[From Bruce Abbott (970130.1240 EST)]
Scott Sterling (30 Jan 1997 18:52:02) --
Scott, I wish there were many more students like you where I teach; it is
refreshing to hear from one who has been concerned about issues like this
one and thought carefully about them. However, I really must take exception
to some of your statements, as noted below.
For the determinist, an individual becomes a relationship of
physical phenomena. If anyone is going to thoroughly adopt this view,
then why not be consistent and live according to the conclusions that are
adumbrated by the merest consideration of it? Ethics, law, family,
education, justice, and on and on will need major overhauling if
determinism is true. If you view everything the same way after you've
adopted a deterministic Weltannschaung, you are hardly accepting the
responsibility that comes with that knowledge, are you?
You seem to equate determinism with an absence of personal influence: all
acts are "caused" by something external to the individual, therefore the
individual is just a hapless vehicle through which these external causes
bring about their results. Yet PCT shows how a particular system of
interacting parts can have intentions, can will to realize certain
perceptions, and often can carry out these intentions even when opposed by
external forces. This organization is called a control system. It is the
scientific explanation of will.
Because the reference levels for these systems are internally set, the
individual can be held accountable for his or her intended acts, if they are
undertaken in full knowledge of the consequences which have been imposed by
one's moral education, family, lawmakers, or other members of society.
(Whether imposing such consequences is necessary or appropriate is another
issue.) Thus I do not see that adopting a deterministic Weltannschaung
constrains me to the conclusions you assert are "adumbrated by the merest
consideration of it." (Also, I have not the faintest idea what you mean by
"accepting the responsibility that comes with [the determinist viewpoint]."
In a discussion with my mother on this rather shocking event, my
mother expressed the typical behavioralist view that the poor kid must
have had a tough upbringing, and must have never had "the good"
reinforced in his life. I tried to explain to my mom that it was more
likely that, given this kid was originally just as healthy as the next
guy, he had adopted the widely held, popular belief system of
behaviorism and the determinism that fairly goes hand in hand with it,
at a very early age. And so even if he had seen any opportunity for a way
out of his sorry life, he would have likely doubted the efficacy of any
effort on his part to take advantage of it, what with the world being a
system of chance, authoritative control, and personal powerlessness in
the face of genes and environment.
Despite the tragic outcome you depicted, I found myself chuckling at the
idea that this poor kid shot himself to death because he had adopted
determinism as his world view. More likely he saw himself in a hopeless
position and elected to end his life rather than face the consequences he
anticipated lay before him. It was not determinism that led him to this
decision but his inability to control his current situation in a (to him)
satisfactory way _except_ by suicide. Personal powerlessness should not be
equated with determinism.
In addition, you seem to be arguing that the conventional notion about this
kid being the product of his upbringing must be wrong. That upbringing
determines, among many other things, how you will go about attempting to
control the myriad perceptions of momentary or lasting importance to you --
the options available to you and those you _perceive_ to be available. I
think it would be foolhardy to ignore the importance of experience, whether
one holds a determinist position or not.
I think the determinist position is a knee-jerk reaction to a
fairly rudimentary understanding of the world.
How so? And how does the nondeterminist position improve on that?
I am not arguing that
free will is a fact, or that it is even a term which refers to any
reality in any dimension of the universe.
And it will probably never be possible to rule it out. However, as I noted
in an earlier post, for scientific purposes it is better to assume its
absence than the contrary. For me it is a working assumption, not a fact.
I am arguing that 1) an appeal
to complexity of relationships of physical events is not an
argument against free will or for determinism--it's a tactic that can
be used to draw a premature conclusion about whatever you want. If there
are 10 to the trillionth possible connections in the brain (including
varying synaptic strengths, or "weights"), but only 10 to the
eighty-seventh square meters in the universe, what does that prove? They
are just appeals to complexity, which could be used to push any
conclusion about consciousness, duality, freedom, or what have you.
I didn't present the complexity of relationships of physical events as an
argument against free will. In fact, such complexity probably assures that
there will be no practical way to rule nondetermined will out.
2) given the state of ignorance of the brain and the evidence of our own
subjective states (which tell us that we are conscious, free, and having
mental states that are just opaque to any present, third person
investigation--try this at home, I tried it last night, close your eyes
and picture something, anything, and be amazed that you can picture whole
landscapes, imaginary shapes, fantasies of all kinds, and then try to be
content with a closed minded view of how the brain works), it would be
most wise to turn toward the view of personal freedom and responsibility
and spread it everywhere you can, especially to young people, parents,
You seem to have lost your way here (the sentence is a run-on). What does
being able to fantasize have to do with determinism? I have personal
freedom (and therefore can be held responsible for my acts, if that is
deemed necessary), because I can do whatever I want (within the limits
imposed by the environment and my abilities). The next question is, _why_
do I want what I want? As a scientist, I would begin a search for the
answer by examining the physical conditions under which such a want appears.