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Rand's argument against determinism

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Some of you still don't get it. Free will is not a convenient term to assess that it is all too complex to ever figure out, it is a fact of reality that you have control of your consciousness and control over your life by your free will. If you are going to start at the level of knowing about molecular and atomic and particle interactions, then you are starting at the wrong place. The place to start is what you observe about yourself, and what you observe about yourself is that you have free will. This is not an illusion and it is not a way of throwing up your hands in futility and saying it can't be explained so we might as well accept it. You all chose to reply the way you did, with your mistaken metaphysical views of claiming that everything is deterministic. An introspective observation will show you in short order that you do indeed make decisions -- and that you make decisions in context is not a refutation of free will, but rather an application of free will. For to hold the context requires and act of will, it is not automatic to keep in mind everything you know about the facts and what a decision will do to your life in the long-run. You have to do that of your own free will. And your knowledge of molecules and particles and the past and decisions you made were all realized by your free will of keeping the context and learning as you go. None of that knowledge of science and history came to you automatically -- you had to learn to control your own mind before you could have gained all of that knowledge. And you are going to have to use your free will -- of checking your premises -- to overcome the intellectual quagmire you have embroiled yourself into. Go by the facts, not some rationalistic conclusion not based upon the facts. Man has free will, and that is a fact. And since it is a fact, you have to adjust your metaphysics to include that fact -- and you have to do it of your own free will. No amount of reading these posts will do it for you, which is obvious to any observe of this discussion, since this discussion has been going on for so long and you still haven't gotten it.

While you can't get around the fact that we make choices: that we are aware of alternatives, that we are aware of the factors that weigh in favor of one over others, that we are aware of the implications of our choices and can evaluate the consequences and learn, none of that changes the fact that there is some process within the decision making faculty. If we are focusing our minds, that process is fairly clear - it is based on our knowledge. If we aren't, most likely some complex natural and subconcious knowledge shapes our decisions. What are the reasons for focusing or unfocusing? A combination of both of what I mentioned.

What man is has volition. The problem here is that some people think that what man is is something transcendent - like a soul, or something that has meaning above and beyond the real world. Therefore, they demand that volition itself is the product of something transcendent. It isn't.

Volition exists, but it is not a transcendent force. There are factors that contribute to volition, most of which might possibly be considered "deterministic". Your 'brain power' or ability to form concepts - intelligence - IQ - you are born with. Other factors you learn from your environment and upbringing. If you're lucky, you'll be curious and have access to a wide range of ideas (or observational data) - and teach yourself to think properly. To a certain extent, instinct contributes to choice, even if a man's goal would be to become more rational.

I think you have to mention that self and volition are products, both, of the real world, and neither of something transcendent, if you want to discuss volition.

The very first post of this thread from ages ago quotes Ayn Rand, a quote which is horrible out of context. She comments that the thought that 'blind forces' contribute to man's choices is ridiculous. Well, in the context of the arguments of the determinists, this makes sense. The truth is that, while unromantic, the regular old - but ultimately meaningful - forces of reality contribute to man's choices. Man is evolved to be prepared to learn to choose one way or the other concerning his life or death. Reality directly contributes to the outcome of that education. The forces aren't 'blind', but they are forces outside of man. That is, there is a potentially knowable reason for why a man makes every choice he does. Even whether or not he chooses to focus. That reason is not merely, 'because that's how he chose', where choice is a force that transcends knowable reality and has no contextual basis in the world.

The important thing is that the more rational a man becomes, the more reflective his choices are of his rational self. I guess I would say that volition becomes more 'potent' as a man becomes more rational. Once he realizes he ought to be more rational, he can fix in that direction, and excercise greater control. The forces that affect his choices will come more and more from within his rational faculty.

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For anyone interested in an in-depth explication of the Objectivist view on Free Will, I highly recommend two things by Dr. Harry Binswanger:

Free Will (CD)

Volition as Cognitive Self-Regulation (Booklet)

Both are very good, and they cover the same issue, with some differences. But the essentials are there in each.

The booklet ($6) costs much less than the CD ($42), so, if that's an issue, and/or you prefer reading to listening, then I'd recommend the booklet.

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Grames, I've been loving the explanations you've been giving in this thread. I'd like to play devil's advocate for a second and semi-challenge one of your explanations.

You said that the past and the future don't exist. Only the present. At any single point in time, the particles in the universe are in a certain arrangement, and the entities that exist at that point in time can only act within their nature from that point in time to the next.

All determinists say that the past determined the present and determines the future. I think you gave a pretty good argument against that. However, a smart determinist will simply change their argument and present it this way:

Given the state of the universe and the entities within it at a single point in time, and their natures, is there more than one possible outcome for a volitional entity from this point in time to the next? Or is it that the entity and its nature at that point in time will only be able to produce one outcome?

They'd basically change "initial conditions" into "current conditions" in the rephrasal of their argument.

Edited by Amaroq
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Given the state of the universe and the entities within it at a single point in time, and their natures, is there more than one possible outcome for a volitional entity from this point in time to the next? Or is it that the entity and its nature at that point in time will only be able to produce one outcome?

They'd basically change "initial conditions" into "current conditions" in the rephrasal of their argument.

The danger determinism poses if the remote past determines the present is that I am not there in the remote past, therefore I am a puppet of forces that are entirely external to me. Determinism reduced to arguing the present determines the present poses no such danger because I am here and participating in the determining. I am composed of all my thoughts, emotions, cells and atoms, but it makes no sense to consider myself a puppet of myself.

Or maybe it does, if I understand volition as self-determination, or cognitive self-regulation. I'll copy & paste my post #73 since I like it so much:

The epistemological level is where volition functions. If determinism is there and does the same things what then is the difference?

Volition vs. Determinism is then described as:

Mind control of my own mind via internally held ideas versus mind control of my own mind via internally held ideas.

"Mental entities" in the form of percepts, concepts, memories, emotions, imaginings, calculations etc. can themselves be causal agents because they are material and natural, not supernatural. Ultimately they are made of the same electrons, protons and neutrons as the rest of the universe so their ability to participate in a causal interaction is not an exception to causality (or even determinism on the particle level) but an just another instance of it.

edit: Volitional action and determinism reduce to the same description. Whatever I do, I am the one doing it. Whatever forces are lurking inside my brain they are not alien to me, they are a part of me, they are me, and I can regulate them. The one outcome that does happen is caused by me. If I am aware of an alternative, I can choose it then act on it.

Edited by Grames
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What happens if time travel were possible and you really could not affect the outcome of the future by changing the past.

That you could change the cause, but not the effect.

That free will exists, but the outcomes are dependent on determinism.

Though, what I just said is arbitrary because time travel sounds practically impossible to my extent of knowledge, and so is what I said about the cause/effect in time travel context.

Edited by Egosum—
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I believe that time travel is impossible. I don't think time is a stream you can travel on. It's just a concept we created to describe motion not being instantaneous and lets you measure "how long it takes" for something to happen. To travel back in time, you'd have to rewind every particle in the universe to the state it was in in the target time.

Grames, you could say that the nature of a particle at the "present" time includes its energy buildup, momentum, etc, right? If such a particle is only capable of taking one action as a result of its current nature as you move into the next unit of time, could it still be said that the past has determined the present?

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I believe that time travel is impossible. I don't think time is a stream you can travel on. It's just a concept we created to describe motion not being instantaneous and lets you measure "how long it takes" for something to happen. To travel back in time, you'd have to rewind every particle in the universe to the state it was in in the target time.

Isn't forward time travel possible, in a way? Not that you'd "pop up" in the future, like some sort of time-teleportation, but travelling really fast might have you age 5 years and the people on Earth 20.

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Volitional action and determinism reduce to the same description. Whatever I do, I am the one doing it. Whatever forces are lurking inside my brain they are not alien to me, they are a part of me, they are me, and I can regulate them. The one outcome that does happen is caused by me. If I am aware of an alternative, I can choose it then act on it.

This is exactly what I was trying to say. Your actions are "determined" based on everything you are, i.e. your beliefs, your thoughts, emotions, etc., and all of your decisions in the past have led you to this point. It is not even imaginable to track backwards in time, or forwards in time, to find out that you actions are now or will be determined based on what the state of the universe is at present. The reason? Because such an analysis would 1) have to include a full copy of you, and so it would be impossible you would at best be speeding up the rate at which some copy of you thinks, not actually knowing what that person will do prior to them doing it and 2) not include a "you" in the first place. It would be about particles and fields, not about thoughts and "I"s. If you want to figure out what is going on in a person's mind, particles give no insight into minds.

After all, thoughts are huge abstractions from particles. No one thinks the precise position of a single atom in the brain makes much difference to your thoughts at any given point in time. Rather, thoughts are massive abstractions, and so while the particles are necessary for them to exist, they are largely irrelevant to the workings at that level. Knowledge of the particles will give essentially no insight into the workings of the mind, as they aren't relevant.

A helpful analogy might be to thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. Statistical mechanics deals with particles and averages certain properties over huge numbers of them to arrive at what are the laws of thermodynamics that have been around for a century or more. The actual positions of individual particles are irrelevant to thermodynamics, and insight into them gives no greater knowledge of thermodynamics (while statistical mechanics is a somewhat broader study, applicable to areas larger than thermodynamics alone). Similarly, the particles in the brain are irrelevant to the workings of the mind.

And so, you have volition (because you are the thing that is acting, and the only explanation possible on the level of minds and persons and macroscopic objects is that you chose), even if the universe turns out to follow deterministic laws of physics (as the two levels are effectively distinct).

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