Determinism

 
EN
 
Avatar
 
 
EN
Total Posts:  21597
Joined  11-03-2007
 
 
 
11 November 2007 06:07
 

This may deal somewhat with Keytard’s “Fate” thread a few months ago, but I have a specific inquiry about determinism. Consider the development of the cosmos from the Big Bang until the emergence of conscious thought capable of choosing between two possible alternatives based upon some form of logic or reasoning capability. Isn’t it true that EVERYTHING that happened during that period was determined by the conditions that existed at the Big Bang? Even if the emergence of sapient consciousness allowed some creatures to escape the dictates of determinism, wouldn’t it be true that even natural selection and “random” genetic mutations would have been determined at the beginning, such that it would have been possible, given enough intelligence and/or computing power, to have plotted the exact course of the development of the cosmos from the Big Bang forward? Someone with more philosophical and scientific sophistication than myself please tell me why this would not have been the case.

 
burt
 
Avatar
 
 
burt
Total Posts:  15848
Joined  17-12-2006
 
 
 
11 November 2007 16:08
 
Bruce Burleson - 11 November 2007 11:07 AM

This may deal somewhat with Keytard’s “Fate” thread a few months ago, but I have a specific inquiry about determinism. Consider the development of the cosmos from the Big Bang until the emergence of conscious thought capable of choosing between two possible alternatives based upon some form of logic or reasoning capability. Isn’t it true that EVERYTHING that happened during that period was determined by the conditions that existed at the Big Bang? Even if the emergence of sapient consciousness allowed some creatures to escape the dictates of determinism, wouldn’t it be true that even natural selection and “random” genetic mutations would have been determined at the beginning, such that it would have been possible, given enough intelligence and/or computing power, to have plotted the exact course of the development of the cosmos from the Big Bang forward? Someone with more philosophical and scientific sophistication than myself please tell me why this would not have been the case.

No, it would not be deterministic.  Basically this has to do with quantum mechanics (and quantum vacuum fluctuations) which mean that all that is possible is predicting probabilities for consistent histories (Murray Gell-Mann’s book The Quark and the Jaguar goes into this in an easily comprehensible way.)

 
mahahaha
 
Avatar
 
 
mahahaha
Total Posts:  375
Joined  12-10-2006
 
 
 
11 November 2007 16:26
 
burt - 11 November 2007 09:08 PM

No, it would not be deterministic.  Basically this has to do with quantum mechanics (and quantum vacuum fluctuations) which mean that all that is possible is predicting probabilities for consistent histories

And from a philosophical point of view, even if you start with a premise, for the sake of argument, that from an Absolute frame of reference, past, present and future exist in a single reality and “everthing is written,”  you can never know that from your mere human frame of reference.  From your human frame of reference, the future has not yet occured and can never be predicted with certainty. 

So you have no choice but to act as though you have free will, even if you “really” don’t, because while you’re on this planet, you can never know that you don’t.

 
 
mcalpine
 
Avatar
 
 
mcalpine
Total Posts:  791
Joined  28-08-2007
 
 
 
11 November 2007 19:31
 

”...wouldn’t it be true that even natural selection and “random” genetic mutations would have been determined at the beginning…”

Yes. Watch the predictive power of computer simulation in the video. Notice the outcome is the same no matter how the input variables are changed.

http://www.samharris.org/forum/viewthread/8785/

 
EN
 
Avatar
 
 
EN
Total Posts:  21597
Joined  11-03-2007
 
 
 
12 November 2007 17:56
 

Burt and Mahahaha seem to argue against determinism, and McAlpine seems to argue that it is a valid consideration. Burt, if quantum theory does prevent any absolute prediction of the future, what effect, if any, does that have on cause and effect?  If you can’t predict what an event will cause, can you legitimately say that it “caused” an effect?  That’s my last question on this issue. Thanks for your reply.

 
BrownieMan
 
Avatar
 
 
BrownieMan
Total Posts:  10
Joined  26-06-2007
 
 
 
30 November 2007 06:25
 

Bruce you seem to be on my exact level of thinking. I came across an actual theory proposed which just seems completely obvious. It’s called “The hidden-variable theory”. Basically what it says is that the reason systems, including our brains, are so complex and mysterious is because there are certain variables that we don’t know about. It’s a very simple and very important thing to take into consideration when arguing determinism, fate, causality, etc.

 
burt
 
Avatar
 
 
burt
Total Posts:  15848
Joined  17-12-2006
 
 
 
30 November 2007 08:27
 
BrownieMan - 30 November 2007 11:25 AM

Bruce you seem to be on my exact level of thinking. I came across an actual theory proposed which just seems completely obvious. It’s called “The hidden-variable theory”. Basically what it says is that the reason systems, including our brains, are so complex and mysterious is because there are certain variables that we don’t know about. It’s a very simple and very important thing to take into consideration when arguing determinism, fate, causality, etc.

The problem is that hidden variable theories in quantum mechanics still can’t give you determinism.  Check the Aspect experiments on locality and the Bell inequalities.

 
Traces Elk
 
Avatar
 
 
Traces Elk
Total Posts:  5639
Joined  27-09-2006
 
 
 
30 November 2007 11:12
 
burt - 30 November 2007 01:27 PM

The problem is that hidden variable theories in quantum mechanics still can’t give you determinism.  Check the Aspect experiments on locality and the Bell inequalities.

You could even leave that aside, burt. Classical dynamical chaos, while deterministic, implies that you can’t get the final answer except by completing the entire calculation. The only complete explanation of the universe is the universe itself. Macroscopic unpredictability (e.g., in the weather) may be adequately understood simply by concepts like sensitive dependence on initial conditions, and related ideas. No need to mystify it with Bell’s theorem and other stuff like that unless you are trying to flim-flam the rubes. I know you’ve published stuff on complexity. Why leave it out of your discourse here? Think the locals can’t fathom it?

With you, one never knows where Bell’s theorem leaves off and Art Bell begins.

 
 
burt
 
Avatar
 
 
burt
Total Posts:  15848
Joined  17-12-2006
 
 
 
30 November 2007 16:22
 
Salt Creek - 30 November 2007 04:12 PM
burt - 30 November 2007 01:27 PM

The problem is that hidden variable theories in quantum mechanics still can’t give you determinism.  Check the Aspect experiments on locality and the Bell inequalities.

You could even leave that aside, burt. Classical dynamical chaos, while deterministic, implies that you can’t get the final answer except by completing the entire calculation. The only complete explanation of the universe is the universe itself. Macroscopic unpredictability (e.g., in the weather) may be adequately understood simply by concepts like sensitive dependence on initial conditions, and related ideas. No need to mystify it with Bell’s theorem and other stuff like that unless you are trying to flim-flam the rubes. I know you’ve published stuff on complexity. Why leave it out of your discourse here? Think the locals can’t fathom it?

I think there is a distinction between the idea that the universe is deterministic, we just can’t ever predict it exactly, and the idea that it is intrinsically stochastic.  Nuff said?

 
mesomorph
 
Avatar
 
 
mesomorph
Total Posts:  626
Joined  15-06-2006
 
 
 
10 January 2008 14:34
 

An interesting question for me is the dichotomy between choice and chance. According to the physical understanding of the universe from the Big Bang, everything sort of just happened, which means it must have been by chance. Random, like genetic mutation. Fine by me. But doesn’t there have to be some kind of physical law that determines how chance or randomness operates? If there isn’t, that means that chance or randomness operate outside the laws of physics, and that’s not possible. Is it?

If it’s not possible, and if chance is not random, that’s to say that it does not operate outside a lawful universe, then it must be subject to law. So where did these laws come from? If I’m right, they couldn’t have arisen purely by chance, because that would mean they were operating outside the universe.

We see our world as influenced by two things: choice and chance. We make choices; things happen to us by chance, or by the choices of others, who are in their turn affected by chance or the choices of others. Etc. etc. Sometimes bad shit happens, sometimes the gods love us.

But it seems to me that in a universe whose origin is chance nothing can be a choice. Randomness begets randomness in a random way, all the way down. So our sense of ourselves as having choice is no more than a random illusion. How does that feel? Not good. We are randomly programmed to believe in choice. Why? We want to see order. We demand order. We are extremely unhappy without order.

But order is random. It happened by accident. It’s not order at all. Oo-er. Sounds like one of Xeno’s paradoxes.

But think for a minute. What if choice does really exist? What if we really can choose? We believe we can. Maybe we can. If choice is real, doesn’t that mean that randomness is unreal?
Think back to the beginning of the universe. A random event, right? So that means that if everything is random, we have no choice. But if the beginning of the universe was a choice, that means there is no randomness and everything is a choice. Choice begets choice, all the way down.

It must be one or the other, it seems to me. Which do you prefer?

 
 
mesomorph
 
Avatar
 
 
mesomorph
Total Posts:  626
Joined  15-06-2006
 
 
 
10 January 2008 14:46
 

Of course, your preference is either a choice or a random event.

 
 
Traces Elk
 
Avatar
 
 
Traces Elk
Total Posts:  5639
Joined  27-09-2006
 
 
 
10 January 2008 15:34
 
mesomorph - 10 January 2008 07:34 PM

According to the physical understanding of the universe from the Big Bang, everything sort of just happened, which means it must have been by chance.

An oversimplification. Of course you can say “everything just happened”, especially if you have no interest in (or talent for) saying anything more thoughtful.

mesomorph - 10 January 2008 07:34 PM

But doesn’t there have to be some kind of physical law that determines how chance or randomness operates?

Yes. These are known as the “laws of probability”.

mesomorph - 10 January 2008 07:34 PM

If it’s not possible, and if chance is not random, that’s to say that it does not operate outside a lawful universe, then it must be subject to law.

If you wanted to do something besides equivocate, now would be a good time to do it. The notion that chance is not random is a contradiction in terms.

mesomorph - 10 January 2008 07:34 PM

We see our world as influenced by two things: choice and chance. We make choices; things happen to us by chance, or by the choices of others, who are in their turn affected by chance or the choices of others. Etc. etc. Sometimes bad shit happens, sometimes the gods love us.

Sometimes this happens; sometimes that happens. That’s not saying much.

mesomorph - 10 January 2008 07:34 PM

So our sense of ourselves as having choice is no more than a random illusion. How does that feel? Not good. We are randomly programmed to believe in choice. Why? We want to see order. We demand order. We are extremely unhappy without order.

You can’t always get what you want. We are not randomly programmed, but rather are programmed by our culture to believe in choice. Effectively, no one can predict what you will be doing a week from the present moment.

mesomorph - 10 January 2008 07:34 PM

It must be one or the other, it seems to me. Which do you prefer?

That’s not the same thing as saying that it’s 50-50. Not anywhere close. If you don’t want to know anything about anything, and insist that you never will, why not simply say that is what you want?

[ Edited: 10 January 2008 15:37 by Traces Elk]
 
 
mesomorph
 
Avatar
 
 
mesomorph
Total Posts:  626
Joined  15-06-2006
 
 
 
11 January 2008 14:55
 

Thank you Salt Creek for your polite, temperate way of expressing opinion, as ever.

If saying the big bang ‘just happened’ is an oversimplification, what’s the detailed explanation?

The laws of probability are not the laws of randomness, they’re the laws of probability. If something is probable, then it’s not random.

‘the notion that chance is not random is a contradiction in terms’ - yes, that is precisely my point. If there is a law that determines how chance operates, then it can’t be purely random.

When I said there are choices and there are chance events, that is not at all the same thing as saying ‘sometimes this happens, sometimes that happens’ as you put it.

‘We are not randomly programmed, but rather are programmed by our culture’ -  well yes, and how did our culture get there? By chance or by choice?

‘That’s not the same thing as saying that it’s 50-50’ - where did that come from? Not from my post.

Try reading my posts properly before rushing in for the attempted demolition job.

 
 
Traces Elk
 
Avatar
 
 
Traces Elk
Total Posts:  5639
Joined  27-09-2006
 
 
 
11 January 2008 15:28
 
mesomorph - 11 January 2008 07:55 PM

If saying the big bang ‘just happened’ is an oversimplification, what’s the detailed explanation?

Saying “the Big Bang just happened” adds nothing to anyone’s knowledge about anything. Do you think the world owes you a “detailed explanation” for any question you care to ask? No, I don’t think you do.

mesomorph - 11 January 2008 07:55 PM

If there is a law that determines how chance operates, then it can’t be purely random.

Don’t play trivial language games. It’s useful to know, for example, that the probabilities all add up to unity. If your experience tells you that the odds of rolling a six are greater than one in six, you’re right, it is a loaded die, and the results of rolling it are not random. If the probability is one in six, then the throw is random.

mesomorph - 11 January 2008 07:55 PM

‘We are not randomly programmed, but rather are programmed by our culture’ -  well yes, and how did our culture get there? By chance or by choice?

I do not think it is a matter of deciding whether it is one or the other, but rather of trying to discern which parts of it are the result of rational choices and which parts are the result of, say, contingencies.

I don’t believe we were trying to demonstrate that everything that happens in the universe is random, or that nothing that happens is random. Part of the process of investigation is describing how a process varies from randomness. The results of natural selection in evolution are unpredictable a priori, but they are not random, and are entirely contingent on the events of the past. Investigate deterministic chaos.

mesomorph - 11 January 2008 07:55 PM

Try reading my posts properly before rushing in for the attempted demolition job.

As soon as you begin posting something besides word games, I will read your posts more carefully. Here’s a review and demolition of one of your postings:

mesomorph - 10 January 2008 07:34 PM

According to the physical understanding of the universe from the Big Bang, everything sort of just happened, which means it must have been by chance.

Let’s leave aside the fact that saying “everything just happened” and concluding from this that “it must have been by chance” is not very illuminating. Our job is to figure out which parts of it did not happen “by chance”, meaning that we can say something about it other than “it just happened”. Really. You even qualify this by saying “it sort of just happened”, as if “just happened” wasn’t already quite vague enough for Beavis and Butthead.

On the other hand, you can say that universal gravitation plus small inhomogeneities in mass distribution cause matter to accumulate in local regions of space. This is more illuminating than saying “the solar system just happened”. Saying that something “just happened” is what you do when you don’t really feel like learning anything specific about it.

[ Edited: 11 January 2008 15:31 by Traces Elk]
 
 
mesomorph
 
Avatar
 
 
mesomorph
Total Posts:  626
Joined  15-06-2006
 
 
 
12 January 2008 13:05
 
Salt Creek - 11 January 2008 08:28 PM

Saying “the Big Bang just happened” adds nothing to anyone’s knowledge about anything. Do you think the world owes you a “detailed explanation” for any question you care to ask? No, I don’t think you do.

I was not, and am not, aiming to add anything to anyone’s knowledge. I started off by offering a train of thought which I found intriguing. You could have corrected me if I was wrong, by way of a normal interchange. That would have been fine with me, But did you do that? No, you came back with gratuitous rudeness. On what grounds? Have I ever attacked you? So why are you attacking me? My strapline says ‘Friendship is better than membership’ but that doesn’t mean I’ll be all meekness and appeasement. It doesn’t say ‘I want to be friends with everyone if that’s OK.’

Salt Creek, you are a pompous bully. You may not be able to predict what you’ll be doing next week, but I can. You’ll be sitting in front of a computer thinking how to post offensive remarks on discussion boards. You have no friends and you never will have, only people who put up with you.

You really think that unless someone comes up with some previously undiscovered fact they have nothing worth saying? I don’t think the world owes me a detailed explanation, but if you tell me I am oversimplifying, the onus is on you to put me straight. So far you have avoided doing that. You say ‘our job is to figure out which parts of (the Big Bang) did not happen by chance’. Go ahead, I’m all ears.  But until you have done that you can’t accuse me of oversimplifying, because you yourself have no explanation to give me.

Salt Creek - 11 January 2008 08:28 PM

Don’t play trivial language games.

I said: if there is a law that governs chance, then it can’t be purely random. Having a law that governs you means there are certain things you can do and certain things you can’t do. Your actions may be unpredictable within the sphere of permitted actions, but that’s not the same thing as saying they are purely random. There are limitations. Where did these limitations come from? From an infinite number of possible limitations selected at random. How did the selecting process happen? Asking these questions is not playing language games. Language games are what you get in Finnegan’s Wake.

Salt Creek - 11 January 2008 08:28 PM

If your experience tells you that the odds of rolling a six are greater than one in six, you’re right, it is a loaded die, and the results of rolling it are not random. If the probability is one in six, then the throw is random.

If you could calculate exactly the motion of the throwing hand, the impact of the die on the surface and the way a cube of a certain size and weight responds under these conditions, you could predict the result exactly. So it wouldn’t be random, it would be predictable. Now if you had an infinite number of surfaces, then the result would be completely random. But then a die with an infinite number of surfaces wouldn’t be a die, it’d be a sphere.

Salt Creek - 11 January 2008 08:28 PM

The results of natural selection in evolution are unpredictable a priori, but they are not random, and are entirely contingent on the events of the past. Investigate deterministic chaos.

Opening my copy of Encylopaedia Britannica almost at random, I find:

Newly arisen mutations are more likely to be harmful than beneficial to their carriers, because mutations are random events with respect to adaptation—that is, their occurrence is independent of any possible consequences.

Encyclopaedia Britannica (Evolution: Gene Mutations)

‘Sort of just happened’ - this is known in Britain as irony, but I forgot you Americans don’t do irony very well. My apologies. I will try to be more bombastic in future.