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How do you reject Physics Determinism?

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I'd say my knowledge of Objectivism is coming along. But my roommate who I debate with semi-often keeps asserting that we are determined. His arguments are along the lines of the following.

You 'are' physics. You are within physics. With the proper tools and physics knowledge, every quark in the universe can be predicted with absolute accuracy. We are made out of quarks, including the brain that our consciousness comes from. Choice is an illusion. It only feels like we have a choice from inside the "algorithm". Our knowledge, beliefs, experiences, memories, etc are all part of the makeup of our brain. External stimuli causes reactions with these things on a microscopic level which produces our thoughts and reactions to the stimuli.

I hold the axiom of consciousness and its corollary axiom, volition, to be true. However, I can't seem to refute this assertion. OPAR (which I'm currently reading) assumes that all determinists think we simply don't have a choice. Not only does my roommate reject volition, but when I press him with statements like "You're using choice right now", he responds that choice is an illusion. That it only feels like we have a choice from within our brain's algorithm.

It's easy to refute traditional Determinism. But how do you refute a variation of it that rejects the fact that we are making choices by asserting that choice is an illusion?

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It's easy to refute traditional Determinism. But how do you refute a variation of it that rejects the fact that we are making choices by asserting that choice is an illusion?

We've had a lot of discussions about that on this board, and it is a difficult principle to get across to a true determinist. You are right that you friend is making choices, such as the choice to continue the discussion -- it's a fact that has been pointed out to many people on this board who argue along the determinist lines. The thing is that choice is axiomatic to human consciousness -- it is something you are directly aware of as you introspect. Probably if you push your friend he would claim you don't even have a mind or a consciousness, only a functioning brain, because that is all you see when you get a medical brain scan.

Fundamentally, consciousness is your awareness of existence; and for humans we can introspect and discover that we are aware that we are aware of existence -- that is, we can be aware that we are conscious. Once we are aware that we have a consciousness we become aware that we can direct it -- that we can direct our attention to something or to something else. This is the root of free will. It is self-evident to introspection. Most determinists don't ingage much in introspection. They focus on what they observe outside of themselves, so often they overlook the fact that they do make choices all of the time.

The idea that free will is an illusion is something they are taught. They might have an inkling that they can make choices, but they consider it to be illusory because they are starting off at the wrong end of the discussion -- they are starting with a knowledge of physics instead of starting off at the obvious and directly observable. And they discount introspection because they can't put a measuring stick in there and measure the choice. In essence they haven't discovered themselves yet and they are not arguing in terms of fundamentals.They think they are, but they aren't because particle physics is not a fundamental -- observation is.

Good luck with your friend. In my personal experience, free will is a hard sell to someone who has accepted determinism, because they are denying the obvious.

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However, I can't seem to refute this assertion.
You should always ignore assertions; it's not possible to apply reason to irrationality. If your friend can change his position to being a conclusion logically connected to fact, then it's possible to address the logic or the facts. You can never logically address an arbitrary assertion.

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It's easy to refute traditional Determinism. But how do you refute a variation of it that rejects the fact that we are making choices by asserting that choice is an illusion?

You cannot prove the existence of free will deductively. As Thomas said, most attempts to do so usually lapse into a discussion of physics, since that is the logical deductive starting point. Instead, I recommend approaching the conversation by rejecting physics as a starting point. The method which I have found to work (at least on some level) is to get at the following questions in some way: "Do you have any reason to suppose that human beings do not have free will? Are you really good at predicting the actions of human beings? If so, what will Tom be doing tomorrow afternoon at 1:21?"

Let me know if you find a better way to get the point across. I have thus far been unable to do so.

Edited by adrock3215

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Ask him what he thinks of the idea that all particle physics is based off Neils Bohr's model of the Hydrogen atom, and that the model was based purely on classical physics which could be applied only to atoms with one electron (that is, only Hydrogen, and Helium and Lithium in certain ionic states). Ask what he thinks of the fact that all of quantum mechanics is based off this insubstantial model, which is no doubt the reason for such phenomena as the uncertainty principle, which states that we can only observe the position of the electron or how it is moving, and not both simultaneously. In other words, ask him how particle physicists could be so certain that all things are determined when the very act of observing the particles interferes with (ie: changes) them, therefore ruining their chances of ever knowing everything about the particles. Ask him what he thinks of the hole that particle physicists have dug themselves into by basing the entire field of quantum mechanics off Bohr's model, which has left them with the inability to answer such simple questions as those that pertain to the spin of electrons.

And ask him why he thinks that, despite all of this (and more), physicists haven't gone back to the basics and re-evaluated the positions of Schrodinger and Heisenberg to find out where they went wrong. And tell him the fact that "quantum physics is responsible for so much of the technologies we enjoy in the modern world" isn't reason enough for it to go totally unquestioned. Any foundation can be built upon, no matter how weak.

The entire science is based on a single model and a few equations discovered by a man, Bohr, who was very explicit in making sure that the science world new that his model breaks down completely when you apply it to the multi-electron level. This is reason enough to question any and all assertions that come from the field of quantum mechanics.

Edited by Alexandros

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Ok. He says "choice is an illusion". Ask him what he means by that - what is an illusion? who is being deceived? how are they being deceived?

As far as I can tell, he must necessarily imply that you *do* have a choice when he makes that statement.

To say that something is an illusion, and that you are being deceived by that illusion, one must accept that you are capable of integrating knowledge and forming judgments and conclusions. In other words, for you to be deceived by something requires that you make the wrong judgment about it, to come to the wrong conclusion. By asserting that you are *making* judgments, that you are *making* conclusions, he must assume that you truly are choosing.

So, he is saying that you are incorrectly judging that you can make judgments. Thus he employs the axiom in its refutation, and contradicts himself.

Have I gone awry anywhere in this analysis?

Edited by brian0918

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You might try the gestalt approach. That the whole is greater then the sum of the parts.

A second aspect in the infinite capacity of a mind.

An experiment was done where they hooked up an electrode to a single neuron in the visual cortex of a cat and measured its activity while a picture of a line rotated from horizontal to vertical and then back to horizontal. The activity of the neuron formed a parabola with the most activity at the vertical and very little activity at each end.

This means that a single neuron holds an infinite number of possible states, since changes in activity is a spectrum. Obviously its a closed infinite set like having all odd numbers would be infinite. So its important to differentiate infinite from "everything," but the fact remains that infinite also indeterminable- which means not determined-which means free. QED....just kidding!

Now consider that there are 100 trillion cells in a human brain with 10,000 axon connections each, each cell of which contains it's own infinite set of a range of information. That gives us around 100,000,000,000^infinity possible states^10,000. I'd be curious to know when he expects a computer to exist which could process that kind of data load because I will SO buy it for games.

What it comes down to for me is that our brains are basically pattern recognizing, decision making "machines" with the capacity to incorporate, map, and recreate any existent in the universe. As such it's nature and activity is not inherently predictable since what it does is process the infinite world around it. Because new information is constantly coming in and being reworked, we can't know ourselves, with certainty, what our decision will be until we actually make it.

The whole, is not just a bunch of cells. It is also a single unit which performs any number of infinite processes.

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An experiment was done where they hooked up an electrode to a single neuron in the visual cortex of a cat and measured its activity while a picture of a line rotated from horizontal to vertical and then back to horizontal. The activity of the neuron formed a parabola with the most activity at the vertical and very little activity at each end. This means that a single neuron holds an infinite number of possible states, since changes in activity is a spectrum.

Not to hijack the discussion, but that's not the case. That a finite set of measured states traces out a circle, or any curve, does not imply that there are an infinite number of states. It simply means that the given set of states can be defined by a single function.

Edited by brian0918

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Not to hijack the discussion, but that's not the case. That a finite set of measured states traces out a circle, or any curve, does not imply that there are an infinite number of states. It simply means that the given set of states can be defined by a single function.

but a single function that defines an infinite number of positions, right?

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but a single function that defines an infinite number of positions, right?

The fact that that equation exists (y=f(x)), and correctly specifies the finite set of y for given values of x, doesn't poof into existence an infinite number of y. You'd have to be able to specify an infinite number of x. The quantization of energy/charge prevents that.

And even if an infinite number of x would be possible, your brain would have to have infinitely accurate ability to discriminate between different states. So two states which have an infinitely small (ie, zero) difference between them would have to be differentiated by your brain - in order for you to say that you could hold an infinite amount of data in your brain. This makes no sense, because it's not possible.

Edited by brian0918

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The fact that that equation exists (y=f(x)), and correctly specifies the finite set of y for given values of x, doesn't poof into existence an infinite number of y. You'd have to be able to specify an infinite number of x. The quantization of energy/charge prevents that.

And even if an infinite number of x would be possible, your brain would have to have infinitely accurate ability to discriminate between different states. So two states which have an infinitely small (ie, zero) difference between them would have to be differentiated by your brain - in order for you to say that you could hold an infinite amount of data in your brain. This makes no sense, because it's not possible.

I am not a mathematician so I may have been sloppy with terminology. Sorry for that.

I didn't mean to say that the brain is infinite in its capacity to store all information. Just that it could theoretically store any information. Because it can store any, the job of external determination runs into the bottleneck you point to.

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I'd say my knowledge of Objectivism is coming along. But my roommate who I debate with semi-often keeps asserting that we are determined. His arguments are along the lines of the following.

You 'are' physics. You are within physics. With the proper tools and physics knowledge, every quark in the universe can be predicted with absolute accuracy. We are made out of quarks, including the brain that our consciousness comes from. Choice is an illusion. It only feels like we have a choice from inside the "algorithm". Our knowledge, beliefs, experiences, memories, etc are all part of the makeup of our brain. External stimuli causes reactions with these things on a microscopic level which produces our thoughts and reactions to the stimuli.

I hold the axiom of consciousness and its corollary axiom, volition, to be true. However, I can't seem to refute this assertion. OPAR (which I'm currently reading) assumes that all determinists think we simply don't have a choice. Not only does my roommate reject volition, but when I press him with statements like "You're using choice right now", he responds that choice is an illusion. That it only feels like we have a choice from within our brain's algorithm.

It's easy to refute traditional Determinism. But how do you refute a variation of it that rejects the fact that we are making choices by asserting that choice is an illusion?

Ultimately you can't refute an act of faith such as that. You can argue with rationalizations and his megalomaniac assumption of omniscience for physics.

First, quarks and other particles act as if they have spatial extents, they are not point-like and so there is no possibility of learning their locations with perfect accuracy because they don't have them.

Second, the laws of physics do not exist so they cannot be causal agents.

Existence exists and statements about existence are acts of consciousness which derive their truth value from existence. This is the primacy of existence principle. If we experiment with dropping a ball bearing from a variety of heights and timing the duration of the fall, we will generate a number of facts that are correlations: 6 feet, 0.61 seconds; 12 feet, .086 seconds; 18 feet, 1.06 seconds. These facts can be integrated into an abstraction relating height and time into a formula: h=kt2. The truth of the abstraction still derives from the facts upon which it is based, and the facts are based on perceptions of reality. All of the laws of physics are derivative from facts in exactly this same way, the greatest abstractions simply rely upon a greater quantity and variety of facts.

Facts have an existential quality to them but principles derived from facts are wholly epistemic artifacts. The role of the "laws of physics" is not to instruct or govern or cause matter to behave in certain ways, but to instruct man what it is permissible to think. The laws of physics do not govern the universe they govern people the same as any other law.

The illusion of omniscience created by hindsight in conjunction with principles of physics causes the psychological plausibility of determinism. No matter what happened in the past there will always be a physical explanation of how it happened in terms of physical necessity. But the truth of the explanation derives from the facts, it is not the explanation that caused the facts. Logical priority and semantic meaning moves in the direction of from existence to consciousness. A physical explanation incorporates choices as facts; it is not a physical explanation that makes choices into facts. To think explanations or predictions can cause facts is explicitly an appeal to primacy of consciousness and is an error.

Norman Swartz (Department of Philosophy at Simon Fraser University (not an Objectivist)) has explained this issue clearly at Lecture Notes on Free Will and Determinism by way of the similarity between the errors made in physical determinism and logical determinism. Aristotle refuted logical determinism and the same argument is adapted to refute physical determinism. In chapter 10 of his book The Concept of Physical Law (the link is to the 25 pages of chapter 10 only) Prof. Swartz states "logical truths and contingent truths both take their truth from the way the world is" (pg. 138 or 23 of 25) which comes very close to identifying the same error Dr. Peikoff identifies in The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy in ITOE. I derive this explanation from Prof. Swartz' argument and recast it slightly to relate it to Objectivism.

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Wait, how is anything more than the sum of its parts? 2 + 2 = 5?

Which of the atoms of living cell give the cell its life? None of them.

Not every relationship is simple addition.

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Probably if you push your friend he would claim you don't even have a mind or a consciousness, only a functioning brain, because that is all you see when you get a medical brain scan.

That's almost exactly what he does. He demands an explanation of consciousness. Until it can be explained to him with the special sciences, it is considered "Magical."

Really awesome responses here though. It should have been enough for me to just assert the axioms. But I'm really loving these responses that address physical determinism specifically. It's giving me new ways to think of it that I hadn't been before, and even reinforcing my own belief in volition.

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As in a car drives places but a rotor, brake pad, and alternator do not.

That doesn't mean that a car is something more than a combination of mechanical parts, though, so I'm confused.

Which of the atoms of living cell give the cell its life? None of them.

Isn't that an argument for emergence? What if I then said that a group of people, we'll call it a "society" is greater than the sum of its parts, so that needs of the group is somehow something more than the needs of the individuals that comprise that group? A cell is a collective of atoms, take apart the cell and you are left with atoms, take apart the atoms and you have no cell. The cell can't exist without the individual atoms. You are basically saying a living cell is an entity unto itself and not just something that is comprised of smaller entities. So isn't that basically saying 2 + 2 = 5? A sum of anything cannot be seperable to its parts. Anything else is basically collectivism, saying that 2 + 2 = 4 plus something more ie., 2 + 2 = 5.

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This was gonna be an edit, but since you posted, I'll just add my thoughts on this so far as I read Chapter 10 of The Concept of Physical Law in the above link. It doesn't appear that determinism can (or should) actually be rejected. But rather that determinism and free will are compatible, if I'm not mistaken. It sounds like "The Laws of Physics determine you" is wrong, and the correct way of saying it is "The Laws of Physics describe what you just did." A prediction of what you did doesn't cause you to do it. Your doing it makes that prediction true.

I don't know much about emergence, but I'd say the car argument is an argument for emergence. From what little I've heard about emergence, I support said argument. No single piece of a car has the ability to move from location A to location B. Those pieces together, however, have the ability to move from location A to location B. The combination of mechanical parts gives the car capabilities that those parts alone did not have. In the case of the car, the ability to travel. Since none of the parts have the ability to travel, constructing a car out of them has given the entity "car" something more than the sum of its parts had. The ability to travel is an emergent property in cars.

EDIT: Also, adding integers together doesn't even begin to create a complex enough relationship for new properties to emerge. It's like tossing two rocks into a bag with two more rocks and asking "Why didn't the rocks do anything new?"

Edited by Amaroq

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There is something else that needs to be said about the argument from physics to determinism, and that is that there are no physics equations for human action. I have a background in physics and we never studied equations of morality or equations of economics or even equations of digestion and nutrition or anything like that. Physics is a special science, and it does not have equations for everything. So, if someone claims that from the argument from physics we can predict what person A is going to do when they wake up, ask him for the equations -- because there aren't any. Ask for the equation for how someone is going to reply to this posting -- because there aren't any. They have a false premise -- an over generalization -- that physics covers everything, when that simply isn't true.

As to emergent properties and a whole being greater than the sum of its parts, I don't think of it that way. A car is an entity, and qua entity it has certain capabilities that the individual parts qua parts do not have. So, I think it is improper to think of a car as a bunch of discrete parts rolling down the highway under its own power. It is an entity, not a collection of parts. Likewise for man. A man is not a collection of atoms writing an essay; he is an entity that has certain capabilities, one of them being having the power to direct himself, which is free will. In other words, once the parts are put together, the parts are no longer entities, but rather the whole is the whole, and has capabilities derived from that whole qua entity. So, thinking of a man as a swarm of sub-atomic particles is wrong-headed -- he is a man, not a cloud of atoms.

And as I said above, even if one thinks of a man as a cloud of atoms (which is incorrect), there are no equations for a collection of atoms of that magnitude.

In short, if someone is going to make a bold claim that all those atoms forming a whole can be predicted, then he needs to show that it can be done, and so far physics cannot do that. Physics has nothing to say about consciousness or free will in man, because it is a limited science.

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EDIT: Also, adding integers together doesn't even begin to create a complex enough relationship for new properties to emerge. It's like tossing two rocks into a bag with two more rocks and asking "Why didn't the rocks do anything new?"

Good description. I would add though, that even the rocks have emergent qualities. For example, when two rocks are put in a bag they can clank together in a way that one rock could not. Reason being, that even rocks have other characteristics. Numbers, intentionally, are units that have had all other characteristics removed, so no emergent properties can exist.

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That doesn't mean that a car is something more than a combination of mechanical parts, though, so I'm confused.

Mechanically, all the parts when combined will do more than when taken alone.

Isn't that an argument for emergence? What if I then said that a group of people, we'll call it a "society" is greater than the sum of its parts, so that needs of the group is somehow something more than the needs of the individuals that comprise that group? A cell is a collective of atoms, take apart the cell and you are left with atoms, take apart the atoms and you have no cell. The cell can't exist without the individual atoms. You are basically saying a living cell is an entity unto itself and not just something that is comprised of smaller entities. So isn't that basically saying 2 + 2 = 5? A sum of anything cannot be seperable to its parts. Anything else is basically collectivism, saying that 2 + 2 = 4 plus something more ie., 2 + 2 = 5.

It probably can be used as an argument for emergence. An individual plus an individual can still physically do more than just one individual. But of course that doesn't make society any more important or more real than you or me. If you destroy the parts of something, it stops working. Not that it really matters if "the society" works, but since collectivism would imply that the parts can be destroyed to improve the whole, a collectivist society won't last by even its own standards.

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That doesn't mean that a car is something more than a combination of mechanical parts, though, so I'm confused.

Isn't that an argument for emergence? What if I then said that a group of people, we'll call it a "society" is greater than the sum of its parts, so that needs of the group is somehow something more than the needs of the individuals that comprise that group? A cell is a collective of atoms, take apart the cell and you are left with atoms, take apart the atoms and you have no cell. The cell can't exist without the individual atoms. You are basically saying a living cell is an entity unto itself and not just something that is comprised of smaller entities. So isn't that basically saying 2 + 2 = 5? A sum of anything cannot be seperable to its parts. Anything else is basically collectivism, saying that 2 + 2 = 4 plus something more ie., 2 + 2 = 5.

I think you are making a evaluative judgment. Greater does not equal more value, necessarily. A group of 9 people has at least one property that an individual does not. They can form a baseball team. Because existents have many characteristics, these characteristics when combined allow for a greater diversity of capacities. The more you add to the mix, the more potential states are allowed. An extremely complex entity like a human mind is comprised of so many intertwined objects with many characteristics each that I doubt very much it would ever be perfectly determinable.

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Isn't that an argument for emergence? What if I then said that a group of people, we'll call it a "society" is greater than the sum of its parts, so that needs of the group is somehow something more than the needs of the individuals that comprise that group? A cell is a collective of atoms, take apart the cell and you are left with atoms, take apart the atoms and you have no cell. The cell can't exist without the individual atoms. You are basically saying a living cell is an entity unto itself and not just something that is comprised of smaller entities. So isn't that basically saying 2 + 2 = 5? A sum of anything cannot be seperable to its parts. Anything else is basically collectivism, saying that 2 + 2 = 4 plus something more ie., 2 + 2 = 5.

Collectivism is wrong as an ethical theory because it contradicts volition. It is a mistake to go on to assert collective phenomena don't ever exist or are never necessary for understanding the world. The mistake is dropping the context, the particular reason why collectivism is invalid in politics, forming an absolute context-free principle that "collectivism is wrong" and then marching off into biology and physics and mechanical engineering where the original justification no longer applies.

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Well, I was a hard determinist when I started posting on this forum. And if we're discussing physics, I still am. For a long time I thought that deterministic physics and volition were incompatible, but reconsidering it I have figured out how they are in fact compatible, at least to my satisfaction. You could try this approach with your friend and see how it goes.

Philosophy addresses a few things, namely metaphysics (which is very very limited in scope really), epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics (at least, that's how Objectivism does it). Now, the key behind all of these (except maybe metaphysics) is that they discuss conscious entities and how minds perceive things. Physics talks about particles, waves, and discrete objects. They are two different topics, and one cannot translate into the other. Just because physics is deterministic, and your brain is made of stuff governed by the laws of physics, doesn't change the fact that you have volition (or must take volition as axiomatic) because you are still a conscious entity that needs to know how to understand the world, and how you should act. To say that you can discard volition and treat everything as if it was governed by physical law is to argue that you don't need any guides on your behavior or what you should do (which is self-evidently not the case if you intend on living very long). Even in a deterministic material universe, volition must be taken as an axiom of philosophy if you are to be able to have epistemology or ethics. And since both are required to survive, volition is an axiom for anyone who wants to live.

Also, physics says that the particles of your brain will all behave according to this table of rules *points to laws of physics*. Philosophy says that your mind has the ability to choose between two or more possible options. How to reconcile them? Well, my preferred option is that while the laws of physics may be deterministic, there is a fundamental limit on the amount of information you can have about the universe. And so if you said "well if I knew the position and momentum, etc. of all the particles in the universe, I could predict what you would do" is stupid, since you can never, under any theoretical circumstances, do this, even for so much as a single subatomic particle, let alone the universe. You can say that there are "hidden variables" in quantum mechanics, if you wish, but it doesn't change the fact that you will never be able to know what they are or were, ever. And as a result, if you say "well you always had to do what you did since you did it, and the laws of physics are deterministic" you are making an error, since the laws of physics are deterministic only in so far as the initial conditions are precisely defined, given a range, you will have little idea what could happen. And even taking quantum physics at face value, the fact remains that all it says is the probability of a set of options occurring, which doesn't negate volition, since volition would predict that you can do any of a number of options (and of course some will be more likely than others, I could scream "kamalazoo!" in three seconds, but its unlikely that I will).

And so, no matter how you slice it, "deterministic" physics (which is a very wide sense of the word anyway) is compatible with an assumption of volition in philosophy, since that assumption is necessary for all philosophy addressing human action, initial conditions can never actually be fully known and so can be said to be permanently in flux (or only meaningful to talk about in ranges), and any meaningful theory will make it so that the only thing you could know about any system is the likelihood it will do something, never exactly what it will do.

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Guest ZAC D.

According to Objectivism, free will is “axiomatic,” which means (1) it’s “self-evident,” “fundamentally given and directly perceived”; and (2) the denial of free will is self-refuting. Let’s examine each of these claims.

(1) free will is self-evident. Here’s the “argument,” compliments of Leonard Peikoff:

How, then, do we know that man has volition? It is a self-evident fact, available to any act of introspection.

You the reader can perceive every potentiality I have been discussing simply by observing your own consciousness. The extent of your knowledge or intelligence is not relevant here, because the issue is whether you use whatever knowledge and intelligence you do possess. At this moment, for example, you can decide to read attentively and struggle to understand, judge, apply the material, or you can let your attention wander and the words wash over you, half-getting some points, then coming to for a few sentences, then lapsing again into partial focus. If something you read makes you feel fearful or uneasy, you can decide to follow the point anyway and consider it on its merits, or you can brush it aside by an act of evasion, while mumbling some rationalization to still any pangs of guilt. At each moment, you are deciding to think or not to think. The fact that you regularly make these kinds of choices is directly accessible to you, as it is to any volitional consciousness.

The principle of volition is a philosophic axiom, with all the features this involves…

Behind Peikoff’s argument is an important but unstated assumption. Peikoff is assuming that acts of introspection yield self-evident truth. Whatever a man observes through introspection is “fundamentally given and directly perceived” and, by implication, axiomatic. So if a man observed himself being controlled by forces not of his making, this would make the principle of determinism a self-evident fact worthy of being embalmed as an axiomatic truth.

Does introspection really yield self-evident facts? No, of course not. Nor is it an assumption that any Objectivist, from Rand down, would ever consistently adhere to. People observe through introspection, for example, unbidden emotions which they cannot control. They feel angry, sad, fretful, anxious, regardless of whether they wish to feel these things. As even Objectivism concedes, human beings do not have direct control over emotions. They experience, introspectively, emotions rising up within them, irrespective of any volition. So does this not mean that feelings are determined? Isn’t that the “self-evident” fact directly observed through introspection? But no, not at all. When it comes to emotions, Rand took an entirely different approach: “In the field of introspection,” she declared, “the two guiding questions are: ‘What do I feel?’ and ‘Why do I feel it?’” But wait a minute! Whatever happened to direct contact with the facts assumed by Peikoff in his argument about volition? By implication, Objectivism rejects the notion that emotions are beyond volitional control, even though this is how we experience them in introspection. So if our experience can mislead us in the case of emotions, why can’t it mislead us in reference to attention, focus, and thought? How can introspective observation be “self-evident” in one instance and not the other? This is left unexplained in Objectivism because neither Rand nor any of her disciples ever noticed the inconsistency.

(2) Determinism is self-refuting. Again Peikoff provides the argument:

When the determinist claims that man is determined, this applies to all of man’s ideas also, including his own advocacy of determinism. Given the factors operating on him, he believes, he had to become a determinist, just as his opponents had no alternative but to oppose him. How then can he know that his viewpoint is true? Are the factors that shape his brain infallible? Does he automatically follow reason and logic? Clearly not; if he did, error would be impossible to him….

If a determinist tried to assess his viewpoint as knowledge, he would have to say, in effect: “I am in control of my mind. I do have the power to decide to focus on reality. I do not merely submit spinelessly to whatever distortions happen to be decreed by some chain of forces stretching back to infinity. I am free, free to be objective, free to conclude — that I am not free.

Like any rejection of a philosophic axiom, determinism is self-refuting.

This argument gratuitously assumes that the individual must be able to control his own mind in order to know anything. Yet what is the rationale for such an assumption? Why can’t the mind, operating on its own principles, gather in data from external existence, analyze it, and reach conclusions? There is nothing logically inconsistent in such a notion. That it seems a trifle strange does not constitute a self-refutation. It won’t do to confuse the strange or the paradoxical with the illogical. Computers, which are deterministic systems through and through, with no volition of their own, can reach conclusions from data fed to them. Why couldn’t the mind of the determinist behave in a similar fashion?

Even more objectionable, however, is the caricature of determinism in Peikoff’s argument. Determinism may be as implausible as you like, but it’s hardly the thin gruel of a doctrine presented by Peikoff. It comes in many different versions and brands, many of which are quite sophisticated and not so easily refuted. One could believe, for example, that while the intellect may be volitional, the will (i.e., Rand’s emotional mechanism) is determined, so that a man may control his mind but not his temper. All kinds of variants and mixtures are possible, most of which are not even broached by Peikoff’s argument.

The bottom line is this: the arguments essayed by Peikoff for free will and against determinism are both grossly inadequate and hardly rise to the level required by “self-evidence.”

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