Why is free will versus determinism still being asked?

no seriously, I am woefully uninformed in this area of philosophy. When I was in high school I was vexed by this issue. I thought about it for a bit and I realized that it’s an irrelevant question. If the world, your life and your actions were predetermined, you’d never be able to know. To be able to know you’d need one of three things 1. an omniscient “bird’s eye” view of everything happening 2. the ability to see into the future 3. An instrument, much like a computer, that could take in information and spit out its determinations Since these 3 possibilities are impossible last I checked, what the hell difference does it make?

Am I wrong?

Actually, from what I know about the current state of the debate, most people seem to think that one way or the other that free will or determinism doesn’t matter in terms of responsibility. There are many who claim responsibility is impossible, and many who claim that responsibility is possible under both conditions.

Most of the history of the philosophical debate has not been centered around figureing wheater or not the world is determined (which is argueably the role of the quantum physist), but the consequences of either stat uptaining.

So really the so-called free will vs. determinism debate is mostly just about the nature of responsibility, and is kind of misnamed.

Lost Guy has it down pretty good.

The free will vs. determinism issue is no longer. It is pretty much decided that yes…this world is Determined. The new question is whether or not free will is compatitable with determinism. And can people be held morally responsible in this determined universe.

interesting that you say it’s determined. I have a friend who’s in the PhD program at the University of Maryland, studying Applied mathematics and such and he was telling me you can’t predict the weather more than five days out. After that the bifurcating possibilities “make the computer go bye-bye”. Also, don’t gene interactions play just as large a role in determining phenotype as what particular genes you have? Meaning that there is a large role for chance in the whole system, that in fact chance is what prevents the whole system from grinding to a static halt.

We can’t predict the weather more than 5 days out because we don’t have the information available. Same thing with your genesThere is no such thing as chance…everything follows the laws of physics( Let’s not get into QM, at all levels that matter at all there is determinism.)

Try and imagine a world that wasn’t determined. You could never figure out the cause of anything, you would be dropping bricks and it could fly upward instead of hit the ground.

The world seemingly follows the rules of mathematics, which itself is determined, as there is only one correct answer to every sum or if the sum is more complex, equation. So surely the law of physics that the world works off must also be of the same nature, determined. There is a theory put forward by Laplace called the Laplace’s Daemon, “Laplace imagined a perfect being, Laplace’s Daemon who could measure the position and velocity of every particle in the universe at a single instant of time, and having once done so would be able to predict the future for ever more.” Whether such a thing is possible is hard to know, but looking at the use of maths in physics its easy to believe such a thing is theoretically possible from a mathematic perspective, while its close to impossible to believe the data required could ever be gathered. Meaning it would have to be an omniscient deceive.

Then there is the other school of thought. That of ‘Heisenberg Principle’ “The more precisely the Position is determined, the less precisely the Momentum is Known” Which is basically saying at a quantum level it is impossible to know precisely how something is going to move or react.

So the question becomes who is right? As they both can’t be right, can they?

Could what’s call “chance” just be a way of saying “we don’t understand enough yet”, as that’s how I intrepid it. Currently its chance like rolling dice, but we understand the physic to rolling and in theory could simulate it a compute and 3D model it into an animation. Of course very precise measurements would be required to do this accurately, but again this is not impossible. I believe it is the same for the Genes selected.

All things are random till we learn the pattern. Only if the series never repeats itself can we say it’s random, but does that mean if we knew how it begun we could predict it flow? Is you believe Laplace, then Yes, while if you choose Heisenberg it would mean No.

This is a question of chaos theory. In a non-linear system, which everything in nature is, there is a sensitive dependance on initial conditions. So any error we make in measuring the initial conditions of a dynamical non-linear system, however small, will eventually propagate into a big error over time.

So what does this mean, for instance in the weather question. If we had an immensely powerful computer and placed weather measuring devices on a grid of 1m squared over all the world, even then we could not predict the weather over an extended period of time. This is because, if there is a small fluctuation in the conditions inside the square which is not measured, this small error will propagate and lead to large errors down the track. Hence us not being able to predict the weather more than 5 days out.

Now say we extended this down to the elementary particle level. As we know, it is impossible to determine with certainty both the position and the momentum of such particles at the same time. Thus small errors will propagate into large errors over time, making it impossible to predict the future deterministically.

Now that isn’t saying that things are not determinable, they are for all large scale practicality. We can predict global trends with some accuracy, but not local instability. To determine something exactly over long periods of time is impossible.

Basically Laplace’s Daemon theory has been proven wrong by Chaos Theorists only in the last 20-30 years or so.

Uhh, man, there is sooo much incorrect information in this post, it makes me want to yell.

A) No, there is no evidence to state one way or the other whether or not the world is determined…absolutely.
B) If you don’t understand the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle, don’t use it. I’ll explain later on.
C) Chaos Theory is not indeterministic. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
D) Even if it was impossible to predict the future, this does not mean that the world is indeterministic. It just means that physical limitations of the universe are such that all computing power is capped so that one can not accurately retrieve and process all parameters in the universal system well enough to do such calculations.
E) Whether or not you drop a brick and it falls or flys out towards the solar system has nothing to do with deterministic principles. The question is, if you dropped a brick and it flew out into the solar system, can you blame it on randomness, or can you prove it.
F) Steven Hawkins believes in an indeterministic universe, and he’s one of the leading experts on quantum mechanics. In fact, he believes he’s “proven” that the universe MUST be indeterministic due to the way energy is emitted from and let into black holes. I have my doubts. I think he was too quick to blame indeterminism, and just because one cannot see the causal relationships within a given system does not mean that one cannot predict its nature. Hell, look at all atomic theory done thus far. Sure, it’s incomplete, but with it, we’ve found some amazing properties in this universe due to the fact that the system behaves in a determined way.
G) BillWaltonSexUniversity has no fucking clue what he’s talking about. Pfft, it’s no longer an issue my tight, tones ass.
H) Heisenburg did not crush Laplace’s daemon. Heisenburg’s Uncertainty Principle is still deterministic. Ok, I wanna repeat this, because sooo many FUCKING RETARDS (sorry…makes me upset) like to debate with me on this and I cannot stand it because Heisenburg himself said it was deterministic…sooo here we go…


K, glad I got that out of my system.

Particles are where they are and they are what they are. We cannot gather all information about a particle because of the current supposed physical limitations of the universe. Why? I’ve said this before, and I’ll have to use this example again…

Picture a sinusoidal wave pattern. You do not have the original equation for the sinusoid Now, pick a point on that sinusoid. One, single, solitary point. Now, what is the amplitude of that wave? Well, there’s no way of really detemining that is there? So, you pick another point. Now can you tell what the frequency of that waveform is? Maaaybe. You can “guess” and make a “best fit”… but you do not know for certain. If both the points are on a rising and falling edge, then you’ve done nothing to determine the amplitude of the waveform so you can determine the exact frequency. If one point is on a rising edge and the other is on the falling edge, then you can make a “guess” as to which is the best fit sinusoid. However, given two…three…4000, 5,000,000 points on any given sinusoid, I can construct two sinusoids that also will share every single point in those sets but be COMPLETELY different waveforms. In fact, I cannot only just construct two, but I can construct an infinite number of waveforms that will fit said sinusoid. What does this mean? Well, if you consider the amplitude to be the speed of the waveform, and the points to be the position, you’ll see that you can never figure out the speed (frequency…which requires the amplitude to determine) based on the positions.

Conversly, lets say I give you the speed (frequency), and then I ask you to make me a sinusoid that has said frequency. Well, there clearly are an infinite number of sinusoids that share the same frequency, but modulate on max’s and min’s (amplitudes). So if you are looking at the entire structure and determining the frequency, you’ve lost sight of the exact points…

The more you know about one, the less you know about the other…

HOWEVER, this does not mean that this sinusoid doesn’t follow a pattern. Every particle in the universe found thus far has A) A speed and B) a position. These properties are independent on our measurement abilities, and as such, does not effect “causality”.

Recall, determinism isn’t about trying to predict the future. Determinism is trying to figure out if the order that we see everywhere is consistent throughout the universe. Determinism is saying that me, sitting here, typing this out, is just a fluke of Mathematics. Heh, not even a fluke… just a result.

Free will, however, presupposes that the universe creates itself moment to moment. This means that me sitting here, typing this out, is a result of the universe … or more specifically… myself choosing to do so in order to manipulate future events.

Thus far, I have seen no reason to stray from my hard deterministic beleifs. The argument, however, is far from dead, and I could be far from right.

Yeah, I didn’t mean to imply in any way that the question of wheather things were determined was in any way assured.

Its just that with two of the four positions in this area of philosophy:
Compatibleism (Soft Determinism)
and Skepticism about Responsibility

It doesn’t matter. And these are quite popular. The indeterminist, and the hard determinist are still waiting for that phone call from the physics community to tell them if the world is determined. Although, lets not forget the other two forms of determinism.

God (or something) knows absolutely what is going to happen, therefore it all must be determined.

All statements are either true all false. Ergo, all staments about the future are either true or false. Ergo, the future is determined.

Damn you!!! You stole my thunder! I was going to get around to saying this, but you beat me to it!

Remember that mathematics only mirror and are a result of nature. We can do nothing because of mathematics aside from application, such as technology and whatnot. Nature is the way it is, deterministic (I believe) to the point where we’ve extracted a symbolic replica of how this nature acts. But the replica itself, causes nothing.

On responsibility, there’s no reason to think a deterministic world should change the way you act in the world. The determinism acts on who you really are, not on some giant, inanimate chunk of your body and your brain takes a back seat. You cannot get depressed thinking “No Free Will” because what should your will be free from - physical limitations? Is my will not free if I cannot fly off my roof? It’s much more dynamic to know that your entire biological makeup, everything about you, is at play in every second of your life, and while the result will be what is natural (ie., determined) we never know what that result will be, and thus all your goals, or all those reasons you give yourself to keep fighting, are still there.

Determinism doesn’t mean you should lay on the couch all day.

Furthermore, it only heightens responsibility because an act done in free will says there’s a chance that, theoretically, were another situation exactly the same arise, the individual could choose the other path. Acts done in the deterministic world always be the same, because they’re the deeper results of a the “real” person. A one-time murderer, for example, can show less responsibility when he chose the action than when his natural character willed it be done.

Rant on! Rafa, I realize that Chaos doesn’t mean do what you want mathematically; that it points to a higher order. But just because something has order doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s determined. Or am I wrong?

Regarding free will, it seems to me, just through logic - not through any particular reading, that we live somewhere between pure predictible clockwork determinism and utter things-fall-up chaos. Just because there are rules doesn’t mean that there’s no disruption. Basically, I think the universe is like hard bop - one rigorous as hell chord structure guiding a very ornate and complicated improvisation.

Rajafar wrote

First of its Stephen Hawking. If you knew so much about him, you would probably be able to spell his name right. But it appears evident from your post that you do not.

In Hawking’s own words…

But as Hawking admits, we are millions of light years away from a black hole of any size. He supposses there may be tiny virtual black holes in space that so hundred billion billion times smaller than the nucleus of an atom, the rate at which information would be lost would be very low that hell it doesn’t even really matter, unless we were at the beginning of the universe(which we are not) or in high particle collisions.

So in all instances that matter to us (as in the case of free will. WHICH THIS POST IS ABOUT. Determinism is true)

In the words of Nobel Laureate Murray Gell-Mann

Except that Murray Gell-Mann was A founder of the Santa Fe Institute and is a strong participant in complex adaptive systems research, research that tends to show that the world can’t be predetermined mathematically, deep structure or no. I don’t know of Dr Gell-Mann would agree with you that the world Is determined.

What the hell do you mean by “determined” anyway, bill?

It is far too soon to claim either way. You cannot claim that the universe is indeterminate simply because the only way that it could be proven deterministic is by knowing every law of the universe. That is the ONLY way. Until we do know every law, missing that one single law will seem to show the universe to be indeterministic.

However, i think it is more likley to be deterministic because for things to be indeterminate they have to happen for NO reason, none at all. The moment something happens for a reason it is by definition determined. So you people claiming that the world is indeterministic are pretty much saying that ANYTHING can happen. If things can happen for NO reason at all, why arnt i seeing blobs of mol-ek-ular goo appearing at random before my eyes. Im sure you would think that such a thing is rediculous and that perhaps these events that happen for no reason only happen on a smaller subatomic scale, but if THAT is the case there is going to have to be a REASON for it =)

Determinism is the thesis that “there is at any instance exactly one possible future.” And…even if Hawking is right, determinism still holds to be true on earth in accordance with human actions.

but more relevant to the discussion when concerning free will is what does it mean to have free will?

The classical definition of free will is “the ability to have chosen otherwise”…This is complicated and I will get into it if you want…I might have to re-open Dennett’s “freedom Evolves”.

Hermes wrote:

Then you’ve solved it. If for you it’s an irrelevant question then for you it’s an irrelevant question. It’s only worthwhile pondering those philosophical questions that personally “get across your tits”. There are a vast number of tough philosophical nuts to crack and no single lifetime is long enough to crack more than a handful of them. So, my advice is to worry about those questions that really worry you; leave the other questions for those folks that really worry about them.

In philosophy, a problem is a problem only if you think it’s a problem. If ever a philosophical question suddenly seems trivial, then pat yourself on the back because you’ve solved it; at least for the moment. Here’s a favorite quote by Nelson Goodman:

“…the penalty of [philosophical] failure is confusion while the reward of success is banality. An answer, once found, is dull; and the only remaining interest lies in further effort to render equally dull what is still obscure enough to be interesting.” – The Structure of Appearance

An engineer solves a problem by finding a solution that falls within his design constraints; a philosopher solves his problem by making the problem itself vanish.

“The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem.” – Wittgenstein, Tractatus 6.521

The unstated aim of a philosopher is to demolish philosophy - not that I think that’s going to happen anytime soon. As for the problem of free will:

“There is a disputation [that will continue] till mankind is raised from the dead, between the Necessitarians and the partisans of Free Will.” – Jalalu’ ddin Rumi, 12th century Persian poet

Aside from the “raised from the dead” bit, the above poet has it about right. This question will very likely haunt mankind as long as mankind exists. But this isn’t to say that every person is haunted by it. In fact, I doubt the question has ever darkened the brow of quite a few persons. Others, such as Hermes, seem to have briefly considered it before declaring it “irrelevant.” As for me, it bothers me. I think it’s a problem. And it will continue to be a problem until or unless I can make it go away. If there’s a big windup-spring in my back that’s unwinding, then I want to know about it. I want to know if I’m giving the orders or if I’m just floating on a breeze.

If the universe is thoughly causal then my every thought is a response to something else, and that something else is a reaction to something else, … . And yet the first-person experience of the myself as an unmoved mover is enormously compelling.

“All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience is for it.” – Samuel Johnson, Boswell’s Life of Johnson

The most personally satisfying answer that I’ve produced to-date says that if the world really is causal then my free will must be an illusion. But the illusion itself isn’t an illusion. In other words, the illusion itself is real. The illusion is so deep that it has taken on a life of its own. Free will, not unlike love or consciousness itself, is a very real and potentially meaningful illusion. This belief has a satisfying feel to it, and yet I still have quite a bit of work to do before I expect the problem might begin to vanish.


Mostly agreed. It’s basically a damned antimony ain’t it, solved through faith

Yes, because, as we all know, spelling counts in the world of physics.

You’re a dick, Bill. You’ve always been a dick, you always will be a dick.

cough I bolded Hawking’s quote to the important part. (By the way, I, too, have read “Does God Play Dice” by Hawking. I have linked it quite a few times on this board. Here, son, let me give you the link … goes to his bookmarks, goes to physics, goes to Hawkings, gets the link, copies and pastes it for the kid)


You said, “The free will vs. determinism issue is no longer.” Clearly… CLEARLY you were talking out of your puckered ass when you said that, then, correct? CLEARLY there are variables that we, as humans, have not taken into account yet as there are functions of reality which are outside of our scope of perception all together.

The free will vs. determinism issue IS, and probably forever will be, one of great controversy. And I say this as a determinist. Clearly, you’re a bit arrogant if you want to claim you have the undeniable answer to this question. Thank you for proving my point, asshole. :laughing: :unamused: :laughing: :evilfun:

So basically, you’re saying that I’m right? Right? You’re saying that everything I’ve said thus far is correct, right? You haven’t countered anything I’ve said. What I said holds true with what you just posted, right?


What’s your point?

Hey, buddy, guess what, that’s not true. You cannot support determinism and separate the quantum world from the world you and I percieve. They are one and that same. You are made of discrete wave quantities just like those described in Quantum Mechanics…

Besides, Gell-Mann, the founder of quarks, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1969 (yeah, 19-fucking-69… before GeV particle accelerators, before the advent of semiconductors, before the notion of proton decay, before Steven Hawkings found that black holes would have to operate as thermodynamic objects, hell, before the discovery of black holes…), has now gone to work on Chaos theory, which, I’ll have you know, has be revolutionized by the work of Steven Hawking.

So, you have the older protege` of a brilliant man contradicting the modern founder of the very science he’s working on. Great, I’m glad you take Gell-Mann’s side. I would like to too, but this, itself, shows further that you are talking out of your ass…

Pfft, the arrogance.

Oh, here’s one from your precious article:

Where do such collisions occur? Well, the sun for one. I used to work in a laboratory that made such collisons. If “random” variables are introduced into our environment, our futures are suddenly randomized. End of story.

Hence, why determinism is not a closed book. Maybe you should open a book so you’d know that.

Myranthor wrote:

Right, I don’t believe the “brain sits back watching” either, but I thought that was the general notion I was trying to disprove. You’re saying the stimulus which created the person’s character is to blame, while distancing the persons self from these “biologically-caused” actions. What I’m saying, is that the biology of each person is as much “them” as anything else. You cannot separate yourself from your actions, whether it was some abstract “you” who chose them, or the definite “you” who biologically responded to your environment.

You say the choices are programmed within you, and if that is true, then the old saying of: “You are what you eat” shall apply. The environment and attitudes recorded into your brain throughout your lifetime are what creates your life, and thus creates who you are. And it is this person, not some abstract ideal of who you are, that must be made responsible.