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William O

Is there any Objectivist literature reconciling free will with physics?

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Objectivism affirms the existence of libertarian free will - that is, it affirms that we have free will and that free will is incompatible with determinism. I am curious whether any attempt has been made in the literature to reconcile free will with the laws of physics, particularly the second law of thermodynamics. The only attempt I am aware of is Edwin Locke's very recent book The Illusion of Determinism, which spends one paragraph on the issue. You can assume that I am already familiar with Rand's work, as well as the discussions of free will in OPAR and Binswanger's book How We Know.

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How the laws of physics, particularly the second law of thermodynamics, conflict with Objectivist view of free will?

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12 minutes ago, gio said:

How the laws of physics, particularly the second law of thermodynamics, conflict with Objectivist view of free will?

I'm just asking whether there is literature (books or articles) on a particular topic. I do not claim that physics contradicts the Objectivist view of free will. If there is no such literature then that is fine.

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11 minutes ago, William O said:

I'm just asking whether there is literature (books or articles) on a particular topic. I do not claim that physics contradicts the Objectivist view of free will. If there is no such literature then that is fine.

But...if physics don't contradicts the Objectivist view of free will, there is no reason to reconcile them. I don't know if there is such litterature, it depends on what they conflicts with each other.

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Gentleman if I may, if we understand "reconcile" to mean "to make or show to be compatible with" then the question is valid is to why isn't there more scholarship, especially seeing as how this is a hot button "pop philosophy" type issue that people are talking about in the culture.

However, Gio also has a point that since you mentioned "especially the second law of thermodynamics" that if one needed to show something to be compatible, there needs to be first presented a line of argumentation as to why it wouldn't be, and then one could show why that's not the case.

Of course I avoid this by having a compatibilist interpretation of free will, so being compatible with physics is just built into my viewpoint, and I think Rand's too. Anyways, carry on...

Also: Since Rand's viewpoint is an introspective account of levels of awareness, it can't reslly be explained in terms of "how does this work" at the level of philosophy. Cognitive psychology has a lot of research on things like volition, willpower, sense of agency, locus of control, and things like how focus works, how cognitive biases work, and so on. All an objectivist philosopher is really going to be doing is correcting false assumptions of the other camps and then saying "this, this is all we mean by free will."

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I should probably make it clear at this point that I accept the Objectivist account of free will, and that I do not take the laws of physics to refute it. My phrasing might not have been ideal.

I might elaborate more on my question tomorrow, when I am not tired.

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If anyone wants to argue that the second law of thermodynamics conflicts with free will, one way to get some perspective might be to see what happens to their argument if we substitute mortality for the second law of thermodynamics.  Or if their emphasis is more short term, substitute gravity for the second law of thermodynamics.

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In reply to the OP, I have seen alleged reconciliation by defining free will to not be free (the person could not have chosen differently) which negates free will, and I have seen alleged reconciliation by invoking a pseudomystic supernature such as dualism or strong emergence which negates reality's reconciliation. 

The problem is that individual non conscious systems are known to either be deterministic or if you take QM seriously in some cases purely probabilistic.  At a high level what needs to be reconciled are the abstract ideas of "choosiness", determined, and random, and coming to terms with the fact that according to science a single whole complex system exhibiting choosiness can be composed or integrated from a set of smaller random and determined processes.  I think this is perfectly reasonable but I have not seen a formal presentation of it.  I have my own musings but that is not what the OP asks.

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Here's the paragraph that got me thinking about this:

Quote

Some commentators who have studied science claim that free will would violate the second law of thermodynamics in physics. This law says that in a closed system, if heat is introduced, it will spread out until the temperature is equal throughout. This process involves an increase in entropy, which is defined as an increase in disorder. However, disorder in this context has a technical, statistical meaning which has nothing to do with what you or I mean by disorder or chaos. Air molecules behave in a lawful fashion. I fail to see any connection here to free will. Humans have the power to mobilize mental and physical energy to think and to pursue values.

2

Source: The Illusion of Determinism by Edwin A. Locke, p. 107

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In Selected Topics in the Philosophy of Science, Harry Binswanger provided a more useful thumbnail sketch of entropy.

Not knowing the fuller context of the book, from this excerpt, Mr. Locke introduced a topic in this that legitimately raised more questions than he answered.

To the broader question on the table, it does not jog an particular recollection from my cross section of readings/listenings.

Edited by dream_weaver
'more useful' rather than 'better'

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1 hour ago, dream_weaver said:

In Selected Topics in the Philosophy of Science, Harry Binswanger provided a more useful thumbnail sketch of entropy.

 

Thanks, this might be useful. But does he discuss the connection to free will, or is his discussion confined to the science alone?

Quote

Not knowing the fuller context of the book, from this excerpt, Mr. Locke introduced a topic in this that legitimately raised more questions than he answered.

 

I'm glad someone else has that reaction too. This is basically why I started this thread - to try to find answers to some of those questions.

Edited by William O

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14 minutes ago, William O said:

Thanks, this might be useful. But does he discuss the connection to free will, or is his discussion confined to the science alone?

If memory serves me correctly, one of the tie-ins he made was to consciousness in general, and another to the terms of order/disorder as being epistemological.

 

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As I understand it, a person who focuses narrowly on a living organism might conclude that life is inconsistent with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but a person who takes into account the effect of the organism on its environment will see no conflict. 

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On 3/31/2018 at 1:59 PM, William O said:

 I am curious whether any attempt has been made in the literature to reconcile free will with the laws of physics, particularly the second law of thermodynamics.

Flat no.  No author of 'Objectivist literature' would see the need, it is literally a blind spot.  By 'the need' I mean a purely pedagogical need to address those who first come to understand math and physics and only later Objectivism or philosophy in general, and so fall into a common and near unavoidable trap in their thinking. 

For example here is Peikoff in OPAR

Quote

When the determinist claims that man is determined, this applies to all 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.

The determinist's position amounts to the following. "My mind does not automatically conform to facts, yet I have no choice about its course. I have no way to choose reality to be my guide as against subjective feeling, social pressure, or the falsifications inherent in being only semiconscious. If and when I distort the evidence through sloppiness or laziness, or place popularity above logic, or evade out of fear, or hide my evasions from myself under layers of rationalizations and lies, I have to do it, even if I realize at the time how badly I am acting. Whatever the irrationalities that warp and invalidate my mind's conclusion on any issue, they are irresistible, like every event in my history, and could not have been otherwise." If such were the case, a man could not rely on his own judgment. He could claim nothing as objective knowledge, including the theory of determinism.
 

This is a rationalist argumentation style, it does not address the premises that lead one to believe that the determinism of nature directly and naively applies to man.  That volition is axiomatic, that axioms cannot be coherently contradicted is all well and good as a shortcut for those of us who have cleared the hurdle of understanding and accepting what Rand considered axiomatic but most people that are determinists have not cleared that hurdle and so any version of that shortcut is incomprehensible or deeply unsatisfying.
 

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