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Amaroq

How do you reject Physics Determinism?

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With a very high level of confidence, so high as to be indistinguishable from certainty, the answer is "in our brains". Depending on what the decision pertains to, what sensory modalities are involved, how much long or short term memory is referenced, and how abstract the decision is there will be different areas of the brain recruited to participate in the decision. The frontal lobe seems to be a common element for self-conscious decision making but without the connections to the rest of the brain and body the frontal lobe would be cut off from all possible content to think about. There is no more exact answer than this.

Here is a good paper that makes the point that the underlying physics and metaphysics behind determinism is in fact false. The 'physicalists' don't even have their physics straight.

PHYSICALISM, EMERGENCE AND DOWNWARD CAUSATION, Richard J. Campbell and Mark H. Bickhard, 33 pages (unknown if either is Objectivist, although Bickhard at least should know of Rand's work.)

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That is correct Grames.

Now tell me if you can, how do our brains function?

How do neurons act?

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You don't need all this philosophy of mind hullaballoo to toss out determinism. It's far easier to do it with Quantum Mechanics. The position of an electron within an orbital is probabilistic, not deterministic.

Even if "we are phyics" as was mentioned on the first page, you still aren't deterministic.

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That is correct Grames.

Now tell me if you can, how do our brains function?

How do neurons act?

Is this an attempt to lead me by a Socratic dialogue to reduce brains to neurons, then molecules and atoms? Because I anticipated this line of argumentation and provided the link to PHYSICALISM, EMERGENCE AND DOWNWARD CAUSATION which addresses the failure of this version of reductive physicalism in an academically thorough and rigorous style better than I would do here in a post. Let me just quote the relevant passage below. It is a long passage so I omit the block quote for improved readability. (still working on the formatting, which loses something in copy-paste out of the pdf)

Reflecting on the complex debates that have swirled around this issue, one feature stands out. On all sides, the presumption has been that the fundamental level of the natural world consists of micro-physical entities of some sort, with their primary properties. These physical entities are clearly some sort of particular. But what sort? Some physicalists believe that it does not matter, that the notion of a physical particular might be defined as an object, a concrete event, or whatever. Howbeit, the key commitment of physicalism is to some kind of
basic particulars
, which are the fundamental constituents out of which everything in the world is composed. Even those who argue for a wide sense of the ‘physical’ erect their definitions of that term upon basic physical constituents. That is, however generous the definition, physicalists take as fundamental
elementary particles
, in the loose sense of the word “particle” commonly encountered in descriptions of quantum mechanical phenomena.

But recent developments in physics tell against that presupposition. What our best contemporary physics reveals is that
there are no elementary ‘particles’
, fundamental events, or some such particulars. There are only
processes
of various scales and complexity. That this is so has not been easy to see, since the behaviour of phenomena at the sub-atomic level has seemed to defy description in coherent and intelligible terms. For more than a century, physicists have struggled to reconcile the facts that these phenomena exhibit, in different experimental circumstances, both particle-like and wave-like behaviour. With so much being discovered that physicists themselves confess to finding weird, the habitual ways of talking about particles persist even though its use is confused and confusing. Even reputable physicists often give explanatory descriptions in terms of ‘particles’ in a way which, if taken seriously, would be incompatible with the physics they are trying to explain. Further, physics throughout the 20
th
Century has been dogged by a series of deep theoretical inconsistencies that are not yet fully resolved. But enough has now become clear for it to be evident that an ontology of elementary ‘particles’ – basic particulars – can no longer be sustained.

To make this clear, it will be helpful to review briefly the major shifts in physical theory in the 20
th
Century. The new era in physics was ushered in when Einstein proposed his special theory of relativity to overcome the contradiction between Newton’s laws of motion and Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism. But that solution immediately generated another contradiction. According to special relativity, no object, and no force, can travel faster than the speed of light; yet in Newton’s theory, universal gravity is a force that is transmitted instantaneously. Again, it was Einstein who proposed the solution to this second conflict, with his general theory of relativity. Special relativity had held that the motion of one entity relative to another influences space and time. Now, according to general relativity, space and time can warp and curve in response to the presence of matter or energy. Such distortions spread out from one place to another, not instantaneously but at the speed of light, becoming more attenuated with distance.

The general theory of relativity provided for the first time an explanation of what gravity actually is, but until general relativity is integrated with quantum mechanics (as superstring theory now aims to do) ‘particle’-based physics has to treat gravity as an ubiquitous mystery. Indeed, far from overcoming the embarrassment that the apparent action at a distance of gravitational force causes for Newtonian corpuscular physics, recent experimental work has actually produced even worse anomalies for an elementary ‘particle’ metaphysics. For it has discovered a number of non-local phenomena that do not involve the transmission of force. For just one example, the Pauli exclusion principle forbids two leptons (of which electrons are one sort) from being in the same quantum state. Two electrons in the same carbon atom cannot be in the same quantum state. This fact underlies all of chemistry, yet it is an inherently non-local,
relational
constraint. Why should that be? Why should this ‘state’ constraint hold for electrons within a single carbon atom, but not for electrons in two different carbon atoms? And why should these problems go away when we go beyond the quantum level? There are good mathematical explanations for the Pauli exclusion principle, but such non-local phenomena must seem utterly mysterious from the perspective of particle metaphysics – just as Newton admitted that the non-locality of gravity was a deep conceptual anomaly in his physics.

Many aspects of quantum mechanics are well confirmed, but quantum mechanics and relativity theory – both special and general – cannot both be correct. Not only is quantum mechanics incompatible with
general
relativity unless it is transformed in a way that can account for gravity,
special
relativity plus conservation of energy forces a
field
physics, and, therefore, a
field metaphysics
. This is because any transmission of energy from one ‘particle’ to another has to be across some space and will, according to special relativity, take some time. For example, if an electron oscillates in one place and thereby elicits a force on an electron in another place, that force can be felt only after a delay that honours the limitations of the speed of light. But given the law of conservation of energy, it makes no sense to suppose that that energy simply disappears as it leaves the first electron, only to re-appear sometime later, when it arrives at the second. So, there must be a field encompassing both places,
through
which the energy travels. Furthermore, quantum
field
theory involves its own well supported empirical consequences, such as the Casimir effect. It is not just a mathematical but physically irrelevant fix.

In fact, the incompatibility between quantum mechanics and special relativity is overcome by quantum field theory, and superstring theory now aims to overcome the incompatibility between quantum mechanics and general relativity. But despite these achievements, a satisfactorily unified physics is still wanting. A field version of superstring theory has still to be developed, yet quantum fields are still needed to preserve special relativity together with conservation of energy, and to provide for the possibility of explaining non-local phenomena.

Although there is much for physics yet to resolve, the general direction is becoming clear enough for some conclusions of metaphysical significance to be drawn. According to our best science, there are no elementary ‘particles’, or basic particulars, at all; everything is composed of quantum fields. Quantum field theory shifts the basic ontology of the universe from micro-particles to quantum fields. What have seemed to be ‘particles’ are now conceptualized as particle-like processes and interactions resulting from the quantization of field processes and interactions. Those are no more particles than are the integer number of oscillatory waves in a guitar string. Each of the apparent particulars assumed by a physicalist ontology is a quantized field process.

It is just as well that the physicalist’s metaphysical model, which would reduce everything to interactions amongst elementary ‘particles’, is not supported by recent physics, since it is arguably incoherent. Either the basic particulars (particles) have extension, or they do not. If they have no extension, then a field view is forced in order to account for particle interactions, since the probability of such particles ever actually hitting each other is zero. If, on the other hand, these elementary particles do have finite extension, they pose intractable problems for physical theory. They could not be compressible; the velocity of transmission of force through their diameter would therefore be instantaneous; there would be extreme difficulty in explaining different kinds of interactions (gravity, electricity, etc.); and so on. If a move is made to a combination of particles and fields (the typical contemporary semi-sophisticated view), then all the significant issues are already granted anyway in the granting of fields. There are no ‘particles’, but, even if there were, so long as fields are granted at all, the micro-reduction motivation fails – and a strict particle view is not only factually false, but conceptually incoherent as well.

<snip> . . .

The adjustment in one’s physics, however, is not so simple; the particle view is deeply related to the micro-reductivist position. Particles do not
have
a configuration. They are points. But they do
participate
in configurations relative to each other. Particles are the purported locus of causal power, and the configurations in which they participate are ‘merely’ the stage setting for the working out of the particle causal interactions. That is, causal power is resident in entities that are not configurational, and configuration or organization is merely a stage setting, with no causal power of its own. In this view, organization is factored out as a legitimate locus for causal power – it’s just stage setting – and such delegitimation succeeds because there is a non-configurational candidate available to be such a causal locus: particles. The particle view supports the reductionist view by motivating the elimination of configurations as legitimate loci of causal power. So, abandoning a particle physics in favour of a quantum field physics, a process metaphysics, is not an innocent choice with respect to the issues at hand.
The critical point is that quantum field processes have no existence that is independent of their configurations: quantum fields are processes, and can only exist in various patterns. Those patterns come in many sizes, of many different physical and temporal scales, some as large as a human person, or a social institution – but they are all equally patterns of processes. There is no ‘bottoming out’ level in quantum field theory – it is patterns of process all the way down, and all the way up.

That is the rub. To be a reductive physicalist (or an ‘eliminative materialist’) at all, is to believe that ‘higher-level’ entities are nothing other than complex configurations of lower-level entities, in such a way that the higher-level properties and powers are explicable in principle in terms of the properties and powers of the lower-level entities (or at least, determined by them). Consequently, some entity is reducible just in case it is a configuration of lower-level entities. But now the supposed base-level entities are nothing but configurations of process as well! If there is no ‘bottoming out’, there are no bases to which all other phenomena can, even in principle, be reduced. Our reductive physicalist has lost the ground on which he wants to stand.
If being configurational
makes a property or power epiphenomenal, then everything is an epiphenomenon.
That is the
reductio ad absurdum
of this position.

Edited by Grames

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You don't need all this philosophy of mind hullaballoo to toss out determinism. It's far easier to do it with Quantum Mechanics. The position of an electron within an orbital is probabilistic, not deterministic.

Even if "we are phyics" as was mentioned on the first page, you still aren't deterministic.

This is not an adequate response because "you" are still reduced to particles. This is the old "epicurean swerve" theory of free will, and it not actually different from determinism.

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A simple reply to your determinist friend:

If we are all just puppets on strings, manipulated by physics, by genes, subatomic particles, environmental stimuli, fate, god, chemicals, what have you. If our minds are an illusion, how can you know anything? How can you know that we're determined with certainty and not that you're just being manipulated to think that.

All determinists, including your friend, nullify his own mind to know anything. In essence, what they contend is: "We are determined by genes and environment and chemicals. My mind doesn't exist. But how do I know this? My mind.

Determinism cuts the legs out from under its own argument. If you do not accept that a volitional consciousness exists, you have to use your consciousness to utter the words. If you think that the brain is just "matter" forcing you to 'think' certain things then how can you know that you aren't just being forced to think the wrong things?

Determinism is a vacuum of contradictory 'premises' that nullify the source of knowledge: volitional consciousness

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A simple reply to your determinist friend:

This is a good response but it never seems convincing to the determinist. So long as the premise of a particle metaphysics remains there is no way to resolve the contradiction between the impossibility of volition and the fact of volition. Attack the particle metaphysics and then maybe some progress can be made.

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I think the best way to reply to someone who denies the existence of free will is to get them to explain exactly what they mean by free will. And what they mean by determinism. That at least gives one a solid place to start.

That being said, there is one point that does not appear to have been raised here. I think most of us are in agreement that we cannot presently predict human behavior with exact accuracy. But what if we could predict human behavior exactly? Would this contradict freedom of the will?

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That being said, there is one point that does not appear to have been raised here. I think most of us are in agreement that we cannot presently predict human behavior with exact accuracy. But what if we could predict human behavior exactly? Would this contradict freedom of the will?

Well, no, because free will doesn't imply that one's decisions are arbitrary. If someone is a fully rational person, you should have no problem predicting his behavior, other than certain errors of knowledge the two of you might have.

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Grames- I dont plan on reducing neurons to sub atomic particles. I need only neurons for this, since no one on this world knows how sub atomic particles react.

Slightly off topic, but has anyone heard/read something about neutrino particles? It shows that we MAY(capital letters) not know jack about sub atomic particles, or lack of elementary ones. I do THINK that determinism is correct, however, currently there is no real way of proving or disproving it with our current knowledge so i don't preach it.

Free will however...

Back to neurons. When they activate, they activate another neuron or neurons, depending on their bonds with other neurons.

For example, light receptors in your eye catch some light, as they always do. Then, the "raw data" is transferred to your brain, where it makes the 3D picture combining 2 2D pictures your eyes catch. After that, part of your brain tries to make sense out of that picture, associating it with other neurons in other parts of your brain. Then your brain decides for you to move to the left, since you were walking on the street and would hit a traffic sign if you dont move.

The above example accounts for almost every situation. Now, if neurons cannot activate spontaneously, but must be activated by another neuron, where is there room for free will?

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Grames- I dont plan on reducing neurons to sub atomic particles. I need only neurons for this, since no one on this world knows how sub atomic particles react.

Our knowledge of subatomic physics is accurate to two dozen decimal places, which is orders of magnitude greater knowledge than what we know about neurons. You would be on firmer ground going to the particle physics.

Slightly off topic, but has anyone heard/read something about neutrino particles? It shows that we MAY(capital letters) not know jack about sub atomic particles, or lack of elementary ones. I do THINK that determinism is correct, however, currently there is no real way of proving or disproving it with our current knowledge so i don't preach it.
But then you go on .... :stuart:

Determinism is disproven. It has been disproven for at least two thousand years since Aristotle wrote refutations of determinism.

Free will however...

Back to neurons. When they activate, they activate another neuron or neurons, depending on their bonds with other neurons.

For example, light receptors in your eye catch some light, as they always do. Then, the "raw data" is transferred to your brain, where it makes the 3D picture combining 2 2D pictures your eyes catch. After that, part of your brain tries to make sense out of that picture, associating it with other neurons in other parts of your brain. Then your brain decides for you to move to the left, since you were walking on the street and would hit a traffic sign if you dont move.

The above example accounts for almost every situation. Now, if neurons cannot activate spontaneously, but must be activated by another neuron, where is there room for free will?

"Then your brain decides for you" <--- that is just insane.

If I, my consciousness, am not identical with my brain, what the hell am I? This is the part in every debate with a determinist where I get to accuse my correspondent with secretly, perhaps even unwittingly, believing in some version of a mystical soul. It must be mystical because evidently by your expectation the true self is apart from and not composed of material things like neurons.

"Then your brain decides for you" just assumes an opposition between the brain and whatever "you" supposedly refers to. You may well deny it, but your brain is poisoned by religious thinking and a mind-body dichotomy and it makes you think and write such foolish things. (You can argue against this last sentence and thereby refute yourself, or you can agree with it and thereby refute yourself. The free choice is yours.)

The mind-body dichotomy is the single most widespread philosophical error. Even determinists don't take their materialism seriously because the standard employed to judge that "real freedom" exists is to be like an angel floating in a different dimension, above and untouched by this crass and unclean existence, uncaused and unmoved by material things. Completely uncaused spontaneous magic is the only way to recognize real freedom in this view. Yet, if you did witness such a thing that would be a cause of some neurons firing and some belief circuits triggering and it wouldn't be a free recognition. Completely uncaused spontaneous magic is highly unlikely ever to result in a situationally useful or appropriate action because that would require the non-material self to somehow see or hear or somehow know what was going on around you, but responding to the environment in any systematic way would just be a form of causation which is forbidden by definition. A non-material uncaused self is just a completely impossible and unworkable and even incoherent standard. Even if we did have truly free souls no one could ever know it.

Materialist free will simply affirms that the brain is part of the body and because it is material it has the power to be a material cause on par with other material causes. The argument I extensively quoted in the previous post demolishes the pretense of reductionism (or physicalism), that because a brain is composed of neurons that somehow then only the neurons are fully real causal powers and the structure of the brain as whole does not count or add any additional causal powers.

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Our knowledge of subatomic physics is accurate to two dozen decimal places, which is orders of magnitude greater knowledge than what we know about neurons. You would be on firmer ground going to the particle physics.

Lolwut? Knowlege of subatomic physics is accurate to two dozen decimal places? What was that supposed to mean?

We know about atom,protonquark?

We don't know a lot about quantum physics, we don't know a lot about subatomic particles, we have to explain gravity by adding multiple universes into account, heck we don't even know what matter is. Even the theory of relativity is now in danger.

"Then your brain decides for you" <--- that is just insane.

If I, my consciousness, am not identical with my brain, what the hell am I? This is the part in every debate with a determinist where I get to accuse my correspondent with secretly, perhaps even unwittingly, believing in some version of a mystical soul. It must be mystical because evidently by your expectation the true self is apart from and not composed of material things like neurons.

"Then your brain decides for you" just assumes an opposition between the brain and whatever "you" supposedly refers to. You may well deny it, but your brain is poisoned by religious thinking and a mind-body dichotomy and it makes you think and write such foolish things. (You can argue against this last sentence and thereby refute yourself, or you can agree with it and thereby refute yourself. The free choice is yours.)

Khm, maybe i did not make myself clear.

You is your consciousness, according to my definition of "you". Your brain is more than that.

However, question remains. Can a neuron be activated spontaneously(free will?)

Please give me your definition of free will, because i cant think of any except spontaneous activation of neurons, or "choosing" which neurons shall a single neuron activate.

And yes i'm religious. Pastafarian to be precise :P

Edited by Pigsaw

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A simple reply to your determinist friend:

If we are all just puppets on strings, manipulated by physics, by genes, subatomic particles, environmental stimuli, fate, god, chemicals, what have you. If our minds are an illusion, how can you know anything? How can you know that we're determined with certainty and not that you're just being manipulated to think that.

All determinists, including your friend, nullify his own mind to know anything. In essence, what they contend is: "We are determined by genes and environment and chemicals. My mind doesn't exist. But how do I know this? My mind.

Determinism cuts the legs out from under its own argument. If you do not accept that a volitional consciousness exists, you have to use your consciousness to utter the words. If you think that the brain is just "matter" forcing you to 'think' certain things then how can you know that you aren't just being forced to think the wrong things?

Determinism is a vacuum of contradictory 'premises' that nullify the source of knowledge: volitional consciousness

You can't for sure know anything about the world, because anything you know is just your perception of real world.

This may as well be matrix.

But 2+2 will always equal 4.

We will have to do with what we have and make rational decisions and thoughts with what we do percieve as true, or using logic which can never fail.

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You can't for sure know anything about the world, because anything you know is just your perception of real world.

This may as well be matrix.

But 2+2 will always equal 4.

We will have to do with what we have and make rational decisions and thoughts with what we do percieve as true, or using logic which can never fail.

This is a failure to grasp the form/object distinction.

It is like saying if you take I-495 to New York, you can only get to know New York as it appears by taking I-495, you can't know how New York."really" appears.

Perception is the form by which we grasp the objects. What can you possibly compare your perceptions to? There is perception as it appears to me, as compared to the way it really looks? As it really looks to who? The flying spaghetti monster?

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Lolwut? Knowlege of subatomic physics is accurate to two dozen decimal places? What was that supposed to mean?

We know about atom,protonquark?

We don't know a lot about quantum physics, we don't know a lot about subatomic particles, we have to explain gravity by adding multiple universes into account, heck we don't even know what matter is. Even the theory of relativity is now in danger.

http://en.wikipedia....ucture_constant (Only) One dozen significant figures. We know plenty, and it isn't going to go away ever. No new discovery will ever change the value of the fine-structure constant except to increase the precision.

Richard Feynman Lecture on Quantum Electrodynamics: QED. 2/8

Khm, maybe i did not make myself clear.

You is your consciousness, according to my definition of "you". Your brain is more than that.

However, question remains. Can a neuron be activated spontaneously(free will?)

:fool: No, never. But the premise of your question is invalid. No neuron needs to spontaneously activate for there to be free will, and in fact if that happened we would be fundamentally unable to control ourselves. See previous post for more why the question is wrong.

Please give me your definition of free will, because i cant think of any except spontaneous activation of neurons, or "choosing" which neurons shall a single neuron activate.

The freedom in free will is not freedom from physics, it is freedom from other people performing mind control. It is precisely because the brain is physical and material that it can be cause in its own right. Consciousness exists in the form of a material brain and is pushed and buffeted by all kinds of forces, but because it exists, has mass and takes up space, has memory, can control the actions of the body and can sense and perceive and imagine and especially because it can reason, it can push back in its modest way. Modest, because in the philosophy of Objectivism free will is essentially the ability to control what to pay attention to, what to "focus" on in the Objectivist jargon.

You can't find free will in a single neuron, just as you can't find life in a single atom or molecule. It requires the interaction of billions of elements to produce both. The relations between those billions of elements are real and existential and are physical, and are a new causal factor affecting the actions of the individual elements while never found in any isolated element.

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This is not an adequate response because "you" are still reduced to particles. This is the old "epicurean swerve" theory of free will, and it not actually different from determinism.

I'm confused by your statement of being reduced to particles.  First you aren't really reduced to particles, your reduced to the weird quantum superposition that is particles.  And from that you understand that causality is not determininstic, but probabilistic.

Sure, it doesn't really solve the problem of free will, but its does fundamentally disprove determinism.  If the particles aren't deterministic, how can the items built on them be deterministic?

Edit: I looked up the "epicurian swerve" thing you brought up. I don't really see how Epicures misinterpretations of molecular physics has any bearing on this.

Edited by emorris1000

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I'm confused by your statement of being reduced to particles. First you aren't really reduced to particles, your reduced to the weird quantum superposition that is particles. And from that you understand that causality is not determininstic, but probabilistic.

Sure, it doesn't really solve the problem of free will, but its does fundamentally disprove determinism. If the particles aren't deterministic, how can the items built on them be deterministic?

Edit: I looked up the "epicurian swerve" thing you brought up. I don't really see how Epicures misinterpretations of molecular physics has any bearing on this.

The free will/determinism dispute centers around finding the cause or causes that do the determining. Free will advocates affirm that it makes sense to attribute causal power to the self, with various interpretations of 'self' (some of which are quite bad and indefensible, i.e. 'soul' theories and any other version of substance dualism). The determinists are invariably reductionists in a bad way, going so far as to deny that the macroscopic objects we perceive and interact with (including the self) exist in a meaningful way, that it is all an illusion based on our inability to perceive the real causal powers in this world which are the atoms and particles.

For the determinists it does not matter in the slightest whether the mathematical functions describing the dance of the atoms are rigidly deterministic or probabilistic, it is only the dance of the atoms that matters and talk of a self is just naive wishful thinking.

This follows the same pattern of thought since ancient Greece:

Democritus atomic theory was deterministic, and Epicurus introduced the swerve to preserve free will.

Cartesian/Newtonian billiard ball mechanics are deterministic, and Kant made the world safe for religion and souls again by claiming the world was unknowable.

Quantum mechanics are given a probabilistic interpretation, and various 'quantum mystics' claim free will hides in the low probability wave function solutions.

It is all the same pattern. Epicurus accepted Democritus atomic theory, Kant was an enthusiastic Newtonian, and quantum mystics just love love love quantum wierdnesses. All the crazy attempts to defend free will begin by accepting the determinist metaphysics, that only the basic particulars (of whatever theory) have a genuine existence because they are at the bottom of a metaphysical hierarchy.

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