Recall that old French polymath Pierre-Simon Laplace and his omniscient “demon.” If the demon knew where every particle in the universe was at a given moment, he could predict with perfect accuracy every moment in the future—which is another way of saying that the future is wholly “determined” by the past. The demon, of course, merely illustrates a thesis that can be stated in more sombre terms: everything that happens is the inevitable consequence of the laws of nature and what the universe was like once upon a time. We’re bound to do what we in fact do.“Causal determinism,” the philosopher’s unlovely term for that unsettling hypothesis, is the default assumption of most modern science. It matters a good deal if the idea implies that none of our actions are what we call “free.” If science tells us to be determinists, and determinism is incompatible with freedom, shouldn’t we give up on judging people for doing what they were destined to do?That’s what the Stanford neurobiologist Robert M. Sapolsky urges (emphasis added).
Friday, December 8, 2023
#342 / Wholly Determined By The Past?
The November 10, 2023, edition of The New Yorker carried a book review by Nikhil Krishnan. The book he reviewed, by Robert M. Sapolsky, apparently urges this proposition: "We have no free will at all." Sapolsky's book is titled, Determined. The subtitle reads as follows: "A Science of Life Without Free Will."
Here is what immediately caught my eye, as I began reading Krishnan's review of Sapolsky's book:
Well, allow me (once again) to suggest that interested persons should consider my "Two Worlds Hypothesis" before buying into the Laplace-Sapolsky concept of the world in which we live. The world as described in the quotation I have just furnished, above, is a physical world. It is the "Natural World" of the stars and the planets, and we do know, indeed, that there are "laws" that govern this "Natural World," the "physical" world, and that these "laws" describe what must and will happen. If they don't do that, they're not "laws." If it ever happens that we toss a ball into the air, and it doesn't come down, but just hangs in space, beguiling our eyes, we will then consider revising the "Law of Gravity," which has proven, through the centuries, actually to describe and predict what will happen when we toss that ball.
Our own, human world, is not determined, and our "laws" do not state what we must and will do. Our "laws" are officially-adopted statements of what we have decided we want to do. They state not inevitabilities, but possibilities.
Friends, can't we get this distinction through our reluctant brains, and accept that it is "we" who decide what we do, in the world we create? It is not the "Big Bang," whenever and wherever that occurred, millions of years ago. Is the future really wholly "determined by the past?"
Don't you believe it! What we choose to do in the present, right now - what I choose, and you choose - will not only impact the future, it may well determine whether there will be a human future at all.
We are "perilized," I have suggested, but we are not "paralyzed." We are not "wholly determined" by what has happened before. In the Human World that we create, the future depends on what we do right now. If we can stop acting like "spectators," and start taking action, we will be able to prove that to ourselves.