On Determinism

Tibor Benke (benke@SFU.CA)
Sun, 29 May 1994 19:56:45 -0700

have already confessed to being cognitively and physically challanged to an
unspecified degree and that I am merely a student. You have been warned -
I am not responsible for you deciding or being compelled to read this!]

It seems to me that the question of determinism vs. Free Will, is a
question which in philosophy class, my teachers dismissed as "metaphysical"
by which they meant that one could bring up arguments for at least three
sides, (or was it only two? - or was that about dualism as a metaphysical
principle?) all of which are equally wanting, though the logical
consistency of the arguments might be impeccable. I vaguely remember
something about synthetic and analytic arguments as well, and also Godel
and "formally undecideable propositions" - whatever that means. I was
'into' metaphysics at the time, or so I thought, (if I had known what it
means, maybe I would have ignored it) but I couldn't expect the rest of the
class to waste their time until I was convinced that it deserved to be
dismissed. Also, I was real bad at formal logic, so I had to drop the

There are, first of all, the arguments for determinism. As far as I can
remember, they proceeded by 'reductio ad absurdum' and I thought they were
boring and absurd and I paid no attention - which shows that my attention
is determined by what I find interesting. Anyway, if one takes a concrete
example of behavior, one can always make a pretty plausible case that it
was determined by something or other and that "thingie" was also determined
by something or other, ....endless causal chain...[or]...endless spiral
regress and i'm getting dizzy, the carpet too is moving, etcetera.

Then there are the arguments for free will. They usually are subjective
and empirical. How can I deny that there is free will, when I make
decisions almost every second of my life - I decided to write this
meditation, and nobody could have predicted it, except maybe Sigmund or
someone who knows what a procrastinator I am who will do anything as long
as it isn't useful. On the other hand, there are other useless things I
could do, such as check on the progress of the second round Hungarian
Elections today, even though I suspect, the commies are gonna win, just a
matter of how much?. So, relying on my own experience, I know that if I
merely will that this letter be composed and sent for your edification, it
won't happen, but if I press the right keys in the right sequence, I can
make the probability that it will appear on ANTHRO-L
<ANTHRO-L@UBVM.cc.buffalo.edu>.approach 1. As to whether the accumulation
of childhood traumas I suffered predetermined that I would type this, and
so incoherently, I cannot say, but even Sigmund claimed, given sufficient
analysis, I might be cured.

Finally, there are the arguments that seem to cut through it all, but leave
one unsatisfied, like oriental meals and wisdom are said to. Free Will
would mean nothing unless, some (most?) things were predictable and for
that they must be determined. When I push the keys the letters which
represent the phonemes which make the words which make the sentences which
make this letter will, almost for certain, appear on the screen of my
computer. Whether they appear on your screen is almost as highly probable,
given the miracle of modern electronic communication technology, and
provided that my attention span lasts long enough for me to finish this and
send it to ANTHRO-L <ANTHRO-L@UBVM.cc.buffalo.edu>. Thus, if there were
only a 50% chance, or less,(<.5) of this gettting sent out, I'd probably
choose some other way to avoid goal directed behavior. On the other hand,
even if it does get sent out, what are the chances that adamant
determinists will even care, let alone change their minds? (This is the
problem with attention deficit disorder, there is always that still small
voice saying "who cares?") At any rate, it seems undeniable, that for such
a thing as free will to have a meaning at all, let alone exist in the
here-and-now, our environment must be determined enough to be coherent, but
contingent to some degree as well.

But it does seem to me that from a subjective point of view, [how redundant
can I get - just putting off getting to the silly point] it is like the old
game of paper scissors rock whatever. Something always beats something in
that case, and something always determines something in this one. From my
point of view, fortunately, whoever flames this article is determined,
whoever agrees with it has Free Will, and the last one in the cyberpool is
a rotten egg.

Perhaps another way to ask the question might help? Does omniscience mean
omnipotence? Maybe it is just a matter of knowing what is determined and
what is not and, if it is determined, how? And once you know all that, it
isn't determined any more 'cause you can determine it, but it probably
causes an entire aspect of the universe to become deterministic instead.
No, no?

>@> (*)%(^)%
>@> Tibor Benke /benke@sfu.ca (^)%(#)
>@> Graduate Student (MA program)
>@> Department of Sociology and Anthropology
>@> Simon Fraser University,
>@> Burnaby, B.C., Canada. V5A 1S6 >@>
>@> Nota Bene: The opinions herein expressed are merely my own ! >@> ^^^^^^^^^^^

P.S. Does anyone know what "seinsgebunden" means, exactly, or if it even
exists? Maybe I spelled it wrong? Just like I can't spell that other
philosophy word 'nec...' even though that one is in English.

P.S.S. Unpack 'responsibility' anyone?