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Thread: Debunking 'Determinism'

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    Default Debunking 'Determinism'

    Some comrades might be interested in these highly controversial remarks I have just posted at Marxmail:

    Ok, here is my summary [of my ideas on 'determinism'], but comrades should not expect a water-tight solution to such a knotty problem in a few paragraphs. I am only posting this because I was asked to do so.

    [I will however be publishing an essay specifically about this in the next few years, where I will substantiate what I have to say below far more fully.]

    This issue has always revolved around the use of terminology drawn from traditional philosophy (such as "determined", "will", "free", and the like), the use of which bears no relation to how these words are employed in ordinary speech.

    For example, "determine" and its cognates are typically used in sentences like this "The rules determine what you can do in chess", "The time of the next train can be determined from the timetable", or "I am determined to go on the demonstration" and so on. Hence this word is normally used in relation to what human beings can do, can apply, or can bring about.

    As we will see, their use in traditional thought inverts this, making nature the agent and human beings the patient. No wonder then that the 'solution' to this artificial problem (i.e., 'determinism' and 'free will') has eluded us for over 2000 years.

    To use an analogy, would we take seriously anyone who wondered when the King and Queen in chess got married, and then wanted to know who conducted the ceremony? Or, whether planning permission had been sought for that castle over in the corner? Such empty questions, of course, have no answer.

    To be sure, this is more difficult to see in relation to the traditional question at hand, but it is nonetheless the result of similar confusions. So, it is my contention that this 'problem' has only arisen because ideologically-motivated theorists (from centuries ago) asked such empty questions, based on a misuse of language. [More on this below.]

    When the details are worked out, 'determinism', for instance, can only be made to seem to work if nature is anthropomorphised, so that such things as 'natural law' 'determine' the course of events -- both in reality in general and in the central nervous system in particular -- thus 'controlling' what we do.

    But, this is to take concepts that properly apply to what we do and can decide, and then impose them on natural events, suggesting that nature is controlled by a cosmic will of some sort. [Why this is so, I will outline presently.]

    So, it's natural to ask: Where is this law written, and who passed it?

    Of course, the answer to these questions is "No one" and "Nowhere", but then how can something that does not exist control anything?

    It could be responded that natural law is just a summary of how things have so far gone up to now. In that case, such 'laws' are descriptive not prescriptive -- but it is the latter of these implications that determinists need.

    Now, the introduction of modal notions here (such as 'must', or 'necessary') cannot be justified from this descriptive nature of 'law' without re-introducing the untoward anthropomorphic connotations mentioned above.

    So, if we say that A has always followed B, we cannot now say A must follow B unless we attribute to B some form of control over A (and recall A has not yet happened, so what B is supposed to be controlling is somewhat obscure). And if we now try to say what we mean by 'control' (on lines such as 'could not be otherwise', or 'B made A happen') we need to explain how B prevented, say, C happening instead, and made sure that A, and only A took place.

    The use of "obey" here would give the game away, since if this word is used with connotations that go beyond mere description, then this will imply that events like A understand the 'law' (like so many good citizens), and always do the same when B beckons, right across the entire universe --, and, indeed, that this 'law' must exist in some form to make things obey it. Of course, if it doesn't mean this, then what does it mean?

    Now, I maintain that any attempt to fill in the details here will introduce notions of will and intelligence into the operation of B on A (and also on C) -- and that is why theorists have found they have had to drag in anthropomorphic concepts here (such as 'determine', 'obey' 'law' and 'control') to fill this gap, failing to note that the use of such words does indeed imply there is a will of some sort operating in nature. [But, note the qualification I introduce here, below. There were ideological reasons why these words were in fact used.]

    If this is denied then 'determine' (etc.) can only be working descriptively, and we are back at square one.

    Incidentally, the above problems are not to be avoided by the introduction of biochemical, neurological, and/or physiological objects and processes. The same questions apply here as elsewhere: how can, for example, a certain chemical 'control' what happens next unless it is intelligent in some way? Reducing this to physics is even worse; how can 'the field' (or whatever) control the future? 'The field' is a mathematical object and no more capable of controlling anything than a Hermite polynomial is. Of course, and once more, to argue otherwise would be to anthropomorphise such things -- which is why I made the argument above abstract, since it covers all bases.

    This also explains why theorists (and particularly scientists who try to popularise their work) find they have to use 'scare quotes' and metaphor everywhere in this area.

    As I noted earlier, this whole way of looking at 'the will' inverts things. We are denied a will (except formally) and nature is granted one. As many might now be able to see, this is yet another aspect of the alienating nature of traditional thought, where words are fetishised and we are dehumanised.

    And this should not surprise us since such questions were originally posed theologically (and thus ideologically), where theorists were quite happy to alienate to 'god' such control over nature and our supposedly 'free' actions'. Hence, we too find that we have to appropriate such distorted terminology if we follow traditional patterns of thought in this area.

    No wonder Marx argued:

    The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life. [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118.]
    And:

    The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. For instance, in an age and in a country where royal power, aristocracy, and bourgeoisie are contending for mastery and where, therefore, mastery is shared, the doctrine of the separation of powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an 'eternal law.' [Ibid., pp.64-65.]
    These concepts "rule" us too if we are suitably uncritical.

    Many of these ideas are not original to me (but the Marxist application of them is). They first appeared, as far as I am aware, in Bertrand Russell's essay:

    Russell, B. (1917a), 'On The Notion Of A Cause', in Russell (1917b), pp.132-51.

    --------, (1917b), Mysticism And Logic (George, Allen and Unwin).

    These ideas can be found explicitly stated in the following (but not from a Marxist angle):

    Gallop, D. (1962), 'On Being Determined', Mind 71, pp.181-96.

    I have also followed this analysis of 'law':

    Swartz, N. (1985), The Concept Of A Physical Law (Cambridge University Press).

    --------, (2006), 'Laws Of Nature', Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

    A PDF of the former can be downloaded here:

    http://www.sfu.ca/philosophy/physical-law/

    The latter is found here:

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/lawofnat/

    Influential Wittgensteinian criticisms of modern scientistic philosophies of 'mind' can be found here:

    Bennett, M., and Hacker, P. (2003), Philosophical Foundations Of Neuroscience (Blackwell).

    --------, (2008), History Of Cognitive Neuroscience (Blackwell).

    Those who think an appeal to ordinary language is inappropriate here should re-read what Marx said above, consult the first half of following, and then think again:

    Button, G., Coulter, J., Lee, J., and Sharrock, W. (1995), Computers, Minds And Conduct (Polity Press).

    The bottom line is that Marxists have been too quick to appropriate concepts and forms-of-thought from traditional (alienated ruling-class) philosophy without subjecting them to close enough scrutiny. Unfortunately, this means that while our politics seems radical enough, our theory (both here and in relation to dialectics, for example) is thoroughly traditional -- and, if I may say so, disconcertingly conservative.

    I explain why I say this in the first few sections of the following:

    http://************************/page%2002.htm

    Finally, I'd try to get this material published in Marxist journals, etc., but I am generally treated as a pariah, and face emotive and irrational hostility wherever I try to present such ideas.

    Seems "ruling ideas rule" comrades who are editors, too.

    RL
    Of course, the above does not imply I believe in something called 'The Freedom of the Will'.

    More about this here:

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/showpost.p...37&postcount=2

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    An interesting post. There are some things I'm not sure of regarding your ideas in this area though.

    You think that the "natural laws" are merely descriptive (rather than prescriptive)? Do you think that there exists something, that could be said to explain why things are? For example, gravity is a human notion, but it is based on observational evidence and science. Presumably, "mass attracts" (i.e. gravity) is true regardless of whether we perceive it, or indeed, whether anything perceives it?


    So, if we say that A has always followed B, we cannot now say A must follow B unless we attribute to B some form of control over A (and recall A has not yet happened, so what B is supposed to be controlling is somewhat obscure). And if we now try to say what we mean by 'control' (on lines such as 'could not be otherwise', or 'B made A happen') we need to explain how B prevented, say, C happening instead, and made sure that A, and only A took place.
    I think this paragraph is a major stumbling point for me. If I pick up a (say) apple, and then let it go, it will (assuming I'm standing on the Earth, and aren't in free fall), "fall" towards the Earth (while, at the same time, the Earth will "fall" towards the apple).

    It appears that you are attacking the entire notion of "causes". B causes A is simply to say that whenever B happens, because of the way that matter and energy interacts, A always happens subsequently. I can't see anyway to include "will" in there at all. I don't think we can say that B controls A (because B has no will), however, I believe we can say that "A must follow B", assuming we interpret "must" to simply mean that there is no physical way for the particular interaction of matter and energy B not to end up in the state of of matter and energy that we regard as A.

    I'm not sure if I'm even making sense to myself here, but, at least I'm making as much sense to myself as the paragraph quoted!

    ----

    What about mathematics? 1 + 1 always equals 2 (even for large values of one ). I note in this thread you also reject the idea that mathematics can be "deterministic". But, do you reject the idea that there are "laws" (for want of a better word) that mean that if you were given one object and then given another object, that you will then always have two objects (assuming no objects to start with) no matter how many times the process is repeated? Does a(b+c) always equal (ab)+(ac)?

    Can this concept be extended into the physical realm, as a descriptor, if nothing else?

    ----

    Finally, what then of how the universe works? If determinism is bunk, what then is the answer? Is there an answer?
    (I notice in one thread you say "This does not mean that indeterminism holds sway; if determinism makes no sense, then its opposite does not either." Sounds a bit dialectal. Please note, I don't actually not very much about dialects, that was a joke, not a serious remark. Apparently not even an original joke, CyM made the same joke in this thread.)

    Does science do an adequate job, to your mind, of describing the universe? Is it possible for "science" to ever provide an universal description of how the universe works?

    I await your answers .
    Last edited by yuon; 21st October 2009 at 12:38. Reason: Because you are a nasty person spreading nasty rumors about the color of my shirt.

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    Yuon:

    You think that the "natural laws" are merely descriptive (rather than prescriptive)? Do you think that there exists something, that could be said to explain why things are? For example, gravity is a human notion, but it is based on observational evidence and science. Presumably, "mass attracts" (i.e. gravity) is true regardless of whether we perceive it, or indeed, whether anything perceives it?
    Well, no, I was actually voicing an obvious objection to the view that such laws actually exist. Note how I put this:

    So, it's natural to ask: Where is this law written, and who passed it?

    Of course, the answer to these questions is "No one" and "Nowhere", but then how can something that does not exist control anything?

    It could be responded that natural law is just a summary of how things have so far gone up to now. In that case, such 'laws' are descriptive not prescriptive -- but it is the latter of these implications that determinists need.
    You:

    Do you think that there exists something, that could be said to explain why things are? For example, gravity is a human notion, but it is based on observational evidence and science. Presumably, "mass attracts" (i.e. gravity) is true regardless of whether we perceive it, or indeed, whether anything perceives it?
    Well, this brings in deep questions about what counts as an 'explanation'. What I would say is that these 'laws' are rules we use to help us make sense of nature and 'balance the books' as it were. Us Wittgensteinians call them 'forms of representation'.

    Anything else stands in danger of attributing will, intention and purpose to nature, which, of course, makes no sense at all.

    And you must know that in Relativity theory, mass does no such thing; it moves naturally along geodesics, depending on how these are 'warped' in Spacetime.

    This metaphor is not much better; according to Newton, mass moves as if it were on a piano wire, whereas for Einstein it moves along tram lines! But neither of these can explain why things happen without introducing the anthropomorphic notions I outlined in my last post. Hence the use of such metaphors (like 'attract', 'warped', and so on).

    As I note in this thread, we still have no idea why anything actually happens in nature (and nor are we ever likely to):

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/true-conce...485/index.html

    I think this paragraph is a major stumbling point for me. If I pick up a (say) apple, and then let it go, it will (assuming I'm standing on the Earth, and aren't in free fall), "fall" towards the Earth (while, at the same time, the Earth will "fall" towards the apple).
    Well, we certainly use our knowledge of the past, or some scientific principle or other, to predict that it will fall, but there is nothing in nature that controls it -- unless we believe that gravity issues order which apples have to obey.

    It appears that you are attacking the entire notion of "causes". B causes A is simply to say that whenever B happens, because of the way that matter and energy interacts, A always happens subsequently. I can't see anyway to include "will" in there at all. I don't think we can say that B controls A (because B has no will), however, I believe we can say that "A must follow B", assuming we interpret "must" to simply mean that there is no physical way for the particular interaction of matter and energy B not to end up in the state of matter and energy that we regard as A.
    Certainly use a 'must' here if you want to, but only as an expression of what we expect to happen. But there are no 'musts' in nature, unless, once more, you think that one event, or series of events, can command the future. But, in order to do that, it/they must have intelligence, foresight and will.

    And I'm not attacking causation, only pointing out that when we extend our everyday notions of cause (which are reassuringly rich) into nature we naturally attribute to nature capacities it does and cannot have -- unless, that is, we see nature as controlled by Mind, etc.

    Now, when you try to fill in the details behind this:

    assuming we interpret "must" to simply mean that there is no physical way for the particular interaction of matter and energy B not to end up in the state of matter and energy that we regard as A
    you will only be able to do so if you re-introduce notions of control and will. Otherwise this is just a table-thumping way of saying "I can't imagine it not happening!".

    It is so easy to drift off into anthropomorphism here, which is why such animistic ideas have dominated thought for over 2000 years.

    What about mathematics? 1 + 1 always equals 2 (even for large values of one ). I note in this thread you also reject the idea that mathematics can be "deterministic". But, do you reject the idea that there are "laws" (for want of a better word) that mean that if you were given one object and then given another object, that you will then always have two objects (assuming no objects to start with) no matter how many times the process is repeated? Does a(b+c) always equal (ab)+(ac)?
    Well, these are just rules we use to help us in our day-to-day practice (unless they become objects of study themselves, in Pure Mathematics).

    And I did not do this:

    I note in this thread you also reject the idea that mathematics can be "deterministic".
    The rules we have in mathematics we certainly use to help us determine what we should conclude and then maybe what we should do (which, as you will no doubt recall is what I said was the proper remit of this word), but they cannot determine anything on their own since they are just lifeless signs!

    Finally, what then of how the universe works? If determinism is bunk, what then is the answer? Is there an answer?

    (I notice in one thread you say "This does not mean that indeterminism holds sway; if determinism makes no sense, then its opposite does not either." Sounds a bit dialectal. Please note, I don't actually not very much about dialects, that was a joke, not a serious remark. Apparently not even an original joke, CyM made the same joke in this thread.)
    Again, it depends on what you mean by 'answer'.

    And I am Ok with 'dialectical' when it is employed as say Aristotle would have used it -- but not as dialectical marxists use it -- as a set of principles that lay down a priori laws that govern all of reality. And I used to make this sort of response to CYM, but it didn't even go in one ear, never mind out the other.

    Does science do an adequate job, to your mind, of describing the universe? Is it possible for "science" to ever provide an universal description of how the universe works?
    I am all for more and better science, since it helps us control nature. But when it becomes an ideology, when it becomes scientism, I'm agin it (to use a northern expression).

    An excellent example of scientism can be seen in Mo212's posts here:

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/criticisms...040/index.html

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    Well, thanks for those answers! I'm pretty sure that cleared up most, if not all, of the questions and issues I had with your original post. Actually though, as might be expected, your post raises a couple more things I'm not sure on.
    Certainly use a 'must' here if you want to, but only as an expression of what we expect to happen. But there are no 'musts' in nature, unless, once more, you think that one event, or series of events, can command the future. But, in order to do that, it/they must have intelligence, foresight and will.

    And I'm not attacking causation, only pointing out that when we extend our everyday notions of cause (which are reassuringly rich) into nature we naturally attribute to nature capacities it does and cannot have -- unless, that is, we see nature as controlled by Mind, etc.
    Could you go into more detail here about what you mean by "causation", our "everyday notions" of causation (I assume that you mean something like, I hit the bottle, which caused it to fall), and how these don't hold up when we attribute them to nature?

    Would you say it is incorrect or not useful to say something like, "the neutron hit the uranium atom causing it to split into smaller atoms and other particles"? Is that more or less useful than "I hit the bottle causing it to fall"?

    Oh, and I assume that you are familiar with Hume (for those who aren't, see 1, 2 and 3), are you implying that the problem of induction is in effect being ignored by most people?
    Now, when you try to fill in the details behind this:

    assuming we interpret "must" to simply mean that there is no physical way for the particular interaction of matter and energy B not to end up in the state of matter and energy that we regard as A
    you will only be able to do so if you re-introduce notions of control and will. Otherwise this is just a table-thumping way of saying "I can't imagine it not happening!".

    It is so easy to drift off into anthropomorphism here, which is why such animistic ideas have dominated thought for over 2000 years.
    I disagree that it is necessary to "re-introduce notions of control and will". Surely it is sufficient to say that "it is a necessity of how the universe is that when B happens, A follows"? It is a necessity in the same way that 1+1=2.
    Last edited by yuon; 21st October 2009 at 14:39. Reason: I say, the color of the sky is rather gray today.

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    Quote Originally Posted by yuon View Post
    What about mathematics? 1 + 1 always equals 2 (even for large values of one ).
    But "2" is only a conventional name. 1+1 = 1+1.

    The question is that the tachygraphical system for mathematics allows calculation, so that I can solve a problem like finding how much is 56478397+677932 without actually counting from 56478397 to the sum - in fact, without even thinking about any of those quantities at all.

    Unfortunately, the naming system we have for pretty much anything else doesn't have such property.

    Does a(b+c) always equal (ab)+(ac)?
    Yes...

    (I notice in one thread you say "This does not mean that indeterminism holds sway; if determinism makes no sense, then its opposite does not either."
    I would be wary of this line of reasoning. Does it make sence to say "God exists"? If it doesn't, does saying "God doesn't exist" make sence"? If being logical makes sence, does it follow that being illogical makes sence too?

    I fear that we could be here making word games about the meaning of the word "sence". For instance, I can say that any of the following sentences "make no sence":


    1. Unicorns stipflate.
    2. Unicorns exist.
    3. Unicorns are all pink.
    4. Unicorns are all pink, except for those that are not.
    5. Unicorns are horses with a single horn in their forehead.

    But "making no sence" means a different thing for each of these sentences, and so the "negation" of each of those sentences bears different "making sence" values:

    Unicorns don't stipflate. (as we haven't the leastest idea on what "to stipflate" means, both this sentence and the sentence it negates are totally devoid of sence.)

    Unicorns don't exist. (it makes no sence to state the existence of an animal that has never been observed - but denying such existence doesn't seem to lack sence at all.)

    Unicorns aren't all pink. (this may have a double meaning - it could be affirming that unicorns indeed exist, but are not pink; or it could be implying that something that doesn't exist cannot be pink.)

    It is not the case that all unicorns are either pink or not pink. (evidently, if unicorns existed, then they would either be pink or not, so this sentence is logically flawed [it doesn't make sence if the sentence it negates makes sence]; but since unicorns don't exist, they in fact "are" neither pink nor not-pink [it makes sence when the sentence it negates doesn't].)

    Unicorns are not horses with a horn on their forehead. (well, they aren't, because they don't exist; but that's the description of "unicorns" as far as we know - that would be what they are, if they existed...)

    So we would have to know in what sence determinism "makes no sence" in order to understand whether undeterminism makes sence or not.

    Luís Henrique

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    Yuon:

    Could you go into more detail here about what you mean by "causation", our "everyday notions" of causation (I assume that you mean something like, I hit the bottle, which caused it to fall), and how these don't hold up when we attribute them to nature?
    Well the everyday language of causation is fortunately exceedingly rich, and includes words such as:

    adjust, amend, make, produce, revise, improve, deteriorate, edit, bend, straighten, weave, dig, plough, sow, twist, turn, tighten, fasten, loosen, relax, tense up, slacken, bind, wrap, pluck, rip, tear, mend, perforate, repair, damage, sharpen, modify, widen, lock, unlock, differentiate, divide, partition, unite, amalgamate, connect, drop, pick up, wind, unwind, push, pull, peel, scrape, graze, file, scour, dislodge, shatter, mix, separate, cut, chop, crush, grind, shred, slice, dice, saw, sew, knit, spread, climb, rise, ascend, descend, slide, slip, roll, spin, revolve, oscillate, protest, challenge, expel, eject, remove, overthrow, expropriate, scatter, gather, assemble, defeat, strike, revolt, riot, march, demonstrate, rebel, campaign, agitate, organise...
    and many many more.

    Language, originally the result of collective labour and developed as a means of communication, is not too good at representing things. In order to try to do so, theorists found they had to take words which express the relations human beings have with one another and with nature and then apply them to the relations that exist in nature itself. Unless great care is taken, these words will carry with them the inter-human connotations they possess in their ordinary use. Alas, traditional theorists were recklessly careless.

    Superstitious individuals had earlier tried to interpret natural processes as the work of various assorted 'spirits' and 'gods', using anthropomorphic language in order to do so. Later, in more developed class society, priests and theologians systematically indulged in this 'art form' for ideological reasons (i.e., to suggest that the natural and social order was divinely-ordained, and so could not and should not be resisted). Subsequently, as we can see from the record, ancient Greek thinkers began looking for increasingly secular ways of theorising about the world (to give a less animistic rationale for the new forms of class society beginning to emerge in the 6th century BC), but they retained this transferred and transformed language, not noticing they had in fact banished the aforementioned 'spirits' and 'gods' in name only (as Feuerbach half recognised) -- but, the anthropomorphic connotations still remained, and there they remain to this day.

    I try to explain why they did this -- and still do -- and thus why dialecticians also do this, here:

    http://************************/Rest_of..._of_Twelve.htm

    The ideology these days underlying such scientistic theories involve somewhat similar reasoning: nature and society are the way they are and you can do nothing about it, and that includes oppression, exploitation, racism and sexism. It's in our genes, and we are all 'determined' by our somatic and genetic inheritance. You can't argue with science, so don't even try. Just doff your cap and get back to work. You should be grateful for a job...

    Would you say it is incorrect or not useful to say something like, "the neutron hit the uranium atom causing it to split into smaller atoms and other particles"? Is that more or less useful than "I hit the bottle causing it to fall"?
    No problem with that, so long as this is viewed as an explanation in an attenuated sense. Since such 'particles' are just probability waves (so we are told), they cannot interact literally. On that see below (except I use the example of forces not particles to illustrate this point, but the same reasoning applies).

    In theoretical philosophy we do not have a successful theory of interaction (at this level, or even in the macro world). I try to say why in this debate with Lynx:

    Lynx:

    Fields are real world objects that lend themselves to mathematical analysis - perhaps you are referring to the (imaginary) lines of force?
    In that case, what are fields made of? If they are made of nothing, how are they different from nothing? If they are made of something, what holds them together but other forces? In that case, you'd be explaining force by means of force, and thus going round in circles.

    Fields don't make objects move, but they can affect the lines of force, by diverting and concentrating them. Flux density is an often used term. The magnitude of the force is represented by the number of lines of force per given area.
    Once more, how can fields do this if they are made of nothing? And if they are made of something, then other forces (of cohesion, resistance, etc.) come into play, as noted above.

    In that case, you'd have forces changing the motion of bodies.

    But, forces are not made of anything; so how can they affect the motion of bodies?

    This is in fact the classic problem posed by Leibniz, to which no one has been able to think of an effective answer. There isn't much on-line on this, but the following partly explains the background:

    http://www.garybanham.net/LECTURES_f...ALECTURE16.pdf

    And several related issues are explained by one of my old teachers:

    "As significant as his critique of Descartes' mechanics was Leibniz's attack on Newton's account of force. In the Principles, Newton limited himself to describing interactions between bodies in terms of general mathematical laws. This limitation was both a strength and a weakness. Newton succeeded in making the complexities of nature amenable to mathematical description only by simplifying the phenomena: by treating material particles as if they were infinitely hard yet infinitely elastic, concentrated at points, capable of exchanging any amount of force all at once, connected by forces operating instantaneously at a distance, and so on. Leibniz complained that this made Newton's system an idealised abstraction, which could not possibly be true of the real world. In reality, nothing was absolutely hard or elastic, nothing happened instantaneously, and every causal interaction was mediated by a complex mechanism. In general terms, Newton would have agreed with Leibniz's comment. He too believed in underlying mechanisms, but he refused to speculate about them in the Principles (his famous, 'I do not invent hypotheses')....

    "Much later, in his Specimen of Dynamics (1695), Leibniz tried to give an account of the mechanism which mediated exchanges of force between colliding bodies. In real collisions (unlike Newton's idealisations), there had to be a finite period during which one body slowed down and the other picked up speed. This implied that bodies had a certain size, and were not absolutely hard or elastic, since the only conceivable mechanism for transfer of force was that bodies were first squashed together, and then gradually sprang back from each other once all the kinetic energy had been taken up. However, as soon as it is accepted that transfer of force between every day objects must be mediated by a mechanism, there is no point at which you stop needing smaller and smaller sub-mechanisms. At no level can you suddenly say that force is transferred directly.

    "Elasticity is itself a phenomenon requiring explanation in terms of pushings of particles. At the first instant of impact, the outermost particles of each colliding body push against their neighbours, and these in turn push against their neighbours, and so on right through each body. But then each of these pushings needs to be explained by the compression of sub-particles, and so on to infinity. The conclusion Leibniz drew was that, ultimately, forces were not really transferred at all. All action was, as he put it, spontaneous. The energy required for a body's motion on the occasion of an impact, had to be drawn from its own resources, since it could not actually take up any energy from bodies impinging on it....

    "An even more significant aspect of the theory was its abandonment of the traditional notion that matter was essentially inert. Leibniz saw that if the only function of matter was as a passive carrier of forces, then it had no role to play in scientific explanation. Its only role would be the metaphysical one of satisfying the prejudice that forces must inhere in something more substantial than themselves. He maintained that matter was nothing other than the receptive capacity of things, or their 'passive power', as he called it. Matter just was the capacity to slow other things down, and to be accelerated rather than penetrated (capacities which ghosts and shadows lack) -- in other words, inertia or mass, and solidity. So, taking also into account 'active powers' such as kinetic energy, Leibniz reduced matter to a complex of forces. In this he was anticipating modern field theory, which treats material particles as concentrated fields of force –- an anticipation duly recognised by its founder, the Italian mathematician Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscovich (1711-87)." [Ross (1984) Leibniz, pp.40-44.]
    http://www.revleft.com/vb/showpost.p...2&postcount=17

    This remains unsolved to this day, and I would maintain that it is insoluble, since it is a direct result of trying to view language as a means of representation, and thus treating the metaphors theorists have to use because of this as if they were literally true.

    Oh, and I assume that you are familiar with Hume (for those who aren't, see 1, 2 and 3), are you implying that the problem of induction is in effect being ignored by most people?
    Indeed, but my argument bears no relation to Hume's.

    I disagree that it is necessary to "re-introduce notions of control and will". Surely it is sufficient to say that "it is a necessity of how the universe is that when B happens, A follows"? It is a necessity in the same way that 1+1=2.
    But, where does this 'necessity' come from? As soon as you try to say, you have to introduce the sorts of terms I alleged.

    Of course, if this is just a description underlined by thumping the table (which is what the use of this word in the end inevitably implies), then it cannot be 'necessary'. And that is what I said would happen in my original post.

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    Rosa:
    Indeed, but my argument bears no relation to Hume's.
    Quite the contrary. I find your critique of "necessity", with which I agree, to be essentially Hume's. Indeed, the "Enquiry" is quite emphatic about the fact that we impute our prejudices about human activity upon "necessary" "natural" relationships. Whatever one thinks of Hume's broader project, if I may be so blunt, what precisely is it that distinguishes your original post and subsequent explications about determinism from Hume's argument(s) against causation?
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    First I'll just say that I'm history oriented, not philosophy oriented so maybe I'm jsut missing the obvious. But how does this impact anything?

    I can think of specific ways that language has been used in Science to imply some kind of magical process... social darwinism - or many crude interpretations of darwin use phrases such as "the assent of man" that imply that evolution is a series of perfect steps rather than a more fluid trial and error and accident process.

    But often these misconceptions are actually political rather than some inexactness or laziness of language. Social Darwinists had an interest in trying to show that industrial capitalism was the last and most perfected step in social evolution and that inequality was actually the "survival of the fittest".

    People anthropomorphize EVERYTHING! I'm usually argue that nature really plays a small role in human behavior, but I think our brains are hardwired to understand social dynamics because we are social creatures. We can look at a tree and feel a false empathy towards it thinking that it's "sad" or "tired" because the tree is in poor health. Boats are women, people attribute personality to their cars all the time... but somehow we still manage to take the car to a mechanic rather than a psychologist when it's acting sluggish.

    In other words, I think that we can say "laws of nature" without thinking that there is some supernatural force behind observable phenomenon. The fact that people take science and inject some pseudo-science in it has less to do with language and more to do with the influence of the "ruling ideas" Marx talked about and whose interests those ideas serve.

    Again, I might be missing the point entirely. I'm at work right now and so I was interrupted several times while reading the post. Excuses excuses.

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    MarxSchmarx:

    Quite the contrary. I find your critique of "necessity", with which I agree, to be essentially Hume's. Indeed, the "Enquiry" is quite emphatic about the fact that we impute our prejudices about human activity upon "necessary" "natural" relationships. Whatever one thinks of Hume's broader project, if I may be so blunt, what precisely is it that distinguishes your original post and subsequent explications about determinism from Hume's argument(s) against causation?
    It has absolutely nothing to do with Hume's argument, which is epistemological and psychologistic. Mine is neither.

    I am quite happy to acknowledge necessary connections in causation, but these are forms of representation, based on what we say about causation by our use of language.

    In other words, I accept de dicto but not de re necessities.

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    Gravedigger:

    But often these misconceptions are actually political rather than some inexactness or laziness of language. Social Darwinists had an interest in trying to show that industrial capitalism was the last and most perfected step in social evolution and that inequality was actually the "survival of the fittest".
    I agree, but I think this goes deeper, I think, and brings in questions connected with the nature of ruling-class ideology -- and here it is quite easy to show that, in philosophy at least, such ideological orientations are connected with a misuse of language.

    In popular science (and particularly evolutionary psychology), too, this also appears in the use of the phrase 'selfish genes', and other anthropomorphic terms in Neo-Darwinism, for example -- as indeed, I think you noted.

    In other words, I think that we can say "laws of nature" without thinking that there is some supernatural force behind observable phenomenon. The fact that people take science and inject some pseudo-science in it has less to do with language and more to do with the influence of the "ruling ideas" Marx talked about and whose interests those ideas serve.
    Again, I agree, but, as Marx also noted, this arises from a distortion of language:

    The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life. [Marx and Engels (1970) The German Ideology, p.118. Bold emphases added.]
    Moreover, when any attempt is made by traditional philosophers to try to fill in the details relating to the operation of 'physical law', these anthropomorphic ideas simply re-appear, and in the way I have outlined in the above posts. [You will find examples of this phenomenon in the references I added to the OP.]

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    Rosa:

    It has absolutely nothing to do with Hume's argument, which is epistemological and psychologistic. Mine is neither.

    I am quite happy to acknowledge necessary connections in causation, but these are forms of representation, based on what we say about causation by our use of language.
    Well why aren't "forms of representation" and use of language inherently "psychologistic"? Certainly problems relating to understanding how they come about and whether they can be justified seems a very epistemological problem.

    In other words, I accept de dicto but not de re necessities.
    My understanding, and I am not a philosopher, is that this is in fact a pretty mainstream position among practicing philosophers.
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    MarxSchmarx:

    Well why aren't "forms of representation" and use of language inherently "psychologistic"? Certainly problems relating to understanding how they come about and whether they can be justified seems a very epistemological problem.
    No they are logical.

    My understanding, and I am not a philosopher, is that this is in fact a pretty mainstream position among practicing philosophers.
    Well, it was until Saul Kripke wrote 'Naming and Necessity'; now, if there is such a thing as 'maintstream', it is that necessities can be de re, de dicto and/or de se.

    And, the Wittgensteinian slant on de dicto is different, too.

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    I think Rosa is in danger of slipping of into idealism with some of this.
    And you must know that in Relativity theory, mass does no such thing; it moves naturally along geodesics, depending on how these are 'warped' in Spacetime.

    This metaphor is not much better; according to Newton, mass moves as if it were on a piano wire, whereas for Einstein it moves along tram lines! But neither of these can explain why things happen without introducing the anthropomorphic notions I outlined in my last post. Hence the use of such metaphors (like 'attract', 'warped', and so on).
    The words attract or warp are not really anthropomorphic notions other than to the extent that they are words which describe the behaviour of parts of the material world as experienced through our sensory and motor systems. For instance the notion of gravitational attraction uses the word attraction as an analogy with the magnetic attraction that we can feel with our fingers when we bring iron near a magnet. The use of the word warping applied to space time is based on a metaphor with the way cloth warps, with the threads representing the original geodesics.

    The words are metaphorical, because that is something we are forced to do if we are going to use language to communicate, but in the course of their new usage, the words acquire technical meanings that were not present in the original usage.

    At the same time as this presentation of the theory is expressed in prose, there is, at least in non popular works, a technical presentation in maths, and the scientists learning the theory attribute meanings to the prose in from the maths.

    The use of the term 'natural law' is also a metaphor, used to talk about certain very general invariants in reality. If we take the 'circuit law' for example, that says that the sum of current into and out of a node must be equal, this is just a concise way of expressing a consequence of the invariance or conservation of charge.

    One could call this a law or one could call it a theorem, or one could call it an axiom, or one could call it Kirchoff's equation. These labellings all have metaphorical linkages to other domains of discourse, but there is nothing sinister about this, it is just an inevitable step in the extension of linguistic meaning.

    When one uses the terms deterministic versus non deterministic in scientific discussions we have a quite special meaning to them. You can indeed, as Rosa has done, construct an 'archéologie du savoir' about the word determinism after the style of Foucalt. Tracing its use back to ideas from juridical ideology, but that has only the most tenous bearing on the way the word is now used.

    A deterministic theory gives a definite final state as a result of the model plus the boundary conditions. A non-deterministic theory gives a probability density function over states as a result of the boundary conditions and the passage of time. Note the in physics literature one would often get the phrase 'dynamical laws' instead of model above, but this substition of one label for another would have no bearing on what scientists mean by deterministic or non deterministic theories.

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    Paul:

    The words attract or warp are not really anthropomorphic notions other than to the extent that they are words which describe the behaviour of parts of the material world as experienced through our sensory and motor systems. For instance the notion of gravitational attraction uses the word attraction as an analogy with the magnetic attraction that we can feel with our fingers when we bring iron near a magnet. The use of the word warping applied to space time is based on a metaphor with the way cloth warps, with the threads representing the original geodesics.
    Well, I covered this in what I wrote:

    Language, originally the result of collective labour and developed as a means of communication, is not too good at representing things. In order to try to do so, theorists found they had to take words which express the relations human beings have with one another and with nature and then apply them to the relations that exist in nature itself. Unless great care is taken, these words will carry with them the inter-human connotations they possess in their ordinary use. Alas, traditional theorists were recklessly careless.
    The verb 'attract' is one of the words we use (by analogy with attraction between two human beings, perhaps) to account for a natural processes, like magnetism, and later to account for gravitation.

    The words are metaphorical, because that is something we are forced to do if we are going to use language to communicate, but in the course of their new usage, the words acquire technical meanings that were not present in the original usage.
    And this is a point I made too:

    Language, originally the result of collective labour and developed as a means of communication, is not too good at representing things. In order to try to do so, theorists found they had to take words which express the relations human beings have with one another and with nature and then apply them to the relations that exist in nature itself. Unless great care is taken, these words will carry with them the inter-human connotations they possess in their ordinary use. Alas, traditional theorists were recklessly careless.
    This is something Leibniz, for example, was aware of (in his own way), in his attempt to account for interaction, which is why he explained it in terms of the pre-established harmony between monads (tiny minds). In the end, he saw quite clearly that if a philosophical account is to be given of interaction, notions connected to will and intention must be brought in. As far as I can see, no one has been able to show where he went wrong. So, his work amounted to an inadvertent reductio ad absurdum of determinism.

    And, no problem with the technical meaning of the terms scientists use, but when the details are filled in, how does the 'attraction' here work?

    If this word is being used merely descriptively, no problem, once more (as I noted in my OP); but as soon as it is used to explain why things happen one way and not another, and why the always will happen this way, then an appeal will have to be made to the animistic connotations this word (and others) used to have, and in many cases, still have.

    Paul is invited to fill in the physical details, here, without this happening.

    The use of the term 'natural law' is also a metaphor, used to talk about certain very general invariants in reality. If we take the 'circuit law' for example, that says that the sum of current into and out of a node must be equal, this is just a concise way of expressing a consequence of the invariance or conservation of charge.
    And this is what I also said. But, when this term is used to give content to determinism, it ceases to be a metaphor, it ceases to be descriptive and becomes a word that is used to explain why things could not be any other way, as if event/object B (referred to in my OP) had control over the future, or over other objects/events, A.

    And as far as the physics is concerned, I covered this too! When physicists tell us things like this:

    If we take the 'circuit law' for example, that says that the sum of current into and out of a node must be equal, this is just a concise way of expressing a consequence of the invariance or conservation of charge
    This is a description of what does in fact happen. If this now were to become part of an attempt to tell us what must happen, then, when the details are filled in (and we do not just wave our hands at this), the untoward connotations I mentioned in my OP will re-emerge. From my OP:

    Incidentally, the above problems are not to be avoided by the introduction of biochemical, neurological, and/or physiological objects and processes. The same questions apply here as elsewhere: how can, for example, a certain chemical 'control' what happens next unless it is intelligent in some way? Reducing this to physics is even worse; how can 'the field' (or whatever) control the future? 'The field' is a mathematical object and no more capable of controlling anything than a Hermite polynomial is. Of course, and once more, to argue otherwise would be to anthropomorphise such things -- which is why I made the argument above abstract, since it covers all bases.

    This also explains why theorists (and particularly scientists who try to popularise their work) find they have to use 'scare quotes' and metaphor everywhere in this area.
    Paul:

    One could call this a law or one could call it a theorem, or one could call it an axiom, or one could call it Kirchoff's equation. These labellings all have metaphorical linkages to other domains of discourse, but there is nothing sinister about this, it is just an inevitable step in the extension of linguistic meaning.
    Sure, there is nothing 'sinister' about this; I can't think what it was in my OP that suggested otherwise. And there us no problem with the extension to language; this is indeed how science progresses. Problems only begin when these theorems (etc) are recruited philosophically so that they give content to determinism -- which is not a scientific theory.

    When one uses the terms deterministic versus non deterministic in scientific discussions we have a quite special meaning to them. You can indeed, as Rosa has done, construct an 'archéologie du savoir' about the word determinism after the style of Foucalt. Tracing its use back to ideas from juridical ideology, but that has only the most tenuous bearing on the way the word is now used.
    Scientists are at liberty to use this word ('determinism') as they see fit, unless they try to import connotations from the philosophical use of this word, that is, when they attempt to give us a philosophical theory of how the present binds the future.

    When they do attempt to do this, that is were notions of control and will enter in -- as I pointed out (clearly I had thought!) in my OP.

    A deterministic theory gives a definite final state as a result of the model plus the boundary conditions. A non-deterministic theory gives a probability density function over states as a result of the boundary conditions and the passage of time. Note the in physics literature one would often get the phrase 'dynamical laws' instead of model above, but this substitution of one label for another would have no bearing on what scientists mean by deterministic or non deterministic theories.
    No problem with this either, except when this ceases to be merely descriptive, and becomes a way of explaining how a present state of affairs B (from my OP) controls the production of a future state A.

    When that is done, and the details are filled in, that is where the science turns into anthropomorphic metaphysics.

    And, if Paul still disagrees, he is once again invited to fill in these physical details. How exactly does the present control the production of the future? How precisely does B ensure that A is always produced and not C?

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    And, if Paul still disagrees, he is once again invited to fill in these physical details. How exactly does the present control the production of the future? How precisely does B ensure that A is always produced and not C?
    One can not answer that in the abstract, apart from particular examples. But in general I do not accept tha the present determines the future. That is a one sided view of things. Mechanics is time reversible so the present is determined by the future and the future by the present. The idea that there is an order to time and that it moves is definitely a projection from the way things appear to us.

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    The verb 'attract' is one of the words we use (by analogy with attraction between two human beings, perhaps) to account for a natural processes, like magnetism, and later to account for gravitation.
    I think that the metaphor goes the other way. Children learn to play with magnets and about the attractive power of magnets long before puberty and long before they have any idea of what sexual
    'attraction' is.

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    Paul:

    One can not answer that in the abstract, apart from particular examples. But in general I do not accept that the present determines the future.
    Well, this is what we do in philosophy, and it is what scientists try to do when they extend their theories into a cosmic (or even local) principle which binds the future.

    And when you say this:

    That is a one sided view of things. Mechanics is time reversible so the present is determined by the future and the future by the present. The idea that there is an order to time and that it moves is definitely a projection from the way things appear to us.
    you are indeed trying to make an abstract point -- and I invite you once again to say how anything can 'determine' the future without importing the untoward anthropomorphic connotations I outlined on my OP.

    Sure, we can use mechanics to determine what we take the future to be, but nature cannot do that, unless you think nature has a will, or is mind.

    I think that the metaphor goes the other way. Children learn to play with magnets and about the attractive power of magnets long before puberty and long before they have any idea of what sexual 'attraction' is.
    Well, you do know, I presume, that the ancients believed that magnets could do this because of cosmic 'sympathies' (derived from a theological view of nature), and because there was a 'soul' in each magnet.

    Thales, for example, held that a magnet contained a soul:

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=i...netism&f=false

    As did many others (including Hegel; even Engels noted this fact).

    So, the use of 'attract' and 'repel' here are connected with mind and will, as I suggested.

    But, you are once again invited to explain how a magnet can 'attract' anything without the use of animistic terms.

    And an appeal to the 'field' will be to no avail here, for the reasons I outlined in my OP:

    Incidentally, the above problems are not to be avoided by the introduction of biochemical, neurological, and/or physiological objects and processes. The same questions apply here as elsewhere: how can, for example, a certain chemical 'control' what happens next unless it is intelligent in some way? Reducing this to physics is even worse; how can 'the field' (or whatever) control the future? 'The field' is a mathematical object and no more capable of controlling anything than a Hermite polynomial is. Of course, and once more, to argue otherwise would be to anthropomorphise such things -- which is why I made the argument above abstract, since it covers all bases.

    This also explains why theorists (and particularly scientists who try to popularise their work) find they have to use 'scare quotes' and metaphor everywhere in this area.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Cockshott View Post
    One can not answer that in the abstract, apart from particular examples. But in general I do not accept tha the present determines the future. That is a one sided view of things. Mechanics is time reversible so the present is determined by the future and the future by the present. The idea that there is an order to time and that it moves is definitely a projection from the way things appear to us.
    If the present is determined by the future and we don't know the future, we might as well give up now, surely?

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    Thales, for example, held that a magnet contained a soul:

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=i...netism&f=false

    As did many others (including Hegel; even Engels noted this fact).

    So, the use of 'attract' and 'repel' here are connected with mind and will, as I suggested.

    .
    This is the diachrony of metaphor not the synchrony. Today when a child learns about attraction they do it in terms of observation of magnets. This is the first meaning. They learn the interpersonal meaning at a much later stage as a metaphor.

    But, you are once again invited to explain how a magnet can 'attract' anything without the use of animistic terms
    Classically it would be explained as a consequence of the conservation of the sum of potential and kinetic energy. If a piece of iron is closer to the magnet rather than further away, its potential energy falls, and in consequence its kinetic energy must rise to balance this, resulting in motion.

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    Reducing this to physics is even worse; how can 'the field' (or whatever) control the future? 'The field' is a mathematical object and no more capable of controlling anything than a Hermite polynomial is.
    Why are fields unable to determine the motion of particles?

    Have you a new physics to replace the standard theory of electromagnetism?

    We represent fields as we do all physics using mathematical concepts, but these are in the main concepts either specifically developed to deal with the problem, or else ones carefully selected from a repertoire in order to get ones that correspond to material reality. Do you doubt that fields have a real existence?

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