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Rand's argument against determinism

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I think this is the issue that hunterrose is bringing up: Yes, we can come up with predictive equations for certain types of matter, say a solar system and orbits, but no one has yet come up with predictive equations for even the simplest life for, say an amoeba; so how in the world can you make the positive claim that you could actually predict something like human action in the first place? Even after years of physics (I have a BA in physics and philosophy), and even after years of counter picture framing sales (almost 25 years), I still cannot predict if a customer will buy the product from me or not.

Now, I don't think volition, free will, or cognitive self-regulation is primarily about predictability; but if the claim of the determinist is that everything can be predicted, then don't you need to show that in practice? Don't you have to come up with a formula for predicting whether a customer will buy a product at a certain price or not? The best capitalist minds out there can at best make probability guesswork at pricing points; but they sure cannot predict if a given individual will buy that product or not.

So, out with it, where is your deterministic formula for predicting that Joe Smith will buy a car at $15,000 but not at $20,000?

The onus of proof is on he who asserts the positive; we claim we have free will because we do indeed make choices and that is obvious to introspection; whereas those of you who claim determinism are just making bold claims and not backing it up with a mathematical formula at all.

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I think this is the issue that hunterrose is bringing up: Yes, we can come up with predictive equations for certain types of matter, say a solar system and orbits, but no one has yet come up with predictive equations for even the simplest life for, say an amoeba; so how in the world can you make the positive claim that you could actually predict something like human action in the first place?

So, out with it, where is your deterministic formula for predicting that Joe Smith will buy a car at $15,000 but not at $20,000?

I do not believe it is possible to predict the behavior of something as complex as a human being with perfect accuracy (or, a perfect estimation of the likelihood of various behaviors). The laws of physics alone prevent that due to things like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, chaos, and quantum entaglement. Perfect prediction is impossible, and I never said it was.

The main thrust of determinism is not predictability, not in a strict sense anyway. It can be boiled down like this:

1. Objectivism states there is no mind-body dichotomy. Therefore, every mental action is equivalent to a physical process in the brain and vice versa.

2. The brain is a physical system.

3. All physical systems obey the laws of physics (granted, we do not have a complete theory describing all four fundamental forces, but two, one dealing with gravity, the other dealing with the remaining three, but it doesn't really matter given the argument).

4. The laws of physics are deterministic and/or stochastic (it really doesn't matter).

5. As a result of 2, 3, and 4, the actions of the mind are deterministic or stochastic.

Now, I do not argue that we could ever predict what the brain will do with perfect accuracy, or even perfect probabilities, no matter how advanced our technology gets. I do not even argue that the equations we would generate from physical laws are solvable with any known technique, or that even the solution would necessarily be unique given the maximum information we could get about the physical structure of a brain. Instead, all determinism argues is that whatever the true state of the brain at this time, the laws of physics will determine the workings of the brain and thus its future actions.

Now, I don't see a problem with that logic, and it is the logic which I have trouble refuting with a simple "well I feel myself making choices", perhaps I don't grant my feelings and introspections enough importance, I don't know.

1, 2, 3, and 5 (given 4's truth) are absolutely true (or you'd have to be a mystic). The only one whose truth may be in doubt is 4. I tend to think it true since we have no evidence otherwise (except introspection on volition of course). In my view, introspection is an invalid means of understanding physical reality. Volition is, apparently, a claim about physical reality. I don't think it needs to be necessarily, but it seems that Objectivists are not willing to say that their view of volition is based on the inability of the conscious mind to think about its workings prior to its existence. That is, my preferred solution is to say volition is valid on the cognitive level, on the level of "mind", in our introspections, since our consciousness cannot work back beyond the point of the decision to focus or not, as Rand correctly pointed out. As a result, the only explanation on the cognitive level is that we made a choice, a self-caused choice. Of course we could say "Well no it was actually blah blah in the brain" but that isn't really meaningful when it comes to human knowledge, consciousness, or reason.

Where do you place the flaw in the above logic, since you have a background in both physics and philosophy, Miovas? And is my proposed "solution" of any merit in your opinion?

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The main thrust of determinism is not predictability, not in a strict sense anyway. It can be boiled down like this:

1. Objectivism states there is no mind-body dichotomy. Therefore, every mental action is equivalent to a physical process in the brain and vice versa.

2. The brain is a physical system.

3. All physical systems obey the laws of physics (granted, we do not have a complete theory describing all four fundamental forces, but two, one dealing with gravity, the other dealing with the remaining three, but it doesn't really matter given the argument).

4. The laws of physics are deterministic and/or stochastic (it really doesn't matter).

5. As a result of 2, 3, and 4, the actions of the mind are deterministic or stochastic.

Now, I do not argue that we could ever predict what the brain will do with perfect accuracy, or even perfect probabilities, no matter how advanced our technology gets. I do not even argue that the equations we would generate from physical laws are solvable with any known technique, or that even the solution would necessarily be unique given the maximum information we could get about the physical structure of a brain. Instead, all determinism argues is that whatever the true state of the brain at this time, the laws of physics will determine the workings of the brain and thus its future actions.

Now, I don't see a problem with that logic, and it is the logic which I have trouble refuting with a simple "well I feel myself making choices", perhaps I don't grant my feelings and introspections enough importance, I don't know.

Again. This is the old logical fallacy of composition. It does not follow logically. It contradicts reality; it contradicts direct observation. This is pure rationalism a la Parmenides. Observe how he argue, why his argument goes wrong. Then you may realize why and how this argument, though it may seem very plausible, is completely false.

The arguments here are not only false and rationalistic. They also amount to an assault on the hierarchy of human knowledge. Essentially they say this: "I demand that physics should be the standard of philosophy. And since you do not study physics via introspection therefore introspection is out". In fact, it is philosophy that is the standard for science because it is philosophy which proves and defines the epistemological principles that makes science possible. Therefore, in this context, virtually all of their attacks and arguments rely on stolen concepts. After all, the only way we can know anything about the workings of the mind, including that it is volitional, is via introspection. But since introspection is out, therefore even their talk of "volition" is, in this context, a stolen concept.

At root is the fact that knowledge demand a method, but a method is unnecessary and impossible if we do not possess volition, because there is no use of recommending the use of logic, integration, observation, etc if we do not have any choice in the matter. I.e., if we do not possess any volition.

Furthermore: How would a genius like Ayn Rand be able to formulate a true theory of concept formation, which is necessary for validating all knowledge and all science, without introspection?

In the end there is only one solution to this dilemma: Look at reality! (Which in this case means: accept what you can observe introspectively.)

Remember also that everything is not a philosophical question. It is a scientific question to explain how atoms, ruled by physical laws, generate a volition consciousness. All philosophy can say is that volition consciousness exist and the laws of physics exist. Philosophically these observations can easily be integrated: man's volitional mind is the cause of his actions. There is no contradiction here; it is only when you demand that everything have to act like atoms or when you ignore direct observation, that you contradict yourself.

For some advice on how to improve your psycho-epistemology, on how to think less rationalistic, I suggest to you that you listen to Understanding Objectivism by Leonard Peikoff. It is available in CD and as a Internet course at the Ayn Rand Bookstore.

Edited by knast

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  • The human body is a physical system
  • Every action of a physical system obeys the law of gravity
  • The law of gravity is deterministic and/or stochastic
  • The actions of the human body are deterministic or stochastic

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Where do you place the flaw in the above logic, since you have a background in both physics and philosophy, Miovas? And is my proposed "solution" of any merit in your opinion?

I have to agree with what Knast was stating, but I will elaborate.

Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality as given by observation. We observe that our bodies are composed of matter, and that insofar as matter must comply with things like gravity, momentum, forces, etc. our bodies must do this as well; that is, we feel the pull of gravity, and must apply a certain force in order to move in a certain direction, etc. We also observe that we have the capacity to make choices, direct our consciousness, and follow reason or not according to an act of will. That is, we do not automatically keep our mind focused on the facts of reality in a non-contradictory manner.

By throwing out introspection as a valid means of understanding the human mind, you are not keeping your mind focused on the facts of reality in a non-contradictory manner; that is, you are not being logical.

I can see that you are trying to make an integration, but by ignoring the reality of your own mind introspectively, you are making a mis-integration. The integrating focus is mis-directed to only include extrospection, what we observe with our senses; but at least you are doing that, in a sense. I say "in a sense" because by observation it is obvious that we are not just a chunk of matter (like a rock), but a human being; and as human being we have certain capacities that a mere chunk of matter does not have -- we can think, a rock cannot; we have free will, a rock does not; we are alive, a rock is not.

Also, as Knast pointed out, you are inverting the knowledge hierarchy. We begin with what we observe, not by what we deduce; and introspection is a type of observation. So, trying to start at the level of atoms while ignoring that which you directly observe is a violation of logic; logic understood as a non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality as given by observation.

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Cognition occurs unconsciously. However, it requires the use of a discreet neural input pathway.

There are things that in humans interfere with this pathway, so that we have to make an effort to allow the pathway

to be used at all (see www.shhtract.com). In this respect only, learning is difficult and not automatic.

I have no doubt that science will discover exactly how cognition works ("electro-chemically"). It will probably also be able to somehow disable the interfering systems and show exactly how, physcially, they interfere. So science may be able to eliminate the effort required to use the "Shh" Tract.

Rand said that for humans free will consists of the choice to think or not to think. Thinking consists of 1)allowing the "Shh" Tract to do its job, and 1)non-contradictory examination of the cognitive structure. What knowledge someone is able to

actually use depends on how much effort he puts into the second part of the thought process, that is, on his knowledge

of himself. Science will never be able to eliminate this problem. No matter how assiduously one attempts to "know himself," he can never grasip all he knows with pefect clarity. This is just the "nature of the beast." Therefore, his

actions, based on his grasp of his knowledge, will always be unpredictable and could never be considered preordained.

(A moderator gave me permission to mention the website www.shhtract.com).

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I do not believe it is possible to predict the behavior of something as complex as a human being with perfect accuracy (or, a perfect estimation of the likelihood of various behaviors). The laws of physics alone prevent that due to things like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, chaos, and quantum entaglement. Perfect prediction is impossible, and I never said it was.

Determinism without its predictive power is robbed of all of its danger to ethics. Fatalism is hard to justify if you don't know which fate you should resign yourself to. Nevertheless, determinism is still an attack on the possibility of knowledge at the epistemological level so cannot be left unrefuted.

Let me grant for the moment that since we are born tabula rasa then infants and toddlers really are determined. However, once having deterministically acquired some mental contents, skills and habits (and not even necessarily speech) new processes begin to occur. Since people equate their identities with their consciousness, and consciousness is always consciousness of something, personal identity is essentially one's mental contents. Once mental contents come into existence as a result of being the effect of a cause, they persist and are then able to be causes of still later effects. So personal identity has a persistent existential form able to be a causal agent, in summary called a will or sense of self. The physics that creates mental contents and ultimately a sense of self is the same physics that allows that sense of self to push things around in the head and command arms and legs. Once the will or sense of self comes into being it has total control over what actions to take and where to direct attention resulting in control over what new things come to mind. This self-determination has the animating self-referential and self-modifying principle at work which the determinism of a robot completely fails to model. The system as whole will exhibit behavior not found in any of its parts, and it is as a whole that it is said to act volitionally.

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Again. This is the old logical fallacy of composition. It does not follow logically.

The fallacy of composition does not apply in this case. There is a difference between saying that, for example, a machine part is unbreakable with a hammer, so the machine cannot be broken with a hammer, and arguing that every particle in the universe obeys a set of laws which determine its actions in all cases, so the brain acts deterministically. That is a logical conclusion, and arguments about whether we could ever predict the behavior of a given system (such as the brain) do not change the basic fact that all physical systems obey the laws of physics and act either deterministically or stochastically. The brain is composed solely of particles, and every action of every one of those particles is determined by the laws of physics. As a result, the brain's actions as a whole are determined by the laws of physics. The only way for that to not be the case is if there were something other than matter/energy in the brain, a "soul".

At root is the fact that knowledge demand a method, but a method is unnecessary and impossible if we do not possess volition, because there is no use of recommending the use of logic, integration, observation, etc if we do not have any choice in the matter. I.e., if we do not possess any volition.

There is a difference between what I see on the inside of my brain and what I see on the outside, I cannot redo my inner experiment nor demonstrate it for someone else or have someone else perform it. As a result, introspection is far more prone to error than the physical sciences. Nevertheless, that is not the main point.

Knowledge can exist without volition. The three basic axioms are self-evident, they can't be countered without accepting them, etc. As a result, the universe and all knowledge must form a non-contradictory whole. From experience we have learned that one way of thinking leads to fewer contradictions and as a result allows us to live our lives better than another method, namely reason and focus is better than irrationality and mental fog. I don't see why we can't then say that reason and focus are good and that they promote life, which must almost by definition be the primary value of man and living things in general. Everything else in Objectivist ethics follows from that. We can go through a process which is more likely to lead to non-contradictory and thus life-promoting results, and ideas and findings which come from that process are legitimate knowledge.

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I can see that you are trying to make an integration, but by ignoring the reality of your own mind introspectively, you are making a mis-integration. The integrating focus is mis-directed to only include extrospection, what we observe with our senses; but at least you are doing that, in a sense. I say "in a sense" because by observation it is obvious that we are not just a chunk of matter (like a rock), but a human being; and as human being we have certain capacities that a mere chunk of matter does not have -- we can think, a rock cannot; we have free will, a rock does not; we are alive, a rock is not.

I know humans are different than rocks, but I don't see a fundamental difference at the bottom level. The difference is in the arrangement of the particles making up our bodies as opposed to a rock. But they obey the same laws, I don't see how, without invoking mystic ideas of the supernatural, we can declare human beings as fundamentally different than rocks at anything deeper than the arrangement of matter. And if the only difference is the arrangement, than both are deterministic.

Also, as Knast pointed out, you are inverting the knowledge hierarchy. We begin with what we observe, not by what we deduce; and introspection is a type of observation. So, trying to start at the level of atoms while ignoring that which you directly observe is a violation of logic; logic understood as a non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality as given by observation.

I don't start at the level of atoms, I start with observable reality, which as we keep going deeper and deeper eventually gets to atoms. The whole point of physics is to understand how the universe works at the most basic level, the other sciences work on higher levels of abstraction from that point (and as a result do not have absolute laws, there can be unexpected things that happen if you can't model the underlying physics, thanks to chaos and quantum uncertainty). I simply think introspection as far more faulty than directly observable reality which I can check with other people and do repeated experiments on. My introspections on my own mind do not violate my views on determinism, they seem in agreement (as I've described elsewhere). If my view about determinism could not account for my sensations and introspections than I would not hold it. It does not. And since it is in line with physics as well, I think it is the case. As Grames pointed out, determinism without predictive capability loses its moral threat.

Let me grant for the moment that since we are born tabula rasa then infants and toddlers really are determined.

If a toddlers mind is determined, then how it reacts to new information is determined. How it interacts with reality is determined. Every step is determined as it gains new knowledge. Whether it will properly form its first concepts is determined by the contents of its as yet determined mind. Each step along the path is determined. I do not and have never seen how, if you start with determinism (even without predictive power) you eventually can get to something undetermined. That transition seems impossible. So either babies are not determined or else determinism is the valid position.

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Every particle in the universe obeys a set of laws which determine its actions in all cases, so the brain acts deterministically. That is a logical conclusion.
Which scientific law says that every particle obeys a set of laws which determine its actions in all cases??? Which set of laws can determine every particle's action in every case??? Are you assuming either exists??

It's unfortunate that you're using unsubstantiated ideas of science to say that the only way volition can coexist with reality is by the power of the supernatural/souls/magic.

The brain is composed solely of particles, and every action of every one of those particles is determined by the laws of physics. As a result, the brain's actions as a whole are determined by the laws of physics. The only way for that to not be the case is if there were something other than matter/energy in the brain, a "soul".
Either you're making this case for determinism using some heretofore Theory of Everything, or you're using the fallacy of composition.

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I am assuming the laws of physics are complete. Not saying we would be able to necessarily say what they are, but that there is some complete set of rules that determine the behavior of every particle. That may be a theory of everything or multiple theories that can be used to collectively cover all reality.

Science is about all phenomena that can be examined, it is about physical things and events in objective reality. Supernatural means things outside the science's possible explanatory power. All natural sciences are based on physics at their core, and as a result anything that is beyond physics's realm (such as volition) are supernatural. That is the principle I am using when I say that volition can only exist in a strict sense if the supernatural exists.

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All natural sciences are based on physics at their core, and as a result anything that is beyond physic's realm (such as volition) are supernatural. That is the principle I am using when I say that volition can only exist in a strict sense if the supernatural exists.

I think you are misunderstanding volition; and it is unfortunate that the religionists take up volition as a gift from God, which is a supernatural position. I was raised Catholic and never had it drummed into me that I didn't have free will; and so I was able to introspect (which is taught) and take it for granted that introspection was valid. Fortunately, Objectivism also realizes that introspection is valid, so I didn't have to fight determinism for either Catholicism or Objectivism. I can certainly see from the many discussions on this topic on this board that it is an uphill battle with the confirmed determinist. You have the power of choice to correct your mistake, but I don't know how to get you to accept the fact you are posting here of your own free will. But I am certainly glad that I didn't have to content with that particular mistaken view of the nature of man.

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This whole debate has not just become circular, it is actually becoming a spiral, downwards!

Quote from one post: "The only way for that to not be the case, is if there were something other than matter/energy in the brain, a"soul". "

I read some posters here who are so concerned about admitting to any hint of mysticism (perish the thought) that they have , for want of a better word , become "concretists".

I argued from my first post onwards ( #4 #10 #35#44) that atomic particles have nothing to do with Man's consciousness, or his mind. Mr Miovas , hunterrose and others have also given their time and consideration to pose similar ( but better argued) conclusions. Seemingly to no avail. The brain is still being dissected, particle Physics is still being invoked. And the Mind's role in self-volition, and what we know and don't know about it's nature, it's potential,or possibilities, remains overlooked.

Of course Man has a Soul. Do you think that Ayn Rand was being unusually fanciful in her statement on 'Man's self- made soul'? She meant it, literally.( She obviously loved that word,and was rescuing it from those hijackers, the religionists. )

As long as the 'concretists' attempt to reduce the best in Man ------ his self- regarding, self-sustaining, self-disciplining, self-directing, consciousness; coupled with morality and courageously independent Mind, applied ongoing over years; with introspective, unflinching pursuit of Truth and Reality--------

to logical intelligence, to 'activity in the brain' and to Physics equations, then it seems they are missing out on the best and noblest part of Objectivism.

Dedication to these Virtues, plus integrity and self esteem, exposed to the torture test of time, will assuredly lead to the formation and development of one's soul, a very humanistic, mortal soul. Non mystical, abstract, but still very real.

We are the only creatures in the Universe who know who we are, and who we want to be; and can do a lot about where we want to go. That's self- volition, and the Randian soul is it's source, I believe.

[sorry, no. I can't even begin to prove all the above! It just seems self evidently true that there is a hierarchy to our composition, ranging from brain > mind > soul, all in one continuum. I would appreciate anybody's thoughts on this.]

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I do think that past mysticism has muddled the issue of free will. We certainly don't have a soul in the mystical / religious sense, of something that God put into us at conception or birth. But we certainly do have consciousness, self-consciousness, and the ability to direct our consciousness -- and all of this is natural, and comes from the fact that we are born human. In a certain sense, it might be a mystery, but I think only to those who are caught up in a rationalistic mind trap. For those who go by observation, including introspection, having a volitional mind is one of the most wonderful things about being a human.

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The neat thing is that this;

the best in Man ------ his self- regarding, self-sustaining, self-disciplining, self-directing, consciousness; coupled with morality and courageously independent Mind, applied ongoing over years; with introspective, unflinching pursuit of Truth and Reality--------

is not possible without this;

"logical intelligence".

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Science is about all phenomena that can be examined, it is about physical things and events in objective reality. Supernatural means things outside the science's possible explanatory power. All natural sciences are based on physics at their core, and as a result anything that is beyond physics's realm (such as volition) are supernatural. That is the principle I am using when I say that volition can only exist in a strict sense if the supernatural exists.

Is everything for which there is not yet a reductive explanation therefore supernatural? Because that is what you are saying. You demand a comprehensive and convincing explanation of how volition works, without appealing to that darned hard to understand fallacy of composition or else ... or else ... you'll call the idea supernatural! Hold your breath while you wait, it will help the explanation come along faster. This kind of magical thinking is technically an example of primacy of consciousness at work but it is simpler to describe it as childish.

The only possible way I can understand this is that you cannot acknowledge the difference between wholes and parts, or understand why the distributive fallacies are fallacies. You fail to understand a basic principle of logic.

I know humans are different than rocks, but I don't see a fundamental difference at the bottom level.

Because the difference is not at the bottom level, it is at a higher level of organization. If volition is an illusion, then a rock is an illusion for the reason that both only exist at a higher level of organization. But rocks are not illusions or supernatural, and neither are humans with their volition.

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Is everything for which there is not yet a reductive explanation therefore supernatural?

I demand the possibility of a reductive explanation. Wholes are merely the parts arranged in a particular order. Emergent properties are still deterministic, as is chaos theory, as is quantum mechanics and all its uncertainty. Volition (in the sense that given the state of the entire universe at a particular moment, our decision did not have to be what it was, and was not stochastic on some level) doesn't fit with the findings of the natural sciences, in particular physics, since it states that the behavior of every part is deterministic (and thus the evolution of the system is deterministic, even chaos theory recognizes this). That is why I have trouble integrating it into my total worldview.

Something nondeterministic and nonstochastic, such as volition, is something about which no theory can be created to describe its behavior, about which science has no explanatory power and can never have it. That is the definition of "supernatural."

Saying that there are two different ways of looking at consciousness, one is introspection, which by its nature can only go so far in explaining how your mind works (since you cannot be directly aware of the physical action in your brain) and so cannot go back beyond the decision to focus or not to focus, and the other is science, which explains everything through physics, chemistry, and biology and can include everything including how that decision is made, is not a contradiction. Introspection is limited by its nature, science is not. Since philosophy, ethics, politics, etc. are all dealing with man as a conscious entity rather than as a physical system they are perfectly valid, but you have to keep them in context.

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Emergent properties are still deterministic,

How do you know that? There is no particle that is alive, yet there are living things composed of particles. Living things can be reduced to particles in theory and practice but that creates no explanation.

Something nondeterministic and nonstochastic, such as volition, is something about which no theory can be created to describe its behavior, about which science has no explanatory power and can never have it. That is the definition of "supernatural."

This is actually an anti-science attitude. "If I can't understand it it can't exist" is a form of subjectivism. You may as well say the entire universe is supernatural already because there will never be deterministic explanation for the cause of the universe.

Saying that there are two different ways of looking at consciousness, one is introspection, which by its nature can only go so far in explaining how your mind works (since you cannot be directly aware of the physical action in your brain) and so cannot go back beyond the decision to focus or not to focus, and the other is science, which explains everything through physics, chemistry, and biology and can include everything including how that decision is made, is not a contradiction. Introspection is limited by its nature, science is not. Since philosophy, ethics, politics, etc. are all dealing with man as a conscious entity rather than as a physical system they are perfectly valid, but you have to keep them in context.

No amount of context keeping justifies the contradiction that scientific knowledge can prove the impossibility of knowledge.

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How do you know that?

Because they are created from simple things obeying a particular set of rules, and given the rules and precisely the same initial conditions the same thing happens over and over again. New patterns may emerge on higher levels of abstraction (such as groupings of particles), but the individual things are still behaving deterministically. No nondeterministic system has ever been created in a computer model.

This is actually an anti-science attitude. "If I can't understand it it can't exist" is a form of subjectivism. You may as well say the entire universe is supernatural already because there will never be deterministic explanation for the cause of the universe.

I did not say it cannot exist. I simply say that is supernatural, outside the bounds of science and scientific inquiry, by its definition. And the origin of the universe may well be settled in time based on theory and experimental evidence (there are already a number of theories with some supporting evidence). Also, existence in the widest sense (and thus the universe, or multiverse, or multimultiverse, or whatever) is an infinite, existence cannot stop nor can it come into being because otherwise there would have to have been something there for it to arise in or to die out. By definition, existence (as in all existents in the widest sense possible) is infinite in age (and perhaps extent spacially as well, though that isn't as clear to me).

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Because they are created from simple things obeying a particular set of rules, and given the rules and precisely the same initial conditions the same thing happens over and over again.

The problem is that you are taking your knowledge of physics as a fundamental, when that isn't true at all; the epistemological fundamental is observation as understood by a conceptual consciousness. All of the philosophical fundamental are given in observation -- including consciousness and volition. We observe existence the way it really is; that is, existence is really composed of entities that we can observe with our senses and via introspection. So, no, volition is not super natural, because we can observe it -- and we can study it and we can draw principles from the study of volition (such as epistemology and morality).

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You have been consistently explaining how the laws of physics play a role in your thinking:

... The brain is composed solely of particles, and every action of every one of those particles is determined by the laws of physics. As a result, the brain's actions as a whole are determined by the laws of physics. The only way for that to not be the case is if there were something other than matter/energy in the brain, a "soul".

I am assuming the laws of physics are complete. Not saying we would be able to necessarily say what they are, but that there is some complete set of rules that determine the behavior of every particle. That may be a theory of everything or multiple theories that can be used to collectively cover all reality.

Because they are created from simple things obeying a particular set of rules, and given the rules and precisely the same initial conditions the same thing happens over and over again. New patterns may emerge on higher levels of abstraction (such as groupings of particles), but the individual things are still behaving deterministically. No nondeterministic system has ever been created in a computer model.

Thomas M. Miovas Jr. is essentially correct in identifying a mistake in taking physics as fundamental. However more can and should be said about exactly what the nature of that mistake is.

I had earlier argued that the past and the laws of physics cannot determine the present or the future because the past doesn't exist, and that which doesn't exist cannot be a causal agent. This kind of argument fails to extend to the present determining the present and by extension the future because the present certainly does exist. I have discovered from further reading around the internet that it is possible to make the argument that:

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.

Edited by Grames

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Grames, great post.

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.

Schwartz seems inconsistent in that chapter. He says that we are generally free, though some things are "not up for grabs" for the human agent (p. 126). His main criticism of people who believe in physical laws is that they cannot explain the sense in which a physical law "cannot" be violated. Well, they can now say that physical laws "cannot" be violated in the same sense that a human agent "cannot" choose to do certain things.

To make another point, under his account, you would end up with lots of physical laws that no one would trust or use, and I think part of the purpose of the concept of a physical law is to be able to understand and manipulate nature. We designate things as physical laws because we have good reason to think they work, i.e., to think they always hold and cannot fail to hold, and the fact that some proposition has never been false in the past does not always give us assurance of that by itself.

Edited by ctrl y

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Grames, great post.

Thanks. I foresee frequent recycling of this argument in the future.

Swartz seems inconsistent in that chapter. He says that we are generally free, though some things are "not up for grabs" for the human agent (p. 126). His main criticism of people who believe in physical laws is that they cannot explain the sense in which a physical law "cannot" be violated. Well, they can now say that physical laws "cannot" be violated in the same sense that a human agent "cannot" choose to do certain things.

There are things that are "not up for grabs" because of the law of identity. From the example used by Merrill, one can take the vanilla ice cream or the chocolate ice cream but one cannot become ice cream. Freedom can't be construed as the power to violate identity in Objectivism because the existence and identity axioms are logically prior to consciousness and volition. There is significance in that ordering, the principle of hierarchy applied to concepts, and idea of the 'stolen concept'. The 'identity is coercion' canard is specifically identified by Dr. Peikoff in the Art of Thinking course as a Kantian trick that exploits confusion about the proper relationship between fundamental ideas. (from lecture 5, Thinking in Principles)

Of course Swartz is powerless to explain any of that, not being an Objectivist.

To make another point, under his account, you would end up with lots of physical laws that no one would trust or use, and I think part of the purpose of the concept of a physical law is to be able to understand and manipulate nature. We designate things as physical laws because we have good reason to think they work, i.e., to think they always hold and cannot fail to hold, and the fact that some proposition has never been false in the past does not always give us assurance of that by itself.

The laws of physics are man-made but that doesn't mean they are arbitrary or always falsifiable. This is where the context of knowledge applies. If the context of knowledge matches the context of application, that which has been true in the past will be found to continue to be true. There also some propositions which apply to all possible contexts of knowledge, those are the axiomatic ones. Volition is axiomatic. Nothing in physics is axiomatic the way philosophic axioms are.

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