Thursday, February 15, 2018

Wrestling the Demon: the Physics of Free Will

At the intersection of physics and philosophy, there's a question that's weighed on the minds of great thinkers for centuries: Is there truly such a thing as free will? When we make a choice, are we fundamentally any different than a calculator "choosing" which segments of its display to light up when the = button is pressed?

The question has its roots in the acceptance that humans are, for all our astounding complexity, purely physical systems. Once you drop the notion that we've got an intrinsic, metaphysical soul that sits behind the eyes and pulls the levers, the question of why we make the choices we make becomes urgent…if only philosophically.

Barring the existence of a “ghost in the machine”, the factors that comprise the self and influence our decision-making processes can largely be broken down into two categories: nature and nurture (or genetics and environment, if you prefer). The first one is something that we obviously have no control over—nobody chooses their parents—and while we manipulate our environment, we can only do so to the extent that we are already manipulated by it.

The simplified example I like to give involves a fetus in the womb, just reaching the point where its nerves and muscles are developed enough to give a kick. Here, it has a choice—kick, or don’t. Which one it chooses clearly depends on things entirely beyond its control—the genes that encode its calcium channels, the ion concentrations in its neurons. But it makes that first choice, and—let’s say it chooses to kick—the world responds. Its mother puts her hand on her belly, and perhaps the fetus feels the extra warmth, or hears her cry out in surprise. Now, the child has the beginnings of a personality—it has learned something about what happens when you kick, and its next choice will be determined not just by its genes, but also by what it knows. Here, at the very beginnings of its life, it’s easy to see that—even though the child is making choices, they still depend on factors that it had no control over.

From there, that first pre-conscious choice, through birth, into adulthood—that person’s life will become a never-ending dance of stimulus and response, input and output, growing ever more complex but never breaking the chain of cause and effect. A rebellious teenager, making choices in apparent defiance of everything they’ve been taught, is being guided by their peers instead; by hormones, and ideas of what adolescence should be, ideas that they’ve been exposed to through books, or television, or the internet. Ask someone to think of a random noun and, while the answer might not be something you’d have expected, there will always be a reason (more likely multiple reasons) why they chose it.

The premise of the determinist argument against free will is that, theoretically, if you ask why someone made a choice, and then ask why those factors influenced their decision, and then ask why those factors were the way they were, you can go on and on, back along the chain of causality until you eventually find that the answer comes down to the laws of physics and the shape of the universe at its very beginning. Of course, that’s theory. In reality, if you keep asking someone why like that, you’re more likely to find yourself missing a few teeth.

While you can argue against free will from a biological and psychological perspective, those are messy and really complicated—but the same argument can be made with physics. We’re all just collections of particles, and particles obey rules. Even if we don’t fully understand them, or even if we can’t fully understand them, the rules are there, and they don’t get broken. Even if the laws of physics change over time, they change in accordance with other, higher laws that are equally inviolable.

Imagine a box full of bouncy balls, shaken up and then frozen in time. If you know the position and the momentum of every bouncy ball in the box, and you know the laws of physics, you can calculate where the balls must have been one second ago, to lead to their current arrangement; there’s only one possible setup that could end up with them in their present positions. And just as easily, you can calculate where they’re going to be one second into the future, or two seconds...or a thousand.

The point of this thought experiment is to demonstrate that, if you know the position and momentum of every particle in a closed system at one point in time, you know it at every point in time: past, present, and future. And if the future can be predicted, then every decision that could be made inside that box has already, in a sense, been made. Philosophically, it works equally well no matter what you’ve got in your box: bouncy balls, air molecules, or an entire universe.

A logarithmic-scale illustration of the visible universe (and, consequently, the entire history of the universe), with our solar system at the center.
Image Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi, for Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Applied at the ultimate scale, the thought experiment is called "Laplace’s Demon", after the French mathematician who popularized the argument. The “demon” bit refers to the fact that, to know the position and momentum of every particle in the universe, you’d need a brain bigger than the universe itself, necessarily outside it. Being from the 1700s and lacking the concepts of computer simulations and larger universes, a religious analogue was a natural choice for Laplace.

"Ugh, do you have to wear that cape for your portrait, Pierre?"
"Look, my fashion choices are entirely dependent on factors that are ultimately beyond my control. Don't hate the player, Marie."
The physics of it isn’t so simple, of course—keen readers might point out that you can’t know both the position and momentum of a subatomic particle, thanks to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Quantum mechanics seems to have probabilities built in, which means randomness, as well—and true randomness is the antithesis of determinism and causality, to the point that people have gone to the trouble of inventing theories where whole extra timelines branch into existence, one for each possible outcome of a random process.

But this strikes me as silly. When we say “there is a 50% chance of rain here tomorrow”, does reality split in two at the stroke of midnight, one universe where it rains and one where it doesn't? Of course not. It’s either going to rain or it isn’t, depending on atmospheric conditions, and that probability statement is only saying something about our knowledge of the system, not about the system itself. Just because we cannot know the position and momentum of a particle simultaneously does not mean it doesn’t have definite ones. It seems like a fine hair to split, but it’s the difference between the future being set in stone—albeit effectively unpredictable, thanks to chaos—or truly unhinged from the present. This is where, even today, the demon comes in handy; if something is definite, then the demon knows it, taking away the messiness of measurement problems and seeming randomness at the ultra-small scale. (It should be noted that, while true randomness—"God playing dice"—is a feature of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, there are equally valid alternative interpretations that maintain a deterministic universe.)

So to our demon, the universe is perfectly predictable, and—being parts of that universe—we are, as well. At first, maybe this thought is existentially horrifying; we’re all just machines, making the choices we’ve been programmed to make. The infinite branching possibilities of choice are illusory—the present has always been inevitable, and the future, while it still depends on the choices we make, is already written. This line of thinking is a threat to the feeling of control that’s central to most people’s notions of the self, and many reject it out-of-hand, because a lot of things can start to unravel once you accept it.

But if you can, it grants a kind of enlightenment, full of absolution, wonder, and humility. When we see someone make bad decisions, we have to realize that, given what they were in life, there’s no other choice they could have made. The phrase “If I were you…” stops making sense; if you were them, you’d have done exactly as they did. Rather than blaming, or judging a person for things that are ultimately beyond their control, we’re instead inclined to ask how we might influence them to make better decisions next time. That doesn’t necessarily mean giving someone a pass on bad behavior because they can’t help being like that—after all, it’s the consequences of our actions that “program” us in the first place. Instead, it means we have to make our own choices wisely, to be one of the factors beyond another’s control that leads them to make the right choice in the future.

This line of thinking goes both ways, too; when it stops being useful to blame someone for their failings, taking credit for accomplishments goes out the window as well. With one fell swoop, adopting a deterministic worldview frees us from both egotistical and judgmental thinking. Vanity is replaced with gratitude to our parents and role models, to the society that shaped us into who we are. Judgment and blame are traded for empathy and pragmatic action.

When we see ourselves and every thought we have—down to the ones these words are provoking in you—as the inevitable outcome of all of history, the “self” doesn’t have to disappear. It can expand, instead, to encompass the entire universe, and everyone on Earth. All of it conspired to create this, the only possible now, the world that we’re a part of, where you clicked this link and read these words.

Your destiny is an echo of the big bang. Your story has been written since the beginning of time—and possibly before, since the universe owes its shape to something. Where does the story go from here? The choice, paradoxical as it may be, is yours.

=

—Stephen Skolnick

31 comments:

  1. I do so love this discussion.

    I think its worth pointing out that the fear of nihilism comes in not at the point where you introduce deterministic systems, but effectively as soon as you remove the soul. A Copenhagen system may not be deterministic, but the presence of randomness is also not controlled and the state of the system is still dependent on it's history. I don't believe you can magically recover the idea of free-will from something that is still completely beyond control.

    Also I know there are many people who aren't fans of Many-Worlds theory, but I would caution against simplifying why people like it. The issue is that the unitary transformations that make up quantum interactions, and in particular the phenomenon of spooky action at a distance, is not very comfortable with any deterministic interpretation of the universe + the idea that space exists as we understand it. (See, Bell's Inequality)

    Each interpretation has to give something up, and MW adherents simply think that it's the most elegant solution. Copenhagen interpretation asks us to accept collapse as a sort of symmetry-breaker, Pilot-Wave theory asks us to give up the idea of separable spatial dimensions, and Many-Worlds asks us to give up the idea of a singular solution to our universal equations. They're all equally bizarre propositions, and comparing it to a nutty interpretation of a weather forecast is very misleading.

    Lovely article though, this is a fantastic topic that people have written numerous whole books about.

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  2. "The question has its roots in the acceptance that humans are, for all our astounding complexity, purely physical systems."

    When your premise leads you into paradoxes and a morass of confusion perhaps it is time to question the premise.

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    1. Hi Roy,
      Thanks for reading!
      To me, this lens on the world provides remarkable clarity; as far as paradox generation goes, it's got NOTHING on the alternative.
      What about it strikes you as confusing?
      Best,
      Stephen

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    2. Hi Stephen,

      The article ends with "Your destiny is an echo of the big bang. Your story has been written since the beginning of time—and possibly before, since the universe owes its shape to something. Where does the story go from here? The choice, paradoxical as it may be, is yours."

      This bookends "The question has its roots in the acceptance that humans are, for all our astounding complexity, purely physical systems."

      The absurdity of this was famously illuminated by Douglas Adams when he wrote, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", "The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42." There was not enough information in the big bang to specify even the most trivial parts of the world as we know it. To wit,

      "The number of protons in the observable universe is called the Eddington number. In terms of number of particles, some estimates imply that nearly all the matter, excluding dark matter, occurs in neutrinos, and that roughly 10e86 elementary particles of matter exist in the visible universe, mostly neutrinos." @@@

      The number of possible combinations letters and spaces of what I have written above, up to the @@@, is in the neighborhood of 10e1400. The continuous production of new information is a problem that defies solution, whether by means of physics or any other methodology. It is a complete mystery.





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    3. Ahh, I love the Guide!! Always good to meet a fellow hitchhiker.
      In the past, there have been many things that seemed mysterious, even impossible to explain. Some of them WERE impossible to explain within the
      framework of the era—but, every time, that merely meant that there was deeper physics to be discovered. Not once has the answer turned out to be anything besides laws that we have yet to understand, and I don't see why this apparent paradox of information (which I'm really not sure is as mysterious as you're making it out to be—your second point demonstrates nicely that a wide variety of complex results can arise from simple initial conditions) should be any different.

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    4. More from Douglas Adams:

      “Sir Isaac Newton, renowned inventor of the milled-edge coin and the catflap!"

      "The what?" said Richard.

      "The catflap! A device of the utmost cunning, perspicuity and invention. It is a door within a door, you see, a ..."

      "Yes," said Richard, "there was also the small matter of gravity."

      "Gravity," said Dirk with a slightly dismissed shrug, "yes, there was that as well, I suppose. Though that, of course, was merely a discovery. It was there to be discovered." ... "You see?" he said dropping his cigarette butt, "They even keep it on at weekends. Someone was bound to notice sooner or later. But the catflap ... ah, there is a very different matter. Invention, pure creative invention. It is a door within a door, you see.”
      ― Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

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  3. You got no basis for:
    "humans are, for all our astounding complexity, purely physical systems"
    What is physical anyway? The more we learn, the more immaterial matter is.

    This is primitive thinking and unverifiable anyway but doubtful we live in a wind-up toy universe:
    "Your destiny is an echo of the big bang. Your story has been written since the beginning of time—and possibly before, since the universe owes its shape to something."

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    1. Hi there,
      Physical, in this context, simply means governed by laws of physics! If you'd like to argue from the stance that humans are different from every other part of the universe in that regard, the burden of proof unfortunately lies with you...but the fact that your username links to a site with posts like "EVOLUTION DEBUNKED" gives me the impression that your question is not asked in "good faith", as it were.

      Thanks for reading, regardless!

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    2. How would you know humans are purely "governed by laws of physics"?

      A few laws are known, but not "the laws"?

      I am questioning while you affirm. How can burden be on me?

      Is "good faith" contingent on a certain dogma?

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    3. The claim that humans might be governed by forces beyond the physical, i.e. those that can be tested, is by definition unfalsifiable—it can't be proven wrong. Anyone making untestable and unfalsifiable claims must therefore bear the burden of proof; please see "Russell's Teapot Argument": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot

      I've never seen a human do anything that can't be adequately explained by known science, so if you're going to postulate additional elements, i.e. metaphysics, you need a compelling reason. Please see also the concept of "Occam's Razor": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam%27s_razor

      When you touch a salt crystal to your tongue, it translates directly to an alteration in your conscious experience—which tells me that, at its core, the human conscious experience can be described as the result of mineral ions flowing through neurons.

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    4. You still don't get it? I am not making the claim "that humans might be governed by forces beyond the physical". I might believe that hypothesis, but am not making that claim. Understand the difference?

      "I've never seen a human do anything that can't be adequately explained by known science" - are you saying we already know all there is to know? Are you serious?

      But you are making lots of claims without support other than your own belief, aka religion. Despite your wishes, Occam is not helping you.

      See, here's another: "which tells me that, at its core, the human conscious experience can be described as the result of mineral ions flowing through neurons." It doesn't follow. How do you get from senses to consciousness?!?

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    5. People who are far better-informed than I am have written extensively on how you get from "brain" to "mind", but the way I like to think of it is this:

      Imagine that, rather than five kinds of taste buds, you have several hundred, and that your brain is capable not only of sensing those tastes, but also of producing the compounds that activate those taste buds—in response to things like light falling on your retina, or someone touching your hand with theirs.

      The fact of the matter is that you DO have these taste buds—your neurotransmitter receptors. In my opinion, the experience of tasting all those subtle things simultaneously is enough to add up to what we call consciousness—though I'm sure your definition of the word varies.

      How do you define consciousness?

      The answer to your question—"How do you know humans are governed by the laws of physics?" is as simple as: "Experiment."

      I'm not saying we know all there is to know—we never will—but the thing about science is that it changes to incorporate new discoveries, and grows ever richer in the process. The things that were magic in the past—fire, lightning, and life itself—are science today, and there's no reason to imagine that human life is different.


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    6. You keep making more and more claims without properly defending your older ones.

      No, "experiment" cannot possibly tell you "humans are governed by the laws of physics", not least because we will never know more than a subset of "the laws of physics".

      "The thing about science is" actually way off from what you imagine: http://nonlin.org/philosophy-religion-and-science/

      Science = Observation + Assumptions, Facts Selection, Extrapolations, Interpretations…

      Assumptions, Facts Selection, Extrapolations, Interpretations… = Sum of Axiomatic Beliefs

      Sum of Axiomatic Beliefs = Religion …therefore,

      Science = Observation + Religion

      Is it clear now that all your claims are based on your own religious views?

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  4. Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow. But if He knows I am going to do so-and-so, how can I be free to do otherwise? Well, here once again, the difficulty comes from thinking that God is progressing along the Timeline like us: the only difference being that He can see ahead and we cannot. Well, if that were true, if God foresaw our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose God is outside and above the Time-line. In that case, what we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today’. All the days are ‘Now’ for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, though you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not ‘foresee’ you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him. You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow’s actions in just the same way—because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already ‘Now’ for Him.

    From Mere Christianity
    Compiled in A Year with C.S. Lewis

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  5. I don't agree with your optimistic assessment of where determinism leads from a moral standpoint.

    Consider this: if whatever you do was predetermined and you had no choice, you are now free to do _anything_ you want and it's not your fault. You can for example cheat on your spouse, rob someone's house, shoot up a school, or anything at all else. Whatever you do was what you were predetermined to do anyway so no one can possibly blame you or fault you. Is there something you feel may be wrong but want to do anyway? Do it, and that will prove that you had no choice in the matter. Were you trying to lose weight and you decided to break you diet? You couldn't help it anyway right? Do you feel like being racist? Again, no one can fault you and you can't change. Whatever you end up doing is what you had to do, so simply doing something is the ultimate and unarguable justification that it was unavoidable.

    Maybe that's not where you feel determinism leads you, but it seems awfully likely to lead a lot of people there.

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    1. You raise a valid point, but I think it only applies in certain circumstances, because you're starting from some relatively unrealistic assumptions about why people behave morally or immorally. Nobody decides to rob a house from a philosophical perspective; they decide to rob a house because they need money. (You could make the same argument—perhaps even more effectively—about Christianity; does the offer of unconditional forgiveness enable immoral behavior?)

      But I do think you've hit on something important with your example about dieting, because things get hairy when we apply this philosophy to addictive behaviors.

      I've heard it said that a large part of how addiction sneaks up on people is that it's not a compelling physical urge, the way most people imagine; that's physical dependence. Rather, addiction is the little voice in your head that rationalizes your next drink.

      In that regard, the recent trend in our society toward viewing addiction as a disease rather than a moral failing has the potential to empower that voice, with the kind of logical pessimism you mentioned. Someone who might otherwise let shame steer them away from a habit that's destroying their life could think "Well, I'm an addict—I don't have a choice in the matter". This is a misapplication of determinist thinking, though, because the choice is still theirs, and they might still have the strength in them to resist the physical component and quiet that voice.

      Obviously I'm not saying we should view addiction as a moral failing; rather, we should encourage addicts to believe that they do have the strength to choose the right thing. Corny as it sounds, for many people the key to breaking out of addiction is believing in themselves—or in something else. Alcoholics Anonymous, with its "surrender to a higher power" thing, works with people who have passed the point where they can believe they have this capacity...and yet, it turns out that many of them do.

      Thanks for reading, and for a very thought-provoking comment!

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  6. From the article:

    "Just because we cannot know the position and momentum of a particle simultaneously does not mean it doesn’t have definite ones."

    Yes, that is in fact exactly what it means. The uncertainty principle is not an aspect of one or more interpretations of quantum mechanics, but is in fact "inherent in the properties of all wave-like systems, and that it arises in quantum mechanics simply due to the matter wave nature of all quantum objects. Thus, the uncertainty principle actually states a fundamental property of quantum systems, and is not a statement about the observational success of current technology."

    If you believe this explanation is incorrect, please correct it on Wikipedia:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle

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    1. Thanks for bringing this up—it was a bit of an oversimplification in the article.

      The expectation that we can describe the electron's position & momentum to an arbitrary degree of precision is based on the assumption—implicit in the classical mathematics—that it's a pointlike particle. For such a particle, you could say it's at coordinates (x, y, z), with momentum vector p.

      As I understand it, the uncertainty principle can be seen as a result of the fact that the electron is not a pointlike particle. Just because a system is wavelike does not mean it is not deterministic; we cannot describe the position of a wave or a vortex on the surface of a fluid with a single set of coordinates either—it can only be described by a function, and saying it's centered at position (x, y, z) is leaving out information about the shape of the topological defect in the surface.

      This is my limited understanding, of course—the page on De Broglie-Bohm theory, a deterministic interpretation of QM, has its own bit on compatibility with the uncertainty principle that I recommend you check out:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Broglie%E2%80%93Bohm_theory

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    2. The Uncertainty Principle does not contradict Schrodinger's Equation. In fact, the two support each other. The Uncertainty Principle says that we cannot simultaneously measure the position and momentum of a particle. However, the state function exists (even though we cannot measure it) and that state function determines the future exactly.

      This is normal QM 101.

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  7. "the burden of proof unfortunately lies with you..."

    That's kinda cheeky as 95%+ of all people, alive or deceased, believe(d) that human beings are different and that incorporeal beings (ghosts, goblins, and Gods) are for real. Yours is definitely a minority view and thus the burden of proof lies with you.

    Perhaps, as a start, you might tell us how physics can account for the complex behavior of animals.

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    1. Roy,
      Khan Academy is a fantastic resource for learning about nearly everything, and they have a course on behavioral biology! It's fascinating and pretty short; you could probably get through it in an hour or two, even reading carefully.

      https://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/behavioral-biology

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    2. Stephen,

      I apologize if, by my writing, I have misled you. I tend to argue from the simplest formulation possible. Perhaps you believe that I am a bit of an amateur gadfly. With that in mind I tell you (reluctantly) that I took post graduate courses in General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and biology in the late 1960s.

      Back to the discussion at hand.

      You assert that the current, and future, state(s) of the universe are uniquely defined by the state of matter at the time of the big bang. That covers an awfully big waterfront and I think it obliges you explain some of the intermediate steps. To wit:

      -How did the four known forces of physics acting upon the known particles produce a biological cell with DNA as its key component.

      -How did complex multi-cellular organisms come about.

      -How do the components of a multi-cellular animal act to animate and control the organism. For example, how can my dog Rufus run then leap into the air to catch a frisbee.

      I think that is de minimus.

      Regards,
      Roy


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    3. Hi Roy,
      What you're doing is called "Sea Lioning": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_lioning
      ...and I'm inclined not to engage with it, because if you really want to know the answers to those questions, they're a single search away.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis

      The above-linked article contains the answers to your first two questions, and if the Behavioral Biology course I linked doesn't answer the third to your satisfaction, I'm certain the article on Motor Control will: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motor_control

      Thanks for reading!

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  8. "Instead, it means we have to make our own choices wisely, to be one of the factors beyond another’s control that leads them to make the right choice in the future."
    Please explain how we can "make our own choices wisely" in a deterministic universe. Aren't we already bound to make whatever choices we make? In other words, perhaps it's wrong for me to blame another for his bad decision, but in a deterministic universe, what choice could I possibly have but to blame him? After all, I have no more free will than does the person whom I'm blaming, right?

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    1. "Please explain how we can 'make our own choices wisely' in a deterministic universe."

      I'd say practicing empathy, putting yourself in another person's shoes and trying to figure out what might have led them to make a bad decision...and what would have to happen to make them do right the next time.
      Nothing you don't already know, just another reason to do it!

      And as for "What choice could I possibly have but to blame him?"
      Well, if you're going to, you're going to...but maybe now that we've had this conversation, you'll ask yourself how productive that is.

      Again, I'm not saying we have to just immediately forgive everyone that does us wrong, a lot of moral behavior is rooted in the fear of social consequences. Even reacting emotionally, like lashing out at someone who's let you down, might be what it takes to change them for the better—just consider first how you'd react to being lashed out at, and whether it's sensible to expect them to react the same way.

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    2. "I'd say practicing empathy, putting yourself in another person's shoes and trying to figure out what might have led them to make a bad decision...and what would have to happen to make them do right the next time."
      This gets at the heart of what I'm saying. My point isn't about forgiveness or morality. My point is that discussions about whether I ought to practice empathy simply make no sense in a deterministic universe. Either I will practice empathy or I won't; I have no free will to decide either way. Indeed, the word "ought" has no place in a deterministic universe; if the universe is deterministic, "ought" is an incoherent concept. The decisions we have made, are making, and will make are attributable to the initial state of the universe.

      This often comes up in discussions of our criminal justice system. Determinists often make the case that people lack free will and therefore that it makes no sense to punish them. Fair enough. But then they often end the discussion by saying that since free will doesn't exist, we "ought" to reform our criminal justice and abandon the concept of punishment. That's where the argument logically unravels. If we lack free will, then the architects of our criminal justice system have no choice but to do whatever they're going to do. They may not freely choose to reform our criminal justice or to do anything else.

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    3. There's a difference between determinism and defeatism. We need to discuss these things, because the outcome of the discussion may be that, next time you're in a situation that affords the opportunity, you remember to practice empathy. We need to struggle against injustice, because the outcome may be that our action tips the scales.

      Sure, it's predetermined whether or not that's the outcome, but we still need to have the conversation, precisely *because* everyone's choices are the result of experiences that are thrust upon them. In your example, the architects of the criminal justice system might have no choice but to reform things if their phones are ringing off the hook...so it's worth calling. Seem fair?

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  9. Physicists have no choice, they are compelled by past particle mechanics back to the big bang to be of the opinion that their opinions are superior to those of philosophers.

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  10. Too many words are spoken in regards to the argument over free will. Things are very simple.

    We cannot even conceive a single thought without first being CAUSED to think it. Think about a baby in a womb. Has never seen the light of day. Therefore the brain has no real memory. Its a good thing. Because otherwise, the baby would be trying to check out early. They kick. But that's only a developmental phenomena. Once that baby sees the light of day, so begins the rapid development of new wires within the brain. Millions of initial responses to its surroundings. The baby quickly becomes a part of its environment. This is a time of life that easily demonstrates the power of CAUSE and EFFECT.

    As we get older we are more like fine tuned machines. And no matter how hard it seems to "teach an old dog new tricks". Place anyone in a radically different environment, and they will be drastically altered. Mentally and physically. It is why we see people in certain parts of the world live longer than others. It isn't just "diet". It is the environment. When it becomes extremely important to live to be 100, many of those people will live to be 100. Their environment makes it so. In typical Western culture, that isn't the case. Hence the reason why people are dropping like flies. Because the environment is poisonous. Not only through diet. But through its politics and other goings on.

    But all in all. Every thought we perceive is caused by something else that is external. If I decide to get out of this chair, I had to think of it. But something else caused me to think of it. Something that I had no control over. And something else caused the cause. And so on. It is just along the same line of thinking that no two things can occupy the same space in existence. No matter what our eyes see. The TRUTH says different. Just because we think we see something, does not mean we are seeing WHAT IS.

    We are constantly at the mercy of external forces. We are simply a part of it. So what is it inside us that makes us feel like we are in control? It is very very simple. It is because of that SOUL that science cannot detect. When we die, our soul thrives elsewhere. Right now, we are just along for the ride. Tied to a human body that is just as part of our environment as the trees, birds, and worms. Just because it appears that we are a species in control of "everything". Does not mean we are. Just as we may think we are 10 feet tall and bulletproof. When that 11 foot tall bully comes our way, we quickly think different. Because we have ZERO control over our surroundings. And we still take full credit of whatever happens.

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  11. Stephen, I absolutely loved your article here! For the most part I follow. However, I am having a hard time understanding the areas in the main article, and then in one or two of the answers, where you state that we should try to be our best and do our best so that we can influence other people's choices for the better. If the universe is deterministic, wouldn't peoples choices be what they are no matter how hard I try to be a factor for betterment?

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  12. this is all very interesting to someone such as I. Not having scientific training I enter the discussion from a purely "read a few books" standpoint. Having finished "What is Real" and Hawkins and trying to slog through "The Singular Universe and The Reality of Time" has truly opened my thoughts to greater avenues of awareness. I, with my education and level of knowledge should NOT be on this web-site. But here I am.
    Thank you all for the interesting and thought provoking comments and especially the article...Bob

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