Thursday, January 29, 2009

Determinism is a Python in the Jungle

...because the brain is specifically an animal organ, a determinist would think that his thoughts are actions caused by specific psychical or physical conditions.

Determinism is the doctrine that every fact in the universe is guided entirely by law. As doctrine, it allows only for mechanical causation of all things that have existence, once existed, or will exist. It was contained as a theory in the atomism of Democritus of Abdera, “who reflected upon the impenetrability, translation and impact of matter.” [Dict. Of Phil; Runes; 1942]

In human history it is the doctrine that “all the facts in the physical universe are absolutely dependent upon and conditioned by their causes.” [ibid]

In psychology it is the doctrine that the will is not free but is “determined by psychical or physical conditions.” [ibid]

I find it surprising that psychology, the science that combines epistemology with metaphysics as causes of human action, would conclude that free thought is not free, but rather is ruled by the same laws as those that rule gravity and vacuums and animal organs. Of course, it is only deterministic psychology that comes to this conclusion.

The field of psychology itself is so fragmented on the subject of free will vs. determinism that we rarely read about them.

“Incompatibilists maintain that our conceptions of free will and moral responsibility are at odds with determinism. Compatibilists deny this and insist that our notions of free will and moral responsibility are consistent with determinism. [ ] Libertarians maintain that we do have indeterminist free will (e.g. Kane 1996, O’Connor 1995, Campbell 1957). Eliminativists about free will maintain that free will doesn’t exist. [ ] However, many free will eliminativists maintain that even if determinism is false, we still lack the kind of indeterminist choice that is required by the folk notion (e.g. Pereboom 2001, Sommers 2005, Strawson 1986). On this view, our notion of free choice is incompatible with the facts, regardless of whether determinism is true or false.” Shaun Nichols; Department of Philosophy; University of Arizona How can psychology contribute to the free will debate?

But because the brain is specifically an animal organ, I suppose it not hard to see why a determinist would think that his thoughts are nothing but actions (or reactions) caused by specific elements of existence acting directly on his brain.
This would give him the concept that all the reactions of his brain of which his brain can be conscious are reactions fully caused by those specific elements. He might even be led to believe that he is fully caused by all the things of which he is not aware.

Perhaps the python that swallowed the man in Africa had an effect on the full causation of some other man's employer, since his employer was there at the time the python ate the man. But since the employee himself was not there, he is only indirectly caused by the knowledge that pythons do eat men, that his employer was witness to such an event, and that he himself could be eaten by a gator if he visits Florida and gets too close to a pond in which a gator is hiding.

The man who was eaten by the python, unbeknownst to the employee, was going to invest a large sum of money into the employer's company. Since he was, instead, eaten before he could invest, the employee remained working for a small company he wished was larger—which it would have become—so that he could get paid more, so that he could buy a new car, so that he could take a vacation across the country.
The employee is “fully caused” by the python's action, “caused” to work for a small company, “caused” into wishing for more pay, “caused” into desiring a car he does not have in order to see the Grand Canyon. The python caused all that by eating the man in the jungle of Africa before he could invest his money with the employee's employer.

No, it is not hard to see why a determinist would be “caused” to conclude these things.

But if free will begins with the freedom to think or not to think, to find a solution to something or to evade that solution, then free will exists. Call it by any name you wish, but a man who decides to evade reality “just because,” or “because he is tired of living,” or “because he is tired of being the one who must always find the solution,” or because, like John Galt, he has an ego which refuses to be destroyed by all the things that would otherwise “cause” him to be destroyed if he did not make the free choice to stop evading the truth and let the world go to hell—such actions by men prove that they can overcome all those things which determinsts say “full causes” them.

The truth is, men can choose. What they have before them to choose from may be fully determined by circumstances, but whenever there is more than the choice to “do or die,” so to speak, free will exists.

Even in a “do or die” situation, a man is free to die—if he so chooses.

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