Tag Archives: determinism

Fictionalism of Free Will and Morality

In a recent opinion column William Irwin professor of philosophy at King’s College summarizes an approach to accepting the notion of free will rather than believing it. While I’d eventually like to see an explanation for free will and morality in biological and chemical terms — beyond metaphysics — I will (or may, if free will does not exist) for the time being have to content myself with mere acceptance. But, I my acceptance is not based on the notion that “free will” is pre-determined by a supernatural being — rather, I suspect it’s an illusion, instigated in the dark recesses of our un- or sub-conscious, and our higher reasoning functions rationalize it post factum in the full light of day. Morality on the other hand, as Irwin suggests, is an rather different state of mind altogether.

From the NYT:

Few things are more annoying than watching a movie with someone who repeatedly tells you, “That couldn’t happen.” After all, we engage with artistic fictions by suspending disbelief. For the sake of enjoying a movie like “Back to the Future,” I may accept that time travel is possible even though I do not believe it. There seems no harm in that, and it does some good to the extent that it entertains and edifies me.

Philosophy can take us in the other direction, by using reason and rigorous questioning to lead us to disbelieve what we would otherwise believe. Accepting the possibility of time travel is one thing, but relinquishing beliefs in God, free will, or objective morality would certainly be more troublesome. Let’s focus for a moment on morality.

The philosopher Michael Ruse has argued that “morality is a collective illusion foisted upon us by our genes.” If that’s true, why have our genes played such a trick on us? One possible answer can be found in the work of another philosopher Richard Joyce, who has argued that this “illusion” — the belief in objective morality — evolved to provide a bulwark against weakness of the human will. So a claim like “stealing is morally wrong” is not true, because such beliefs have an evolutionary basis but no metaphysical basis. But let’s assume we want to avoid the consequences of weakness of will that would cause us to act imprudently. In that case, Joyce makes an ingenious proposal: moral fictionalism.

Following a fictionalist account of morality, would mean that we would accept moral statements like “stealing is wrong” while not believing they are true. As a result, we would act as if it were true that “stealing is wrong,” but when pushed to give our answer to the theoretical, philosophical question of whether “stealing is wrong,” we would say no. The appeal of moral fictionalism is clear. It is supposed to help us overcome weakness of will and even take away the anxiety of choice, making decisions easier.

Giving up on the possibility of free will in the traditional sense of the term, I could adopt compatibilism, the view that actions can be both determined and free. As long as my decision to order pasta is caused by some part of me — say my higher order desires or a deliberative reasoning process — then my action is free even if that aspect of myself was itself caused and determined by a chain of cause and effect. And my action is free even if I really could not have acted otherwise by ordering the steak.

Unfortunately, not even this will rescue me from involuntary free will fictionalism. Adopting compatibilism, I would still feel as if I have free will in the traditional sense and that I could have chosen steak and that the future is wide open concerning what I will have for dessert. There seems to be a “user illusion” that produces the feeling of free will.

William James famously remarked that his first act of free will would be to believe in free will. Well, I cannot believe in free will, but I can accept it. In fact, if free will fictionalism is involuntary, I have no choice but to accept free will. That makes accepting free will easy and undeniably sincere. Accepting the reality of God or morality, on the other hand, are tougher tasks, and potentially disingenuous.

Read the entire article here.

The Universe and Determinism

General scientific consensus suggests that our universe has no pre-defined destiny. While a number of current theories propose anything from a final Big Crush to an accelerating expansion into cold nothingness the future plan for the universe is not pre-determined. Unfortunately, our increasingly sophisticated scientific tools are still to meager to test and answer these questions definitively. So, theorists currently seem to have the upper hand. And, now yet another theory puts current cosmological thinking on its head by proposing that the future is pre-destined and that it may even reach back into the past to shape the present. Confused? Read on!

[div class=attrib]From FQXi:[end-div]

The universe has a destiny—and this set fate could be reaching backwards in time and combining with influences from the past to shape the present. It’s a mind-bending claim, but some cosmologists now believe that a radical reformulation of quantum mechanics in which the future can affect the past could solve some of the universe’s biggest mysteries, including how life arose. What’s more, the researchers claim that recent lab experiments are dramatically confirming the concepts underpinning this reformulation.

Cosmologist Paul Davies, at Arizona State University in Tempe, is embarking on a project to investigate the future’s reach into the present, with the help of a $70,000 grant from the Foundational Questions Institute. It is a project that has been brewing for more than 30 years, since Davies first heard of attempts by physicist Yakir Aharonov to get to root of some of the paradoxes of quantum mechanics. One of these is the theory’s apparent indeterminism: You cannot predict the outcome of experiments on a quantum particle precisely; perform exactly the same experiment on two identical particles and you will get two different results.

While most physicists faced with this have concluded that reality is fundamentally, deeply random, Aharonov argues that there is order hidden within the uncertainty. But to understand its source requires a leap of imagination that takes us beyond our traditional view of time and causality. In his radical reinterpretation of quantum mechanics, Aharonov argues that two seemingly identical particles behave differently under the same conditions because they are fundamentally different. We just do not appreciate this difference in the present because it can only be revealed by experiments carried out in the future.

“It’s a very, very profound idea,” says Davies. Aharonov’s take on quantum mechanics can explain all the usual results that the conventional interpretations can, but with the added bonus that it also explains away nature’s apparent indeterminism. What’s more, a theory in which the future can influence the past may have huge—and much needed—repercussions for our understanding of the universe, says Davies.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]

Scientific Evidence for Indeterminism

[div class=attrib]From Evolutionary Philosophy:[end-div]

The advantage of being a materialist is that so much of our experience seems to point to a material basis for reality. Idealists usually have to appeal to some inner knowing as the justification of their faith that mind, not matter, is the foundation of reality. Unfortunately the appeal to inner knowing is exactly what a materialist has trouble with in the first place.

Charles Sanders Peirce was a logician and a scientist first and a philosopher second. He thought like a scientists and as he developed his evolutionary philosophy his reasons for believing in it were very logical and scientific. One of the early insights that lead him to his understanding of an evolving universe was his realization that the state of our world or its future was not necessarily predetermined.

One conclusion that materialism tends to lead to is a belief that ‘nothing comes from nothing.’ Everything comes from some form of matter or interaction between material things. Nothing just immerges spontaneously. Everything is part of an ongoing chain of cause and effect. The question, how did the chain of cause and effect start, is one that is generally felt best to be left to the realm of metaphysics and unsuitable for scientific investigation.

And so the image of a materially based universe tends to lead to a deterministic account of reality. You start with something and then that something unravels according to immutable laws. As an image to picture imagine this, a large bucket filled with pink and green tennis balls. Then imagine that there are two smaller buckets that are empty. This arrangement represents the starting point of the universe. The natural laws of this universe dictate that individual tennis balls will be removed from the large bucket and placed in one of the two smaller ones. If the ball that is removed is pink it goes in the left hand bucket and if it is green it goes in the right hand bucket. In this simple model the end state of the universe is going to be that the large bucket will be empty, the left hand bucket will be filled with pink tennis balls and the right hand bucket will be filled with green tennis balls. The outcome of the process is predetermined by the initial conditions and the laws governing the subsequent activity.

A belief in this kind of determinism seems to be constantly reinforced for us through our ongoing experience with the material universe.  Go ahead pick up a rock hold it up and then let it go. It will fall. Every single time it will fall. It is predetermined that a rock that is held up in the air and then dropped will fall. Punch a wall. It will hurt – every single time.  Over and over again our experience of everyday reality seems to reinforce the fact that we live in a universe which is exactly governed by immutable laws.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]