The concept of "choice" contradicts determinism and causality
In this debate, my opponent will argue that choice is a possible concept within a deterministic and causal universe. I will argue that "choice" is impossible. I recommend very strongly that my opponent be well-versed in the philosophical schools of empiricism, skepticism, epistemology and natural science.
I will use my first round to define the words "choice, determinism" and "causality" for the sake of this debate. I am willing to hear semantic arguments about these definitions since the issue is whether or not the three words fit into a logically consistent framework.
Causality is the simplest and most fundamental concept, so I will start by defining it as 'the concept that every effect is the result of a prior cause.' Causality is an idea that results from observation, therefore it is limited to being valid within a philosophical framework of empiricism. I am a skeptic, so it is important to note that I regard any "knowledge" resulting from empirical observation as suspect. To me, even the idea of causality is an assumption based on imperfect evidence. It is doubt-able. However, I also believe that a non-causal universe would dis-allow even the possibility of 'knowledge' so I go along with the assumption of causality for the sake of being able to pass my time having discussions. If the universe were not causal, I could not have discussions that made any sense at all because causality is one of the three essential assumptions of epistemology - the theory of knowledge. If it not assumed, then "knowledge" fails. *
Causality is also an essential assumption for the notion of determinism. Determinism builds on the notion of causality by asserting that 'every effect has a prior cause which is consistent.' Gravity always attracts, electrons always repel each other, and a free neutron always undergoes beta decay in a mean time of ~15 minutes - these are examples of deterministic thoughts. Like causality, determinism underpins all of the natural sciences, and epistemology as a whole.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I will define "choice." Choice is the notion that a system of awareness could have any degree of freedom over its actions in a causal and deterministic reality. This idea, I argue, is inconsistent with the ideas of causality and determinism. One cannot logically accept all three notions. In order to effectively argue this debate, my opponent is going to have to either challenge the semantics of my definitions for one or more of these words, or explain how any degrees of freedom could exist in the actions of a being that exists in a causal and deterministic universe. And although it falls out of the initial scope of my terms, I will even accept an argument that the universe is not deterministic and/or causal, and that the concept of "choice" is somehow feasible in an indeterministic and/or non-causal universe.
* I also think it's important to note that I do think its possible that our universe is random, even given the framework of human observations. I will use a dice analogy to explain: lets say I have 6 die and am rolling them to see if I can get the sequence 1,2,3,4,5,6. I roll them a dozen times or more before I finally get the sequence, but someone who has never used dice before walks into view just as I roll this sequence. They make the hasty assumption that this must be the way dice behave all the time; that they roll around seemingly randomly, yet come up in sequence. In this analogy, our universe is the dice roll that came up in sequence, and we are the observer that arrived to witness it happen. This being the only universe we have witnessed, we have no other examples of how universes behave and have decided that it only makes sense for universes to be ordered or causal like this. But we might be wrong. If time is eternal and the universe is non-causal (i.e. random), then some universes would inevitably arrive at ordered patterns, and any observers in those versions might naturally assume as we have, without any proof beyond our observations.
Where I would like to start with is the notion of ergodic vs. stable systems. Most of the systems we encounter in life are relatively stable. For example if I'm driving my car, at 30 mph and decide to start braking exactly what billionth of a second I choose to stop breaking will only move my car at most millionths of a meter. A system like this where small changes in cause lead to small changes in effect, I will call a stable system. Most of the systems we experience in life are stable. This is what makes it so easy for to think in terms of cause/effect as being relatively simple.
There are alternatives which (with a slight abuse of language) I will call ergodic. For these systems small changes in cause lead to massive changes in effect. To start with the 6 dice analogy imagine these were being rolled together in a cup and were distinguished by color. The exact outcome would be determined by microscopic movements of the hand, the slightest changes in angle. Rolling motions that appeared in every way indistinguishable would produce outcomes that were identical to rolls where no care was taken at all to maintain consistency.
Another example where the math is both known and trivial is a password hashing algorithm. A small change in a password, any letter what-so-ever, completely alters the underlying hash value, which makes this system effectively impossible to reverse. So let me repeat, even though it is completely deterministic, the cause is well known and simple (the typed in password) and the relationship between cause and effect is not too complicated it is still effectively unpredictable so much so that even with heavy computing power reverse engineering it has been unsuccessful.
Another computer example of ergodics is a computer random number generator where the smallest change in random seed can feel completely random, even though the relationship between the seed and the sequence of pseudo-random numbers is completely deterministic. Ergodic models turn out to describe many of the phenomena that we experience. Fluid dynamics for large systems, so effectively wind turbulence are ergodic. The expression "a butterfly flaps it wings in Kansas and 6 weeks later a hurricane hits Japan" comes from the ergodic nature of weather systems. Magnetic fields, specific stock actions during heavy market turbulence, ecological population growth are all ergodic.
Once one ergodic system is feeding into another ergodic system, the level of unpredictability squares. An important example is the magnetic field of the earth (ergodic in action) determining the point and degree of impact of various solar events which then feeds into the ergodic weather system. So even if everything were causal and completely determined the effect of these ergodic chains, on any kind of finite being would be effective non-causality of major events. And this distinction between effective and actual non-causality is key. A system can be caused in a specific sense but so unstable as to act like there were no causes. And this is what we experience with weather, our ability to predict specifics drops off geometrically as we look forward in time.
That is to get the kind of determinism that Chameleon in the affirmative case is really looking for one needs an additional assumption beyond causality and determinism he also needs stable systems only. And let me point in the argument the ergodics feeding into one another have only created effective randomness, not actual randomness; that is events that are permanently unknowable by finite beings but not actually random.
Now in reality, of course, we have quantum events that are genuinely random. These quantum events can feed into ergodic systems to create genuine randomness. For example, we mentioned above the relationship between a computer's random seed and its random number sequence is ergodic. The generation of the random seed makes use of quantum randomness inside the computer creating a non-deterministic cause which for computer control systems which make use of randomness can have observable macro effects. Again this violates the causal assumption in the debate but I wanted to point out the actual case:
a) Most systems being stable however some being ergodic
b) Minor variations on even stable system are caused by randomness
c) The combination of non causal and ergodics creating effective macro randomness with time.
That still doesn't really address the question of free agency though. We could easily envision a world as we have which has macro randomness as causes to the living agents while they themselves respond in deterministic ways. Let's take an analogy of the computer random number generator passing cards out to 5 computer bots playing each other in poker. The reaction of the bots to the hands they are dealt is completely deterministic, even though the underlying events are at least effectively random. A view of humanity like that is still unsatisfying.
However ergodics continue to give us freedom. Consider the human brain for a moment. We have brain structures formed ergodicly by experience. Within these structures we have amine reactions which are themselves ergodic. An ergodic structure feeding into an ergodic structure, the very definition of something that is so essentially unstable as to make long term prediction impossible. Humans are not bots, we can never know how they would play would poker.
Let me repeat so this is clear. Assume we have a person living a 1000 years from now when modeling of behavior is far better, Lee. Assume we take a genetic sample of Lee, so we have perfect knowledge of the initial state of nature for Lee and a perfect recording of every event that ever occurred to Lee. His actual choices in complex areas, that is those things were Lee is making a "hard decision", would be unmodelable since how he decides to act is based on an ergodic brain structure being influence by ergodic amine firing events. Lee retains free agency.
That is in this model, Lee is in some vague and absolute sense, completely determined. But the effect is that he lives his life in a way that empirically indistinguishable from a theoretic Lee who has genuine freewill. And of course we have huge chains of ergodic systems: ergodic reactions in the center of the sun feed into ergodic systems on the surface feed into the sun's ergodic magnetic system feeds into the earth's ergodic magnetic system feeds into the ergodic weather system feeds into future weather which creates events which in an ergodic way influenced the nerve structures in Lee's brain which feed into Lee's ergodic decision making system given a fixed initial brain. That is to say every possible observer would experience a universe indistinguishable from one in which Lee has choice, which is what it means to say Lee has choice. Hence Lee's experience of choice is fully justified.
 See wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org...) for more on cryptographic hazing and the connection. A sample implementation of cryptographic hazing used for passwords (http://www.ecst.csuchico.edu...).
CD-Host, thank you for accepting this debate. I was a little wary when you said this would be your first, but you have presented a solid response, so I'm looking forward to this even more now.
I agree that causality is deceptive in its seeming simplicity, which is part of why I think it gets passed over so cursorily in school, but that it is actually a hotbed of contention when it comes to closer examinations of our reality. For instance, a current experiment (1) is about to demonstrate super-positioning by making a glass bead exist in two places at once, pissing squarely in the face of both principals Locality and Identity which, in addition to Causality, are the foundations of epistemology; the tree of knowledge. Along with experiments on entanglement, tunneling and many other phenomena, it seems possible that it makes no sense to describe parts of this existence as being "here" or "there; this" or "that." It is possibly fruitless to try to deconstruct into logic a thing which is dynamically interconnected and cannot be sundered. I suspect we will never know; that all we will ever have is beliefs about what reality is, and what our capacity is within it.
However, I think that my theory about "choice" is applicable to all imaginable realities. The only reason I somewhat restricted this debate to a causal and deterministic universe is that such a universe is intelligible and can be discussed. If what went up did not come down, so to speak, and effects were not qualitatively related to their causes (indeterministic), or if causes did not even consistently generate effects, and effects could self-generate (non-causal), then there could be no stable concepts for use in logical processes. Discussion would be impossible, or at least unproductive. Furthermore, I believe that in any universe other than a causal and deterministic one, "choice" is very obviously rendered an impossibility because of the awareness factor. Even if an observant being could come to exist in an indeterministic or non-causal reality, it could not be called intelligent or aware of anything that might result from its actions because the universe in which it existed would not even be intelligible. We could not say that creatures in such universes are making "choices" or that they are responsible for what they do because any effects they generate would either be random, or they would just fail to generate effects at all.
As for a causal, deterministic universe, I hear what you're saying about ergodic systems having a compounding complicating effect, such that macro-systems can seem effectively random, even if they are not actually random.* I've encountered that argument enough times that I have named it the Appeal to Uncertainty. It is essentially the argument that humans have freedom in their actions because all actions cannot be predicted. But ignorance is no excuse from the law, either in court or in the universe at large. That we cannot know exactly what we are going to do does not mean that we are free to choose. Our ignorance is only a symptom of the Uncertainty Principal: we are part of the system we are trying to observe, and therefore cannot make perfect observations because we change the system by observing it. That does not mean the system itself is uncertain and that our thoughts are deciding between actual multiple possibilities. The multiple possibilities we perceive for each moment are only figments of our inexact imaginations. But causality and determinism mean there is exactly one possibility per moment: the one that results deterministically from the previous Planck time, or whatever the shortest quanta of change ends up being. And the next Planck time will be determined exactly by this one, and on and on in either direction of time. You could only say there are multiple possibilities per moment in an indeterministic and/or non-causal universe, but in which case we observers would have no control over the results of our actions because the results would be random.
To my logic, in order for a human to have the capacity for choice, we would have to be an entropically isolated system with one-way interactivity with the rest of nature, which is oxymoronic. We would have to be able to affect it, without it affecting us, which would mean generating causes within ourselves and then weaving them into the causal fabric of existence. It would mean being able to observe and then have thoughts about our observations that originated in our self; un-caused, rather than with the observation itself. But all human thought originates in observation. I have often challenged people to describe some thought that you could have while being deprived of all sensory input, or memory thereof. It can't be done. You can't even think about your own existence unless there is something to distinguish it from non-existence. There is no such thing as a priori thought, and there is no such thing as an isolated system within the rest of nature. Observation creates thought, which directs action, which feeds observation, which creates thought....etc. Nowhere is the causal chain broken. Nowhere can a human say 'hold on a minute, I'd rather think this, or observe this, or do this. We do and think as we are compelled. It is only our ignorance of the mechanisms of our compulsions that allows us to believe that the causes of our actions started with what we call "us." And ironically, it's our intelligence that re-enforces this view. By coming to know our vessel to the depth we are able, we can predict many of its repetitive behaviors, like being able to predict a familiar actor's catch phrases and quirks. We are such successful imitators that we are convinced we are the actors; the causors. We may find some day that it took a very specific balance of ignorance and intelligence to create a creature that believes it is a Prime Mover, and laugh at ourselves for our foolishness. Then again, we probably wouldn't find the truth all that amusing in comparison, so we might resist that conclusion as we have for thousands of years. Whatever we do, I suspect it couldn't have happened any other way, and I wont be holding myself responsible : -).
*You mention that in reality we do have genuinely random events, but I want to clarify that these are only theoretical right now. We have no examples of randomness that have been demonstrated empirically. Quantum computers are just beginning to be operational for minor calculations; quantum cryptography has not been tested in practice. There are also various theories about randomizing events in supernovae and black holes, but those also have not been tested, and they are not thought to be truly random events because that would contradict the Principal of Conservation of Information, which is thought to be inviolable. If we had actual demonstrable examples of randomness, cryptographers and casinos would be using them and we would have unbreakable codes and un-cheat-able games.
Let me open by reminding you of your own definition:
Choice is the notion that a system of awareness could have any degree of freedom over its actions in a causal and deterministic reality.
Lets assume we have two people Dan (who lives an entirely deterministic life) and Fred who lives in an alternate universe and while his choices are influenced by material reality has in fact some degree of freewill. That is Fred's actions are not completely determinable even with perfect knowledge while Dan's are. Oscar the observer lives in a 3rd universe and must figure out which material being is Dan and which is Fred. Oscar discovers to his horror that Dan's choices are so complex he can't tell the difference from Fred's.
My point is that if all possible finite observers cannot tell the difference there is no difference. There are no infinite observers. If Dan makes a choice and
a) Dan experiences himself making a genuine choice
Then Dan really did make a free choice. This infinite observer is essentially God. And the argument being constructed is:
God knows everything ->
I'd have problems with that argument even with God's existence. I can have freewill and at the same time make predictable choices. For example beginners is chess are thinking through and freely choosing their moves. But their thinking processes are so transparent to more senior players that they can be manipulated and controlled by them. Poor thinking is not the same as no thinking.
And the issue of computation complexity is key. Lets use chess. Most estimates today put the number of atoms in universe between: 4×1079 and 1081. There is a notion called Shannon's number (http://en.wikipedia.org...) which represents roughly the level of complexity of completely understanding chess. That is knowing everything there is to know about any position. To store that would take 10123 boards. Or to put that in perspective, take every atom in the universe and store in it more than all human knowledge every created and you still couldn't fit the tree in.
I can solve a chess game 1 move away from completing perfectly. 2 moves away... but with each step the complexity of the solution increases. And very quickly so much so that any possible system is overwhelmed. Computations that require more energy than is available in our universe to carry out are effectively infinite calculations. The results are completely unknowable. We can treat those finite but incredibly difficult calculations as having no answer. And any ergodic feeding into another creates that sort of tree.
If you had perfect knowledge of my initial state. I thought about a choice for a minute or for an hour there is no way to determine with certainty what I will choose. The computation is undoable. By hand waiving away the computational problems you are moving outside the realm of materialism. Essentially allowing for an all knowing God without using those words.
So I'm rejecting your theory.
a) Can you explain to me how an outside observer can distinguish Fred from Dan? How does Oscar meet his challenge?
b) What would freewill look like in your view of the universe?
As an aside having truly random events does nothing for cryptography and the degree of randomness we have is fine for gambling. That point wasn't central to the debate but you were incorrect. We can take that one to comments if you like or drop it.
I was going to address the issue of epistemological justification that you touched on in the last paragraph of your first response, but I felt my post was running longer than most attention spans, so I'm glad you brought it up again here. I can see from the structure of your arguments that you are an empiricist of the JTB variety (justified true belief), which is just as well; we all have to believe something ; -). But as I mentioned, I am a skeptic, specifically a pyrrhonist, so the justification for knowledge accepted by empiricists does not convince me.
The Gettier paper of 1963 clearly shows that justified true belief can easily be an illusion, and it is just such an illusion that I am suggesting humans are under, with regards to their freedom of action.(1) For those who are unfamiliar, the epistemological school to which my opponent ascribes holds that a belief is justified as knowledge when (2):
a) it is believed
b) it is true
c) the believer has good reason for their belief (a very tenuous condition if I may say)
Edmund Gettier objected to this justification with a series of examples that clearly illustrate instances in which a believer is justified in a belief, but in which the justification was not actually "good" and the belief was only true by coincidence. Accidental knowledge. He, Bertrand Russell and many other philosophers have complained that the leniency with which the third condition of JTB is defined allows for an unacceptable margin of error when we consider how easy it is for a human to be convinced of something which simply isn't true. (3) Sunrise anyone?
Consequently, I cannot accept a human's justified true belief in the freedom of their actions as evidence that they are indeed free. You have asserted that "if all possible finite observers cannot tell the difference there is no difference." So if everyone believes it, it must be true? Really? Believing that you can choose freely does not grant you the power of actually choosing freely. It has to be possible to happen, and if every event is the direct result of a prior cause, including everything we believe is a free choice, then it is not logically possible for choice to exist. Alternatively, if we are not in a deterministic universe, and there is randomness, then it really doesn't matter if humans believe they can choose freely because you cannot choose what is random. It's another logical paradox. Every which way you turn with "free will" and "choice" you run into logical paradox. Belief has no bearing on the matter, justified or not. What we learn, or fail to learn, about the universe does not change what the universe is actually doing.
So my answers to your questions, if you haven't inferred them already, are these: there's no way to tell the difference and it doesn't matter, and I have no model for free will because it's an illogical concept and requires paradox to exist. And I will pose you a question in turn: regardless of whether or not there are observers, how can a completely determined system arrive at an un-determined event through complexity? How can a system in which everything is caused arrive at something that is not caused?
Thank you again for a good debate. I hope we'll have the opportunity again.
I'd like to remind those judging of the original thesis statement: The concept of "choice" contradicts determinism and causality explicated in the intro: In this debate, my opponent will argue that choice is a possible concept within a deterministic and causal universe. I will argue that "choice" is impossible.
I think the round 3 response has proven my point. That determinism and causality do not contradict choice, additional assumptions are needed. One can hold to determinism and causality and just use empiricist definitions and there is no contradiction with choice. I think that wins the debate.
This debate has had sort of a conversational tone so from here on out I'll switch to even more of a discussion tone. I'll be defending the points and disagreeing but these will be tangents to the main argument above, which I think is now proven. Essentially working through why I don't believe there is a contradiction at a deeper level and exploring where I believe the real additional axioms you needed were.
To start with I actually am not following how Pyrrhonism allows for the kinds of categorical assertion you are making with respect to choice. Critical rationalism, which is a modern form of Pyrrhonism, uses the same definition of falsifiability I am using. I'm not sure how you don't see a contradiction there.
I think this is really key. To say that a synthetic proposition p is true means there exists an observation / measure o such that:
That's the same as the definition in the analytic realm, a proposition p is decidable if there exists a function o such that
1) o(true) = 1, o(false) = 0
If p is not a decidable proposition it isn't true or false. It is meaningless, a catagorical error, to talk about who shaves the Barber of Seville (http://en.wikipedia.org...).
And that's my response to your point, "Belief has no bearing on the matter, justified or not. What we learn, or fail to learn, about the universe does not change what the universe is actually doing." The issue isn't over justified belief, but rather if there is not a single experiment that allows me to determine the universe is doing something, then it is meaningless to talk about the universe "doing it". Yes I am taking a positivist stance.
a) There are observation consistent with X
is as close as you can get to an absolute truth.
a) There are observation consistent with Jim making choices
is a list that doesn't merely indicate that I believe Jim to be making choices, that is what I am asserting is the very definition of of Jim making choices, in every possible sense. A synthetic statement is absolutely true, if every possible observation is in accord with it. The alternative is to have one or both of true statements that contradict observations, or false statements consistent with every possible observation. Which essentially breaks all connection between reason and reality. There is no "what the universe is actually doing" apart from all finite observers. In our logic it is well known that even one contradictory statement implies all statements are true. For that reason I have to reject the notion of a statement consistent consistent with all finite observers yet false.
And I will pose you a question in turn: regardless of whether or not there are observers, how can a completely determined system arrive at an un-determined event through complexity?
My answer to that was chaining. The fact that A determines B determines C determines D does not mean that A determines D. This is one of the distinctions between synthetic and analytic propositions which cause rationalistic models to collapse. "Determines" as a sythetic property, its also poorly defined.
Assume that we do give it a hard synthetic definition, lets use "determines" to mean "causes to occur with 99% or greater probability". For arguments sake we allow each step to be occurring with 99.5% probability. Then the total probability for A -> D is 98% which is not under the definition "determined". And obviously I can do the same thing with a longer chain and events that require 99.9999999999999999999% probability. That is, increase the length of the chain and the same thing happens with unbelievable probable events. The odds that any particular sperm will die without meeting an egg are astronomical, but that doesn't mean that pregnancy does not happen. Any test performed often enough regardless of how unlikely will eventually happen.
And the same thing can happen if your definition of determined is computationally oriented. That is Y is determined by X if the function generating y is f and f(X) = Y.
If the A -> B computation is difficult and the B -> C computation is difficult the A -> C computation can be the square of the difficulty. And that level of difficulty can kick you from difficult to impossible. And once it becomes an impossible computation there is no "f" in your definition of determined anymore. This can even happen in a purely analytic realm. There are functions that are analytic and be computed for each element of a set but can't be computed on the set.
r(A) = B, and s(b) = c, for b in B with c being in C. But s(r(A)) cannot be directly computed.
The chess analogy I a gave is a good example of this. The fact that I can perfectly understand the final moves in a chess game, and given a board I can with perfect accuracy determine which boards are derivable in one move (easily infect) does not mean I can compute a complete understanding of chess. In some sort of theoretical sense I might choose to burn up ½ the energy in the universe to complete a computation. I can't choose to burn up 1000x the energy in the universe to complete a computation. Any formula that requires 1000x the energy in the universe to be computed has no answer. And this follows from what we discussed above in terms of testability.
Choose a synthetic definition of determined and complexity and chaining in combination destroy finite knowability. And that summary is where we have to leave it. I actually wish we were going another round or so. I think round 3 was our best round. Far from summarizing an existing argument we actually found the root of the argument in rounds 1 and 2.
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