Kobayashi Maru

July 27, 2007    By: Jacob J @ 10:45 am   Category: Determinism vs. free will

After two long debates on the issues of free-will and determinism, Joshua summed up his response in this comment. His description gets to the heart of the matter in my opinion. At the end of the day, I think we are left with a fundamental problem on both sides and I think the problems are unanswerable. This creates a dilemma that I find quite fascinating.

To quickly review, both views have what seem to be totally unacceptable problems. On the determinism side, moral responsibility and our most basic experience of control are shown to be illusions. On the libertarian-free-will side, it becomes clear that there is no adequate explanation for why we do the things we do, even though our actions are supposedly meaningful. It is crucial to realize that there are no positions to take that don’t suffer from one of these problems. Your view (yes, you, reading this blog), your view suffers from one of these problems.

Of course, many people reading along will want to argue with my previous assertion. Either you have never internalized the problems or you have found a way to convince yourself that you have solved the problems on one side. Thus, these debates can be quite tiresome simply because they usually revolve around both sides trying to drive home the problems of the other side while denying the problems on their own side. Compatibilism is, by definition, a denial of the problem on the determinist side. Pretending that the reasons we offer for our actions are adequate explanations of the “why” of our actions is a denial of the problems on the LFW side. For a person coming to grips with the issue for the first time, these discussions can be a lot of fun. After you’ve run a few thousand laps around the issue, it can get less exciting than it was the first time around.

As long as there are people who can’t see the problem, or who think they have solved one of the problems, then the debate will always be about describing the problems and demonstrating the inadequacy of proposed solutions. I suppose this can’t be avoided because we are naturally committed to the idea that there is some truth that makes sense of it all.

However, I wonder if it could be somewhat more interesting to see a discussion among various people who fully acknowledge the problems on both sides and are resigned to the fact that no solution is forthcoming. What does a person do when they come to realize that it is not within our power to reconcile logic and experience on this issue? For me, that is a very fascinating question which doesn’t get addressed often enough.

Comment Rules

So, here is a thread about determinism and free-will with some unusual ground rules. You are only allowed to comment if you understand the problems (see previous threads if you don’t understand yet but you want to). Further, you are NOT allowed to claim that you have solved the problem on one side or another. Your comments ARE allowed to say why you prefer one problem to the other, or comment on how you approach philisophical/theological no-win scenarios in general. In a nutshell, your comment is welcomed as long as it does not challenge the premise of the post that the two problems described are genuine and severe problems for which there are no existing resolutions.

If these rules prevent me from getting any comments, I am prepared for that. This thread will remain open as a place holder for the discussion I’d like to see (but haven’t seen) about free-will and determinism.

112 Comments »

  1. I see the nature of the two problems as being qualitatively different. LFW is problematic because it is inadequate. Determinism (or indeterminism, allowing for some randomness) is problematic because its implications are unappealing. Given the (apparent) choice between something that doesn’t work and something I don’t like, I pretend to select the latter (after much very real kicking and screaming).

    Comment by Last Lemming — July 27, 2007 @ 11:34 am

  2. Are there not advantages to moving on with your life and acting as if you have real free will? Is that not the ‘safe’ approach? Regardless of whether we can win theological debates or not?

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 27, 2007 @ 11:38 am

  3. LL,

    The latter is determinism, right? I agree with you that the two problems are qualitatively different, but I don’t know if “doesn’t work” and “unappealing” are strong enough descriptions. But I can see where you’re coming from and I’m glad to get your take on it.

    More on the different qualities of the two problems: In some ways, I see it as a decision between which you choose to rely on at rock bottom–logic or experience. Of course, it is complicated and both sides are trying to give proper credit to both experience and logic, but in many ways it comes down to whether you are willing to believe that your experience is utterly deceptive (in a fundamental way). Since the reason for believing it to be deceptive is a failure to explain free choices in a coherent way, it becomes an issue where experience is pitted against reason. From this perspective, the issue exposes me as an existentialist. I choose to trust my experience because if I can’t trust that, what can I trust?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 27, 2007 @ 1:19 pm

  4. Eric,

    When you speak of a more “safe” approach, do you have in mind something like Pascal’s wager?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 27, 2007 @ 1:21 pm

  5. Yes, I suppose it is.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 27, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

  6. [Sorry, this comment got rather long. Here's the abstract to my comment: "I think Jacob has articulated a central problem in contemporary philosophy which can explain much of the Continental (LFW-leaning)) - analyctic (compatibilist-leaning) divide. Alain Badiou offers an interesting possible solution with his notions of truth and event.]

    Jacob, I think you’ve articulated very nicely the reason why many modern theologians have been so influenced by Continental philosophers (I have Heidegger, Derrida, Ricoeur and Kierkegaard esp. in mind here). I recently read Derrida’s The Gift of Death and this is one of the main themes that runs through the whole book, that freedom and responsibility must be groundless or else respons-ibility would not really exist. He calls this, among other things, “the aporia of responsibilty” (pp. 24ff esp.; we discussed this a bit here, though you’ll have to wade through many other ideas to find the relevant discussion…).

    So, I think this also mirrors the reason the analytic-Continental divide got so wide in the 20th century. Post-modern, Continental philosophers are trying to talk about things that can’t ultimately be grounded in logic, and so such thinking is, in a very real sense ungrounded, so analytically inclined thinkers find it obscurantist and nonsensical. On the other hand, Continental philosophers think that analytic philosophers are merely engaging in rather trivial logic games with unwarranted presuppositions, not really engaging in genuine thinking (as opposed to what amount to logical tautologies: if A implies B and B implies C claiming A is the same as claiming C, so nothing is really learned, everything is merely asserted, etc.).

    Adam Miller is convinced that Alain Badiou has the most promising answer to this problem via his concept of an event (he talks about this a little in his SMPT article (sorry, I’m not sure if it’s available anywhere online…). This is a gross oversimplification of the idea, and likely quite inaccurate, but my understanding is that Badiou talks about events as true because they are what effect history. Badiou does not believe in God, but he has a commentary on Paul where I think he uses Paul as an example of effecting truth because he was so convinced of what he said, and he convinced so many others of what he said, that this proclamation had real effects. From Badiou’s perspective of truth, which makes no metaphysical claims, this is what is most important and true, that Paul’s proclamation effected an event.

    Badiou also draws on Cantor set theory and the Axiom of Choice in a rather fascinating way to essentially make your point that LFW is groundless. It’s been a while since I was thinking about this (also), but I think Badiou roughly says that asserting a truth is like the assumption (tantamount to the Axiom of Choice) that non-constructible, infinite sets exist. A set that is infinite and constructible is essentially “logical” because there is no way to construct a set that is infinite without specifying some rule (rule = logic in this case). So, like mathemeticians who rely on the Axiom of Choice and therefore the existence of non-constructible sets, Badiou says that truths are established by doing that which can’t be justified by or grounded in logic. And so, in this sense, Badiou’s notion of truth and event are essentially the same thing as LFW.

    (Adam discussed this a bit with Joe Spencer, Jim F. and me a bit on lds-herm a while back, if you want to search the archives, though I think you have to register to search the archives and Joe runs the list. Also, the best—and only—introductory book on Badiou is by Peter Hallward, here.)

    Hopefully Clark or Blake or someone will respond with a better discussion of how post-positivist analytic philosophers have been approaching this problem (and/or correct my caricature above). My sense is that work following process philosophy/theology, pragmaticism, and the later Wittenstein has all confronted this problem rather directly in various ways, though I don’t know enough to summarize how….

    Comment by Robert C. — July 27, 2007 @ 2:35 pm

  7. [Correction: I said above that Badiou offers a "solution"---I didn't mean solution, but "a way to think and talk about things in a LFW world where decisions (and "truth," acc. to him) cannot be explained. And sorry for all the other typos.]

    Comment by Robert C. — July 27, 2007 @ 2:53 pm

  8. Jacob J.,
    Am I allowed to comment? Because while I completely agree with the two problems in Joshua M.’s linked comment, I disagree that compatabilist free will makes moral responsibility impossible.

    So, for me, the problem comes down to this: (1) compatibilist free will makes logical sense but has the truly horrifying implication that my fate is fixed but (2) libertarian free will doesn’t seem to make sense unless you assume my free choices are meaningless or random, which is unappealing and has implications for moral responsibility.

    So how do I resolve these questions? Well, like you, I would be inclined to trust my experience over my reason, but unlike you I don’t see any particular reason in my experience to trust one model over the other. So I ask myself if it matters to the way I act whether I believe one or the other, and for me the answer is no. I don’t find myself more inclined to do evil or to do good if I believe that I’m doing it because that’s the sort of person I am or if its because I mysteriously chose it. So I remain agnostic.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 27, 2007 @ 3:02 pm

  9. I said above that neither CFW nor LFW makes a difference to how I act, but I have to admit that since I decided within the last few years that logically speaking I was probably either stuck with an inalterable, relentless fate or else random, meaningless choice its kind of depressed me (though there is a question about which caused the other). I would probably be more depressed if I trusted my powers of reason more.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 27, 2007 @ 3:10 pm

  10. Great topic, by the way.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 27, 2007 @ 3:10 pm

  11. Adam #9, I understand that LFW makes a choice groundless and unjustified, but why meaningless? Just like a choose anything else, why I can’t I choose to give my choice meaning (the meaning will, in a sense, be arbitrary, but my claim is that love and grace and free will are necessarily arbitrary). Any memory, for example, is arbitrary until I choose to give it meaning. There is no logically-prescribed meaning that I must give the memory, but that doesn’t mean I can’t infuse the memory with meaning (think, for example, how a psychiatrist might help you work through a painful memory to give it newly-infused, less-painful meaning…).

    Comment by Robert C. — July 27, 2007 @ 3:25 pm

  12. Robert C.,
    I’m not sure we can have an effective conversation because I don’t understand the bulk of your comment–meaning seems to mean something different to you than to me–
    and
    I’m not sure I’m allowed to participate under Jacob J.’s ground rules
    and
    I’m not sure that, even if I am allowed to participate, this is the sort of conversation that fits within his grounds rules.
    So, very briefly, and maybe you can email me if you want to discuss it more, in my mind a choice is meaningful if its made for a moral reason. A groundless choice is meaningless by definition.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 27, 2007 @ 3:37 pm

  13. Adam, I think I understand now. I was indeed trying to make “meaning” mean something different than what you meant (i.e. something we freely choose to value, not something that is based on moral reason or any other reason).

    OK, I’ll lay low for a while—mainly b/c I’m busy, but also in hopes of not spoiling this thread with all my Continental-speak….

    Comment by Robert C. — July 27, 2007 @ 3:45 pm

  14. Adam,

    Yes, please participate. Your claim in the beginning paragraph of #8 that determinism is compatible with moral responsibility is disallowed for this thread, but otherwise the comment is on point so I left it.

    I want to respond to your point about experience when I get more time a bit later.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 27, 2007 @ 4:04 pm

  15. First, I had no idea what compatibilism or LFW was prior to reading these discussions. I read wikipedia, but apparently I need some 300 comments before I can figure it out.

    Having said that, I like many aspects of compatibilism. I think there is some core that makes up who I am and heavily influences my decisions. Maybe I wasnt a noble and great one, but I was me. I like that.

    On the other hand, I want to believe in the possibility that all mankind including me can be better than the sum of our parts. I want to believe that everyone can truly change even if their “character” or whatever that part of me is wont let me according to compatibilism.

    In short I really really like aspects of compatibilism but I have to believe there is some way to overcome me. Even if remote, some possibility.

    Comment by Joshua Madson — July 27, 2007 @ 7:58 pm

  16. Just some very brief comments.

    First one must be careful when discussing freedom and responsibility in a Derridean context. While he’s not speaking the same exactly he can’t be separated from the Heideggarian context. I think that, as such, he engaging a much deeper phenomena than what usually gets discussed in terms of freedom and responsibility.

    Second, being groundless, one must also say that for Derrida the LFW is itself problematic. On many levels. For Derrida freedom is basic but also beyond any finite totalizing definition or requirements.

    I can’t speak to Badiou as I just haven’t read him. I’ve heard that in a way he’s returning to more of an empiricism than Derrida. (Of course one can read Derrida as offering a unique kind of empiricism as well)

    Adam, a choice can have meaning but simultaneously be ungrounded in a strict sense. That is because what constitutes making a moral choice or having reasons is itself ungrounded in some sense. Freedom is one of the demands or requirements for acting. The problem isn’t that we have reasons but what reason consists of. (At least in one sense)

    Comment by Clark — July 27, 2007 @ 8:56 pm

  17. To add, I think both LFW and the kind of discussions of freedom one finds in Heidegger, Derrida and others both relate to a kind of openness. But I think that how this openness is conceived of ends up being radically different. That’s not to say one can’t read Heidegger in terms of the kind of openness LFW demands. (I’d argue Sartre does this, for instance) I’m not at all convinced it’s a correct reading.

    Comment by Clark — July 27, 2007 @ 8:58 pm

  18. Adam,

    but unlike you I don’t see any particular reason in my experience to trust one model over the other

    I just don’t see how this could be. You don’t experience the feeling of controlling your actions? Before you learned about the determinism/freewill debate, you didn’t assume that more than one future was still possible?

    Joshua (#15),

    I’m pretty sure your comment doesn’t meet the rules for this thread, but since you inspired the post, I’m allowing it. Also, I have to say that reading all the comments on those other threads is probably not the best way to learn about determinism/indeterminism. If you like reading papers with some organization rather than crazy comment threads, here are some that might help.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 27, 2007 @ 9:51 pm

  19. My Short response is that when faced with a problem for which my given set of solutions do not work I assume

    1- I am not intelligent enough to fully understand the problem.
    2- One of the Solutions has been misrepresented
    3- THe correct Solution is not represented and the current solutions available are all incorrect.
    4- all of the above.

    I actually have been formulating a post in my head on this topic of a “third way”, but haven’t read everything everyone else posted, so am somewhat pensive to throw my ideas around in case they’ve already been put out there. My thoughts hinge on what I call Counter-Determinism.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 28, 2007 @ 6:04 am

  20. I just don’t see how this could be. You don’t experience the feeling of controlling your actions?

    Of course I experience the feeling of controlling my actions. Further, I believe this experience is genuine. The question is whether my decisions are ultimately derived from my nature or happen in some other inexplicable or random way.

    Before you learned about the determinism/freewill debate, you didn’t assume that more than one future was still possible?

    I still do, in a sense. That is, I believe that what happens depends on what I and others decide. The choices are real choices. I’m just not sure that I would ever really choose anything differently than what I choose.

    Geoff J. isn’t participating in this conversation, given your ground rules, but he’s observed before that even in a LFW world, its quite possible that we only make LFW choices a few times in our lives. If I accepted that LFW was necessary for moral responsibility, I believe that it would suffice if LFW were exercised just once, in determining my character. One man, one vote, one time. To me, this suggests that our everyday experience of making decisions and thinking over choices doesn’t tell us much about CFW versus LFW.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 28, 2007 @ 6:07 am

  21. Adam,

    Good points, I feel much the same way you do. I may never know the truth on this matter intellectually but experiences are real and certainly feel real and maybe thats enough

    Comment by Joshua Madson — July 28, 2007 @ 8:00 am

  22. Here is a very interesting introductory excerpt from Thomas Nagel’s The View From Nowhere, which I found from Jacob’s link in #18. I’ve only skimmed this quickly so far, but I think it’s getting at the issue in similar ways as I was suggesting above (in my extremely vague pointing to Derrida and Badiou). I’m planning to read this Nagel excerpt more carefully later today or tomorrow—is anyone up for taking it up in detail? (If so, I’d be happy to host some discussion at the lds-herm blog, that is if no one else wants to take it up—let me know.)

    My very, very rough sense is that Nagel takes up the issue in terms of objectivity and subjectivity. The problem is that determinism seems to effetively presuppose that an “objective” point of view exists. If we recognize this presupposition and think about “reality” more generally, we realize that it is “not totalizable” and therefore not completely determined. From an objective point of view, we might be able to learn a lot, but ultimately reality is subjective precisely because of LFW. The next question, which I was touching on in comments above, is how to make life meaningful in such a state, and to think about what responsibility and accountability means (and I do think there can still be robust meaning, accountability, and responsibility in such a world).

    (It seems to me that Nagel takes a similar tack as Heidegger takes in criticizing Descartes in Being in Time, in terms of the “view from nowhere.” Clark, have you read Heidegger’s “The Essence of Human Freedom”? Here is a review. I’d also be interested in taking that up, but I need to study Being in Time more first, I’m only about a third of the way through Dreyfus’s lectures—thanks by the way for the links to these lectures at your site. Also regarding Heidegger, here and here are discussions of Heidegger and freedom at Clark’s blog, which I haven’t read yet. The advantage of taking up Nagel is that it seems to me that much less background much reading and knowledge is required to get up to speed….)

    Comment by Robert C. — July 28, 2007 @ 9:22 am

  23. I’ll go with Geoff’s response to Joshua’s comment on the previous thread.

    But I do not see why the lack of an “adequate explanation” is such a problem. There is no more an adequate explanation for agency than there is for God – but that doesn’t mean it should therefore be dismissed as a possibility. I usually refer to agency as the X-factor. It is something that science will never discover nor explain. It is, I believe, the very thing that makes us gods: our ability to create choices.

    Comment by Eric Russell — July 28, 2007 @ 2:01 pm

  24. To me, the idea I cannot *change* things has never bothered me. Change is relative to one’s frame of reference, and just because I cannot change reality (from a frame of reference outside of reality) doesn’t mean I cannot meaningfully change my behavior from time A to time B. The bad thing about determinism, to me, is the idea that there are no nomically similar possible worlds in which I do differently. In such a world we are exactly complicated computers. Ultimately, it is the universe itself, and the rules thereof, which ‘decide’ what I am. The universe has programmed me to be personality type AX29392. So, while one could come up with laws, and hold me accountable to them, and call them moral, it just seems unfair in the overall scheme of things to damn me for how the universe is programmed.

    On the other hand, I don’t like LFW because, not only doesn’t it seem to have an adequate explanation, but nobody has been able to explain to me the difference between it and randomness. Claims are made that there is a difference, but no one can explain what the distinction between the two really is. And, fundamentally, I don’t believe they can because to do so, one would have to work in a framework of determinism. So, ultimately, I don’t think LFW and randomness are different.

    So, if I had to choose between the two (which I’m not sure I do) I take determinism, simply because it is less bothersome to me to believe I am a complicated robot who does things ultimately (in a huge frame of reference) due to programming, but the programming allows me to believe I am choosing (which I am…just not deeply). Believing my choices are groundless, or random, just isn’t appealing.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 28, 2007 @ 5:18 pm

  25. To add, I think Geoff’s very limited LFW is interesting. (i.e. that there are only a few real choices we make in our life) Of course some, such as Nibley, have embraced such a view without getting into the LFW debate. I’m dubious, but merely because I think that if there is LFW that having so little makes it almost pointless. i.e. the main reasons to desire LFW arise out of our intuitions regarding our acts. In which case such limited freedom seems little better than no LFW.

    Comment by Clark — July 28, 2007 @ 6:29 pm

  26. Some interesting comments so far. I need to take a count of how many people make a choice like this based on the badness of the alternative rather than something positive about the view they choose to accept.

    Matt (#19),

    If you want to try out your Counter-Determinism idea on me before you put it out there for the world to tear into, send me email.

    Adam (#20),

    A lot of your comment seems to be denying the basic problems of determinism, so I will have to save my response for a different thread. (Examples: claiming real choices and multiple futures exist in a deterministic world). By the way, I think Geoff is just gone for a few days, not withholding because of the ground rules.

    Robert,

    Maybe if I approve enough of your comments from the moderation queue, the software will eventually figure out that I want you to be allowed to comment here! Sorry for the delays.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 28, 2007 @ 6:31 pm

  27. “I’m dubious, but merely because I think that if there is LFW that having so little makes it almost pointless. i.e. the main reasons to desire LFW arise out of our intuitions regarding our acts. In which case such limited freedom seems little better than no LFW.”

    I think lots of people prefer LFW because it means they’re not stuck with who they are. And others think that moral accountability can’t exist without LFW. A very limited LFW can satisfy these.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 28, 2007 @ 7:34 pm

  28. Robert, Heidegger has two books that focus on freedom. The Essence of Human Freedom which is primarily about Kant and Aristotle and Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom which, as the title suggests, is all about Schelling. Both are, of course as with most Heidegger titles, actually compilation of lecture notes and student’s notes from the lectures. They are both worth reading. The final few chapters of The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic also is all about freedom albeit in more of the Leibniz context.

    All three are well worth reading in my opinion. Although, as always with these kinds of texts, figuring out what is Heidegger’s view and what is Heidegger’s creative view of some philosopher is a bit tricky at times. But I find these texts of Heidegger are best as a kind of catalyst for ones own thought.

    Comment by Clark — July 28, 2007 @ 7:38 pm

  29. Adam, one isn’t stuck with who one is in most forms of determinism or ontological randomness either. So that’s not a good reason to embrace LFW.

    Comment by Clark — July 28, 2007 @ 7:39 pm

  30. A lot of your comment seems to be denying the basic problems of determinism, so I will have to save my response for a different thread. (Examples: claiming real choices and multiple futures exist in a deterministic world).

    No, sir. Both CFW and LFW allow for ‘real choices,’ but they’re defined differently. In CFW, a real choice is one where I’m not constrained by factors outside myself. In CFW, if I’m P. Nielsen’s self-existent robot, “real choices” means my program is faced with a decision between two options where no outside factor has taken over control of the robotic systems my program controls or corrupted the programming, so my program is free to choose an option according to its own procedures. An outside observer knowing everything about my programming and the situation would still be able to know in advance which my program would choose, however.

    I’m saying that my experience doesn’t tell me whether when I choose between options I’m just going through whatever my procedures are for evaluating choices in light of my nature and finally arriving at a decision, or I’m doing something else.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 28, 2007 @ 7:47 pm

  31. Oh Robert, one more thing. If you read those two links from my blog you’ll quickly see why freedom for Heidegger really isn’t that related to the debate here. Freedom, especially primordial freedom, is ultimately about letting things be the things they are and is thus wrapped up in Being and Truth. (I was supposed to give a talk at the SMTP conference this spring on this topic but just haven’t had time to finish the paper yet)

    I personally find Heidegger’s approach very interesting. However as the discussion with Blake at my blog on these topics shows, it’s hard to transition into the LFW debate since in a sense Heidegger’s rejecting the very way the debate is framed.

    Comment by Clark — July 28, 2007 @ 7:49 pm

  32. Adam, one isn’t stuck with who one is in most forms of determinism or ontological randomness either.

    Really? I’m interested. Do you mean that we’re not stuck with who we are right now or that we’re not stuck with our destiny, so to speak?

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 28, 2007 @ 7:49 pm

  33. P. Nielsen,

    The simplest explanation of LFW postulates that intelligence is ontologically fundamental, and that intelligences (or primal agents) have the fundamentals of conciousness and agent causation.

    The difference between a random event and an agent causal event is then that a random event is untraceable to any particular entity, and an agent causal event is traceable to a primal agent (or intelligence) that initiated the event in some context and is aware that it initiated the event and the context that it initiated it in.

    There are other more complex alternatives, such as those postulated by process metaphysics. However, ultimately LFW requires that agents be alive in a fundamental sense that is irreducable to pure mechanism.

    We have talked a lot about moral responsibility here, but an equally serious problem with determinism is creative responsibility. In determinism, there is no such thing as a “new thing” or an “original idea”. The perfect precursors of everything in existence go back infinitely into the past – so much so that it is difficult to distinguish determinism from a hard Platonism. And hard Platonism is the very definition of the God of the philosophers – a collection of timeless, ethereal ideals.

    The idea than an immanent being is divine is positively ridiculous in determinism. In determinism, immanence is impotence. There is only only place to look for an explanation of anything greater than mere happenstance, the timeless, unembodied, and abstract vision of Plato and Parmenides.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 28, 2007 @ 9:54 pm

  34. Adam (#30),

    Aye yi yi. I am well aware of the various definitions of choice.

    Experience tells us there is more than one thing we could do in a given situation. Determinism tells us there is only one thing we could do in that given situation. Experience doesn’t speak infallibly. It doesn’t give us any way to prove that we really did have options open to us. However, it certainly leads us to believe that we could have done otherwise.

    Consider the situation in which we look back in regret on a poast decision. Our natural tendency is not to regret that the universe led to us being an unfortunate kind of person, rather, it is to feel bad that we did a certain thing when it was fully in our power to have done differently. Many other examples could be given to illustrate that experience biases us toward a belief in libertarian free will. I’m likely to write off disagreement with this as a lack of introspection, since this is widely acknowledged by folks on both sides of the debate.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 28, 2007 @ 10:45 pm

  35. Mark (#33),

    Why do you choose to believe in LFW when no fully adequate explanation is available for choice?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 28, 2007 @ 10:51 pm

  36. Start writing me off, then. I am pretty introspective, but, you know, whatever.

    Experience tells us there is more than one thing we could do in a given situation. Determinism tells us there is only one thing we could do in that given situation.

    I have never experienced doing more than one thing in any given situation. Schrodinger’s Adam I ain’t.

    It doesn’t give us any way to prove that we really did have options open to us.

    CFW accepts that you had options open, but says that you wouldn’t have taken them.

    However, it certainly leads us to believe that we could have done otherwise.

    When I come to a choice, I feel like both options really are available to me, if I want them. I feel like I really could have chosen the other option, if I had wanted to do things differently. CFW says that I wouldn’t have wanted to do things differently and I have no basis in my experience to say otherwise, since I can’t rerun the tape and get the exact same set of circumstances over again.

    Our natural tendency . . . is to feel bad that we did a certain thing when it was fully in our power to have done differently

    Sure, but in CFW it still in your power to do differently, its just that given who you were at that moment you didn’t exercise that power. People very often do regret themselves, their character, and their nature, not just the choices they’ve made. At least I do. I spend a lot of time regretting tendencies and character flaws that I have. But, although this is superficially a CFW experience, I think its probably also compatible with LFW, since LFW doesn’t require that I be making absolutely, totally, spontaneously free decisions all the time. So, as I said, my experience doesn’t tell me much one way or the other.

    If people really do say that their experience fits with LFW better, I’m betting its because when they’re making decisions they experience themselves mulling over the choice, feeling some attraction to one side and then the other, wavering between them, not knowing at the outset of the process which way they’ll come out–but this kind of experience is compatible with CFW in my opinion.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 29, 2007 @ 12:24 am

  37. Anyway, to relate this to the subject of the post: if I thought my experience was incompatible with CFW and only compatible with LFW, I’d be a LFW guy.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 29, 2007 @ 12:28 am

  38. Jacob,

    I think it is pretty short sighted to refuse to believe in something for which there is good reason to believe just because we do not understand how it works.

    The great irony here is that determinism is often advocated in terms of giving an explanation for things, when in fact determinism does nothing of the kind. Determinism postulates a mathematical transformation from the world state at t1 to the world state at t2.

    But because of the nature of the transformation (handful of natural laws, more or less) nothing has really changed from t1 to t2. It is like looking at a clock at two different times. The hands are different, and the gears are at a different rotation, but it is still the same clock.

    Determinism can tell you all about how the clock hands go around, but it explain nothing about the clock itself. Whence it came, why is it here, and what was the purpose in its construction?

    And with determinism the world is all clock, hence the inevitable resort to Platonism or accidentalism to explain why the clock is the way it is in the first place. Why should the clock contain Hamlet a billion millennia before it was written? And if it does, isn’t Shakespeare just pulling it out of the ether, more or less?

    And if Shakespeare, how much more so any immanent God? Reduced to playing a tune authored by no one?

    Comment by Mark D. — July 29, 2007 @ 2:34 am

  39. I’m back.

    I see Mark sort of beat me to the punch (#38) on the first comment I wanted to make about this thread. That is, I am baffled by the comments some people have made in this thread about leaning toward determinism because they don’t understand how LFW works or can’t really explain it.

    Are you people serious?

    This is coming from theists… not only theists, but Christian theists… not only Christian theists, but Mormon Christian theists!

    So you disbelieve things you can’t fully understand and can’t explain? Well you had better throw out the existence of a God who hears and answers prayers, the existence of and persistence of spirits, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ for starters if that is your criteria for belief.

    Now if one accepts the existence of the things I mentioned above then believing in some variety of LFW (including the potentially “veto” variety I have discussed in the past) is a no-brainer. If self existing agents cannot ever make any free choices then massive portions of the restored gospel are simple false doctrines. Those portions include the idea that this life is a probation, that there needs to be a post-earth judgment, and that we are here to be tested and tried. For instance, if no variety of LFW is true, scriptures like this are teaching flatly false doctrines:

    And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; (Abr. 3:25)

    Well, either it is a false doctrine or one would have to argue that while we have a fixed destiny God is just too dumb to figure it out (and I’ve seen some people argue that one too).

    So in answer to your question of why I choose to believe LFW Jacob: Because the gospel is a sham if LFW isn’t real in one form or another.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 29, 2007 @ 3:11 am

  40. Adam and Clark,

    Just a note on the “veto free will” or track jumping idea I have posted on and which Clark called “very limited free will”. I don’t think calling it limited free will is quite correct. The idea is that we have free will in the libertarian sense throughout our existence, but that using it is a matter of consciously vetoing what comes naturally to us (and what is thrown at us by the great causal chain in the universe). So when I am all alone and I stub my toe, my natural reaction might be to drop a few choice expletives. I might indeed go with that natural flow, but I hold that I have the power to consciously veto the “natural man” in myself and choose a different response to that stimulus — even in the split second between the stubbed toe and my reaction.

    Now it is certainly possible on my view that people could go through their entire life and never truly use their veto power. I believe such a man or woman would be properly classified as the “Natural man (or woman)”.

    (Sorry if this comment is off limits Jacob. Since my ideas on that were discussed earlier I wanted to clarify the notion if I could)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 29, 2007 @ 3:24 am

  41. BTW — I was expecting someone to explain the title of this post at some point. Looks like I’ll have to give the link.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 29, 2007 @ 3:31 am

  42. Adam,

    Start writing me off, then.

    Just to be clear, I said I was likely to write off the disagreement, not you. I’m glad to get your perspective on this thread, thanks for commenting.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 29, 2007 @ 10:49 am

  43. Geoff,

    Kobayahsi Maru is the name of a test simulation in Star Trek that all officers must take. Basically, it is a no-win scenario, but they don’t tell the officers before they go into it. Captain Kirk is apparently the only one to ‘beat’ it because he reprogrammed the computer to allow him to win.

    ———-

    Mark,

    The simplest explanation of LFW postulates that intelligence is ontologically fundamental, and that intelligences (or primal agents) have the fundamentals of conciousness and agent causation.

    The difference between a random event and an agent causal event is then that a random event is untraceable to any particular entity, and an agent causal event is traceable to a primal agent (or intelligence) that initiated the event in some context and is aware that it initiated the event and the context that it initiated it in.

    Maybe my intuitive definition of “random” is wrong, but I wouldn’t say that random events cannot be traced to particular entities. Agent causal events seem to be but a subset of random ones

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 29, 2007 @ 10:53 am

  44. P. Nielsen,

    Agent caused events could certainly appear random to anyone other than the agent who causes them, but they would not actually be random.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 29, 2007 @ 12:06 pm

  45. P. Nielsen,

    There is a huge theoretical difference between random events and agent caused events, namely that agents (however primitive) do things for a purpose, one that they themselves can create.

    If you analyze the output of a “true” random number generator, on rare occasion you may get unusual patterns, but on average you get an unbiased series of numbers that passes all sorts of statistical neutrality tests. The very opposite of showing any intention or purpose.

    Agent causation is the antithesis of statistical neutrality. An agent can generate numbers with any pattern suitable to its purpose. It may lie within the agents purpose to generate the same number a million times in a row. Or to generate each number N, N times. Or to generate numbers that reprise a unique rhythm or melody and switch to another just as fast.

    Of course a machine might be programmed to emulate such behaviors to a degree, but a machine does not have any purpose (or meta-purpose) higher than that of its creator. An LFW agent can devise and execute completely unprecedented purposes, something that is impossible in determinism.

    In determinism, immanence is impotence because it is impossible for a immanent deterministic being to rise above the “programming” of a world created by no one. A non-being in no place and no time who established every apparent purpose the world will ever have – stiff Platonism or casino theology.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 29, 2007 @ 2:20 pm

  46. Geoff,

    Agent caused events could certainly appear random to anyone other than the agent who causes them, but they would not actually be random.

    Why?

    ————–

    Mark,

    There is a huge theoretical difference between random events and agent caused events, namely that agents (however primitive) do things for a purpose, one that they themselves can create.

    I don’t see this as negating the idea that LFW agent caused actions are random. Cannot agents give purpose to random actions as well as determined ones, and everything in-between? Besides, this argument seems to me just to regress the question of randomness back one level to ‘purposes’.

    Agent causation is the antithesis of statistical neutrality.

    First, I don’t see how you can demonstrate this claim. (I am a mathematician, so don’t feel like you have to keep your gloves on, on this topic. Feel free to disagree and present your evidence if you wish.) Second, I don’t equate statistical neutrality with randomness (in this context).

    Here are three main definitions of randomness:
    1. Having no specific pattern, purpose, or objective: random movements.
    2. Of or relating to a type of circumstance or event that is described by a probability distribution.
    3. Of or relating to an event in which all outcomes are equally likely, as in the testing of a blood sample for the presence of a substance.

    I am using “having no specific pattern”, or #3, where you seem to be using “having no specific purpose” or #2.

    I think you would agree with me that there is no specific pattern to the way a free being chooses, according to a LFW model. Each outcome is, from a logical point of view equally likely, once all other factors are taken into account (i.e. they are both equal in the sense that they are both possible futures).

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 29, 2007 @ 5:00 pm

  47. I’ve been trying to read up a bit on the academic literature to try and keep up with this thread, and I think the SEP does a particularly good job on this topic. Here is the compatibilism page which has a pretty good section (and supplemental page) on the state of the art arguments for compatibilism—notice also the several related articles at the bottom of the page; and this blog looks particularly good, there are several of the top-names in the field participating there, including Timothy O’Connor who Blake notes in his book that he’s particularly fond of (see his endnote #45 or so on his incompatibilism chapter).

    I haven’t read the last section of the SEP article yet, and I haven’t started reading the supplement page, but I’m betting it will take up Blake’s response to Frankfurt (in Blake’s book). I’ll keep you posted on what I find (though it might be a couple days before I get to it), and I trust you’ll all let me know if you’ve already discussed whatever I find there.

    Like Geoff J., I think there is a close link between incompatibilism and any robust notion of faith (again, I particularly like how Derrida, Badiou, and Thomas Nagel take this up…), so my interest in compatibilism is more of a curiosity than anything. But I’m much more ambivalent on God’s foreknowledge for, ironically perhaps, the same reason of faith: I believe God might be able to have foreknowledge in some way that simply seems illogical to us (I won’t thread-jack with an elaboration, plus I haven’t really studied this enough to back up my claim, I just say this from my own thinking, skimming of articles/arguments, and I guess a gut feeling/hope…). Actually, I guess I do have at least some sympathies for a nihilist-determinist position, or whatever it’s called where I’m hesitant to absolutely rule out every remote possibility that determinism and free will are incompatibile—I would simply say that I haven’t seen what I think is a convincing argument for compatibilism and I can’t imagine such an argument existing, but I’m not ruling out the possibility that I might learn unexpectedly of a good argument sometime, in which case I’d want to maintain my belief in free will anyway—that is, I believe in free will more than I don’t believe in determinism….

    Comment by Robert C. — July 29, 2007 @ 6:47 pm

  48. P. Nielsen,

    The most basic difference is that agent causation is intentional and randomness is not. Though an agent may generate statistics that on occasion resemble a random number generator (e.g. if the agent doesn’t care), agents also generate sequences that no random number generator nor machine ever has, sequences that show planning, emotion, and sensitivity.

    Ultimately this is a question of artificial intelligence. If determinism is true, there is no uniquely human capability that cannot in principle be performed better by a machine. If LFW is true there are numerous creative capabilities that will forever lie out of a machine’s reach. And if you are at all familiar with the state of AI research, you know that so far the humans are winning.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 29, 2007 @ 7:53 pm

  49. Mark, I think the real question is whether intentionality is reducible either to determinate rules + states or to some more random and perhaps continuous process. Clearly most (although not necessarily all) LFW proponents adopt a view of the irreducibility of intentionality.

    And, to be clear, one can adopt the irreducibility thesis without buying into LFW.

    Comment by Clark — July 29, 2007 @ 9:02 pm

  50. Robert,

    You are always trying to inform yourself and “read up.” You need to stop that and just shoot your mouth off like everyone else. BTW, thanks for the links, they are good ones.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 29, 2007 @ 9:20 pm

  51. Clark,

    I do not think the irreducibility of a deterministic agent is a particularly viable thesis. There might be ontological reasons why a deterministic entity might not be duplicated in actual fact, but every finite deterministic device is susceptible to computational simulation, by definition. That is what they do – convert initial states into final states, with perfect computational precision.

    It would seem the only hope for determinist irreducibility is for such entities to have infinite internal complexity. A determinist friend of mine once suggested that each intelligence has something comparable to an inviolable internal “tape” of infinite capacity that contained future inputs into the intelligence’s decision process. Such complexity would of course be impossible to duplicate given any finite processing capability.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 29, 2007 @ 10:07 pm

  52. Mark, the word “finite” sort of is what is at issue, is it not?

    But that’s not at issue. The issue is whether intentions are reducible. I don’t see why computationality entails no intention. I think this is more a debate about what intentionality is. If one demands intentionality be a certain way then all one has done is given ones answer to the question. Clearly though there are many (perhaps most) who disagree with you here.

    I suspect some would say that it need not be infinite – just sufficiently large that to us we couldn’t tell it apart.

    Once again I have no horse in this race.

    Comment by Clark — July 30, 2007 @ 7:36 am

  53. The reason I believe in God, despite no complete and adequate explanation, but not LFW, despite the same, is two-fold. First, the existence of God doesn’t seem to be impossible to me, but the existence of LFW does (others, obviously, disagree). Second, my experience suggests that God exists.

    If my experience suggested that LFW must be the case–or, if like Geoff J., I thought the scriptures required LFW–I’d be inclined to accept it even if I didnt understand how it could be possible.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 30, 2007 @ 8:00 am

  54. Dear Mark,

    The most basic difference is that agent causation is intentional and randomness is not. Though an agent may generate statistics that on occasion resemble a random number generator (e.g. if the agent doesn’t care), agents also generate sequences that no random number generator nor machine ever has, sequences that show planning, emotion, and sensitivity.

    Ultimately this is a question of artificial intelligence. If determinism is true, there is no uniquely human capability that cannot in principle be performed better by a machine. If LFW is true there are numerous creative capabilities that will forever lie out of a machine’s reach. And if you are at all familiar with the state of AI research, you know that so far the humans are winning.

    I am not using randomness to mean “something that resembles a random number generator.” I am using randomness to mean the following. Suppose we look at the set of all possible worlds that are exactly like our own. If A can obtain in one, while ~A obtains in another, then whether or not A or ~A occurs in reality is random.

    You are just pushing back the question from choices to intentions. Whether an agent will intend (and do) A, or intend (and do) ~A, is random.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 30, 2007 @ 8:01 am

  55. I’m new to these ideas so I apologize in advance for my ignorance. It would seem that an intelligent being having purpose and direction would indicate that something in them is generating the choices that lead to those purposes and directions. An interesting article about the meaning of the Atonement of Christ contains some references about an “I am” inside each of us which is at the source of these choices. Free will is a huge mystery – with everything around us seeming deterministic, how could we not be? It’s an interesting concept. The article is here: http://rcronk.wordpress.com/2007/07/27/a-personal-search-for-the-meaning-of-the-atonement

    I also have spent some time talking to atheists at the jref forum about how God can’t be omniscient when we have free will because he couldn’t predict what we’d do. But could he not just be seeing what we do in the future instead of predicting it? Just as we see the past actions of people without having to know why they did it enough to be able to predetermine what they would do – If everything is an eternal present to Him, could he not just look at the “future” and see what we will do without having to be able to predetermine or predict? He is described as “light” and at the speed of light, time stops, etc. There’s a lot of unknown here.

    Just some random thoughts, no pun intended. :)

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 8:45 am

  56. Adam: If my experience suggested that LFW must be the case–or, if like Geoff J., I thought the scriptures required LFW–I’d be inclined to accept it even if I didnt understand how it could be possible.

    So your experience suggests that the future of everyone in the world are fated and generally predestined? Like Jacob, I find such claims hard to believe. LFW assumptions seem to be the default of human thought and of our language in general after all. Can you help me understand your position better?

    Also, in #39 I linked to a bunch of scriptures that would likely have to be discarded if there is no form of LFW in existence. How do you deal with those?

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 9:24 am

  57. P. Nielsen,

    As I see it, you are using a pretty standard word — random — in a bizarre way again in this thread. You did the same thing with the term “possible words” in the last thread if I remember correctly.

    The #1 definition you gave said random choices/actions don’t have objectives or purposes. Therefore, the intentionality associated with agent causation make agent caused choices/action not random. Further, as Mark noted, intentionality might cause a specific pattern even if it that pattern would not be exhaustively predictable (as a fully deterministic pattern would be).

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 9:31 am

  58. So your experience suggests that the future of everyone in the world are fated and generally predestined? Like Jacob, I find such claims hard to believe.

    Read the thread, bro. I said my experience was neutral. Responses like this one are why I have no interest in discussing this issue with you. I don’t want to have my words twisted and otherwise be the brunt of nasty debating tactics. Don’t bother telling me that the mistake was innocent or that you’ll do better in the future. I’m just not interested.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 30, 2007 @ 9:34 am

  59. P. Nielsen,

    If you define your terms so as to ignore the distinction, I can’t help you there.

    The first definition of random in the Random House Unabridged Dictionary is:

    proceeding, made, or occurring without definite aim, reason, or pattern: the random selection of numbers.

    The Online Etymology Dictionary entry begins:

    “having no definite aim or purpose,” 1655, from at random (1565),

    Princeton Wordnet 3.0 defines random as follows:

    lacking any definite plan or order or purpose; governed by or depending on chance; “a random choice”; “bombs fell at random”; “random movements”

    Comment by Mark D. — July 30, 2007 @ 9:37 am

  60. Sheesh Adam — mellow out bro. If you are going to fly off the handle and lose your temper every time someone asks you to explain your position in more detail perhaps blogging isn’t the right hobby for you.

    (And I only have so much patience for coddling fellow bloggers so if that is what you are hoping for here you are out of luck.)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 9:52 am

  61. Cronk,

    Thanks for dropping by. Most of the points in your comment are off-topic for this post, but hang around and I’m sure we’ll get back to them soon. There are quite a few previous posts dealing with the issues you raise, which you might enjoy perusing. Very briefly, I can tell you that Skousen’s atonement theory doesn’t get much good press around here (he has a few good building blocks, but his overall theory is extremely problematic). Secondly, attempts to solve the foreknowledge/free-will problem by saying that God just “sees” the future without predicting it don’t work out very well. Most recently, I summarized the argument in the second to last paragraph of this comment. There are better explanations, but that is the only one I remember the location of at the moment.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 30, 2007 @ 9:55 am

  62. Jacob – thanks. Sorry for being off topic. Could you direct me to links about the problems with Skousen’s theory as well as the previous posts that I’m on-topic for?

    Also, if I look at what you ate for breakfast yesterday and saw that you ate eggs, that doesn’t mean there was only one choice before you or that you didn’t actually make a choice but were compelled to eat eggs, you could have chosen Cheerios(TM) and I would have seen that instead. I think “me seeing” and “you choosing” are not connected in any way. But I’ll go look into the rest of the comments in the link you posted and see if I can get where I may be going wrong. Thanks again.

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 10:09 am

  63. Cronk,

    No worries, I was just explaining why I wasn’t going to threadjack here. As to your argument in #62 about breakfast, follow the link I put in #61 and make your comment on that thread so I can respond there.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 30, 2007 @ 10:25 am

  64. rcronk,

    Search the word Skousen in this thread and this one.

    And in short about your questiong, if God sees you eating spaghetti tonight then you can’t choose anything but spaghetti. The problem is not with seeing past things as fact — it is with seeing future events as fact. (But we have discussed this issue ad nauseam at this blog and this is the wrong thread to do it again so if you would like to pick up the discussion those other threads would be a decent place to do so.)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 10:29 am

  65. Geoff,

    The #1 definition you gave said random choices/actions don’t have objectives or purposes.

    Or patterns. Do you believe that LFW is patterned?

    Therefore, the intentionality associated with agent causation make agent caused choices/action not random.

    Your logic seems faulty. Let me diagram it for you.

    An act is random (according to definition #1) if it lacks A, or B, or C. It is clear that agent causation involves both B and C. From this information, one cannot conclude that agent causation is not random, because if still might lack A.

    Further, as Mark noted, intentionality might cause a specific pattern even if it that pattern would not be exhaustively predictable (as a fully deterministic pattern would be).

    I thought LFW posited that previous states are not sufficient for later ones. In that case, even if someone intends to bring about a specific pattern, that intention cannot cause the pattern.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 30, 2007 @ 10:32 am

  66. Adam (#36),

    People very often do regret themselves, their character, and their nature, not just the choices they’ve made.

    I agree that people often regret themselves, but what about all the times we regret a specific action based on the notion that we should have and could have done something different, all things considered. Is that type of regret outside of your experience?

    I know we can retrofit CFW onto our experience and say that the only kind of regret that makes sense is one where we regret the kind of person we happen to be. I am claiming, however, that the bare experience of regret is often one in which we feel we could have done otherwise and the sorrow is over the fact that we did not do what we could have and should have done.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 30, 2007 @ 10:34 am

  67. P. Nielsen (#65),

    That is what LFW creativity does, by definition – create (or cause) unprecedented intentional patterns. In a deterministic world, there are no new patterns. In a random-deterministic world there are no new intentional ones.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 30, 2007 @ 10:44 am

  68. And I only have so much patience for coddling fellow bloggers so if that is what you are hoping for here you are out of luck.

    I hope for people to accurately read what I’ve said and not blatantly misstate it. Coddling, in other words.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 30, 2007 @ 10:47 am

  69. I agree that people often regret themselves, but what about all the times we regret a specific action based on the notion that we should have and could have done something different, all things considered. Is that type of regret outside of your experience?

    No, it isn’t. Happens a lot. But in a CFW world its possible to feel regret for what you ‘could’ have done, because you had choices, you just didn’t avail yourself of them (and if you could somehow rewind the tape, you still wouldn’t). And in a CFW world its possible to feel regret for what you ‘should’ have done because there’s still right and wrong. In a CFW world, one can rationally say (1) I had a choice at time A and (2) knowing what I know at Time B, and being sort of person I am at Time B, the person I am at Time B is sad at the choice I made at Time A.

    There have been choices I made that I regretted, sometimes bitterly, based on information that I did not have available to me at the time of the choice. That didn’t stop me from beating myself up over what I should have and could have done.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 30, 2007 @ 10:55 am

  70. Adam,

    Here is what you said in #53:

    The reason I believe in God, despite no complete and adequate explanation, but not LFW, despite the same, is two-fold. First, the existence of God doesn’t seem to be impossible to me, but the existence of LFW does (others, obviously, disagree). Second, my experience suggests that God exists.

    This basically says that you don’t believe in LFW because 1) its existence seems impossible to you and 2) because your experience does not suggest it exists.

    Now rather than debating whether #53 implies your experiential neutrality or not, perhaps you can answer my question in #56 about how you deal with the scriptures that I pointed out.

    Of course if you insist on stomping off I can’t stop you from doing that. You are free to choose after all…

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 10:58 am

  71. Mark,

    I am not defining ‘random’ to ignore distinctions. Instead, I am defining ‘random’ in terms of how I intrinsically think about randomness. To me, something is random when all outcomes are equally likely. Or, more formally, the outcome is not necessitated by anything at all.

    So, I understand that you are giving qualities of agent causation. But they simply do not disqualify it as random; even if they distinquish it from certain other types of random events.

    The first definition of random in the Random House Unabridged Dictionary is:

    proceeding, made, or occurring without definite aim, reason, or pattern: the random selection of numbers.

    The Online Etymology Dictionary entry begins:

    “having no definite aim or purpose,” 1655, from at random (1565),

    Princeton Wordnet 3.0 defines random as follows:

    lacking any definite plan or order or purpose; governed by or depending on chance; “a random choice”; “bombs fell at random”; “random movements”

    These are all perfect descriptions of how I am using ‘random’ and why I believe agent causation under LFW qualifies. There is no definite aim for a person who is free under LFW. Such a person can change her aim–and the change wasn’t part of the original aim.

    I would suggest that you reread the original post on this thread, and consider that you might not have internalized both sides of the problem here. You seem to be claiming a solution for one side, again against the ground rules of the thread. Try and understand my point-of-view (and Jacob’s) that “On the libertarian-free-will side, it becomes clear that there is no adequate explanation for why we do the things we do, even though our actions are supposedly meaningful.”

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 30, 2007 @ 11:08 am

  72. [Edited: This comment was directly contrary to the stated purpose of this post, so I had to remove it. However, it would be welcome over at this thread. Feel free to repost it there.]

    Comment by Doug S. — July 30, 2007 @ 11:16 am

  73. Adam (#69),

    It seems like you are just playing the standard compatibilist cards here, so this is just going to lead us to the standard debate. As I ponder your response, it seems to me that it boils down the fact that you don’t really think there is a problem. You are comfortable with the compatibilist account of things and the retrofit of our language into a deterministic framework (you may not even agree that it is a retrofit). Rather than going down the standard path of me arguing about your use of the word “could,” let me ask you a different question:

    In your first comment, you said that determinism “has the truly horrifying implication that my fate is fixed.” What do you find “truly horifying” about a fixed fate?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 30, 2007 @ 11:25 am

  74. P. Nielsen: To me, something is random when all outcomes are equally likely. Or, more formally, the outcome is not necessitated by anything at all.

    Then agent causation still doesn’t fit your definition of randomness. That is the problem. The “outcome” (read: choice) is created by the beginningless agent, or in Mormon parlance, the beginningless spirit/mind/intelligence that constitutes each of us. (Such choices seem to be the closest that Mormonism gets to creation ex nihilo… mater is eternal but thoughts, ideas, and decisions are not.)

    Now you are free to reject the existence of a beginningless spirit/mind/intelligence of course. Just like anyone could reject the existence of God. But in Mormonism we have a way to explain the existence of LFW in an agent causation way based on our teachings about beginningless spirits/minds/intelligences. Such choices are not properly titled random in English.

    Also, you seem to be mistakenly assuming that “definite aim” means “eternal and unchangeable aim”. The problem is that definite does not mean eternal and unchangeable.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 11:29 am

  75. Geoff J.,

    #8, “I don’t see any particular reason in my experience to trust one model over the other.”

    #20, “To me, this suggests that our everyday experience of making decisions and thinking over choices doesn’t tell us much about CFW versus LFW.”

    #30, “my experience doesn’t tell me whether when I choose between options I’m just going through whatever my procedures are for evaluating choices in light of my nature and finally arriving at a decision, or I’m doing something else.”

    #36, “although this is superficially a CFW experience, I think its probably also compatible with LFW, since LFW doesn’t require that I be making absolutely, totally, spontaneously free decisions all the time. So, as I said, my experience doesn’t tell me much one way or the other.”

    —————————–

    I’m not going to debate your scriptures with you, or any other aspect of the free will debate. I see no particular reason to think you will suddenly change how you’ve acted in the past.

    Don’t expect a response if you reply to this comment.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 30, 2007 @ 11:34 am

  76. Adam (#69),

    It seems like you are just playing the standard compatibilist cards here, so this is just going to lead us to the standard debate.

    In a sense, yes. Compatibilism is the argument that some version of determinism is compatible with free will. I have no basis in my experience for saying that the argument is wrong, and no real basis for saying its right, either.

    As I ponder your response, it seems to me that it boils down the fact that you don’t really think there is a problem. You are comfortable with the compatibilist account of things and the retrofit of our language into a deterministic framework (you may not even agree that it is a retrofit).

    I don’t think there is a retrofit, no. I think the language we use is generally ambiguous enough to accommodate lots of different philosophical accounts. But I do have a problem. Its the same problem that Joshua M. had in the comment you linked to in the beginning of the post.

    In your first comment, you said that determinism “has the truly horrifying implication that my fate is fixed.” What do you find “truly horifying” about a fixed fate?

    Its pure selfishness. Given my character, I’m inclined to think my fixed fate, if it is fixed, may not be so swell. Its terrible to think that in some aspects of one’s personality one may be like those junkies who loathe themselves and what they’re doing but who can’t summon the will to stop. I’m not the worst sinner ever but I do have sins, and in my experience they’re not really enjoyable at all. They’re not the sort of thing one would be content with for all eternity. In my experience my sins are hellish and I very much wish I wouldn’t continue them but somehow I don’t choose to.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 30, 2007 @ 11:45 am

  77. Adam: I see no particular reason to think you will suddenly change how you’ve acted in the past.

    Well given your compatibilist beliefs that makes sense. Just think, if you believed in LFW you might be able to muster more hope in both of us to change our evil ways… But whatever floats yer boat I guess.

    (Since you intend to give me the silent treatment, if we asked Jacob to discuss those scriptures with you would you do it then? I can’t figure our how a Mormon compatibilist would work around all those scriptures is all.)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 12:13 pm

  78. Geoff,

    Then agent causation still doesn’t fit your definition of randomness. That is the problem. The “outcome” (read: choice) is created by the beginningless agent, or in Mormon parlance, the beginningless spirit/mind/intelligence that constitutes each of us. (Such choices seem to be the closest that Mormonism gets to creation ex nihilo… mater is eternal but thoughts, ideas, and decisions are not.)

    ‘Created’ and ’caused’ do not equal ‘necessitated’. Try again.

    Also, you seem to be mistakenly assuming that “definite aim” means “eternal and unchangeable aim”. The problem is that definite does not mean eternal and unchangeable.

    No. I am not. What is the “definite aim” of Amy, when she is deciding whether or not to steal a cookie at time t? There is none. Even if she has, previously, always chosen not to steal.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 30, 2007 @ 12:28 pm

  79. P.Nielsen,

    Try what again? You need to be more specific.

    What is the “definite aim” of Amy, when she is definite deciding whether or not to steal a cookie at time t?

    You are right that Amy has no definite aim concerning stealing the cookie while she is in the process of deciding what her aim will be. But once she has decided she has a definite aim… I see no random choices being made in that scenario. What am I missing?

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  80. Jacob J-
    I have a question. What do you see as the difference in the role of the Holy Ghost in either compatibilism or LFW?
    If spirituality is defined as the quality of utilizing and maintaining the gift of the Holy Ghost, is the way we do that or the way we experience that evidence in any way for one view of free will or the other?

    Comment by C Jones — July 30, 2007 @ 3:48 pm

  81. C Jones,

    I think this question will be pretty much like other questions that cross the compatibilist/LFW divide. Both groups will say that our choices either maintain or drive away the Holy Ghost (with all the standard qualifiers on the fundamentally different definitions of “choice” in the two paradigms). I suppose a compatibilist will say that the role of the Holy Ghost is to be an external influence steering us to become good. A LFWer will say that we despite our character and all other influences, we are free to respond or reject the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and we shape our future character by the choices we make today. The usual…

    Comment by Jacob J — July 30, 2007 @ 5:12 pm

  82. P. Nielsen,

    The outcome is necessitated by the present definite act of the agent’s own free will. The reason why the definition includes the term ‘definite’ is so as to distinguish outcomes that are chosen in detail from those where the outcome is chosen willy nilly.

    If a man decides to select several cards from a deck in no particular pattern, his decision to select cards is intentional, and thus not random, but his choice of any particular card is considered random because he has chosen to exercise no definite aim in selecting them. Nonetheless ‘randomness’ due to purposeful inattention is quite different from randomness due to coincidence or missing information, which is quite different from intrinsic randomness, which is a metaphysical concept.

    Now I don’t believe that there is such a thing as instrinsic randomness – such as that postulated by orthodox quantum mechanics. But I can certainly imagine well enough what the consequences of such an oddity would be.

    And though you may not agree with LFW, hypothetically it must have certain properties for it to make any sense at all. And one of those is concious, willing agent causation – which in standard English is about as far to the other end of the spectrum as it can be from concept of intrinsic randomness.

    Debating the penumbra of terms might have an influence on usage, but is ultimately immaterial. The concepts are logically distinct and it doesn’t matter what you call them. Scientists inevitably deny that quantum randomness is the result of conscious decisions, and LFW theorists inevitably deny that LFW outcomes are the result of instrinsic randomness. The concepts must be distinguished for either to be taken credibly – or at least for them to get their meaning across.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 30, 2007 @ 11:06 pm

  83. Mark, Your comment reminds me that I often have a hard time communicating the difference between roll-the-dice randomness and metaphysical randomness to the non-philosophical (regular) people I know. Metaphiscal randomness is deeply disturbing in a way that is hard to get across, in part I think, because we are all so comfortable playing Risk.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 30, 2007 @ 11:14 pm

  84. Here’s a post at the Garden of Fork Paths blog that links to a post about compatibilism being wussy (along with a few other philosophical positions), followed by some discussion. I laughed anyway, a caricature of compatibilists as the “can’t we all just get along” view….

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 3:34 am

  85. And if you’re into Harry Potter, here’s a discussion of whether compatibilism holds in Harry Potter’s world (my sense is that Rawlings probably does have compatibilist beliefs, but there’s room for an incompatiblist reading of her books).

    I think a key difference in the compatibilist debate is the kind of faith you have: incompatibilists’ faith is belief that not everything can be explained, but the rules of logic are not ever contradicted per se; compatibilists’ faith is more inclined to believe that things can be illogical. (This is, admittedly, an unfair caricature pretty much ignoring at least the state-of-the-art philosophical views, but it’s roughly how I tend to see the issue….) What’s ironic is that although the compatibilist seems more committed to an explanation-for-everything (i.e. causal determinism), I think the compatibilist ends up having to believe in a world that is less-explainable than the incompabilists’ world….

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 3:48 am

  86. Although I understand that this post is not directed at such as (fairly decided as I am about LFW); nevertheless,I just thought that would point to this article which addresses some of the “luck” or “no sufficient explanation” arguments here: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/stewart_goetz/dualism.html

    Franlky, I am at a loss to see how an action is mere chance or luck if I am the one who causes the action. Mere luck or random action is the opposite of that: what happens isn’t up to me and isn’t caused by me but by random factors beyond my control. As I see it, the latter is clearly entailed by determinism but not agent causal LFW.

    Comment by Blake — July 31, 2007 @ 7:43 am

  87. Robert (#84),

    LOL, thanks for that link.

    Blake (#86),

    Looking forward to reading that. I think the reason it is called random even if “you” caused it boils down to the fact that we evaluate LFW under the assumption that determinism is true, which admittedly makes no sense. Thus, in my view, a lot of it comes down to the question of whether or not we can imagine something other than determinism. My sense is that the people who are determinists are, in a fundamental way, determinists because they can’t conceive of any viable alternative.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 31, 2007 @ 9:45 am

  88. Mark,

    It is clear you are not understanding me. I will try one more time, and then leave it to rest.

    If a man decides to select several cards from a deck in no particular pattern, his decision to select cards is intentional, and thus not random, but his choice of any particular card is considered random because he has chosen to exercise no definite aim in selecting them.

    Just because the man intends, decides, and does draw cards from the deck does not mean that the ‘mechanism’ (if you will) of how the man came to his intent/choice/decision is not random. Intended acts can be random; in the sense that it is possible that the intention came randomly. Is that a little more clear?

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 31, 2007 @ 10:10 am

  89. In other words, in my mind there is no way to distinguish between a world where someone has LFW (as it has been explained to me), and a world where *outside* the universe, someone is flipping a coin, and the person chooses according to how the coin flips. There is no meaningful difference between these two worlds, as far as I can see.

    Yes, people are throwing around words like “intention” and “create” and “present definite act” but these intentions, acts, and creations still seem to be part of the whole ‘coin flipping’ process, so to speak. The coin flips, and the universe follows the path where Jimmy intends to creatively and presently acts by not stealing a cookie. The coin flips another way, and the universe follows the path where Jimmy intends and creatively and presently acts by stealing the cookie.

    So, to put it another way, one more time: Whatever reason you come up with for why someone chooses non-randomnly the way they do (under LFW) [whether it be intentions, etc...] it just removes the question of randomness back one level. Why are not the intentions themselves random? etc…

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 31, 2007 @ 10:18 am

  90. Jacob #87 and P. Nielsen #89: I think Thomas Nagel’s view addresses both of your comments in an interesting way. Again, if I’m understanding him right, he’s basically saying that from an objective point of view (i.e. “the view from nowhere”) there’s basically no difference in saying that something is random and that someone has LFW, or at least there’s now way to objectively distinguish between them—in either case I can’t fully explain what another person is doing. Thus, a belief in LFW is ultimately subjective, I can only base it on my own experience (or others’ descriptions of their own experiences).

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 10:29 am

  91. Robert,

    But it is even more than that. How is my choice to not steal the cookie meaningful in a universe where, if we could rewind time to the point of choosing, I choose differently? Yes, I can give an ad hoc meaning to (either one) of my choices, but that isn’t meaningful in any deep sense.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 31, 2007 @ 10:39 am

  92. P. Nielsen #91, I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. I think Nagel is pointing to a notion that meaning is something we choose. We might decide to choose in an ad hoc manner (after all, I could decide to flip a coin, heads I steal tails I don’t…), or we might decide to choose in a more moral or religious manner. In this sense, there is no “ultimate grounding” for morality (or religion)—in a sense, I create my own moral law and its meaning and significance by choosing to live a certain way in all of my life decisions in accordance to my conception of morality (I’m following Derrida here, so I’m not invoking God, largely for simplicity…).

    I’m afraid I’m being vague and/or obtuse here, so please don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions.

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 10:55 am

  93. P. Nielsen,

    I think you have made it pretty clear that you cannot imagine the basis for the distinction here. We are talking about a pair of philosophical positions here. I do not pretend I can prove determinism false and certainly not prove it inconsistent – the only thing I can do is point out some of the unusual logical consequences of such a position.

    I understand your position to be that you cannot imagine any rational basis for distinguishing non-deterministic intentionality (aka LFW) from instrinsic randomness. I get that. And since you cannot conceive of a world where the most basic premise of LFW applies, what else is left to say on the subject?

    Comment by Mark D. — July 31, 2007 @ 11:47 am

  94. Robert C.,

    I hesitate to instroduce such a controversial topic, but it appears that the only avenue for objectively distinguishing between LFW and instrinsic randomness is exactly the same as the only avenue available for distinguishing Intelligent Design (in the most general sense, including self-design) from Neo-Darwinian (i.e. intrinsically random, undirected) evolution – namely statistical challenges.

    If LFW is true, Intelligent Design is true to some degree or another. Intelligent Design is an LFW theory. If LFW is false, the remaining philosophical options are hybrids of accidentalism (forms are fortuitous accidents) and Platonism (forms are laws of nature). LFW implies rather that many forms are the way they are in part because someone or some consensus chose or influenced them to be that way, without any binding internal or external prior constraint.

    There are potential statistical challenges to accidentalism (i.e. one might demonstrate that accidentalism is statistically improbable), but Platonism is not the sort of thing that can be disproved, as it borders on a religious faith. A Platonist might say that agents merely import information from pre-existing forms.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 31, 2007 @ 12:40 pm

  95. Mark D. #94, I think you’re right, and I think this is a good way to articulate the fundamental dichotomy that Jacob was pointing to in his post. A belief in free will is tantamount to a belief in a world that is ultimately not fully explainable. (I know I’m missing part of what you’re saying phrasing it this way, but I’m trying to state this in a nice, pithy way that I can remember….)

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 1:22 pm

  96. I don’t see the connection between LFW and ID. Could you spell it out?

    Comment by Clark — July 31, 2007 @ 1:46 pm

  97. (I’m taking ID quite loosely in Mark’s comment, that what happens is somehow brought about as the result of someone’s intention. Stupid analogy: if I was drawing a map on a computer screen and it was broadcast over the web so all you saw was the map being drawn, you might at first think some computer is randomly making these marks, but when you saw the map unfold you would probably assume that this map was intended to be drawn, either by me or by a computer programmed to draw that map for some intentional reason. I was thinking Mark was using ID to refer to this kind of intension. I don’t really understand the technical term intenTionality and I don’t really know that much about ID as it pertains to the creation-evolution debt, so I’m likely misunderstanding both Mark and Clark….)

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 4:06 pm

  98. Clark,

    The basic idea behind Intelligent Design is that some things have forms that are too complex and well specified for them to have occured naturally by natural selection of even an extremely long series of fortuitous accidents, and that intelligent design of some sort (iterative, self-design, etc.) is a more plausible hypothesis.

    Needless to say, higher order automatons designing lower order automatons is not a viable solution due to an infinite regress. The ‘Intelligent’ in Intelligent Design refers to some ability to create intentional forms without prior precedent, a capability only LFW provides.

    Strict determinism does not solve the problem because there is nothing new under the sun in a deterministic world. All deterministic forms have perfect prior precedents. No one designs anything new in determinism – at best they just recover existing forms, so much so that I think it is impossible to make a practical distinction between determinism and classical Platonism.

    Some people might explain theological Platonism and theological determinism as Intelligent Design theories, but those variants also consider God to the the First or Uncaused Cause, a capability which clearly requires LFW (no prior cause!), so I would say that is just a special case of the general idea that LFW intelligence exists in the universe and is responsible for the special complexity of some of the things we observe in nature, as well as of products of human creativity.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 31, 2007 @ 9:27 pm

  99. s/sufficiently complex/too complex/ of course.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 31, 2007 @ 9:29 pm

  100. Mark, I’m going to hope that is a perl substitution and not a vi one.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 31, 2007 @ 9:49 pm

  101. Vi, I am afraid. Perl is icky. I use C++ when I can and miss it the rest of the time.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 31, 2007 @ 10:10 pm

  102. Blake (#86), That is a good paper, I enjoyed it.

    Mark, get thee behind me.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 31, 2007 @ 10:30 pm

  103. I think your equating various kinds of what you call platonism with determinism is wrong. Something can logically be entailed by a prior state without it being “nothing new under the sun.” For instance a rule of i(n) = i(n-1) +1 and i(0) = 1; i(1) =2 is deterministic but that doesn’t mean that when implemented that the value of i(1000) isn’t novel.

    So I think your discussion hinges on an equivocation of novelty.

    Comment by Clark — July 31, 2007 @ 10:31 pm

  104. Clark,

    [Surely you meant to refer to a Fibonacci sequence where i(n) = i(n-1) + i(n-2).]

    I am definitely using a more intense sense of the term “new”. For example, it is trivially demonstrable that the Kolmogorov complexity of a finite deterministic system is constant or decreasing. Increasing Kolmogorov complexity, on the other hand, is one of the things one would expect to see if something truly novel was going on.

    Suppose you have a system that displays portions of Mandlebrot sets – every iteration you may have something that looks unique, but after a few iterations you become familiar with the types of patterns that occur, and after that it is just all Mandlebrot set all the time, and you get bored and look for something else to do.

    One way of explaining it is that a Mandebrot set generator, though it produces what appear to be very sophisticated patterns, has a low Kolmogorov complexity, and just like any deterministic system, cannot produce an output with a Kolmogorov complexity greater than what it has to start with (including the complexity of the rules themselves).

    So a sophisticated observer quickly recognizes that such a system has a rather limited repertoire that is not ever going to change no matter how many iterations the system goes through. The only ways for a closed system to increase its repertoire are non-deterministic: design (LFW) or fortuitous accident (intrinsic randomness).

    If there is no LFW and the randomness isn’t instrinsic, the repertoire will be fixed or decreasing. Deterministic systems governed by the Poincare recurrence theorem are typical.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 1, 2007 @ 12:14 am

  105. s/If the randomness/If there is no LFW and the randomness/

    (In Perl, if you please…)

    Comment by Mark D. — August 1, 2007 @ 12:35 am

  106. Mark, the series doesn’t matter. I was just getting at your use of novelty.

    I think it an important facet. I think our intuitions go with one sense of novelty that may support LFW. However your use goes well beyond that use.

    Put an other way even in deterministic systems there’s a lot of “newness.” (Just look at chaotic systems, if nothing else) To accuse determinism of Platonism is just wrong.

    Comment by Clark — August 1, 2007 @ 9:56 am

  107. If I’m following Mark correctly, this is a great introduction for understanding Badiou’s notion of truth. A Libertarian Mormon version of Badoiu’s truth might be described as follows (sorry to be such a one-trick-pony on this Badiou bit, but I find it terribly interesting, and this discussion has been tremendously helpful in bringing together many thoughts for me):

    A mathematical statement is true by it’s reliance and coherence with certain axioms and theorem’s proven to correspond with these axioms, where coherence is also something that is ultimately somewhat debatable (as the arguments between constructivist, intuitionist, or traditional mathematicians attests—in particular, whether ‘proof by contradiction’ must be valid or whether all proofs must be explicitly constructive…).

    So, truth even in mathematics is dependent on a choice (of what axioms to accept, in particular, whether the Axiom of Choice is accepted or not). God, in this sense, is the ultimate example of or embodiment of truth because what he chooses to say (i.e. promises) he chooses to follow through on. God’s words are like axioms, but better than abstract mathematical axioms which may or may not have any bearing on the real empirical, physical world, because God’s “axioms” are implemented in our real, empirical, physical world.

    Similarly, because of LFW, we can be independent truths ourselves (a la D&C 93—here is where I’m alluding to Mark’s discussion and thinking of independence in the mathematical/statistical sense of not being spanned by anything else, i.e. increasing in Kolmogorov complexity…), if and only if we learn to be true to our word and cohere (think “live peaceably”) with other truths (like how the Axiom of Choice is a mathematical “truth” in relation to ZF set theory since, as Godel and Cohen proved, it is independent of all the other axioms of ZF).

    The point is that truth is not something that coheres to some objective (i.e. determined) reality, because no such reality exists (I think this is obvious from discussion here in terms of time; arguing for “no objective reality” in terms of a so-called “point in time” is much harder…). Rather, truth is something that follows directly from the exercise of LFW. Truth is something that happens, which is why Badiou uses teh terms truth and event practically synonymously.

    Comment by Robert C. — August 1, 2007 @ 11:54 am

  108. Clark,

    If you would re-read my last comment, my point is that the “newness” in any deterministic system, including so-called chaotic ones, is completely superficial.

    Take the universe for example. If it is finite, deterministic, and energy conserving it is subject to the Poincare recurrence theorem, which states that it will return arbitrarily close to its present state after a finite recurrence time, like clockwork, repeating the same history over and over again. What is new about that? Don’t you think God would get bored after watching the second rerun or so? (smile)

    Comment by Mark D. — August 1, 2007 @ 12:06 pm

  109. (#108) Well, just for fun, I thought I’d point out that Geoff thinks the same thing is true for the universe even though he believes in LFW.

    Comment by Jacob J — August 1, 2007 @ 12:17 pm

  110. Re #108: Do you believe God doesn’t know all possibilities?

    Comment by P. Nielsen — August 1, 2007 @ 1:24 pm

  111. Robert C.,

    I certainly agree that by creatively synthesizing unprecedented events, an LFW agent creates new truths, although typically pretty trivial ones.

    I am not at all convinced that natural laws are the sort of thing that can be created, but by and large I am sympathetic to the William James’ suggestion that “truth is something that happens to an idea”.

    Jacob,

    If history repeats itself verbatim, I would say we have a major problem with the plan of salvation. Eternal progression, not eternal recession, right?

    Comment by Mark D. — August 1, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

  112. P. Nielsen,

    I lean towards the position that the capacity of divine persons is on a long upward climb in parallel with celestial civilization, and that the plan of salvation was implemented as soon as it became feasible.

    The knowledge of all possibilities does not seem to be required to implement the plan of salvation, so I would say probably not.

    Comment by Mark D. — August 1, 2007 @ 1:45 pm

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