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Free Will debate (davidm vs. Politesse)

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Free Will debate (davidm vs. Politesse)

Post by Jobar » Tue Apr 29, 2014 11:28 pm

In this Exclusive Engagement, davidm and Politesse will formally debate the topic
Resolved: determinism in all its forms is false.

There will be three rounds, with three days allowed between each person's posts, as noted in the set-up thread. Davidm, arguing the affirmative (that is, against determinism, and for free will) begins.

There is an already-active Peanut Gallery thread in the Philosophy & Morality forum.

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Post by davidm » Wed Apr 30, 2014 12:44 am

Thanks, Jobar. Here is my opening argument:

A Farewell to Dominoes

Jerry Coyne is a biologist who has a Web site called "Why Evolution is True," which is also the name of a book that he wrote. He, like most all evolutionary biologists, believes in the utter contingency of evolution, and not just contingent in the sense of adaptationism, wherein natural selection works on mutations that are random with respect to fitness. He, like Larry Moran at the Sandwalk blog, touts nonadaptive, or neutral, evolution: gene frequencies in populations change over time by pure chance alone, without the mediation of natural selection. This means that, if we rewound the tape of evolution and played it forward again with the same initial conditions prevailing in the universe, we should expect to get utterly different results. The chance that humans would evolve again, for instance, is vanishingly small.

Much to my bemusement, however, Coyne is also a hard determinist. He believes, so far as I can tell, that the history of the cosmos, starting at the Big Bang, is like a game of dominoes: Once the first domino (initial condition) is toppled, all the rest of the dominoes fall ineluctably in a fixed and unalterable way. If this is right, then if we rewound the tape of evolution and played it again from the same initial conditions, everything would be exactly the same. The evolution of humans would be, not just likely, but inevitable.

Surprisingly, Coyne, an atheist who charges theistic evolutionists with cognitive dissonance, cannot see the mote in his own eye: Either the history of evolution is contingent (no hard determinism) or it's necessary (hard determinism). It can't be both.

In one blog post, Coyne also complained about someone who dented his parked car when he wasn't around, and didn't leave a note. I guess he failed to notice that under his own metaphysics, the villain is not a villain because he had no choice in the matter! :) The "villain" can hardly be blamed for failing to leave a note; indeed Coyne stresses that hard determinism means we are not to be blamed. So stop bitching about your goddamned car, Jerry!

I don't know about you, but I don't think that I flushed the toilet this morning because of shit that happened at the Big Bang.

In the determinism/free will debate, a lot of attention has been paid to defining precisely what we mean by free will, and we come up with various conceptions: libertarian free will, compatibilist free will, Frankfurtian free will, and so on. Perhaps insufficient attention has been paid to what we mean when we speak of determinism.

I'd like to start, therefore, with a taxonomy of determinisms. So far as I can see, there are four; there could be others. The four I want to talk about are: logical determinism, epistemic determinism, causal determinism and relativistic determinism. My goal is to show that these four categories of determinism all fail to hold true; and if that's right, determinism cannot impeach free will, indeed it cannot impeach libertarian free will, the strongest sort of free will that is on offer. My main thrust here is to discredit determinism and not support free will, though, since to say that either free will is true or determinism is true is a false dichotomy. Compatibilism accepts both determinism and free will, but in my conclusion I will discuss a ten-year-old mathematical proof, called the strong free will theorem, which purports that either hard determinism is true, or libertarian free will is true. In other words, the mathematicians who authored the proof claim to have mathematically disproved compatibilist free will, and they also claim to have shown that if hard determinism is true, then an unbelievable consequence follows from this. For them, then, not just free will, but libertarian free will, is vindicated.

Logical determinism is the thesis that the future is set of logical necessity, and therefore nothing can be done about it. Epistemic determinism, which I hope to show is a subset of logical determinism, is the thesis that if some omniscient knower, like God, knows in advance that you will do some thing, then you must do that thing. This form of determinism is frequently invoked to flummox theists, who simultaneously hold that God has omniscient foreknowledge but also that humans are morally responsible, which they say requires free will. But if God's omniscient foreknowledge precludes you from doing other than what you will do, how can you be morally blameworthy?

Causal determinism is the thesis that one thing causes another: the toppling dominoes of Jerry Coyne. Once initial conditions are set, the history of the world will play out in the same way no matter how many times you replay the tape. This is also known as Laplacean determinism, the idea of a clockwork cosmos.

Finally, relativistic determinism is the new kid on the block, since it could not predate Einstein. It is the thesis that the special and general theories of relativity imply that all moments in time exist in the same way that all locations in space exist; this is called Minkowski spacetime, or the block universe. The past, present and future all exist, and what we call the "now" is merely a point of view, just like "here" is a point of view. If that's right, then your whole future history exists even before you were born, and there's nothing you can do to change it. Thus (supposedly!) you have no free will. (Later I'll address the fallacy of the idea that free will entails that you ought to be able to "change" anything. True, you cannot change the past, but perhaps surprisingly you can't change the present or future, either. This fact, however, does not mean that you lack free will. Quite to the contrary!)

I think most people here are concerned with causal determinism, but I am concerned with all four deterministic species, since to do justice to this debate you have to deal with all the critters. I'll address logical and epistemic determinism first, then causal and finally relativistic determinism. So I beg the readers' pardon while I first dispose of logical and epistemic determinism before getting to the bogus bugaboo of causal determinism.

Much, though not all, of what I am going to argue is not original with me, but is based on the writings (freely available on the Internet, including three splendid books) of Norman Swartz, professor emeritus of philosophy at Simon Fraser University, with whom I have corresponded, as well as the works of the prominent philosophers David K. Lewis and J. J. C. Smart (who agrees with me on some things but not others). Specifically, Swartz rejects logical, epistemic and causal determinism, though he does not address relativistic determinism and does not talk about the strong free will theorem. I will address and reject all four forms of determinism and elucidate the theorem.

Logical determinism is most famously exemplified in Aristotle's sea battle story: If today it's true that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, then the sea battle must happen. No one can do anything about it, and so we have no free will. This is known as the problem of future contingents. There is some overlap here between the concepts of determinism and fatalism, even though they are not quite the same, but I'm not going to get into the difference for the sake of brevity. To preserve free will, Aristotle denied that there can be truths about the world prior to the occurrence of events that propositions describe. So he would say that it's neither true nor false today that tomorrow, a sea battle will take place.

In exactly the same way, it is held that if some omniscient agent like God knows today that tomorrow that you will put on your hat, then you must put on your hat in virtue of God's omniscience. No free will.

I am going to proceed on the assumption that "truth" inheres in descriptive propositions about the world. This is called Tarskian or semantic theory of truth. Not everyone accepts this. But if you do accept it, the way is open to dispose of all four deterministic worries.

I think that semantic propositional truth is timelessly true. It is, was, and always will be true that JFK was killed on Nov. 22, 1963. Contra Aristotle, the statement, "JFK was killed on Nov. 22, 1963," was true before JFK was killed. If someone in the year 1008 uttered the proposition, "Barak Obama will be elected president in 2008," then he spoke truly one thousand years before Obama was elected. But of course, it is otiose to suppose that the utterance of this truth, a millennium in advance of the event that the true proposition describes, in any sense caused, forced, or compelled Obama to be elected in the future. Rather, the statement takes its truth value from the event that will happen far in the future. So despite Aristotle, there are indeed true propositions about future contingent events. But, again, just because it was true in 1008 that Obama would be elected in 2008, then his election did not have to happen. It just did, contingently.

We can now expose the fallacy of the first two forms of determinism, logical and epistemic determinism. Both these forms of determinism commit what is called the modal fallacy. Aristotle didn't know this, because modal logic, in his day, had not been discovered/invented.

In brief, the worry is: if today it's true that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, then there MUST be a sea battle tomorrow, and no one can prevent it. Thus we are puppets. The ancient Greeks also called this the idle argument: It is idle to worry about the future, because it's already set of logical necessity. Likewise, if today it's true that God knows that tomorrow you will put on your hat, then you MUST put on your hat tomorrow: no free will.

Both arguments commit the modal fallacy, a species of fallacy that illicitly conflates contingent truth with necessary truth.

WRONG: If today it is true that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, then tomorrow there MUST be a sea battle (no one has free will).

WRONG: If today it is true that God knows that tomorrow you will put on your hat, then tomorrow you MUST put on your hat (no free will).

These deterministic arguments are logically fallacious because they impart the modal status of necessity to the consequent of the antecedent; whereas in reality, the modal status of necessity must be attached to the joint relation of both the antecedent and the consequent.

Here are the arguments, repaired to make them both valid and sound:

RIGHT: Necessarily (if it is true today that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, then tomorrow there will [NOT MUST!] be a sea battle.

RIGHT: Necessarily (if it is true today that God knows that tomorrow you will put on your hat, then you will [NOT MUST!] put on your hat.

In other words, in the case of the sea battle, what is necessarily true is not that the sea battle MUST take place, if it's true today that tomorrow it will take place. All that is necessarily true is that a true proposition must be true, even in advance of the event it describes. The actual event of the sea battle, if it takes place, provides the truth grounds for the proposition that describes it, even in advance of the event. If the sea battle does NOT take place, then a contrary proposition would pre-emptively be true: Today it is true that tomorrow, a sea battle will NOT take place. The actual event governs the truth value of the proposition and not the other way around, even before the event takes place. Likewise with God, I am free to put on my hat or not put on my hat. What I am NOT free to do is contradict God's omniscient foreknowledge. I can put on my hat or not (free will holds). What can never be true is that I put on my hat but God foreknows that I don't; or I decline to put on my hat but God foreknows that I do. I can do what I want. I just can't do other than what God foreknows. But they are not the same thing. To make this clear, we can employ the "possible worlds" heuristic of modal logic. Possible worlds are worlds that are logically possible, though they may not be the actual world. For example, there is a logically possible world at which JFK was never shot. It's just not the actual world.

In the case of the sea battle, these worlds are possible:

1. There is a world in which it is true today that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, and tomorrow a sea battle occurs.

2. There is a world in which it is true today that tomorrow there will NOT be a sea battle, and tomorrow a sea battle does NOT occur.

The following worlds are not (logically) possible worlds, and thus can never be actual worlds.

1. There is a world in which today it is true that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, and tomorrow a sea battle does NOT occur.

2. There is a world in which today it is NOT true that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, and tomorrow a sea battle occurs.

And in precisely the same way, in the case of God knowing infallibly in advance that you will put on your hat, here are the two logically possible worlds:

1. There is a world in which it is true that God knows today that tomorrow you will put on your hat, and tomorrow you put on your hat.

2. There is a world in which it is true that God knows today that tomorrow you will NOT put on your hat, and tomorrow you do not put on your hat.

But the following worlds are not logically possible, in virtue of God's omniscience:

1. There is a world in which it is true that God knows today that tomorrow you will put on your hat, and tomorrow you do not put on your hat.

2. There is a world in which it is true that God knows today that tomorrow you will not put on your hat, and tomorrow you put on your hat.

It should be readily apparent that the sea captains are free to stage a battle or not, and you are free to put on your hat or not. All that can't happen in cases like this is that a true proposition can also be false, or that God can fail to have certain advance knowledge. These facts in no way impeach free will.

Thus both logical and epistemic determinism are logically false, and can be dispensed with forevermore. Free will holds even in the case where there are true descriptions of future contingent events, and even in the case where God knows infallibly in advance what I will do.

See my linked references at the end of this essay for a more robust discussion of these ideas.

So two of the four species of determinism are laid bare to be logically false. What about causal determinism and relativistic determinism? These are a bit trickier and cannot logically be discredited, and therefore require somewhat different tools to show their falsity if they are false. And I think most of the discussion in this forum is focused primarily if not exclusively on causal determinism, so I'll address that now.

Unfortunately, the need for brevity precludes the amount of attention that the thesis of causal determinism requires. I will simply say that I deny that there are "laws" of nature. Denying this in no way conflicts with our observations about the world. The world looks the same whether there are "laws" of nature or not.

Quantum physics counsels that the world is fundamentally stochastic. But even if we never discovered QM, there is no reason to accept causal determinism. Causal determinism is an article of faith, based on what we think is common sense. David Hume noticed this long ago, counseling skepticism about cause and effect which led him to formulate the infamous Problem of Induction.

In brief: The "laws" of nature are not laws at all. The "laws" of nature are descriptive and not prescriptive. The idea that there are "laws" of nature is a hangover from the belief that there is a lawgiver, namely God. We can dispense both with the illusory lawgiver and the illusory laws.

If this is right, then, as the aforementioned Norman Swartz so memorably wrote, the supposed conflict between causal determinism and free will does not even arise. To quote from Swartz's article article "Laws of Nature" at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (linked below):
Persons who believe that there is a problem reconciling the existence of free will and [causal] determinism have turned upside down the relationship between laws of nature on the one side and events and states of affairs on the other. It is not that laws of nature govern the world. We are not “forced” to choose one action rather than another. It is quite the other way round: we choose, and the laws of nature accommodate themselves to our choice. If I choose to wear a brown shirt, then it is true that I do so; and if instead I were to choose to wear a blue shirt, then it would be true that I wear a blue shirt. In neither case would my choosing be ‘forced’ by the truth of the proposition that describes my action. And the same semantic principle applies even if the proposition truly describing my choice is a universal proposition rather than a singular one.
Swartz here is employing the previously described semantic theory of truth to make the case that our acts are free, and we freely cause certain propositions to be true and others to be false by the choices that we make. We like to say that A "causes" B just in case we observe A and B in what Hume called "constant conjunction"; but in reality all we can say is that A in constant conjunction with B is a regularity of the world that is described by a true proposition. On this account, we can dispense with talk of cause and effect altogether. That the world displays regularities that look like what we call cause and effect is arguably just a brute fact. The whole notion of cause and effect thus becomes as superfluous as the aether with respect to the propagation of light. Paging Occam. Please bring your razor.

Many, perhaps most, may find this line of reasoning unpersuasive, even unbelievable. But for the sake of brevity I have had to be, well, brief. But the links at the end will conduct you to much fuller treatments of this matter. The idea that cause and effect may be an epistemic illusion owing to a faulty notion of truth-making may seem preposterous, but I encourage you to give it careful thought because the idea deserves a fair hearing.

Finally there is the matter of relativistic determinism, the idea that past, present and future all exist. This seems to pose a significant peril to free will at first blush, because we have the intuition that while the past is settled business and nothing can be done about it, the future has to be "open" in order for us to act freely. We tend to think that for free will to prevail, then -- even though we can't change the past -- we can somehow change the present of future. If my future is laid out even before I was born, I can't change anything and thus I'm unfree.

This worry is misguided. As I mentioned earlier, nobody can change the past, present or future, but this fact does not undermine free will. For example, if you think you can "change" the present moment, try to do it. Suppose you lift your hand, as J.J C. Smart said. Have you changed the present moment? No. Rather, you made the present moment be what it is. You haven't "changed" anything; rather, you have actualized the present, by your free act.

Just so, if the future exists as much as the present or past, then your life is set in stone but it was, is, and will be set by you, by all your future selves freely choosing among options and creating timelessly true descriptions (Tarskian truth) of what did happen, what is happening, and what will happen.

The four forms of determinism that I am aware of are thus discredited. It's not, as so many fear, that free will fails to exist. It's the other way around. What fails to exist is determinism. Determinism in all its forms is an epistemic illusion, a sham. The universe is quantum mechanical: shit happens, that's all. Some of it happens regularly and some of it doesn't, and both classes of events are described by timelessly true Tarskian propositions. No lawgiver, no laws.

I will conclude with a discussion of the strong free will theorem. I will copy it verbatim from a post I made on the subject at The Galilean Library.

In 2005, John Conway and Simon Kochen, professors of mathematics at Princeton, developed a mathematical proof, which purports to show that compatibilist free will is impossible.**If we have free will, it is contra-causal: libertarian free will. If we don't have libertarian free will, then the whole universe, including everything that we have ever done or will do, is pre-determined.

More, the proof shows, say the mathematicians, that if we have contra-causal free will, which may more precisely be defined as nothing in the past causing or influencing our actions in the present, then so do sub-atomic particles. But, since such particles don't have minds, this is another way of saying that when we take some measurement of them in the present, they had no properties prior to measurement: i.e., nothing prior to measurement has any impact on the result of the measurement. Since the results are not caused, they are indeterminate. It can go either way with some degree of probability, but probability outcomes are the best nature can do. This**also seems to be a ratification of quantum anti-realism: the non-existence of properties outside of measurement.

It is possible, according to this mathematical proof, that we have no free will, and neither do subatomic particles.**But in that case, the proof shows the most astonishing outcome of all: in this case, we will necessarily always make measurements that fail to show that the universe is deterministic. We are forever forbidden from making a subclass of measurements that show determinism, and so we are tricked into detecting quantum indeterminism, when really, if we could perform the right experiments, we would find quantum determinism instead. If this is true, if we are forever debarred from a certain subclass of experiments, then the methodologies of science are fatally undermined. Moreover, such a result would, as one commentator put it, entail "a thoroughgoing conspiracy of nature" that has no explanation or precedent. So unless there is some explanation for this cosmic conspiracy, it seems that the mathematical proof endorses libertarian free will and anti-realism about the external world. I must note, however, that this "proof" only seems consistent with the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM, and not the Many Worlds interpretation. But I feel I've run out of space and time and therefore I am now "caused" to stop by stuff that happened at the Big Bang. :)

Thank you for reading.

Further reading (all highly recommended):

Foreknowledge and Free Will, by Norman Swartz

Laws of Nature, by Norman Swartz

Lecture Notes on Free Will and Determinism, by Norman Swartz

The Modal Fallacy, by Norman Swartz

A Neo-Humean Perspective: Laws as Regularities, by Norman Swartz

The Concept of Physical Law, Chapter Ten, by Norman Swartz

Truth, by Bradley Dowden and Norman Swartz

Scripting the Future: Spacetime and the Nature of Control

The Strong Free Will Theorem, by John H. Conway and Simon Kochen

The Conway-Kochen 'Free Will' Theorem and Unscientific Determinism, by David Hodgson

David Hume, Causation

The Paradoxes of Time Travel, by David K. Lewis

Time and the Block Universe

An Essential Unpredictability in Human Nature, by Michael Scriven

Divine Foreknowledge and Newcomb's Paradox, by William Lane Craig

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Post by Jobar » Wed Apr 30, 2014 3:23 am

Due to real-life issues, Politesse has requested that his deadline be extended to Sunday, the fourth, and davidm has graciously accepted.

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Post by Politesse » Mon May 05, 2014 10:02 pm

To begin with, I would like to thank Davidm for suggesting this excellent topic of discussion, and to SC and its moderators for hosting it, in particular Jobar for bravely leaping into Redshirt's shoes to doing the busy work of setting it up. It is my hope that we will see many more EE's in the future, and I certainly hope we will give everyone a good show this week. I would also like to apologize for my belatedness in preparing this first post. As it happened, this past week was given over to administering and grading final examinations, and pondering the nature of the universe became buried by practical concerns. I am on vacation/holiday now, and my time is yours.

"Resolved: determinism in all its forms is false."

Is determinism false? There are a few ways we could attack this question. One might be to dig into the library of philosophical history, look at all of varieties determinism has taken, and defending or critiquing each permutation of the determinist perspective individually. I certainly appreciate my debate partner's studious contributions to grounding this debate academically, and I'm sure we'll have time to address a couple of those -isms as we go along.

However, I would like to start out by ask a somewhat deeper question about what determinism actually is, and I think that the best answer to that question naturally legitimates a determinist assumption regardless of whether specific variations on the theme are proven or disproven. Because at its heart, this question is asking a basic question: Is the human psyche describable by dint of the same natural laws that we use to describe the rest of the universe? I intend to show, through this debate and discussion, that one's most rational assumption must be that it is.

I will not be discussing, at least at this juncture, the deeper questions of particle physics and the like. In short, what the aforementioned natural laws are. This is for two reasons:

1. I am neither qualified nor eloquent in the area of quantum physics, and indeed am happy to defer to the expertise of those who can actually do the maths.

2. I consider it largely irrelevant to the debate over free will as it applies to humans.

(2) deserves some elucidation, I think. As a cultural anthropologist, my primary interest in this debate has to do with the implications of determinism for the question of whether humans have free will or not. While this is not a question often asked outside of discussions over postmodernism, it is one with obvious import for the human sciences. If there is no way to make useful predictions about human behavior, after all, then psychology and sociology and anthropology can scarce be called sciences at all, nor aspire to be. Luckily, quantum physics are unlikely to unseat this basic assumption. If for no other reason, than that if random processes control physical activities on some level, as indeed they might, this has not to date called into question those areas of empirical investigation where the process and assumptions of science are generally considered sound. While it might be interesting to discuss the ontological worth of those assumptions, they are something of a sideshow if we're looking at anything larger than a molecule. After all, for centuries the most fervent proponents of determinism were theists, a group generally assumed to hold that at least some aspects of the universe are produced by the will of God, natural laws to be sure but not strictly non-random and sometimes even arbitrarily dictated.

Even in the context of other realms of knowledge, our debate is defined as referring to "determinism in all its forms", not a determinism that rests on the absence of random processes. In short, we do not need the entire process of physical interaction to be non-random in order for a deterministic outlook to be true. A random producer of pre-determined outcomes is no less capable of determining our reality than a non-random one. In order for science to work, and therefore my argument concerning the human sciences to be valid, we only need that process to be predictable. And in that respect, I think that no other conclusion is a reasonable one. This naturally includes the proposition we are discussing.

There is such a long and familiar history behind the assumption that predictable natural laws exist, that I hope a lengthy defense thereof is not necessary. While individual theories and hypotheses about material phenomena can and have been debunked, and frequently, this slow process of elimination has uncovered very robust descriptions of the natural world, theories and laws that have the singular advantage of being replicable to anyone inclined to test them. Davidm's characterization of natural law as purely descriptive is dearly challenged by this ability to make valid predictions. A scientist making a prediction is not "seeing" the outcome of tomorrow's sea battle, she is deducing it from relevant facts, and there is a world of difference between the two. Prediction would not be possible if science were capable of description alone. But... it is. And in fact, within some areas, like organic chemistry, the truth of some propositions is so overwhelmingly obvious that only the most desperate of postdocs would ever bother to challenge them again.

Are humans as predictable as chemical reactions, though? For most proponents of free will, humans are meant to be the exception to the rule of determinism. Our individual wills, whether graced by God or a unique production of nature, have assumed a special degree of power over outcomes. This is not an outlandish claim. We all share the experiential knowledge of what it is like to ponder over a difficult discussion, and it is seemingly apparent to us that we could have gone a different way, that someone else in our same position could easily have made another call.

This is a deceptive perception, however. On larger scales and over the longer term, it turns out that humans don't really make decisions nearly as freely as we think we do. We tend to aggregate in groups, for instance- communities, societies, ideologies, and cultures- and within those groups a certain uniformity is demonstrable. This doesn't mean that everyone always comes to the conclusions, but it does mean that two people from the same group are likely to frame the question in much the same way, and employ a similar logic in resolving it. Two americans might disagree on the age of the universe, for instance, but it is almost certain that they tend to think of time as running from one point to another as on a timeline. The spatial metaphor involved is critical to understanding the question in the first place. But it isn't universal; it arose in a certain time and place. They will likely agree that one's position on Science with the capital S is a major determinant of what one thinks the age of the universe is. This idea arose in a certain time and place. Unless they are Native or Buddhist, they will likely assume that this is a choice between, for all intents and purposes, two possibilities. This is not only an idea specific to time and place, but one deeply dependent on context, as given further thought nearly everyone is capable of supposing that there might be more possibilities than "science or Christianity". It just isn't their first assumption. But a person's assumptions are, for the most part, what you use to predict human behavior.

Are we "free" of our personal context in making decisions, such that we might break these rules anyway if we feel like it? The sociologist's answer can scarce be anything but this: If we are, we sure don't act like it most of the time. You are no more likely to step outside of that linguistic and psychological context that you started with, than you are to step outside of the decision to fall downward when you tumble off a cliff. Statistically, however spectacular the exceptions, most human behavior is reasonably predictable most of the time.

Moreover, even the apparent exceptions are usually, if not always, better explained by the natural mechanisms that the social sciences, though yet a young project in the grand scheme of things, have gradually been uncovering. For instance, we are getting better at predicting at what times and places new ideas will arise, why, and even what form they are likely to take. For instance, Alfred Russell Wallace's theorizing of the religious revitalization movement led to a very robust set of hypotheses about how new religions are created and by whom. Tell me nothing else but that a new "cult" has been formed, and I can actually predict a fair lot about its composition, leadership, and even values. Society runs on norms, not laws, but the construction of those norms follows certain natural laws, some that have been discovered and many that yet have not. That's a social reality, but this corresponds to individual realities as well. As neuroscience advances, the process of decision-making is becoming much clearer, and in that context there is not only little need for a free agent, but indeed very little room for one. Free will is the "god of the gaps" for the brain.

My basic argument here is that the assumption of essential consistency that have become the foundations are every bit as true for the study of human behavior as for any other realm of knowledge. Human behavior is demonstrably predictable, and falls within certain discoverable norms. As the majority of behavior such predictability should not be associated with any system in which non-rational processes generally guide decision-making. Some form of determinism is not only suggested but actually required if the basic observations of the social sciences are to be considered valid. This solidifies my personal commitment to the debate, of course. But I also consider it exhibit A for why determinism should be assumed. It's not just that it would be useful to discover human. It's that this assumption has produced the only consistently useful hypotheses and theories of human behavior. As an explanatory mechanism, free will has never been a useful predictor, and its role diminishes every time we come to a better understanding of the natural, ecological, and practical laws that determine the vast majority of human conduct if not all of it. Did you flush the toilet this morning because of the Big Bang? Not necessarily. But we can say with great confidence that both the creation of your planet and the progress of your flush can be adequately explained by the natural constants that the Big Bang set up, and that both can therefore be explained, at least eventually, by slow but sure progress of objective science.

In short, determinism, in all its forms, is useful ... in a way that simply precludes the possibility that it is uniformly false.
"The truth about stories is that's all we are" ~Thomas King

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Post by davidm » Thu May 15, 2014 7:30 pm

First Rebuttal

Thanks for agreeing to allow a delay in posting my rebuttal.

In my opening statement, I thought it important to produce a taxonomy of determinisms, since not all deterministic concepts are the same. It may be that some are true and some false; or that all are true for different reasons or all false for different reasons. My stance is that all are false for different reasons -- or, at least, all are false if by "determinism" we mean impeaching free will.

Politesse did not address epistemic or logical determinism, or relativistic determinism, or the Strong Free Will Theorem. So I do not know whether she agrees with my treatment of those. Her main focus seems to be causal determinism. On the other hand, she does write, in the very last sentence of her first post: "In short, determinism, in all its forms, is useful ... in a way that simply precludes the possibility that it is uniformly false." This is somewhat ambiguous, but I'll let it pass because, as I say, her main focus seems to be on causal determinism.

Politesse writes:
Is the human psyche describable by dint of the same natural laws that we use to describe the rest of the universe? I intend to show, through this debate and discussion, that one's most rational assumption must be that it is.
I completely agree. I have not argued otherwise and would not contest the statement as it stands. The key point, however, is that -- as Politesse writes -- these natural "laws" describe and do not prescribe events, occurrences, outcomes and behaviors, including human behaviors. Therefore they are not laws. The idea of "laws" of nature is a hangover of the concept of a lawgiver; i.e., God. We can do away both with lawgiver and laws.

Politesse then writes:
Davidm's characterization of natural law as purely descriptive is dearly challenged by this ability to make valid predictions. A scientist making a prediction is not "seeing" the outcome of tomorrow's sea battle, she is deducing it from relevant facts, and there is a world of difference between the two. Prediction would not be possible if science were capable of description alone. But... it is.
I submit that Politesse has contradicted herself. In the first quote, she talks of the human psyche being describable by dint of the same natural laws that describe the rest of the universe. And I agree that the human psyche is describable by these same "laws." But description is not prescription. But while accepting the descriptive version of natural law in the first quote I produced, she then goes on to say in the second quote that I produced that descriptive forms of law are "dearly challenged" by the ability of scientists to make valid predictions. So does Politesse believe that "laws" are descriptive, as she accepts in the first quote, or does she believe that they are somehow prescriptive, as clearly indicated in the second quote? It's not clear.

My stand is that the "laws" are purely descriptive, and that one can make valid predictions on descriptive standards alone, as is clearly done all the time. This is called the neo-Humean regularity theory of natural law.

Suppose I know you very well, and I know that every Thursday at noon, you toddle off to the local bar and drink yourself off the stool into a pool of your own vomit on the sawdust-covered barroom floor. Afterward, you are beaten into an insensate pulp by gorilla-like police offices, who then haul your ass off to the hoosegow and toss you into the drunk tank. That's your regular, normal behavior, and the regular, normal, and throughly predictable behavior of the cops.

Therefore, even in advance of Thursday, I can predict -- validly! -- that on Thursday, you will drink yourself off the stool at the local bar. The point, however, is that you don't have to do this. This is where regularity, and uniformity, part company with determinism. Causal determinism holds that given the "laws" of nature that "govern" the universe in concert with initial or antecedent conditions, you could not do other than go to the bar and get plastered. While uniformity and regularity are clearly observed, both in natural processes and in human behavior, we can drop the superfluous baggage of determinism, and this means that you do not have to go to the bar; you just do -- of your own free will.

But I hold you could go to the zoo instead, and then my bar prediction would be wrong. The fact that you go to the bar instead of doing something else every Thursday isn't prescribed by anyone or anything; it's your free choice. The reason I am able to predict your behavior is that while you could do otherwise, you don't. You have free will, but at the same time I can reliably predict your behavior. So that there are regularities in nature provides no support for causal determinism. The lack of determinism can easily live with the ability to make valid predictions and so non-determinism is not a threat to science, as Politesse claims.

Indeed, I should like to reiterate that in the Strong Free Will theorem, which Politesse did not address, the authors claimed to have mathematically proved, in the context of quantum physics, that hard determinism is the true threat to scientific practice. The theorem demonstrates that if hard determinism is true in the context of QM, we are forever precluded from a subclass of scientific investigations that would prove the world to be deterministic. That is, every question we ask must -- miraculously! -- yield a result consistent with quantum indeterminism, hiding the fact that QM is actually deterministic. If true, this fact renders science worthless.

The proof purports to show that compatibilism is impossible and that the choice rests between hard determinism and contra-causal (libertarian) free will. Given the unlikelihood of a conspiracy of nature that forever precludes us from asking questions that would disclose hard determinism, the authors conclude we indeed have contra-causal free will: that our choices are influenced by nothing from the past, just as the properties of a measured quantum particle are influenced by nothing from the past.

I must stress that I'm not saying that the human psyche is an exception to the rule of determinism in the rest of the world. The fact that I may go to the bar every Thursday and drink myself under the table is as non-deterministic as the fact that a rock rolls down the side of a hill. Both are equally non-determined. They just happen, and then we concoct "laws" that in fact merely describe but do not prescribe such behaviors and outcomes.

This takes us back to Hume's notorious Problem of Induction, which has never been rebutted. We have no grounds to suppose that because photons travel at velocity c in a vacuum, and have always done so, that tomorrow they will continue to do so. But even if light travels at c from now until doomsday, it doesn't follow that they have to. They just do. It's not something that is causally determined; it's just a brute fact. There is no "law" that says light must travel at c; rather there is a just a true description (correspondence or Tarskian theory of truth) that it does. E=MC2 is a description and not a prescription of nature.

This may seem incredible. But there is no reason, upon reflection, that it should. For example, many people think that there is only a choice between metaphysical naturalism and metaphysical supernaturalism, and duke it out over these competing claims. But there are other options. One of them is metaphysical idealism.

Putting aside metaphysical supernaturalism, let's compare metaphysical naturalism and metaphysical idealism. Broadly, the first says that mind supervenes on brain, and the second holds that brain supervenes on mind. Mental states, on the second account, are all that exist.

Almost nobody claims to believe metaphysical idealism, but on the other hand, no one has successfully refuted it. (And no, "I refute it this," followed by a kick to a rock that makes your toe swell is not a refutation of MI, since under the thesis, pain and swollen toes are also purely mental states).

The point is that since no one can actually disprove MI, and since metaphysical idealism and metaphysical naturalism make exactly equivalent predictions about the world, one can be agnostic about which is "really" true.

So it is with causal determinism vs. Neo-Humean regularity doctrine. Whether the first is true or the second is true, either doctrine makes the same predictions about the world. Causal determinism holds that causes precede effects, and the regularity theory scarcely denies this. It just denies that there are laws under which A causes B. Stuff happens, and the laws do not govern these actions but merely describe them.

I am not arguing for a form of compatibilism, which holds that while our motives may be determined by physical law, our responses to those deterministically caused motives is free. I am questioning the very root assumption that there are physical laws that govern the world. To believe this, I think, is to make the same mistake that is often made in trying to undermine human freedom from Aristotle's Sea Battle or God's foreknowledge of human acts. In both those instances (logical determinism and epistemic determinism, respectively), the flow of truth-making is illicitly turned upside down. In the first case, the implicit assumption is because today it is true that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, then somehow (magically?) this propositional truth makes the sea battle happen tomorrow. In the second case, the idea is that God's foreknowledge today of my act tomorrow makes me do that act. I hope that, in my opening post, I have disposed of these logical misconceptions. The true fact today that tomorrow there will be a sea battle no more makes the sea battle happen tomorrow, than my watching the sun come up in the morning makes the sun come up. The same holds for God's foreknowledge of free human acts. It's the act itself that confers truth upon God's propositional knowledge, and not the other way around.

So it is for supposed causal determinism. Since I deny that physical laws govern the world, then the fact that I am now writing these words cannot be the result of (necessitarian) physical law in conjunction with initial or antecedent conditions. Rather, the fact that I am typing these words provides the truth grounds for a proposition that we might casually label "a physical law." If we want to loosely hold on to the notion of physical law, then we would have to say that it is as much a "physical law" that I type these words, as it is a "physical law" that light always travels at c in a vacuum. The only difference between the two is that, while light, to the best of our knowledge, has always traveled at c, I have not always been typing these words, and have perfect freedom to do otherwise. I am not suggesting, in a like fashion, that light has the ability to not travel at c; presumably light has no volition. But what I am saying is that in either case, there is no physical law that governs the world, such that, in concert with initial or antecedent conditions, compels light to travel at c, or compels me to type these words. Rather, I am saying that light just does, as a brute irreducible fact, travel at c; and this fact confers truth upon the semantic proposition, "light travels at c." The proposition certainly does not force light to do that; propositions can never logically be prescriptive. Rather, the proposition just describes what light does. And similarly, there are a vast number of timelessly true propositions that describe what humans do. None of these propositions, in concert with initial or antecedent conditions, can force, compel, or influence whatsoever my free choice to do a or b.

Yes, the natural world and human behavior display many uniformities and regularities that render prediction (and science) possible. But causal determinism, or determinism of any kind, is not a prerequisite of predictability. Determinism is as superfluous as the aether. Things happen. Timelessly true propositions describe what happens. That is all. The fact that there is uniformity and predictability in nature is not, I submit, an artifact of causal determinism, which is a comforting myth. Rather, I would suggest that regularity and uniformity in nature is a brute fact requiring no further level of explanation. We now have good cosmological grounds to believe in a multiverse, in which there are a vast, and perhaps an infinite number, of disconnected and self-contained universes. Many or most of these universes may have no uniformity or regularity whatsoever, and may, like the quantum microverse, be utterly indeterministic and unpredictable. I suggest that in those cases, no sentient observers could arise, since sentience seems to require some level of uniformity and predictability. The fact that we are here, then, constrains the universe to display certain features of regularity and uniformity. The myth of causal determinism arises from these fortuitous and utterly contingent features. Causal determinism is an invention that arises from a straightforward anthropic effect: were the universe not uniform and predictable to some degree, we would not be here to describe anything. The uniformity and predictability is not causal. Rather, it is a brute fact: a random, contingent accident to which we ascribe a determinism that does not actually exist, and that can never scientifically be shown to exist.

In sum, causal determinism is a model of reality. But models, while often successful, while useful as Politesse correctly puts it, do not have to be true. Ptolemaic epicycles provide a completely successful model of the behavior of planetary orbits, but are wrong. Newton's Three Laws of Motion provide a completely successful account of motion in everyday life, but QM shows the vaunted Three Laws are wrong. Models are indeed useful, and if one wishes to model brute facts with the myth of causal determinism, go right ahead. Just don't confuse the map with the territory.

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Post by Politesse » Fri May 16, 2014 9:03 pm

As I said in my opening post, I am not much interested in defending or attacking specific philosophical formulations; Mr John Conway can, in my opinion, defend his own thesis just as effectively with or without my help. I'm not a "professional philosopher", and while the literature on this issue is very interesting, I don't see most of it as necessary in arguing the really quite general question that we are presented with in this debate: Could determinism be valid?

I do acknowledge that there would be a very severe problem if universal laws could only ever be described. This sort of universe, in which the future could never be predicted but only described as it occurs from day to day, would make any true science quite impossible.

I wonder, though, about throwing this term "prescribed" about so freely. Prescriptive and Descriptive are terms that I use often in my classes, as in linguistics they constitute the two basic categories of grammar. Descriptive grammar is that which is observed in the real universe, and prescriptive grammar is that which an elite segment of society defines as "correct" and then attempts to impose on the less powerful (or at least wield against them when they attempt to exert their own power without playing by the linguistic "rules"). Even defining them as separate categories is a bit disingenuous, as the action of prescriptive vs descriptive grammar, being in reality the distinction between folk and elite speechways, is hardly beyond description; the principles that make one sentence "sound right" to the hearer and wrong to another are among the most basic and expected outcomes of a speech interaction, whatever language you speak and wherever you are in the world. Prescriptive systems are always agentive - they cannot be explained without realizing that a given group of people are attempting to coercively change the present or future of others' actions.

I do not think prescriptive qualities are necessary for natural cause and effect to work. In fact, I am quite confused as to how they would help. Prescriptive grammars do not naturally occur in other species with language, as far as we know. We've never observed, at least, whales chiding each other for singing their songs "wrongly". Prescriptive grammar needs a power imbalance in order to exist, a hierarchy to enforce it. While we may be drawing too deeply on my linguistic metaphor at this point, I fail to see how the constants of the physical universe would require coercive power to exist. Most change occurs because two things have interacted, their collision setting off a familiar dance of physical reactions. Do we need a God, or even a Newton, to explain why this is so?

Indeed, if one needed a second, "real" cause for every action in addition to the more immediate, obvious cause you are presented with by circumstance, I wonder whether we could refer to the proximate cause as a real cause at all. If I drop my computer mouse, does it tumble to the floor due to its interaction with the earth? Or would it simply sit there in midair, helplessly suspended, until such time as God or the Laws Of Newton suddenly wrench it from my grasp? Davidm is quite correct, and despite my personal beliefs I am not troubled to admit, that there is no need for a prescriptive lawgiver in our universe in order to explain it.

However, this is not, in my opinion, the result of some murky concept of free will. For just as the object need not ask the permission of the Creator to tumble to the ground, neither does the earth need to ask the permission of said object to draw it into her grasp. The simple fact of the matter is that the interaction, without any need or urge on the part of any Power or Agent, will proceed in an objectively describable and predictable fashion. Even if the Creator is indeed the ultimate master of the situation, which as a pantheist I do believe, her will must surely be covalent with, not additional to, to the simple mathematical perfection of such interactions.

To put it another way, the universe need not be "prescriptive" in nature to work and even to be determined; it is only necessary that causes should have predictable effects. And they do. Wherever we are on Earth, and whoever the experimenter is, and whatever their beliefs and assumptions might be, the simple experiment of dropping an object and watching to see whether it falls is replicable in exact form and outcome.

Humanity is similar. We have certain basic emotions that are present in every member of our species whose mind is not compromised by some illness (and how odd mental illness must seem to one who believes that our "wills" are absolute in their control over the physical!) and they are the motivation for much of our behavior. When personal experience and bias cannot be at play, the habits and desires cultivated within us by our enculturation into a given society take over. These motivations are potent and strong, and despite how predictable they tend to make our behaviors, we are very attached to them. We do not in fact desire to be separate from the agents that bring our minds and bodies to their certain predictable ends.

To some extent, I think this gets at the emotional core of the defense of Free Will. It's interesting that the concept managed to survive the death of Christianity, but at the same time not surprising. The defense of free will is a rejection of the idea that someone, a person perhaps, has the power to invade your mind and do what you do not wish to do. To wholly surrender one's belt, in the idiom of St Paul, is an idea equally abhorrent to the believer and the nonbeliever. While I sympathize with this position, I do not believe that the fear is founded. What, I wonder, would someone without "free will" do differently if they suddenly acquired it? I do as I do because of motivations, desires, pleasures and pains that are very real to me, and I cannot imagine that, so liberated, I would do otherwise. No one is denying that our actions seem, to us, motivated very poignantly by our wants and desires. I'm not sure what you think might suddenly motivate me to go to the zoo rather than the bar, for instance, but as a hypothetical nature-hating barfly, I am certain I would find the experience distasteful.

I think it plain that those desires do not somehow occur outside the plane of the describable - or predictable- universe. Because of this, most days I am not much afraid that God is going to plunk some idea in my head and force me to follow it whether I will or no. We have wills, in short. I've just never heard a excellent or even plausible explanation for what might "free" that will, or why you would even desire to be "freed" from your normal though predictable motivations and desires. To be "freed" from our natural motivations would not prevent us from doing what we do not wish to do. Indeed, it would very nearly ensure that we would violate those desires. Our thoughts, motivations and desires are no less real for us, simply because they lie within the plane of the predictable. You may call this a "compatibilist" position if you like, but I don't actually see it as being compatible with the idea of a free will, simply because it is compatible with the experience of seeming to have one.

Ultimately, the verdict on whether or not the universe is deterministic in nature will not rest on whether we seem to have a will, but whether or not that will makes our behavior any more unpredictable than any other complex material phenomenon, whether or not one involving animate persons. And I think that there is only one reasonable answer to that question. Indeed, you have already fervently defended the idea that our behaviors are predictable. If they are, then we don't need Free Will to explain them, and I see no reason to muddy the waters with seemingly magical "wills". No one is "making" you do anything, any more than Newton is "making" objects fall. But fall they do, and it is not by magic or coincidence, but by physical interactions that have no other logical outcome.

As I see it, our positions are not even far distant, but for your puzzling insistence that Determinism requires a Determiner, or that the absence of a Determiner somehow leaves room for that fuzzily. It obviously does not. This in no way necessitates a magical explanation for human interactions, which are no less open to prediction than the fall of a sparrow, which we both admit I think did not require the action of a free will. But if willful and nonwillful material interactions have identical properties and outcomes, whence free will? As my friend and our moderator Jobar is fond of observing, it is unnecessary to keep around superfluous explanations when the apparent explanation on its own suffices.
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Post by davidm » Wed May 21, 2014 12:46 am

I will close with this statement, given the guidelines I believe we are following, giving Politesse the last word even as I had the first word. Sorry, again, for the delay in submitting it; vacation can be distracting.

I wish to make clear what I am not saying. I am not saying that each photon in the universe travels at c in a vacuum because of an unfathomable and vastly improbable coincidence. Nor am I saying that each of the vast numbers of electrons in the universe bear the same charge because of coincidence. (Although I believe that Feynman has a model in which there is only one electron and only one photon in the universe, each following every possible path, thus giving the illusion of a multiplicity of such entities, but that is off the point.)

I'm saying that these are brute facts, which do not require metaphysical covering laws to explain them. All photons travel at c in a vacuum because this behavior is among its contingent properties. If we were to require a covering "law" to explain why photons travel at c or why electrons bear charge x, what sort of law would this be? Where, when, and how, do such "laws" exist? I would suggest that such laws, if they exist, would be vaguely "magical"; indeed, one might as well say they would be supernatural.

I do not insist, as Politesse writes in her latest post, that for determinism to exist, it is necessary that there be a determiner. Once can conceive a (logically) possible world in which both a determiner and determinism exist, as Newton thought; one can conceive a world in which a determiner but not determinism exists; one can conceive a world in which determinism exists without a determiner, and one can conceive a world in which neither determiner nor determinism exist. I am arguing for the final proposition against its three rivals.

Politesse concludes with:
But if willful and nonwillful material interactions have identical properties and outcomes, whence free will? As my friend and our moderator Jobar is fond of observing, it is unnecessary to keep around superfluous explanations when the apparent explanation on its own suffices.
I do not believe that willful and nonwillful material interactions have identical properties and outcomes. A rock falling down the side of the cliff in accord with the descriptive propositions of gravity is much more predictable, much more regular, than human behaviors. But I can turn around Politesse's statement and ask: If regularities in nature exist, both the regularities of rocks falling down the sides of hills and the (partially) predictable behaviors of humans, whence determinism? All that is needed conceptually is (partial) regularity to account for these observed behaviors.

Contrary to what Politesse claims in her latest post, I must again deny (though I think I've already explained this) that:
Politesse wrote: This sort of universe, in which the future could never be predicted but only described as it occurs from day to day, would make any true science quite impossible.
But I have explicitly argued that a universe consisting of (some) uniformities and regularities can be predicted; and, obviously, the universe is, to some extent, predictable. So that is not even at issue. The real issue is whether causal determinism is either a necessary or sufficient condition for uniformity or regularity. I have argued that causal determinism is superfluous for a universe that is at least (partially) ordered. I hold that the regularities of nature are brute contingent facts that require no deeper level of (magical?) explanation like "governing laws" that work in concert with initial and antecedent conditions to produce, via causal determinism, predictable outcomes. We can drop all this metaphysical baggage with one swell foop of Occham's razor. There are (some) regularities and uniformities in nature that enable us to make (some) valid and objectively verifiable predictions, full stop. Nothing else is metaphysically necessary.

It must be noted, of course, that quantum mechanics by itself shows that causal determinism is objectively false. At the quantum level, things happen indeterministically and for no reason at all. Outcomes are fundamentally random. It's true that when you reach the so-called "classical" level of description, things become more regular and partially predictable; but this seems to be a function of the idea that what we call "laws" are not only purely descriptive, but statistically based. A good example is the vaunted Second Law of Thermodynamics, ever a bone of contention between scientists and creationists who fail to understand this "law." (The creationists always fail to understand that 2LOT only applies to closed systems and never open systems like the earth, but that is not what I am going to talk about.)

What I am going to address is this: 2LOT is not a "law" at all. It's certainly possible for 2LOT to be violated; it's just highly improbable that a whole bunch of gas molecules bumping about in random in a closed box will suddenly all rush to one corner of the box and thus decrease entropy. Since there are so many of them and they are all traveling at random, it's staggeringly unlikely that we would ever see this behavior which would seem to be coordinated if it happened; but it could happen. And I suggest all physical "laws" are like this. They are successful descriptions of nature because statistically, observing outcomes contrary to the well-established descriptions are unlikely but nevertheless possible.

I appreciate the discussion of descriptive and normative statements in linguistics, but I'm not sure how much relevance it has for physical "law." All I am saying is that when people, a good many of them scientists, talk about physical law, they seem to treat these "laws" as edicts, in the same way that a court of law or a legislative body may issue an edict mandating certain behaviors on penalty of legal punishment. But my whole point is that physical laws are precisely not like that, for how could they be?

I think that determinism in all its forms is, in philosophy, as superfluous as Paley-like design is in biology. Biology doesn't need (directed) design and physics does not need determinism to construct empirically adequate models of the world. It is just a fact that there are (some) statistical regularities in nature that allow us to make valid predictions, but there is also a good deal of uncertainty and indeterminism, not just in human behavior but woven into the fabric of reality itself, as quantum physics teaches. The inadequacy or superfluousness of deterministic explanations in accounting for reality, coupled with the obvious fact that, while human behavior is predictable to some extent, it is also notoriously unpredictable, leaves wide scope for a robust notion of free will. Obviously human will is not wholly free -- no one is free to flap his or her arms and fly to the moon, or violate the Law of Noncontradiction (a law of logic and hence a true law), or to do a myriad other things.

But these things are precluded, not because of some mystical metaphysical doctrine of causal determinism, but rather because of straightforward physical or logical limitations. Similarly, no human can alter the speed c of light in a vacuum, or change the charge on an electron. These "laws" (really descriptions) of properties in photons and electrons cannot be changed (at least not so far) by human effort. But we can and do make a great many "laws" (descriptions) true just in virtue of our free behavior. I can decide whether to raise my arm or not. If I raise my arm, there is a timelessly true description ("law") that I raise my arm. If I decline to raise my arm, there is a timelessly true description that I decline to raise my arm. Both involve propositional truth. In exactly the same way, there is a timelessly true description, but not a prescription, that light always travels at c in a vacuum. Nothing "makes" light do this, it just does do it.

The difference between light and humans is that photons lack volition because they lack minds. Humans, because they have minds, do have violation, and thus can and do display a myriad different (sometimes predictable, sometimes not) behaviors, all of which are subsumable under descriptive propositions, just like the behaviors of everything else, though some other things, lacking minds, are much more (contingently) uniform in behavior than are free humans.

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Post by Politesse » Fri May 23, 2014 7:27 pm

At the conclusion of the debate, I'm pleased to see that our positions are not quite diametrical. We agree that, in principle, the universe presents a science-friendly atmosphere in which one can observe current interactions, suggest explanations, and test them, gradually developing better models with which to predict future interactions. That being my main concern in this debate, I'd be happy enough to stop there and call it a win-win.

What I remain puzzled about is where Free Will comes into this, and why, if the universe is clearly predictable, one could reasonably conclude that determinism "in all its forms" is invalid. On what basis are we really throwing it out?

If the universe is set according to truly arbitrary rules, I can see where this would be disconcerting to someone who believes very strongly in its having a deeper purpose. Unless this inhibits our ability to predict what action will follow from what, however, I don't see how this would make the universe non-deterministic. Whatever the circumstances that set the board, we are playing the game now, and it's a very different game than would exist if free will were constantly stepping in and messing up the board. Your "brute facts" are just as brute whether one relies on coincidence or divinity to explain their creation. If "ordered" or "straightforward logic" is more comfortable to you than "determined", go ahead and use it, but we are describing the exact same situation as near as I can see. I don't think anyone has ever claimed, for that matter, that the rules which govern the observable universe are also binding outside of it, or in a hypothetical differently composed universe. That isn't what determinism claims; it is only meant to encapsulate the universe we can observe, since its regularities are what led us to conclude that it was probably deterministic in the first place.

Perhaps because I do not understand this assumption, neither do I understand how human behavior is supposed to be markedly more difficult to predict than any other complex process. You cite "minds", but there are plenty of inherently complex phenomena that clearly do not involve them. A small boulder's path might actually be quite hard to predict, if it were tumbling down a long scree slope with indeterminate winds. Would it be reasonable to conclude that its path had more free will than my dropped tea cup, simply because it was harder to predict? And that's just a boulder. More complex geological phenomena like earthquakes and volcanoes continue to elude our capacity for prediction in any but the vaguest of parameters. We know that there are regular principles at work in the universe because of the regularities we observe and the consistent predictability of their occurrence, not because they make every problem easily soluble.

And human behavior is no less predictable than a boulder, for all that it is complicated by the addition of the mind and its perambulations. If I know that you were raised in a culture that favors pants over robes, that you have never been exposed to a culture that does otherwise, and that you are of sound mind, my prediction that you too will don pants when you go outside. Now, do I know what color they will be? That's a more complicated question. But I can already think of a number of ways that I could narrow the possibilities, and even more ways that I could test them. Because human behavior is, fundamentally, deterministic enough to be subject to scientific study. I see no room for "free will" in this system, nor do I understand how you would recognize it if it existed, save for people routinely making decisions that a deterministic universe could not have predicted. They don't. We can no more alter the basic mechanics of emotion, rationality, and language than we can the speed of light or the pull of gravity. Until we can, I see no good reason to conclude that "minds" are any less conquerable a problem than "plate tectonics" or "quantum physics", within the confines of a deterministic universe.

My thanks to Davidm for proposing and arguing this debate. I quite enjoyed myself and, despite the stubbornness with which I have held to my own position, I learned a number of things I did not know from your well-researched posts. Thanks also to Jobar and SC generally for sponsoring this exclusive engagement, and I hope to see many more in the future.
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Post by Jobar » Sat May 24, 2014 12:36 am

A slightly belated thank-you to davidm and Politesse, for a most interesting exchange on a subject which has been previously trampled by vast herds of academics, philosophers, and theologians. Not at all an easy task, to make a debate such as this worthwhile- but I think that you two made an excellent job of it.

I confess that I was frequently quite pressed for time in the course of this debate, and did not do the thorough job of debate moderation that Redshirt used to do; I appreciate that the flawless civility you both exhibited made it unnecessary for me to do that. :)

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