The Instigator
Goni
Pro (for)
Tied
0 Points
The Contender
Nail_Bat
Con (against)
Tied
0 Points

Determinism and free will completely contradict each other and cannot be both true simultaneously.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/3/2009 Category: Science
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,698 times Debate No: 8518
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (7)
Votes (0)

 

Goni

Pro

Determinism is defined as the philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs.

Free will is defined as the power or ability of agents to to act otherwise than they in fact do.

The Contender should explain how these two opposites can settle down together peacefully.
Nail_Bat

Con

In order to decide whether or not free will and determinism can put aside their differences and be friends, we have to figure out just what the heck they ARE. Every person who's started a similar topic has put forth their own definitions, and those definitions always fall apart. Why? Because they only APPROXIMATE what free will and determinism are.

Determinism, by the definition he gave, is false right off the bat. There are things in nature that we can not compute because of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. We do not live in a clockwork universe. The definition of free will doesn't fare any better: I don't know about you, but I've never been able to act in a way that I didn't act.

What if we turned the clocks back and let the universe run again? Would it turn out the same as it is now? If A lead to B, then if we go back in time right before A, would B still follow? This is how many people frame the debate. You must ask yourself, though, what exactly does it mean to say "A would inevitably lead to B"?

We can look at it from a physics standpoint or from a cognitive standpoint, and these two standpoints do not get along. From a physics standpoint, the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle prevents just about anything from being inevitable. For most events that we're interested in, however, the HUP only presents an infinitesimally small chance that things might not have gone the way they did. This may not be true if you are interested in exactly which way a particle of radiation travels from a decaying atom, but unless you're a cat and your owner is named Schr´┐Żdinger, you probably don't. In day to day life, we treat "infinitesimally small" as being "zero". Nobody will ever get out insurance in the case that the particles of their flower pot happen to spontaneously form into the shape of a working atomic bomb, even though physically speaking there is a non-zero probability of that happening. From a physics standpoint, saying "A would inevitably lead to B" means "the probability of A leading to B is so high, that it is not even worth considering the possibility that it wouldn't".

From a cognitive standpoint, saying that "A could have lead to C instead of B" means that, in your mental framework of the world, it is consistent for A to have lead to C. You could, for example, say that "Tom could have taken the train instead of the bus". You could not say "Tom could have grown wings and flown instead of taking the bus", because that contradicts our model of how people should behave. From a cognitive standpoint, saying "A would inevitably lead to B" means that "It would contradict the nature of A to do anything except lead to B".

Going back to physics, though, the difference between Tom taking the train or the bus depends on exactly how signals travel within his brain. The brain is largely a black box, but we can imagine that the HUP could allow signals to travel in different manners. Hence Tom could have taken the train or the bus. However, the HUP also allows for that possibility of Tom sprouting wings and flying to work. We can't even say which is more likely, as we only have a vague understanding of how the brain works.

The peace between free will and determinism can be found in the distinction between the physics standpoint and the cognitive standpoint. If the actions of a human being are deterministic, then that means it is possible to predict, with near 100% certainty, what a given person will do in a given situation. From a physics standpoint, this is true. If you knew the exact state of the brain, you could work out all the equations, figure out what signals would go where, and find the most probable course of action the person would take. You may die of old age before you finished calculating, but theoretically you COULD.

From a cognitive standpoint, however, we will never be able to have enough information, or enough time, to process all of the physical interactions going on in the brain during any decision. What's more, any instrument that could even TELL us that exact state of the brain would have to affect the brain itself, by the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle. Therefore, we can NOT predict with near certainty what an arbitrary person would do in an arbitrary situation.

In conclusion, the difference between free will and determinism is all in how you frame it.
Debate Round No. 1
Goni

Pro

As it seems from Nail_Bat's argument we are arguing about the definition of "Determinism" and "Free Will".

Let's start with several formal definitions of "Determinism":

"The philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs." (dictionary.com)

"In philosophy, theory that all events, including moral choices, are completely determined by previously existing causes that preclude free will and the possibility that humans could have acted otherwise. The theory holds that the universe is utterly rational because complete knowledge of any given situation assures that unerring knowledge of its future is also possible."
(britannica.com)

"A theory or doctrine that acts of the will, occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are causally determined by preceding events or natural laws"
(merriam-webster.com)

It is clear to see that the common denominator of all three definitions is that every state of affairs is the inevitable consequence of some previous antecedent states of affairs. It does mean that we live in a clockwork world. You ask – "What if we turned the clocks back and let the universe run again? Would it turn out the same as it is now?" A determinist will answer your questions and say – if we could turn the clocks back and let the universe run again it will turn out the same way as it now.

Next, we should consider the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. If we accept it as it was understood by Heisenberg, we must accept uncertainty as a property of the world itself. This contradicts determinism (inherently by its definition), and as expected, its detractors who believe in underlying determinism (the Copenhagen interpretation), claim that there is no fundamental reality the quantum state describes, just a prescription for calculating experimental results. There is no way to say what the state of a system fundamentally is; only what the result of observations might be.

It has to be said clearly – any claim for uncertainty in the world itself contradicts determinism, as nothing is inevitable. Even saying that Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle presents only an infinitesimally small chance that things would not happen as they should (in the strong sense of the word), approves the existence of uncertainty as a property of the world itself, and contradicts determinism.



Regarding free will we'll also consider some formal definitions:

"The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will."
(thefreedictionary.com)

"The doctrine that the conduct of human beings expresses personal choice and is not simply determined by physical or divine forces."
(dictionary.com)

"Freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention"
(merriam-webster.com)

"In humans, the power or capacity to choose among alternatives or to act in certain situations independently of natural, social, or divine restraints."
(britannica.com)

I'll put in these words: any claim for free will must approve that humans have a high metaphysical freedom that allows them to choose between alternatives - the power or ability of agents to act otherwise than they in fact do. You say - "I don't know about you, but I've never been able to act in a way that I didn't act" – however, if you couldn't choose to act otherwise than the way you've acted, in what terms can we say that your decision was "free"?



The main problem with your cognitive-physical peace is that it relies on human abilities to perceive and understand the real world and not concern with the world itself. You describe the cognitive standpoint as a practical standpoint, saying "we will never be able to have enough information, or enough time, to process all of the physical interactions going on in the brain during any decision", while doctrines like determinism and free will claiming for the existence of some property (causativeness in determinism and metaphysical freedom in free will) in an objective reality, independent of humans subjective perception. Determinism and free will may turn out wrong if causativeness or metaphysical freedom are only illusions.

You take a skeptic standpoint and say that we as humans will never be able to say if the world is deterministic or not , however the fact that we can't decide which doctrine is true and which is false doesn't mean that they're both true (or both false). Furthermore, let me remind you that I'm not arguing whether there is a way to proof one of those two doctrines or not, but that they're completely contradict each other by definition and cannot be both true.

I'll suggest that in your next arguments, you'll explain how these two opposites can settle down without distorting their definitions. What is the significance of saying that determinism and free will do settle down, if determinism is not deterministic and the free will is not free?
Nail_Bat

Con

My opponent has asked me to explain how free will and determinism can settle down without distorting their definitions. I however do not think the definitions of either term are clear cut. If we define determinism as "Bob would have inevitably taken the bus" and free will as "Bob might have taken the train instead" (and both are in accordance with the definitions my opponent posted in the first round), then we need to really take a close look at what it means to say "X might have been Y". This was the theme of my last argument; I broke this phrase down and gave two alternate interpretations of what it actually means, each with different implications for free will and determinism.

Free will is an incredibly complicated concept, and any brief definition is only going to approximate what we intuitively understand free will to be (and each of us may have a very different idea of what it is). All of the definitions center on the concept of an unrestrained choice, which can not be influenced by any outside forces. However, in order to make a choice in the first place, the agent must be informed. Even if the agent only allows objective information into its mind, the choices it makes will at least be influenced by what observations the agent has made. What's more, we are limited in our choices to what we are aware of and what we are physically capable of. I challenge my opponent to describe a hypothetical scenario in which an agent makes a completely free choice according to the criteria of the definitions he gave.

However, I believe that when people use the term "free will", they don't mean something as rigorous as the above definitions. My opponent stated: "The main problem with your cognitive-physical peace is that it relies on human abilities to perceive and understand the real world and not concern with the world itself." Indeed it does, as my argument is that the term "free will" was born out of our inability to determine the behavior of other people.

Human behavior has two properties that make it unique among the behavior of any other entity. First, it is non-consistent. By contrast, most other living things tend to act through simple, predictable "stimulus response" behaviors. This trend is broken by some of the more complex animals, such as dolphins or apes, but not to the degree that we see in humans. Second, human behavior is non-random. People will usually act in ways consistent with their habits, personality, and abilities.

These two contradictory qualities, I believe, gave rise to the concept of "free will". It suggested the substance of a choice was a non-physical, self contained black box. It would take in information through observations, and produce actions, but the nature of this process was inherently unknowable. The ideas of a soul and dualistic theories of the mind are ways that people have developed to try and understand what that black box really is.

In this view, "Free will" is a concept we invented to describe the unique behavior of people. "Deterministic" is also a concept we invented to describe processes which can be predicted. Depending on how the issue is framed, human behavior may be both free and deterministic, or neither free nor deterministic. I realize my opponent would like for there to be an objective definition of both terms that can be shown to be contradictory. Under the definitions he gave, however, I pointed out that when you take a close look at the implications of the terms, you run into some unavoidable ambiguity that can not be resolved unless we choose to frame the issue in one way or another.
Debate Round No. 2
Goni

Pro

I probably haven't emphasized myself enough, as it seems that my opponent keeps confusing between the existence of free will as an illusion and the existence of free will as a real property of a living creature. It is important to make it clear and understandable – both theories accept the truth of the sensation of free will. This is something that cannot be denied as we all feel it. However, the question is if free will truly exists or is it just a false sensation we feel?

My opponent spoke of two properties of human beings – acting in a non-consistent, although non-random way - and said that those two contradictory qualities gave rise to the concept of "free will". However it remains unclear from he's explanation whether he talks of free will as a real true thing or just as a false sensation. It is understandable that we may never be able to proof one or another, but clearly, it cannot be both true and false at the same time.

So, please, Nail_Bat, tell us, do you accept that free will cannot be at the same time both true and false? According to your explanation is free will only a sensation or is it a true property of human beings?

Next, I'd like to answer my opponent challenge:
"I challenge my opponent to describe a hypothetical scenario in which an agent makes a completely free choice according to the criteria of the definitions he gave."

A man is asked to choose a color from a list of ten colors. He chose blue. Why?

The determinist will say that he actually had no choice – the fact that he chose this specific color was pre-determined and could be theoretically explained. He will say that there was a chain of causes that led to this specific result, even if we'll never be able to discover them. The fact that we can't reveal them is irrelevant – he only claims for their existence.

On the opposite side, the free will supporter will say that due to his metaphysical freedom, the man could choose any color he wanted. Even if he had influences, tendencies, habits or whatever – the man himself is the "ultimate" or "originating" cause of his action.

The main difference between those two doctrines is in their answer to the question "Why the man chose that specific color?" – Causativeness for the determinist and metaphysical freedom, making the man the "cause sui" (the cause of itself), for the free will supporter. Both answers can't be true. If we say that the only reason the man chose that specific color is the man himself, we can't say that there was a chain of causes that led him inevitably to choose it. If we say the there was a chain of causes that led him inevitable to choose it, how can we say that he was the originating cause of his choice?

Anyway, as Nail_Bat claimed that my definitions led him to some unavoidable ambiguity that can not be resolved unless we choose to frame the issue in one way or another; I'll try to explain how each definition can make it unequivocal.

The definition I've used for determinism was "the philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs." According to this definition free will is only a sensation we feel, produced by specific processes happening in our brain. We are deceived to think that we can act freely, however our actions are predetermined and are the consequences of chains of causes.

The major problem of this theory, as pointed by Nail_Bat, is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Nevertheless, we can easily solve this problem, by saying that the principle deals only with the results of the observations and experiments we make. In this case, the world is still deterministic (in the full sense of it – everything is predetermined) but we as humans cannot predict everything in hundred percents.

I find it a very coherent explanation indeed. Determinism is not a concept of what we can predict, as Nail_Bat said, but a property of the world itself – claiming that everything is predetermined. If we accept this definition (which I hope became clear and unambiguous) free will is nothing but an illusion.

On the other side, the Metaphysical Libertarianism rejects the fact that everything is predetermined and holds onto a concept of free will that requires the individual to be able to take more than one possible course of action under a given set of circumstances – "the power or ability of agents to act otherwise than they in fact do." In this case, free will is a true property of human beings (and of other creatures too, maybe) not just a false sensation.

The non-physical theories hold that the choices and actions do not have an entirely physical explanation, so they cannot be determined or predicted because of their own nature (not because of humans' lack of ability). They hold that a non-physical mind overrides physical causality making it prior to the deterministic causativeness, as the cause of itself. Even explanations that do not dispense physicalism, requires at least indeterminism, saying that some events are not predetermined.

It seems that the reason for Nail_Bat's ambiguity is his misunderstanding of the implications of the definitions, ignoring their inherent nature, which is clearly unambiguous.
Nail_Bat

Con

Nail_Bat forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
Goni

Pro

As Nail_Bat forfeited this round there is no need to say anything more. Free will and determinism completely contradict each other and cannot be both true simultaneously.
Nail_Bat

Con

Nail_Bat forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by Cody_Franklin 8 years ago
Cody_Franklin
Personally, I don't like the idea of determinism; I'm pretty sure it's a logical fallacy to say "It happened, so it was destined to happen." I don't remember the name of it, denying the antecedent maybe.
Posted by Goni 8 years ago
Goni
Thanks, vote PRO please :)
Posted by wjmelements 8 years ago
wjmelements
Good topic idea.
Posted by Justinisthecrazy 8 years ago
Justinisthecrazy
well thats not what ur saying I kinda want to debate you and schematics the crap out of your life right now but seeing as this would require effort I wont. Also, seeing as this topic is a religious topic based off your comment I'll stay more clear of its wake.
Posted by Goni 8 years ago
Goni
Kind of.
However, there are many religious views that do try to deal with this problem, justifying both omniscient god and human free will.
Posted by mongeese 8 years ago
mongeese
e.g. "I cannot have my hands together and apart at the same time."
No votes have been placed for this debate.