On Sat, Apr 13, 2013 at 1:26 PM, Craig Weinberg <whatsons...@gmail.com> wrote:
> ...which fully supports my entire philosophy of science and understanding of
> free will.
>
> http://mills.quora.com/Free-Will-and-the-Fallibility-of-Science/comments?__ac__=1#comment200399
>
>
>> Free Will and the Fallibility of Science
>>
>> Mills Baker
>> 5 votes by David Cole, Marc Bodnick, Craig Weinberg, (more)
>> One of the most significant intellectual errors educated persons make is
>> in underestimating the fallibility of science. The very best scientific
>> theories containing our soundest, most reliable knowledge are certain to be
>> superseded, recategorized from "right" to "wrong"; they are, as physicist
>> David Deutsch says, misconceptions:
>>
>> I have often thought that the nature of science would be better understood
>> if we called theories “misconceptions” from the outset, instead of only
>> after we have discovered their successors. Thus we could say that Einstein’s
>> Misconception of Gravity was an improvement on Newton’s Misconception, which
>> was an improvement on Kepler’s. The neo-Darwinian Misconception of Evolution
>> is an improvement on Darwin’s Misconception, and his on Lamarck’s… Science
>> claims neither infallibility nor finality.
>>
>>
>> This fact comes as a surprise to many; we tend to think of science —at the
>> point of conclusion, when it becomes knowledge— as being more or less
>> infallible and certainly final. Science, indeed, is the sole area of human
>> investigation whose reports we take seriously to the point of
>> crypto-objectivism. Even people who very much deny the possibility of
>> objective knowledge step onto airplanes and ingest medicines. And most
>> importantly: where science contradicts what we believe or know through
>> cultural or even personal means, we accept science and discard those truths,
>> often enough wisely.
>>
>> An obvious example: the philosophical problem of free will. When Newton's
>> misconceptions were still considered the exemplar of truth par excellence,
>> the very model of knowledge, many philosophers felt obliged to accept a kind
>> of determinism with radical implications. Give the initial-state of the
>> universe, it appeared, we should be able to follow all particle trajectories
>> through the present, account for all phenomena through purely physical
>> means. In other words: the chain of causation from the Big Bang on left no
>> room for your volition:
>>
>> Determinism in the West is often associated with Newtonian physics, which
>> depicts the physical matter of the universe as operating according to a set
>> of fixed, knowable laws. The "billiard ball" hypothesis, a product of
>> Newtonian physics, argues that once the initial conditions of the universe
>> have been established, the rest of the history of the universe follows
>> inevitably. If it were actually possible to have complete knowledge of
>> physical matter and all of the laws governing that matter at any one time,
>> then it would be theoretically possible to compute the time and place of
>> every event that will ever occur (Laplace's demon). In this sense, the basic
>> particles of the universe operate in the same fashion as the rolling balls
>> on a billiard table, moving and striking each other in predictable ways to
>> produce predictable results.
>>
>>
>> Thus: the movement of the atoms of your body, and the emergent phenomena
>> that such movement entails, can all be physically accounted for as part of a
>> chain of merely physical, causal steps. You do not "decide" things; your
>> "feelings" aren't governing anything; there is no meaning to your sense of
>> agency or rationality. From this essentially unavoidable philosophical
>> position, we are logically-compelled to derive many political, moral, and
>> cultural conclusions. For example: if free will is a phenomenological
>> illusion, we must deprecate phenomenology in our philosophies; it is the
>> closely-clutched delusion of a faulty animal; people, as predictable and
>> materially reducible as commodities, can be reckoned by governments and
>> institutions as though they are numbers. Freedom is a myth; you are the
>> result of a process you didn't control, and your choices aren't choices at
>> all but the results of laws we can discover, understand, and base our
>> morality upon.
>>
>> I should note now that (1) many people, even people far from epistemology,
>> accept this idea, conveyed via the diffusion of science and philosophy
>> through politics, art, and culture, that most of who you are is determined
>> apart from your will; and (2) the development of quantum physics has not in
>> itself upended the theory that free will is an illusion, as the sorts of
>> indeterminacy we see among particles does not provide sufficient room, as it
>> were, for free will.
>>
>> Of course, few of us can behave for even a moment as though free will is a
>> myth; there should be no reason for personal engagement with ourselves, no
>> justification for "trying" or "striving"; one would be, at best, a
>> robot-like automaton incapable of self-control but capable of
>> self-observation. One would account for one's behaviors not with reasons but
>> with causes; one would be profoundly divested from outcomes which one cannot
>> affect anyway. And one would come to hold that, in its basic conception of
>> time and will, the human consciousness was totally deluded.
>>
>> As it happens, determinism is a false conception of reality. Physicists
>> like David Deutsch and Ilya Prigogine have, in my opinion, defended free
>> will amply on scientific grounds; and the philosopher Karl Popper described
>> how free will is compatible in principle with a physicalist conception of
>> the universe; he is quoted by both scientists, and Prigogine begins his book
>> The End of Certainty, which proposes that determinism is no longer
>> compatible with science, by alluding to Popper:
>>
>> Earlier this century in The Open Universe: An Argument for Indeterminism,
>> Karl Popper wrote," Common sense inclines, on the one hand, to assert that
>> every event is caused by some preceding events, so that every event can be
>> explained or predicted… On the other hand, … common sense attributes to
>> mature and sane human persons… the ability to choose freely between
>> alternative possibilities of acting." This "dilemma of determinism," as
>> William James called it, is closely related to the meaning of time. Is the
>> future given, or is it under perpetual construction?
>>
>>
>> Prigogine goes on to demonstrate that there is, in fact, an "arrow of
>> time," that time is not symmetrical, and that the future is very much open,
>> very much compatible with the idea of free will. Thus: in our lifetimes we
>> have seen science —or parts of the scientific community, with the rest to
>> follow in tow— reclassify free will from "illusion" to "likely reality"; the
>> question of your own role in your future, of humanity's role in the future
>> of civilization, has been answered differently just within the past few
>> decades.
>>
>> No more profound question can be imagined for human endeavor, yet we have
>> an inescapable conclusion: our phenomenologically obvious sense that we
>> choose, decide, change, perpetually construct the future was for centuries
>> contradicted falsely by "true" science. Prigogine's work and that of his
>> peers —which he calls a "probabilizing revolution" because of its emphasis
>> on understanding unstable systems and the potentialities they entail—
>> introduces concepts that restore the commonsensical conceptions of
>> possibility, futurity, and free will to defensibility.
>>
>> If one has read the tortured thinking of twentieth-century intellectuals
>> attempting to unify determinism and the plain facts of human experience, one
>> knows how submissive we now are to the claims of science. As Prigogine
>> notes, we were prepared to believe that we, "as imperfect human observers,
>> [were] responsible for the difference between past and future through the
>> approximations we introduce into our description of nature." Indeed, one has
>> the sense that the more counterintuitive the scientific claim, the eagerer
>> we are to deny our own experience in order to demonstrate our rationality.
>>
>> This is only degrees removed from ordinary orthodoxies. The point is
>> merely that the very best scientific theories remain misconceptions, and
>> that where science contradicts human truths of whatever form, it is rational
>> to at least contemplate the possibility that science has not advanced enough
>> yet to account for them; we must be pragmatic in managing our knowledge,
>> aware of the possibility that some truths we intuit we cannot yet explain,
>> while other intuitions we can now abandon.
>>
>> It is vital to consider how something can be both true and not in order to
>> understand science and its limitations, and even more the limitations of
>> second-order sciences (like social sciences). Newton's laws were incredible
>> achievements of rationality, verified by all technologies and analyses for
>> hundreds of years, before their unpredicted exposure as deeply flawed ideas
>> applied to a limited domain which in total provide incorrect predictions and
>> erroneous metaphorical structures for understanding the universe.
>>
>> I never tire of quoting Karl Popper's dictum:
>>
>> Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a
>> sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it
>> was intended to solve.
>>
>>
>> It is hard but necessary to have this relationship with science, whose
>> theories seem like the only possible answers and whose obsolescence we
>> cannot imagine. A rational person in the nineteenth century would have
>> laughed at the suggestion that Newton was in error; he could not have known
>> about the sub-atomic world or the forces and entities at play in the world
>> of general relativity; and he especially could not have imagined how a
>> theory that seemed utterly, universally true and whose predictive and
>> explanatory powers were immense could still be an incomplete understanding,
>> revealed by later progress to be completely mistaken about nearly all of its
>> claims.
>>
>> Can you imagine such a thing? It will happen to nearly everything you
>> know. Consider what "ignorance" and "knowledge" really are for a human, what
>> you can truly know, how you should judge others given this overwhelming
>> epistemological instability!

First: every scientific theory is tentative. Most will probably be
displaced at some point with a better theory. It's only natural for
scientists to become attached to their theories, but they will always
admit that they could be wrong if enough new evidence comes along.
Second: theorems in mathematics and logic are not tentative. They are
true for all time, true in all universes, true for omnipotent beings.
Third: the article does not define "free will" and does not explain
why randomness (which is the alternative to determinism) is better
than determinism for free will.
Fourth: confused though the article is about determinism and free
will, it does not claim that determinism is incompatible with
CONSCIOUSNESS, nor does it claim that determinism is impossible A
PRIORI. These positions are yours alone.


-- 
Stathis Papaioannou

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