Atheist Exile asserts that hard determinism is untestable in the animate realm, and therefore unscientific according to Karl Popper’s philosophy.  Atheist Exile does not justify this assertion in his essay, “Hard determinism fails,” but I came to a similar conclusion when, having read some of Popper’s essays, I wondered how hard determinism could be tested in the realm of human behavior.   

To test a proposition scientifically it is necessary to define it operationally, that is, in a way that makes it susceptible to empirical research.  Two ways to operationally define free will and determinism in the human realm have been suggested:   

1.  If human action can be predicted, it is not a result of free will, but a result of determinism.

2.  If a human action is a result of conscious thought, it shows free will, not determinism.

The problem is that these two operational definitions will classify the same action in opposite ways.  Let me explain why.   In order to predict human behavior, we have to use one or another of the theories that have been proposed by behavioral scientists.  

One such theory is that of rational choice.   It states that if we know the preferences or tastes of an individual, we can predict what choice that individual will make among the options available in a specific situation, if the individual chooses on a purely rational basis, taking into account costs and benefits.  If we correctly predict the choice an individual makes in an experimental situation, we should classify the choice as unfree.   But since rational choices are by definition conscious choices, by operationally defining free will as consciously initiated action, we should classify the choice as free instead.   So our first attempt to design a test of hard determinism has resulted in an absurd contradiction.  

An alternative theory explains human behavior as being a result of culture, rather than of rational choice.  Culture is the pattern of actions shared among the members of a particular group and learned by each member from the others.  An individual's behavior is predictable if it follows the prevailing cultural pattern.  It is not predictable if it is innovative, original, and creative.   Therefore, by the unpredictability definition of free will, we should classify creative and innovative behavior as free. But episodes of creativity are known to be influenced by unconsciously gestated thoughts and non-rational connections among ideas, so by using the definition of free will as consciously initiated action, we should classify creativity as unfree instead.  So for the second time our attempt to test hard determinism in the human realm has produced an absurdity. Hard determinism is untestable because it cannot be stated in a consistent, scientific, operational manner. 

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Damn . . . I didn't get a notice that this had been posted!

I'm going to read it and write a reply within a few hours.

Hi Homer,

Outside the quantum realm, inanimate objects, such as rocks, meteors, planets, etc., are subject to physical laws (as are we) and, because they lack motility, perception, consciousness, motive and intent, they respond to forces in strictly physical ways. Inanimate objects have a linear mode of response to causality. The more simultaneous forces (gravity, inertia, momentum, impact, etc.) brought to bear on inanimate objects, the more complicated the math required to predict their reactions but that's to be logically expected. In theory, every cause will produce a completely predictable, specific, effect.

Animate organisms and beings, however, possess specific combinations of motility, perception, consciousness, motive and intent, etc. (depending on the organism/being). They have a reciprocal mode of response to causality and they respond to more kinds of stimuli (forces). A man can make a game (dodgeball) of avoiding balls but a billiard ball can do nothing about an approaching cue ball. In dodgeball, there's no telling if somebody will move left, right, forward, back, up or down to avoid a ball thrown at him. In billiards, target balls are sitting ducks, completely at the mercy of a few physical laws.

This is what I'm referring to when I say that inanimate objects are completely predictable but animate beings are not.

And in order to test something, you have to be able to predict an anticipated result.

People can be somewhat predictable if one's prediction is broad enough. Also, the more physical one's prediction, the more likely one is to predict correctly. For instance, I predict that if I shoot you between the eyes, you will die. But I couldn't predict if you'll die in a split second or in 10 seconds. In general, predictions about animate beings are more general and less reliable than with inanimate objects (which are completely predictable).

Also, I don't put a lot of stock in philosophy. Every school of thought has opposing schools of thought. Every philosopher has his detractors. Problems are rarely solved. Free will, for instance, is a centuries-old debate. Whenever I can, I prefer to use observations and empirical evidence that we generally agree upon and accept.

Formal logic is the greatest tool offered by philosophy but philosophy deals with matters of opinion, not matters of fact. Philosophers marshal facts to support their opinions but philosophical topics are, by and large, never resolved.

Free will is a philosophical topic, so I must deal with concepts like determinism, mind/body duality, consciousness and others . . . but only when I must.

Also, per your 2 criteria for free will:

1.  If human action can be predicted, it is not a result of free will, but a result of determinism.

2.  If a human action is a result of conscious thought, it shows free will, not determinism.

#1: I'd amend it to read, "If ALL human action can be predicted, it is not a result of free will, but a result of determinism."

#2: Conscious thought itself, some argue, IS determined. They would say we're meat puppets.

I don't think there is, yet, a way to prove whether or not we have free will. But I do think we can conceive of rational explanations that MIGHT explain free will. I think we possess all the ingredients for free will -- they are integral facets of our human intelligence -- consciousness, memory, self-awareness, time-awareness, imagination, knowledge, internal and external streams of feedback, reciprocal causation. Combined, these facets of our intelligence permit us to evaluate relevant factors from the past and present in order to predict the best choice based on our anticipated futures.

Hard determinists make the scientifically unfalsifiable claim that our choices could not have been any different than what they were. I say their claim is meaningless. If I say I choose to do what I do, they say my choices were causally determined. If I say I have reasons for my choices, they say my reasons were causally determined. If I say my morality limits my reasons, they say my morality is causally determined. If I say my experience molded my morality, they say my experience was causally determined. Their argument is simplistic: EVERYTHING is causally determined so nothing is spontaneous.

With linear causality -- as found in the inanimate realm -- everything MIGHT be causally determined (outside the quantum realm). However, there appears to be some overlap between the quantum and classical realms that throws hard determinism into serious doubt. But I can concede that the classical realm is deterministic . . . but not for animate beings. Not for us.

We enjoy reciprocal causality. Thanks to internal and external feedback, we are self-aware and time-aware. We have options to choose from. We are intelligent enough to understand, at an innate level, causality and anticipate it. Intelligent anticipation gives us a temporal advantage over causality that allows us plan for the future and therefore impose our will on the world. We determine our own paths into the future. This self-determinism is the result of our interaction, via feedback, with causality. It's a natural product of causality: reciprocal causality.

As usual, I agree with your approach to the issue.  But let me respond to your reformulations of my attempts to state the determinists' own operational definitions of free will:

#1: I'd amend it to read, "If ALL human action can be predicted, it is not a result of free will, but a result of determinism."  Are you restating this in light of the assumption, allowed by the "Brain on Trial" article, that human actions vary in the extent to which they are products of free will?  Are you saying that if ANY human actions are free and based on a choice not to do the predictable thing, then hard determinism is false?  Are you trying to turn hard determinism into a falsifiable statement?

#2: Conscious thought itself, some argue, IS determined. They would say we're meat puppets.  So the determinists are not saying that consciousness is out of the loop and is not a link in the causal chain.   Are they instead saying that consciousness cannot make any alterations in the results that follow?  But everything in the causal chain has an independent effect on the outcome!  That is the whole point of a multi-factor, multivariate approach to science (and the source of the three-body problem).  As a social scientist, I cannot think about causality in any other way.  Every action is a result of the interaction of many forces.   Do the hard determinists not understand this?

Yes, Homer, you're right about point #1. I did not take the exceptions into account. Obsessive-compulsives, schizophrenics, manic depressives, etc. are dominated by brain chemistry in ways that others are not. Actually, such anomalous conditions call 'normalcy' into question. What, exactly, is normal? In such cases, I think that there's an operative difference between 'influence' and 'control' that bears directly on one's level of free will. Human intelligence and free will are complex phenomena that can be compromised by just slight imbalances. Blindness, deafness, brain injury or illness, etc., can warp perception and undermine one's grasp of reality. Issues like these remind me that the issue is a big question mark. We have our opinions but we don't really know for sure.

As to point #2, I don't agree that "everything in the causal chain has an independent effect on the outcome". Or at least, not as I understand you. I think of causality as multitudinous, simultaneous, cascading, chains of events. A cause has an effect which, in turn, becomes the cause of its own effect, ad infinitum. This occurs everywhere, all the time. Discreet chains of events unfolding and intermingling over time.

Linear causality precludes spontaneity. Anything and everything that happens now had a cause in the past. Effects don't just materialize out of nowhere, so everything that happens now is traceable back to an original cause: the Prime Mover, Big Bang or God (or whatever you want to call it).

But reciprocal causality DOES allow for spontaneity. Invention, innovation and creativity are hallmarks of reciprocal causality. Humans are good at it. We combine imagination with experience to assert individuality. We prepare for the future and are ready for causality when it arrives. We're intelligent. We adapt to new information and learn from it.

Our intelligence necessarily anticipates causality because intelligence can't exist without doing so. That might seem like circular logic but if you think about it, you'll see it's a truism.

"Independent effect" was the wrong term.  Everything is connected and has an influence on the outcome, however small.   That is why I think linear causality is wrong.  And I like your alternative of reciprocal causality.  

What is happening when we, individually or collectively, make plans? We are imagining a future in which we implement a scheme conceived of in the present. That future may be seconds or decades from now. Inherent in this planning is an understanding of causality and, perhaps, even contingency plans to accommodate uncertainties. To me, this is PROOF of our temporal advantage over causality -- an advantage commonly referred to as 'intelligence'.

Intelligence must inherently include self-awareness, time-awareness, and reciprocal causality. We can't learn without the intelligent feedback of reciprocal causality. We must be able to test causal relationships before we can understand them. Such feedback from experimentation is necessary to discover and use causality for our own purposes. Because causality unfolds with time, we must grasp time to grasp causality. And we wouldn't grasp as much (or as readily) as we do without self-awareness.

I've been coming to realize that free will isn't an independent phenomenon. Rather, it's a part of intelligence. It is both necessary for -- and a product of -- intelligence. This chicken/egg nature of free will points to a merger of cause and effect. Causality unfolds in the present. But we synthesize multitudinous streams of both internal and external feedback and, in the process, cause and effect lose their differences as memory (past), analysis (present) and anticipation (future) are brought to bear in a homogenized interpretation of all the relevant factors. We synthesize the factors with time-awareness, then decide -- we don't decide on just discreet, individual, factors from the present. We are not inanimate objects that react to causality only in the present. We are time-aware and interact intelligently with causality.

Have you ever been able to get a hard determinist to listen to you and try to uphold his or her own position in the face of your arguments?   None have replied to your postings here, and I think that is a shame.

They ALWAYS rely on the same old arguments . . . even though I'm presenting new arguments. They never address my points concerning animate versus inanimate, linear versus reciprocal causation, or the temporal advantage of intelligence over causality.




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