I Challenge A Determinist’s Worldview On Edge: Is It Science?

Determinism, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as “the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature.”

So, other than being a philosophy, is it an actual science? Meaning is it supported by scientific evidence? Regarding this very point, I responded to an Edge contributor on his own web site .You can read the blogger’s initial letter over in the Edge article (“http://www.edge.org/response-detail/25381) I responded to. But for space I won’t reproduce it here. Apparently Edge is a place for “scientists, philosophers, and public intellectuals.” Yes, I’m responding to the leading minds over on Edge, a think tank organized by John Brockman. This was my first discussion with one of them, and how did I do? Deleted and blocked that’s how I did! So that’s how scientists do it now. If they don’t like your arguments they delete them!

I won’t apologize for questioning the veracity or scientific credibility of someone’s statements they are making in public if they are wrong. If you are claiming that two and two are five, I would hope that I’m not the only one calling this out. It is one thing to have an opinion or to state a personal philosophy, but that’s not the issue here. What is at issue is to make what I believe are non scientific or unsupportable claims based on what is clearly an opinion, and calling it “science.” It is more egregious when the claim is made by someone apparently from academia. This is a situation where the real issue is not just the theory, it is the claim that there is evidence for the theory. I believe the same standard would be applied to anyone writing a paper in a journal, claiming to have evidence for an alleged “scientific position”, when in fact they do not. I have not found “scientific” papers that present evidence for this philosophy, and I doubt that there are any of the sort.

So more importantly my purpose is to advocate my own position, and a theory, that determinism is itself disprovable as a worldview, at least in terms of any kind of science. How? That is explained here. But if determinism is so “widespread and accepted” as its advocates seem to believe, then the ramifications are obviously profound if this is true- since it is regarding the nature of free will, the self and consciousness, but also real world interpretations of various real brain studies. Determinists have seized on much of this data and seem absolutely convinced that brain scanning i.e. MRI imaging that shows how the brain functions, is somehow smoking gun evidence that the brain is in fact being controlled without our knowledge.

Here was my first response to the blogger’s “http://www.edge.org/response-detail/25381Edge article.

“This is incorrect on so many points I’m not sure where to even start. It’s surprising that this position is accepted without much contention. If it’s considered in the realm of a scientific hypothesis it should be testable and it should have proof or evidence to back it up that’s a little better than what’s given here. Let’s take the purported real world examples or implications of this theory, that choosing a flavor of ice cream is somehow ‘not a choice.’ If it wasn’t a choice, then you are claiming this is a pre-determined outcome, since no other flavor was a possibility. But, we have no idea what physics to identify that made this outcome 100% certain! The other example, of MRI studies: which are the basis presumably to claim that something else is controlling the brain and not the brain itself, which is unfounded (what other brain is controlling the brain? Are we to infer that they can predict that someone will reflexively grab an apple, before the apple falls? It takes a single brain study out of context to support the contention that every action we make is controlled by genes and envirtonment. What genes are pulling the strings to make one walk across the road? Genes don’t operate that quickly. The claim that it isn’t pre-determinism is going to automatically disqualify it as a scientific theory of any sort, since it, determinism in fact never makes a prediction that can be tested. Grab your life vests, the SS Determinist is going down.”

Note that I said “this position” obviously addressing a theory and nothing whatsoever to do with a personal point. And yet here’s the Edge article author’s, response:

“First of all, your answer is rude to the host, so lay off the snark. Second of all, your “arguments” hold no water. The science behind the lack of conscious decisions include not only the predictability of MRI studies, which gets better and better (and farther and farther in advance) as technology improves. Plus there is all the evidence that we have in favor of determinism in science. Further, there are all the experiments, detailed in Wegner’s book, where you can delude people into thinking they’re consciously controlling a cursor when they’re not, and similar experiments, as well as the confabulations in which brain manipulations cause involuntary motions that people later pretend they intended. Plus all the psychological experiments in which you can manipulate people’s behavior in profound ways by trivial changes in their environment…Isn’t that enough science for you? Right now we can predict right versus left choices with crude brain scanning at about 65% accuracy, well before people claim they’ve made the choice. Just think how much better we could do if we had better ways to monitor the brain. […Determinism certainly does make predictions that can be tested, as with the Libet experiments and their successors in which the prediction (fulfilled) is that we can predict with statistically significant results which way someone will decide before they’re conscious of deciding it. You sound like some kind of ghost-in-the-machine libertarian, since you reject determinism. Regardless, your answer is not only uninformed but rude, and is not in the least convincing to me. And as for the last sentence, you should simply apologize. Or go to some other website where you can be incoherent and snarky without penalty. Your main mistake is saying that because we can’t yet predict human behavior completely, it is inherently unpredictable. Of course that would hold for all of physics a couple of hundred years ago.”

I guess he didn’t like being challenged. Here is my response to his response, (in quotes below), which he blocked from his blog, so I’ll reproduce it here. Why did the Edge contributor, delete my response from his blog?

“And in each of those scientific papers that you cite [above], there is a scientific hypothesis within them which assumes, by its de facto existence, that a number of alternatives are/were possible in the experiment. Possibilities and unexpected results. These papers do not arrogantly decree that their subjects had no choice, in the outcomes that were presumably tested, and I doubt their authors would make such a claim either, (to your point that the scientific majority supports determinism). But if they are doing research’ on a subject, any subject, in which there are no possible outcomes available, what kind of ‘research’ is this? Are scientists who do statistics, silently agreeing with determinism, or are they actually accepting that unknowns will always be present, in fact more present than ‘knowns?’ Citing more papers of journals is not going to convince me that humans are not capable of completely unexpected responses, a reality of the ‘real’ world.”

Keep in mind that the basis of this deterministic worldview is that all events are 100% predetermined by causal factors. In reality, according to determinists, there is zero uncertainty in how any event incluing human decision making came about. The uncertainty, they claim is illusory. Hence, my other point:

Furthemore, what kind of science is being done when the experimenters have already pre-supposed that they know the outcomes of their experiments? Scientists doing work with pre-known outcomes, and nothing to learn, teach or prove? Is this the end of science?

The more we investigate how the human mind works, the more questions it will produce, not less.

He needs to knock off the claims that we don’t have any choice about our decisions, and that our free will (which is only defined as theoretical options) is an illusion, IF he can’t or won’t identify the physics of how that might actually be possible. His claim that science has shown no physical distinction between the mind and the brain, is a strawman argument, because “mind” is really not defined scientifically anywhere. Reductionists have long assumed that the brain is made of atoms, but this in no way demonstrates determinism, nor does that fact alone,(that it’s atoms), begin to explain consciousness. But there are too many problems with the “100% certainty theory”, of determinism, to even get into.

If we presume that his evidence of determinism is MRI data and the other psychology studies, then the other mistake he’s making, is assuming that determinism only applies to humans, or even that it is only relevant to psychology. The theory is much more fundamental to causality. Which he doesn’t seem to grasp. Predetermined outcomes aren’t specific to antecedent events that just involve human beings. They must predict outcomes of other events or things. He’s claiming that I’m somehow holding determinism to an unfair level of precision, (his last paragraph), but show me one chemical or physics law that is not hypothetically testable? The answer: All of these real sciences do, but determinism does not. Determinism operates on the implicit assumption that everything in principal, is knowable. As if there are laws essentially governing the unknown, and they just haven’t been found yet. But that basic assumption was challenged with the double slit experiment (Thomas Young, and later,”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-slit_experiment“). According to the famous physicist, Richard Feynman, even the prediction of the position of a single electron is impossible (book three in Feynman’s lecture series). Is that so complex, one small electron?

Determinism is just the hindsighted notion that a theory might in theory exist. At the very least, I’m asking determinists to come up with a real science theory like other scientists. Is that too much to ask?

That being said, I won’t be apologizing for challenging this blogger on his “scientific claims”. If it’s true that determinism is already accepted by a majority of scientists, that would be unfortunate, not grounds for celebration in my opinion, because they’ve been duped and that’s “a bad” for science. It’s also unfortunate that he blocked my response, but that tells me that maybe he’s worried I might make his “science” look bad. And we wouldn’t want that happening.

So I think I’ll end with this. A question. Is determinism really being accepted as science? If it’s not, then why would Roy Baumeister, a psychologist from Florida, debate the topic of free will vs determinism at the SPSP Great Debate? And why are there all these studies showing determinism is harmful?(See Vohs et al.) Determinism is becoming the catchword for “science” whereas duality and combatibilism are catchwords for a bunch of other ideas not considered supportable by physics. One obvious consequence of determinism is that it dehumanizes medicine. It’s much easier to treat a “robot” in which morality doesn’t actually exist, than it is to treat a human being and follow ethical practices. It seems that most professionals don’t entirely understand the arguments for it, it’s complex, and delude themselves into thinking that it is undeniable fact and must be rationalized into a “free will illusion” that is necessary for “doing culture.” Yes they are searching for explanations or justifications in the mind for free will, but not because they’re convinced it is physically defensible. They’ve bought into the “you believe in laws of physics or you don’t” duality argument. So possibly there are consequences to not going along with the “thought leaders”, who are promoting determinism so aggressively. They are made to look foolish and “non-science based” and worse, that they’re challenging determinist dogma. But what if determinism is wrong? And what if it can’t pass the Hypothesis Test? These are the more important issues, and I’m absolutely convinced I’m right, which would be a big deal.

As for my response to the Edge author- We know that determinism isn’t really making any predictions, that’s clear, because the other claims he is making in Edge, the egregious ones, that everything in science is in principal, predetermined. So it’s misleading to state that determinism is doing the work that’s leading to the MRI studies and other data, when it’s 100% incongruous with science. The Edge author’s claim that “duality is dead”, and that mind and brain are no longer valid distinctions, as “proved by science”, stems directly from determinism theory, not data. The Edge author demanded that I apologize for challenging his views, but he’s go it all backwards. He should be apologizing for his bad science.

Source links:

1. (https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/annual-edge-question-and-my-answer/#comment-698409.


3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18181791

Author’s note: This article was mysteriously lost from this blog at WordPress, it vanished! so I am reproducing it here.

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