Do we fear determinism for the same reason we fear atheism?

A rambling post today. Fuzzy brained and foot loose!


  I was recently thinking about the concept of free will. It's an idea that has always bothered me, like a tickle at the back of the throat. I firmly believe in cause and effect. I firmly believe in the laws of physics and what they imply. So without an outside force, it makes sense that everything is controlled very directly by these laws. Including us. The logic behind it is fairly simple. I'm guessing it's the complexity of existence and the relative simplicity of our minds that makes choice such a plausible illusion. But an illusion is what it must be.


   This used to scare me. Deep down, I do not actively enjoy the idea of being so mundane and effectually predictable. Trapped. And in my mind, nothing special. Accepting that there's nothing beyond death was easy. Accepting the fact that I am a huge equation was much harder. After all, I chose what I valued and valued choice for itself.


  I spent a long time letting the idea sink past my emotions and into my more rational core. Eventually I decided that it didn't matter. How I make a choice, be it simply chemical predetermined or an active and separate process, matters much less than what my choice does. If my actions make the world better in some way my goal has been accomplished. And thinking back on this fear now, I can understand the desire to reject the idea of determinism altogether. Anything that removes our safety nets and makes us feel small tends to be met with the same resistance. Science gets the brunt of this reaction, but determinism falls right in with plenty of people.


   So with all this in mind, I wonder what other people think on the subject. Is it frightening to think of yourself as an eventuality? Has anyone come across anything contrary to the idea of determinism? Do we perhaps agree? Thoughts, please!

Views: 215

Tags: determinism, fate, free, will

Comment by Chris Townsend on June 21, 2011 at 11:55am

Hi Atheist Exile,


Thank you so much for your comment.  I really like what you have had to say in this discussion, it has all been really well put.  I really appreciate your effort to guide me in my efforts to dialogue within the forum.  To be honest, I really thought I was just pointing out ideas and theories and was completely unaware that I was establishing them as fact.  Of course, there is more evidence for some than others, but I thought that is something that is generally understood.  


I have no desire to draw snide remarks or to cause any conflict, but rather to just share really cool ideas that I have encountered in my lifetime of studying science and discussing these sorts of things with some really cool peeps. So, any constructive feedback is greatly appreciated.  As an aside, I would love for you to point out some examples of what you mean from my text and I am totally open to suggestions.  Maybe a private message would be more appropriate :)


Maybe one thing I can do if make my personal stance clear from the beginning since it seems that some people like to assume they know what I think and believe.  I am open minded enough to see the value in more than one perspective and I tend to personally hold to valuing multiple perspectives on any one subject and this is no different.  


I tend to personally see things from a causal deterministic view and not so much from a hard deterministic view.  There are elements of hard determinism that seem to exist but rather from a Spatio-temporal Determinism view (I gotta stand with Einstein on this one).  


So, while I do see it to be possible that there is already ONE fixed future that already exists simultaneously in parallel with the present and the past as time being a 4th dimension (hence the interest in recognizing the possibility of pseudo-randomness), I also believe that this is from the point of the observer in that we are limited to this one experience.


However, I also think it is equally plausible that due to apparent randomness and apparent free will, that ONE experience can in actuality be one of many possible future paths that branch out into infinity.  Many Worlds Interpretation.


"Just because the greatest quantum mechanics experts think that quantum randomness is real doesn't mean it's proven to be yet.  In fact, they are the first to admit it." = I agree completely with the idea of quantum randomness, my only point is that since it isn't proven, we must not discount the idea that it is psuedo-randomness and not true randomness.  In fact, I googled "proof of quantum randomness" and this is a quote from the summary section of a recently published article entitled: Experimental evidence of quantum randomness incomputability

"We close with a cautious remark about the impossibility to

formally or experimentally “prove absolute randomness.” Any

claim of randomness can only be secured relative to, and with

respect to, a more or less large class of laws or behaviors, as

it is impossible to inspect the hypothesis against an infinity

of—and even less so all—conceivable laws."  <= Which is simply the point I was trying to make all if I was a little more eloquent and a lot more published on the well :)


I could ramble on, but I try to just offer additional ideas when it comes to convos like these because as a scientist, I accept very little as fact and more-so see the world as more fluid along a spectrum of possibility, probability and interpretation by the individual observer.  I accept things based on whether or not they work and am cool with operating on those understandings.  


"Science, as far as I can tell, is the height of human endeavor in the physical world.  Technology, on the other hand, is a different matter :-)" = [Like] and Agree :)


"It could lead to your deconversion" = Deconversion from what science???


Thanks again for your input and I hope to hear more from you my friend!

Comment by Atheist Exile on June 21, 2011 at 1:14pm
Hi again, Chris,

I was referring to the same thing I referred to when I asked you to cite your sources.

Here's the assertion you made:
"Remember, that usually when it comes to our current understanding of any scientific observation at a given time that is initially contributed to "randomness" (ie- sub-quantum fluctuations) is later learned to have not truly been random at all."
You didn't cite you source and I'm confident you can't . . . but I could (embarrassingly) be wrong.  I'm certainly just a layman where quantum theory is concerned.

I chose NOT to reply by private email because this is a public discussion and that would not be appropriate in consideration of other readers.
Comment by Arcus on June 21, 2011 at 1:40pm

@Mr. Exile: I think the author also underplays the possibility of self-regulation of brain chemistry. It's a bit "out there", but I think the most perfect example would be John Nash.

@Mr. Townsend: "we can often expect to see similar mathematical models applied across scientific disciplines and their study/exploration/qualification/quantification of [the one] reality."

I have yet to disagree with the statement, but that things are interrelated in an interrelated reality doesn't prove anything except that things that are interrelated tend to use the same set of tools to understand it, i.e. mathematics. I seem to be missing the "So what?" of your statement.

"...I don't see why the application of mathematics to different fields within the same reality would come as a surprise on anyone." = I don't either.  So, what exactly is the source of confusion for you?"

I admittedly don't have any apart from attempting to make headway into why it is an argument for or against anything. It just is. Mathematics is just like an efficient language used to describe observations using pure logic, the alphabet being -∞ through +∞ instead of A-Z.

"The Great Programmer..." = Are you saying that you believe in a "Great Programmer"?"

Not at all, it's more a placeholder name (like Einstein's "God") for the seemingly inherent simplicity underlying the complexity that is everything. If I recall correctly, the current set of scientific laws explain something like 15-20% of the matter in the universe. R^2 of .15-.20 is pretty weak, but at least the explanatory power is increasing. In behavioral sciences, we aim for 50-60% explanation of behavior, but I'm sure there will some day be smart physicists and chemists around too. ;)

Comment by Chris Townsend on July 1, 2011 at 10:53am

Sorry it has taken so long to respond, I had boards and then it has been crazy getting started with rotations in the hospitals.


@ Atheist Exile - I gave an example with the lightening.  Another one is dice, a classic example of "randomness".  You are right, there is no way I can give you peer reviewed scientific literature to "prove" that there is no such thing as non-randomness.  All I can do is offer theories by people like Einstein and his buddies and other well respected scientists who all agree that it very plausible that there is truly no such thing as "randomness" on any level.  Just as you can't prove that there is randomness.  You might can offer a couple theories, but I am sure I could counter all day long.  


As far as responding privately, I suggested that as an option if you wanted to give me personal constructive criticism that would not be appropriate for public reading.  It would not be appropriate to respond privately with anything regarding this thread. Thank you for understanding.


@ Arcus - "I seem to be missing the "So what?" of your statement." = I was stating the obvious which is why I have been wondering why you seem to be continuing an "argument" based on a statement of the obvious.  You missed the "so what" cuz there wasn't one to catch.


"I admittedly don't have any apart from attempting to make headway into why it is an argument for or against anything." = It isn't an argue.  I wasn't arguing.  Merely stating the obviousness of reality.


"...but I'm sure there will some day be smart physicists and chemists around too." = I sure hope so ;)

Comment by Atheist Exile on July 1, 2011 at 7:17pm

Hi Chris,

When it comes to quantum randomness, Einstein refused to believe that God would play dice with universe.  To quote him . . .

"The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the "old one." I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice."

As most modern physicists know, he was wrong.  I like Michio Kaku's response to those who mistakenly appeal to Einstein's genius to somehow discount quantum randomness: "Get over it."

And I see you STILL haven't cited your sources.  I'll consider the case closed until you do.  Good luck with that one.


Comment by Atheist Exile on July 1, 2011 at 9:39pm

I accidentally deleted my prior reply to you.  I'll try to repeat it.

I never thought of John Nash as an example of self-determinism before.  His will-power (or "self regulation", as you call it) was remarkable.  For those of you who don't recognize his name, John Nash is the brilliant mathematician, afflicted by schizophrenia, who overcame, by sheer will-power, his battle with the disease then went on to win the Nobel prize in Economics.  The story of John's battle with schizophrenia was the subject of the movie, "A Beautiful Mind", starring Russell Crowe.

What better example could there be of self-determinism in action?
Comment by Arcus on July 2, 2011 at 10:38am

@Chris: I think we disagree on an axiom (theism vs atheism), which is of course pretty much impossible to resolve since we both probably have weighed the arguments for at least 20-30 years. As long as you don't base neurosurgery on the knowledge gained from the Bible alone, I think we can compromise and agree to disagree. :)

@Atheist Exile: Admittedly my terminology is a bit weak, but I hope the essense of what I was going for is clear. I can give myself a psychosomatic migraine through sheer willpower which is untreatable by triptanes. In addition I have managed a few times to cure one using social consumption of alcohol, thc and/or nicotine. Though I doubt I could manage something as massive as schizofrenia without the aid of modern medicine. It is one of the reasons why Nash is one of my greatest heroes and his (and von Neuman's) game theoretical mathematics fascinates me - it is pure behavioral analysis. Add a bit of Freudian psychoanalysis and intercultural analysis, and you can understand how I percieve much of the world around me (I'm an expat plomped down in a culture very different from my own, it's a handy trait).  

Comment by Chris Townsend on July 2, 2011 at 1:21pm

@ Atheist Exile - "And I see you STILL haven't cited your sources." = Are you talking about sources for credible theories and peer reviewed research speaking to pseudo-randomness and such?  


If so, then you obviously have not been reading the links that I have put up in this discussion.  I gave you...what...5, 6, 7?? wiki articles that speak to many of the major physics theories regarding this and all the info you could want to know...look at the sources for those wiki articles...that is how many more???  


I gave you a peer reviewed research article on computational randomness and pointed you to the quote by the authors in the conclusion where they themselves said that it was impossible to prove randomness and so at best all we can truly settle for is the idea that things appear random, but they most probably are not.  


So, I have actually offered you many many sources to back my statements of the obvious.  When I stop and think about it, realize that you have not offered one single source for your assertions besides some guy's name.  So, to flip the script...


"As most modern physicists know, he was wrong." = Could you please link to some sources with these modern physicists?  


I truly believe I have sufficiently proven the credibility of my claims.  If I need to hold your hand and slowly walk you through every source I provided then I will.  If not, then please quit wasting my time with this unproductive drivel and move onto another thread.

Comment by Atheist Exile on July 4, 2011 at 3:09am

For Christ's sake, Chris, this is my last post to you until you quitting feigning ignorance and actually provide the source citations I've already requested twice.  I'll even repost those requests so you'll have no excuse for claiming ignorance . . .

Comment by Atheist Exile on June 20, 2011 at 1:10am
Hi Chris,

Would you cite your source for your assertion that the randomness in quantum physics was "later learned to have not truly been random at all" please?  That's news to me.

It doesn't matter to self-determinism if randomness does or does not exist.

Now, here's my second request . . .

Comment by Atheist Exile on June 21, 2011 at 1:14pm
Hi again, Chris,

I was referring to the same thing I referred to when I asked you to cite your sources.

Here's the assertion you made:

"Remember, that usually when it comes to our current understanding of any scientific observation at a given time that is initially contributed to "randomness" (ie- sub-quantum fluctuations) is later learned to have not truly been random at all."

You didn't cite you source and I'm confident you can't . . . but I could (embarrassingly) be wrong.  I'm certainly just a layman where quantum theory is concerned.

Just to show my goodwill, I will provide the citations you request -- even though you STILL haven't provided the citations I requested . . .

According to Wikipedia: in modern physics, "there is universal agreement that quantum mechanics appears random".  However, there is still debate (Copenhagen versus Many-worlds interpretations) over how measurement affects observation.

In my prior post, I referred to Michio Kaku's conviction that quantum randomness is a real property of reality and that those who attempt to invoke Einstein's distaste for it (God playing dice with the universe) need to face the fact that Einstein was wrong.  "Get over it" was his response to them.  Here's the video (click the link, then watch the video in the right side-bar of the home page) I was referring to in that citation.

And here's what other scientists have had to say about the topic . . .

Quantum mechanics gives us fundamental, unavoidable indeterminacy  ~Murray Gell-Mann

In relativity, movement is continuous, causally determinate and well defined, while in quantum mechanics it is discontinuous, not causally determinate and not well defined.  ~David Bohm


Writing about Alain Aspect's 1982 experiment to test Bell's Inequality, Paul Davis had this to say:

"The results left no doubt: Einstein was wrong. Quantum uncertainty can not be avoided. It is an integral feature of the quantum world and can not be reduced to something else. Naive representation of the reality of particles with well-defined properties in the absence of observations on them have failed the test. Aspects had hammered the last nail in the coffin of physics based on common sense."



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