A Proof of the Impossibility of Choice - Prove Me Wrong!


If I am correct, then you are about to read philosophical history. It's a little dense, but it's short, so focus...

This is actually an old philosophy. I cannot remember which old Greek proposed it, but I remember hearing the idea in a philosophy class years ago. It was a dualistic argument against free will asserting that the human mind and body do not actually interract; that they co-exist simultaneously and the mind is tricked into thinking it interracts because it comes to anticipate what the body will do and does not know anything else to anticipate instead. At the time I dismissed the idea as ridiculous because I could not conceive of the logical steps that arrive at that argument, but here I think I have created a proof for the very idea. Admittedly though, it is not an appetizing conclusion for humans, so I would be much obliged if someone could please prove me wrong. Here it is:

1. If reality were only causal (meaning every effect had a cause; every action an equal reaction), then time would be infinite, since any beginning to such a chain would have to be an a-causal event. Time would go only from future to past; cause to effect. Universal laws would exist, determined by fate. They could be observed and predicted, but not interrupted. Choice would not exist.

2. If reality is only a-causal (meaning one effect is not connected to another), then time does not exist (not as the contiguous thing we imagine) and no universal laws, or fate, could exist either. If choice could somehow come to exist, one could never be certain to achieve the result one desires because an a-causal effect would follow any action; an effect not related to the one you had hoped to cause. Or, since events would be unrelated, maybe nothing at all would result from an action.

3. BUT, if reality is causal AND allows for a-causal interruptions, then the universe could have come into being where once it was not, time would exist but not fate, and anything resembling a "law" could be skewed by a-causal interruptions (making their determination relativistic, not universal). I suspect that this is how our reality works, but let us look at what this third possibility means for "choice."

A free choice has to be considered a change to what would otherwise be called "fate;" it would have to be an a-causal interruption in a causal chain of events, then going on to produce effects of its own, which are henceforth related to it causally (until or unless the chain is later interrupted, itself, by an a-causal event). And since a choice has to be an a-causal event, it necessarily CANNOT be caused. It can be observed and its effects suffered or enjoyed, but it cannot be MADE to happen or it cannot be called a-causal. A human is an observer, certainly, but cannot be said to be a chooser, only a sufferer or enjoyer. A-causal things could occur around humans, but should not be called their "choices," any more than the causal things occuring around them should be called their "choices."

Furthermore, even if there were something about humans which could harnessed the paradoxical ability to CAUSE an a-causal event, the results of their using this ability would produce effects entirely unrelated to what they intended to cause. Hence, choice cannot exist: either there is fate, if the universe is deterministic, or there are a-causal events that cannot be consistently predicted or controlled. This means humans are not responsible for anything they do. We are an awareness trapped in a system we cannot effect.

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Comment by John Camilli on November 19, 2010 at 2:56pm
You're right, John, duality, causality and physics is what voodoo practitioners preach. You have obviously met someone who practices voodoo, and they obviously destroyed your mind. I'm sorry for your luck.
Comment by John Camilli on November 18, 2010 at 9:55pm
And, can you come up with a better definition?

If not, then my logic stands unharmed. I have defined a set of parameters that includes all of reality, and further showed that whichever possibility you think it is, choice is rendered impossible. Determinism represents causality. Dualism represents non-causality (it is only possible in a system that allows for non-causal interraction). I'm not saying I know which it is. I'm saying it doesn't matter because the idea of choice is impossible in either.


Only once we realize this about reality can we begin to construct a foundation for morality and right action. The foundation is that there can't be a foundation. The knowledge is that there is no knowledge. And as depressing as those ideas are, we can USE them as the universal truth on which to base a workable human philosophy.
Comment by Earther on November 18, 2010 at 8:40pm
Once a man fell asleep and dreamed he was a butterfly. When he awoke he wondered if he was a man who just dreamed he was a butterfly or was he a butterfly dreaming to be a man. (Transendentalism)sp?
Comment by John Camilli on November 18, 2010 at 8:21pm
I am familliar with systems theory, and since you are too, you should recognize that it is a synthesis of math and psychology. Math that describes physical processes...is called physics, so systems theory is exactly the kind of idea I'm talking about.

The reason I'm stuck is this, if the world is materialistic, then our actions are fate. If not materialistic but dualistic, then minds don't interract with bodies and we still don't control our own actions. So my conundrum is, where does the idea of choice come from? To me it seems a ridiculous concept, like God. It sounds nice and everything, but there just is no evidence for it, or even any logic steps that can lead to it as an abstracted conclusion.

I agree with the way you're describing reality, but I don't think you are following the logic of your words through to their conclusion. The conclusion is that we can't have choice, no matter what kind of reality we live in.
Comment by John Camilli on November 18, 2010 at 8:02pm
John, listen to your own logic: "Mind is a result of our brains and bodies." If this is true, and I think it is too, then "mind" must be a possibility inherent in energy and matter, because that's what bodies are made of. We haven't found anything else they might be made out of, and that's why physics is so important. To understand the nuersciences, or even hope to make any sense of psychology, we must understand what humans are made of. Now, certainly an atom is not capable of as many complex interractions as a body, but something about the way atoms work creates the possibility of my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. And if my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are only the result of many atoms and energies interracting in complex ways, then I am not responsible for them, and cannot control them. If they are the result of anything else, then what is it? Can you describe the existence of anything besides energy and matter? If you can, I think Mr. Hawking would be interrested in talking to you (and don't bother saying anti-matter or supersymetric particles, those are energy too).

I'm sorry to see that you've been so mislead about the importance of physics. Why do you think Einstein is the most recognized scientist in the world? And do you think Newton and Hawking are very far down the list? I'd bet they're in the top ten, worldwide. The reason is because physics is just the study of the most fundamental parts of reality that we can find, or think of. If knowledge is a tower, and not just a bunch of disconnected information, then physics is the foundation of the tower. It's old rhetoric, which blinds us to the simple truth of the words, but physics is where science becomes philosophy; becomes belief; becomes decision. And if we don't understand it, then we don't understand our decisions, or even IF they are decisions, and not just our stupid monkey brains confusing them as such.

I have already studied quite a lot psychology, which led me to study a lot of nueroscience. I still listen religiously (ha!) to the Brain Science Podcast (a website I very much recommend as a wealth of information for those interrested in the study, also the book Defending the Cavewoman), but it was nueroscience that led me into physics. I had already studied chemistry and biology voraciously in the years prior to that, but studying physics has caused me to rethink everything I thought I knew about everything. In fact, I have studied so much, and found so many connections between disciplines, that I now consider everything the same subject, which carried over into me feeling that all disparate things are only facets of a whole of interractivity; what we call reality. That we perceive ourselves as such a limited creature is, I think, the source of our dissatisfaction with "life," because we are much more than this frail, human thing. But, even for all my "learning" I cannot put my mind on one single thing that I know without a doubt, except that I exist. I haven't gotten any further than DesCartes. And neither has anyone else, on the search for universal truth.
Comment by John Camilli on November 17, 2010 at 7:21pm
To me, the idea that consciousness and souls just float around without material bodies is the sillier explanation. If you don't think consciousness is an emergent property, then you have to explain what mind is, and you can't explain it in any terms used to describe energy (or matter). You also would have to explain how mind and energy interract, or if they dont, how they seem to. Otherwise, consciousness must just be some facet of the complexity allowed by energy's properties, and the capacity for it at least must be present in all things, even the lowliest rock. Afterall, rock is mostly silicon, which our body requires some of to operate.
Comment by John Camilli on November 17, 2010 at 5:50pm
First let me say that you guys are posting excellent comments and making me think this through quite thoroughly, which is what I'd been needing to do . I've been collecting information for years, and writing a lot of my thoughts on it, but I get little feedback because people mostly don't talk about physics or philosophy where I live. They all believe in ...ughh!...gOD (emphasis on the odd).

But I haven't given myself away yet (in my opinion :-).

As I mentioned, I do not distinguish between living and non-living, so my logic does not concern itself with death. Of course, my sytem still does, because "life" is its limited observations of reality, and the view seems so limited and bleak compared to what it suspects at but cannot validate to itself. And it won't listen to my logic, as I also mentioned is my belief. Ah, don't jump on me for saying belief, because I also said I don't think knowledge is possible, which means every opinion is a belief; every assertion.

There are no such things as fact or truth or life or choice (my belief). There is only causality, a-causality, energy, and maybe time, and once that energy exists (which includes matter), it probably interracts about how quantum physics says, until entropy prevails upon it and it becomes part of the background noise. And, who knows, maybe that's the source of the constant creation of new quasi-particles all the time, and the place where causality falls apart.* Maybe entropy never does quite prevail because absolute zero would be the same as non-existence, so as long as there is existence, there is movement that can build up into higher forms of energy (more complex forms of motion) through random interraction. Chaos theory has showed that complexity will tend to arise out of chaos, after all.

As for "immortality," I am already quite secure in my immortality (or at least my extreme longevity), since I am made of energy, and I believe "life" is only an emergent property of energy (partially in the form of energy solitons) interracting as they do. My type of consciousness is probably not the only one, so when it falls apart, I'll become parts of other things, with other types of consciousness. Even a rock or an electron probably has some level of consciousness, in my opinion, and I have no particular preference for this one. It hasn't been very fun for me so far, but I'm not complaining because I think that has been the lot of most humans.
*There are several mechanism theorized at which can eradicate causal chains. One is possibly in a singularity. Others take place at various points of a supernovae, like when the ejection mass becomes homologous as the explosion rate exceeds the collapse rate. It is not a violation of conservation of information because the fundamental particles remain intact, but the interractions between the particles no longer depend on the prior moment because the forces and distances become equivalent throughout the mass, which means maximum entropy.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on November 17, 2010 at 10:24am
The great compromise after extending longevity is suspended animation. Imagine how intriguing it will be to see how things have progressed after five hundred years of sleep. On the other hand, how devestating will it be when your best friend or love dies and she was only 1769 years old.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on November 17, 2010 at 9:37am
John C, You made my case. The connection between physics and ourselves is beyond our ken. Even if you are a bottom line moral relativist it is not a good theory to live by.
I could not help but think of Kafka as I read your latest.
Comment by Edward Teach on November 17, 2010 at 8:43am
Living forever would be my preference... maybe (It might get pretty fuckin tedious), but the point is moot. John D is right. We are time limited organisms, just like all other life forms. There is no evidence of life after death and the very concept flies in the face of rational thought. I prefer to deal with harsh realities as an adult, than to engage in the fantasy wish fulfillment of a child.

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