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Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

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NicoL
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Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by NicoL » January 25th, 2019, 10:10 am

Modern fundamental physics indicates that the universe is indeterminate and probabilistic at its most fundamental level.

The derivation of the natural laws of Newtonian physics and chemistry through the application of statistical mechanics, alongside acceptance of the law of large numbers, indicate something that is less commonly acknowledged: even the natural laws of macroscopic domains (chemistry, biology, society, economy, etc.) are essentially probabilistic. Granted, those natural laws assign an extremely high probability to one (or more) of infinitely many possible effects for each cause, but there is still a negligible probability assigned to the remaining, unlikely possibilities.

Given this, would it be wrong to assert that:

1. Determinism is nothing but a simplification we apply to explain hypothetical causal relations between types of events occurring in our everyday experience and in macroscopic scientific domains. The universe is not deterministic, but thoroughly probabilistic on all levels. Determinism itself is completely fictional.

2. "Probabilification", rather than "causation", would be a better term for the relation that ties causes and effects. Each cause probabililfies all contingent states of affairs (possible effects) in the world with a different probability for each - it does not completely determine the manifestation / actualization of merely one (or some) effects.

In light of the above, does the question of incompatibilism still stand? If determinism is false and probabilism assumes its place, is there still a contradiction between the following two assertions:

(P) The actualization of one possible event probabilifies the actualization of all other possible events that can occur in the world, with a different probability assigned to each such outcome.

(FW) There are entities that have significant control over their actions, beyond what (P) dictates.

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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by Eduk » January 25th, 2019, 11:14 am

Modern fundamental physics indicates that the universe is indeterminate and probabilistic at its most fundamental level.
As I understand it Quantum theory is a black box that tells us nothing about the nature of reality. Lots of physicists opine various explanations but so far there is no consensus and no one has been able to prove any of their theories.
As to the fictionality of determinism. Well it works, it has a 100% success rate (so far), it is perhaps 'good enough' even if it is fictional.
Unknown means unknown.

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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by Scott » January 25th, 2019, 11:26 am

I disagree with your primary premise that fundamental physics indicates that the universe is indeterminate and probabilistic at its most fundamental level. I personally feel quantum mechanics and cosmological physics are so (1) insufficient, (2) fundamentally incomplete, (3) open to interpretation, (4) non-intuitive, and (5) confusing and debatable even to the best and smartest scientists that it fails to indicate one way or the other about determinism. A third group of people, including many extremely intelligent scientists, disagree with both you and I; they think that current physics indicates the world is deterministic, such as but not necessarily limited to those subscribing to the Everett Interpretation of quantum mechanics.

So in general the primary premise is far from a given. But that's presumably a different topic.

If we hypothetically assume your premise for the sake of argument in this topic, do the proposed possible conclusions follow?

That's a hard question to answer, at least to me since it seems like the Original Ppost doesn't provide an argument and ask if that argument is valid but rather the Original Post presents a premise and possible conclusion and asks if there is some yet unstated argument that can connect the two.

The word that stands out to me in the following part of the OP is the word "still":
NicoL wrote:If determinism is false and probabilism assumes its place, is there still a contradiction between the following two assertions:

(P) The actualization of one possible event probabilifies the actualization of all other possible events that can occur in the world, with a different probability assigned to each such outcome.

(FW) There are entities that have significant control over their actions, beyond what (P) dictates.

[Emphasis Added]
Needless to say, that question is loaded with the assumption that the assertions of incompatibilism are accurate.

Free-will is an equivocal term, and thus incompatibilism is effectively equivocal . I believe that under some definitions of free-will incompatibilism is accurate and under other definitions of free-will it is not.

From there it is hard if not impossible to say anything that carries much meaning about the main topic and question at hand, so I apologize for the vagueness and weakness of these final two statements: My feeling is that when using definitions of free-will with which incompatibilism is accurate then the two statements will tend to still be incompatible in the probabilism proposed by the OP. In other words, if free-will is defined to mean something that doesn't exist; it's usually still not going to exist in a deterministic versus a pseudo-deteriministic probabilistic world.
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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by Eduk » January 25th, 2019, 11:39 am

Nice summary @Scott
I think you have presented the real heart of the matter (to me). I don't know what free will is or (really) what determinism is therefore one can't possibly rule out the other. I do however often ask people if they would like a tea and am able to make tea.
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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by NicoL » January 25th, 2019, 11:58 am

Thanks for your reply Scott.

First, I have to agree with both of your initial comments. I have been straightforward with stating (not asserting) the implications of some interpretations of some physical theories. The reason is not because I discard the alternatives, but because I have found that being too apologetic while getting to your point can easily obscure the latter. I have also not provided an argument that connects the dots, but asked for one - that was my intention to begin with.

Would you be kind enough to elaborate a bit on your following statement and, in particular, on why you choose to define "free will" as something that does not exist?
Scott wrote:
January 25th, 2019, 11:26 am
My feeling is that when using definitions of free-will with which incompatibilism is accurate then the two statements will tend to still be incompatible in the probabilism proposed by the OP. In other words, if free-will is defined to mean something that doesn't exist; it's usually still not going to exist in a deterministic versus a pseudo-deteriministic probabilistic world.

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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by cavacava » January 25th, 2019, 12:54 pm

Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?



I read what you said about natural laws and the rest, but I fail to see the connection with "Free Will". I think 'Free Will' is more of a social phenomena, more conceptually tied up with agent directed behaviour based pleasure, pain and other drives. Or how do you understand the concept?

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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by NicoL » January 25th, 2019, 4:55 pm

@cavacava

I understand free will along the following lines:

(FWD) Free will is an agent's ability to choose and enact a different action than the one that would be causally necessitated in a predetermined universe.

Obviously, my understanding of free will depends on an understanding of determinism. Even if determinism is false, determinism remains conceivable, so the above definitional dependency does not pose any conceptual issues.

The issue that arises when you replace determinism with indeterminism is that although (FWD) remains analytically true, it is now irrelevant to reality - it doesn't explicate anything about the world. A new definition is required, in the same original spirit, but with the concept of indeterminism as part of its definiens this time. So, you arrive at something like the following:

(FWI) Free will is an agent's ability to choose and enact an action that goes actively against the probability distribution for all possible actions he could have taken.

Two notes:

- This probability distribution has been determined by one or more preceding events.
- "goes actively against" means that it is a non-randomly unexpected outcome (in a more circular but easier way to say: an act of will rather than pure chance has been involved in bringing about that outcome).

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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by Scott » January 26th, 2019, 10:34 am

NicoL wrote:
January 25th, 2019, 11:58 am
Would you be kind enough to elaborate a bit on your following statement and, in particular, on why you choose to define "free will" as something that does not exist?
Scott wrote:
January 25th, 2019, 11:26 am
My feeling is that when using definitions of free-will with which incompatibilism is accurate then the two statements will tend to still be incompatible in the probabilism proposed by the OP. In other words, if free-will is defined to mean something that doesn't exist; it's usually still not going to exist in a deterministic versus a pseudo-deteriministic probabilistic world.
@NicoL

Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

I think the point I was trying to make in the part you quote can also be expressed in the following way.

First, please consider the following three questions:

1. What does the term "free will" mean?

2. Does free will as defined in #1 exist?

3. Is the world deterministic or probabilistic (or something else)?

I think the main point I was trying to make was that I believe generally both questions #1 and #2 above are easier to answer than #3.

I'll provide some more thorough illustrations and elaboration of the above bolded point in the following two paragraphs, but that main way I conclude the bolded statement above is that I believe usually the answer to #2 follows logically and relatively simply from the answer to #1, and #1 is the easiest to answer of all because it is just choosing a definition.

To elaborate, assuming the world is deterministic can simplify a discussion or debate about free-will, but whatever evidence and arguments are given to state free will doesn't, does, can, or can't exist in that simplified deterministic world will often still apply even if we assume a world is nearly deterministic except for some additional random and presumably non-free-will related uncaused causes such as (1) random quantum events, or (2) an all-powerful creator god who made a clockwork world whose own behavior is bound by clockwork causality and is 100% predictable by an omniscient being such as presumably itself, or (3) other completely random initial conditions in a forever afterwards clockwork universe, or (4) other random interference (i.e. new completely unpredictable initial causes).

I believe often the "will" in "free will" is usually by definition not random; and thus we can be a slave to random causes as much as we can be a slave to non-random causes. I bet under most definitions of free will either someone defines it in a way that is compatible with both deterimism and randomism or they define it in a way where it requires the existence of a third type of cause that is neither random nor deterministic. It is easier to talk about and describe what that alleged third thing is and whether it exists if we hypothetically assume randomism doesn't exist. The addition of randomness generally just complicates the discussion and logic, but I think it generally doesn't actually make it easier for such a third thing to exist, nor does it make compatabalist versions of free will less compatible.
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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by Felix » January 26th, 2019, 6:20 pm

"Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?"

Not at all. In general, exponents of free will place the action of the will outside the domain of the physical phenomena studied by science, which makes your premise irrelevant.
Scott: I disagree with your primary premise that fundamental physics indicates that the universe is indeterminate and probabilistic at its most fundamental level. I personally feel quantum mechanics and cosmological physics are so (1) insufficient, (2) fundamentally incomplete, (3) open to interpretation, (4) non-intuitive, and...
I think you just said that you disagree that quantum physics (or "fundamental" physics, whatever it is) is indeterminate and then gave all the reasons why it is indeterminate, e.g., it is fundamentally incomplete, open to interpretation, etc., which just boils down to saying that it is incomprehensible and unpredictable, a.k.a., indeterminate, to us.
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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by Eduk » January 26th, 2019, 8:26 pm

unknown means unknown.
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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by Judaka » January 26th, 2019, 11:05 pm

Free will as a concept needs to be explained, because, depending on your definition, you could be arguing that we're blank slates where the conscious mind has free reign, not blank slates where the conscious mind has free reign over some things or a very occupied slate where free will has limited control.

Sometimes I see free will seem to literally refer to whether we are truly conscious or not, whether we have any control whatsoever at all or not.

It seems utterly undeniable that our brain does a lot of things and is a lot of things which directly impact almost everything about who we are and how we behave. Still, we have great control over what we do in the present and substantial control over how we feel. It's a paradox in some sense, we have control in the present, it's always the present and despite that, we are definitely not living with a blank slate.

Some definitions of free will are ludicrous to even contemplate but they can be ludicrous because they suggest we have more control than we do or way less control than we do. Absolutes, as usual, are idealistic and convenient but at the expense of truth and logic.

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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by Scott » January 27th, 2019, 11:32 am

NicoL wrote:
January 25th, 2019, 10:10 am
Modern fundamental physics indicates that the universe is indeterminate and probabilistic at its most fundamental level.
Scott wrote:
January 25th, 2019, 11:26 am
I disagree with your primary premise that fundamental physics indicates that the universe is indeterminate and probabilistic at its most fundamental level. I personally feel quantum mechanics and cosmological physics are so (1) insufficient, (2) fundamentally incomplete, (3) open to interpretation, (4) non-intuitive, and (5) confusing and debatable even to the best and smartest scientists that it fails to indicate one way or the other about determinism. A third group of people, including many extremely intelligent scientists, disagree with both you and I; they think that current physics indicates the world is deterministic
Felix wrote:
January 26th, 2019, 6:20 pm
I think you just said that you disagree that quantum physics (or "fundamental" physics, whatever it is) is indeterminate and then gave all the reasons why it is indeterminate, e.g., it is fundamentally incomplete, open to interpretation, etc., which just boils down to saying that it is incomprehensible and unpredictable, a.k.a., indeterminate, to us.
I am sorry if I was unclear.

The word "indeterminate" can be equivocal, especially in a philosophical topic about causal determinism or metaphysical determinism. Sorry for not being more clear about which definition of "indeterminate" I was using.

In this forum topic, when I was talking about whether or not the premise "the universe is indeterminate" is true (or false or unknown), I meant the word "indeterminate" to refer in the to the antithesis of metaphysical determinism, not in the broader epistemological context of the word to mean simply something that is unknown to us.

So I was saying that the answer to the question whether the universe is metaphysically deterministic or metaphysically nondeterministic is itself "not [epistemically] determinable" in the more practical epistemological sense of us present day human beings participating in the conversion knowing/answering something.

In a philosophical conversation about metaphysical determinism or causal determinism, for clarity and to avoid fallacies of equivocation, I believe is best to not use the word "determined"/"indeterminate" in the everyday practical epistemic sense of knowing or being ignorant about something. There are plenty of other words that can easily express those epistemological states without such an incredible risk of a fallacy of equivocation.

Again, sorry for the confusion.
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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by LuckyR » January 27th, 2019, 6:09 pm

Determinism? No. Predeterminism? Yes.
"As usual... it depends."

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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by FreeJerry » January 27th, 2019, 7:38 pm

The universe is not nondeterministic; the conservation of information is necessary for modern quantum field theory, and requires that particles always obey the same rules. I'm no physicist, but there's a good answer on StackExchange:
Conservation of information and determinism? wrote:The short answer to this question is that the Schrödinger equation is deterministic and time reversible up to the point of a measurement.
If we run the laws of physics in reverse, we'll end up at the beginning. I think this is irrelevant for the question of free will.

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Re: Does determinism really pose a problem for free will?

Post by NicoL » January 28th, 2019, 6:04 am

Scott,

Thanks for your reply. I think it captures very well what I was thinking too, especially with this passage:
Scott wrote:
January 26th, 2019, 10:34 am
I believe often the "will" in "free will" is usually by definition not random; and thus we can be a slave to random causes as much as we can be a slave to non-random causes. I bet under most definitions of free will either someone defines it in a way that is compatible with both deterimism and randomism or they define it in a way where it requires the existence of a third type of cause that is neither random nor deterministic.
The reason for my original question was that I had reached the same conclusion (being "slave to randomness" poses similar issues as being "slave to predeterminism"), but I could not see whether there was a way to progress beyond that in order to provide free will a way out.

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