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On the question of free-will vs. determinism

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Ah. This is not what determinism is. Determinism does NOT state that all states are the inevitable result of initial conditions. There are MANY kinds of determinism and this is only ONE; you are replacing an entire category of theories with one of its instances. (Which is, btw, a logical fallacy.)
I see. So not all forms of determinism state that our actions are predetermined, only that our actions are entirely controlled by impersonal phenomena? That is, there are forms of determinism in which a person could, in principle, take either or two actions, as neither is predetermined? If this is so, I don't see how those forms of determinism conflict with volition.

And I still fail to understand how volition is axiomatic. I can see that it is intuitive, but that doesn't make it necessarily true.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? How did we get chickens in a world with no chickens?! Same kind of question.

The chicken and egg had both evolved from ancestral species of birds, dinosaurs (or dinosaur-like creatures), amphibians, fish, invertibrates (I'm supposing worm-like creatures), etc, and their eggs. The first eggs (and sperm) were probably nearly identical, except that an egg could not fertilize another egg and a sperm could not fertilize another sperm. Prior to that, there may have been three such reproductive cells, as in fungi, and prior to that, all reproductive cells were probably the same. The egg obviously came before the chicken, but it was the egg of another species.

Since the chicken-and-the-egg question has been addressed, could you address LauricAcid's question?

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I see.  So not all forms of determinism state that our actions are predetermined, only that our actions are entirely controlled by impersonal phenomena?  That is, there are forms of determinism in which a person could, in principle, take either or two actions, as neither is predetermined?  If this is so, I don't see how those forms of determinism conflict with volition.

You just stated that there are forms of determinism which do not imply determinism; a contradiction in terms. Determinism explicitly states that there is only one path that an individual human can take; there are no choices for human beings. Now, the actual form of determinism varies from the unsophisticated and ludicrous: "My next door neighbors are aliens and they're pointing a ray at my house to make me vote for Kerry!" to the sophisticated yet still ludicrous: "your 'thoughts', as you call them, are entirely the result of random electrochemical changes in your brain; they bear no relation to reality; your only hope is to abandon the primitive idea that you have ideas".

And I still fail to understand how volition is axiomatic.  I can see that it is intuitive, but that doesn't make it necessarily true.

You are free to reject it. I have already outlined the only available means of rejecting it.

Since the chicken-and-the-egg question has been addressed, could you address LauricAcid's question?

How? His question doesn't pertain to anything.

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Determinism does NOT state that all states are the inevitable result of initial conditions.

Determinism explicitly states that there is only one path that an individual human can take

Make up your mind.

to the sophisticated yet still ludicrous: "your 'thoughts', as you call them, are entirely the result of random electrochemical changes in your brain

So you're saying that thoughts aren't the result of electrochemical processes occuring in the brain?

If you take phenomenon as meaning "an observable fact or event"

Consciousness could better be termed in relation to physical phenomenon.

For instance a signal is a physical phenomenon but the data, all the ones and zeros, is an abstract signal communicating information between two or more receivers.

In other words Consciousness is a pattern of energy and that energy is the physical phenomenon and the data being relayed between synapses is a free standing wave type of signal.

A pattern or a process is something that happens to Physical things but it is not a physical thing itself.

The data is encoded in some physical form, whether it be in terms of electric charge, polarity, varying frequency or varying amplitude in radio waves, or grooves, and all the processes that read it follow the laws of physics. The things that read it are physical things and upon reading the commands do processes which are also dictated by physical law.

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Make up your mind.

Are you truly incapable of recognizing the difference between those two statements? No WONDER you're having a difficulty following this discussion.

Since this appears to be the case I'm not going to bother trying to explain until you educate yourself to the point that you comprehend the subject you're trying to discuss.

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I was wondering about this.

"all states are the inevitable result of initial conditions,"

It seems like this statement is simply saying that all things are caused. I think that this is correct but it doesn't describe "Will" or "decision making" at all.

For instance to say that all knowledge is hierarchal is not to say it is inevitable.

In the determinist view I think "Initial conditions" mean "First Prerequisites." As in a prime thing necessary to a specific end.

To say that we are determined would be to say that at some point there is a First Prerequisite that was written into our mind at birth that is controlling all our "states" or decision in this case.

Am I making sense here?

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I have merged these threads to put the various discussions of determinism and volition all in one place.

Edited by JMeganSnow

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I was wondering about this.

"all states are the inevitable result of initial conditions,"

It seems like this statement is simply saying that all things are caused. I think that this is correct but it doesn't describe "Will" or "decision making" at all.

For instance to say that all knowledge is hierarchal is not to say it is inevitable.

In the determinist view I think "Initial conditions" mean "First Prerequisites." As in a prime thing necessary to a specific end.

To say that we are determined would be to say that at some point there is a First Prerequisite that was written into our mind at birth that is controlling all our "states" or decision in this case.

Am I making sense here?

The statement is saying that all things are caused, yes, but it's saying that all the things that resulted from the cause are the only things that could result from that cause. You can still have causality--cause and effect relationships--without having determinism. You can have some set of initial conditions which can result in multiple sets of final conditions, any of which would be caused by the initial conditions.

The initial conditions could, say, be the state of the world at the moment of a person's birth. If any set of initial conditions could only result in one, inevitable set of final conditions at any time, then anything going on at any time during the person's life (what they do, what they think, etc) would have been determined by those initial conditions. Your last statement is a simpler way of stating the same thing, I believe.

In order for the person's life to be determined in such a way, of course, nature as a whole would have to be. The environment influences your choices, your relationships, your thoughts, and various other things, so if the conditions of the environment at any point in time are not the inevitable result of the environment's initial conditions, neither are a person's thoughts or actions.

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Objectivists assert causation is rooted in the law of identity and that there is no force or action, only entities or actors. An actor must act in accordance with its nature. The material world behaves in accordance with the immutable laws of its nature.

This subject-predicate view of causation is very tempting. I had the self same thought when I studied physics and economics in high school and college; all the variables are couched in mathematical equations and their causal relationships are necessitated and guaranteed by the equality sign, by the law of identity.

Man, Objectivists argue, possess free will and choice because free will is part of man's nature.

The question I have is how do objectivists know that the nature of the material world is bound by hard determinism while the nature of man entails more than one possible way to acting. Maybe man's nature is completely deterministic or that the nature of the material world is open to more than one possible future state. How do you discover and distinguish the nature of man and material world except through observations and induction? If your views are derived from induction, then you do not possess the certitude afforded by deductive reasoning and the law of identity.

If the laws of physics are altered tomorrow, that could just be a result of the nature of the material world. Perhaps your thoughts and actions are completely pre-determined, including the delusional thought of self determination and free will.

To claim that an entity must act in accordance with its nature is a tautological statement that says nothing unless the nature of the entity is known. But we can only investigate the nature of the material world or of man inductively, through observation. Rand's theory on causation and free will leave us none the wiser.

Edited by Chien

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To claim that an entity must act in accordance with its nature is a tautological statement that says nothing unless the nature of the entity is known.  But we can only investigate the nature of the material world or of man inductively, through observation.  Rand's theory on causation and free will leave us none the wiser.

Bingo. Objectivists actually don't argue that humans have free will because it's part of their nature; they simply state, in refutation of determinism, that identity and causality don't necessarily obviate against volition.

Volition can only be identified ostensively, via introspection, which will tell you that, yes, you have the ability to choose between different options that are available. HOW you choose, WHAT options are available, etc. etc. are the provenance of the special sciences; philosophy (specifically metaphysics) doesn't even state explicitly that a material world exists! It just says that, something MUST exist. WHAT exists you have to determine for yourself.

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Some forms of determinism are easier to argue than others; block determinism, however, can't be settled either way because of the contradicting views of reality. Block determinism states = your actions are merely a culmination of all the aspects of reality, cognitive, environmental, biological, etc. So they assert that men act not because of mere free will, but because all of the conditions of their reality, both physical and cognitive, combine to one action at that time, and the line continues.

You can't win an argument over that kind of logic: people who do not have the same basic conceptions of reality cannot argue on equal footing.

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Bingo.  Objectivists actually don't argue that humans have free will because it's part of their nature; they simply state, in refutation of determinism, that identity and causality don't necessarily obviate against volition.

Volition can only be identified ostensively, via introspection, which will tell you that, yes, you have the ability to choose between different options that are available.  HOW you choose, WHAT options are available, etc. etc. are the provenance of the special sciences; philosophy (specifically metaphysics) doesn't even state explicitly that a material world exists!  It just says that, something MUST exist.  WHAT exists you have to determine for yourself.

Volition is axiomatic according to objectivism and can be discovered via introspection. Via introspection, we can discover the experience of choice. But the real question is, is the experience of choice - the feeling that things could have gone either way - really choice?

What are our choices and actions based on? If external physical influences determine our actions, obviously, we are not free; we can argue we have free "will" in these instances eventhough we do not have free "action." If external circumstances influence our mental states or the development of our personality, then we do not have free action and free will.

So what determine our choices internally? Knowledge of the given situation and preferences. Preferences are based on values, beliefs, expectations and attitudes; in other words, a person's personality. So a person's personality determines his/her decisions in a meaningful sense. From observation, we know both animals and humans have inherited inclinations, instincts, intelligence. To say we are born with a blank slate is only true in the sense that we are born with no a priori knowledge about the world. But we ARE born with certain instincts, inclinations inherited from our parents. If our choices are based on our inherited inclinations and intelligence, we are only free in that our choices are not influence or obstructed by external factors.

We do not have innate knowledge but we do have innate inclinations, instincts, intelligence.

It is true human beings develop their personality and mental faculty over time; we do re-make ourselves and evolve. However, these developments, the decision to kick a bad habit or develop a new personality trait, are made by the old self. Any changes in personality can be traced back to the infant with his/her bundle of innate inclinations, instincts and intelligence.

In short, as Ms. Rand said, a man is a man and he must act according to the nature of man. We did not choose our nature, we were born with our nature; we are not free in this sense.

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What are our choices and actions based on?  If external physical influences determine our actions, obviously, we are not free; we can argue we have free "will" in these instances eventhough we do not have free "action."  If external circumstances influence our mental states or the development of our personality, then we do not have free action and free will. 

People can choose to act in accordance with their "preferences" or not. The primary choice is the choice to focus or not; to exert a mental effort to bring the power of your consciousness to bear on your circumstances or not.

The fact that you only really have this one alternative at the very bottom: "do I think or not?" does not mean that the results of that alternative are not "free". It necessitates a whole structure of other choices: "What specific aspects of my situation do I focus on?" "How do I think about them?" "How do I reach a conclusion?" "What do I do with that conclusion?"

If you examine your own consciousness while you are actively focusing, you will notice that the state is entirely different from when you're just "existing" . . . that right there is your volition at work. You may personally prefer to be in focus, but before you can even discover that preference you had to throw your mental machinery into gear.

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On the particle level, matter is governed by the laws of physics, and nothing else. A brain is a collection of particles. Thus, the brain must operate as physics would dictate that it should. Any cerebral process that involves free will must necessarily allow the brain to make a choice as to a certain physical event within it. Since this violates that acting particle's obligation to function as dictated by its nature and physical surroundings, it is an impossible event. A whole can not function except as a sum of its parts. Thus free will involves the belief that some external force (outside the world of physics) can "decide" to change the way the universe functions. Thus, believing in free will is tantamount to believing in a mystical force that can make the collective brain function in physically impossible ways.

That's the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. Sorry if that messes with your head too much.

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On the particle level, matter is governed by the laws of physics, and nothing else. A brain is a collection of particles. Thus, the brain must operate as physics would dictate that it should. Any cerebral process that involves free will must necessarily allow the brain to make a choice as to a certain physical event within it. Since this violates that acting particle's obligation to function as dictated by its nature and physical surroundings, it is an impossible event. A whole can not function except as a sum of its parts. Thus free will involves the belief that some external force (outside the world of physics) can "decide" to change the way the universe functions. Thus, believing in free will is tantamount to believing in a mystical force that can make the collective brain function in physically impossible ways.

That's the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. Sorry if that messes with your head too much.

There is something within the nature of the particle (and how they interact) in our mind which allows for volition. We just don't know exactly what that is.

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Careful, that sounds quite similar to religious arguments I've heard...

There's something out there that made all this, we just can't explain it...

It does not sound all that similar to religous arguments I have heard.

As Praxus points out, there is something about the nature/interaction of such particles that allows violition. This is not all a mystic or irrational beleif. It is totally rational to beleive this, as it is clearly the case.

However we do not know how this works at the moment. A great deal of the workings of the brain are mysteries to us, and small wonder given that it is an amazingly complex 'biological mechanism' that far outstrips anything we can hope to create with current technological concepts.

Saying there is something that allows the brain to function differently to what our understanding of particles tells us it should is not mystical at all, it is a gap in our knowledge, but their is a rational answer out there for us to 'find' one day and incorporate into our theories. It does not imply any mystical force, at least not to me.

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I guess my point was that if we knew all the workings that determine the behavior of every particle in the universe, we should be able to predict how they would work together in every situation. No particle can simply begin to operate in a different way without an external force acting upon it. Thus, it can not "choose" to change its behavior. If every particle operates this way, then there can be no volition anywhere.

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I guess my point was that if we knew all the workings that determine the behavior of every particle in the universe, we should be able to predict how they would work together in every situation. No particle can simply begin to operate in a different way without an external force acting upon it. Thus, it can not "choose" to change its behavior. If every particle operates this way, then there can be no volition anywhere.

Volition is self-evident; the existence of particles is a highly sophisticated scientific discover. The idea that the latter could cast doubt on the former is absurd.

As to your specific argument: the mind is not the brain.

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I guess my point was that if we knew all the workings that determine the behavior of every particle in the universe, we should be able to predict how they would work together in every situation. No particle can simply begin to operate in a different way without an external force acting upon it. Thus, it can not "choose" to change its behavior. If every particle operates this way, then there can be no volition anywhere.

Knowing how particles behave in theory is quite different to being able to predict how a massive collection of particles act in unison.

Also, it is obvious that the particles are acting in a way that allows violotion, look it is damn obvious that humans possess violitional consciousness. You dont know how this works, or how it could be given the behaviour of its most elementary components, but this does not neccesarily mean it cannot be.

You might not understand how the commands in say a complex programming language works, but you would not say Windows does not work would you?

If you did not think that you could build a vessel capable of travelling into space, would you not beleive it even if it was to take you into space?

Clearly any theory, or any part of it, that attempts to say that something which clearly happens is impossible, is wrong. It is rational to beleive what our senses and our minds tells us is clearly the case, but irrational to doubt what is evidently true just because our incomplete understanding of something (and our understanding of particles is still incomplete) suggests that it is not true, despite the evidence that it is true.

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I'm not saying our minds don't work in the way that's observed, I'm simply suggesting that this is simply the natural consequence of their physical properties. To use the Windows example, a computer may have extraordinary programming language, and based on the language used to program it, it could come to various conclusions. It can not, however, choose to act contrary to its nature.

Don't interpret this wrong. What I'm saying amounts to this:

Let's say I pose a choice to you. If I were to have a way of analyzing every variable, every influence, every atomic process, etc., going on within your mind, I would be able to predict the outcome of your thought process. Now, were I to tell you my prediction, I would have influenced the experiment, and thus I would have to reanalyze. The problem is inherently infinitely complex, because with every change, a new set of variables is introduced.

I'm not saying that your beliefs are the sole determinants of your brain's calculation processes, so the space capsule illustration is invalid. I'm saying that the brain works exactly like a computer. To give an appropriately complex example:

Wendy asks you on a date. Your past experiences with Wendy, girls in general, dates, etc, will be main determinants of your response. However, perceptive influences triggered by Wendy's presence might release neurotransmitters in strategic sectors of the brain, elliciting cognitive responses which could alter your answer. Wendy's shirt may trigger other neurotransmitters which could affect your decision; as could the current availability of food in your stomach, or any of the other informational inputs your brain may draw on for its cerebral processes. The point is, nothing will enter your brain unnaturally, and your decision will be determined entirely computatively.

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Wendy asks you on a date. Your past experiences with Wendy, girls in general, dates, etc, will be main determinants of your response. However, perceptive influences triggered by Wendy's presence might release neurotransmitters in strategic sectors of the brain, elliciting cognitive responses which could alter your answer. Wendy's shirt may trigger other neurotransmitters which could affect your decision; as could the current availability of food in your stomach, or any of the other informational inputs your brain may draw on for its cerebral processes. The point is, nothing will enter your brain unnaturally, and your decision will be determined entirely computatively.
The difference between a brain and a computer is consciousness. A computer is not conscious. The element of consciousness relevant to volition is self-awareness, it's a particularly high level consciousn process and what it means is that thoughts themselves can be taken as further input into the decision process.

Some significantly more advanced being than us may be able to observe our own inputs and predict the outputs based on those, there are certainly physical reactions at the core of all thoughts and decisions. I have a hard time imagining another human making this accurate observation because their own thoughts during the observation would affect their own conclusions about the outputs of the subject they're observing. Not to mention the massive effect of the observation itself on the subject (just being hooked up to a machine to read impulse firings will dramatically affect the decisions made).

All this adds up to something more complicated than is ever likely to be worked out by man (not necessarily impossible, but maybe it is). Certainly it's pointless to attempt to suggest that there's any meaningful determination in our thoughts when that process is not discoverable in the foreseeable future, and when the self-generated effects on one's own decision making process are such that the process is more meaningfully observed as conscious-guided volition, than physics-guided determination.

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On the particle level, matter is governed by the laws of physics, and nothing else.
This isn't true, because it's not broad enough. At any level that you care to analyse things at, all existence is governed by the laws of the universe, i.e. by physical law. That doesn't get you very far, though, in understanding the fact of volition.
A brain is a collection of particles.
At the very least, you need to say it is a highly structured arrangement of particles. Look at it this way: ethanol is just made up of a handful of protons, electrons and neutrons, and so is lead, so they are "basically the same thing", which they obviously aren't.
Thus, the brain must operate as physics would dictate that it should.
More or less, but don't invert horse and cart. If the brain operates differently than your model of the universe, it's the model that's wrong and not the brain.
Any cerebral process that involves free will must necessarily allow the brain to make a choice as to a certain physical event within it.
I don't follow this. I understand how a consciousness makes a choice, but what does it mean for a brain to make a choice? Would you say that when you breathe, your lungs make a choice? When you digest food, your intestines make a choice? You made a leap from brains being physical objects, to brains making choices, and I don't see how you got there.
Since this violates that acting particle's obligation to function as dictated by its nature and physical surroundings, it is an impossible event.
This is a much bigger leap. What particle are you talking about? It seems to me the problem is that you think we have isolated the nature of volition to the physical level of the subatomic particle, which we have not done. First you need to understand the nature of the mind; the brain is no doubt quite important. Until you do this, though, you're really just making baseless speculations.

Let's get off of volition for a moment: can you explain "charge" (I mean explain what it really is, and not just say that such-and-such has so-and-so charge)? Can you explain how atom bombs work? If not, do you think those are mystical?

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I mean, do you actually want me to explain charges and atomic bombs? I mean, I can only go so far as- well whatever, suffice it to say that I understand them as well as they would be understood by someone with an elementary level physics education (in other words, I get the quark deal (subatomic particles), the effect of energy on an atom's ability to hold electrons (charge) and I how by breaking apart particles, energy is released (atomic energy)).

More importantly, let me pose a question, rather than pick apart what you've said, as seems to be the common method of argument on this board.

Suppose you had an extremely powerful computer that could percieve existence, and write its own programs to conform to what it percieved, with the ability to change previous programs written on false assumptions or poor efficiency, etc. This computer could react to its environment in progressively more advanced ways, and eventually it's probable that the computer would develop a set of programs that would perfectly take into account the computer's environment, to the limits of its perception. The computer would not have volition, because it's a computer, but what if no one told the computer this fact. As new information came in, the computer would analyze it and integrate it with the immense store of information already available to it. If the computer had been programmed from early stages not to be curious, it would take a reprogramming of some sort, either by direct external influence, or from indirect analysis of new information that would lead it towards a sort of reevaluation of its strategy. This is a sort of microcosmic evaluation of the way a human brain works. One could extrapolate a causal theory for knowledge and thought, but I'm not going to get into it unless the conversation goes there.

I will conclude with the illustration of a human baby, which, in the womb, is granted a brand new, completely clean brain. The first perception of the baby is the first piece of information available to its brain; before perception there can be no thought. As perception provides the brain with more and more information, the brain develops networks in which to interpret and store this information. Certain instinctual, evolved, traits are present in the brain before any of this happens. These brain functions have nothing to do with free will, they are genetically ingrained reactionary measures. The issue arises in thinking that the development of cognitive abilities to interpret perception is any different. The human brain is genetically predisposed to build a cognitive network to interpret incoming information. By the time this conversation is taking place, our brains have developed to a level of (oh Almighty God, it's this term again!) "irreducable complexity." Of course, this isn't a valid assessment, but can't you see that this is what you're saying when you bring in a reason defying external force like "free will?"

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1. People make choices. And those choices are normally free.

2. People obey the Law of Causality. So they are usually predictable (to those who know them well).

You think that these two facts contradict each other. :lol: So you are trying to decide which one to dismiss as untrue. :santa:

I think the problem here is that you are assuming that being predictable is tantamount to being coerced. That is not true. :)

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