Saturday, August 23, 2014

Deterministic Or Not (Was: 2nd post re: Essay VIII "Of Liberty and Necessity", "Part I")

I started to title this "2nd post re: Essay VIII "Of Liberty and Necessity", "Part I", but I relinquish the connection to Hume, for this post, as I may have come too far afield from his essay.


 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

In physics, there is an "uncertainty principle" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle ) which to me hints at the possibility that we do not live in a deterministic universe after all.  I don't pretend to know physics, but I'm just suggesting that the deterministic model may not be the only valid model, of the universe.

Be that as it may, I am thinking about the notion that God knows everything that is going to happen.  What if God _didn't_ know what was going to happen?  I am beginning to think that, if there is a God, it's fairly likely that s/he doesn't know what is going to happen.  Why should we suppose that God knows everything that is going to happen?  Just because somebody told us that God was omniscient (even about the future)?  I don't believe everything I'm told.

Next, I wonder, is it _plausible_ that even Nature herself/himself may not have a determined course of events?  I don't know, but I suspect that a nondeterministic theory could be as plausible and as valid as a deterministic theory.

The deterministic theory arose (for me, at least) from the idea that all the atomic particles of the universe are like billiard balls which, once set into motion, will collide at angles and react to their collisions, all determined according to some initial condition of positions and velocities, at some selected instant, after which all their actions and reactions are theoretically absolutely precisely defined forever.

It is wishful thinking on my part that some part of the deterministic argument will prove false, because I don't like the idea of a deterministic universe.  I'd prefer to think there are meaningful opportunities for us to change things.

Having been around a while, in the world, and seeing some unexpected things, and on rare occasions glimpsing the possibility that some theory of mine is false, I can allow the possibility that maybe we don't live in a deterministic universe after all.

If we look at the universe, not as billiard balls, but, instead, as the feelings we have (such as anguish, effort, and satisfaction, which surround what we call our _options_ and _decisions_ and _actions_ ), then a "free will" model of the universe seems fairly appropriate.

Are billiard-ball-like particles more simple and fundamental than some prototype feelings?

I have (elsewhere) said that I prefer an extremely simple and naturalistic model of how the universe came into being.  As a seeker after simple fundamental elements, should I be more satisfied with billiard-ball-like particles, rather than with some prototype feelings, in a model of how the universe works?  One would think so (at least, initially, at first look), because billiard balls seem so much simpler than human feelings; however, if we weigh things according to their _importance_, then feelings seem more _relevant_ than billiard balls.

So, with that in mind, it pleases me to hypothesize that the fundamental elements of the universe, at its beginning and now, are some simple fundamental _spirit_ things, which (of course) naturally combine to form more complex _spirit_ things, including our human feelings.

I don't pretend there's any science in that; I just hypothesized it because I wanted to.

It seems unconventional; however, I am not deterred.  I know, for a true fact, that what matters to me is more in the realm of human feelings, emotions, and things like that, which I call spiritual rather than material.  Some reflection will show that this is true for all people.  We really are spiritual beings in a significant way.

We seem more accustomed to thinking that the physical reality is the more "substantial", that is, that it has a more durable significance, than a spiritual reality.  However, the opposite could be more true.  Instead of always asking (for example), "Do bodies have spirits?", let's at least occasionally ask "Do spirits have bodies?"  Instead of always thinking:  "I am a body.  Do I have a spirit?" let's sometimes think:  "I am a spirit.  Do I have a body?" After reading philosophy a while, it's easier to do this.  :-)  But even in ordinary day-to-day life, we may notice that what really matters to us is how we feel and how other people feel, more than what is happening with mere physical objects.  So, what's important, relevant, significant, and even fundamental, may be spiritual rather than material.

jrl, with last edit done at 11:18 p.m. California time, Sat. Aug. 23


Re: Essay VIII "Of Liberty and Necessity", "Part I"

I found this one (Part I of Essay VIII) a little more difficult.  When I read these essays and then wait a few days, then I forget my understandings and thoughts about them.  Revisiting Essay VIII now, in Part I of it, I find that the word "Necessity" means that events, even events in the mind, are deterministic.  Hume doesn't say "pre-ordained" or "pre-destined", but I think that's what he means.  "Liberty" in this context is the opposite of Necessity, and means that events, especially exercisings of what we call the human will, are optional and can be chosen by the person.  (Thus will is real.)  And so it is not just a fictitious will in an actually predestined course of events.

I suppose that if we had a complete understanding (of causes and effects of all events, including events within our minds), then all would appear predestined.

Thus, all _is_ predestined.  I hesitate to say it.  I don't _want_ predestination.  But there it is, anyway.

Contrarily, I also hold the notion that there is free will.  To hold both notions (predestination and free will) I can only rationalize them as two different theories or aspects of reality:  like saying, in physics, that light is like a particle and light is also like a wave.  Sometimes one theory is more useful, and other times the other theory is more useful.

While supposing that all things are predestined, I say that we are blessed with an ignorance which allows us to feel we have choices.

It is sure that there is anguish and effort, and satisfaction resulting from what we call decisions and acts of human will.  Thus, I think that almost all people _feel_ that they have free will, though some will deny it in words.

Recall that in Essay VI ("Of Probability"), Hume opens with "Tho' there be no such Thing as _Chance_ in the World; our Ignorance of the real Cause of any Event has the same Influence on the Understanding, and begets a like Species of Belief or Opinion."  Perhaps I can adapt that construction to my purpose here, to wit:

{
Though we can suppose that, hypothetically, there could be a level of understanding of all Causal links, which would illuminate, to our view, a deterministic universe, even so, our actual ignorance, of many of those supposed Causal links, allows us imagine we are making choices of action.  It may be that the predestined course of events actually includes the anguish, effort, and satisfaction we go through while exercising our "choice".  It is all the same to our experience, whether it were predestined or instead really our choice.
}

If we can imagine a God, which could make choices, then we can also imagine a Human, which could make choices.

The above corresponds to Part I of Essay VIII.

A review of Part II looks easier.  I hope to get to that later; possibly tomorrow.


Re: Essay VII "Of the Idea of Power or Necessary Connexion"

While going back and scanning these Essays VI and VII (after having read them several days ago), it occurs to me that science allows us to delve ever deeper into the inner workings of things, such that less is left to the domain of "chance", while more is in the domain of "understanding", as science progresses along.

So, compared to the understanding in Hume's day, now today we might be able to see a "causal" "Connexion" in a thing, which they did not know about in Hume's time.  However, Hume, were he alive, could still forever argue that we don't know the _ultimate_ causes of things.

He says that mathematics has clear ideas and long chains of inferences, while morality has fuzzy ideas and short chains of inferences.  

So, in mathematics, the difficulty is in keeping track of those long chains of reasoning; while, in morality, the difficulty is in even knowing what you're talking about in the first place (i.e., "the Obscurity of the Ideas").

Also, in this essay he compares two things:  On the one hand, we don't know how the gross physical objects work, and on the other hand, we don't know how our own will works.

Then it becomes interesting, as follows.

On pages 75-76 (the 10th & 11th pages of Essay VII), he is discussing how philosophers think that even the workings of our minds, and even our supposed ability to will our limbs to move, is dependent on a God who is interposed into even these details to make them happen, one by one, by God's will.

Then he writes:

[begin quote]

Thus, according to these Philosophers, every Thing is full of God.  Not contented with the Principle, that nothing exists but by his Will, that nothing possesses any Power but by his Concession:  They rob Nature, and all created Beings of every Power, in order to render their Dependance on the Deity still more sensible and immediate.  They consider not, that by this Theory they diminish, instead of magnifying, the Grandeur of those Attributes, which they affect so much to celebrate.  It argues surely more Power in the Deity to delegate a certain Degree of Power to inferior Creatures, than to operate every Thing by his immediate Volition.  It argues more Wisdom to contrive at first the Fabric of the World with such perfect Foresight, that, of itself, and by its own proper Operation, it may serve all the Purposes of Providence, than if the great Creator were oblig'd every Moment to adjust its Parts, and animate by his Breath all the Wheels of that stupendous Machine."

[end quote]

I agree with Hume in that, although I go further in the way shown below.  

I say that there is no complex Creation process by any God; rather, there is the simplest possible Nature from which all things evolve.

A universe which is dependent, ultimately, upon only the most extremely simple beginnings and the most extremely simple principles, can evolve naturally into what appears to be a complex universe with us in it and, may be, with a God in it as well.

In the above quote, Hume imagines God contriving "the Fabric of the World with such perfect Foresight"; but I say there doesn't need to be any Foresight at all.  Rather, the best God and the best Nature are the ones which evolve from something which is infinitely simple, and upon evolving, flow naturally, without any contrivances at all.

(
A side note about awe:

We, in this universe, may fancy there is something special about it; but really it is only that this universe is what we happened to be born into:  it is the only possibility we're familiar with.

If instead the universe were different, then when we got born into that different universe we would have the same thoughts about _it_ as we do about _this_ one.  We would think it such a special universe.  But really there's no reason to suppose that any particular universe were any better than any other one.  The original principle and how it evolved into a universe could be completely arbitrary, and however it turned out, its conscious creatures would feel there were something special about it, but that's really just because that's the one they find themselves in.  And, as conscious beings may feel better when they can describe things as _meaningful_, and, as conscious beings of a certain level of consciousness tend to find meaning in religions and gods, they would ascribe all its supposed wonderfulness to a God, for which they would have a bent to feel awe.
)

Now, regarding that universe, which flows naturally from that infinitely simple principle or object:  Supposing we are in it.  Is it a universe that we shall fear?  Or instead shall we feel happy about it?  Or is it naturally malignant, or instead naturally benign?  On first thought, we don't know.  On second thought, if the universe or our place in it turns out bad, there's a limit to our suffering, and that limit is oblivion by death.  But if, as some people think, there's a God placing us in Hell or Heaven, then I believe that God is benign, and so is Hell if there is a Hell.  Thirdly, in a philosophical way I am optimistic:  I'd rather be here than nowhere; and, I believe, by faith if for no other reason, that our ultimate results are no worse than oblivion by death.  So, in a philosophical way, I am happy to be in this reasonable universe.  If there is a God, then I believe it is a nice God who does not interfere with this reasonable universe.  I believe a God would be godly in that way.

Re: Essay VI ("Of Probability")

Hume writes:  "Tho' there be no such Thing as _Chance_ in the World; our Ignorance of the real Cause of any Event has the same Influence on the Understanding, and begets a like Species of Belief or Opinion."

One could say:  We're not going to know the ultimate causes, so for us it is as though there is an element of "chance".

For us, "chance" is like "the unknown part of the cause".

-jrl, Aug. 23, 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Re: Essay V

He establishes, that the way we know those facts, which are other than what we are immediately perceiving with the senses, is "custom" or "habit".  I might have called it "induction" or "inductive reasoning".  However, Hume doesn't seem to regard that as real "reasoning".  I believe that for Hume, "reasoning" means what we'd call "deductive reasoning".

In essence he says that we can never really know how the world works; we can only guess that it will continue behaving as it has in the past.

On page 52 of the book, which is the 4th page of this essay, he describes two things being related to each other:  for example, a _flame_ is _hot_.  He would say that the fact that we've experienced them together in the past (_flame_ and _heat_) does not imply that they will go together in the future.

Suppose we have seen a thousand flames, one at a time, and discovered every single one of those flames to be hot.  So, we draw an Inference, that the next time we encounter a flame, it will be hot.  This is an Inference, drawn from a thousand Instances.

But if a person has never encountered any flames before, then, the first time he regards a flame, if he has not come very near it yet, he will not know it is hot.  That is, more generally, if a person were robbed of all experience, there is no way he would be able to reason, or know, anything about how the world works.

Now, consider:  How can a person draw an inference from the thousand Instances, when he cannot draw the same inference from just one Instance?  The One Instance is the same as all the Thousand Instances.  If it were by _reasoning_ that he draws such Inferences, then he should be able make the Inference while regarding one flame (the first one he's ever encountered) without reference to any others and without actually feeling the flame.

If it were by _reasoning_, then a person who had never seen the Thing before would be able to deduce what its behavior will be.

But it is not by reasoning that we know things about the world.  Rather, it is by experience.

So says Hume.  But he might not call it "knowing"; because it is not absolute knowledge; it is only a judgment of what appears _probable_.

In his essays, I find him agreeable, and can often see his point; but afterward I wonder whether things must be as he says they are.

Perhaps we should only expect to describe _aspects_ of things, without expecting to ever understand the core nature of things.

Perhaps we should be satisfied, that a model is _useful_, without demanding anything in the way of ultimate knowledge.

I might learn, from Hume, some useful ways of thinking about things, but without insisting that those were the _only_ correct ways of thinking.

Hume himself appears modest in his writing.  On page 50 he says, "Nature will always maintain her Rights, and prevail in the End over any abstract Reasoning whatsoever."  A country Oklahoman, if he can love any philosopher, could love Hume, when, on page 42, he writes, "Philosophers, that give themselves Airs ... have a hard task, when they encounter Persons of inquisitive Dispositions, who push them from every Corner ... and who are sure at last to bring them to some dangerous Dilemma.  The best Expedient to prevent this Confusion is to be modest in our Pretensions...".

-jrl

Re: Essay IV

As I would paraphrase his essay, there are two kind of knowing.  One of them is the knowing by abstract reasoning.  This is what we do if, as in a high school Geometry class, we start with some axioms and then prove things by using some rules of logic.  The other way of knowing regards how we know what exists in the real world.

Surprisingly, he seems sure of the validity of the abstract, logical processes, but rather less sure of knowing whatever may happen, even in the next moment, in the real world we live in.  But that is in a philosophical sense.  He acknowledges that we can know what's _likely_ to occur in the near future, according to our experience; but he refuses to allow it to be called absolute knowledge.

He says that the fact that a flame has heat, or that the sun has risen in all days up to now, is no guarantee that the same will occur tomorrow.

-jrl

(More about this in Essay V.)

Re: Essay III

He discusses how thoughts flow:  each thought is somehow connected with the thought that preceded it.

And:  To move an audience, one should be a master of maintaining clear connections throughout a presentation.

In a theatrical production, if a character is introduced who has little to do with the rest of the play, s/he distracts the audience and dilutes its feeling.

-jrl