A Philosopher and Blogger Debate Determinism Once More!
Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and His Emissary, and The Matter With Things, is an expert on brain lateralization – the division between the right and left hemispheres. He is a philosopher, physician, and psychiatrist with plenty of clinical experience of things that can go wrong with the brain. He observes that well-functioning brains… The post A Philosopher and Blogger Debate Determinism Once More! appeared first on VoegelinView.




Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and His Emissary, and The Matter With Things, is an expert on brain lateralization – the division between the right and left hemispheres. He is a philosopher, physician, and psychiatrist with plenty of clinical experience of things that can go wrong with the brain. He observes that well-functioning brains are dominated by the right hemisphere (RH), responsible for the direct experience of reality. The left hemisphere (LH) produces theories, speech, generalizations, concepts, representations, and crude maps to help navigate the world. They will always be simplifications for pragmatic purposes since simply reproducing reality in all its complexity would not be helpful. The RH produces broad awareness of context and surroundings, while LH narrows consciousness down to foreground objects out of a wider background, and to permit grasping, usually with the right hand, governed as it is by the LH.
The RH is aware of the LH, but the LH is not aware of the RH. When patients have RH strokes and must rely on the LH alone, depending on the extent and location of the damage, they are unable to tell that anything bad has happened. There is no sense of absence. When people have LH strokes, leaving their RH perfectly functional, they know that something is wrong and strive to regain their lost abilities. Analysis of brain lateralization is made possible by documenting what happens with patients who have had strokes, tumors, parts of the brain surgically removed, and other things damaging specific parts of the brain. There are also experimental methods for temporarily disabling either hemisphere; experiments where they ask the same person first with one side of his brain offline, then the other, the same questions, which are particularly interesting. The results are quite dissimilar depending on which side of the brain is involved in answering. Pathologies like schizophrenia or autism make the LH overly dominant with all sorts of negative results. Modern culture and science often mimic these pathologies in the otherwise healthy-brained.
This record of an exchange with the blogger Robot Philosopher can be read as the RH unsuccessfully trying to converse with the LH, with Robot Philosopher (RP) representing the LH viewpoint and with me as the RH and LH combined. As stated, the LH does not know the RH exists. The normally silent RH knows both sides of the story but has the difficulty of trying to articulate what cannot be adequately put into words since language is crude and general, using broad categories and types, while experience is concrete, specific, and nonverbal in nature. Words, for example, “tree,” have to be sloppy and imprecise in order to refer to and encompass a very broad category of separate entities with quite dissimilar and varying characteristics. Also, eating pineapple is one thing, describing its taste is another. If someone has not eaten pineapple he will not be much the wiser for reading a linguistic account of it. The taste is a matter of direct experience and familiarity. It is perfectly real but it is not a theory and cannot be adequately described. At most, it can be pointed at. “You know: the taste of pineapple.” This fact encourages RP to use the tactic of attempted intimidation via ridicule – most of which I have removed from his contributions since they are extraneous to his argument. Theories seem “smart,” well-defined, and intellectual. Ordinary experience, however, is none of those things, and his hard to articulate. Being in love, for instance, is part of ordinary experience. Someone cannot grasp the human condition very well at all if he has no experience of it and yet it can only be crudely described, other than by poetry. And responding to an easy-to-understand philosophical theory like determinism with poetry would be enough to make the LH dominated person’s eyes roll. An analytic pseudo-philosopher might say, “Unless you can give me the necessary and sufficient conditions for “being in love” shut up. You have no right to speak. You are being quite unintellectual.” The response to such attempts to intimidate and belittle should be to hold one’s ground and insist on the validity of common experience and common sense. This requires a kind of cultivated and assumed apparent naivete. To determine the truth of a theory like determinism, the theory must be placed in context and examined for all its implications in RH fashion. Likewise, to understand love better, one must look at the role it plays in human life and human life has aspects open to the LH and to the RH. It is not enough for a theory to be valid, it has to be sound too. (Valid and true.) And truth is determined by reference to reality, not to disembodied theories.
Towards the end of the discussion, RP asks me to use formal logical terminology to prove that I am not talking nonsense. He frequently claims to be nonplussed about exactly what my larger point is and asserts that he cannot understand how what I am writing is any kind of response to his claims.
To comply with this request, the structure of my argument roughly follows what is known as modus tollens. If p then q, not q, therefore not p. If you take a shower then you will get wet. You are not wet. Therefore, you did not take a shower.
p → q
~ q
~ p
In this case, the argument would be: If determinism is true (D), then human beings would be indistinguishable from any other sequence of events in the universe with no agency: in effect, mindless line-following robots inexorably following their programming (R). Since we are not mindless line-following robots inexorably following our programming (~ R), determinism is not true (~ D).
D → R
~ R
~ D
This is not a strawman argument. RP literally describes human beings as comparable to line-following robots following their programming. Such a characterization calls out for a diagnosis, as much as anything. Most probably, it is a form of LH ideational capture. The theory of determinism says it must be so, RH experience of direct reality be damned. RH intuition is not “scientific” and not theory-driven and RP often seems outraged that I dare bring up such considerations. The situation could be compared with a “women’s studies” professor producing various theories about what it is to be a man and what it is to be woman and the ways men and women do and do not behave, and do and not desire, and so on. If your actual experience of men and women, and of yourself as either a man or a woman, is completely at odds with this theory, then you can double-down on the theory and say, “to hell with experience.” You can claim that male and female preferences and tendencies have already been completely socially and culturally shaped and thus the reality of male and female choices, for instance, have been corrupted by social conditioning. In other words, no experience of actual men and women will be allowed to challenge theoretical and ideologically-driven descriptions of men and women. The data of concrete experience must not be allowed to contaminate the theory. This becomes a self-refuting argument for reflexive reasons because, according to her own philosophy, what the women’s studies professor is saying will itself be the product solely of social and cultural conditioning. Like many false ideologies, she wishes to be an exception to her own rule. Rules for thee but not for me. With regard to the idea that cultural conditioning has already contaminated and determined the differing choices of boys and girls, it is highly pertinent that little female chimpanzees will tend to grab dolls to play with while the males choose trucks, just like humans, and that chimpanzees are free from human-style “social conditioning.” They have no words of any kind. Also, it is pertinent that little girls given testosterone will tend to switch their preference from dolls to trucks, pointing at the biological contribution to dimorphism.
RP’s argument: If determinism is true, then we are effectively robots.[1] D → R. The resulting disagreement is over the claim that “we are effectively robots,” with me arguing ~ R. (Not Q) RP’s tendency is to argue that since determinism is true, then Q. He seems to want me to provide a theoretical proof of ~ R. Instead, I have experiential evidence in which we all share. RP reduces human beings to their LH features. This includes logic, reason, analysis, but leaves out RH creativity, imagination, intuition, humor, metaphor, music, and emotion, among other things. Namely, all the things that make us distinctively human as opposed to robotic and computer-like. Trying to function in the world without those capacities leaves one severely crippled and, in fact, paranoid, since all the real people seem to have been replaced by simulacra. People with RH strokes or autism are reduced to trying to create rules for human behavior and emotional expressions, none of which function at all well. Adopting RP’s view of human beings will make us will contribute to never-ending misunderstandings and make us even less predictable than we already are.
For his purposes, the more RP can convince us that we are robots, then the more plausible determinism can seem. He can cheat by putting his thumb on the scale and give a truly pathetic account of human existence. When I object to this characterization as not deserving of personal pronouns, or being a “self,” or any number of things that we would happily attribute to actual human beings, he accuses me of playing with words; what he calls “subjective semantics.” The more realistic and satisfactory his description of human beings becomes the less it conforms to his thesis of determinism. When, for instance, he introduces the topics of “experience” and “preferences” as qualities of his horrible, mindless, non-agential automatons, then he is having his cake and eating it too. Where on earth did those mind-dependent things come from? Line-following robots do not have experiences or preferences. This contradiction, I imagine, is most annoying to him since Sam Harris gets away with such rhetorical moves in his book on free will, so why should RP get called out uniquely for appealing to these things? At one point he commented that he had never heard of anyone objecting to attributing preferences to automatons before.
RP delights in a reductionistic account of human beings and then takes umbrage when I argue, repeatedly and vehemently, that this account is inadequate. RP is effectively describing an inanimate object, not a living breathing person. At various points, he argues that being a dinky little robot following its programs is not at all bad or nihilistic and wonders why I am objecting to this description and why I think it would be so terrible. I simply will not accept this characterization of what it is to be a human being as remotely adequate or as conforming to reality. RP seems to think it enough that since his theory implies such a view, then I must accept it. If I cannot disprove his theory directly (~ D) then I should accept it. But, neither the determinist nor the free will exponent can prove his theory directly. That is why it remains as a living philosophical topic. There is no merely logical error involved in either position – although there is in arguing for determinism since determinism is not consistent with rational persuasion, which is what arguments are designed to do. Thus, the debate centers around whether determinism or free will is most consistent with the evidence – namely, I claim, our RH direct access to reality and what it is like to be a human being. RP, by contrast, thinks that our experience of the world includes causation, determinism is the consequence of causation, therefore, determinism is consistent with experience. This, I claim, is not nearly a robust enough conception of “experience.”
The following arguments should be prefaced with the fact that arguing for determinism, and thus about determinism, is irrational, in the same way that it is pointless to argue with someone who will not follow the law of noncontradiction.  This should be admitted up front in case this is not immediately clear and readers later come to feel like they have been led up the garden path. They are being led up that path. Thomas F. Bertonneau pithily described determinism as the denial of consciousness. Not having as much exposure to academic philosophy, he left it at that. In what follows, as mentioned, RP disconcertingly does write that he believes in “experience,” a concept that depends on consciousness, but it is a nightmare version with the experiencer having no ability to alter anything he does or even how he reacts to events. Experience in this context seems a little like a bare recording device existing in a giant stream of causation. Without agency, this device can be a passive observer only. (The inanimate connotations being completely appropriate). Better never to have been born.[2]
So, why bother debating a determinist when no sane person should do so? Partly, to contrast the LH and RH modes of thought and to demonstrate the superiority of RH with regard to reality. And partly because materialism as a metaphysical theory is popular and science typically adopts materialism as its presupposition. Materialism can only imply determinism. Free will cannot possibly be defended without appealing to something nonmaterial being causally efficacious, specifically, the causeless cause: the Ungrund. While it is not possible to be a consistent living nihilist, unless fear is the only thing stopping you from killing yourself as some students of mine once claimed, nihilism and despair are permanent human temptations. So, it can be worthwhile to rehearse the arguments for why despair might be unjustified, at least on this topic. Also, professors are constantly exposing students to the theory of determinism and, generally being atheists these days, they usually embrace it themselves. As such, they provide no antidote to this despairing philosophy. Hence, the need for someone else to do so.
An argument is an attempt to persuade but the concepts of “persuasion” or “rationality” make no sense in a deterministic view of things. There is simply an unstoppable causal chain, a sequence of events. Without agents, centers of consciousness, there is no one there to be persuaded or to do the persuading. “You” are not “persuading” “me.” That would be three illusions denoting no reality whatsoever. RP accepts as much right at the end of this very long exchange, which will be found in Part 4. He spends a long time objecting to my objections about his use of words like “you,” and “I,” “convince,” and “goals,” but then concedes this:
“Strangely, that is not as rewarding to us humans as pretending we all have agency and free will and all of that which you are clutching to your chest. Our preferences are better met with all the gooey middle parts. With pretending we have vast choices and wallowing in our ignorance of the complexity of cause and effect. With heaping meaning onto our inevitable fates. That’s why we use words like “we” and “I” and “convince” and “goals” and such. But it is nothing more than a reward system attempting to satisfy our preferences.”
When the time comes, I will point out the obvious that “rewards” and “preferences” only make sense as concepts in a world where consciousness is causally efficacious. “Incentives” only apply to sentient creatures with alternative courses of action available to them. There are no such things in determinism. You do not hold out a little carrot (gas can?) to coax your car, a machine, into moving, only your donkey, a living organism. Avalanches do not “act” on the basis of “preferences.” They do not act, and they do not have preferences, driven as they are by purely mechanical, physical forces, which is what determinism posits for human beings.
Robot Philosopher responds to Determinists Strike Back Part 2, to paraphrase a little without, hopefully, altering any meaning, in order to make his contributions more civil than they actually were:
Professor Cocks believes that we cannot have preferences if determinism is true, because we are merely existing in a reality of cause and effect. We are “automatons.” In fact, you’re not allowed to use words like “I” and “you,” or have any sense of self if you are a determinist, according to him.
I regard this as a non-sequitur.
[Bullet-pointed comments come from the author.]
RP neither explains nor defends the claim of my having introduced a non-sequitur. My objections to the use of personal pronouns and the claim that the determinist vision preserves any notion of “self” is copiously defended and explained.
Determinists tend not to be sufficiently thorough-going and typically ignore the consequences of their own theory. This is what I am trying to stop RP from doing here.
It was someone called “Michael,” a determinist, who alerted me to the fact that the mode of thought appropriate to determinism is to regard all things as “sequences of events.” He wrote that it makes no sense to claim that some sequences of events are free and some determined. I pointed out that this statement itself is also a sequence of events and thus should not be credited with any particular persuasive value. What breaks up the monotony of the “sequence of events” view, if anything is going to, is agency. An avalanche is a “sequence of events,” the actions of an agent are not. If this is denied, then the appropriate picture of reality is an endless stream of causation and there is nothing distinctive about what conscious organisms do. The “actions” of an organism (there are no actions without agency, without actors) and the movement of tectonic plates are metaphysically indistinguishable.
Moral realism is impossible if determinism is true. A robot is not alive. It has no agency and it is not immoral to turn it off. If human beings are exactly like robots, inanimate objects, just with more complicated responses hardwired in, then they do not deserve the use of personal pronouns and to murder them would not be immoral. Since the murderer has no control over his actions, according to determinism, then he cannot be justly held responsible for his actions anyway and is not in fact a murderer. Murder requires intent and duress exonerates him. This is an example of a reductio ad absurdum. The argument fails if the “absurd” consequence is accepted. That is fine. But, it also establishes what it will be necessary to accept to go along with RP.
You say my robot example proves your point. After reading your explanation, I think you’re shooting your own argument in the foot.
In your world, where determinism doesn’t exist, you still believe robots follow cause and effect, yes? – just like determinists believe humans likewise do. Robots are proof that determinism exists in the manner which determinists purport*.
I have already agreed that robots follow cause and effect. However, robots being deterministic does not prove that determinism exists for humans.
*The tricky part is the claim that it applies to humans as well.
I am disputing that this applies to humans as well.
You argue that a sense of self cannot exist in determinism. Preferences cannot exist in determinism. I’m not allowed to say “I’m not allowed” in determinism. I’m not allowed to “convince” anybody of anything in determinism.
RP states, from above: “That’s why we use words like “we” and “I” and “convince” and “goals” and such. But it is nothing more than a reward system attempting to satisfy our preferences.”” This will not be the last time RP violates the rule of noncontradiction.
RP wants to have it both ways; to continue using personal pronouns and words like “convince,” while debunking them all as “nothing more than” a reward system designed to make us feel better about the meaninglessness of our existence.
Part of the struggle between the two interlocutors in this debate is over what phenomena one is seeking to explain. The right hemisphere (RH) of the brain is responsible for our direct experience of concrete reality. The left hemisphere (LH) of the brain uses abstract concepts, generalizations, and constructed maps of reality. It “re-presents” reality to us.
The test of the validity of LH abstractions is, are they fit for purpose? The purpose here is to figure out the nature of reality with regard to free will and determinism. You and I know in RH fashion what it is to be a human being from our first-hand concrete experience. We have experienced both trying to convince someone and being convinced by someone else to do something or to believe something.
This is a strawman argument. I am not defending the free will of robots, or of human beings erroneously being reduced to the status of robots. I am defending actual human beings experienced both from the inside (being a human being) and from the outside (experiencing other human beings.)
My experience of trying to interact with RP was that it was as though he had no RH. Instead of analyzing human beings, preferences, what it is to be convinced or to convince another person, or actual human experiences, RP wanted to discuss and analyze his LH patently inadequate theoretical versions of these things. He had written, “Human action, at its foundation, is no different than one of those small robots programmed to point its camera at the floor and follow the black line where it leads.”[3]
Such a description of human action has nothing to do with concrete reality. It is a tendentious, laughable, parody of human actions.
When Tiger Woods appeared on a talk show as a three-year-old, the host asked him to demonstrate his putting by placing the golf ball maybe twelve feet from the target. The three-year-old Tiger Woods picked the ball up, moved it to within three feet of the target and putted from there instead, much to the host’s amusement. Not wanting to do address the topic at hand, RH substitutes his own topic.
RP does not appear to want to analyze human beings as we know them, but his own theory-derived version of them. This means that we are talking at cross-purposes. I wanted to discuss the phenomenon, but RP substituted his LH theory version instead. A lot of what I ended up writing was effectively a complaint about this substitution of theory for experience. His fictional, theoretical puppets did not deserve personal pronouns and all the rest. Not showing signs of having a functional RH, RP became frustrated with my continual rejection of and objections to his theory-derived characterization of people.
RP is effectively saying, assuming human beings are line-following robots following their programming, because human beings are nothing more than that, why do you believe in free will?
Obviously, I am not going to accept his characterization of human beings in this manner. To do so, would be to concede his point before we had even started. This RP found frustrating, vague, and evasive.
It is as though we are supposed to be discussing “Steve,” and you hold up a rag doll, and then proceed to ridicule it. The rag doll is a distraction and beside the point.
RP writes: “When the robot makes a “choice” to veer left to follow the line, it has done nothing but reference its programming and equations and variables to their inevitable conclusions. Humans do nothing except reference our programming (genetic, chemical, societal, etc) in order to come to also inevitable conclusions…”
“You” might have a sense of self in determinism, but it would be an illusion. Someone could, perhaps, be conscious and yet trapped in a deterministic universe unable to escape in the manner of “locked-in” syndrome. Except, this sense of being trapped and robotic would itself be programmed by deterministic physical causes, so they are not “your” sense of being trapped at all. Something else is making “you” (the ragdoll you) feel that way.
No one can allow or not allow if determinism is true. No one is doing anything because there is no agency. Things are simply happening as they have to happen if determinism is true.
The notion of “convincing” anyone is an illusion if determinism is true. Quite rightly, no one talks about “convincing” little robots following black lines on the floor. They are just following their programming. RP has stated we are just like those robots but with a wider range of responses programmed in.
Preferences make no sense in a deterministic universe. Preferences imply the existence of choice, and also of mind as a causally efficacious nonmaterial phenomenon. RP in fact will later rely on the idea that preferences are so causally efficacious that we can never not follow them. The pistons of cars do not “prefer” to move in one manner rather than another. Such anthropomorphic language is inappropriate. They merely do what they have to do given the forces to which they are subjected. Under determinism, all things that happen, including human behavior, have been determined since time immemorial and “preferences,” should we imagine them to exist, will be causally inefficacious. Human beings act as they must given physical forces. End of story.
Then why can we (theoretically) say this about robots, where the laws of determinism, we’d both agree, are in full effect?
We cannot say this about robots.
Robots, not being conscious, or having a soul for that matter, are merely objects obeying their programming.
It’s funny you bring up I, Robot, as I was going to as well. Obviously, the level of A.I. in that book we’ve not yet reached, but we can both agree it’s perfectly plausible, right?
A.I. as proposed in I, Robot, the science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov, is completely impossible. The Chinese Room Argument demonstrates that, in my opinion. Roger Penrose, the famous mathematical physicist, comments in Shadows of the Mind[4] that intelligence requires understanding. No understanding, no intelligence. Someone who merely follows an algorithm to solve an equation need not even understand the equation. Not knowing what you are doing in mathematics precludes you from being an intelligent mathematician. Some truths, like the truths of axioms, which are self-evident, and the truth of Gödelian propositions can be perceived, or “seen” by someone smart and qualified enough, but they cannot be proved. A computer cannot “see” them. Computers follow algorithms. Algorithms are step by step instructions that have been designed to answer “well-defined” questions. Once a problem has been solved, a set of instructions can be written explaining how to solve the problem. However, that is after the fact. To solve a novel difficult problem, creativity, insight, and imagination are required. Computers are neither creative nor imaginative. They simulate the activity of the left hemisphere of the brain, but not the right. They can mimic sequential reasoning, but not insight. Since living organisms are routinely faced with novel problems, they need to be able to improvise solutions in a goal-directed manner. Computers/robots cannot do that. To the degree that computers seem intelligent, or goal-directed, or to be improvising, this is an illusion. One cannot program common sense. Should a computer appear to be intelligent, this intelligence is really the intelligence of the programmer who wrote its code. If it appears goal-driven, it is really the goal of the programmer.
In facial recognition systems, for instance, the computer is trained on millions of images. The goal and what is regarded as the “correct” answer is set in advance by a human being who also determines how the computer is going to go about getting better at this task. The goal is external to the computer; it is not the computer’s goal.
Computers work very well in tightly constrained environments like in the game of chess. Chess is a strictly rule-bound game where what moves one is allowed to make is determined in advance. In a pretend world consisting of a blue ball and a red ball, it is possible to get the computer to pick up the ball of one’s choosing. However, in a more realistic complex environment that is not rule-bound the difference between computers and general intelligence becomes more apparent.
Trying to get customer service from a computer is typically an exercise in frustration for this reason.
Both Gödel’s Theorem and the Halting Problem are relevant here. They both prove that mathematics can never be fully formalized. Mathematics as a discipline can never be reduced to manipulating symbols; an activity not requiring minds. At some point, “truth” has to enter the picture and some truths cannot be determined by reference to rules. The truth of axioms is “self-evident” and thus not proved but “seen.” A computer could thus not choose axioms without help from humans. Other truths, like Gödelian propositions, cannot be proved by reference to the axiomatic systems from out of which they arise. And yet, they can be seen by human beings. That is also why a halting machine can never be created. In fact, to imagine that it can generates contradictions. A halting machine would be able to determine whether any algorithm of any kind is valid; that it will generate the required solution at which time it will stop (halt). A halting machine, were one to exist, would, if fed its own program, with certain modifications, halt when it continued, and continue when it halted, which is obviously impossible. Therefore, the machine is impossible. The halting problem and Gödel’s Theorem are solved and true for all time. They are not theories. They are truths proved to the same degree of certainty as verified mathematical truths. In fact, they are mathematical truths.
I agree that if genuine A.I. were possible, and computers could ever become conscious, then determinism would seem much more plausible. Were we able to do this, we would have some of the crucial characteristics of God Himself.
In your non-deterministic world, would you say Sunny would be disallowed from referring to himself as “I”? Did he not try and persuade people of his views? Did that robot not have preferences, which he can accurately say he did not choose?
Sunny, as imagined in I, Robot would be conscious and thus could refer to himself as an “I,” and do many of the things human beings can do. Sunny exists as a counterfactual postulate.
If Sunny could do all the things you say he could, then he might indeed be allowed to say “I” and have that actually mean something. He could have preferences and choose, just like a human being.
Forgive me, but I will assume your answers to the above question and conclude that we probably agree on them.
We do not agree.
If I assume that much, then it appears you are inserting something magical which is applicable to humans only.
If a robot was conscious and could do everything we do, then it would have a soul too.
What is it? What will you [introduce] so you can [assert] we are different from Sunny?
A spirit? A soul?
If you believe in such things, did you choose your soul? Can you take credit for not having the soul of a psychopath, as Sam Harris has asked?
We are not different from counterfactual Sunny in ways relevant to this argument. I agree that if Sunny existed, then his existence would pose a major threat to the existence of free will. Some philosophers have argued that for an engineer, to really understand something requires that he can build a model of it; he can replicate the phenomenon. If a human being could create a truly conscious creature this would be evidence that materialism and determinism is true and that there is no God.
The funny thing is that we often find human behavior inscrutable, so we would also not be able to understand conscious computers. They would be just as mysterious as the rest of us. It would also be immoral to use them for our own purposes.
Nothing I say next is to be taken as a proof of anything, merely an explanation. If free will exists, then it applies to all living organisms, not just humans. All living organisms have access to the Ungrund, the causeless cause and the ground of all being. (This is an unprovable assertion.) If creativity and imagination are real, then freedom exists. A deterministic universe rules out creativity and imagination on the part of the individual. Free will could only apply to the creator of that universe if there were one. The Ungrund, meonic (causeless) freedom, is a postulate necessary for free will to exist. It is a mystery, like consciousness itself. Since the Ungrund predates, at least conceptually, God the Father, God the Creator, then there is a part of God which is also mysterious, even to Himself and God is not omniscient.
RP is asking what the alternative to determinism is. I am simply explaining what it would entail. It is not so much that free will can be proved, but that arguing for determinism produces contradictions having to do with the person arguing himself being subject to deterministic forces as well as the interlocutor. Arguments are supposed to persuade, and persuasion is a mind-dependent phenomenon, while causation is not. Physical causes cannot act on nonmaterial things. So, whatever is happening involves physical cause and effect, and physical forces do not follow “logic” and the dictates of human reasoning. If they do, then it turns out that physical things exhibit mental properties and you have introduced idealism. If idealism is true, then physical causation is false. On top of that, the Big Bang would need to have many of the characteristics of God in order to stop total chaos from ensuing, see The Illogicality of Determinism – Further Considerations.
We do not choose our souls. We are the created. However, we have been imbued by God the Father with a connection to the Ungrund, and thus are free to create in our own more limited way. One key thing we cannot create is anything which has a soul; which has a connection to the Ungrund. We can have children, but that is nature working through us. We can take no real credit for that.
Why psychopaths exist is an interesting theological question. Societies can use them in certain military roles since they are particularly good at killing and spying without a conscience. Since a conscience is arguably a major connection to God, psychopaths suffer because they lack this. As a consequence, they experience their lives as lacking meaning. They feel hollow inside. And they tend to be profoundly bored because they are not interested in the people around them. I would not mind asking God why they exist, because I do not really know.
Souls would be irrelevant if Sunny could exist, but they are tremendously relevant to the existence or nonexistence of free will.
Every counterargument from you which simply state as fact that “There is no ‘we’ to have preferences” or “There is no ‘convincing’ if determinism is true”, or simply “there is no you” is fully irrelevant to this argument.
If you want to believe that a sense of self cannot exist for something that was causally determined to exist, that’s up to you, but also entirely subjective.
I do not “simply state as fact” those items. I provide reasons to support them. I will do it again below.
The LH ragdoll version of a human being that RP wishes to substitute for RH actual human beings does not have a meaningful “self.”
Again, RP later writes: “Our preferences are better met with all the gooey middle parts. With pretending we have vast choices and wallowing in our ignorance of the complexity of cause and effect. With heaping meaning onto our inevitable fates. That’s why we use words like “we” and “I” and “convince” and “goals” and such. But it is nothing more than a reward system attempting to satisfy our preferences.”
Under those conditions, any sense of “self” would be an illusion.
A sense of self could conceivably survive having been “causally determined to exist,” so long as that self were not also causally determined in every single thought and action it ever had or did. Without agency, there is simply a sequence of events. There are no “selves” in sequence of events. Such arguments simply make no impression on RP whatsoever and he continues to act as though they have not been made.
You’re playing with semantics and pretending you’re making a point. The character of Sunny exists. You exist. I exist. That does not preclude the possibility of us being causal “automatons”, no matter how many times you insist otherwise.
The character of Sunny exists in a fictional novel only and thus cannot be used to prove any points.
Semantics involves the meanings of words. The meanings of words are important. I do repeat that the words “you,” “I,” and “preferences” have no real meaning in a deterministic worldview. There are merely, logically, sequences of events. A train travels inexorably on its tracks. It is not a “you,” “I,” nor does it have its own “preferences.” The train is an “it,” and so is any human under determinism by force of logic. That is where the contradiction comes in. RP appears to delight in the first paragraph in Determinists Strike Back Part 2 in describing us as exactly like robots following the black lines on the ground, according to our programming and then take umbrage at me denying the use of personal pronouns to what is clearly merely an “it.” I am merely taking my cue from RP’s own description and following his logic.
The LH deals with the inanimate. The RH with the animate. RP’s conception of human beings has more in common with the inanimate world than the animate.
It is logically possible that we are automatons but only because anything that is not self-contradictory is logically possible. We have no evidence that I can think of that we are automatons, but would be open to suggestions. The evidence that we are not automatons would include the existence of scientific theories that require imagination, intuition, and creativity to discover, such as the theory of relativity.
It’s probably past time for me to better define what it is, exactly, that I believe.
I believe we can have free will only if 1) We can choose 2) we have choice over what we choose.
Would you agree with that assessment? I think we can do #1 but not #2, and I think it is only #2 that we’d disagree on.
Choice has no meaning that I can see under determinism. So, as a topic, it should simply be put aside. It makes no sense for RP to introduce the concept into the argument. RP had written: “When the robot makes a “choice” to veer left to follow the line, it has done nothing but reference its programming and equations and variables to their inevitable conclusions.”[5] No reasonable person would think that the word “choice” is appropriate in describing something that is merely referencing its programming. That does not describe a choice. That is a train following its tracks. Trains do not choose where they go.
I do think that we have a choice over what we choose. For instance, we have preferences that we frequently choose not to follow. Our choices are the result of a complicated mixture of factors, some physical and some mental. If top-down causation is possible in the manner of the placebo or nocebo effect, then our choices are not merely the result of physical chains of cause of effect, but include mental factors. For instance, if someone has a stroke, then merely attempting to speak or to move in certain ways depending on which parts of the brain are affected, can, over an extended period of time, actually rewire the brain in such a way that parts of the brain that were once used for one function can be repurposed. A part of the brain that had never been associated with speech, for instance, can now take on that role. The desire to regain function can, with sufficient motivation, be enough for the brain to reorganize itself to satisfy this desire. Similarly, if someone listens to what someone says and gets offended due to the meaning of what is said, then this can elicit a physiological response in, again, an instance of top-down causation.
Maize cells bombarded by radiation can rewrite their own DNA in order to make reproduction possible again, as Barbara McClintock found. This is called “transposition.” This is a currently universally recognized phenomenon. The cell’s teleology; purpose-driven behavior, can reorganize its own genetic constitution. This also cannot be reduced to mere mindless mechanical processes. Transposition involves educated guesses intended to solve a problem.
I believe we do not have free will because, while we can choose, we have no choice over what we choose. “Pick a number between 1 and 1”. That is human life. That is determinism.
We have no choice over what we choose because we absolutely did not, under any circumstances, choose our own preferences.
Since this seemed to be RP’s main argument for determinism, other than the familiar causal chain idea, I have written a separate article in response, here.
If you think we are free to choose, then it shouldn’t be an issue for you to believe, for even an instant and with complete, genuine sincerity, that your favorite type of candy bar, whatever it is, is suddenly your least favorite candy bar.
Even better, I want you to “choose” to believe in determinism as much as I believe in it myself. You cannot do it, because you cannot choose your preferences. If you could, you really would have free will.
Presumably, RP is making a joke that my choosing to believe in determinism would prove the existence of free will. Given his adversarial demeanor, perhaps RP would indeed switch his allegiance to free will if I embraced determinism.
One can be free to choose without having omnipotence in that regard. I can run a few miles, but not a hundred miles. This does not prove I cannot run a few miles. If I cannot choose what my favorite candy bar is, that does not prove I cannot choose anything.
As argued in the separate article called The Metaphysical Status of Preferences, we can choose our goals that in turn can affect our preferences, but we sometimes fail and our preferences remain what they were.
If I had reasons for choosing something as my favorite candy bar, then those reasons might change. And, if reasons exist for real as mind-dependent, logic-following things, then what is my favorite candy bar might change, and I would choose another. If it is merely based on taste, what is and is not my favorite candy bar may not be subject to change. Perhaps, if I discovered something truly objectionable about the manufacturer of the candy bar, I might choose another as my favorite.
We clearly do many things that we would prefer not to, such as attending a meeting at work. Having a preference does not mean not having a choice. If someone were to claim that whatever one actually does reveals one’s “real” preference, then he would be committing the No True Scotsman fallacy, as explained in the article. He would be making it true by definition that we always follow our preferences. This goes completely against the normal usage of the word “preference.” There is nothing compulsive implied by that word. In fact, it frequently denotes the difference between what we would like to do, what we prefer, and what we actually do, what we feel compelled to do. If you make “preference” simply coextensive with any action of any kind, then there can be no counterexample of acting inconsistently with one’s preferences. That is the trick of the No True Scotsman fallacy. One starts with a factual claim. A counterexample is provided. The person who made the factual claim switches to a tautological claim – making something true by definition – in order to defend the original claim. Except, the original claim was factual and the new claim is tautological. Tautologies, true by the definition of words, cannot be wrong even hypothetically. There are no conditions that can prove them wrong due to the new and erroneous definition, in this case of “preferences,” that has been constructed purely in order to avoid having to face counterexamples.
The problem is that now the claim that “we always follow our preferences” is no longer a statement about empirical reality. It is now supposed to be true due to the tendentious redefinition of the word “preference.”
Your beliefs and subsequent actions are wholly dependent upon variables which you did not choose, and therefore any outcome of those beliefs you also did not choose. Would you disagree with that?
I disagree. There are lots of factors going into choices. The available options, culture, biology, society and one’s idiosyncratic preferences, one’s sense of artistry and beauty, and so on.
If you do disagree, then you have some heavy lifting to do to prove that any choice one can make is based, in any way, upon variables – preferences – which can be fairly said they have chosen for themselves and not by causal happenstance.
RP is asking me to prove that free will is true with regard to preferences. I do not think I can do this. However, he cannot prove that all my preferences are the result of “causal happenstance.” Some of my preferences are the result of my sense of beauty. I would argue that some of this sense has physical and evolutionary correlates, and some of them have mental and spiritual origins. Plato regarded beauty as a visitor from another realm; a glimpse of heaven. Hegel regarded beauty as something with which we converse. It “speaks to you” and you reply, cognitively, emotionally, morally, spiritually; with head, heart, and gut.
We share the burden of proof. Both determinism and free will are controversial positions. The fact that I cannot prove free will is true does not prove that determinism is true. I could simply reverse the argument and claim the opposite; that his inability to prove that determinism is true proves that free will must exist.
The argument is moot since whatever the origins of my preferences, I am free to follow them or not to.
If you agree and yet still disbelieve in determinism, then I would chide you for ever having claimed any reverence for logic.
I do not agree. Phew! My reverence for logic is intact.
Let’s get to anything I haven’t yet mentioned in the play by play;
“If we humans are just bags of circuits, or whatever mechanical description you want to give us, then it makes no sense to talk about “you,” only “it.” There is a bunch of circuits in the corner. OK. So what? Well, there is another bunch of circuits called a computer. OK. Now there is another bunch of circuits. I’m going to call that bunch of circuits by the pronoun “you.” Why? No reason at all! Well. I’m not going to go along with that. The first bunch is an “its.” The second bunch is an “its.” And the third bunch is an “its.” Hence, there is no “you” if determinism is true. Anything you say against my position is arguing FOR my position, so have at it.”
What you have just argued is that “This makes no sense to me, so I will therefore pretend this is an axiomatic truth.”
This is a strawman characterization of my argument since I am not claiming to have created an axiomatic truth. This is typical of strawman arguments – namely to exaggerate what is claimed and then to point out that this exaggeration is ridiculous. It is ridiculous. But, that is due to RP’s own claim (axiomatic truth) falsely attributed to me.
As it says above, the more realistic RP chooses to make his description of being human, the less human beings will resemble his ragdoll version of human beings which he has said is basically a bag of circuits. It is HE who says we resemble line-following robots inexorably following their programming, not me. The more satisfactorily he describes us, the worse his argument gets.
I am merely following along with RP’s logic, and pointing out the logical implications of his position. By now the reader is likely to be tiring of my repetitive explanations for why RP cannot have his cake and eat it too. He cannot both reduce human beings to a ragdoll joke of a human being and object to my refusing to call this joke a human being.
RP does not seem to understand that I am arguing. I.e., presenting reasons to support my conclusion. Seemingly unable to follow the logic of what I am saying, he avers that I am merely asserting without reasons. He never does answer, at any point, why one bunch of circuits is just a bunch of circuits, and another bunch of circuits deserves to be called “you.” Why?
In fact, I want him to dispute the comparison of human beings to a bunch of circuits; I am daring him to, thereby bringing him closer to my position.
RP does love to argue from ridicule directed at me personally. These personal attacks do not add to the argument and seem designed to appeal to some Neanderthal mob of imaginary readers. In this version of our interactions, I am removing most of his gratuitous insults. Friends have emailed me to inform me that RP is an ill-intentioned dogmatic troll. That may be, but he has been a useful ill-intentioned dogmatic troll. Unfortunately, the interaction required me to be a doormat for him to wipe his feet on. As I have argued to students, allowing yourself to be maltreated is not actually good or moral since you are encouraging sinful, immoral behavior in another person. This realization, unfortunately, has come too late! The damage is done. By removing most of the abuse, some good might be salvaged from it.
Most people will not know how to respond to RP’s cynicism and joyless picture of humanity. He is not alone in his views. I see myself as offering detailed responses that a well-intentioned, hopeful, young person might wish he was able to make himself.
I am not creating a syllogism. If someone were to start referring to his Roomba robot as “you,” with “preferences,” then that’s the time when we take him off for a psychological evaluation. If we turn out to be exactly the same as Roombas, just “more complicated” with “a larger set of preprogrammed responses,” then I am happy to withdraw personal pronouns from human beings, and so should RP.
That isn’t hyperbole or misrepresentation on my part.
It is misrepresentation and hyperbole on RP’s part. RP has, in fact, created a strawman argument. At no point do I say, “This makes no sense to me.” Nor, do I pretend I am creating an axiomatic truth. This is both hyperbole (an exaggeration of what I am claiming to prove) and a misrepresentation.
Try putting your above argument in formal logic form. And then try and argue how one of your premises isn’t, “This doesn’t make sense to me”.
If something is a bag of circuits, then we do not use personal pronouns.
B → ~ P
A computer meets the definition, very roughly, of being a bag of circuits. We do not refer to computers by personal pronouns. (If some weirdo called his computer “she,” it would be as an honorific, not designating personhood.)
If something is a bag of circuits, it does not deserve the attribution of personal pronouns.
B → ~ P
If humans are just a bag of circuits (or however you want to describe them), no different in kind from robots following their programming out of necessity, then we should not use personal pronouns for them either, unless human beings are importantly different from bags of circuits and computers. What’s that you say? They are not? Very well then.
Bags of circuits (B), computers (C), and human beings (H) are all the same metaphysically for RP. So, “B” exists.
B is a B.
C is a B.
H is a B.
Lots of Bs!
B → ~ P
⸫ ~ P
How is that? Modus ponens.
If something is a bag of circuits, it does not deserve or require the use of personal pronouns when referring to it. It is a mere inanimate object.
Computers are just organized bags of circuits, with added features that do not confer personhood.
Human beings are supposed to be just like these computers and so resemble inanimate rule-following devices, hence they do not deserve personal pronouns either.
I have taught symbolic logic a dozen times and had to pass it for my PhD, but it has been a few years, so the above symbolization should not be taken too seriously. I have never found putting arguments in symbolic form illuminating. Ironically, for the first time ever, the modus tollens I introduced at the beginning of the article I did find useful and I only did it because RP goaded me into it.
D → R
~ R
~ D
If determinism is true, then we are effectively robots. We are not robots. Therefore, determinism is false.
RP claimed that he could not understand why I spent so much time arguing that we are not robots. That is why.
I can comprehend the statement that human beings are no different from robots. It “makes sense” to me in that regard. I have been listening to such nonsense since I started formally studying philosophy in the 1980s. It just makes no philosophical, human, sense to me. I do not find it plausible.
And really, that particular premise seems to be a large theme in your counterarguments of determinism.
Actually, my main arguments against determinism can be found in The Illogicality of DeterminismThe Illogicality of Determinism – Further Considerations, and Does the Concept of Metaphysical Freedom Make Sense?And now, The Metaphysical Status of Preferences.” Also,  and the Dehumanization of ManSam Harris: the UnconvertedGödel’s Theorem, and The Halting ProblemEvolution 2.0 is also relevant.
I tried including portions from certain of those articles, but the passages elicited no response of any kind from RP. Neither did RP indicate to me any interest in reading the two actual articles with the word “determinism” in the titles.
What I am doing here is responding to RP’s arguments specifically. Although, RP’s arguments only scratch the surface of determinism, they provided new fodder for contemplation, and became a way of extending my own thoughts on the matter.
RP’s appeal to preferences and experiences caught me by surprise since both ideas are inherently mental rather than purely physical and thus out of place in a determinist’s argument.
RP has completely mischaracterized what it is to be a human being in the most derogatory manner possible being a caricature derived from mere abstractions and concepts.
In experiments where people have their RH temporarily deactivated they are asked:
Winter is cold in tropical countries.
Ecuador is a tropical country.
Is it cold in winter in Ecuador, or not?
In those circumstances, RH deactivated people will say that it is cold in winter in Ecuador because the argument is valid and that that is what it implies. Unfortunately, it is not sound.[6] Only when their RHs were activated did those same people answer that winters in Ecuador are not cold. LH can assess logic, but not truth. On as complicated a topic as determinism and the metaphysical status of human beings it is necessary to bring your whole self to the question.
Ships are just a collection of planking, the mast, hull, etc. Yet we anthropomorphize them and give them names and call them “she” and such. Not only that, but it is not uncommon for the human mind to actually perceive these inanimate, mechanical constructs as though they were a distinct entity with their own personalities.
It is very odd that RP is so intent on wanting to retain pronouns for humans, etc. His initial description of humans as pathetic, little, line-following robots following their programming should be enough to make someone vomit. In his description about ships, he says, “it is not uncommon for the human mind to actually perceive these inanimate, mechanical constructs as though they were a distinct entity with their own personalities.” Here, for the first time, RP seems to be willing to contrast human minds with their own personalities, with inanimate, mechanical constructs. This is what I have been trying to get him to do. Either make a meaningful distinction between humans and inanimate objects like computers and robots, or acknowledge the consequences of agreeing that there is no difference between them.
But, that does not suit his purposes. He needs the magic trick of having both at once. We are exactly the same, but completely different!
Extending animistic qualities to the inanimate world can be rather attractive and poetic. However, when discussing the metaphysical status of human beings, one would not want to accidentally slip between poetry and assertions of equivalence between ships and people.
Furthermore, as discussed previously, we will most likely, one day, be presented with an actual mechanical robot who possesses a sense of self.
If that were ever to happen, I would regard that as a near knock down proof of determinism, assuming the sense of self was sufficiently close to our own.
The feeling of causal freedom. Whether or not it actually has it is irrelevant. Whether or not you feel as if it “makes sense” is irrelevant.
The feeling of causal freedom is mostly not part of my argument. However, RH feelings themselves, being an important nonrobotic aspect of being human are very important for assessing Q (whether humans are robots or not).
We know that human beings cannot function in the world without the RH. They can use categories, but they cannot identify individuals. One stroke victim who used to know the names of all the birds in her area complained that “they all look the same” afterwards.
My article The Illogicality of Determinism – Further Considerations explains why rule-following in the fashion of a machine, especially when those rules are generated by mindless physical forces, simply cannot account for the abilities that human beings in fact have.
There is knowledge “that,” and knowledge “of.” The first is merely propositional. The second involves direct experience. Determinism directly contradicts direct experience; knowledge of human beings
The ship has no sense of self, and yet we pretend it does.
We sometimes do this. We can pretend a vacuum cleaner has a mind of its own when we accidentally whack our shins with it and we get angry at an inanimate device.
RP is conflating a kind of animistic anthropomorphization of ships with people, which is in keeping with a LH perspective that treats all things as inanimate objects.
If it makes you feel better to believe that we humans shouldn’t have any sense of self and yet pretend we do anyway, go for it.
RP is engaging in illegitimate mindreading. It does not make me feel better to believe that humans should not have a sense of self.
How we experience such things has no bearing on whether determinism exists or not.
This is where RP demonstrates his failure to follow the logic of my argument which I identify as modus tollens. If determinism implies human roboticism, and the latter is false, then determinism is false. And RH experience is how we access reality to compare theories with truth.
“I would agree absolutely. Following your assumptions, robots and humans have the same degree of agency. None. Feel free to prove that humans and robots are the same at any point.”
This answer is really strange to me. I’m not sure if there is something just deeper in this argument that we’re talking past or if I’m misinterpreting your words or something.
If you agree that both humans and robots’ actions are guided wholly by their programming, and that neither robots or humans choose their programming, then what are we doing here?
I don’t agree. Hence, I prefaced the comment with “following your assumptions.”
I’m assuming that this isn’t exactly what you’re arguing, so I’ll preemptively give you a challenge. A “choice” of challenges, even.
Give me a human action that wasn’t guided wholly by their programming
Give me an explanation how someone who can’t take credit for any of their programming somehow gains ownership over the resulting actions of said programming.
Option 1 assumes, without proof, that we all follow our “programming.” I am then to supply an exception to something that has not been proven in the first place.
This is the equivalent of me saying, “We are all thoughts in the mind of God. Provide a single exception to this.”
The problem with this challenge is that “programming” here is metaphorical, unless you think God or nature actually writes lines of code. I do not know what “guided wholly by their programming” might mean in this context. I would like to see some evidence that anyone ever “follows their programming.” Perhaps I could then try to identify exceptions.
Following our “programming?” Some proportion of our abilities and propensities will be genetic, some environmental, and some is just up to us. We might read a book, discuss things with friends, then make up our minds on some topic.
#2 would be like handing someone a giant equation, asking them to “solve for x”, and when they do, they naively proselytize to anyone who will listen about their “wise decision” that x should be “42”, or whatever.
Sam Harris makes exactly the same mistake RP just made. He thinks that rationality necessarily forces and compels people to arrive at definitive conclusions. The dreadful example Harris gives is just like RP’s equation example, but even simpler, namely, 1 + 1 = 2. Harris chose an example where the answer is indeed definitive. He seems to be unfamiliar with a discipline like philosophy where the topics are not as cut and dried and perfectly rational people can arrive at different conclusions. I expect to disagree with myself at some point in the future about philosophical matters, so that would be the same rational person disagreeing with himself.
It is also fascinating that Harris chose 1 + 1 = 2 because Gödel’s Theorem only applies to axiomatic systems at a certain level of complexity. It does not apply to simple addition, but it does apply to multiplication and above. And Gödel’s Theorem proves that there are mathematical truths that can be seen but not proved and cannot be identified by a machine.
In choosing which college to go to, for instance, rational people can arrive at different conclusions. There might be pros and cons of each. There is far more in life that resembles this state of affairs than 1 + 1 = 2.
Rationality is not compulsive. We hear people say things like, “I know it’s not rational, but…”
Assuming that everything we do is the result of following our “programming,” (algorithms?) is simply to assume the truth of determinism. Since I do not accept determinism, I do not accept that all my actions are entirely the result of purely physical forces that compel me to act in a certain way. I might have hopes and dreams that influence decisions, but I do not regard them as the products of purely physical forces following the laws of physics because I am not a materialist.
Some of our behavior is creative – either artistically, or just responses that need to be creative in order to respond to the unexpected. Here we reach into the Ungrund, the causeless cause, meonic Freedom, and pull out of it something previously unknown. What I pull out will reflect my personality, hopes, dreams, and so on, but it is not mechanistic or compelled. It is a collaboration with the Great Mystery, the Unknown, that dwells within each person.
When I first mentioned the Ungrund, I expected RP to make fun of me. However, he never refers to it.
You didn’t choose the equation, you didn’t choose the variables, and hence, logically, you cannot claim responsibility for the resulting, inevitable answer.
Hence, it is a poor choice as an example.
I’m assuming you know that, and so I’ll guess you’ll opt for option #1. If so, explain the decision, and the mental mechanics involved in that person making that decision. What are they referencing to decide? What variables do they weigh? And most importantly: Where do those variables come from?
There are biological, interobjective, intersubjective, and subjective sources of the variables. The subjective aspects have a connection with the Ungrund as explained immediately above.
Where do the variables come from? I am not sure that matters so long as I get to freely choose between them.
For a fuller, more detailed description of creativity see my Does the Concept of Metaphysical Freedom Make Sense?
It is strange task that RP requires. No one can identify the mechanics of decision-making in any detailed way. Someone like RP would not like the Ungrund, but neither can he supply a mechanistic detailed description of how our brains are functioning when we make a decision. How something physical like the brain generates subjective experience is popularly known as “the hard problem.” RP does not pretend to have solved it.
Loosely speaking, the general tenor of what RP writes here seems to be “unless you can prove that free will is true, then determinism is true.” But, I can say, “Right back at you, RP. Unless RP can prove determinism is true, and that we, for instance, always follow our programming, then free will must be true.” I have no idea how one could ever prove that “we always follow our programming.” The “always” part makes it even more unprovable. Disproving something that has not been proven is unnecessary.
“So, the “we are all robots” people literally tend to be suffering from a mental disorder and should be pitied.”
This statement is an ad hominem and thus unacceptable.
Ad hominems are relevant with regard to testimony. Autistic people, and schizophrenics who resemble them in many regards, are poor testifiers as to what it is like to be a human being; on the nature of being human, because they have little access to their own or other people’s interiors, states of mind, and emotions.
Ironically, you just argued that determinists have no choice but to be determinists because of variables outside of their control.
They have a choice, but the dysfunction of their brains will make them more receptive to the siren call of determinism.
“There is no “you” to choose anything. Everything is a sequence of events put in place by the Big Bang according to your own metaphysical beliefs.”
No, that is according to your nitpicked[7] belief about my beliefs. Even if the universe were entirely causally determined (which I’ve already informed you, most determinists don’t actually believe based on quantum mechanics), we still have experiences. The experiences I have are different than the ones you have. It, therefore, makes sense to refer to two distinct entities. “I” and “you”.
RP is being inconsistent about the causal chain argument. He advances the causal chain argument here after he made the above point. I can’t argue with a contradiction. If he is allowed to assume the truth of two incompatible theories, then when I appeal to the idea that the universe is entirely causally determined, he will bring up quantum mechanics. If I go with quantum mechanics and assume the universe is not entirely causally determined, he can go back to the causal chain argument. For the sake of consistency, my arguments are based on disputing the causal chain theory of determinism.
It is interesting that RP introduces experiences as a key part of being human. Robots following black lines on the floor presumably do not have experiences. Since, as RP claimed, we are just like them, we in fact seem to differ significantly from them.
Reading a determinist taking experience seriously is a little like hearing a prostitute expound on the beauty of true love, fidelity, and chastity.
It is also ironic because the theory of determinism contradicts human experience by its implication that we are robotic. One moment we are told to disregard experience and another we are assured that experience is vital to understanding the nature of our existence.
To take experience seriously we have to reject RP’s idea that human beings are exactly like robots so that significantly changes the parameters of the discussion and I admit I have trouble accommodating this alteration in this dialectic.
If we take experience as a fundamental aspect of being human, as I have said before under a determinist’s picture of reality, what is it about my experiences that make them mine? Agents are centers of consciousness and they make decisions about what they attend to. Automatons do not. They are not responsible for what they attend to. They could have experiences in a purely passive capacity.
On that view, the passive center of consciousness would be kicking and screaming in his predicament. If, however, he has no awareness of any of that and he thinks he is acting and deciding and choosing when he is doing nothing of the sort but really the Big Bang or quantum randomness is really responsible for all that then he is a robot who mistakenly thinks he is conscious by analogy with The Truman Show. In the movie, Truman’s life is really an elaborate charade. All the events that happen and people he meet are really a set up for the entertainment of a hidden audience who are watching his whole fake life. It is hard to say what metaphysical status the “you” in this scenario should have. Are they really your experiences when you have no choice in what you do or, most especially, even how you react to those experiences? What is the “you” in that scenario? A kind of nullity.
If experiences are not significantly tied to individuals, then the most we could say is that “experiences are happening” as a part of a sequence of events.
Ostensibly, you are arguing that it takes free will to come to that conclusion – to see that dichotomy between two or more entities – but I don’t think it a leap at all that any sufficiently connected network of synapses will come to this same conclusion – causally necessary or not. It makes sense to do in the context of our experience of reality.
It’s not so much to see the dichotomy as for there to be two distinct entities having different experiences. It seems more like little blips in the endless flow of events which is completely impersonal.
Let’s concede that there would be different sets of experience and we could label one “Set 1” and the other “Set 2” perhaps differentiated by being associated with different bodies, though they would not be “mine” and “yours.”
However, I am uncomfortable conceding the notion of “experience” given RP’s earlier comments about how we are just more complexly programmed robots. It seems he is introducing non-permitted metaphysical entities. Again, not permitted by his earlier claims.
And while we’re at it, it makes sense for me to try and express my experiences from “I” to “you”, if my programming outputs more pros than cons. That I’m not allowed to try and convince you within my worldview is also a puzzling [claim].
A person is not allowed to help himself to metaphysical entities not permitted by his metaphysical worldview. That is entirely a matter of logic and should not be puzzling. If we give up on consistency then we cannot proceed.
To remind the reader, RP wrote, ““Strangely, that is not as rewarding to us humans as pretending we all have agency and free will and all of that which you are clutching to your chest. Our preferences are better met with all the gooey middle parts. With pretending we have vast choices and wallowing in our ignorance of the complexity of cause and effect. With heaping meaning onto our inevitable fates. That’s why we use words like “we” and “I” and “convince” and “goals” and such. But it is nothing more than a reward system attempting to satisfy our preferences.”
So, RP concedes that “convincing” is meaningless under his metaphysical view but wants to take it seriously when it suits him, violating the law of noncontradiction. He actually goes so far as to call my claim that a determinist cannot believe in “convincing” as “stupid.” If RP is himself smart, then this might be him trolling.
I once said to Thomas F. Bertonneau that what I liked about John Dewey was his experiential realism. Dewey saw experience as contributing to reality and not merely being a response to it. Dewey saw all experience, including its emotional aspects, as simply part of a wider reality, so the world would have emotional, moral, physical, whimsical, and poetic components. Using McGilchrist’s terminology, Dewey treats RH perception and experience with utter seriousness and respect. Human beings would then be seen as inside reality which thus includes both its mental and physical aspects. Tom commented that as a materialist and thus atheist, Dewey had no right to assert any of that. He was correct. Dewey’s metaphysical assumptions do not permit experiential realism, despite Dewey advocating that position. It can be compared to saying, “There are no ghosts.” And you say, “Why do you think that?” And I say, “A ghost told me.”
I really don’t know why you’re treating this bad argument as though it’s a deus ex machina. Out of all the arguments you’ve made, this is your weakest, and it takes up the majority of your responses to me. It’s nothing more than semantics.
It’s about the meanings of words; specifically, the words “human being” and what it means to be one. And when it is and when it is not appropriate to use personal pronouns. And if you do use them about ships, not to attribute actual human qualities to those ships.
You telling me that I’m not allowed to use certain words to convey an idea – even though it conveys the idea perfectly – because you have qualms with it, or perhaps think that I should have qualms with it. I don’t. Nor does it endanger the concept of determinism in the slightest.
Again, RP does not see the modus tollens structure of the argument.
If RP wants to attribute personal pronouns to humans he will have to justify it. The more he justifies it, the closer we get to my conception of human beings, namely, that we are not “more complicated” robots. The more RP insists that we are “nothing but” robots, the less justified his use of those pronouns is. Heads I win, tails he loses.
What happens with determinists is that they start out taking a hard line, and then, inevitably, they slip back into their discussion entities or ideas that they are not permitted by their own worldview. For instance, the reductionist, materialist, determinist, Daniel Dennett thinks we should have prisons to deter criminals from acting badly. However, this assumes that we have any choice about whether to have prisons or not. Determinists think we do not. It also assumes that the concept of “deterrence” makes sense in that context. “Deterrence” entails a choice. “Deterrence” is also a mental quality involving evaluations and not mere physical cause and effect. Determinism is implied by a material universe ruled by physical cause and effect. Deterrence is not a physical cause. If a surgeon removes a tumor, that is physical cause and effect. The surgeon does not say he has “deterred” the tumor. It is simply a matter of A physically causing B. If we introduce purely mental categories and claim that they are causally efficacious then we have escaped physical determinism by making the mind independent of purely physical causes.
There are no “shoulds” in determinism. If determinism is true, then we do not have a choice. Sam Harris and his wife debated when they should tell their kids that determinism is true. That assumes they have any choice about when to tell them. Physical determinism operates by physical cause and effect, not rationality and persuasion.


As stated in the introduction, the RH is aware of itself and the LH. The LH is not aware of the RH. Robot Philosopher seems to reside wholly in the LH and hops around like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail with one leg removed. In this case, he is being hit by an invisible opponent; elements drawn from the RH. And the RH is truly invisible since it deals with aspects of experience and reality that are truly mysterious, that defy language. Humor, for instance, dissolves upon explanation. Explaining a poem renders it unpoetic. Unpacking a metaphor renders it literal again. RH defies words since it deals with the unique and concrete while the words “unique” and “concrete” are generic and abstract. That unique thing is just like all the other unique things in sharing the property of “uniqueness.” Concrete items join the abstract class of concrete items. Language referring to the RH produces paradox immediately.
Good philosophy relies on intuition. In fact, Western philosophy began with Plato’s intuition of the divine and that remains the origin of all good philosophy. That which cannot be articulated runs the risk of seeming to be unintelligent. Human experience in general cannot be spelled out, and only a small portion can be captured linguistically. Poetry can begin to do it justice. The analytic philosophy infatuation with language and the explicit means only the “well-defined” can be examined and only abstractions are “well-defined.” Abstractions must be tested against experience and this seldom happens. Those with a functioning RH are likely to be seen as obscurantists, by the analytic types. But, without the RH, the LH has nothing to analyze. One falls in love, then one analyzes the nature of love. If, however, one starts with some dictionary definition of love, then one is in a hall of mirrors, one abstraction piling on top of another, and meanwhile nothing recognizable as love ever appears. It is two abstractions rubbing up against each other (double entendre intended.) This habit of thought made my undergraduate experience of philosophy supremely frustrating. A suitable philosophical response, as indicated in the introduction, is to remain committed to one’s “naïve” experience and refuse to be deterred through ridicule. Cynicism is often regarded as the “smart” person’s attitude. In fact, debunking is often easier than affirming. A graduate student in philosophy at the University of Cincinnati once said, “I don’t know anything. But, I know how to destroy arguments.” Such an attitude, were he to still have it all these decades later, would ensure he never does know anything worthwhile.
Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter With Things which I will be reviewing could serve as the most thorough rebuttal possible to RP but the two volumes add up to 1700 pages. It has taken me all summer of dedicated reading to complete it since I also take notes. I hope to start writing in the not too distant future.


[1] RP also argues, we are robots following our programming, therefore, determinism is true. Q → P. In which case we have the biconditional denoting equivalence. P Q. For simplicity’s sake, I will leave it as the conditional. If Q is false RP’s argument collapses either way.
[2] All pictures in this article come from a painting, The Maze, by a person, William Kurelek, who was hospitalized for schizophrenia. Schizophrenics and people with autism fail to have their right hemisphere dominate brain activity with the result that the left hemisphere becomes too prominent. This first picture, for instance, of people as puppets on strings with mask or skull-like faces, matches very well the similarly theory driven LH perspective of determinists. It is the RH that is responsible for a felt sense of reality and the reality of other people. Schizophrenics experience others as robots and imposters, having replaced the real person.
[3] See, Determinists Strike Back Part 2.
[4] Roger Penrose, Shadows of the Mind, pp. 38-39.
[5] See, Determinists Strike Back, Part 2.
[6] Soundness is a property of arguments when they are both valid and the premises are true. It is perfectly possible to have an argument where the premises are all true, but the argument is invalid. Or one where the premises are all false, but it is valid. Unfortunately, this is not something that most students ever understand, even if they get an “A” in their symbolic logic class. Understanding validity requires being formal operational (abstract reasoning) rather than being merely concrete operational (rule-following). Despite everyone using counterfactuals, many have difficulty thinking about them. Cognition (thinking) is one thing; metacognition (thinking about thinking) another.
[7] The act of picking the most extreme members of a group and pretending they represent the group in order to attack it.

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