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free will vs. determinism

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free will vs. determinism
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Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Toronto, Canada
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2004-10-04, 22:44

The following is an excerpt from a question on an old assignment found in the wayback machine from one of my philosophy classes in College.

I've edited the essay question down to it's main points, and fleshed it out a bit to make it a little easier to digest (that and to briefly describe the origin of some terms and figures who helped spearhead these arguements) near the end (and of course the one at the very beginning.....) you'll notice the questions that i'd like you intrigued posters to answer...

Is it possible that free will and determinism can coexist?

People have been arguing for years over whether or not our thoughts and actions are predetermined or not. Naturally, a conclusion is hard to come by on either side of the fence on this one...

Calvinists ( a term derived to describe people who subscribe to a set of beliefs originally proposed from 16th Century lawyer John Calvin) from tend to argue for pre-planned destinies, claiming that nearly everything that people do is pre-determined and whatever actions they take are merely another planned event of their predestined lives.

On the flipside, you have the individualists. John Locke (a british philosopher), as well as many other humanists (aetheists being a good example) believe that people have the free will to choose whatever actions and events they want to participate in.

Taken to each end of the spectrum, both complete predestination and free will become scary, but intriguing things. At its core, determinism assigns a governor to the events of the universe and the human conscience; it is difficult to be an atheist or agnostic in a deterministic sense because if nothing is governing the universe, then how could everything be predetermined? If there is no author to the story, then how is it being carried out? In this sense, determinism can offer some sort of solace.

But for anyone who has read 'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley (an interesting but twisted read), it becomes apparent that a society without free thinkers and where every outcome is predetermined and human action controlled from above (in this case, in the book by a few elite scientists) would create a society devoid of art and meaning. Why would creatures who were engineered to be completely happy with their environment ever stop to question it (unless of course, the scientists programmed them to do so, which would be an anomoly, to say the least)?

While Huxley takes the idea to an extreme, one has to wonder what would be the consequences if we were living our lives according to some script written by God. Why would He write a play in which the characters act so self-destructively and selfishly? What would be the point of doing this? For his entertainment? Why would he make us experience so much suffering and grief? From the Christian standpoint, it seems to contradict the nature of the God, as the Bible proclaims He is a just, but jealous God; one who neither condones nor approves of malevolent behavior. Why would such a God deceive us, unless he were the very devil himself?

*cue omnious music*

So it might seem that determinism leads to contradictions that are unsettling and that free will must be the only way to go. But let's stop and think about that for awhile.

What would it mean if we were to be completely free to determine the outcomes of our lives?

What ramifications would that have?

This is a more difficult question to answer because we have to consider just what kind of free will we are messing with.

For the atheist, it is much easier to believe in a system in which all outcomes are random and it is even possible that the very fabric of our thoughts and our existence are questionable. Perhaps we are free to chose that too. After all, suicide is always an option.

Sounds simple enough, right?

But there are countless problems with that view. Descartes (Rene Descartes, a recognized french philosopher) argued that the very ability to even think thta all suggested existence and that for there to be existence, there must be something present within ourselves to be able to distinguish that state from nonexistance.

Then one starts to wonder if there is a God, and C.S. Lewis (yes that C.S. Lewis) would argue that this is the point at which just the very fact that one has called into question the nature of such a Being makes us wonder if we constructed the thought ourselves or if it was already there and it constructed us. It therefore appears quite unlikely that free will can be taken to such an extreme that we can do things like chose whether or not to be born and upon being born, decide whether or not we would like to exist. It seems that no matter how hard you try, existence is not something easy to escape, and much great artwork and poetry has come out of this plight. Kafka ( a famous writer of the 19th and 20th century), being just one example.

If there were complete free will, why can't we just go back and rewrite history or defy gravity?

Or maybe Nature is deterministic. Regardless of my stance on this issue, I think it's safe to say that we can all agree on this. There is little we can do to prevent violent thunderstorms from happening or objects and particles from space from entering our atmosphere. Even if technology were to advance significantly, however, it would be implausible for us to be able to completely shield the planet from external forces and even more difficult to secure it from the violent wrath of internal forces.

So what can we do?

Perhaps have complete free will over our thoughts?

If that were the case, I would reduce the amount of self-destructive and non-productive habits I have. I would eat better. excercise more. Get involved in more sports and other activities. Manage my time better. And most of all, I would not permit temptations to enter into my mind.

Wait a minute, temptations? Who controls those?

Well, if free will were absolutely true, then I would. I would be able to block out temptations if I simply did not want them to be there.

On the other hand, I could allow nothing but destructive and malevolent tendencies to control my thoughts and be swayed by the powers of evil. And who would be there to stop me?

Neither extreme seems that plausible, so there must be some sort of coexistence of free will and determinism.

But how? And why?

I know I know, end a post by asking more questions than presented... don't I suck
so, what are you waiting for? post away, ANers.....
and please tell me if you think i butchered the point by condensing this.....
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Arlington, VA
2004-10-05, 13:30

I say God helps those who help themselves.
Join Date: May 2004
2004-10-05, 15:15

I would eat better. excercise more
Maybe your subconscious also has freewill, but just likes cakes and sitting on the sofa more than your conscious self.

God; one who neither condones nor approves of malevolent behavior
I'm fairly certain that the Christian God disapproves of malevolent behaviour.
Antimatter Man
Join Date: May 2004
Location: that interweb thing
2004-10-05, 15:25

The Holographic theory of the universe holds that, like a hologram when shattered, all parts contain the whole. Smaller pieces lose resolution, but since the interference pattern actually contains the data, any fragment of the pattern can be used to reconstruct the image at any scale. Fractal like in some ways.

Not only does this theory apply to physical dimensions of scale, it also apparently applies to information over time. Every piece contains information about all its past and future potential states (in a quantum/string sense).

One could argue (as Bohm and Pribham do) that this has repercussions for 'free will' and/or parallel worlds hypotheses, but one could also argue this has as many repercussions for 'determinism'.

Last edited by curiousuburb : 2004-10-05 at 16:07.
Join Date: Jul 2004
2004-10-05, 16:47

Personally, I don't understand how anyone can believe in free will at all, but that aside. . .

By using different definitions of what constitutes mind, body, and soul it can be rational to say that freewill and determinism or fatalism can co-exist. If you consider yourself a materiliast or physicalist, I'd love to hear your explanation for freewill co-existing or not. If you look at this as a dualist, freewill and fatalism cannot co-exist, unless you accept the sub-conscience.

If you do accept the sub-conscience, then you are left to decide whether it stays with the soul, or the physical world ( ie: chemical needs/imbalances in your physical body cause you to be hungry) Perhaps the sub-conscience is the communication between body and soul. But regardless ones subconcsience could have a freewill where the conscience does not.

Some may argue that since proofs for God's existence are flawed, or not explanitory enough, any theory that includes the existence of a God cannot even be considered. Personally I would argue that God is our conscience, tho we have physical bodies, like animals, humans are the bridge between the physical world and God. That said, I don't believe that free will can exist at all, even co-existing with determinism.
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Portland, OR
2004-10-06, 10:33

Why be so concerned about a topic we cannot possibly understand, being so limited? Reality has a minimum of 9 spacial dimensions and at least 2 dimensions of time, which can be transversed in either direction. Our universe is but a small piece of reality. We cannot imagine 9 dimensions because we are three dimensional creatures. And we cannot imagine a different structure for time where deductive reasoning does not apply. (The if - then type statements make no sense unless we have just a single time line that moves only in one direction.) So I don't get concerned about this question, which has puzzled people a long time. It is likely just two aspects of a greater reality that we cannot comprehend.
I am worthless beyond hope.
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Washington, DC
2004-10-06, 19:49

Originally Posted by Nullpunkt
Why would such a God deceive us, unless he were the very devil himself?

*cue omnious music*
There are those who say that perfect evil disguises itself (and does it perfectly, too) as a Perfect Good.

Evil is about deception, and, if perfectly and wholly evil, something can achieve such levels of deception so as to appear perfectly good.

*cue more ominous music*
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