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Sean Carroll, Determinism, and Laplace’s Demon

IceCream

Today we continue our series looking at physicist Sean Carroll's new book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016).

After exploring whether the universe needed a cause to get started, Carroll next turns to the topic of determinism: is reality determined or free?

Laplace's Demon

Carroll's answer relies on a famous thought-experiment involving "Laplace's Demon". Pierre-Simon Laplace was an accomplished French physicist and mathematician. He's also, according to Carroll, one of the fathers of determinism, which holds that all future states are inevitable consequences of past events and causes. Laplace proposed a hypothetical vast intellect (aka "Laplace's Demon") who has an omniscient grasp of reality. In today's scientific language, the Demon would know the positions and velocities of all the particles in the universe, understand all the forces they are subject to, and have sufficient computational power to apply the laws of motion. The Demon would then be able to determine any future event by simply analyzing the state of the universe right now. Or as Carroll says, "Laplace was pointing out that the universe is something like a computer"—current state in, future state out.

Now, Carroll admits that for all practical purposes, Laplace's Demon is not real. He's just a useful thought experiment. Such a Demon will never exist in the real world since there's simply too much information to account for. We will never invent a computer that can ascertain the state of every particle and force at every moment in time. To do so, Carroll admits, would require God-like programming (which he immediately dismisses, uncomfortable with any conclusion that may result in God.) So we will never be able to tell the future with complete certainty, ala Laplace's Demon.

But that's not what Carroll's primarily interested in. He doesn't aim to show that physics can ascertain the future; he's just interested showing that physics can determine the future.

That leads to a natural question: why do we think this is true? Even if a Demon or a computer had complete knowledge of the state of the universe, why should we assume such prior states determine what happens next? Carroll never explains. He simply presumes causal determinism without proving it.

(Careful readers will note that in the previous chapter, Carroll aimed that causality was a feature of fundamental reality. But here he aims to prove causal determinism, that prior states cause future states. Carroll either doesn't notice or doesn't worry about the apparent contradiction.)

Later in the book, in a different chapter, Carroll gestures toward a supporting argument for determinism. He writes:

"The Laplacian view...is based on patterns, not on natures and purposes. If this certain thing happens, we know this other thing will necessarily follow thereafter, with the sequence described by the laws of physics. Why is it this way? Because that's the pattern we observe."

This again raises many questions. For instance, why think patterns are mutually exclusive of natures and purposes? Again, Carroll just asserts this without evidence. Why can't things follow patterns given by their nature?

Also, why do things in the world follow these specific patterns and laws, and not others? It's not enough to say, "Because those are the patterns we observe." That just avoids the question. It's equivalent to saying, "Nature follows the patterns we observe because those are the patterns we observe," or to put it more simply, "That's just the way it is," an answer that may satisfy Bruce Hornsby but not the truly curious skeptic.

Still, the biggest problem with Carroll's Laplacian defense of determinism was already preempted by David Hume. The Scottish skeptic affirmed what stock brokers remind us of today, that past performance is no guarantee of future results. The fact that past events usually or even always occur in some pattern doesn't mean future events have to occur that way.

For example, suppose that from birth to age 30, I ate a vanilla ice cream cone at exactly 2:00pm, every single day. So when my 31st birthday party rolled around, you glance at the clock and see it's 1:59pm, and you're nearly certain what will happen next. After all, that's the pattern you've always observed, me eating ice cream at 2:00pm, not just once or twice, but repeatedly and without exception for thirty years. As the hour chime hits, you see me scoop ice cream into a cone, lift the cone to my mouth....and then I stop. I strangely put the cone down and decide not to have any today.

Now, if you suggested I was determined to eat ice cream on my 31st birthday since "that's the pattern [you] observed" (to use Carroll's language), you would have been wrong. Thus determinism can't be solely grounded in the knowledge of past patterns.

But suppose the determinist replied, "Ah! But maybe you were determined to eat ice cream every day for thirty years and then determined to stop eating it on your 31st birthday!" Perhaps. But how would we know it? What arguments or evidence could we offer to support that proposal? Carroll says we know events are determined "because that's the pattern we observed." But in this case, it's precisely not the pattern we observed. Assuming it would be a new determined pattern that was previously unobservable would only beg the question in favor of determinism and make it unfalsifiable.

Determinism, Destiny, and Fate

Bad arguments aside, Carroll's not wholly comfortable with the implications of determinism. Therefore, he tries to soften its blow by distinguishing it from destiny and fate (emphasis mine):

"The physical notion of determinism is different from destiny or fate in a subtle but crucial way: because Laplace's Demon doesn't actually exist, the future may be determined by the present, but literally nobody knows what it will be." (36)

This reveals a confusion. Carroll implies that since we can't know the future, determinism doesn't imply fate or destiny. But our knowledge of the future is irrelevant to the question of whether we're fated or free. Determinism indeed implies fate since perfect knowledge of the current moment yields perfect knowledge of the next, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. That means every future moment is already set based on the state of the world right now (which is, in turn, based on the states before it). On determinism, your entire future is unavoidably fated.

Carroll tries another route to sidestep determinism's dreary implications, this time returning to his poetic naturalism:

"There is one way of talking about the universe that describes it as elementary particles or quantum states, in which Laplace holds sway and what happens next depends only on the state of the system right now. There is also another way of talking about it, where we zoom out a bit and introduce categories like 'people' and 'choices'...Our best theories of human behavior are not deterministic. We don't know any way to predict what a person will do based on what we can readily observe about their current state. Whether we think of human behavior as determined depends on what we know."

Here, again, we spot the confusion. Carroll seems to think determinism means you can predict future states of events—to the degree you can predict them, they're determined. But determinism is independent of what we know or predict. If reality was completely determined, that would remain true whether we predicted some, all, or no future events.

Also, Carroll affirms that while fundamental reality (i.e, level one reality, the deepest, quantum level of the universe) is deterministic, the higher levels (i.e., "emergent" levels) are not necessarily deterministic. In fact, they seem to be quite the opposite. Yet how can this be so? If elementary particles and quantum states are determined, then categories like "choice" would be, at best, useful fictions. They may help us get along in the everyday world, but they're ultimately out of step with fundamental reality. Once again, we see another example of Carroll's instrumentalism, preferring "stories" that work rather than explanations that are true.

The Final Blow Against Determinism

In the end, Carroll offers no convincing reasons to think determinism is true. Yet even if Carroll thought it was true, why would he try to persuade us of it? If determinism was true, then we've been pre-determined to either accept or reject it—we have no choice in the matter! And so we arrive at the final knockout blow against determinism: anyone trying to convince people determinism is true, to convince them to freely change their mind about determinism, implicitly undermines it.

In the next post, we'll looks at Carroll's thoughts about the philosophy of time. Stay tuned!

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

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  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I always liked what John Polkinghorne had to say on the topic of determinism. He agrees with Brandon (and me, FWIW) that there are no convincing reasons to believe that mechanical determinism is true, and in fact goes further to suggest that a realist position would interpret the inherent unpredictabilities in our science as a sign of an "open-ness" in the universe.

    http://origins.meaningoflife.tv/video.php?speaker=polkinghorne&topic=freewill

    • I 100% agree. I'm only vaguely familiar with the many interpretations of quantum mechanics, though, so I didn't marshall that as evidence in my critique of determinism.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    @bvogt1 OK, I'll bite: what is the significance of the ice cream photo for this post?

    • Did you read the post? There's a whole section on ice cream...

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Haha. Oh dear. Yes, honestly, I did read all that. I'm afraid that is sometimes how my mind works -- latching on to what I think is the essential point and forgetting the details. Just ask my wife.

  • Oh this is frustrating. Sean Carroll is presupposing that his preferred interpretation of quantum mechanics is true, even though there are other interpretations which are 100% consistent with the evidence and don't result in determinism. Or perhaps in his book he notes this choice and therefore it isn't a presupposition? Anyway, I haven't seen any science or argument which successfully refutes what David Bohm wrote in 1957:

        The assumption that any particular kind of fluctuations are arbitrary and lawless relative to all possible contexts, like the similar assumption that there exists an absolute and final determinate law, is therefore evidently not capable of being based on any experimental or theoretical developments arising out of specific scientific problems, but it is instead a purely philosophical assumption. (Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, 44)

    Of course, Bohm is arguing against an indeterministic theory of QM (in favor of de Broglie–Bohm theory or something like it), but the argument of course goes both ways.

    To throw more wood on the fire, we could examine the argument Thomas Breuer (no relation) makes in The Impossibility of Accurate State Self-Measurements (pdf), where he argues that "we never can fully verify the allegedly deterministic character of an absolutely universally valid theory." (4) There's also a fun paradox, that if an experimenter is not free to choose what to study, then there is no guarantee that what is studied properly covers all the phenomena.

    • I can't remember exactly what he says about QM in the book, and I don't have the book in front of me. I do remember he (obviously) defends the Many Worlds formulation, and I vaguely remember him admitting there are others who believe in indeterministic models, but then quickly dismissing those views (without argument) as if they were just crazy, fringe positions. But I'm not 100% sure--just going off of memory here.

      • Well, the article I linked is Why the Many-Worlds Formulation of Quantum Mechanics Is Probably Correct, with "Probably" being a gross underestimation of his confidence. Carroll follows the time-honored tradition of arguing that his interpretation is latent in the already-accepted equations of QM, and then castigating anyone who would disagree as taking the "'anger' strategy" or the "'denial' strategy". There is a serious objection to the MWI:

        To be precise, the only assumption we will be making is that when one does, for example, a polarization experiment and gets some result (photon passed or absorbed), there is, after the experiment is finished, something in the physical state of the universe which picks out that result over the other possible results. Our assumption is held in common by all wave-collapse theories, whether collapse is caused by interaction with macroscopic devices, by conscious experience, or by random "hits" as in the their of Ghirardi, Rimini, and Weber (1986). It is also held by no-collapse theories such as Bohm's which use additional variables to describe the world. Indeed, I know of only two interpretations which deny the assumption: the many-worlds interpretation of Everett and Wheeler (De Witt and Graham 1973) and the many-minds interpretation of David Albert and Barry Loewer (1988, 1989; Albert 1992). The many-worlds theory is incoherent for reasons which have been often pointed out: since there are no frequencies in the theory there is nothing for the numerical predictions of quantum theory to mean. This fact is often disguised by the choice of fortuitous examples. A typical Shrödinger-cat apparatus is designed to yield a 50 percent probability for each of two results, so the "splitting" of the universe in two seems to correspond to the probabilities. But the device could equally be designed to yield a 99 percent probability of one result and 1 percent probability of the other. Again the world "splits" in two; wherein lies the difference between this case and the last? (Quantum Non-Locality & Relativity, 4n1)

        Now, Carroll does acknowledge this problem, but then in the article linked with the text "Decision theory", we find a very convenient 50 percent probability for each result: (1/√2)² = 50%; commenter will pointed this out, with Carroll's response requiring "equal probabilities for two branches with equal weights". If you require the wave function to be normalized, "equal probabilities" ⇒ each coefficient is 1/√2. Let's return to Carroll's MWI post:

        The final strategy is acceptance. That is the Everettian approach. The formalism of quantum mechanics, in this view, consists of quantum states as described above and nothing more, which evolve according to the usual Schrödinger equation and nothing more. (Why the Many-Worlds Formulation of Quantum Mechanics Is Probably Correct)

        The criticism one would then offer is that Carroll's universe is simply too small, which is a more rigorous hearkening back to your Why Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture” Is Too Small. Carroll's confidence that this problem with the MWI interpretation can be solved in his spartan environment seems open to plenty of skepticism, especially given this response to the second link he offers (link text: "paper"); the response contains the text: "There is still nothing close to a consensus on the most promising way forward, even among many-worlds enthusiasts." (1) The only conclusion I can draw is that Carroll's personal confidence greatly outstrips the objective, scientific case one can construct at this point in time.

        • "The only conclusion I can draw is that Carroll's personal confidence greatly outstrips the objective, scientific case one can construct at this point in time."

          I would agree. And I would go further and say this is often the case with Carroll's view on many hot-button philosophical/scientific issues, including the nature of time, morality, consciousness, etc.

    • David Nickol

      On page 36, Sean Carrol says of the interpretations of quantum mechanics that some involve true randomness and others retain complete determinism. But then he says:

      All of the popular versions of quantum mechanics, however, maintain the underlying philosophy of Laplace's analysis, even if they do away with perfect predictability: what matters, in predicting what will happen next, is the current state of the universe. Not a goal in the future, nor any memory of where the system has been. As far as our best current physics is concerned, each moment in the progression of time follows from the previous moment according to clear, impersonal, quantitative rules.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Do you follow his reasoning there? I don't. Now that our best current physics has done away with possibility of perfect predictability, what scientific justification could there possibly be for thinking that the future is completely determined by the present? And if he is invoking some non-scientific justification, what is it?

        • determined ≠ predictable

          • unpredictable determination ⇒ unfalsifiable determination

          • "unpredictable determination ⇒ unfalsifiable determination"

            This is correct, which is the point I was trying to make in my original post. You made it much more succinctly, plus with a cool arrow graphic :)

          • Sometimes there's no substitute for succinct notation. The symbols ⇒, ⇏, ≠, and ≈ can be so helpful. Add some Autohotkey and => followed by [Ctrl][Alt][Shift]-Y is replaced with . :-)

            I would like to see this matter explored in more ways. Why is Carroll so intent on asserting something which is unfalsifiable? There are at least two (or 1.5) other avenues of attack: Nancy Cartwright's Ceteris Paribus Laws, and her How the Laws of Physics Lie.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree. But my question is, if you know that things are not perfectly predictable, then what justification do you have for thinking that they are perfectly determined?

          • I'm not a physicist, but here's my understanding:

            Carroll tries to show there's no room for anything else. If there is, demonstrate it. Show what it is and how it interacts with what we do know about the world; the core theory of particle physics is complete, there are no unknown forces.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Carroll tries to show there's no room for anything else.

            As I understand it, the "no room for anything else" argument states that the known physical laws are sufficient to predict measurements for all of the simple (non-complex / non-emergent) phenomena we are aware of, in all but the most extreme spatio-temporal regions, with an imprecision that is negligible. I accept his authority on that point, as long as we remember that negligible in that context means negligible if one's purpose is just to predict those phenomena in isolation. It is then reasonable, based on the knowledge that "simple phenomena are very precisely predictable", to make the ontological inference: "simple phenomena are almost completely determined in an impersonal way". That is an inference that I'm willing to sign up for.

            Moreover, I am even willing to sign up for a quasi-emergentist metaphysical stance that "complex phenomena are 'merely' the intricate confluence of simple phenomena". (I put "merely" in scare quotes to show that I am not unimpressed by intricate confluences, and I am sensitive to the fact that many emergentists also have a subtle appreciation of this beauty). However, even with that extra metaphysical binding:

            "Simple phenomena are almost completely determined in an impersonal way" plus "complex phenomena are 'merely' the intricate confluence of simple phenomena" does not add up to "complex phenomena are almost completely determined in an impersonal way".

            The reason those things do not add up, in my mind, is that all those "negligible errors" are opportunities for God's "ongoing"(*) freedom. As all those "negligible errors" come together in an intricate confluence, so God's freedom may come together in an intricate confluence, resulting finally in a fugue of freedom, which we call a person. This fugue is not only a real thing, it is a real thing that is partially composed of freedom. This freedom is not just a shorthand for "complex interactions of unfree things". This freedom is elemental.

            That is how I think about it, in any case.

            (*) ongoing in the sense of "not generically manifest for all of space and time" but rather "specifically becoming manifest in the ongoing unfolding of space and time".

            EDIT: replaced "square quotes" with "scare quotes". Not sure what "square quotes" are :-)

          • "determined ≠ predictable"

            This is true. But contrast it with what Carroll implies:

            "Our best theories of human behavior are not deterministic. We don't know any way to predict what a person will do based on what we can readily observe about their current state."

          • I take that to be more a function of having a vast array of inputs and experiences processed through our incredibly complex brains, so it's an 'in practice' observation, not an 'in principle'.

        • David Nickol

          It seems pretty simple to me. Looking at successive moments, the current moment flowed directly from the past moment, and the future moment will flow directly from the current moment. Even if the laws of physics have some element of randomness, every successive moment flows from the one immediately preceding it. How could it be otherwise? It seems to me it is a fundamental assumption not just of physics, but of human thought. What if it were otherwise? For example, if the laws of physics don't fully account for the light that falls on the retina, and if the optic nerve doesn't transmit electrical signals from the retina to the brain according to the laws of physics and chemistry, how would the brain make sense of those signals to allow us to see?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            the current moment flowed directly from the past moment

            Sure, it "flowed from it" in some sense -- I'm not denying the existence of causal chains -- but that is a much vaguer commitment than saying that the current moment was completely determined by the previous moment. It is most certainly not a fundamental assumption of human thought that the future is perfectly predictable from the present. That assumption negates the possibility of human choice, which is inherent in human thought.

            For example, if the laws of physics don't fully account for the light that falls on the retina, ...

            If we are talking about the measurable amount that falls on the retina (that is, if we are talking about science and not pure mathematics), then the known physical laws don't fully account for it. There is "noise" in those measurements, and we now know that it is not physically possible to get rid of that noise entirely. The noise may be small when are looking at isolated and simple physical phenomena, but those pesky bits of noise become very significant when we roll things up and look at complex phenomena holistically, even for "simple" phenomena as the electrochemical reaction in the optic nerve. We don't in any sense know that the reaction in the optic nerve is completely determined by some prior state. We only know that it is partially determined by prior states.

          • David Nickol

            but that is a much vaguer commitment than saying that the current moment was completely determined by the previous moment.

            If the current moment is not completely determined by the totality of the previous moment, what other factor or factors influenced the current moment? (For the sake of simplicity, let's exclude human behavior from the discussion.) Even if there is some randomness introduced on the quantum level, what you have in moving from one moment to the next is the totality of the first moment plus an element of randomness. What else do you find room for?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I understand the word "random" to be a characterization of our ignorance of the way things are, and not as a characterization of the way things truly are. Some of our ignorance about random phenomena can be removed, in which case we make our models "less random", diminishing the role of the stochastic features in our models, as the systematic features of our models improve. But other components of that ignorance, apparently, will never go away. I interpret that "inescapable randomness" at the epistemic level to be indicative of freedom at the ontological level.

            What else do you find room for?

            So, fundamentally, I find room for freedom. Freedom for the future to contain something truly new, something that is not entirely determined by the present. At a minimum, I believe in the freedom of God, and the freedom of human beings. I'll throw in some angels too, for good measure.

          • David Nickol

            I interpret that "inescapable randomness" at the epistemic level to be indicative of freedom at the ontological level.

            Well, there's your mistake. ;-)

            If it is true randomness, as it seems to be, then things work lawfully part of the time, and randomly part of the time. But randomness is not freedom.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree that randomness is not freedom. But stochastic (random) models are what we use to model things (like people) that are free. Conversely then, when we find something that can only be modeled stochastically, it is reasonable to infer freedom.

          • But randomness is not freedom.

            The opposite of the kind of determinism we find in the current laws of physics is not [exclusively] randomness.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Re: "true randomness". If we are going to use that term, I would suggest that we use our best pseudo-random number generators as a guide to imagining what "true randomness" might really refer to. If that is indeed a reliable guide, then it would be a false dichotomy to distinguish between "lawfulness" and "randomness".

            Our best pseudo-random number generators do not churn out arbitrary or lawless numbers. They churn out numbers that follow a hidden law that is so exquisite that it is nearly impossible to predict its consequences. By extension, I think we should imagine that "truly random" phenomena reveal, not lawlessness, but rather an infinitely exquisite law, one so exquisite that its consequences cannot be predicted even in principle (except by God).

            I imagine that each person has a life pattern (or a "soul") that expresses, not only the joint effects of all of our generic physical laws, but also the effect of a "personal law", which has causal effects in the same way that our generic physical laws do (which is to say, in a completely mysterious way). I see nothing in the known laws of physics that would contradict the existence of these "personal laws", and I see everything in the realm of human choice that suggests they are real. Because these "personal laws" are hidden (except to the extent that we choose to reveal ourselves to others) we have to model them stochastically.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            randomness is not freedom.

            That is true. It is also not a real thing.
            Besides, the opposite of "determined outcome" is not "random outcome." (Random outcomes may be determined. See casinos, for example, The outcomes of a roulette wheel are determined by the design of the wheel and the manner in which it is operated.) The opposite of "determined outcome" is "undetermined outcome."

      • But Carroll is wrong. As he knows, the most popular interpretation of QM is the Copenhagen interpretation, and that interpretation most definitely does not establish a block universe, which is the kind of universe which allows the underlined:

        All of the popular versions of quantum mechanics, however, maintain the underlying philosophy of Laplace's analysis, even if they do away with perfect predictability: what matters, in predicting what will happen next, is the current state of the universe. Not a goal in the future, nor any memory of where the system has been. As far as our best current physics is concerned, each moment in the progression of time follows from the previous moment according to clear, impersonal, quantitative rules. (The Big Picture, 36)

        To see an alternative to the block universe conception, see growing block universe.

        • David Nickol

          But Carroll is wrong. As he knows, . . .

          Honestly, do you think you know physics better than Sean Carroll? I don't think you do. Are you accusing him of being disingenuous?

          In any case, you will have to argue with him, not with me. We are discussing his book, which I am reading, and his detailed discussion of quantum theory is in Chapters 21 through 24, which I have not read yet. I have, over the years, read many popular books on quantum physics, but I don't pretend to be an expert on it. Perhaps if Brandon is able to arrange an "ask me anything" encounter with Carroll you can tell him directly how wrong he is and give him helpful links to articles on the Internet. :P

          • Honestly, do you think you know physics better than Sean Carroll? I don't think you do. Are you accusing him of being disingenuous?

            No, I'm accusing him of ignoring the Copenhagen interpretation. From Wikipedia:

            According to the Copenhagen interpretation, physical systems generally do not have definite properties prior to being measured, and quantum mechanics can only predict the probabilities that measurements will produce certain results. (Copenhagen interpretation)

            The underlined phrase above seems to conflict directly with the underlined phrase below:

            All of the popular versions of quantum mechanics, however, maintain the underlying philosophy of Laplace's analysis, even if they do away with perfect predictability: what matters, in predicting what will happen next, is the current state of the universe. Not a goal in the future, nor any memory of where the system has been. As far as our best current physics is concerned, each moment in the progression of time follows from the previous moment according to clear, impersonal, quantitative rules. (The Big Picture, 36)

            From Carroll's 2013 blog post The Most Embarrassing Graph in Modern Physics, he knows that 42% of 33 participants at a 2011 quantum foundations meeting prefer the Copenhagen interpretation. That seems to qualify it as a "popular version of quantum mechanics".

            In any case, you will have to argue with him, not with me.

            That won't happen, but perhaps someone with a physics PhD or even BS could drop by and comment.

            Perhaps if Brandon is able to arrange an "ask me anything" encounter with Carroll you can tell him directly how wrong he is and give him helpful links to articles on the Internet. :P

            Sadly, I doubt this will happen. I'm almost certain that Carroll will want more rigor than Brandon can muster, himself not being sufficiently versed in physics. And Carroll isn't so much wrong as he seems blind to some of the alternatives out there, or at least he minimizes them. That's a much lesser charge. He has his pet way of looking at things and there's a lot to respect about it. I have yet to see anything he's written which is nutty.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            “In the strict formulation of the law of causality—if we know the present, we can calculate the future—it is not the conclusion that is wrong but the premise.”
            -- Werner Heisenberg, "On an implication of the uncertainty principle."

            To which we might add that not everything is necessarily calculable. Some "measurements" are really only pseudo-measurements, and measure some surrogate rather than the quality of interest. And if you measure the same thing using different methods of measurement, you will in general get different results. (A measurement is a product, produced by a process, and it matters what process you use.)

            Carroll's narrower conception of causation as calculable causation is interesting, not only because when the topic shifts to First Cause arguments we find causation quickly denied by some of the same folks, but also because it is perfectly accurate for 99.999% of everything in the universe; to wit, inanimate matter. It's when we deal with animate matter that things get iffy, esp. rational animate matter.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I would massively downgrade that 99.999% We don't need to look to inanimate matter to find evidence of non-calculable causation. "Deterministic laws" are supposed by some to span all of the known inanimate universe, even while we can't predict sunspots on the sun in our own solar system.

            EDIT to add: I realize we can model sunspots stochastically and make approximate predictions. But I mean that we cannot predict them with anything like the precision of Laplace's Demon. The bottom line is that we have no business suggesting they result entirely from the inevitable progression of impersonal forces.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Let's not confuse determination with predictability. The causes of sunspots were in operation even before we knew there were such things as sunspots, let alone before we began to track and measure them.

            Now it may be that they are a phenomenon in Phase III science. After all, Phase I science always did depend on throwing out factors to simplify the problem -- ideal gasses, perfect vacuum, frictionless surfaces, etc. -- because the techniques of mathematics could not easily deal with too many variables at once. Ivar Ekeland pointed out in Mathematics and the Unexpected that predictions went awry the more precisely they were attempted and the further into the future they were cast. In predicting the path of a seven-ball cannon in billiards, he wrote, one would need to take into account the gravitational attractions of the spectators around the table.

            Heck, Newton was unable to solve the orbit of the Moon. It's a three-body problem.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The causes of sunspots were in operation even before we knew there were such things as sunspots, let alone before we began to track and measure them.

            I'm missing the relevance of this point.

            I understand the distinction between determination and predictability. Still, if we lived in a universe in which the vast majority of phenomena were precisely predictable, I would find it very reasonable to infer from that that the vast majority of phenomena were determined. My point is, we live in a universe where the vast majority of phenomena are not predictable with any precision (depends what you are counting as phenomena, I guess, but still ...). In such an universe as this, I can't see how there is even suggestive evidence that everything is determined in an impersonal way.

          • There is a perverse phenomenon going on. The most successful science, qua science, is that which does the best job of predicting. We then set up the most successful science as the goal for all science. The more mature the science is, the more it can predict. With this mindset, it really does make sense to believe that everything is determined. But that belief actually flows from a presupposition—the definition of 'science' and/or 'most successful'—not from anything "out there", in reality.

            One major thing the above conception of science omits is the idea of humans being divine image-bearers who act as witnesses to God and his glory, as well agents of his redemptive and sanctifying plan. These two things involve taking order from God and imposing† it on the world, not taking order from the world and imposing it on one's mind. The direction of information-flow (or knowledge-flow) is precisely opposite. Of course, we have the problem of Fitch's Paradox of Knowability, which probably requires that knowledge cannot arise ex nihilo. So either the order coming out of the human mind is truly caused by God, or it must either be latent in the human mind, or it's a product of the initial conditions + laws (colloquially: the environment). I actually just surprised myself: this last option might explain some of the [largely subconscious?] motivation of creationists, given the rise in 'mythological power' that evolutionary explanations seem to be having.

            † I should be careful: the use of 'imposing' can be seen as an act of domination, and thus in violation of Mt 20:20–28. The history of the OT and NT show that God does remarkably little 'imposing'. Instead, he gives freedom, which is a very odd term on mechanistic models of the human.

          • Ahh, but Heisenberg's unsharpness relation deals with predictability, not [necessarily] determinism. The things in themselves can have state which is simply inaccessible to us mere mortals. Now, it's deliciously ironic that fields of study ideologically labeled 'religion' aren't allowed to talk about aspects of nature which can never be interfaced with the senses, while the field of study ostensibly enslaved to the senses (via empirical data) is allowed to talk about aspects of nature which can only be accessed via pure intellection.

            Once you start dealing with calculation, you don't just have the problems you mention, but also problems Nancy Cartwright picks out, e.g. in How the Laws of Physics Lie. See, whenever an approximation is made from Caroll's mega-equation, the thing being tested in the experiment is not Carroll's mega-equation, but every single possible mega-equation which could be approximated in that way. Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin raises the possibility that perhaps some 'laws' are the results of organization of many little pieces (and this can be recursive). I'm pretty sure he intends to violate Carroll's reductionist stance in Downward Causation in raising this possibility.

  • David Nickol

    Yet even if Carroll thought it was true, why would he try to persuade us
    of it? If determinism was true, then we've been pre-determined to
    either accept or reject it—we have no choice in the matter!

    This is really very poorly reasoned. Even if we do away with the idea that determinism applies only at the "fundamental level" and applies all the way up to, and including, human consciousness, that does not mean that some people have been predetermined to accept determinism as true and others have been predetermined to reject determinism as false. To quote what Carroll says about determinism, "each moment in the progression of time follows from the previous moment according to clear, impersonal, quantitative rules." If we think of human beings as no more than biological supercomputers that function according to deterministic principles, it still matters what data the biological supercomputers are presented with. Determinism is a moment-to-moment process, where what is determined is moment #1 (from moment 0) and then moment #2 (from moment #1). It simply makes no sense to claim that any attempts at persuasion are futile is determinism holds. It still makes a difference even if determinism is true to attempt to persuade people to accept or reject a given position. The attempted persuasion will be part of what "determines" the outcome, even if it backfires and the person rejects the argument.

    • Try thinking about it this way. Could the initial conditions + laws of nature be set up so that scientists never end up choosing to explore certain aspects of reality?

      • David Nickol

        Let's remember that according to "poetic naturalism," human behavior is not determined. It seems to be the approach here to try to demonstrate that while Sean Carroll says human behavior is not determined, according to his other views, he is being inconsistent, and he should maintain human behavior is determined. But anyone who is arguing here that human behavior is not determined is not arguing against what Sean Carroll himself says, since he quite explicitly says that human behavior is not determined.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          But as I indicated below, he also says that our different ways of talking about reality must cohere. How is it coherent to say that, per one level of analysis, the present does not determine the future, and per another level of analysis, the present does determine the future, and both levels of analysis are correct?

          • David Nickol

            Because there are different realities at different levels. One molecule of water, even at normal pressure and room temperature, is not wet. You cannot pour one molecule of water. You can't boil or freeze it. One molecule of water cannot be ice, no matter how cold it is. The whole point of poetic naturalism is that it is a mistake to use the language we use to describe the most basic level of reality to describe other levels.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Because there are different realities at different levels.

            Whoa, time out. That is not what he is saying. At least I hope that is not what he is saying. I'm pretty sure he is saying that there is one reality, and multiple ways of talking about it. If those multiple ways of talking are not all referring to the same reality, then why would he insist on coherence?

          • David Nickol

            I am not sure I put it correctly when I said there are different "realities" at different levels. But that is pretty close. What exists at higher levels are "emergent levels of reality." The language used to describe the most fundamental level of reality may not apply to emergent levels, and vice versa. This is one of the fundamental tenets of poetic naturalism.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            On my reading, the essence of poetic naturalism (with which I agree) is that there are multiple simultaneously correct levels of analysis of reality. I think many (including Carroll himself, from what I can tell) derive from that an incorrect corollary that there are not just multiple levels of analysis of reality, but there are actually multiple levels of reality. I am not sure whether I agree or disagree with that latter position, because to be honest I'm still not entirely sure what it is supposed to entail. In any case, I don't think these multiple levels of reality are supposed to be disjoint. Presumably, if our multiple ways of talking about reality have to cohere, that is because these "multiple levels of reality" must cohere as well.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            But Carroll is explicitly opposed to "emergent" views, as his discussion with Massimo Pigliucci, at a Pigliucci blog post linked on the previous episode here demonstrated. So you cannot save Carroll with an appeal to emergence.

          • David Nickol

            So you cannot save Carroll with an appeal to emergence.

            I am not trying to "save Carroll." I am reporting on what he says in the book under discussion. Chapter 12 ("Reality Emerges") is devoted to emergence. He says:

            One pivotal word enables that reconciliation between all the different stories: emergence. Like many magical words, it's extremely powerful but also tricky and liable to be misused in the wrong hands. The property of a system is "emergent" if it is not part of a detailed "fundamental" description of the system, but it becomes useful or even inevitable when we look at the system more broadly. A naturalist believes that human behavior emerges from the complex interplay of the atoms and force that make up individual human beings.

            From flipping through the book, I am aware that he later discusses "weak emergence" and "strong emergence" and is doubtful or at least noncommittal about strong emergence.

            In any case, this is a discussion of Carroll's current book, not everything he has ever said, and I think it is only fair to focus the discussion on the book.

          • From flipping through the book, I am aware that he later discusses "weak emergence" and "strong emergence" and is doubtful or at least noncommittal about strong emergence.

            He utterly rejects any definition of 'strong emergence' I've seen: see his Downward Causation. What he believes is that any time-evolution of state on the emergent level is 100% describable by this:

            All of the popular versions of quantum mechanics, however, maintain the underlying philosophy of Laplace's analysis, even if they do away with perfect predictability: what matters, in predicting what will happen next, is the current state of the universe. Not a goal in the future, nor any memory of where the system has been. As far as our best current physics is concerned, each moment in the progression of time follows from the previous moment according to clear, impersonal, quantitative rules. (The Big Picture, 36)

            The underlined text is surely represented by this equation. Any other way of talking, at any emergent level, is an approximation, which may be 'useful', or even 'necessary'.

            In any case, this is a discussion of Carroll's current book, not everything he has ever said, and I think it is only fair to focus the discussion on the book.

            When there is [apparent] ambiguity in the book, it only makes sense to see if other things he has said dispell that ambiguity. I mean, would it really help if I were to buy the book, find where he gets at the extra-book references that I and others are making, and then cite those sections exclusively? I doubt it, and in doing so, we make it harder for those who don't have the book to engage the conversation.

          • David Nickol

            I think perhaps you and Ye Olde Statistician are hinting that Sean Carroll is being duplicitous because he appears to leave open possibilities in his book where he himself has elsewhere taken a firm position. But as I understand what he has explained about Bayesian reasoning, "prior credences" are never set to zero. I am going to resist quoting too much, partly because it is boring to type long passages, but on pages 109-110 he presents a situation which and the way those who believe in strong emergence might interpret it. He then says:

            That is certainly the way the world could work. If it's how the world actually does work, then our purported microscopic theory of the atom is simply wrong. . . . There's no ambiguity in what the atom is supposed to do, according to our best theory of physics. If there are situations in which the atom behaves otherwise . . . then our theory is wrong and we have to do better.

            Which is completely possible, of course. (Many things are possible.) . . . But it's always conceivable that quantum field theory is itself just wrong. There's no evidence that it's wrong, however, and very powerful experimental and theoretical reasons to think it's right, within a very wide domain of applicability. So we're allowed to contemplate alterations in this basic paradigm of physics but we should be aware of how dramatically we are changing our best theories of the world, just in order to account for a phenomenon (human behavior) that is manifestly extremely complex and hard to understand.

            I think the task here for those who disagree with the ideas in The Big Picture, is to argue against them, not attempt to discredit Sean Carroll.

          • I think perhaps you and Ye Olde Statistician are hinting that Sean Carroll is being duplicitous because he appears to leave open possibilities in his book where he himself has elsewhere taken a firm position.

            No, that's not what I would say at all.

        • Let's remember that according to "poetic naturalism," human behavior is not determined.

          Wait, is that true? Or is it that human behavior is not predictable? Let's contrast two things Carroll says:

          All of the popular versions of quantum mechanics, however, maintain the underlying philosophy of Laplace's analysis, even if they do away with perfect predictability: what matters, in predicting what will happen next, is the current state of the universe. Not a goal in the future, nor any memory of where the system has been. As far as our best current physics is concerned, each moment in the progression of time follows from the previous moment according to clear, impersonal, quantitative rules. (The Big Picture, 36)

          Unlike our best theory of planets or pendulums, our best theories of human behavior are not deterministic. We don't know any way to predict what a person will do based on what we can readily observe about their current state. Whether we think of human behavior as determined depends on what we know. (The Big Picture, 37)

          The confusion here is that model ≠ reality, unless it's the quantum wavefunction itself, in which case Carroll believes that model = reality. This can be seen in Carroll's FQXi talk "Fluctuations in de Sitter Space". (IIRC he outright says that, but the whole talk is predicated upon the idea.)

          Carroll's reductionism requires that nothing happens in the target of "our best theories of human behavior" which is not perfectly described by "the current state of the universe" + "our best current physics". The reason that there is a confusion between 'determinism' and 'prediction' (recall @SattaMassagana:disqus' "determined ≠ predictable") is that a non-deterministic model of human behavior is 100% consistent with a deterministic model of the fundamental laws of physics. According to Carroll, the model of human behavior is an approximation, while the model of reality isn't (at least for everyday life).

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      It simply makes no sense to claim that any attempts at persuasion are futile if determinism holds.

      If perfect determinism holds and we are just giant, ultimately unintelligent supercomputers, then the very concept of "attempt" is nonsensical. Computers don't attempt things. Computers do or do not. There is no try.

      • David Nickol

        Of course, I may be wrong, but I lean toward believing that the brain is a highly complex physical object, and that a spiritual soul is not necessary for human intelligence to exist. Certainly no computers we have now cannot be spoken of as trying to explain or persuade. And when machine intelligence is achieved, the machines may not be computers in anything like the sense we have them today. But I can only reiterate that it seems highly plausible that the human brain is a physical object without a "soul," and that a similar kind of object can be constructed of purely physical components.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Of course, I may be wrong, but I lean toward believing that the brain is a highly complex physical object

          No argument there!

          and that a spiritual soul is not necessary for human intelligence to exist.

          I might even agree with that, depending on what you mean by intelligence, which is kind of a vaguely defined term. I read Stephen Pinker's "How the Mind Works" with fascination and general agreement.

          I can't see any path, however, to computers being capable of intellection, which I use to mean "sentient understanding". In whatever sense computers may understand, I am pretty sure they are not aware of their understanding. It seems to me that some new principle came into the universe when sentience arrived on the scene. If computers can't experience trying, then they are not trying, in my view.

          I found it humorous that, in that book, Pinker pulled the old Fermat trick and claimed that he was hot on the tails of an evolutionary biology explanation for sentience. But, alas, the books was already too long, so he didn't have space to pursue those ideas :)

          • I can't see any path, however, to computers being capable of intellection, which I use to mean "sentient understanding".

            Hubert Dreyfus agrees with you. He wrote two books with suggestive titles: What Computers Still Can't Do and Mind Over Machine. David Braine offers a different route to some of the same conclusions in his magnum opus, Language and Human Understanding. I'm still working through Braine's ideas on this matter.

          • Doug Shaver

            In whatever sense computers may understand, I am pretty sure they are not aware of their understanding.

            They're not aware yet, obviously. But suppose the day comes when you can converse with a computer, and its speech is indistinguishable from that of a human, and it claims to be self-aware. How would you prove that it wasn't?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It's a good question. Moreover, even with the more or less explicit knowledge that the people in my life are not robots, I still have no way of knowing whether those people are sentient in the same sense that I know I am. I have no way of knowing with certainty whether "self" is a good metaphor for "other" in that sense. As in all things, we don't have direct access to reality, we just have to interpret the signs that we are presented with as best we can. I think I am sufficiently able to interpret the signs so as to know that other people are sentient while rocks are not, but how that works I'm not entirely sure. I'll hazard a partial guess though:

            I think one somewhat compelling sign of sentience is -- appropriately enough -- unpredictability. There are of course ways to make computers unpredictably reactive, but it's not clear to me if they can ever become as richly unpredictable as animals are. The realm of sentience appears to me to be unfathomable, while computers are necessarily finite, so I kind of doubt you can get the two to match up. But who knows.

          • Doug Shaver

            Moreover, even with the more or less explicit knowledge that the people in my life are not robots, I still have no way of knowing whether those people are sentient in the same sense that I know I am.

            In my epistemology, knowledge is simply justified true belief, with a stipulation that we can argue forever over what constitutes justification. I would only stipulate further that whatever justification is, it need not confer infallibility. I maintain that I can rightly claim to know something while admitting at least a hypothetical possibility of being wrong. If it happens that I am wrong, then of course I was mistaken in claiming to know it, but otherwise I see no problem.

            With that out of the way, I would maintain that because I see other people acting, in certain relevant respects, exactly the way I act, and knowing the connection between my own sentience and the way I act, I'm justified on that basis in assuming that they too are sentient. Therefore, if it is a fact that they are sentient, then I know that they are sentient because my belief in their sentience is justified.

          • I would ask the computer to show the relevant logical/​empirical errors in David Braine's Language and Human Understanding: The Roots of Creativity in Speech and Thought which allow it to be self-aware while still being a Turing machine. Or, perhaps self-awareness does not require the kind of deftness with the informality of natural language Braine discusses—that would be another very interesting result.

          • Doug Shaver

            Since I haven't read Braine's book, I don't know offhand how to respond. But maybe I'll think of something.

      • Haha, my wife and I just watched the Star Trek Voyager episode Warhead, where one AI works hard to persuade another AI. What wonderful timing.

      • Will

        If perfect determinism holds and we are just giant, ultimately unintelligent supercomputers, then the very concept of "attempt" is nonsensical.

        What a ridiculous statement. Computers "attempt" to read from drives all the time. One computer attempts to connect to another, it sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails. None of this even begins to address the fact that brains are absurdly different from computers, transistors, ect. Wow... *smh* Aren't any of you familiar with Chaos theory?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_theory

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          You know, if you had phrased that politely, I would actually agree with a legitimate distinction that you are making between sentient attempting and procedural "attempting" (with the scare quotes that you appropriately included).

          But rather than offering a helpful distinction, you act like an ass and call my statement "ridiculous". If you want to come back in 10 years or so when you have matured a bit, I'd be happy to talk some more.

          • Will

            Perhaps calling something ridiculous when it is ridiculous is a sign of intellectual maturity ;) You and Brandon are making a fundamental error dealt with in the introduction of the topic in the SEP

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/determinism-causal/#Int

            Confusing fate/predictability with determinism shows how little homework has been done on this topic. It's fair to ridicule those who come to class without having done their homework. Homework is something mature people take care of.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'm pretty sure that I have distinguished between predictability and determinedness at least a half dozen times in my comments on this post. I have also clarified multiple times that I do believe in a non-fatalistic flavor of determinism.

            If you think I am not making the distinction sufficiently or correctly, you might say why, rather than calling my statements absurd and punting to SEP.

          • Confusing fate/predictability with determinism shows how little homework has been done on this topic.

            Maybe the confusion is on your end, maybe it's on our end. First, let's take @SattaMassagana:disqus's wonderfully concise statement:

            JSM: determined ≠ predictable

            Here are three responses to it:

            BV: This is true.

            J(hc): I agree.

            LB: unpredictable determination ⇒ unfalsifiable determination

            @bvogt1:disqus replied to me:

            BV: This is correct, which is the point I was trying to make in my original post. You made it much more succinctly, plus with a cool arrow graphic :)

            Now, you're welcome to show how I was wrong, or how Brandon isn't actually making that point. In doing so, please don't confuse 'predictable stochastic' with 'predictable determination'; @Geena_Safire:disqus made this error.

          • Will

            Jim says:

            If perfect determinism holds and we are just giant, ultimately unintelligent supercomputers, then the very concept of "attempt" is nonsensical. Computers don't attempt things. Computers do or do not. There is no try.

            In spite of the obvious fact that computers to "attempt" things (try/catch statement anyone?) this is mixing up determinism with fate...

            He also says:

            That is, they do not hold to an extent that would allow perfect prediction of measurements. Absent any indications of perfect prediction, we have no positive evidence for the type of mechanistic / impersonal determinism that Carroll is referring to (which doesn't, in itself, mean that mechanistic / impersonal determinism is necessarily wrong, just that we have no reason to believe in it).

            The second quote obviously equates determinism with prediction. Of course, the idea that we can't predict very low level interactions with near perfect precision is false. If it were true that we could not make very accurate predictions from physics, computers wouldn't work, our rockets wouldn't hit the moon, chemical reactions would sometimes fail for no obvious reason, ect. Regardless, Brandon says:

            Yet even if Carroll thought it was true, why would he try to persuade usof it? If determinism was true, then we've been pre-determined to either accept or reject it—we have no choice in the matter!

            This obviously confuses determinism with fate. If determinism is true, then the discussions you have with people help determine what you think. Your opinion of the person and their arguments DETERMINES how much influence they have. I have always thought this was obvious. Anyway, clearly they are mixing determinism in with prediction/fate even if they say they are not.

            Quick question, do you see any way that the PSR doesn't entail determinism? I fail to see how non-deterministic randomness helps anyone with anything philosophically. This would be why around 60% of philosophers accept compatibilism, with good reason. I think the position that it doesn't exist or is an illusion is based on a faulty definition of free will, myself. The libertarian version that Jim/Brandon seem to be arguing for is a small minority of only 13.7%

            http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/04/29/what-do-philosophers-believe/

          • In spite of the obvious fact that computers to "attempt" things (try/catch statement anyone?) this is mixing up determinism with fate...

            He's almost certaily drawing a contrast between intentionality as a model of an underlying, non-intentional reality, and an ontologically intentional reality. This would make the two different uses of 'attempt' different in kind.

            J(hc): That is, they do not hold to an extent that would allow perfect prediction of measurements. Absent any indications of perfect prediction, we have no positive evidence for the type of mechanistic / impersonal determinism that Carroll is referring to (which doesn't, in itself, mean that mechanistic / impersonal determinism is necessarily wrong, just that we have no reason to believe in it).

            WD: [1] The second quote obviously equates determinism with prediction. [2] Of course, the idea that we can't predict very low level interactions with near perfect precision is false.

            [1] I'm flabbergasted you would say this; @jimhillclimber:disqus seems to be very carefully distinguishing between epistemology ("prediction") and ontology ("mechanistic / impersonal determinism").

            [2] You failed to heed my request:

            LB: please don't confuse 'predictable stochastic' with 'predictable determination'; @Geena_Safire:disqus made this error.

            BV: Yet even if Carroll thought it was true, why would he try to persuade us of it? If determinism was true, then we've been pre-determined to either accept or reject it—we have no choice in the matter!

            WD: This obviously confuses determinism with fate.

            If you accept a compatibilist notion of free will, you are correct. But not everyone is ok with doing that, and for those people, what is the difference between 'determinism' and 'fate'?

            Quick question, do you see any way that the PSR doesn't entail determinism?

            No (see also Jim's comment), but I can see how the PSR would confict with impersonal determinism, although some would prefer to do violence to the term 'determinism', and force folks like @bvogt1:disqus, @jimhillclimber:disqus, and yours truly to use the term "hyperdeterministic".

          • Will

            SEP:

            Since the first clear articulations of the concept, there has been a tendency among philosophers to believe in the truth of some sort of determinist doctrine. There has also been a tendency, however, to confuse determinism proper with two related notions: predictability and fate.

            Luke Breuer: If you accept a compatibilist notion of free will, you are correct. But not everyone is ok with doing that, and for those people, what is the difference between 'determinism' and 'fate'?

            I'll stick with SEP thanks..confusion is confusion. I have no interest in addressing anything else here, it would just be an exercise in frustration. Besides, I already know it wouldn't make a bit of difference, in the slightest in what you think. You would defend your ally's regardless. Perhaps it's fate, I certainly don't think you could chose to do otherwise ;)

          • You omitted the key part. Here:

            Since the first clear articulations of the concept, there has been a tendency among philosophers to believe in the truth of some sort of determinist doctrine. There has also been a tendency, however, to confuse determinism proper with two related notions: predictability and fate.

            Fatalism is the thesis that all events (or in some versions, at least some events) are destined to occur no matter what we do. The source of the guarantee that those events will happen is located in the will of the gods, or their divine foreknowledge, or some intrinsic teleological aspect of the universe, rather than in the unfolding of events under the sway of natural laws or cause-effect relations. (SEP: Causal Determinism)

            Brandon doesn't seem to be using 'fate' according to this definition of 'fatalism':

            BV: This reveals a confusion. Carroll implies that since we can't know the future, determinism doesn't imply fate or destiny. But our knowledge of the future is irrelevant to the question of whether we're fated or free. Determinism indeed implies fate since perfect knowledge of the current moment yields perfect knowledge of the next, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. That means every future moment is already set based on the state of the world right now (which is, in turn, based on the states before it). On determinism, your entire future is unavoidably fated.

            Other than insisting that Brandon must have restricted himself to "(or in some versions, at least some events)", there doesn't seem to be any way to say that necessarily, he meant a teleological (personal) determinism instead of allowing for an impersonal determinism. That being said, the term 'fate' is so strongly tied to "the will of the gods" that I don't think Brandon ought to have used it, here. In Sean Carroll's world, the notion of 'fatalism' described by the above SEP quotation simply cannot exist.

            If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that what Brandon is trying to get at is whether the cause of my actions is I, as a coherent unity, or whether the cause is actually 100% impersonal, with my notion of 'self' being a mere approximation. We could start talking here of formal causes, and I could draw in science and math to make the discussion rigorous. In this light, it would be interesting to hear Brandon's thoughts on what @jimhillclimber:disqus said:

            J(hc): I do believe in strict determinism in the sense that I think outcomes are strictly determined by the sum total of all physical, biological, psychological and spiritual factors that jointly affect an outcome.

          • Will

            None of this is relevant to my original point, I have no desire or patience to reiterate. Have a nice weekend!

          • The definitions of "fate" and "fatalism" aren't relevant?

          • Will

            Look, I'm not interested in playing the "appeal to implausible definitions game" to defend Brandon. I'm in agreement with David N there. It's possible to rationalize anything if you try really hard, but it's not going to convince me of anything, so why waste the energy? Again, enjoy your Saturday!

          • There are two aspects of fate:

                 (1) Driven by the gods (or Fates).
                 (2) Out of our own control.

            Clearly, Carroll is not arguing for (1). But can we taken him to be arguing (2)? Yes, if the only true forces in play are impersonal forces. And that is precisely what he claims. What's kind of humorous is that I already said Brandon shouldn't be using the word 'fate', because of the (1)-aspect:

            LB: That being said, the term 'fate' is so strongly tied to "the will of the gods" that I don't think Brandon ought to have used it, here.

            Did you miss that, because you thought your argument would make zero impact on me? Or is the problem that I have not 100% capitulated to your position?

            What Brandon needs is a word that asserts (2) but not (1). But what is that word? I can't think of one. Our lexicon is so used to the forces at play being personal. I doubt we really know how to talk if the only true forces are impersonal. Unless someone can point to some subset of the English language that is good for talking about this area, as it impacts day-to-day life?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Let me help you along a bit. The structure of my statement about prediction and determinism was, "Absent X, there is no evidence for Y", and you have concluded that this statement was equivalent to "X and Y are the same thing". Are you not able to spot any errors at all in the way that you have reasoned?

          • Will

            But we have X at low levels and some higher levels. We also have evidence for Y that takes forms other than X which makes your crumb story that much more humorous. You really have to work on your attempts at being condescending, they have to actually make sense to work. You were trying way to hard with that story, lol! Nice try though, I have to give you credit :)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            OK, I'll bite:
            1. At what low levels do we have evidence of perfect (Laplacian) prediction?
            2. Other than the instances of perfect Laplacian prediction that you are going to tell me about, what additional evidence do we have in favor of impersonal determinism?

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me—and I am very open to being proven wrong—that the Strange Notions position is one of wanting to have it both ways. It was the great insight of Christianity, which gave birth to modern science, that this is a lawful universe. An absolutely fundamental assumption of science is that experiments yield knowledge. If you repeat the exact same experiment twice, or two hundred times, you get the same results. For many theists here, one of the great source of evidence for their beliefs is certain miracles, which by definition is a suspension of the laws of nature. It seems to me that if the laws of nature do not hold all the time—except for when miracles occur—there can be no claim that miracles are real.

            If we can question "Laplacian prediction" at the fundamental level of the physical sciences, then certainly we can question the Principle of Sufficient Reason. What is the alternative to determinism as a fundamental of the physical sciences?

            As far as I can tell, the argument about determinism is only critical to the Strange Notions position at the level of human behavior. It is a little baffling to me that Sean Carroll explicitly states that it is a tenet of "poetic naturalism" that human behavior is not determined, and the attempt here has been to prove that he really doesn't mean that, it is inconsistent of him to believe that, and consequently responses to Sean Carroll must argue that despite what Carroll says, he does believe human behavior is determined, and part of answering him is to argue that human behavior is not determined.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The argument that there was an essential causal connection between Christian belief and the development of modern science is a thesis that I am not willing to defend. I find it somewhat plausible, but I think it is too ambitious a claim to ever find a robust and compelling defense. So, if I may set that aside, ...

            The God that I know from the Bible is both (partially) revealed and (partially) hidden. As Pope Francis is fond of saying, He is both the God of order and the God of surprise. Belief in surprise is also essential to science, because knowledge that we will always be surprised is what compels us to go out and look for more (surprising) data even when we think we have a perfectly good (orderly) conception of how things work.

            The God that I have learned about from Catholic theology is one who reveals himself both in generic ways that are manifest for all of space and time ("general revelation", which includes "physical laws"), and who also reveals himself dynamically in time in intimately finite, historical, personal ways ("special revelation").

            It is not at all the case that miracles need to involve a suspension of the laws of nature. In fact it is theologically untenable that they involve a suspension of the laws of nature. Physical laws are part of God's general revelation, and God *never* rescinds his promises. Miracles *surpass* the laws of nature, which is to say that they involve the specific, finite manifestation of God's dynamic intent, and not merely the eternal manifestation of God's fixed / static intent. God can throw in a dynamic solo without breaking with his eternal rhythms.

            Sean Carroll, as far as I can tell, is talking out of two sides of his mouth. He says on the one hand that personal intent is real, as real as anything else. But then he says it is not fundamentally real. I still have yet to see anyone explain and justify this distinction.

            The alternative to impersonal determinism (which is the type of determinism that Carroll seems especially sure of) is a determinism that is partly impersonal (not impersonal in the sense of "I don't care", but impersonal in the sense of "manifest for all, and therefore not intimate, not finitely directed, not specific") and is partly personal, specific, and finite. There is nothing "unlawful" about the personal, and there is nothing that is "unlawful" about free intent. It is rather that what is personal and intentional and free follows laws of infinite, and therefore unpredictable, complexity. Each one of us has a unique logic / law that defines us (and that we also have been given freedom to re-define).

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            All of this reminded me of the story of Papa J and Lil' Willie, which also may help to make my point :

            The Mysterious Crumbling Case of the Cookie Monster

            Lil' Willie Papa, papa, I think the cookie monster was in our kitchen!

            Papa J Well, look son. The cookie monster may or may not have been in our kitchen, but let's talk about the evidence. Absent the telltale trail of cookie crumbs, do we really have any reason to believe that he was in our kitchen?

            Lil' Willie Papa, you daft ignoramus. The cookie monster is not the same thing as cookie crumbs! Honestly Papa, do your homework. The SEP and all of the Sesame Street archives make it very clear that the cookie monster and cookie crumbs are two different things. OMG, SMH, Papa!

            [ After momentarily quivering with anger and looking like he is ready to slap Lil' Willie across the room, Papa J summons a very fragile degree of composure.]

            Papa J Son, you don't need the SEP to understand the difference between cookie crumbs and the cookie monster. Any fool knows that. The argument I was making relies on that very distinction!

            Lil' Willie LOL Papa. LOL.

            [ As curtain closes, Lil' Willie runs out to play and Papa J retreats to the cookie jar to self-medicate his anger with calories, turning slightly blue and grumbling in a monster like way as he does. ]

          • David Nickol

            Luke, if you can't make mincemeat of the following from Brandon's OP, then I have dramatically overestimated your intelligence:

            In the end, Carroll offers no convincing reasons to think determinism is true. Yet even if Carroll thought it was true, why would he try to persuade us of it? If determinism was true, then we've been pre-determined to either accept or reject it—we have no choice in the matter! And so we arrive at the final knockout blow against determinism: anyone trying to convince people determinism is true, to convince them to freely change their mind about determinism, implicitly undermines it.

            If we're honest, most of us would admit we have the tendency to support the people whom we are in general agreement with, and overlook their bad arguments or at least pull our punches when we openly disagree with them. I am certainly guilty of it myself. But the above quote, and the whole business in the OP with the ice-cream cone betrays such an extraordinarily naive and faulty understanding of determinism on Brandon's part that circling the wagons in an attempt to prove him infallible makes those who do so appear disingenuous. There's no point in even having a discussion about the OP if both "sides" can't agree that it is deeply flawed.

            P.S. Brandon deserves a great deal of credit for actually reading the book and engaging Sean Carroll's ideas directly. Strange Notions could use more series like this one. I just happen to think Brandon made some very serious mistakes.

          • I would apologize for the length, but you used fighting words. This is what you get when you use fighting words. :-p

            Luke, if you can't make mincemeat of the following from Brandon's OP, then I have dramatically overestimated your intelligence:

            I think Brandon was a bit sloppy in his argument, in at least three ways:

                 1. He presupposed a rejection of compatibilism.
                 2. He presupposed a specific meaning of 'persuade'.
                 3. He presupposed a specific notion of truth.

            I'll tackle those in reverse order.

            3. I myself have argued that certain notions of causation undermine certain notions of truth; I'll reproduce that argument here:

            LB: I think that one of the biggest problems the naturalist faces is this:

                 (1) Physical laws are the only causal powers.
                 (2) All beliefs are caused by physical laws.
                 (3) Some beliefs are true, others false.
                 (4) Physical laws cannot distinguish true from false beliefs.
                 (5) Therefore, truth and falsity of belief is unknowable.

            This is a deflationary theory of truth; it obliterates the distinction between truth and falsehood. (Whether a given person believes more truth or more falsehood has nothing to do with agent causation, nothing to do with intentionality, and everything to do with Fortuna/​Tyche.) The only solution I know of this is to add a different kind of causation to (1).

            I suspect Carroll's exact stance on causation (e.g. "unbreakable patterns") to be irrelevant here; he believes in impersonal determinism, which I suspect is all the above needs to be sound & valid. I think the above is a rigorous way to get to Brandon's "implicitly undermines it".

            2. Recall the critique I began via exploring whether Carroll's beliefs about ultimate reality can support "any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations." (After Virtue, 22–23) Surely the term 'persuade' is a form of non-manipulative social relation? On impersonal determinism, there is no true difference between 'persuade' and 'coerce', except for something which is purely subjective. And yet, we want to be able to say that some 'persuasion' is actually coercion, undermining the notion that the difference is purely subjective.

            1. Compatibilism is almost certainly tied to impersonal determinism. I say it is quite rational to reject this and, as long as no good alternative is on the table, assert libertarian free will. Possibly, one good alternative is Gregory Dawes' "intentional explanations [which] are not nomological". His "not nomological" probably conflicts with Carroll's impersonal determinism.

            If we're honest, most of us would admit we have the tendency to support the people whom we are in general agreement with, and overlook their bad arguments or at least pull our punches when we openly disagree with them.

            I just don't see arguments, in the OP, on the level I have provided in this comment.

            But the above quote, and the whole business in the OP with the ice-cream cone betrays such an extraordinarily naive and faulty understanding of determinism on Brandon's part that circling the wagons in an attempt to prove him infallible makes those who do so appear disingenuous.

            You don't see any similarity between the ice cream example and the new riddle of inducation? There are no examples of 'grue' or 'bleen' on SN, but it seems like Brandon stumbled onto that argument. There is a strong sense in which Carroll says "there will be no more surprises", and Brandon is exposing that position to skepticism. I agree that he did this a bit oddly, but I can assure you that the way I would do it would be dry and distinctly un-tasty.

            It's quite odd that you construe this as attempting to prove the Pope Brandon "infallible". It's more like I'm using what he said, and what others have said, as launching-off points for more rigorous, narrower analysis. Given the number of comments I've made on this page which Brandon has upvoted or even verbally confirmed, I think I'm acting reasonably.

            There's no point in even having a discussion about the OP if both "sides" can't agree that it is deeply flawed.

            Just what is it that you don't like? I can foresee three clear ways of you explaining this (vs. you merely desiring some sort of agreement with your vague characterization): (1) show how I've invalidly deduced a more rigorous version from Brandon's words; (2) show my more rigorous versions to be deeply flawed; (3) provide your own more rigorous version, which plausibly maps to Brandon's words, and is deeply flawed.

          • David Nickol

            LOL! This seems more like a syllabus for a course of study than a response to a comment!

          • But that's kinda the point. If you want Brandon's blog posts to be free of what you're calling "error", they'll probably need be closer to course syllabi.

          • Will

            P.S. We are now entering an age of heightened predictive capabilities thanks to Quantum computing. The first successful atom simulation, with every reason to think it can be scaled up to predicting reactions and who knows from there:

            http://www.nature.com/news/quantum-computer-makes-first-high-energy-physics-simulation-1.20136

            Quantum mechanics is predictable enough for quantum computing to work. Score yet another argument in favor of determinism AND eventual predictability at the ground level of physics ;)

    • If we think of human beings as no more than biological supercomputers that function according to deterministic principles, it still matters what data the biological supercomputers are presented with.

      Of course. But given that, there is also the fact that there is no such thing as non-manipulative interaction between two persons. In talking about the current state of moral foundations, Alasdair MacIntyre argues that the dominant moral framework in practice, emotivism, obliterates "any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations." (After Virtue, 22–23) What this means is that a true distinction between treating you as an end vs. a means to an end cannot exist. I suspect that Carroll's framework sets up the physical situation so that emotivism is the only plausible moral possibility. There is no way I can interact with you which gives you freedom, for you don't have freedom. The idea that "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." is nonsense, for on Carroll's account:

           (1) Truth means better predictive power.
           (2) Freedom can only mean ignorance of the future.

      There is a beautiful way to tie this in with George Herbert's poem A Dialogue–Anthem and Robert Kane's idea of 'dual rationality', but IIRC you don't like when my comments get too long/​complex.

    • Will

      You are right, it is poorly reasoned, but it is very common error committed usually by people who do not understand determinism. Again, Stanford does a good job explaining it.

      Since the first clear articulations of the concept, there has been a tendency among philosophers to believe in the truth of some sort of determinist doctrine. There has also been a tendency, however, to confuse determinism proper with two related notions: predictability and fate.

      Fatalism is the thesis that all events (or in some versions, at least some events) are destined to occur no matter what we do. The source of the guarantee that those events will happen is located in the will of the gods, or their divine foreknowledge, or some intrinsic teleological aspect of the universe, rather than in the unfolding of events under the sway of natural laws or cause-effect relations. Fatalism is therefore clearly separable from determinism, at least to the extent that one can disentangle mystical forces and gods' wills and foreknowledge (about specific matters) from the notion of natural/causal law. Not every metaphysical picture makes this disentanglement possible, of course. But as a general matter, we can imagine that certain things are fated to happen, without this being the result of deterministic natural laws alone; and we can imagine the world being governed by deterministic laws, without anything at all being fated to occur (perhaps because there are no gods, nor mystical/teleological forces deserving the titles fate or destiny, and in particular no intentional determination of the “initial conditions” of the world). In a looser sense, however, it is true that under the assumption of determinism, one might say that given the way things have gone in the past, all future events that will in fact happen are already destined to occur.

      You would think one would read up on this stuff before writing on it.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    There is also another way of talking about it, where we zoom out a bit and introduce categories like 'people' and 'choices'

    I get that "choice" is a valid category at one level of analysis and not another level of analysis. Again, I applaud this "multiple ways of talking" thing. But it seems to me that Carroll is forgetting one of his own maxims here (the following may just be Brandon's paraphrasing; I'm assuming it has reasonable fidelity to the text):

    All good ways of talking must be consistent with one another

    That means (to me at least) that if we ascertain, when speaking at the macroscopic / human level, that the future is not completely determined by the present (this seems to be a straightforward implication if we are going to acknowledge that choice exists), then we are not free to turn around and say that at another level of analysis the future is completely determined by the present. Per Carroll's own critieria (with which I certainly agree), our different ways of talking about reality have to cohere!

    Now let's see:

    We have one perfectly valid way of talking about reality (the way of quantum mechanics) in which the future may or may not be completely determined by the present. We have another perfectly valid way of talking about reality (the level of analysis at which "choice" exists) in which the future most certainly is not determined by the present. Is there any possible way we could get these two perfectly valid ways of talking about reality to cohere?

    • Is there any possible way we could get these two perfectly valid ways of talking about reality to cohere?

      Yes. It's simple:

           (1) Our models of humans are approximate.
           (2) Our models of fundamental reality are exact.

      As I note in the comment, Carroll depends on (2) in his FQXi talk "Fluctuations in de Sitter Space". His stance on (2) is consistent with his Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood. The tl;dr is that while we know that there can be thermodynamical fluctuations—stochastic behavior in the macrostate—there cannot be any such behavior in the [100% deterministic] microstate. Then we can ask whether QM deals with macrostate (that is, there is some underlying substrate) or whether it deals with the microstate. He opts for the latter, not just in said talk, but also in his appeals to parsimony in Why the Many-Worlds Formulation of Quantum Mechanics Is Probably Correct.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I'll have to think about what you are saying there. But I was being sarcastic and rhetorically inviting this easier answer: since we have no good microscopic reason to believe in strict determinism and since we have a very good macroscopic reason to doubt it, it seems to me that the "no duh" answer is that we should not believe in strict determinism.

        • Actually, I think we should be careful in using terms such as "strict determinism". Typically, what is meant seems stronger/​more restrictive than the PSR. In that event, it's really wrong to use the term 'determinism'. For example, 'determinism' might be used to assert general causation over singular causation, which would actually be a subset of all determination, unless you make 'determination' nomological and exclude intentionality/​rationality. (See my first link on this distinction.)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            You are absolutely right: on reflection, "strict" is precisely not the modifier of "determinism" that I want to criticize. What I am objecting to, or what I am at least saying there is no evidence for, could perhaps be called "impersonal determinism".

            I do believe in strict determinism in the sense that I think outcomes are strictly determined by the sum total of all physical, biological, psychological and spiritual factors that jointly affect an outcome. (I'm borrowing some thoughts and words here from this paper by Judea Pearl).

          • I suspect a huge problem with the determinism vs. randomness debate is that 'determinism' is too narrowly defined. Mathematical biologist Robert Rosen wrote in Life Itself that the standard, mechanistic notion of determinism makes it impossible to properly define "life itself". Seeing this was not easy:

                It has turned out that, in order to be in a position to say what life is, we must spend a great deal of time in understanding what life is not. Thus, I will be spending a great deal of time with mechanisms and machines, ultimately to reject them, and replace them with something else. This is in fact the most radical step I shall take, because for the past three centuries, ideas of mechanism and machine have constituted the very essence of the adjective “scientific”; a rejection of them thus seems like a rejection of science itself. (xv–xvi)

            Another way to understand the deep-seated prejudice that is the mechanical philosophy is to note that a certain school of thought has believed that all semantics will ultimately be captured by syntax, with no semantical residue. One version of this belief is structuralism; another is Hilbert's program. Or we could consult Ernest Rutherford: "Qualitative is nothing but poor quantitative." You might think that Gödel blew this belief out of the water, but some folks will say that his incompleteness theorems apply only to the realm of math, not to reality. And thus, a virtually dogmatic belief that the reality we experience will one day be perfectly described by a formal system with recursively enumerable axioms lives on. This belief is one in a very specific kind of determinism, not of any determinism whatsoever.

            Interestingly enough, one way to summarize this prejudice is in the simple statement of atheism: "God doesn't exist." After all, if God exists, maybe everything he does is rational, but there's too much of a danger that how he does this won't be comprehensible to humans, especially comprehensible via differential and partial differential equations (pretty much the only mathematical forms that the laws of physics take). If God exists, maybe there are more and more complex determinisms to be discovered, with no limit. This would definitely rain on the parades of those who write stuff like Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood.

            P.S. Neat paper!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Another way to understand the deep-seated prejudice that is the mechanical philosophy is to note that a certain school of thought has believed that all semantics will ultimately be captured by syntax, with no semantical residue.

            That's a very cool connection to make.

          • What I am objecting to, or what I am at least saying there is no evidence for, could perhaps be called "impersonal determinism".

            Note that some would simply call that 'determinism':

            GS: In a deterministic world, in Carroll's sense, everything can be said to have a "reason why" in the sense of what it is fundamentally made of and the forces that led to their current configuration. But some theists also posit an even immensely more deterministic world, one in which everything that exists was intended to be just so from the beginning, such that the world will eventually reach a certain state in the future.

            In this way, Vogt is actually positing a hyperdeterministic world.

            Putting aside the Calvinistic slant, we see here that 'determinism' is artificially restricted to what you call 'impersonal determinism'. What is really being communicated is "determined by nomological causes", which is an implicit rejection of Gregory Dawes' "idea that an intentional explanation is also a causal explanation". Instead of { rationality being an ontological thing (or person) which can truly cause states of affairs } being an example of 'determinism', it is assigned to the category 'hyperdeterminism'. (Hyper-Calvinism, anyone?)

            Oh, the games we humans play with words.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Oh, sorry it took me a bit, but now I get it. You are also being sarcastic, offering Carroll's way of obtaining coherence in this context.

        Yes, he does seem to be saying, on the one hand, that we can have many different models of reality (and many different levels of modeling reality), and none of those models should be confused with reality itself (so far so good). But then, on the other hand, his subsequent arguments proceed as if there is some reason why his particular microstate model of reality is "fundamental" and provides the gold standard against which higher-level models of "emergent" phenomena are to be judged. It couldn't possibly be that some of our higher-level models of "emergent" behavior actually have implications for which lower-level microstate model he should select. For example, the macro-level conclusion that choice exists couldn't possibly have implications for which interpretation of QM he should select. It's a one-way street.

        I have to again postfix the caveat that I haven't read the book, so it's possible that I am offering an unfair criticism. If anyone has examples where Carroll does use the conclusions from a higher-level macro model to inform his selection of a low-level micro model, please correct me.

        • It couldn't possibly be that some of our higher-level models of "emergent" behavior actually have implications for which lower-level microstate model he should select. It couldn't possibly be that some of our higher-level models of "emergent" behavior actually have implications for which lower-level microstate model he should select.

          I doubt that Carroll would dogmatically assert that, but given all the evidence and arguments he's encountered so far, he does assert that, quite explicitly, in Downward Causation. What I've been meaning to explore is the psychological/​philosophical process whereby one concludes that more abstract ideas one forms from primary experience are 'higher fidelity'. In a sense this hearkens back to Heraclitus, who notes that all our sensory experience is in constant flux. That which is more real is more abstract. The quantum wavefunction is pretty abstract.

          Now, which aspects of primary experience are elevated and which are demoted? If science is the judge, then we need to recall that science is predicated upon prediction; this means it will preferentially select those things which are evidence of determination. Its entire worldview is law, not choice. That choice would be demoted and made subservient to law is guaranteed from the very essence of what science is. But there's a catch: science requires either choice, or a certain kind of fairness/​completeness:

          LB: There's also a fun paradox, that if an experimenter is not free to choose what to study, then there is no guarantee that what is studied properly covers all the phenomena.

          I haven't read TBP either, although if enough people like it, I should so that I have a good chunk of common ground. So far though, a key quote here and there and other stuff of Carroll's I have read/​watched seems sufficient.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            What I've been meaning to explore is the psychological/ philosophical process whereby one concludes that more abstract ideas one forms from primary experience are 'higher fidelity'.

            Exactly! It is a bit bizarre to me as well. Why do some people feel that our abstract conceptions that are grounded in the primary experience of measurement somehow trump our primary experience of choice?

            I think there is an aesthetic dimension to the answer (though I'm sure there is a lot more to it than this). When we find beautiful conceptions that cohere with our primary experiences of measurement, our primary experience of that conceptual beauty tag-teams with the primary experience of measurement and together they pummel our primary experience of choice. Scientists like Carroll are highly attuned to a certain type of beauty, and they fall in love with it (rightly so).

            In this sense, I think some of the "new evangelization" efforts are on the right track in "leading with beauty". What is needed though, is more than a bunch of medieval artwork. We need to somehow harvest the aesthetic fruits of the great science that Carroll and others are doing, and roll that into the fuller, more dynamic, more surprising aesthetic of the Paschal Mystery.

          • Exactly! It is a bit bizarre to me as well. Why do some people feel that our abstract conceptions that are grounded in the primary experience of measurement somehow trump our primary experience of choice?

            Presumably, because some primary experience has been overturned by science? Although, I'm really skeptical that wise folks in the medieval era weren't aware of a great deal of the [relevant] items over at WP: List of cognitive biases. If anything, it was a defective notion of rationality/​reason injected by the Enlightenment which provided fodder for a bunch of falsehoods to be later 'unveiled' by science. For example, belief in autonomous reason is a good explanation for the predictions over at Milgram experiment § Results; passages like Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 would probably push one closer to the true value of how many people are willing to submit to authority. The fact that emotion is critically important to practical reason was a bombshell (see e.g. Descartes' Error), and yet I'll bet you that before the Enlightenment, few doubted this.

            Now, don't get me wrong—the Enlightenment did do some enlightening. The RCC was doing some really stupid things; I like Colin E. Gunton's treatment of the false absolutes/​transcendentals of the Middle Ages. But I think we should be wary about how many 'discoveries' of cognitive science and neuroscience are just overturning bad ideas which were injected into human thought (and often assimilated into 'primary experience') during the Enlightenment.

            I think there is an aesthetic dimension to the answer (though I'm sure there is a lot more to it than this).

            I agree completely. The fact that there is no good candidate for algorithmic theory-choice in science might be a good starting point for asserting the necessity of an aesthetic.

            In this sense, I think some of the "new evangelization" efforts are on the right track in "leading with beauty".

            Leading by propositional truth has certainly failed. Have you read anything by James K. A. Smith—like Desiring the Kingdom or Imagining the Kingdom? He criticizes the neglect of more embodied forms of formation/​pedagogy. It's not that we shouldn't have any sort of 'worldview', but the rationalistic, intellectual focus on 'worldview' leaves out a huge part of human formation, which falls to secular society if Christians aren't going to do anything substantial, there.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I'm really skeptical that wise folks in the medieval era weren't aware of a great deal of the [relevant] items over at WP: List of cognitive biases.

            I'm even more skeptical that wise folks in the biblical era weren't aware of these biases. The desert doesn't suffer fools gladly. Even in the more comfortable climate of the Levant, I doubt that most of us have the humility and wisdom to recognize truth with the clarity that it would take to survive rural life there. In that context, if you chase the illusory realities that your mind creates, there's a very good chance you will die. That's a good bit worse than getting slammed when you submit an article for peer review.

            The RCC was doing some really stupid things;

            No argument there. Whatever the intellectual and aesthetic merits of medieval Christian holism (and I think they were many), Christendom, as implemented, was politically incompatible with true Theocracy. Trying to establish the Kingdom of God coercively is like trying to beat your kids until they have fun on vacation. The very act of coercion is a denial of what you are trying to implement, and a direct denial of God.

            As you say, it was a matter of false absolutes/ transcendentals. As a Catholic, I believe the church on earth is in continuity with the Heavenly Church, but it is most decidedly not coextensive with, or an adequate representation of, the Heavenly Church (As Augustine said: "How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within!"). I think a similar false equivalence probably played a very large role in the recent sexual abuse cover-ups as well.

            I have not read the J.K.A. Smith books. They sound interesting. In all seriousness, I need to break this awful addiction that I have developed to writing in comboxes, so that I can get back to actually reading books again.

            EDITED to add Augustine quote that I particularly like.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Presumably, because some primary experience has been overturned by science?

            But I would think that most people would realize that that's just short-hand for saying "some primary experiences have been overturned by other primary experiences that have been integrated with the aid of conceptual reflection". We determine that specific perceptions are illusory precisely by "triangulating the truth", integrating multiple perceptions of multiple kinds. That is the coherence that Carroll rightly insists on.

            But that still doesn't explain why you would privilege certain types of primary experiences over others.

          • Oh the answer to that is obvious. Since no experiment has been able to falsify the laws of quantum field theory, nor the law of general relativity, we should trust those more than anything else.

            (Sorry, I couldn't help it. That's probably a bit of a straw man of Carroll, but whether it's so distorting as to be useless, I'm not so sure.)

  • David Nickol

    For the physical world, what is the alternative to some kind of determinism? Let's leave human beings and "free will" out of it. Do the laws of physics hold for the physical world, or not?

    • David Nickol

      Also, what about the argument that every effect has a cause? How is that not determinism? Shouldn't every "effect" today be traceable back in a huge chain to the big bang?

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        The term "determinism" connotes more than just "everything is determined", or "everything has a cause". Theists -- I think this is fair to say; I am speaking for myself, at least -- think that everything is determined, but that some things are freely determined (whether by humans, or by angels, or whatever other free agents there are, or by God himself). But "determinism" is generally understood to mean "everything is determined by impersonal forces on autopilot".

        • David Nickol

          Here we get to my old question about someone making a crucial decision to, let's say, commit or not commit a mortal sin. Suppose each time a man made that crucial decision, God were to restart the world from the moment of creation right up to the time of decision, and do it 100 times. Would the decision be the same 100 times in a row? if so would you not say it was determined? And if it were different even one of those 100 times, what could account for the difference? It seems to me that if the decision isn't always the same, then there is a random element in going to hell. Shouldn't a decision reflect the totality of a person making the decision at the moment he makes it? If not how can he be held fully responsible for it?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Would the decision be the same 100 times in a row?

            Caveat emptor, since you are asking me to opine on a wild multi-world counterfactual, but I vote no.

            And if it were different even one of those 100 times, what could account for the difference?

            Freedom.

            It seems to me that if the decision isn't always the same, then there is a random element in going to hell.

            Either that or there is an element of free choice in going to hell.

          • Sorry to butt in, but if it would be different sometimes and "freedom" is why, then the decision is fundamentally arbitrary. If every time the physical brain state is the same, the emotional state is the same, all of the circumstances and pressures are exactly the same, basically all of the objective factors are exactly the same, and Adam sometimes chooses eat the fruit, sometimes chooses not, then whatever this "freedom" is that is governing the choice, is not choosing on the basis of those objective factors. Indeed there could be no factors governing or influencing this "freedom" in any consistent way, otherwise it would be governed the same way each time. Therefore, this freedom means the choice is random and arbitrary.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            See my note to David beginning, "Re: 'true randomness'".

            Random does not mean the same thing as arbitrary. Randomness is consistent with freedom (and lawfulness). Arbitrariness is not consistent with freedom. An arbitrary number is a number that can be carelessly selected, because its value has no consequence. A random number is a number whose value must be carefully selected, precisely so that its value cannot be predicted. Two different things.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            The governing factors would include, in addition to Adam's physical brain state, Adam's emotional brain state, etc, the factor of Adam in toto. I am proposing that Adam is more than the sum of his parts. The integral Adam has a logic of his own, which constitutes the "free factor".

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            In statistics, "random" variation results in a predictable distribution of outcomes. This is not haphazard, but lawful.

            In practice, considerable planning is required to arrange for "random" outcomes. E.g., casinos or (pseudo-)random number generators.

            "Random" in practice means that the outcome is the result of many causes, no one of which is substantial enough to determine the outcome, and which are not economical to identify and control. If the many causes combine addiitvely, the result is a normal distribution of outcomes; if they combine multiplicatively, the result is a lognormal distribution; etc.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            "Random" in practice means that the outcome is the result of many causes

            That is too restrictive a definition, even for practical purposes. In practice, the outcomes of a pseudo-random number generator are said to be "random", even though they have a single cause. I would say that "random" in practice means "resulting from an unpredictable process". Predictability is matter of perspective, of course. As you know, if one looks at the RNG algorithm and its current state, then one can predict perfectly.

            In your comment to David you voiced an objection that I am sympathetic to, that "randomness is not a real thing" (because the degree of randomness depends on the degree of one's ignorance). I know what you mean, but actually think we can use the term "true randomness" to make a useful distinction. If, as I am suggesting, one conceives of random phenomena as "resulting from an unpredictable process", one can then usefully distinguish "truly random" phenomena as "resulting from a process that is not predictable even in principle (except by God)".

            The key is to realize that "truly random phenomena" may be 100% determined.

          • So you are taking the position that in perfectly identical circumstances sometimes an outcome will be at the peak and sometimes it will be a tail?

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        But not every effect does have a cause, as Thomas points out in Summa Contra Gentiles II.52.5.

        But something may have causes without being determined to a particular outcome. The cause may point to a suite of different outcomes.

        The classical arguments refer to the causes of things. Moderns tend to refer to events. These are not the same.

        It may be, as I wrote upthread here, that determinism works well enough for inanimate matter, and that is 99.999% or more of the universe. But often breakthrough knowledge comes from considering the other 0.001%. Newton, after all, was sufficient for nearly all mechanical motions encountered, but that still left a crack for Einstein to wriggle in. (We can imagine someone back in the day making the same challenge: "What other factors are there?")

        http://www.isnature.org/Files/Hassing_Physical_Secularism.pdf

        • Doug Shaver

          But not every effect does have a cause

          If it has no cause, what is it an effect of?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Let me rephrase: Not every thing has a cause.

            Better now?

          • Doug Shaver

            Better now?

            More coherent, definitely.

    • (Apologies for the length of this reply, but succinctness is kind of our enemy, here.)

      Do you recognize that the laws of physics take a very specific mathematical form, and say that the present changes to the future according to that very specific mathematical form and no other? Recall what you said earlier:

      DN: To quote what Carroll says about determinism, "each moment in the progression of time follows from the previous moment according to clear, impersonal, quantitative rules."

      Note the very intentional use of "impersonal". An alternative is that at the most fundamental level, [at least: some of] the time-evolution of reality is dictated by personal rules. This possibility is obscured with the use of "some kind of determinism", which could easily be mistaken for the principle of sufficient reason: everything must have a reason or cause. That duality becomes very interesting when we recognize a difference between 'reason' and 'cause':

      3.4.1 Intentional and Causal ExplanationsA first objection rests on the very character of intentional explanations. It suggests that a theistic explanation could not be both intentional and causal, since these represent distinct and mutually exclusive forms of explanation. No intentional explanation is a causal explanation. But I believe this claim to be wrong, for reasons I shall outline later (Appendix 1.1). I have no argument with the idea, defended by Donald Davidson, that intentions are causes and that intentional explanations are also causal explanations.[76] There is one issue that needs to be clarified here. I have suggested that intentional explanations are not nomological (3.2.1). They do, if you like, depend on something resembling a law, namely the rationality principle. But they do not depend on law-like generalisations linking particular intentions and particular actions. Does this mean that they cannot be regarded as causal explanations? Only if you believe that the citing of causal laws is a necessary condition of a causal explanation. But I shall argue later that it is not (Appendix 3.3.1), that causal explanations do not necessarily involve causal laws.[77] If this is true, then there is no difficulty with the idea that an intentional explanation is also a causal explanation. (Theism and Explanation, 51)

      Here, we have two ways that the state of reality can evolve:

           (1) standard (nomological) laws of nature
           (2) intentions which are not nomological

      The first is a cause while the second is an explanation, although Gregory Dawes is pushing for the latter to also be causal. Anyhow, what Carroll wants to exclude is that intentions can in any way be causal, outside of a reductionistic framework. Here's the specific denial:

      All of the popular versions of quantum mechanics, however, maintain the underlying philosophy of Laplace's analysis, even if they do away with perfect predictability: what matters, in predicting what will happen next, is the current state of the universe. Not a goal in the future, nor any memory of where the system has been. As far as our best current physics is concerned, each moment in the progression of time follows from the previous moment according to clear, impersonal, quantitative rules. (The Big Picture, 36)

    • Will

      It's interesting that the PSR requires determinism to be true:

      The roots of the notion of determinism surely lie in a very common philosophical idea: the idea that everything can, in principle, be explained, or that everything that is, has a sufficient reason for being and being as it is, and not otherwise. In other words, the roots of determinism lie in what Leibniz named the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/determinism-causal/#Int

      One can accept determinism but reject causation at a fundamental and thus causal determinism, however. It's fascinating that Brandon relies on the PSR and determinism for arguments for get, yet rejects the PSR here for a nonsensical libertarian free will.
      I certainly hope my previous state of mind determines my next state of mind.

    • Doug Shaver

      Do the laws of physics hold for the physical world, or not?

      We cannot know infallibly that they do. It seems to me reasonable to assume that they do, pending our discovery of some exception.

      With historical hindsight, it clearly would have been better if they had been called axioms rather than laws.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        But -- also :-) -- we know almost infallibly that the laws of physics do not hold -- ever -- in the relevant sense that would be necessary to provide positive support for the type of impersonal determinism that Carroll is referring to. That is, they do not hold to an extent that would allow perfect prediction of measurements. Absent any indications of perfect prediction, we have no positive evidence for the type of mechanistic / impersonal determinism that Carroll is referring to (which doesn't, in itself, mean that mechanistic / impersonal determinism is necessarily wrong, just that we have no reason to believe in it).

        • Doug Shaver

          But -- also :-) -- we know almost infallibly that the laws of physics do not hold -- ever -- in the relevant sense that would be necessary to provide positive support for the type of impersonal determinism that Carroll is referring to. That is, they do not hold to an extent that would allow perfect prediction of measurements.

          I'm not following your logic. I don't see how his thesis requires any kind of perfect performance of anything on our part.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            His thesis, as I understand it, is that the future is 100% determined by the present + impersonal forces. He is willing to use the term "personal causes", but only with the understanding that this is short-hand way of saying "complex impersonal causes".

            That thesis could certainly be true regardless of our ability to predict, but the question is: in the absence of our ability to perfectly predict anything, what would be the evidence for Carroll's thesis?

            The point is, we do not now, and we will not ever, scientifically understand all of the causes that lead to any given measurement. Therefore, no one has any business asserting with confidence that "the causal effect of personal agency" needs to be put in square quotes because it is merely a useful and approximate way of talking about complex phenomena that are, at root, mechanistic. We have plenty of reasons to believe in the true (fundamentally true!) causal efficacy of persons, and zero reason to doubt it.

          • Doug Shaver

            That thesis could certainly be true regardless of our ability to predict, but the question is: in the absence of our ability to perfectly predict anything, what would be the evidence for Carroll's thesis?

            I'm going to have back-burner that question. I haven't finished reading his book yet. I'm tentatively planning on writing a critique of it, but that will require my reading it a second time a bit more closely than I'm doing right now. I'm not entirely happy with all of his arguments, I do accept practically all of his conclusions, but often for reasons that are different from his or that I would set forth in considerably more detail than he does. In short, I think he's trying to cover too much intellectual ground for a book of this length.

          • Will

            In short, I think he's trying to cover too much intellectual ground for a book of this length.

            I've read it once and I'd agree with that criticism. I also accept practically all of his conclusions, but he glosses over quite a bit. I suppose trying to write a book that covers that many topics is doomed to be overly concise.

  • There is a distinction here that Brandon is glossing over, it is the difference between epistemology and ontology.

    Ontologically speaking, it may be the case that the cosmos is deterministic, this would mean there is no separate "free will", there is only cause and effect. The thoughts and choices humans make are no more different than the path a boulder will take rolling down a hill. It is completely guided by natural forces.

    Epistemelogically speaking, if the cosmos is deterministic, there are two obvious questions. One is can we know whether it is, and if so, can we predict what will happen. There are two big problems with answering this question and any epistemological question. The problem of sollopsim and induction. Brandon notes the latter with respect to Hume, but while these problems are fascinating, they both apply equally whether you are a determinist, libertarian, naturalist or theist. So for this discussion we should set them aside.

    If we do proceed on the basis that our senses are in general accurate, and that past patterns do imply future similarity, we can make inferences. We can infer that there are patterns in the universe and the more consistent they are the more consistent they will be. What we observe is that physically, this happens and we have identified some patterns that appear to be absolute, we might call these the laws of physics. They appear to be never abridged or that they can be abridged or violated. We infer that when causal circumstances are exactly the same the effects will be exactly the same. This leads to the conclusion that for any given set of circumstances at a certain time, one and only one set of circumstances will follow. This is an extremely controversial topic among naturalists and atheists. But I would say it is a plausible even if you do not agree with it.

    So, concerns about sollopsism and induction aside, I think there is good reason to conclude that the cosmos is deterministic.

    If it is, the next question is whether any human or other could predict the future. Needless to say humans predict the future all the time, we just recognize we may not be very good at it in many circumstances. We predict that a bridge will hold a certain mass for a certain time, that a light will turn on when we hit a switch. We also predict a certain margin of error, the more complex the causal elements or system is, the less we are able to predict. We can predict a boulder will roll down the hill, we would even be reasonable to say if we could know all the physical factors perfectly we could predict its exact path. But because we are unable to gain such knowledge, we recognize we cannot be that accurate. Some questions are so complex we cannot reasonably predict at all.

    What Carrol is on about with Laplace is that such a demon, indeed a god of the philosopher's might be able to have sufficient knowledge to make these predictions and such a being would be entitled to be fatalistic. Such a demon who liked Jeb Bush for President would be rather depressed from the outset of his campaign.

    I really think all Caroll is saying is that if determinism is true, and it looks like it is, this is no reason for us to feel fatalistic and predetermined and that our choices do not matter. Maybe an apt analogy is for someone watching a recorded live sports game they do not know the result of or any details. That game is (on any account) predetermined the winner is unchangeable, as is every event and second of the game. But that does not mean we need be fatalistic and would get no fulfillment in watching, because we do not know how it will play out.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      They appear to be never abridged or that they can be abridged or violated. We infer that when causal circumstances are exactly the same the effects will be exactly the same.

      There is a leap between those two sentences that relies on equivocation. We have identified some patterns that appear to be absolute in the sense of "always, or almost always in effect", but we have not identified any patterns in which the state of the universe at time t + delta was absolutely (perfectly) predicted from time t. That is, we have not identified any deterministic patterns. Moreover, we know with relative certainty that we will never be in a position to identify deterministic patterns, if they do exist. The best we can do is find (very) limited scopes of inquiry wherein the error in deterministic models is practically negligible.

    • There is a distinction here that Brandon is glossing over, it is the difference between epistemology and ontology.

      Is he? Let's examine:

      JSM: determined ≠ predictable

      BV: This is true.

      +

      LB: unpredictable determination ⇒ unfalsifiable determination

      BV: This is correct, which is the point I was trying to make in my original post. You made it much more succinctly, plus with a cool arrow graphic :)

      Perhaps you think @bvogt1:disqus is being inconsistent, sometimes recognizing that difference and sometimes not?

  • David Nickol

    Still, the biggest problem with Carroll's Laplacian defense of
    determinism was already preempted by David Hume. The Scottish skeptic
    affirmed what stock brokers remind us of today, that past performance is
    no guarantee of future results.

    This is a terribly weak statement of Hume's ideas about induction and
    causation, which it is my impression are generally rejected by Brandon
    and other "Strange Notioners" in the theist camp.

  • Sample1

    I'm a recovering Catholic (don't identify as a person of faith) and I just want to put that out here for readers who might be on the fence about leaving their religious community behind for something else.

    I'm here to say that it get's better (embracing a non-faith based worldview), to coin a phrase from the homosexual community. No guarantees of course! A naturalistic worldview isn't about guaranteeing anything 100%, unlike a faith-based worldview.

    Cheers!

    Mike

    • ClayJames

      A naturalistic worldview isn't about guaranteeing anything 100%

      I find it incredibly ironic for you to make this off topic remark that ends up being not only completely on topic but also completely wrong. Given determinism, everything is guaranteed.

      • Will

        Given determinism, everything is guaranteed.

        This is simply incorrect. Given determinism, the only beings that can make any guarantees at high levels in complex systems are God and Laplace's demon. Humans alone will never be able to make significant high level predictions (though sufficiently advanced computing systems may be able to). See chaos theory.

        • ClayJames

          If Laplace´s demon can offer this guarantee, then given determinism, everything is guaranteed even if we know it or not.

          • Will

            Guarantee: something that assures a particular outcome or condition.

            If you have no idea what the particular outcome or condition is, there is no guarantee, by the very definition of the word :) Theist claim God knows the future....doesn't that fit right in with determinism? If the future were indeterminate, how could God be certain about it?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Eternally, God knows what I will have done in the future. That doesn't mean that God determines what I will freely do, any more than my having read Anna Karenina determines whether she jumps onto the tracks.

          • George

            Why does God know?

          • Will

            I never said God determines what anyone will freely do. Yikes! I'm not responding continuing with the other comment because I see you are taking a 2 month break, and I don't expect you do understand what I'm saying. I mean, you didn't even understand that short comment correctly. To properly explain determinism, how QM is looking to be our least deterministic theory and how randomness helps nothing, it would take quite a number of paragraphs. Why would I spend the time when I know you wouldn't understand it, especially based on your recent comments. The idea that humans making decisions proves determinism false is just absurd. Oh, and you are wrong about QM. You didn't bother to read the section in the SEP article did you? I didn't think so

            So goes the story; but like much popular wisdom, it is partly mistaken and/or misleading. Ironically, quantum mechanics is one of the best prospects for a genuinely deterministic theory in modern times! Everything hinges on what interpretational and philosophical decisions one adopts. The fundamental law at the heart of non-relativistic QM is the Schrödinger equation. The evolution of a wavefunction describing a physical system under this equation is normally taken to be perfectly deterministic.[7] If one adopts an interpretation of QM according to which that's it—i.e., nothing ever interrupts Schrödinger evolution, and the wavefunctions governed by the equation tell the complete physical story—then quantum mechanics is a perfectly deterministic theory. There are several interpretations that physicists and philosophers have given of QM which go this way. (See the entry on quantum mechanics.)

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/determinism-causal/#SpeRelPhy

          • ClayJames

            If you have no idea what the particular outcome or condition is, there is no guarantee, by the very definition of the word

            This conclusion does not follow from the definition you gave a line before.

            I think Jim did an excellent job pointing out your misunderstanding regarding your comment about God.

          • Will

            I never said God determines what anyone does. It's amazing that I can't even write that simple of a comment without being completely understood. There is no hope of making any progress here because it seems those on the theist side (except YOS) are incapable of understanding that determinism doesn't imply fate.

          • ClayJames

            If you agree that God does not determine the future and that God is certain about the future because he knows what free creatures will do (as opposed to Laplace´s demon who knows what will happen in a determined universe by having a complete understanding of that universe and its laws), how does it then follow that God knowing the future fits right in with determinism?

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    I read the article and the previous one. Many things I'd like to say but so little time.

    One thing:

    In the end, Carroll offers no convincing reasons to think determinism is true. Yet even if Carroll thought it was true, why would he try to persuade us of it? If determinism was true, then we've been pre-determined to either accept or reject it—we have no choice in the matter!

    And he has no choice but to try to persuade you. So he does.

    Another thing, the PSR, the idea that everything has an explanation, if held consistently, entails necessitarianism, that everything that is true is necessarily true. This is an even stronger claim than determinism, and includes determinism. Of course, I have no choice but to accept the PSR, or to try to convince you of the implications of the PSR. Many who read my comment may have no choice but to reply with reference to Thomas Aquinas.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Paul, I was really looking forward to your reaction to these posts and I hope you find time for a little more.

      I wasn't aware that the PSR is thought to imply necessitarianism. I have to admit that on the face of it I find that to be a very disturbing result. I just tried to read up on it briefly at SEP. Do you think it is possible that necessitarianism only applies from an eternal perspective, i.e. a sort of eschatological tautology that whatever will have happened will have necessarily happened? Or do you think it also applies in time, i.e. whatever will happen will necessarily happen?

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I have another, more technical question about this PSR ==> necessitarianism thing. I can try to read up on this, but if you can short-cut me to the answer, it would be greatly appreciated:

      Doesn't the PSR *presume* the existence of contingent reality, in the sense that it presumes the existence of causes, and causes (arguably, perhaps) cannot be defined without using unreal conditional tenses of verbs? E.g. "X caused Y" means, roughly: "Y would not have happened (or would not exist) (<-- past unreal conditional tense, implicitly invoking counterfactual scenario) if, ceteris paribus, X had not happened." So, it seems to me:

      1. If sentences that use unreal conditional tenses are just nonsense statements that don't successfully refer to reality, then causes don't exist, and the PSR is false.

      2. If sentences that use unreal conditional tenses are coherent and successfully refer to reality, then reality involves contingencies.

      I assume I am missing something?

      EDITED to add ceteris paribus for clarity in second paragraph.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I will try to find time for a more detailed reply, but the essence is that, if there is an explanation for why X instead of Y, and the explanation is sufficient, then the explanation also explains why Y cannot happen. If theres a sufficient explanation for everything, then any alternative is necessarily ruled out by those explanations.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Thanks Paul. I'd be very interested to take this up again in the future, but it seems we are both a bit short on time now, so I'm happy to defer if you would like. I'll offer my summary of where things currently stand.

          I am saying that by the time we have started using causal language, we have already capitulated to an ontology in which many soon-to-be-counterfactual future realities actually do exist, i.e. we have already conceded that the future that will actually come to pass is not the only future that exists.

          You are saying that any sufficient explanation for a particular future state that actually comes to pass will necessarily rule out alternative states that we might conceive of.

          It would be interesting to see if it is possible to reconcile those two ideas. Perhaps a contingent future reality could be a sufficient cause of a present event?

          Let's discuss ... in the certain or uncertain future :-)

          Catch you later. --Jim

    • ClayJames

      And he has no choice but to try to persuade you. So he does.

      He also has no choice to accept or reject it. It seems like a waste of time to write a persuasive book about beliefs you couldn´t have possibly not accepted.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        But I cant help but try. My trying may be part of the explanation for why he changes his mind, but regardless, his mind changing and my arguing cannot come about any other way.

  • David Nickol

    FWIW, my copy of Peter van Inwagen's An Essay on Free Will has arrived, and he says on pages 1-2:

    But no one today would be allowed to formulate "the problem of free will and determinism" like that, for this formulation presupposes the truth of a certain thesis about the conceptual relation of free will to determinism that many, perhaps most, present-day philosophers would reject: that free will and determinism are incompatible. Indeed many philosophers hold not only that free will is compatible with determinism but that free will entails determinism. I think it would be fair to say that almost all the philosophical writing on the problem of free will and determinism since the time of Hobbes that is any good, that is of any enduring philosophical interest, has been about this presupposition of the earlier debates about liberty and necessity.

    That is almost as far as I have gotten in the book, which becomes exceedingly difficult for me to understand on about page 4!

    I did peek ahead to see that he says we must reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason:

    We must therefore reject PSR, and with it the only plausible attempt to show that determinism is a truth of reason.

    He further says:

    Since, as we have seen, neither empirical science nor pure reason shows determinism to be true, or even provides us with any good reason for thinking determinism is true, we can only conclude that a belief in determinism is—at least at the present time—wholly unjustified.

  • David Nickol

    If determinism is false, and we have free will, please explain why I—who am earnestly trying to lose weight—ate all those pretzels and potato chips last night.

    You can't, can you? And don't even dare to quote Aquinas. We all know how fat he was.

    • Your fallen nature, of course. Your fallen nature wants to fall more securely, and so it causes you to eat, eat, eat.

      • David Nickol

        Well, for roughly the first half of my life, I was extremely skinny, and I couldn't get up to my desired weight no matter what I did. Once a doctor gave me all his weigh-loss materials and said, "Do the opposite of what it says." I guess that was my "fallen nature," too.

        causes you to eat, eat, eat

        I think three eats there is overkill.

    • Will

      You know they have these magic pills that can free your will not to eat :) Believe it or not, it's legal to prescribe methamphetamine for just that in the U.S. under the name of Desoxyn. It's also used to treat ADHD which I found quite surprising...

      https://www.drugs.com/pro/desoxyn.html

      • David Nickol

        Someone I used to know told me a story about himself and his friends. They had been "doing" speed over a weekend, and they wanted to come down. They somehow got their hands on some Adderall, and all they knew about it was that it was used to calm hyperactive children. So they figured it would work for them. I forget how long it was before they were able to sleep again. (Adderall is, of course, an amphetamine.)

        I recall another story about a friend's college roommate who was up late (with the help of amphetamines) working on a term paper. Sitting at her typewriter, she suddenly burst into tears. The roommate asked her what was wrong, and she sobbed, "I can't find the Y on the keyboard." That always seemed like a cautionary tale to me.

        I think I would much rather continue eating pretzels (and Trader Joe's Organic Corn Chips) than take amphetamines to stop.

        Besides, it seems wrong to take a drug to counteract my fallen nature.

  • George

    Is the "freely change their mind" part of the closing statement a strawman about Carroll's attempts at persuasion?

  • David Nickol

    A question for theists: Do you believe that determinism is false on every "level" of reality, or do you believe the purely physical world is deterministic and that the existence of spiritual souls allows human beings to act freely in an otherwise deterministic universe? Do nonhuman sentient creatures such as dogs act freely? Or as purely physical entities is their behavior determined? Are dogs, cats, and chimps purely automatons?

    • What, precisely, do you mean by 'determinism'? Do you actually mean 'LoN-determinis[m]'?

      • David Nickol

        By determinism I mean what Brandon Vogt meant by determinism in the OP (except in the places where he confused it with destiny or fate.)

        I haven't any idea what 'LoN-determinis[m]' is or where the term came from. I would like to see this discussion continue at a level on which ordinary folks (in which category I include myself) can participate in it—that is, at the same level of understanding it takes to read Sean Carroll's book and Brandon's critiques. They both got along very well without 'LoN-determinis[m]', so I am not sure why it needs to be introduced here.

        • I haven't any idea what 'LoN-determinis[m]' is or where the term came from.

          Oh good grief I hyperlinked the term to another comment I made on this page. I'll reproduce it in full:

          LB: There seems to be quite a lot of confusion/​difference about what 'determinism' means, so I'd like to get some insight into what you mean by it. To do so, I'll ask you to respond to the following:

          GS: In a deterministic world, in Carroll's sense, everything can be said to have a "reason why" in the sense of what it is fundamentally made of and the forces that led to their current configuration. But some theists also posit an even immensely more deterministic world, one in which everything that exists was intended to be just so from the beginning, such that the world will eventually reach a certain state in the future.

          In this way, Vogt is actually positing a hyperdeterministic world.

          In your mind, is @geena_safire:disqus justified in using the word 'hyperdeterministic', or should she really use a modifier for Carroll's view, like 'LoN-deterministic', which would mean something like, "all time-evolution of state is perfectly characterized by the laws of nature, which are utterly impersonal"?

          Perhaps it would be better to talk in terms of the dichotomy 'impersonal determinism' vs. 'personal determinism'? Each of these would be a subset of the category 'determinism'.

          I would like to see this discussion continue at a level on which ordinary folks (in which category I include myself) can participate in it—that is, at the same level of understanding it takes to read Sean Carroll's book and Brandon's critiques. They both got along very well without 'LoN-determinis[m]', so I am not sure why it needs to be introduced here.

          Actually, I think by refusing to carefully distinguish between two entirely different notions of determinism, much confusion has been engendered. I don't really care what terms are developed to do the distinguishing.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I believe that impersonal determinism is false on every level of reality.

      I believe that the quantum unpredictability that we see in simple ("non-emergent") physical systems is a phenomenon that manifests what is, at the ontic level, God's "quantum intentionality".

      I believe that when simple forces find their confluence in "emergent" phenomena, so God's "quantum intentionality" converges into new organic wholes that have their own dynamic intentionality, inherited from God, and freely released from God's control. For freedom God sets us free. I don't really have a clear sense of whether, and to what extent, animals are free, but I think animals have a dynamic intentionality that they have inherited from God, and so I do not believe they are automata.

      • Can you posit any hypothetical evidence that would demonstrate this account to be false?

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Sure. If we were to find out tomorrow that quantum unpredictability is not insurmountable, there goes my theory.
          Can you posit anything that would falsify impersonal determinism? Like, say, what if you were to discover a creature with intentions, like, say, yourself?

          • You filthy hyperdeterminist!

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            It is supremely ironic.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I've been writing too much here and I need to take a break for a month or two and get back to real life. To the extent you are interested, feel free to respond to questions addressed to me, as my sufficiently similar proxy, in the meantime! Nice chatting with you as always. Toodaloo all.

          • Now you're making me think I should consider the same. I will miss your presence!

          • That's not really the part of your hypothesis I was asking about it; I was asking how you know God and or freedom is hiding in quantum indeterminacy and what would falsify that.

            If my intentionality was undetermined that would be very alarming. I want to answer your question with something other than "A miracle" but..

  • Doug Shaver

    Yet even if Carroll thought it was true, why would he try to persuade us of it? If determinism was true, then we've been pre-determined to either accept or reject it—we have no choice in the matter!

    Nevertheless, we choose, even if we are determinists, and there is no inconsistency in our doing so. The claim that if we were consistent, we wouldn’t try to influence anyone’s thinking is a bit analogous to the claim that anyone who believes in the Trinity must not understand basic arithmetic.

    Carroll’s distinguishing between determinism and fatalism was not an attempt merely to “soften its blow.” It was a response to precisely this objection that determinism entails the utter futility of our even trying to make decisions. If I am driving and see that I am approaching a red light, I must decide whether to stop or cross the intersection without stopping, and the fact that a Laplacian demon might know beforehand what I will decide is simply beside the point. The decision is still mine to make. I cannot see any relevant difference between that demon and your omniscient God, who, even if determinism is false, must also know what I am going to decide. In neither case am I denied any ability to make a decision or relieved of any responsibility for making it.

    What would be incoherent on my part would be supposing that I should stop thinking about anything because some hypothetical superintelligence would already know everything I was going to think for the rest of my life. For one thing, like every other human being, I am literally incapable of not thinking. We all have brains, and thinking (among other things) is what brains do unless they’re damaged in certain ways. Some of our brains do it better than others, but they all do it. Quitting is not a live option. But I have no other options, either. Faced with a decision to make, my belief that a superintelligence would know what I was going to decide cannot affect what I will decide. I have no possible access to whatever the superintelligence knows, and that being the case, I am forced to make the decision myself, and that is whether or not determinism is actually true. And that includes decisions about whether to try persuading other people to change their minds about a naturalistic worldview.

    • There seems to be quite a lot of confusion/​difference about what 'determinism' means, so I'd like to get some insight into what you mean by it. To do so, I'll ask you to respond to the following:

      GS: In a deterministic world, in Carroll's sense, everything can be said to have a "reason why" in the sense of what it is fundamentally made of and the forces that led to their current configuration. But some theists also posit an even immensely more deterministic world, one in which everything that exists was intended to be just so from the beginning, such that the world will eventually reach a certain state in the future.

      In this way, Vogt is actually positing a hyperdeterministic world.

      In your mind, is @geena_safire:disqus justified in using the word 'hyperdeterministic', or should she really use a modifier for Carroll's view, like 'LoN-deterministic', which would mean something like, "all time-evolution of state is perfectly characterized by the laws of nature, which are utterly impersonal"?

      • Doug Shaver

        In your mind, is Geena Safire justified in using the word 'hyperdeterministic',

        She makes a point so well taken that I’m tempted to agree with her. However, I don’t think the ordinary concept of determinism can be usefully extended to any orthodox theistic worldview.

        Determinism as I construe it is the assumption that for the state of the universe at any given moment, the immediately previous state of the universe was a sufficient condition. Whether that entails any kind of predictability depends on exactly what made the previous state a sufficient condition. Given our current scientific knowledge, it seems like the laws of nature make it so, and those laws as we currently understand them do have considerable predictive power.

        Is their predictive power such as to vindicate Laplace? I’ll get to that in a second, but first: Is determinism just an affirmative answer to that question? That does seem to be the common usage. Practically everyone who says “determinism is true” will also say, “If we knew absolutely everything about the present, then we would know everything about the future.” I am not prepared to affirm that kind of predictability (although neither will I deny it), and if that means I can’t be a determinist, then I’m not a determinist.

        And yet, from those who say “determinism is false,” I have yet to see an argument with which I can agree. Maybe this means I should call myself a quasi-determinist. Or maybe it means that the whole issue of predictability is not as simple as both sides think it is. Intuitively, it seems that the future either is or is not completely predictable. That’s just basic logic, right? But there’s that word “intuitively.” If there is anything we have learned from quantum theory, it is that there is a level of reality at which our intuitions just aren’t worth a fig.

        But I’m getting nitpicky at this point. For purposes of most discussions, I will stipulate that determinism entails something like a Laplacian predictability. That is because determinism’s opponents are not trying to deny predictability in general, but only in a particular instance. They don’t care how predictable anything else is, as long as we humans are an exception. Like other determinists, I deny that we are an exception to or exempt from any law of nature, including whatever laws determine what goes on in our central nervous systems, and I deny that our minds are anything but an effect of what goes on in our central nervous systems. Anyone who thinks otherwise, including most theists, cannot usefully be called any kind of determinist.

        • Determinism as I construe it is the assumption that for the state of the universe at any given moment, the immediately previous state of the universe was a sufficient condition.

          Ok, but this seems to lead to an absurd result. If God, who is outside the universe, can causally impinge on the universe, then what he does is (i) caused, while being (ii) not determined. Isn't it ridiculous that something can be caused but not determined?

          The notion of 'determinism' you're advancing seems to philosophically commit itself to the metaphysic of a block universe, over against alternatives such as a growing block universe. Why is it legitimate for the term 'determinism' to be entangled with such a massive metaphysical presupposition?

          And yet, from those who say “determinism is false,” I have yet to see an argument with which I can agree.

          Oh that's easy: demonstrate that your notion of 'determinism', which does not entail predictability, is falsifiable. Note that we can ensure predictability in certain, narrow domains, but for some reason these narrow domains are supposed to extrapolate to all reality, where predictability is not available. That extrapolation looks rather like a leap of faith!

          That is because determinism’s opponents are not trying to deny predictability in general, but only in a particular instance. They don’t care how predictable anything else is, as long as we humans are an exception.

          In that case, perhaps you'd like to respond to the following:

          LB: There's also a fun paradox, that if an experimenter is not free to choose what to study, then there is no guarantee that what is studied properly covers all the phenomena.

          • Doug Shaver

            but this seems to lead to an absurd result. If God, who is outside the universe, can causally impinge on the universe, then what he does is (i) caused, while being (ii) not determined. Isn't it ridiculous that something can be caused but not determined?

            I’m an atheist. If God makes my thinking ridiculous, I don’t see how that becomes a problem for me.

            The notion of 'determinism' you're advancing seems to philosophically commit itself to the metaphysic of a block universe, over against alternatives such as a growing block universe. Why is it legitimate for the term 'determinism' to be entangled with such a massive metaphysical presupposition?

            You’ll have to ask the metaphysicians about that. I’m not committed to time’s having any ontological status.

            And yet, from those who say “determinism is false,” I have yet to see an argument with which I can agree.

            Oh that's easy: demonstrate that your notion of 'determinism', which does not entail predictability, is falsifiable.

            I take that your argument is: Determinism is false because it is unfalsifiable. Am I understanding you correctly?

            perhaps you'd like to respond to the following:

            LB: There's also a fun paradox, that if an experimenter is not free to choose what to study, then there is no guarantee that what is studied properly covers all the phenomena.

            A paradox, by definition, is an apparent contradiction, but I don’t see even an apparent contradiction there. It asserts “If A then B,” but I see no inconsistency between the A and the B.

          • I’m an atheist. If God makes my thinking ridiculous, I don’t see how that becomes a problem for me.

            It doesn't seem problematic to you that you have adopted a way of thinking and speaking which makes the theist's discussion of God appear ridiculous? I see no necessity to why you must understand determinism as you have. But if you deploy it, you will appear to win arguments by definition, not by rationality.

            I’m not committed to time’s having any ontological status.

            That wasn't my point. Instead, it is that you appear to have presupposed one metaphysical position over against alternatives. (The concepts of a block universe and a growing block universe differ more than just in how time is understood.) If you have reasoned to that position, you certainly haven't explicated that reasoning.

            I take that your argument is: Determinism is false because it is unfalsifiable. Am I understanding you correctly?

            No. You may well have presupposed what I have called 'LoN-determinis[m]'. But perhaps you think you have reasoned to it, instead. In that case, you may want to re-think your stance, if it is an unfalsifiable stance.

            A paradox, by definition, is an apparent contradiction, but I don’t see even an apparent contradiction there. It asserts “If A then B,” but I see no inconsistency between the A and the B.

            Could scientists be determined to:

                 (A) never try certain key hypotheses
                 (B) never run certain key experiments
                 (C) never explore certain domains of reality

            ? Let's recall that the scientist has long insisted on freedom from 'constraint' by anyone and anything other than 'the evidence' and his/her own rationality.

          • Doug Shaver

            It doesn't seem problematic to you that you have adopted a way of thinking and speaking which makes the theist's discussion of God appear ridiculous?

            No, not at all.

            I see no necessity to why you must understand determinism as you have. But if you deploy it, you will appear to win arguments by definition, not by rationality.

            The word “determinism” is just the label I use for a certain concept that I believe to be true. I have believed in that concept for most of my life. You are not the first person with whom I have argued about its truth, but you are the first to accuse me of winning the argument by definition, and I’m not a bit surprised that it never occurred to any of the others to make that accusation.

            I’m not committed to time’s having any ontological status.

            That wasn't my point. Instead, it is that you appear to have presupposed one metaphysical position over against alternatives.

            The only metaphysical presupposition I make is what Alvin Plantinga once called “ontological penury.”

            If you have reasoned to that position, you certainly haven't explicated that reasoning.

            My reasoning is that if I don’t need something to exist in order to explain everything I know to be a fact, then I don’t need to affirm its existence. Now, I’m not claiming to know all the facts there are, but until I know a fact, I don’t need to explain it.

            I take that your argument is: Determinism is false because it is unfalsifiable. Am I understanding you correctly?

            No.

            In that case, I haven’t the foggiest notion what your argument is.

            LB: There's also a fun paradox, that if an experimenter is not free to choose what to study, then there is no guarantee that what is studied properly covers all the phenomena.

            A paradox, by definition, is an apparent contradiction, but I don’t see even an apparent contradiction there.

            Could scientists be determined to:

            (A) never try certain key hypotheses
            (B) never run certain key experiments
            (C) never explore certain domains of reality

            To all three: Yes, they could. But I’m still not seeing a contradiction.

            Let's recall that the scientist has long insisted on freedom from 'constraint' by anyone and anything other than 'the evidence' and his/her own rationality.

            There are probably several million scientists in the entire world. No two of them are just alike, and not one of them is “the scientist.”

    • ClayJames

      I cannot see any relevant difference between that demon and your omniscient God, who, even if determinism is false, must also know what I am going to decide.

      Laplace´s demon knows what you will do because of his complete knowledge of the current conditions of the universe and the laws that govern it. God knows what you will do because he knows what will happen in the future. Another way to say this, which you alluded to and therefore disproved your own assertion, is that if determinism is false, Laplace has no way of knowing what you will do as a result of a free choice while for God, nothing has changed.

      I have no possible access to whatever the superintelligence knows, and that being the case, I am forced to make the decision myself, and that is whether or not determinism is actually true.

      Which is not a decision at all. This decision is as much a decision as a drop of water deciding to fall to the ground. I find it interesting that considering the importance of falsifiability for the skeptical minded, there seems to be no problem with accepting that given determinism, no single thought or conclusion could have been different. Sure, one thought can be falsified by another thought but that new thought is also unfalsifiable in that that very thought could not have been any other way.

      • Doug Shaver

        Another way to say this, which you alluded to and therefore disproved your own assertion, is that if determinism is false, Laplace has no way of knowing what you will do as a result of a free choice while for God, nothing has changed.

        I made a mistake, and you caught it. Thank you.

        I am forced to make the decision myself, and that is whether or not determinism is actually true.

        Which is not a decision at all. This decision is as much a decision as a drop of water deciding to fall to the ground.

        A water drop makes no decisions because a water drop has no brain. Decisions require computation, and in animals, computation is a function of central nervous systems.

        If there is any analogy, the motion of a water drop in response to gravity is like the motion of an ion within a neuron in response to electrical charges. There is no decision being made there, either, but the ion is just one part among billions that comprise the whole nervous system, and the whole system can do things that none of its components can do by itself.

        I find it interesting that considering the importance of falsifiability for the skeptical minded, there seems to be no problem with accepting that given determinism, no single thought or conclusion could have been different.

        That depends on the meaning of “could have been different.” We determinists are not all on the same page regarding that issue. What determinists agree on is that (a) our thoughts, including our decisions, are sufficiently explained by the neurochemical states of our central nervous systems and (b) the neurochemical state at any moment is sufficiently explained by the immediately previous state. Falsification of that proposition would have to consist of a demonstration that (a) given some thought I had at any particular moment, in some situation I would have had a different thought even if my neurochemical state had been just the same or (b) in some situation, my neurochemical state at that moment would have been different even if preceded by the same previous state.

        • ClayJames

          A water drop makes no decisions because a water drop has no brain. Decisions require computation, and in animals, computation is a function of central nervous systems
          If there is any analogy, the motion of a water drop in response to gravity is like the motion of an ion within a neuron in response to electrical charges. There is no decision being made there, either, but the ion is just one part among billions that comprise the whole nervous system, and the whole system can do things that none of its components can do by itself..

          I accept that analogy. However, I reject the jump you made from water drops making no decisions to brains comprised of billions of drops making decisions. It is true that a whole system can do things that some of its components can´t do, but in this situation there is no reason to accept (and plenty to reject) that these systems are not making decisions at all. I would say that, given determinism, the difference between your brain and a water drop is the illusion that you made the decision. It is possible that we have a different definition of the word ¨decision¨. For instance, I would not say computers make decisions while I see that this is something you might say.

          What determinists agree on is that (a) our thoughts, including our decisions, are sufficiently explained by the neurochemical states of our central nervous systems and (b) the neurochemical state at any moment is sufficiently explained by the immediately previous state.

          I think this is a fair summary of what most determinists agree on.

          Falsification of that proposition would have to consist of a demonstration that (a) given some thought I had at any particular moment, in some situation I would have had a different thought even if my neurochemical state had been just the same or (b) in some situation, my neurochemical state at that moment would have been different even if preceded by the same previous state.

          Why would someone need to falsify something that 1) has not been shown to be true and 2) cannot be shown to be true because if you accept that a) no single thought could have been different and b) every thought is a result of a closed neurochemical causal chain, then at what point in the causal chain can a determinist claim that their neurochemical state was true and the indeterminist´s state was false?

          I think falsifying determinism is as futile as defending determinism for the same reasons. Determinism should be rejected because it undermines our ability to falsify or defend anything, including determinism.

          • Doug Shaver

            I reject the jump you made from water drops making no decisions to brains comprised of billions of drops making decisions.

            As well you should, if I had said that the brain was made of billions of water drops. But I said no such thing.

            It is true that a whole system can do things that some of its components can´t do, but in this situation there is no reason to accept (and plenty to reject) that these systems are not making decisions at all.

            I didn’t say that the brain is not making decisions. I asserted the contrary.

            It is possible that we have a different definition of the word ¨decision¨.

            That is beginning to look like a possibility.

            For instance, I would not say computers make decisions while I see that this is something you might say.

            It depends. If you want to say that decisions can be made only by sentient or self-aware beings, I’ll stipulate that.

            Why would someone need to falsify something that 1) has not been shown to be true and 2) cannot be shown to be true because if you accept that a) no single thought could have been different and b) every thought is a result of a closed neurochemical causal chain, then at what point in the causal chain can a determinist claim that their neurochemical state was true and the indeterminist´s state was false?

            I can’t answer because I lost your logic in your syntax. But you’re the one who brought falsification into the discussion, and I was just trying to respond to what you said about it.

            Determinism should be rejected because it undermines our ability to falsify or defend anything, including determinism.

            If you have presented a cogent reason to think so, I missed it.

  • "To do so, Carroll admits, would require God-like programming (which he immediately dismisses, uncomfortable with any conclusion that may result in God.)",

    Or, more likely, he doesn't think there's any evidence for such a being.

    "(Careful readers will note that in the previous chapter, Carroll aimed that causality was a feature of fundamental reality. But here he aims to prove causal determinism, that prior states cause future states. Carroll either doesn't notice or doesn't worry about the apparent contradiction.)"

    What does "aimed that causality was a feature of fundamental reality." mean?

    How does trying to convince someone else that determinism is true undermine? Obviously a determinist will accept that if they accept this or not is also determined. That doesn't refute determinism (or prove it).

  • Mike

    very succinctly put. excellent Brandon.