Thursday, January 20, 2011


Here's a stab at expressing one of the key points I wanted to make in an earlier post:

In so far as all descriptions of physical law are at best probabilistic, all attempts to make real descriptions of the physical world indicate the merely probabilistic nature of the world. As such, the most that scientific nomology can deliver for determinism is a picture of a generally deterministic world, which is to say, science does not avail to support determinism.

Along similar lines, I encourage you to watch the following lecture on neuroconsciousness by Gerald Edelman. Edelman's remarks do not begin until about the 30-minute mark, but once he begins, note his admission both of the stochastic, radically neuron-individualistic (my term of art) nature of the human brain and of his rejection of reductionism. Here are two syllogisms to keep in mind as you listen:

1. If Edelman is right that each neuron is literally unique, and

2. since scientific laws are generalizations about classes which do not apply to individual cases, then

3. there may be literally no formulable laws of neuroscience.


1. the brain is patently both a stochastic and natural entity, and in so far as

2. stochastic causation undermines determinism, then

3. the brain compromises the deterministic closure of the natural world.

1 comment:

Isaac said...

Hello again buddy,
I’m on lunch break so I can’t watch the vid right now and no I didn’t get a chance to delve into your further comments. First time to shame myself, stochastic means random? I’m sure you recall my vocab was always subpar, as a scientist I’m a little embarrassed I had a gut reaction that the meaning of the word was the opposite of random… although now that sounds a little familiar. No wonder I did poorly in stats.
Anyway I had mentioned to you I wanted to challenge myself to interact more on your blog to better define where I stand so here we go. I would like to watch this vid and read your further comments so I expect I’ll have something else to add later on, but for now just some brief comments. I think it would be impossible to prove the universe is completely deterministic. At the same time I don’t think that therefore this means we should conclude the universe is completely un-deterministic. In this sense I think we are on common ground. However where I think we vary is to what degree do we exist in a deterministic world. I contend that because we can set up experiments where we can prime subjects into thinking, feeling, or acting in certain ways while the subject themselves interpret what they’ve done as something they’ve done out of free will, that therefore free will as a concept can be challenged. Further because I cannot think of any action or feeling I might experience that isn’t explainable as influenced by my environment and experiences I’m inclined to think that if a particular experience was altered or if my environment was altered in some way I might have behaved differently. I suppose an extreme example would be if I were to point a gun at someone and say, “I’m going to shoot you,” anyone familiar with a gun and able to understand what I said would have a strong reaction. If I were to do a similar action to someone unfamiliar with this weapon I wouldn’t be surprised if they had no reaction, or reacted in a playful inquisitive manner.

Aargh my break is almost over. Again I apologize if you already addressed these points in an earlier post. If so disregard this comment and once I catch up I’ll see if I have something to add. My point of contention on this determinism debate is although we cannot predict with absolute precision every future course of event, I contend that when we narrow down the focus either to a specific behavior or pattern, then we can predict fairly reliably how one might act and what future events might turn out to be. If this wasn’t the case then professions like mentalists would be very unimpressive.
Take care