re game: just how does the non-physical affect the physical, i.e., what specifically is the mechanism and how does it mediate between the two worlds? Also, if software is “not physical,” in what part of the physical computer is the software located?

    Or, was it a sloppy throw-away claim that we’re supposed to swallow as a “just so” story? Or was it a joke intended to (rightly) poke fun at naturalism?

  70. When I refer to “desires,” I refer to all desires. The desire to be good, the desire to be bad. The desire to obey God’s will. The desire to give in to self.

    You guys still don’t get it: it’s the tired and worn-out canard that God is a nasty law-imposer hell-bent on imposing his will. Is the Christian message that obtuse, or is it your free will intentionally rejecting it?

    Christ did not come into the world to make bad men good, but to make dead men live. (John 10:10, I John 4:4, etc., etc.)

  71. Holopupenko,

    I am unimpressed with your arguments. They boil down to shouts “ugly physics and bad philosophizing!” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, my friend. Quantum theory is not bad or good, it is what it is, whether you like it or not. And pardon me, but I will rate the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ahead of some loudmouth on teh interwebz.

    Take this rant:

    The third one above is an in-your-face example of the problem: a wavefunction provides a complete description… randomness is an intrinsic part of [the quantum world]. There’s no more hiding: what that explicitly implies is the wavefunction [a mathematical construct] somehow “proves” or “demonstrates” or “asserts” or “guides” or “constrains” or “governs” the quantum world to be “random” by its very nature.” The absurdity is not only the tail wagging the dog (math driving the reality) but a lack of understanding of what “randomness” itself is. For something to be random by its very nature is an impossibility, for that means there’s no cause. A random or chance event morphs (animated by Copenhagen) from properly being (a) the intersection of two independent lines of causality to (b)an event utterly without cause.

    I’m amazed that you can’t wrap your brain around a simple idea: physical theories are based on postulates—principles that are assumed to be true until proven otherwise. The standard quantum theory assumes that the wavefunction provides the most complete description of the state of a system that is physically possible. (Alternatively, a complete set of commuting physical observables can do the same.) It then follows that random outcomes of quantum measurements are not a consequence of our ignorance about the system. We don’t evaluate a theory on the basis of personal prejudices (remember what happened to Einstein’s “God does not play dice?”), we test it experimentally. Experiments by Alan Aspect and others could have proven the orthodox QM wrong, but they didn’t, so it stands, whether you like it or not. If some philosophers get hurt in the process, well, it’s their problem.

    By the way, David Mermin never claimed “that the moon isn’t there if we don’t observe it.” That’s a quote from Einstein, who was attempting to ridicule Bohr’s position. Mermin’s essay Is the moon there when nobody looks? Reality and the quantum theory can be found here.

  72. In comment #47 Holopupenko wrote:

    Get that straight, olegt: true randomness would mean uncaused, and just because the quantum mathematical formalisms are statistical in their limited and highly-abstract descriptive nature doesn’t imply in any way, shape, or form that the beingness of reality is “statistical” (i.e., random). Again, it’s WE who employ statistics to describe–it’s not that reality itself is “statistical.”

    We know there is a difference between true and simulated randomness because humans are able to generate the latter. No one claims that such “random” outcomes are uncaused. There is a danger that the measurer interprets his measurements as reflective of an underlying philosophical condition rather than the result of the mathematical tool they really are.

  73. olegt:

    I realize, because you’ve stated it as such, that you don’t want to get into philosophical discussions. That’s your loss, but, really, nothing you just noted changes anything. First, ALL that you present eventually leads back to the equations that describe reality… and you have a real hard time dealing with the fact that a wave function, no matter how complex and rigorous, does not capture the full import of the beingness of a thing. I leave that to you to wrestle with. Second, the Mermin things was an intentional tease (only a bit surprising you didn’t catch that) because Mermin nonetheless really believes the nonsense behind the sentiment. (Did you really read the article and understand the implications?) Again, I leave that for you to wrestle with.

    William:

    A truly random event is, by definition, one with no cause. “Simulated” randomness is just that: simulated… in the same manner that “artificial” intelligence is just that: artificial, i.e., not real, i.e., merely mimicking. So, of course I agree with you that “simulated” randomness must have a cause… because it’s not real (ontological, i.e., of the very essence of a thing) randomness.

    You note: “There is a danger that the measurer interprets his measurements as reflective of an underlying philosophical condition rather than the result of the mathematical tool they really are.” Well, correct: that’s what olegt is doing: he’s imposing upon mathematical descriptors an efficacy they don’t have–which is, of course, based upon a certain (disordered) philosophical view of reality. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanical observations correlated into mathematical formalisms is trying to wag reality… and merely ends up stepping in its own [fill in the blank]. These guys keep on emotionally repeating over and over “that’s what reality is!!!” Why do they do this? Because their highly-abstracted mathematical formalisms tell them so. Huh?!? Despite olegt’s protestations to the contrary, his understanding of the efficacy of those formalisms is that they DO actualize (in the sense of define or determine) the ontology. The wavefunction says it, I believe it, that settles it, no more need to do science… and never was there a need to philosophize. If the only tool they permit themselves is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail to them. Amazing, self-serving, Al Gore-type nonsense.

  74. I’m a little slow keeping up–the flu has hit. What fun. Anyway,

    Woodchuck64,

    You have acknowledged that you know of no deductively valid reason that there shouldn’t be another class of causation in addition to chance and necessity. (Your disclaimer about induction is irrelevant to the question I’m asking.) Therefore you accept there is at least the logical possibility of another class of causation.

    The free will reductio argument goes like this:

    1. S’s conclusion [C], that all causation is either by physical necessity or by chance, is based on reasons x, y, z .
    2. S’s conclusion [C] has a causal history [H].
    3. The entire space of [H] is occupied by physical necessity and/or chance. (1)
    4. [H] includes as its final steps a series of entirely necessary and/or chance physical and chemical processes in S’s brain. There is no other causal factor influencing S to conclude [C], except for physical necessity and/or chance. (3)
    5. The mental processing of reasons x, y, z is entirely a matter of physical necessity or chance (chemical and physical reactions). (4)
    6. To the extent that x, y, z, have been processed by chance physical processes, S should regard [C]’s probability of being true as being no greater than the probability obtainable just by chance.
    7. To the extent that x, y, z, are a matter of physical necessity, S’s conclusion is based entirely on physical and chemical processes.
    8. Physical and chemical processes lack the property of having a truth value; they are never either true or false.
    9. x, y, z lack the property of being true or false. (7, 8)
    10. Conclusions reached on the basis of that which is neither true nor false cannot be regarded as true or false.
    11. To the extent that S reaches conclusion [C] based on physical necessity, [C] cannot be regarded as true or false. (7, 10)
    12. S has arrived at conclusion [C] by a process that is either unreliable (6) or cannot produce either a true or false conclusion (11).
    13. Conclusion [C] has been reached by a process according to which, if [C] is true, is incapable of producing a reliably true conclusion [C].
    14. Conclusion [C] is false (reductio, 1 and 13)

    Therefore either there is another class of causation by which x, y, z are not simply matters of necessity or chance, or else no conclusions regarding necessity and chance are even reachable.

    Now, you say that operating out of necessity causes us to value reason, and to want to influence others. If that were all there was to it, I could accept your conclusion. The problem indicated in the argument above is that valuing reason is not enough. There must actually be such a thing as a valid truth-producing reasoning process to value.

  75. Woodchuck64, later you wrote,

    I think of logic as a software program running on the human brain. Of course the brain is vastly more complicated than our most complex computers.

    The logic of a software program is to produce an output based on an input through physical necessity. Its output is never true nor false. That statement may surprise you, because you’re accustomed to the possibility of computer programs giving right or wrong answers. But the actual output of a computer process is never anything but pixels on a screen, ink on a page, or perhaps some robotic manipulation of some other hardware. The pixels are neither true nor false. The ink is neither true nor false. The robotic manipulation is neither true nor false.

    The pixels or ink may be interpreted by a mind as having meaning, but the meaning is not in the pixels or ink, and the truth value of the interpreted meaning of the pixels or ink is also not in the pixels or ink. From my previous comment, you see that if if the mind is also run (like a computer) just on physical necessity or chance, it too cannot validly interpret anything as having a reliable truth value.

    So the computer/mind analogy fails at the point of drawing conclusions of interpretation and of truth.

  76. DL, you wrote,

    If there’s no law (=reason) why an event occurs, that event outcome is a brute fact. Brute facts are fundamentally random and inexplicable.

    Why does law=reason? More to the point, why should reason always equal law? If it is a matter of law, is it necessarily a physical law? If so, why? And if so, how does one escape the reductio I just outlined?

    You go on:

    If there’s no law (=reason) why an event occurs, that event outcome is a brute fact. Brute facts are fundamentally random and inexplicable. Thus, there is no such thing as a supernatural explanation, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing supernatural.

    There’s quite an immense distance between the premises in your first two sentences and your conclusion in the third. Why can’t “God decreed … ” be an explanation? You’ve made this claim dozens of times in the past, but you’ve never given a satisfactory reason for it, other than that it’s not the kind of explanation you’ll accept. You’ll accept only statistically model-able explanations, but I don’t know why anybody else ought to accept that limitation. If we know that God decreed x, then we have an explanation for why x happened.

    I think part of your answer is epistemological. You wrote,

    In fact, any explanation (even one unsupported by evidence) is on a par with the claim that an event was supernatural.

    I think you’re saying that if an event has a supernatural explanation, it is in principle not knowable or not reliably knowable at least. What if it were knowable, though? What if we did in fact know somehow that God decreed x? Would you still say that was not an explanation?

    I can’t for the life of me see how your cat/string extension of the Chinese Room changes the outcome of the argument. I think SteveK captured the problem well enough in #75.

  77. Holopupenko wrote:

    ALL that you present eventually leads back to the equations that describe reality… and you have a real hard time dealing with the fact that a wave function, no matter how complex and rigorous, does not capture the full import of the beingness of a thing. I leave that to you to wrestle with.

    If I remember correctly, full import of the beingness translates into plain English as rather vague (ahem—edited by siteowner—please see the discussion policy). What does the wavefunction of an electron leave out? That the electron is made of green cheese? That God made it over the weekend? I’m curious.

    Second, the Mermin things was an intentional tease (only a bit surprising you didn’t catch that) because Mermin nonetheless really believes the nonsense behind the sentiment. (Did you really read the article and understand the implications?)

    It would help if you could provide a specific quote from Mermin’s article that indicates his affirmative answer to the question in the title. I fail to see it. And in case you’re interested in my take on it, no, I don’t think the moon is not there when no one looks. Zurek et al. have shown how objects lose their quantum weirdness and behave classically as a result of interactions with the environment. Figuratively speaking, there is always someone looking at the moon (the earth, the sun, cosmic particles, etc.), so you don’t have to.

  78. Tom,

    What if we did in fact know somehow that God decreed x? Would you still say that was not an explanation?

    I recall asking DL what he considers to be acceptable explanations for a pot of boiling water (I think that was it). Among the list of acceptable explanations was, heat from the flame causing the water to boil, someone wanting to cook pasta and someone’s wife asking her husband to cook pasta for her. It seems God decreeing X would be an acceptable explanation for DL as well.

  79. Tom,

    Why does law=reason? More to the point, why should reason always equal law?
    … Why can’t “God decreed … ” be an explanation?

    A law is a reason why something happens (or a description of why something happens). If God decrees X, that’s not a reason any more than saying X is a physical necessity without saying what law gives rise to X.

    Why not say that X happened because of fate? Why not say that fate decreed that X would happen? Because it is an empty statement that provides no explanation at all. This is what you are doing when you say that “God decreed X”.

    What would make God’s decree explanatory would be a rule, even a probabilistic one. Suppose that I get hit by lightning on a sunny day. You could explain that by saying God decreed I should be hit by lightning BECAUSE God doesn’t like what I have to say. However, if he doesn’t like what I have to say, then he also doesn’t like what Dawkins and Hitchens have to say either, and so we should expect God to decree something statistically-nasty happen to them too. Of course, as you know, theists don’t engage in this sort of prediction because the reason+facts goes against them every time.

    IOW, if we knew the mind of God, we could predict God would be more likely to decree X over ~X, and then God’s decree would be explanatory.

    Explanation requires a general rule, or else it becomes a trivial restatement of the data (like fate). You don’t have a general rule. “God decrees that stuff will happen” isn’t a general rule any more than “fate necessitates that stuff will happen”.

    If we know that God decreed x, then we have an explanation for why x happened.

    But you can never know, as I explained. In order to know God decreed X, you have to know that God has some personality or pattern of action relevant to what is being explained. That is, you have to start talking about the lawful (or natural) aspects of God before you get to the point of knowledge.

    Again, let’s turn the tables. Suppose I told you that some phenomenon was explained by the theory of everything. “The ToE necessitates X.” If I knew the ToE (had a formula for it), this would be perfectly acceptable as an explanation. However, if I don’t know enough about the ToE to state a general rule, my claim that “the ToE necessitates X” would be empty, and not explanatory.

    So, let’s get to epistemology. How could I know that the ToE actually does necessitate X? It would have to be by some process of inductive inference. It does me no good to say that Newton’s laws exist. Those smaller regularities could exist perfectly well without the ToE.

    I’ll be more accommodating to your “theistic explanations” when you tell me how I should be more accommodating to “explanations based on theories we have yet to discover”.

  80. Tom,

    If it is a matter of law, is it necessarily a physical law? If so, why?

    No, it’s got nothing to do with physicality. It has to do with necessity imposed by general rules. What you need to provide is something like this: God generally does Z (which is observably distinct from ~Z), and X is an instance of Z. (Which is predictive, BTW.) God can operate on “will” instead of physics, but his “will” has to be somewhat predictable or else what he decrees will look utterly random, and indistinguishable from there being no God at all, and that indistinguishability will make it impossible to know God exists.

    If you don’t have any idea what God would do (because he’s utterly unpredictable), how do you even know what God is, let alone that he exists?

    If it is a matter of law, is it necessarily a physical law? If so, why? And if so, how does one escape the reductio I just outlined?

    The biggest problem with your reductio are steps 8 and 9.

    The property of being oceanic is no where to be found in the atom. And yet oceans are made of atoms. By your logic, reducing oceans to arrangements of atoms eliminates the oceans. That’s just nonsense. Obviously, oceans do exist, but they are defined to be configurations or complex relationships between particles.

    A reason is a complex relationship within the large arrangement of particles that is you, and between the matter external to you. You won’t find reason in atoms themselves any more than you’ll find oceans in atoms themselves. Nor will you find reason in arbitrary, complex arrangements of matter. You (IIRC) asked whether clocks are rational. No, they are not. They are incapable of supporting the kinds of relationships necessary for reason. You may not understand how matter can support reasons (and while I have my theories, I may not either), but that doesn’t mean reason is not a causal relationship between things.

    So your steps 8 and 9 beg the question against reductionism.

  81. Tom:

    Could we have a profanity check, please. Thanks.
    Yes—done (Tom)

    olegt:

    Really: you never cease to amaze me. I’ll leave your last comments at that.

    But I found another “deflection” gem in your earlier comments: Quantum theory is not bad or good, it is what it is, whether you like it or not. Correct, except for two things: (1) as a scientific theory it’s validity is contingent upon new knowledge and therefore cannot take on an absolutist character, (2) you’re deflecting: the physico-mathematical highly abstracted formalisms that describe quantum systems never was the issue–it’s the pseudo-philosophical Copenhagen Interpretation and your unscientific and absolutist imposition of it that’s the problem… and you run away from the implications by denigrating philosophy and philosophers. (Fine: that’s your opinion and your anti-intellectual style, and both are duly noted.) Interestingly, you take a similar tact that Dawkins takes wrt neo-Darwinism: he imposes unscientific, pseudo-philosophical nonsense upon scientific findings. Birds of a feather, I guess…

  82. Tom,

    I can’t for the life of me see how your cat/string extension of the Chinese Room changes the outcome of the argument. I think SteveK captured the problem well enough in #75.

    You’re telling me that each individual neuron in the cat’s brain must to be able to recognize mice and balls of string?

    And each individual neuron in a Chinese man’s brain must be able to “understand” Chinese?

    Also, if the Chinese Room is not simulating a human brain that has self-organized around its inputs, then it has nothing to say about dualism. And, if it is simulating a self-organized human brain, then there’s no illicit assumption about knowledge possessed by the brain. All we would be saying is that the man in the room cannot understand what the simulated Chinese brain is doing in terms of the detailed voltage inputs and outputs of individual neurons. You wouldn’t expect him to.

  83. doctor(logic), you believe,

    What would make God’s decree explanatory would be a rule, even a probabilistic one.

    That’s your view of explanation, it’s idiosyncratic, and it’s obviously wrong. I had opportunity to write a more normal definition of explanation today. You’re welcome to look at it.

    If we know that God decreed x, then we have an explanation for why x happened.

    But you can never know, as I explained.

    1. It’s a hypothetical. You didn’t answer the question.
    2. We can know sometimes, as I explained.

    I think it does devolve to epistemology. I am saying “God could explain x,” and you are hearing “How do we know God could explain x?” But you use this indiscriminately, saying that God could never actually even be the explanation for x. You jump from the epistemological to the ontological.

    Look: if God does x, then God’s doing it explains x. Could we look for further explanation, in the character and will of God? Of course! If we don’t find it, does that mean that “God’s doing x” contributes absolutely nothing whatsoever to our understanding of x? Of course not! Or do you think there is no explanation unless everything whatsoever about the explanation is also explained, and that those explanations are also fully explained, and …?

    As I said, your view of explanation is idiosyncratic, it’s obviously wrong, and I hope to be able to say I’m doing rebutting it, because I doubt there’s anybody else who accepts it or cares that you think it, and there’s nothing I’m going to be able to do to budge you from it after all these years of trying to do so on this blog.

    By your logic, reducing oceans to arrangements of atoms eliminates the oceans.

    Can you show me how truth or falseness can be an emergent property of physical properties the way ocean-ness can be an emergent property of H2O and etc.? Merely citing an analogy doesn’t prove your point, unless you can show that it is indeed analogous. Ocean-ness is ontologically a different kind of thing than truth or falsehood. Ocean-ness is a property of a physical thing; truth or falsehood is a property of propositions, which are not physical things. So you’ll have to do better than this analogy.

    You may not understand how matter can support reasons (and while I have my theories, I may not either), but that doesn’t mean reason is not a causal relationship between things.

    You don’t understand it either, doctor(logic). You have only asserted it with the non-support of a non-analogy. Show me, please, how reasons can stand in a causal relationship to inert matter. Show me how truth or falsehood can cause anything to happen by necessary or chance causal physical relationships. Don’t just claim it, don’t just toss out an analogy without showing its relevance. Show it.

  84. DL,

    You’re telling me that each individual neuron in the cat’s brain must to be able to recognize mice and balls of string?

    No. You were complaining that the Searle argument simulated single neurons, not a network of neurons. The difference between the two is the number of rulebooks, people and rooms. Nothing can be gained by allowing crosstalk between the people in each room (neurons) as each one can only operate according to their own rulebook (or chance, which still leaves them unable to know anything about the perceived symbols).

    In other words, my understanding is that Searle’s argument says knowledge of some perceived thing requires MORE than that thing being subject to a set of rules (necessity) and chance.

    Case in point…if I set Symbol A in front of you and nature’s rulebook (necessity) determined that you conclude Symbol A is a false statement about reality, do you KNOW anything about reality? No. Did you do any reasoning? No.

  85. Perhaps not such a good example above as I smuggled in knowledge that Symbol A had some connection with reality and hence had meaning. You still don’t know anything about Symbol A, and how it connects with reality so it works a little bit. I should have said the rulebook determined that you conclude ‘Symbol B’. Now you know nothing about either symbol, you don’t know what anything means, you don’t know if it violates the rules of logic or if it has any connection with reality – just like in Searle’s argument.

  86. Steve,

    You were complaining that the Searle argument simulated single neurons, not a network of neurons.

    No, I did not. I said the room simulates a whole brain full of neurons, but it simulates them one neuron at a time. And the man in the room represents only a single neuron at any given time. If the man doesn’t understand Chinese, that proves nothing at all. It proves that a single neuron does not understand Chinese, which is exactly what we would expect.

    The rulebook and the man’s notebook represent the states of the neurons, brain chemistry, and connections between the neurons. It tells the man which neuron to simulate next, and how to pass the output of one neuron onto other neurons.

  87. Tom,

    You want to open the door wider for potential explanations. The problem is that you open it so wide that non-explanations would be counted as explanations.

    I just read your definition of explanation at Discussion Grounds. (I keep thinking Coffee Grounds :P)

    At the site, you’re describing “correct explanations”. I’m talking about the definition of potential explanations, not even just the correct ones.

    So, I take it that your definition of a potential explanation is:

    x is a potential explanation for y if

    (A) by knowing x we understand y better than by not knowing x.

    Here’s the problem. By your definition, “unknown physics” is explanatory in exactly the same way God is. Everything is trivially explicable, according to your definition.

    Of course, by knowing “unknown physics” (which transforms it from unknown to known) we would understand y better. That’s pretty clear on almost any definition of understand. But does it make sense to say that “unknown physics” is explanatory? Does this issue bother you at all?

    Just to be clear, there may be a specific theory (with formulas etc) of physics which explains y, but “unknown physics” is not an explanation of anything, period. “Unknown physics” isn’t a theory. It’s not a theory at all until it makes some predictions.

    To quote you, replacing God with “unknown physics”:

    Look: if unknown physics does x, then unknown physics doing it explains x. Could we look for further explanation, in the character of unknown physics? Of course! If we don’t find it, does that mean that “unknown physics doing x” contributes absolutely nothing whatsoever to our understanding of x?

    Um, I don’t think unknown physics contributes to our understanding. Sorry.

    I ask you to make another subtle distinction.

    Suppose that I find an explanation (or a potential explanation) for X, and I call it Z:

    Question: What is the explanation for X?

    Answer: Z

    Written in this way, it is clear that we can say “an explanation for X is Z.”

    This seems unremarkable.

    Now, let’s contrast this with a scenario in which we premise that we have no potential explanation for X (ever or as yet) (i.e., when we are expressing total ignorance of the explanation for X):

    Question: What is the explanation for X?

    Answer: When we discover the explanation for X, whatever it might be, we shall call it Z.

    Does it still make sense to say “The explanation for X is Z”?

    Yes, but only in the most trivial sense. By definition, Z is the explanation of X, but Z could be anything (or nothing) at this point. We’re merely saying that whatever meets the conditions for an explanation of X will be labeled Z.

    In the second scenario, it would be a fallacy to believe that Z was explanatory of X. Z isn’t an explanation at all because we stated as a premise that we are totally ignorant of potential explanations for X. Z is a placeholder for the explanation we hope to have, not an explanation in itself.

    So, in this latter scenario, we cannot say that “Z is explanatory of X”.

    Note that the parallel between God’s will and the predictions of unknown physics is perfect. God’s will is unknown, but whatever God’s will is, it manifests as X. Likewise, unknown physics is unknown, but whatever the unknown physics predicts is manifest as X. (Both are true by definition.)

  88. doctor(logic), you say,

    So, I take it that your definition of a potential explanation is:

    x is a potential explanation for y if

    (A) by knowing x we understand y better than by not knowing x.

    No. That’s not what I said there. You left out the rest of the definition, which also answers the questions you raise in this comment.

    This is highly, egregiously irresponsible on your part. Do you really expect me to respond to this kind of shenanigans?

  89. By the way, you said that you were dealing just with “potential” explanations rather than “correct” explanations, which presumably is why you felt free to omit parts B and C. But parts B and C provide the answer to your question about “unknown physics.” I think you can figure out how if you’ll only look at it responsibly.

    You might take a closer look at the word “knowing” in part A, too. It does have a meaning, you know. What does knowing “unknown physics” even mean, for heaven’s sake? What does knowing Z mean in “When we discover the explanation for X, whatever it might be, we shall call it Z”?

    See what I mean about being responsible?

  90. What possible objective meaning could “responsibility” have for a moral relativist? None. That’s why, ultimately, it doesn’t matter to them if they intentionally act in a “highly egregiously irresponsible” manner. Imposition (not reasoning) and will to power (not truth) are the name of the game.

  91. Holopupenko:

    Imposition (not reasoning) and will to power (not truth) are the name of the game.

    I wish I had written that. It’s an excellent description of what ails America today. You see the effects of this in business, exchanges over issues and especially politics.

    BTW Holopupenko, I am enjoying your comments.

  92. Tom,

    I quoted part (A) of your definition of a “good explanation”. Parts (B) and ( C) are about determining whether one explanation is better than another. They are not about determining whether x is potentially explanatory. Only part A is relevant to that question.

    But parts B and C provide the answer your question about “unknown physics.” I think you can figure out how if you’ll only look at it responsibly.

    Actually, I addressed this very issue in my comment:

    Of course, by knowing “unknown physics” (which transforms it from unknown to known) we would understand y better. That’s pretty clear on almost any definition of understand. But does it make sense to say that “unknown physics” is explanatory?

    What I’m saying in the above is that it’s not enough that we might, in the future, find some specific physics that would qualify as “unknown physics circa 2009”. That is, if a candidate x is so vague as to flunk test (A), x doesn’t get a pass because we might one day in the future formulate a specific sub-theory x’ that does pass both (A) and (B).

    The interesting thing in your response is that you seem to think “unknown physics” makes it past (A), but gets stopped by (B). Is that what you are saying?

    If so, does anything not make it past (A) in your book?

    Also, I’m trying to see my last comment from your perspective. Are you saying you agree with what I had to say based on (A) being your sole criterion, but you disagree with my conclusion because you also have (B) and ( C)?

    I have more to say about (B), but I want to get past (A) first.

  93. Tom,

    You edited your comment while I was responding to it.

    You ask

    What does knowing “unknown physics” even mean, for heaven’s sake?

    “Unknown physics that explains y” means “Theories unknown to us at the moment that would explain y.”

    General Relativity was unknown to Newton. For Isaac Newton, GR was “unknown physics that explains the precession of Mercury”. What I am saying is that GR explains the precession of Mercury, but “unknown physics that explains the precession of Mercury” doesn’t explain anything because it is too vague. If it were explanatory, then Newton had an explanation for the precession of Mercury before Einstein discovered/formulated it.

    This key issue is the following. What constitutes sufficient specificity for a theory to qualify under (A)?

    A candidate isn’t specific enough to be explanatory merely because it claims to account for something specific. The precession of Mercury can be measured very precisely, but that’s not really relevant. “Unknown physics that explains the precession of Mercury very precisely” is plenty specific with respect to what is to be explained. However, “unknown physics” fails to actually explain because it is not specific about the mechanism!!

    Another example. We don’t have an explanation for the Big Bang. At the moment, all we can do is describe it, albeit in lots of detail. I can propose that
    x = “Unknown physics that explains the Big Bang in detail”

    Yet x as I defined it above explains nothing. What is it about x that has to be specific in order for x to be explanatory under (A)?

    My claim is that x must be specifically predictive of y, and not in some trivial sense of being defined to predict only y.

    Maybe this is where your (B) comes in. Does (B) impose restrictions on x that make it specific enough that it cannot do nothing but predict y?

  94. What possible objective meaning could “responsibility” have for a moral relativist? None. That’s why, ultimately, it doesn’t matter to them if they intentionally act in a “highly egregiously irresponsible” manner.

    What possible meaning could “delicious” have for a gastronomic subjectivist? Clearly, it wouldn’t matter to them if they intentionally ate dung.

    Imposition (not reasoning) and will to power (not truth) are the name of the game.

    Er, that’s the name of your game, not mine.

  95. DL, you missed it again. Here you have patiently explained to me what “unknown physics” is. But I didn’t ask, “What is unknown physics?” I asked, “What does knowing unknown physics mean?” (emphasis added this time). My definition for explanation (I’ll say it one more time…) speaks of knowing some x. It’s rather silly to suppose that could include knowing some unknown x, isn’t it?

    If we know some x, such that x increases our understanding of y, and if x meets the other conditions for adequacy I stated on that linked page, then x is explanatory of y. You claim that unknown physics is a counter-example to my definition of explanation, but unknown physics has nothing to do with what I defined, since my definition was about some x that is known.

  96. Holopupenko: Imposition (not reasoning) and will to power (not truth) are the name of the game.

    DL: Er, that’s the name of your game, not mine.

    No, that’s the name of the game in the USA right now. Forced subsidies were drawn from limited resources to fund a criminal enterprise like ACORN which assists candidates of a particular set of views to get elected. Last night yet another of many films was shown on cable TV exposing the willingness of ACORN local chapters to facilitate the operation of prostitution rings; ones that employ children (young girls). It was made possible as a result of a sting operation. The result? Those involved in the sting are sued, prosecution of them (but not ACORN) is contemplated and a cable channel is excoriated for running the film.

    A deeply immoral series of acts are ignored in favor of targeting those who exposed this so that an organization which helps to elect those in office can be protected. What better current and shameful example of power imposition and intimidation to protect the powerful? This would not have occurred in America even in the recent past. Conservatives and liberals of a different recent decade would have poured heavy pressure of the AG to prosecute ACORN and subsidies would not even have been a consideration. Those involved in the sting would have been hailed as heroes.

    This is the type of incident that happens when everyone does what is right in their own eyes.

  97. Tom,

    Okay, moving on then.

    An explanation isn’t an argument, but there’s still a notion of circularity. Here’s what I mean.

    Is “knowing x” explanatory of y if I only know x because of y?

    Let’s look at these two new examples:

    y: The precession of Mercury.

    x1: Mercury precession theory, which says Mercury’s precession is necessary, but says nothing else. (e.g., it doesn’t necessitate the precession of any other planets.)

    x2: Mercury Control Monster, who controls matter at will, and who wills Mercury to precess, but wills nothing else. (e.g., MCM doesn’t will any other planets to precess.) Mercury Control Monster is otherwise invisible.

    Would you agree that neither x1 nor x2 qualify as explanations if our knowledge of them derives only from the fact that we see Mercury precess?

  98. It depends on the richness of y. If y is a single, unidimensional fact like the precession of Mercury then knowing x may not be explanatory of y if we only know x because of y. That’s because there is a failure of test (B): we don’t have adequate reason to believe we actually know x.

    But if y is the entire solar system’s activity as observed from earth, then we move toward knowing x just from y. If y also includes Newton’s laws of motion, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, and the calculus, you’ve pretty much arrived at a place where y is sufficient for knowing x. Finally, if y includes the knowledge that we’ve aimed a rocket toward Mercury and reached it successfully, then y gives you a lock on knowing x.

    (BTW, thank you for your eloquent acknowledgment—“Okay, moving on then”—that when we’re talking about known things we’re not talking about unknown known things.)

  99. Tom in #83:

    1. S’s conclusion [C], that all causation is either by physical necessity or by chance, is based on reasons x, y, z .

    7. To the extent that x, y, z, are a matter of physical necessity, S’s conclusion is based entirely on physical and chemical processes.
    8. Physical and chemical processes lack the property of having a truth value; they are never either true or false.
    9. x, y, z lack the property of being true or false. (7, 8)
    10. Conclusions reached on the basis of that which is neither true nor false cannot be regarded as true or false.

    True/false and reasons x,y,z are all symbolic abstractions that only make sense to an entity capable of creating and processing abstractions.

    8 correctly states that physical/chemical processes can’t be true or false, but that is only because physical/chemical processes aren’t abstractions. Only abstractions can be true or false. So it is somewhat of a non-sequitur.

    Making abstractions explicit in 7:

    7. To the extent that x, y, z, are S’s abstractions formed by physical necessity, S’s conclusion is an abstraction formed entirely by physical and chemical processes.

    8. Physical and chemical processes lack the property of having a truth value; they are never either true or false.
    8.5. But S’s abstractions of physical and chemical processes can have a truth value (i.e when in the form of a proposition).

    So I think once you make S’s abstractions explicit, the argument fails. But is that because you believe abstractions/symbolic-representation are incompatible with naturalism/materialism?

    On an unrelated topic, what is the best way to continue a potentially long-running discussion? Is it better to add comments (potentially) off-topic to newer blog-posts, or just stay in the old thread? I apologize for being slow to respond here but I want to make sure I’m getting your point.

  100. Woodchuck, the best method is to stay on the same thread.

    An observation and a question: First, you say, “Only abstractions can be true or false.” In fact only propositions can be true or false. Numbers, for example, are abstract entities; standing alone, they have no truth value.

    Second, you say in 8.5 that S has some ability to create and process abstractions. But S is entirely physical, on the the theory we are testing. How does this entirely-physical S do that? And how does S do that when it actually calls for S to process propositions?

  101. Tom at #114

    An observation and a question: First, you say, “Only abstractions can be true or false.” In fact only propositions can be true or false. Numbers, for example, are abstract entities; standing alone, they have no truth value.

    Okay, I’m thinking of propositions as built on abstractions, but, yes, they aren’t the same.

    Second, you say in 8.5 that S has some ability to create and process abstractions. But S is entirely physical, on the the theory we are testing. How does this entirely-physical S do that? And how does S do that when it actually calls for S to process propositions?

    The same way a computer does. That is, computer memory is an abstraction of what could be some aspect of reality (a lossy graphical image for example) and a computer program to detect human faces would evaluate that abstraction as a propositional question “is there a face?”. (Granting that a computer would not experience anything like consciousness in the process of doing so.)

    Computers do not program their own software yet, so the analogy works only so far at present. However, I don’t think it is difficult to imagine a computer that could build new abstractions out of observation plus old abstractions. Such a process should result in what we think of as intelligence.

    Objections could be that a computer and its software are designed. Yes, but is it impossible to evolve a biological computer that can program itself? I don’t think so, and certainly evolution argues it is possible.

    So, the purely physical process reduces to highly complex, evolved biological computers running evolved + self programming. (Granting again that purely physical processes would not obviously account for consciousness, but that’s another argument I assume).

  102. Tom writes:

    Woodchuck, I thought a computer memory was a set of voltage states. How does it acquire the status of an abstraction?

    Compare:
    I thought neurons were just clumps of cells, how do they acquire the status of abstraction?

    Would you say these two questions are the same? I.e. the structure of the brain is analogous to computation machinery, but only some sort of dualism can account for abstraction?

  103. Tom,

    But if y is the entire solar system’s activity as observed from earth, then we move toward knowing x just from y. If y also includes Newton’s laws of motion, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, and the calculus, and you’ve pretty much arrived at a place where y is sufficient for knowing x.

    Of course, you know that our point of disagreement lies somewhere in here.

    Do you think it is simply the quantity of information in y that makes x explanatory when x is known only from y?

    Suppose I spend a year measuring the position of Mercury, measuring the motions of the planets, the lengths of the days, etc. and I pump up y1 with the thousands of brute facts of my observations. Suppose I suggest that some x1 explains y1, and the information in y1 is my only source of knowledge of x1.

    Subsequently, you yourself spend the following year measuring the positions and motions of the planets. Your numbers for this second year will be completely different from my numbers from the first year. For example, in the first year, I saw Saturn in the morning sky, and in the second year you saw Saturn in the evening sky (i.e., its coordinates are different). Let’s call this second year of data y2. You independently propose an explanation for the data of the second year, x2.

    We get together at the end of the second year and compare notes. Should we expect to see any connection between x1 and y2 or between x2 and y1?

    If so, then it’s not merely the quantity of information in y that makes x explanatory when x is inferred only from y. For x to be explanatory, x has to say something non-trivial about new information we might add to y. (There has to be the possibility of x being wrong about future data being added to y.)

  104. That works for a lot of science, doctor(logic), but that doesn’t mean it’s the only meaning of explanation. It’s odd you hold on to it so, when it works in so few circumstances. It wouldn’t even explain why I swept the living room floor just now.

  105. Tom,

    It wouldn’t even explain why I swept the living room floor just now.

    Write down your explanation for why you swept the floor just now.

    Now tell me that your explanation is just as good when we learn more about the floor sweeping… if you swept without moving from one spot, if you swept for 6 hours straight, if the floor had just been washed, if the floor had just been varnished, if the broom was made of graphite, if your wife wasn’t watching you, etc.

    This extra data in y would not conflict with your explanation? If so, then I have absolutely no idea what you think your explanation for sweeping the floor was.

  106. I swept because the floor seemed to need it, and I prefer it to be clean; and because I had opportunity at that time to clean it.

    What’s your point? That all data must be perfectly consistent in order for an explanation to be an explanation? That there actually exists contrary data? That that data is statistical in form? I just don’t get what you’re after here.

  107. Tom,

    You have me scratching my head. You reject the conclusion of my comment #119, and then hold up your sweeping the floor as a counter-example, when it fits #119 just fine.

    Recall that the only thing you told me initially was that you were sweeping the floor.

    y1: Tom was sweeping the floor.

    Then you state your explanation:

    I swept because the floor seemed to need it, and I prefer it to be clean; and because I had opportunity at that time to clean it.

    Of course, this is the explanation (the x) I would have expected.

    x: Tom sweeps to clean the floor, assuming he’s not busy with something more important.

    Now consider other facts that could come to light:

    y2: Tom believed the floor was already clean before he started sweeping.

    y3: Tom interrupted an important phone call to sweep the floor.

    y4: The dog just ran across the floor before Tom decided to sweep.

    I hope you can see that your explanation is not compatible with all of the additional things we could conceivably learn about the conditions under which you swept. y4 is compatible with your explanation, but y2 and y3 are not.

    That is, x is not compatible with every piece of information we might add to y in the future.

    IOW, your x clearly fits my criteria in #119.

    What’s your point? That all data must be perfectly consistent in order for an explanation to be an explanation? That there actually exists contrary data? That that data is statistical in form? I just don’t get what you’re after here.

    Answer: x must be incompatible with at least some conceivable pieces of information that might be revealed in the future about y.

    NOTE 1: it doesn’t matter if x is actually the correct explanation, and we never see anything in the future that is incompatible with x. What matters is that we can conceive of a future discovery that would be incompatible with x.

    NOTE 2: It doesn’t matter if that incompatibility is statistical, conceivable incompatibility with the future is still a prerequisite for x to be explanatory.

    The incompatibility of a theory with conceivable futures is called “prediction”.

  108. Your final answer before NOTE 1 is trivial. Any x can be conceived of as incompatible with some information that could be revealed in the future about any y. At least you’ve given up on your prior (a couple years ago) insistence that it be statistical.

  109. Your final answer before NOTE 1 is trivial. Any x can be conceived of as incompatible with some information that could be revealed in the future about any y.

    Trivial!?

    You’ve been arguing against the requirement that explanations be predictive for years. Now you’re saying the prediction requirement is trivial?

    Consider these:

    (1) x=”God created the universe, where God is the god of the deists.”

    (2) x=”God caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, where God is the god of the deists.”

    (3) x=”God caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 4000 years ago by arranging a great flood, where God is the god of the deists.”

    Can you conceive of some new information we might obtain tomorrow that would be incompatible with (1) and (2)? I can’t.

    (3) seems conceivably refutable (indeed, it has been soundly refuted). So (3) would qualify as explanatory, even if though it turns out to be false.

    So, will you join with me and say (1) and (2) are not explanatory?

    At least you’ve given up on your prior (a couple years ago) insistence that it be statistical.

    Again, scratching my head, here. Something is either logically incompatible (in the certainly true or certainly false sense), or else it is statistically incompatible (in the likely true or likely false sense). Logical incompatibility is a subset of statistical incompatibility (where the distribution falls wholly against incompatible possibilities). Is there a third kind of incompatibility that’s neither statistical nor logical?

  110. Sure I can think of information we could gain that would be incompatible with (1) and (2). It’s called revelation. I already know that the God who created the universe is not the God of the deists. And if you don’t know it, you might find out tomorrow by the return of Christ. I could certainly conceive of that! That’s how wide-open your specification is.

  111. And your formulation of statistical compatibility in your last paragraph here is a lot different from what I recall it being a while ago. If you want to say that either I know for sure or I don’t is a matter of statistics, fine, but it seems a little bulky for a lot of purposes, and at any rate it’s not the way you used to put it, as far as I can recall.

  112. Hi Tom:

    Sorry, way off topic: Go see the recently-released 3D Disney version of “A Christmas Carol.” It’s wonderful… and not just on account of the 3D-CGI. It’s true to the original story, and there are parts that will make you cry: there’s a glimpse of the welcome Heaven will be when Scrooge finally comes to his nephew’s dinner near the end, there’s the gratitude one should express to God for healthy children, and then, of course, there’s Tiny Tim. AND, of all things from coming from Disney, it’s utterly Christian with the traditional Christmas carol soundtrack. I was skeptical walking in to see it this afternoon with two of my rug rats; I walked out wiping my eyes along with other parents in the theater. Christmas started a little earlier this year… I hope this plug won’t steal the thunder of the movie.

  113. On the subject of freewill and my critique of Tom’s free will reducto argument, I argued that leaving out abstractions made the argument invalid. Tom responded in affect that naturalism/materialism cannot account for abstractions.

    I thought a computer memory was a set of voltage states. How does it acquire the status of an abstraction?

    Let me talk about abstractions and the human mind first to see how far we agree. An abstraction results from retaining a common feature or features of multiple, distinct concepts or observations and throwing away non-common features. The abstraction “Red” retains the common feature of the experience of a certain wavelength on the retina among all observable phenomena while throwing out everything else: shape, size, texture, etc. In the human mind, groups of neurons called globs fire on shades of color. The experience of a shade of color already qualifies as an abstraction by the general defintion; that is, every time we see a shape with that shade of color, we essentially “feel” that glob firing. But that experience will also be stored in memory and become linked to other memories of shapes, colors, language symbols (“light red”), even emotions, and become what we think of as a “true” abstraction.

    Under the assumptions of dualism, the human mind has an “experiencer” not part of the physical brain that reacts to neurons firing and gives us the experience of perceptions, sensations and abstractions. Without the assumptions of dualism, the experience is neurons firing; that is, some as-yet-unknown property of a special configuration of matter and energy as a neural network leads to consciousness and experience.

    So I’ve conceded that I don’t know exactly how matter and energy give rise to consciousness and experience, but I’m not sure this concession matters to the free will reductio. That is, suppose S is a philosophical zombie. S should still be able create and process abstractions and propositions since the brain hardware is still there. If a philosophical zombie can do it, it seems to me the argument fails unless there is a step that shows that matter/energy can not give rise to consciousness and experience.

  114. woodchuck64:

    So I’ve conceded that I don’t know exactly how matter and energy give rise to consciousness and experience, but I’m not sure this concession matters to the free will reductio. That is, suppose S is a philosophical zombie. S should still be able create and process abstractions and propositions since the brain hardware is still there. If a philosophical zombie can do it, it seems to me the argument fails unless there is a step that shows that matter/energy can not give rise to consciousness and experience.

    Cable, connectors and much more hardware are needed to transmit and receive your thoughts. Yet the hardware and even the alphanumeric notation system are merely physical mediators. Similarly dualists maintain a distinction between physical neural synapses etc. and the thoughts themselves. A zombie would lack the thinking capacity to initiate the neural messaging pathways required to effect the transmission of the abstract thoughts in evidence at this blog. The evident distinction cannot be overcome by asserting that abstract thoughts are the physical mediators.

  115. What possible meaning could “delicious” have for a gastronomic subjectivist? Clearly, it wouldn’t matter to them if they intentionally ate dung.

    Precisely. That’s why there’s no such thing as a gastronomic subjectivist. Gastronomes are all objective, i.e. they require objects, the external and independent foodstuffs that act (taste) a certain way because of their objective, external, independent chemical nature. (Well, you can include the subject’s own taste buds and sense of taste, so there is a subjective component also, but it works only in conjunction with the very real and very necessary objective component.)
    Similarly, a moral relativist makes no sense unless the moral subject is acting relative to objective moral standards.

  116. A comment on the tangential QM debate: (Sorry Tom)

    I agree with olegt. I’ll just say is somewhat more plainly: The Copenhagen view of QM works. It is the standard or orthodox view. Neutron decay is random. And Holopupenko’s somewhat rude comments inserting philosophical concepts (“actualization?”) have nothing to do with actual physics as practiced. Like olegt, I also doubt Holopupenko is a professional physicist.

    We are not forced to use statistical descriptions for technological reasons, ignorance, or epistemic limitations (is that the same thing?) We are forced to do so because they are accurate descriptions of reality.

    (Aside: I really believe that it should be illegal for philosophers to invoke QM, since 99% of them mangle it so badly.)

  117. Heddle:

    (Aside: I really believe that it should be illegal for philosophers to invoke QM, since 99% of them mangle it so badly.)

    A general comment not meant for any of the three: Most of us, who are not philosophy professors, stray into philosophical points from time to time. If a physics professor does so he ought to make that especially plain to a lay audience.

  118. heddle:

    With all due respect it is you who should be questioned: to assert something is ontologically random as invoked from the highly abstract mathematical formalisms of quantum mechanics is unsupportable for two reasons: (1) true randomness means no causality (it appears you don’t understand that); and (2) mathematical formalism by their very nature attempt to capture, through the accident known as quantity, some knowledge of the thing–not its essence (it appears you don’t understand that as well).

    Employing quantum mechanical mathematical formalisms to describe, say, an electron in a potential well in no way implies the electron itself is somehow “spread” or “smeared” over space and time. It says that, based on our limitations, we cannot (currently, i.e., given that particular formalism or the limitations on our measuring ability) localize any one particular electron but must collect data from many to observe the probability distribution provided by the wavefunction. It’s the graphical representation of the wavefunction that’s “smeared” across the paper–not the electron in reality. The question is a pointed one: why are you letting the mathematics (very limited at that) drive the beingness of the electron? If you are, you are quite literally imparting an ontology-actualizing efficacy upon formalisms that don’t deserve it. You ARE confusing the map for the territory.

    Finally, I find it laughable that you imply there is no controversy or debate over the interpretation of findings and descriptors in the quantum realm. THAT is amazing! I also find it amazing that you (by implication) discount philosophical questioning of interpretations of quantum mechanical findings. (It’s almost like you’re saying, “We physicists really know what’s going on (wink, wink), so you philosophers should just continue contemplating your navels.) Worst, to claim something somehow has explanatory efficacy simply because “it works” is, well, the height of folly–not least of all because if one swallows such a shallow view of things, then why continue investigating? Why do science? Why overturn your current misunderstandings if, in the future, we are able to cut reality with a finer knife than we currently can? (Wasn’t Newton’s physics deemed “orthodox” and unassailable until just before the 20th century? Are not theories contingent knowledge susceptible to change–or being discarded–based on new findings?) Is it uncharitable to say I’m embarrassed for you?

  119. Holopupenko,

    I’m not interested in so many words.

    A free neutron will decay into a proton, and electron, and an antineutrino. The lifetime of a free neutron is about 900 seconds. Suppose I have two free neutrons, one just created and one that has been around for a year (~ π×10^7 seconds).

    Which one will decay first?

    Answer that question. That’s QM. All your words are something—but they aren’t QM, nor are they relevant for QM.

    (It’s almost like you’re saying, “We physicists really know what’s going on (wink, wink), so you philosophers should just continue contemplating your navels.)

    When it comes to QM, it is not like that’s almost what I’m saying—that’s exactly what I am saying.

    Is it uncharitable to say I’m embarrassed for you?

    Not at all.

  120. David Heddle, these questions are for you.

    First a brief preface:

    It was pointed out that humans can simulate randomness. Clearly then the “randomness” observed does not in any way signify the lack of an intelligent source acting with purpose. So:

    Can we assume anything about a series of causal events leading to a random state of whatever? Can design be hidden in random outcomes? Or do none of these questions make sense due to my lack of expertise with qm?

  121. heddle (David?)

    I threw the parenthetical in there as bait. Please understand I did NOT do it antagonistically but to draw out your sentiments… which it did in spades. The problem is you accept NO investigation of what physics does outside the discipline itself. That’s terrible, for without general reflection upon reality, the MESs could not have arisen… not to mention the atomization of human knowledge and the setting up of artificial barriers between disciplines. It’s a knee-jerk reaction from physicists that’s quite unscientific, by the way.

    “I’m not interested in so many words” is just a reflection of the problem your paradigm is. It is, at base, a dodging of my points. Your neutron decay example is a non-starter–not because I disagree with you that it can’t be predicted, but because you rest upon that based on the limitations of the mathematical formalisms that don’t permit you (currently) to do that. Therefore, you conclude, because I can’t predict which one will decay with the tools I have, therefore that quantum system ONTOLOGICALLY is random, i.e., without cause. That, my friend, is a gross category error and a non sequitur

    If you understand anything about the historical development of physics, then you know motion is not reducible, rigorously speaking, merely to dx/dt or something similar. It is a species of change, and change is “reduction from potency to act.” That’s the philosophical perspective, and it is correct. That principle and understanding of change/motion was established hundreds of years before Newton. Without it, it is hardly possible for him to have arrived as his “laws.” (In the 1300’s Buridan put to rest once and for all Aristotle’s incorrect vision of an object’s motion and thus essentially solved the problem of “impetus”–understood today as momentum… the very core of the idea upon which Newton developed the Laws.)

    The philosopher does NOT have the benefit of the narrow focus of physics to view motion as merely dx/dt, or motion in protein folding per the biochemist, or the motion of tectonic plates for the seismologist, or the motion of an animal for a biologist, or or motion as change in terms of the changing of the leaves, or motion analogously seen as moving from premises to a conclusion in a syllogism. No. The philosopher must understand motion in the widest sense accessible to all people, and that sense is the one that guides what motion is for the rest. That you may not like the fact that philosophers had to establish general principles before physicists could dive narrowly into reality is irrelevant.

    If you narrowly define motion as dx/dt, your thinking IS reductionist–pure and simple. If you do not understand (or, it seems, don’t want to understand) the nature of what true randomness implies (which you failed to address) instead of reducing it to a mathematical expression that you KNOW leaves much of reality behind, then there’s nothing further to discuss. My sense is you would shudder to entertain the idea that entities/phenomena are without cause, and yet because you appear not to understand what true randomness is because you limit randomness to a mathematical formalism, you do precisely that. Per my previous comment: are you really going to suggest that electrons ARE–really ARE–smeared all over space and time until we observe them? Really? Just because the wavefunction is a statistical formalism based on our (current) inability to measure/cut reality more finely? Really?

    I’m not going to blame you for not understand important philosophical principles. But, I will rightly chastise you for thinking physics and only physics as the “right” to criticize (how many times do I have to say it) INTERPRETATIONS of findings. And, you can take that from a professional physicist (Associate Professor) with philosophy bona fides to boot.

  122. Tom:

    Let’s not play the moral relativist game: the offending remark at the end of that particular comment was uncharitable–objectively so. It doesn’t matter whether heddle thinks it is or not (his response was a reflection of think-skinned grace on his part). So, please remove that sentence… and heddle, please accept my apologies.

  123. Holopupenko ,

    Per my previous comment: are you really going to suggest that electrons ARE–really ARE–smeared all over space and time until we observe them? Really? Just because the wavefunction is a statistical formalism based on our (current) inability to measure/cut reality more finely? Really?

    Yes. Really.

    With at least two qualifications.

    1) Not over all space—not where the wavefunction vanishes.
    2) All/any physics might/will someday be replaced by better theories. But that is quite different from what you are implying, either by your ARE–really ARE construct suggesting that QM is merely a mathematical description with no basis in physical reality—or your comment about our inability to measure/cut reality more finely, which indicates a certainty that there is a deterministic theory, we just don’t know it yet.

    So what I would say is this: the current best theory of the microscopic world suggests that electrons are indeed smeared, and can even go through two slits at once. This is not, as has been experimentally verified, because of a limit on our ability to measure, at least for local hidden variable theories.

    Bradford,

    You know I am a Christian and furthermore a Calvinist—and we Calvinists are second to nobody when it comes to holding a strong view on the sovereignty of God. I believe that the decay of a free neutron is random from our perspective and will be forever. There are no hidden variables. At the same time I don’t think a free neutron is outside of God’s purview nor can one decay at an inopportune time and thwart God’s sovereign plan. However the natural laws which God has dictated, and which he can at-will circumvent in the form of supernatural intervention, are consistent with truly random quantum events.

  124. Yes. Really.

    Then what you’re saying is that an electron can be in two or more places at the same time and in the same manner before we observe it (hence violating the principle of non-contradiction) merely because you have a highly-abstract mathematical formalisms that you interpret to say this. Interesting. Have you met Mr. Mermin?

    from what you are implying… QM is merely a mathematical description with no basis in physical reality

    Please provide a reference where I said that–especially the words in bold-face.

    Also, you keep on missing the point about measurements vs. the mathematical formalism: the limitations on measurements are not the immediate problem. It’s the highly-abstract mathematical formalisms that arise from those limitations that are imparted illicit ontological efficacy.

    I believe that the decay of a free neutron is random from our perspective and will be forever.

    I’m sorry, heddle, that truly is anti-scientific, science-stifling nonsense. First, why do science if we’ve “forever” figured it out? Second, if it’s “random from our perspective,” what logical gymnastics leads you to claim the neutron is itself ontologically random? Third, what is it that inspired you to bring God (as an efficient cause in the physical world) into directly causing or delaying the decay of neutrons in the manner of (to borrow from the other side of the aisle) “goddidit”?

    Finally, I realize philosophy is a dead-end for you, but you might try not ignoring the problems I point out in your position–especially the issue of randomness, i.e., no causality.

  125. I believe that the decay of a free neutron is random from our perspective and will be forever. There are no hidden variables. At the same time I don’t think a free neutron is outside of God’s purview nor can one decay at an inopportune time and thwart God’s sovereign plan. However the natural laws which God has dictated, and which he can at-will circumvent in the form of supernatural intervention, are consistent with truly random quantum events.

    David, this appears to be an outright contradiction here. If the events aren’t random to God, and He is sovereign over them, then they aren’t truly random by definition. That, in turn, implies that there *is* a hidden variable, even if it is one that is inaccessible to “our perspective and will be forever” and is only accessible to God.

    There’s a big unjustifiable philosophical leap involved in moving from the claim that something is forever random from our perspective (I’ll leave that debate to you and Holopupenko) to the claim that it is *truly* random (which as Holopupenko points out, implies that the random aspects of it are uncaused).

  126. The Deuce,

    Let me use a different example. Setting aside corrections due to relativity, etc., the planets “truly” follow paths prescribed by Newton’s universal gravitation. As far as we are concerned they will, forever more, move according to the law of Gravitation. At the same time we recognize that God can supernaturally suspend this natural mechanics, should he choose to do so.

    Likewise the decay of neutrons can be truly random, meaning not only do we have no current theory that can predict when a given neutron will decay but that no such theory exists. (At the moment that’s how it looks.) If theories that predict when a given neutron decays are not just non-existent but ruled out by experiment then neutron decay is, in every sense of the word, “truly” random. But again, we are talking the natural world. They are truly random in the natural world. No neutron decay will or can ever be predicted. But If God can speak a universe into existence, it would be child’s play for him to control, supernaturally, a given neutron.

  127. Likewise the decay of neutrons can be truly random, meaning not only do we have no current theory that can predict when a given neutron will decay but that no such theory exists.

    Even if this is true, it doesn’t imply true randomness, but rather an absolute limit to our knowledge. Perhaps God decides the position of neutrons in some inscrutable manner that can’t be modeled mathematically, and so can’t be encoded in a law. In that case, we’d never know, but it wouldn’t be truly random, since it wouldn’t be random with respect to God’s divine purpose.

    No neutron decay will or can ever be predicted

    By us.

    But If God can speak a universe into existence, it would be child’s play for him to control, supernaturally, a given neutron.

    As Christians, we believe that God not only could control a neutron supernaturally, but that he knew where each one would be, and even planned where each would be, and that he even sustains each one in its continued existence in whatever state it’s in. Meaning it’s not random to God. And if there exists one person for whom it’s not random, it’s not “truly random”. True randomness is a metaphysical claim.

  128. Deuce:

    You are correct, but that’s what’s sticking in heddle’s craw–which, in fact, is the problem scientismists have (strange company, eh?): philosophical claims are simply anathema to scientists imparting illicit philosophical interpretations upon scientific findings… or worse, upon their highly-abstract descriptors. The principle of non-contradiction, the principle of sufficient reason, the principle of excluded middle, essence, beingness, nature, randomness, change, potency, act, the four causes per se, the transcendental (truth, goodness, beauty, oneness, thingness) etc., etc., are utterly untouchable by the MESs… yet the MESs presuppose them. That’s not to suggest philosophy doesn’t depend on input from the MESs–of course it does, it must in fact.

    You’ll notice heddle, while throwing around the term “random,” has not defined it, nor has he addressed the actual implication of non-causality. Why? He can’t! At best, he’ll throw a statistical formalism at you and declare “There! True randomness exists…” Uh, yeah… Same thing even with a species of change: motion. A philosopher will tell you WHAT motion is, a physicists will tell you all sorts of ways and for all sorts of disciplines HOW to MEASURE change in the physical realm and to provide mathematical descriptors so that predictions can be made. Heddle’s grave error is thinking those mathematical formalisms impart (or at least tell him about) ONTOLOGICAL and ESSENTIAL significance. They don’t, and he’s having a VERY hard time dealing with that. (Referencing Bell’s Theorem is a non-starter because that theorem says nothing essential about beingness… and it appears heddle has never considered at a deep level the implications of Godel’s Incompleteness theorems to physics.) Why? Because such things can’t be measured and quantified (what is measurable or quantifiable about the scientific method, by the way?), and that leaves him (and olegt and DL) gasping for breath.

  129. Holopupenko,

    You ignored my comment #50 in which I wrote that we can’t tell with certainty whether quantum events are ontologically random or not. Yet, you are the one making the hard metaphysical claim that there is no ontological randomness, and you’ve got no basis for that claim.

    You bring up the principle of non-contradiction, but that’s a principle of rational thinking, not a principle of the universe. If reality is acausal or inconsistent at quantum scales, it won’t make any observable difference. If we give up the claim that “everything single thing in the universe is consistent or causal,” we don’t have to give up the claim that “some things (e.g., classical physics) are causal and consistent.”

    The PSR doesn’t even do any work. Even if you claimed it was an inductive inference from the observation that a lot of stuff has an explanation, that wouldn’t prove it’s impossible for something to be inexplicable.

  130. Tom,

    And your formulation of statistical compatibility in your last paragraph here is a lot different from what I recall it being a while ago. If you want to say that either I know for sure or I don’t is a matter of statistics, fine, but it seems a little bulky for a lot of purposes, and at any rate it’s not the way you used to put it, as far as I can recall.

    Well, maybe I’m getting marginally better at stating my position. Anyway, given that we actually agree on something, maybe there’s cause for celebration.

    Sure I can think of information we could gain that would be incompatible with (1) and (2). It’s called revelation. I already know that the God who created the universe is not the God of the deists. And if you don’t know it, you might find out tomorrow by the return of Christ. I could certainly conceive of that! That’s how wide-open your specification is.

    This is based on the premise that the deist’s god would not reveal itself to us?

    What if we stripped out any and all reference to the character of the deity, what the deity would do? Would you still consider the theory explanatory?

  131. The Deuce wrote:

    If the events aren’t random to God, and He is sovereign over them, then they aren’t truly random by definition. That, in turn, implies that there *is* a hidden variable, even if it is one that is inaccessible to “our perspective and will be forever” and is only accessible to God.

    Yes, physicists have explored this route of hidden variables. Just the fact of their existence has interesting consequences: Bell’s theorem already mentioned by David. If such hidden variables exist and satisfy some minimal physical requirements (see below), quantum measurements should satisfy certain inequalities. Such experimental tests were performed by Alan Aspect in the 1980s and repeated and extended many times since then. These tests show quite reliably that Bell’s inequalities are violated. It thus follows that such hidden variables are ruled out. Quantum randomness is not a reflection of our ignorance.

    The technical assumptions mentioned above concern the local nature of these variables. I’ll comment separately on that (gotta get some sleep). Suffice it to say that nonlocal variables are quite unphysical: they violate the very foundations of physics. More on that later.

  132. DL:

    I’m not making a per se metaphysical claim (read what I wrote carefully)–I’m confirming a philosophical principle that has ontological and epistemological forms (non-contradiction). That you are unable to distinguish (or understand) this is not an argument against the principle.

    Moreover, are YOU making the claim against non-contradiction as a scientist (scientifically) or as a philosopher (philosophically)?

    Also, since you claim non-contradiction is “a principle of rational thinking, not a principle of the universe,” did you make such an all-encompassing claim “rationally,” and if so, how did you step outside the universe and your own rational thinking to make such a claim objectively?

    PSR “inductive inference”? First, I make no such claim. Second, I don’t need to: if I deny it, I affirm it. Third, your being wedded to “inexplicable” things is quite, quite unscientific.

    olegt:

    You keep on deflecting from the point: I’m not claiming anything about hidden variables–I keep on reminding you that highly abstract mathematical formalisms have no ontological efficacy, i.e., they don’t actualize reality–they describe limited portions of physical reality. And, you still haven’t come clean on what randomness is without pointing to an equation to do so (impossible anyway).

    Happy Thanksgiving! I’m outta here…

  133. Tom,

    Trying out my new-found ability to convey my thoughts, while returning to the original topic…

    Here’s what I wrote about explanatory theories:

    Something is either logically incompatible (in the certainly true or certainly false sense), or else it is statistically incompatible (in the likely true or likely false sense). Logical incompatibility is a subset of statistical incompatibility (where the distribution falls wholly against incompatible possibilities). Is there a third kind of incompatibility that’s neither statistical nor logical?

    You appeared to express agreement that there is no third option. I want to make an analogous argument with respect to free will.

    Past factors and the rules/laws of the world are either totally incompatible with certain outcomes, or else the are statistically incompatible with certain outcomes. If they are statistically incompatible, then that leaves a random factor because, by definition, a probability distribution assumes random picking. I don’t see room for a third option.

    Suppose you are making a yes/no decision, and that deterministic factors are insufficient to necessitate a particular decision, though they do influence it. How do you actually decide?

    It seems to me that, if you know the reasons why you will decide, then the decision is determined. If you don’t know why you will decide, then there are just two possibilities: either (a) there is a reason you will decide, but you don’t know what it is, or (b) there is no reason, and the decision is random because there is no reason for it.

    BTW, here’s why I say (abstract) reasons correspond to deterministic causes. Presumably, reasons exist in some timeless sense. If it would be logical to do A to maximize B in situation C, it will always be so. This kind of abstract reason is timeless, and constant. Consequently, a perfect reasoner will necessarily do A to maximize B whenever he is in situation C. That is, a perfect reasoner converts a timeless reason into a deterministic cause.

    There are lots of potential causes that might prevent a reasoner from acting this way. For example, the reasoner’s faculties may be imperfect or inadequate, or the reasoner may not have clear objectives (like maximizing B). In that case, the reasoner converts timeless reasons into influencing factors, i.e., timeless reasons are probably (as opposed to certainly) incompatible with certain actions of the reasoner.

    However, proper reasoning is deterministic. You’re not going to improve the reasoner’s reasoning ability by introducing non-deterministic factors. If you disagree, I would love to see a counter-example. (I’m sure you can imagine a case where a reasoner makes a lucky mistake, but that’s not what I’m talking about.)

  134. Holopupenko wrote:

    You keep on deflecting from the point: I’m not claiming anything about hidden variables–I keep on reminding you that highly abstract mathematical formalisms have no ontological efficacy, i.e., they don’t actualize reality–they describe limited portions of physical reality. And, you still haven’t come clean on what randomness is without pointing to an equation to do so (impossible anyway).

    If you read my comment carefully you will see that it was addressed to The Deuce. He did claim that hidden variables exist.

    Randomness in quantum physics is established not just on the basis of assigned probabilities. Quantum randomness is about the lack of determinism. Let me explain that in some detail.

    Suppose I gave you the following binary sequence:
    11.0010010000111111011010101000100010000101…
    (More digits are available upon request.) If you do not know in advance (or figure out) what it represents you won’t be able to predict what the next digit will be. You can determine the statistical properties of the sequence, given a large enough chunk, and you will see that its zeros and ones appear with equal probabilities. Still it does not establish the indeterministic nature of the sequence.

    In fact, the sequence is fully deterministic: it is the binary representation of the number π. So in this case the apparent randomness was a consequence of ignorance, or as you say, had the epistemic nature.

    Chaos of nonintegrable classical systems represents a similar type of randomness: it is caused by our ignorance of the exact initial state of the system. We can only know the initial coordinates and velocities with a finite accuracy. As time goes on, trajectories starting at nearby points diverge from one another and the initial small uncertainty grows until we no longer can say where the system will end up in phase space. That’s the origin of randomness in statistical mechanics. Given enough time, our ignorance of the system’s state becomes complete (modulo constraints imposed by conserved quantities like energy, particle number etc.). It is, again, epistemic. One can, in principle, overcome it by getting the initial conditions with a better precision.

    We face an entirely different kind of randomness in quantum physics. One can imagine that the outcomes of quantum measurements are deterministic and only appear random. When we measure the spin of an electron, the particle reads a cue card where he is told that his spin points left. That’s what hidden variables are about. It is impossible to determine whether the cue cards exist if you do measurements on electrons one at a time, just like it is impossible to establish whether the above binary sequence is random. However, simultaneous measurements on two distant electrons whose spins are entangled should exhibit certain statistical properties if they both have cue cards in their pockets. These correlations satisfy Bell’s inequalities.

    Experimental tests (see links in my previous comment) show that Bell’s inequalities are not satisfied, which means that electrons do not have cue cards. The measurement outcomes are not determined in advance. That’s quite different from the epistemic randomness of the mathematical and classical examples given above.

  135. doctor(logic)

    You bring up the principle of non-contradiction, but that’s a principle of rational thinking, not a principle of the universe. If reality is acausal or inconsistent at quantum scales, it won’t make any observable difference.

    If this is so, then it throws out all of science, up to and including the observation that the earth isn’t flat. After all, the reason we know that the world isn’t flat is that we’ve observed that it’s a sphere, and the earth being a sphere contradicts the earth being flat. But if the law of non-contradiction doesn’t apply to physical reality, then there’s no reason the earth can’t be spherical and flat, and there’s no reason that there can’t be local variables regardless of whether or not it contradicts the findings of experiments on Bell’s theorem. Any scientist who thinks he’s trumped logic itself might as well pack his bags and go home: If he’s right, all his work is trash.

    And by the way, what defines patterns of thinking as rational is that they derive true conclusions from true premises. If the universe itself doesn’t abide by non-contradiction, such that two contradictory statements about the universe can both be true, then following the rule of non-contradiction when searching for truths about the universe doesn’t lead to true conclusions. And if that’s the case, non-contradiction isn’t even a principle of rational thinking.

  136. Deuce,

    Hmmm, I don’t think you read what I wrote in that post. I said:

    If reality is acausal or inconsistent at quantum scales, it won’t make any observable difference.

    FYI, the Earth (in all its spherical loveliness) isn’t a quantum-scale entity. Read my comment again. As long as some or most stuff in the world is consistent, science works. The universe doesn’t have to be totally 100% consistent everywhere or at every scale.

    The whole point of QM is that the world isn’t consistent at quantum scales, but the net result is consistency at classical scales. At quantum scales you get superpositions of states… like spin up + spin down (or dead cat + live cat, if cats were quantum-scale entities, which they’re not). You can try to eliminate the inconsistency in the formalism, but you’ll get acausality and non-locality in exchange.

    The strangeness of QM doesn’t prevent us from thinking rationally about classical objects, like stars, cells, steam engines or airplanes. What it does do is eliminate the sense of making classical claims about quantum-scale phenomena.

    Your claim is that permitting even a small part of reality to be inconsistent will make everything inconsistent, but that’s simply not true. QM is a fine counterexample to your claim.

  137. This whole discussion has, so far as I have followed it, been predicated upon a misunderstanding of “determinism”.

    Determinism is the view that every event, including human cognition, behavior, decision, and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences.[1] Determinists believe the universe is fully governed by causal laws resulting in only one possible state at any point in time. With numerous historical debates, many varieties and philosophical positions on the subject of determinism exist.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determinism

    “Determinism” negates the power of any given human to “determine” what he or she will choose. In a deterministic universe the belief that we make choices is an illusion, a superstition, folk psychology. The “many varieties and philosophical positions” include the belief by some materialists/naturalists that QM liberates them from the logical necessity of determinism whereas C. S. Lewis thought QM disproved hard naturalism.

    I happen to agree with doctor(logic) that QM is irrelevant to the discussion (we are not quantum objects) but I would assert that naturalism denies both human intellect and the power to freely determine my actions through the use of my intellect. Naturalism makes reason impossible because intellection is not the product of cause and effect, intellection is the power to overcome cause and effect and to act independently of those laws.

  138. FYI, the Earth (in all its spherical loveliness) isn’t a quantum-scale entity. Read my comment again.

    Sorry, DL, but no. If *any* two contradictory things can both be true, then the Law of Non-Contradiction fails to be principle of rational thinking or guide to truth. Once you allow that P & !P can both be true, you can derive anything from anything.

    And it doesn’t apply only to large physical objects, but to everything, including non-physical abstracta, like numbers and such.

    Furthermore, scientific theories are themselves derived at and supported by logic, so if a theory undercuts logic, it undercuts itself. When your reasoning leads to a contradiction, it’s called reduction ad absurdum, and it implies that there is a flaw in your reasoning, not that logic has been disproven.

  139. Dave,

    “Determinism” negates the power of any given human to “determine” what he or she will choose.

    No, this is begging the question. You are merely assuming a definition of choice that denies compatibility with determinism. Yet there’s no possible experiential evidence you can produce to test your hypothesis.

    I think your claim is based on a linguistic error. You think that, under determinism, your choice makes no difference. This is not true at all. If you made no choice, there would be a different outcome. In other words, you are confusing two situations:

    (1) You choose X over Y, and your mechanism of choice was deterministic.

    (2) You choose X over Y, but you execute Y anyway.

    Certainly, in (2), you lack choice. However, in (1) you do have choice. In (1), your execution of X happens because you chose X instead of Y. It does not matter that your choice of X was determined by past factors. (A good decision is one that is determined by factors in the past. A decision that isn’t determined by the past is just a guess.)

    Another example: lightning strikes a dry forest and starts a fire. The final state is that the forest is burning. However, we would not say that the forest would burn whether or not lightning struck in the forest. If there were no lightning strike, the forest would not be burning. Similarly, if there were no human choice, the future would look different.

  140. Deuce,

    You seem to be missing a distinction.

    Suppose that you have had a few too many beers, and your mind’s ability to see contradiction breaks down (funny that physical molecules can do that, eh?). Do the laws of physics break down when you’ve had too much to drink?

    I’m sure you agree that physical events go on independently of your thinking process. Whether you are able to reason about them doesn’t causally affect the events themselves. The reverse is also true. If a part of the universe were inconsistent, your lack of ability to reason about it is irrelevant.

    Our reasoning abilities and physical reality are two separate things.

    Another thought experiment. Suppose you always take the 8am train into the city, and the train arrives at 9am. This gives you enough time to walk to your office, and get in by 9:30am.

    Then you go through a door into a parallel universe. In the parallel universe, everything is the same, but your train gets into the city at BOTH 9:00am and 9:10am. However, your walk from the station to your office is such that you always get to the office at 9:30am as usual, and your experiences after 9:30am are all normal. If your boss calls you at 9:05am, to see if you are still on the train, you either will be or you won’t be. But if he doesn’t call you, you are both on it and off it at the same time.

    Obviously, this situation would be contradictory in our universe. A train cannot arrive at both 9:00am and 9:10am, and you cannot be on it and not on it at the same time. However, the presence of such a contradiction does not cause all of your reasoning to be faulty or ineffective. This is because the contradiction is confined to a region of reality, and beyond that region, the world is consistent.

    Just because you cannot reason clearly about what happens on your commute does not mean, say, that you both have a job and don’t have a job, or that, say, you take the train to work and don’t take the train to work.

    Rational minds can obtain truths about rational landscapes. They can’t get anywhere on contradictory landscapes. QM says the the landscape is contradictory at small scales, but consistent at larger scales. Human minds are effective because they reason about the consistent landscape, but they find QM paradoxical.

  141. DL:

    QM says the the landscape is contradictory at small scales, but consistent at larger scales. Human minds are effective because they reason about the consistent landscape, but they find QM paradoxical.

    Which is what we would expect if the human brain evolved to observe and anticipate large scale events and derived an abstraction of Non-Contradiction to match that observation. Such an abstraction would have no guarantee of being universal or absolute.

    I’m not sure how this would be explained under the view that the laws of logic pre-existed humankind.