Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tell yourself now what you will tell yourself next…

Let us imagine a man, Larry, is arguing for strict (albeit compatibilist) determinism. His opponent, Mary, points out how this makes it a scientific necessity, in the only world we actually know, not only that humankind has arisen, but also that each of us in this discussion has arisen. As such, on a determinist reading, given the initial conditions of the world as disclosed by science, each of us was personally predestined and the world as we know it was foreordained from eternity. "So much," Mary asks, "the separation of science and theology, right?"

I don't accept strict determinism, but I also don't think the strong anthropic principle (SAP) cuts much ice here. The SAP is often deployed to deflate the shock people feel that we exist in an otherwise lifeless, hostile cosmos. We only notice the delicate balance of features which make the emergence of sentient beings like ourselves suitable just because the cosmos has that balance! If it lacked that balance, we 'd not be here to marvel. As I say, though, I don't think the SAP cuts much ice against Mary's observation, since the only empirically grounded basis for initial conditions we have is the world we in fact inhabit. As such, determinism, coupled with our existence, means the world is necessarily personally sentient, and that sounds a lot like ID, or something more. The tortuous spread of time in which it took for us to 'get here' is just an anthropocentric illusion: the universe was 'getting to' our level (and perhaps beyond) from the very beginning.

Indeed, on strict determinism, the present is but a holographic function of the very first instant, and thus the first instant contained within itself, as in the mind of God, all subsequent potentialities of its own immanent necessity. Only if we have some empirical basis for saying there could have been a "different world altogether" (i.e. absolutely different initial conditions) could we say we might not have existed in it. But then, if the actual world's initial conditions could have been different, then the actual world (i.e. its most basic set of conditions for being) is radically contingent. What, then, of strict and total determinism? Is not the multiverse a mad grab for contingency by otherwise narrow-mindedly deterministic folks. Look at David Lewis' modal hyperactualism: physicalist Platonism.

Even if Larry grants there is epistemic indeterminacy, due to our ignorance of an otherwise complete determinism, he has no coherent basis for distinguishing between our epistemic uncertainty (U:e) and the ontological necessity of the world (N:w). "When you don't know every input," Larry concedes, "you can represents the range of results probabalisically." Yet, he maintains, "that is stochasticism via ignorance, as opposed to inherent stochasticism." The problem is that, since N:w causes U:e without any metaphysical 'slack' (on determinism), if the latter is genuinely stochastic, and yet is genuinely continuous with the underlying physical world, then the physical world itself generates genuine stochasticty (i.e. in us, if nowhere else).

Further, we should make Larry familiar with D. M. MacKay's arguments about the inherent unpredictability of self-knowledge. Briefly stated, MacKay argues that even if we at time t knew every possible 'input' about ourselves at time t+1, we could not predict our action at time t+n, since at t+1 our knowledge that we will certainly do A or not-A would recursively influence our total epistemic state at t+1 and force us to recalculate what we-at-t+1-with-A-certainty versus we-at-t+1-with-not-A-certainty would do. Interestingly, no one, not even an omniscient calculator (OC) who knew as much about us possible would be able to assert a prediction of our action (OC[A]), since, first, OC[A] would be a certainty only if OC told us our action and we in fact bore its truth out (but then the recursive self-prediction problems arise), and, second, the truthmaker of OC[A] (even if OC whispered it in secret) would be true only when we in fact did A. Since there is always a logical possibility I will do not-A, OC's prediction depends on my doing A, not vice versa. Indeed, OC[A] is not a scientific prediction if it is not in principle falsifiable. As such, once again, we see how science is inherently non-deterministic.

Now, to be more precise, the distinction between my two points about OC's prediction is this: The first point means that OC[A] would support determinism iff OC's assertion of OC[A] to me could not even logically influence me to do not-A. However, once I know OC[A], I know that I know OC[A] and my knowledge of OC[A] (k:OC[A]) becomes a new factor which OC factor in his prediction of my action. So in order for OC to prove to me that I am subject to complete determinism, he must announce his prediction so I may witness how I invariably comply with it. Once he tells me my future, however, he is logically one step behind the epistemic state k:OC[A] to which OC[A] applies. OC must then recalculate OC[*] to include what OC[A] did not, namely k:OC[A]. The upshot is that no one can ever prove to me that I am a deterministic system.

Second, if determinism is true and could be mapped onto a complete knowledge of the world, there would be no logical space for "prediction". Prediction is an assertion about a state of affairs (SOA) which will arise with a certain probability. A necessary effect cannot be anymore predicted than one can "predict" the sum of 2 and 2 or that with which X is identical. The combination of determinism and Laplacian omniscience removes the secondary causal efficacy of anything O being examined, since "what O does" at time t is nothing more than what "the world prior to t" is. On Laplacian determinism, distinct entities are just illusory epiphenomena of the encompassing total causal SOA. As such, there is nothing to predict "beyond" SOA at t (SOA(t)), only descriptions to be made of SOA(t), since a complete account of SOA(t) will be symmetrically identical with and logically inclusive of SOA at any time (SOA(*)). If that were true, though, there would be no "me" about whom to make predictions. Only if I contribute something ontologically distinct to the SOA can predictions be made about my effects. In which case, however, no prediction is justified by a reference to SOA prior to my effects, but rather all such predictions hinge on the actuality of my effects. The truthmaker, therefore, for OC[A] is not SOA at time t(OC[A]), since an assertion about that SOA would predate (viz. not include) the occurence of A. Therefore, any putative OC[A] would have SOA:t(OC[A])-1, not SOA:t(OC[A]), as its truthmaker.

I have written about this problem before in a post titled "Reporting live". The gist of that post was this:

Determinism entails that there is such a "report" on all things at every instant, since at every instant the world necessarily is the way it is without an indeterminate remainder. … However, if the way the world is necessarily entails a report on all things, then the way the world is at any instant would have to include a report about the way of the world just subsequent to the report's existence. … We can easily spin this inherent indeterminacy to infinity, but in that case we have a W which is indeterminately true not in just two ways, but in an infinitude of possible states of affairs. Consequence for determinism? A state of affairs comprised of an infinite number of possible states of affairs is indeterminate in potentially infinite ways. So determinism is false in the actual world. It can't be a determinately true R in W that R(W(x,y...n)), since R(W(x,y...n) would have to include itself as a determinate truth in W(x,y...n), whereupon W(x,y...n) is no longer determinately and singularly W(x,y...n), but is W(R(W(x,y...n)))."

On top of all this, there is the matter of the inherent physical underdetermination of theoretical explanation. Briefly, since any physical SOA can be subsumed to innumerable competing formal explanations, no physical SOA perfectly and exclusively exemplifies a single, determinate formal operation. On the other hand, we know we perform determinate formal operations. Ergo, we know we are not merely physical SOAs. The physical is formally indeterminate, but formal truth is not. As such, formal truth is not purely physical and there is no basis for total physical determinism. I have, of course, written about these determinate vs. indeterminate lines of reasoning at length before. I will add all this into the book I am writing about determinism and free will, Deo volente.


One Brow said...

I see the SAP as analogous to a puddle talking about how perfet the hole is for it.

Is strict determinism a scientific principle? It's one thing to say we don't know of an ontologically random phenomena that would affect evolution, and quite another to say none exists, espcially since ontoloically random phenomena do exiat at the quantum scale. Either way, saying the science is compatible with strcit determinism does not take the science into the region philosophy or religion.

I think there is a distinction between genuine stchasticity and functional stochasticity. In fact, such a discussion had vogorous representation on both sides in quantum mechanics in the early years. I disagree that functional stochasticity generates genuine stochasticity.

I think D. M. Mackey's argument is interesting. I would suggest a wrinkle: what if the OC tells you that he has predicted an action you will take at time t, and secures such a prediction in such a way that the OC can not tamper with it, but does not tell you what that action is? The OC can use his telling you of the existence of the prediciton as a factor in making that prediction, but since you don't know the contents of the prediciton, you can't react to said contents. Assuming he makes 100 such predictions correctly, would you see that as evidence for determinism?

I don't see why the notion that the future SOA is fully determined is incompatible with the notion that you, as a part of the continuum of the SOA, have an effect. Rather, the difference would be whether your effects originate within you or are you passing on the effects of other things.

My understanding of the notion of supervenience allows for the existence of a sttrictly determined, non-physical phenomenon to exist. I'm not fully committed to supervenience, but it shows that there is no irreconcilable difference between saying formal things exist and determinism.

Crude said...

I see the SAP as analogous to a puddle talking about how perfet the hole is for it.

Try telling the puddle that both he and the hole exist necessarily, that they could not have failed to exist. Tell the puddle that the arrival of both himself and the hole was preordained from the beginning of time.

By that point, you're more on the puddle's side than the skeptic's, even putting aside the failings of that quip.

One Brow said...

Try telling the puddle that both he and the hole exist necessarily, that they could not have failed to exist.

Do you find that incompatable with the puddle's misconception that he is molded by the hole? Why?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

[Attempted comment by Isaac:]

Hello again big brother.
I’ve never been vocal about where I stand, partly as I’ve never been fully persuaded with one belief system over another and partly because I didn’t and still don’t want to take away something that is important to someone. Granted the likelihood that I could influence someone away from something they truly believe in is slim, still the thought of taking that away from someone isn’t appealing to me when I have such a shallow understanding of the world myself.
However I see how I take this too far at times and essentially don’t interact as much as I should so I’m making it a point to come out of my shell a little more this year and define and express things I believe in, if for no other reason than to help shape what these thoughts are.
Anyway I’ve only recently come across the concept of determinism. Perhaps it is due to me always being more scientifically minded, but I do find the concept to be persuasive. At least as I see it, or as I have heard about it and later come to feel the same way all actions, all thoughts, how we interact with the world is all influenced by the world and our past experiences. Perhaps I don’t fall under the strict definition of determinism, but I can’t think of anything I do, think, or feel that isn’t influenced in some way by the world around me. Whether that be a hunger that makes me more likely to eat, or a drowsiness that makes me more likely to run a red light.
I’m not suggesting that when I’m born one can predict how I will die. I am suggesting that given a choice there is a particular percentage chance that I will take some action or make some choice. Given different circumstances this percentage can change and given more data about what circumstances affect my action the percentage of likelihood for this action to be predicted can be narrowed. If one were to flip a coin I couldn’t with certainty predict the exact outcome of that one event, but I could predict a probability that would hold up over many repetitions. A simple candy test comes to mind, if a bowl of candy is at my desk I am much more likely to eat it than if it were in the cupboard. I don’t know how free will had any part in my sugar high.
Personally I think the amount of things that influence us is incalculable. Perhaps we could isolate some behaviors and make accurate predictions based on probabilities, but I don’t anticipate ever knowing what an exact behavior or thought will be.
I think I first became aware of the debate between free will and determinism when listening to the podcast of Reasonable Doubts. I’m not suggesting you listen to their podcasts but someone did surmise some of their points regarding their podcast on determinism here: http://www.heavingdeadcats.com/2010/09/14/determinism-and-free-will-1-of-4/
One of the experiments I found fascinating is experimenters manipulating which wrist would flick by using trans-cranial magnets. Although the experimenter manipulated the patient to flick a particular wrist, the patient interpreted it as their choice to do so.
I don’t know that I disagreed with this particular blog post. In effect I agree we can’t predict with precise accuracy how we will interact with the world. However on the other hand I can’t think of any free will choice I make that can’t be explained in retrospect from some influence or another. In effect I am content for now living with the “illusion of free will” and a respect and agreement of a toned down form of determinism.

mightygreekwritingmachine said...

Flannery O'Connor, for what it's worth, mentions the problems of the Protestant deterministic/predestination view in regards to Romans IX. Protestants sort of use a double whammy of predestination/det. I can't imagine, as a believer, that Christ would leave us in confusion/chaos. O'Connor believed that literature would not be possible in a determinist world. Otherwise we'd just go through various motions, and "the heart would be out of it."

Isaac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Isaac said...

Hi Bougis,
After reading this post a second time I think I am more persuaded by your arguments of the failing of determinism on a micro scale, and to some extent on a macros scale. I don't think this fully discounts determinism and maybe how it is integrated in the real world will always be over my head.

It seems like one of the main reasons for the debate though is to have an argument for the possibility of a soul. Perhaps delving into science fiction, it will be interesting to see how artificial intelligence and if possible artificial personalities would play into a deterministic debate. Surely it would be easy to predict what a simple AI would do based on limited inputs and I would guess there would be little argument that the derived outputs are deterministic. If we are able to develop more complex AI that were capable of creating things like new and unique literature would a determenistic conclusion be harder to make? Or would there be arguments for a "ghost in the machine" if it is possible to create AI that rivals or surpasses our own creativity