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Terrey West

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Do the laws of physics necessitate determinism?

Chemistry is a science. All actions and reactions are based on the laws of physics, and victims to environmental variables, pressure, temperature, volume, etc.

The human brain is based on a complex solution of chemistry. Decisions have not been shown to originate anywhere except for the brain. A soul cannot be discussed in this debate unless scientific evidence for the existence of the soul, and its impact on free will is provided with proper citations prior to argument.

1) Does this evidence provide a logical grounds for adopting a Deterministic worldview?

2) Is a Deterministic worldview beneficial or harmful to society?

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    Jan 19 2012: the world is deterministic therfore it is
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    Jan 19 2012: I used to be a determinist and then I actually read more about quantum mechanics and sort of realized its more of a paradox than choosing free-will or determinism? If you study theories related to Quantum Mechanics I would have to say that they laws of physics transcends the laws of nature, therefore relating the laws of physics to anything in the natural world, would perhaps be a mistake(I could be wrong).

    This may seem unrelated but I would state that if you were to take some studies related to quantum mechanics and have a deep understanding of consciousness and meditation, you would sort of realize that it sort of only validates free-will?

    Have you ever heard or read the works of Amit Goswami?

    and if you need me explain more about this I will, I just have to really head out to work right now
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    Jan 19 2012: I'll go really dark on you here... And, I apologize in advance if this is offensive. In my humble opinion, whether or not the concept of determinism is true, an objective acceptance of determinism, as truth, would lead to an unnending wave, of suicide.

    If there is absolutely nothing, that is "me". If there is no "soul", no "ghost in the shell", and no individual identity... Then why do "I", have to be here?

    If, it is all going to happen anyway... Why do "I" have to watch it? What is the purpose of my "feeling" of observation, if nothing can change?

    This idea has constantly instilled hatred in religious peers of mine... but, I truly believe... That if I knew "God" existed, and his plan for the universe was infallible... I'd kill myself right now. The same would be true if "Chemistry" existed, and it's will was infallible. If the whole world is going to work out fine anyway, why do I need to be here, watching everything decay, and everyone be miserable?

    I truly believe, that the reality, or illusion of "free will", whichever the case may be, is necessary, for human beings to continue living their lives. People need a sense of purpose, and free will gives them that... whether it be an illusion, or not.

    Too dark?
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      Jan 19 2012: I agree that the illusion of free will is necessary for the progress of society, but I don't believe in free will, and I am not suicidal. It is a difficult view to hold, and brings with it a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.

      I wonder, even if science does manage to prove that the universe is deterministic, if humanity would be willing to accept that as true. I think, to some degree, they would simply ignore it and go on with their lives.

      I will say, I think that the killing of the self is an illogical response to this view. In the end, those who are religious, hold deterministic viewpoints. They state that "God has a plan", and still hold the view of free will. I think the same cognitive dissonance would apply to this outlook as well.
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        Jan 20 2012: I don't think suicidal tendency's are a necessary reaction to a lack of a belief in free will, it would simply lead to a large corellation, that would be unhealthy for society as a whole. Also, I would argue that the mere fact that you chose to write about free will for an hour of your life suggests you have it.

        I don't see any pragmatic, usefull, or predictive quality to the belief that humans do not have free will. While the idea that they do is comforting... So, I'd need evidence to give it up. I don't think chemicals existing, are proof that "I" as a cognitive entitiy have no control over my reaction to said chemicals.
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          Jan 20 2012: Free will is a notion, of which there is no evidence, merely a lack of complete evidence damning it as well. It is illogical to hold true to a view until you have been proven incorrect.

          Something is not true because it is useful. Something is not useful because it is true. Don't make the mistake of applying this logic to your preconceived notions.
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        Jan 22 2012: My whole experience of life up to this point, has been overwhelming evidence that I have free will. Thus... it would take a lot of outside evidence to prove it wrong.
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          Jan 22 2012: really? how would it feel not to have a free will?

          the earth feels stationary. but really? how would it feel if the earth moved? how would it feel if the earth didn't move?
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        Jan 22 2012: Lot's of people apparently choose to feel like they do not have free will. Many people choose to believe in physics based determinism. Many people choose to believe that god decides everything. I choose to believe, that subconscious desires, and natural chemical reactions dramatically influence my decision making process, but they don't rule over my conscious mind.

        It feels, like there is a me seperate from my internal biological, and chemical make up. I choose to read literature, and philosophy, while most of the people around me choose not to. I don't think my chemical desire to read literature and philosophy is greater than my chemical desire, for example, to go consume alcohol at a local dance club... but I make that choice. I also choose to watch ted, it doesn't provide me with the same level of stimulus that sex, drugs, and rock and roll in convluence might... but,, there is a me, that enjoys the person I am, as someone who chooses more classical and intellectual pursuits.

        I imagine, if I did not have free will, it would feel like peer pressure was a large influence on my life. It's not. It would feel like my desire for rampant sexual conquests, makes a long term monogomous romantic relationship impossible... I don't think it does. The fact that there are two different points of view however on such a vague, inconsequential philosophy however, to me, also suggests free will.

        It's a personal experience, emotion based argument... but because the illusion is so vivid, one would have to offer me substantial evidence that it's an illusion, before my opinion would change. I spend a lot of time meta cognating, meditating, and engaging in really obscure activities for reasons that feel like free will, and personal choice... So, I don't think people are determined to do anything, I think they choose to follow the herd, because they're boring.
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      Jan 21 2012: I surely agree.
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    Jan 19 2012: It would seem the world is deterministic and if it is not, I really doubt it would lack determinism in the ways many would appreciate (enabling free will). To add to Kristian's answer, it is important to underline the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics. Probabilistic should never be confused with random as it all too often is.
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      Jan 19 2012: you have to read arthur fine badly.
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        Jan 19 2012: This exchange has intrigued me.

        I think I understand your disagreement.

        Is it because the uncertainty principle is only uncertain because of our own scientific ignorance? Therefore, we cannot say for certain that quantum mechanics is truly a cast of the die or truly deterministic?

        My quantum mechanics knowledge is theoretical more than practical, I'm a biology/large-scale physics buff, and haven't had the opportunity to delve into the real guts of quantum mechanics beyond an intermediate primer.
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          Jan 19 2012: as you know, the map is not the territory. quantum mechanics is a precise map, but there might be other maps that describe the same territory in greater detail. the randomness in quantum mechanics can be a property of the real world, or it can be an artifact of the model only. like for example we can describe the result of tossing a coin probabilistically, but we might theoretize that the flight of the coin could be described precisely with the laws of classical mechanics. similarly, the question arises whether quantum mechanics is just a probabilistic model with an underlying better, deterministic model, or it accurately describes the world as nondeterministic.

          the current widely accepted view is that we have proof for the latter case. EPR and similar experiments were actually conducted, and the results contradict the possibility of an underlying deterministic model. that view, however, was challenged by arthur fine. fine describes a possibility that our measurement devices does not sample the cases in an unbiased way. in short, our devices measure if a particle is A or B. fine says, if our particles can be A or B or non-A-non-B, and the detector can not detect the non-A-non-B, we can explain the measurement results with a deterministic underlying model. calculations exist that in some experiments, 80% detection rate would disprove that possibility. but our current detection rate is like 1-5%. so the question won't be decided anytime soon.
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    Jan 18 2012: You defined your parameters well except you did not define "soul". Please do so so I can be sure to not mention it unwittingly. I am not being deliberately facetious. I want to know your definition of "soul". Thanks for the provocative question.
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      Jan 19 2012: sould: that which does not exist.
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        Jan 19 2012: There is a huge difference between "does not exist" and "has not been proven to exist." The former states a proven fact, the latter does not. Which wording do you advocate Mr. Miossec?
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          Jan 19 2012: Ok Mr. Long, give me one example of something that has been factually proven not to exist and I'll concede your point.

          If you want me to be pedantic about it, I'll say in all likelihood doesn't exist. But given that nothing can absolutely be proven not to exist with 100% certainty, I think its an unnecessary precision to make.

          Let's put it this way, total constructs of the mind, based on no pre-exisiting knowledge or evidence, has very very little chance of being true. Why does the soul seem more likely? Because of the number of people who believe in it and the desirability linked to it. In other words an Ad Populum fallacy and an Argument from emotion fallacy. Desirability or popularity of an idea don't make it more likely (unless of course it's popular because it's proven).
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        Jan 19 2012: We agree that a negative cannot be proven. If asked to prove the soul does not exist you are correct to admit you cannot. Yet you wish to announce, unchallenged, that the soul does not exist? In a debate word choices matter greatly and precision is neither ostentatious nor pedantry, but necessary. As for the liklihood of there being a spiritual component (soul) in humankind, I prefer to leave that to odds-makers, theologians and statisticians. Thank you sir.
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        Jan 21 2012: Prove it !!
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        Jan 21 2012: I don't know if unicorns exist. Maybe its a glorified Ibex. And I don't know if soulds (sic) exist. It seems reasonable to believe that they do. Matt you are very smart but sometimes not so wise. As Socrates said "The only thing we know is that we don't know."
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          Jan 22 2012: "It seems reasonable to believe that they do" Here is my issue right there. Based on what is it reasonable to believe that they do? This is your only qualifying measure for the existence of the soul, a feeling, a hunch that somehow, it's reasonable. When was the last time a fully-formed idea came out ex-nihilo out of the mind of Man and turned out to be absolutely spot on? Does it truly help in any way to consider in a debate on free will every unproven idea under the Sun? Why isn't nobody kicking up a fuss about the train in another dimension that controls our will lest a few switches here and there. Why isn't anybody defending the all mighty gun pointed at our head that makes a brain made for free will act deterministically under threat? Let's not waste our wits on ideas that in all likelihood do not reflect reality. Just like in everyday life, it's no big deal to discount ideas, infinitesimally improbable as downright impossible. It's how we function day to day. The only merit the soul has as a concept compared to all the other ideas, is that it is popular, that it's an old inadequate explanation for hallucinations, phantom limbs and a way for humans to escape their own mortality
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        Jan 24 2012: Matt...That was a good post but it raises questions about just how much you "know" You don't allow for anything except that which you can test. Reason is the only thing that allows us to find out how things work. We slways have to believe even what we can touch and see. I note you did not address Socrates' statement and what it means to you. Would you do that ?
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          Jan 24 2012: I just think we ought to work with what we have before we tap into the occult which really can't tell us anything either way. It's especially maddening to see specific concepts being given an inflated importance over others as though they had some sort of objective merit. We must always strive for the simplest explanation until that explanation fails to deliver one or two accounts at which point we can assume some data that evades us. We've jumped the gun massively if we find the need to add a supernatural concept to what can easily be a naturalistic process.

          As for Socrates, how did he know?
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        Feb 11 2012: The problem with determinism is that the future may be determined, but it can only be determined by some hypothetical omniscient perspective. (interestingly, many determinists are atheist, and therefore believe there is anything that holds that view). It leaves me thinking, so what? Its a useless concept.

        Take the example of a game of chance. If I throw 2 dice I know that I should bet on 7. It has the highest chance of being the sum of the 2 dice. However, in deterministic reality, chance has nothing to do with it. If 11 is rolled, there was no possibility of any other role happening. Technically, the idea of "chance" is an illusionary concept, based on my own ignorance.

        The problem is, it may be true that the dice rolls are determined, but that doesn't help me when I'm trying do decide what to bet on. In real life, I have to cope with my own subjective perspective. "Chance" may be an illusion, but it is still a useful concept for allowing me to deal with my own inability to determine the future.

        Free will is very similar. What I do may be "determined", but certainly not by anybody in the real world. In order to deal with my subjective perspective, concepts such as free will and consciousness are in fact more useful than the concept of determinism. After all, there are a lot of other concepts tied into free will and consciousness. Things like: responsibility, motivation, joy, grief, ambition, and creativity, to name a few. In fact, if one eliminated all concepts that were rooted in subjectivity, it would be very hard to even have a conversation.
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        Feb 14 2012: It is though, because he's asking if a deterministic world view is beneficial or harmful to society.

        Other than the specifics of the question, how else can one judge a world view other than its utility? The truth? Nobody knows the truth. Objectivity? Human experience is innately subjective.

        Even scientists often turn to utility as a measure of ideas. eg. Does theory "A" render useful predictions?

        Often people turn to the technological achievements of the modern world bolster support of science.

        what is the utility of determinism?
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      Jan 19 2012: Sure, I'll bite.

      An aspect of the self which is intangible, and not beholden to the natural laws to which we are aware. I.E, the spirit which continues when the body fades, the mind which is filtered through the brain.

      We know that those who have damaged brains have altered behavior, and are not simply unable to be themselves; They, as we knew them, are no longer there. Their self is not preserved in some intangible vessel which pulls the strings of human consciousness. I count this as legitimate evidence against the concept of the soul as the intangible self, and would daresay that human consciousness is quantifiable, and biological in nature, rather than spiritual.

      Since this is off topic, the concept of the divine "self", or the eternal "essence" of a person, would violate our body of knowledge and have no place in the discussion. Apologies if my barring of this topic seemed... Odd, but a transcendent mind is the only way I could fathom free will given what we already know about the universe.
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        Jan 19 2012: Thank you for your well-spoken reply. Since you have excluded the unknown from your discussion there is no mystery about the final consensus, just a regurgitation of predigested data.
        QUOTE: "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science." (Albert Einstein)
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    Jan 18 2012: all the laws discovered so far were deterministic, with the exception of quantum mechanics, which is not yet sure. (for those who disagree, check arthur fine's argument)

    but since we still lack the general theory that would describe the world, it is not a final verdict on reality. the question is open.
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      Jan 19 2012: This was a delicate answer.

      What about the second part of the question? What, if any effect on society would a deterministic worldview cause? Do we, if the universe is deterministic, suspend the logical problems introduced, and act as though we are agents with free will, or do we adjust our social norms to line up with this knowledge?
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        Jan 19 2012: these are two questions. one question is: how deterministic philosophy would change the behavior of people. another question is: if the world is deterministic, how would that affect behavior.

        the latter is easy. see why? it would not. it could not. since the world is deterministic, nothing can change nothing. the entire timeline is written in stone. we just watch it like a movie.

        the former is tricky. because considering the second point, this only matters if this view is false. so if there is free will, but for some reason many people are convinced that there is not, what happens then? such questions are impossible to answer with any certainty. we can come up with guesses, but we can not be sure. however, we can derive a good strategy to follow in life: act as if there is free will. if it does not matter, it can't hurt.
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          Jan 21 2012: > the former is tricky. because considering the second point, this only matters if this view is false

          Not necessarily. When one looks at all of history as a chain of causality with a finite beginning, one can know the outcome only if he knows the rules of the system. Much like a single shot in billiards, one only needs to know the velocity vector and the origin to predict the outcome of the single shot.

          In this way, we can see an effect becoming a cause for a subsequent effect.

          With or without free will, this view being adopted by the majority of the populace will become a cause instead of merely being an effect.

          One can't know, for certainty, but I would be interested in speculative interpretation, after all, it is an incredibly speculative question.