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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 1: Thu Oct 27, 2011 10:48 pm
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The Metaphysical Possibility of Randomness

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Before I begin our analysis of the concept of “randomness” and its metaphysical possibility, we must first come to terms with what ‘randomness’ means.

When the term “random” is used to describe some event, this is in opposition to its being determined or even explainable in terms of what came before it. So randomness would cover any event for which the antecedent is allowed to have two or more consequents, where the occurrence of either over the other possible consequent is not explainable by the antecedent cause. Therefore, when we speak of “randomness” in the context of causation, we mean something like

randomness: when something occurs for no reason

Now for our question; is randomness metaphysically possible? Before I delve into the strictly metaphysical argument, I want to defuse a possible argument that comes from quantum mechanics. This argument states that randomness must be possible, for it is utilized in certain interpretations of quantum mechanics, viz. M-Theory and the Copenhagen interpretation.

However, I think what is important to note is that randomness is scientifically unfalsifiable. We must remember that science operates under a method that is of the form “If x were true then we would see y under conditions z.” Randomness is not observably distinguishable from events that occur in which we are simply unable to observe the antecedent causes of the consequent. If it is not observably distinguishable, then it is not scientifically unfalsifiable. This means that garnering support from science-qua-scientific-method in favor of the possibility of randomness is to beg the question. What is actually the case is that these interpretations of quantum mechanics are presenting a metaphysical explanation (more properly, non-explanation) for what happens, not a scientific one. This means that no substantial help will come from science in answering this question. It is a purely metaphysical exercise.

I think that randomness, defined like above (based on how it is typically used in the context of causality), is meaningless. What I mean is that the proposition “Things can happen for no reason” is void of semantic content. Let us break it down to see what it would mean, and in this way we will see that the only possible, and therefore necessarily true, proposition is that “Things happen for a reason.”

Causality is linked to being. If something were to cause another thing, then it must be the case that between objects they share an aspect in their forms that makes them capable of interacting directly with each other, and their respective forms will inform the ontology of the causation as it occurs. In other words, it is in the essence of (at least) two beings that determines how the inputs (the motion, or change, of the antecedent efficiently causal being) shall be, as it were, translated to outputs; a sort of instantaneous calculation is performed by both of the objects that yields its result.

To break this down concretely, take the event of a billiards ball striking another. We know that when one strikes the other, the other will be pushed off in the direction it is struck from. What causes just this type of event to occur, and none other, is the essences of the two billiards balls themselves, such that the first’s form informs the other of what it will do in reference to its own form (in this case, they both happen to be spherical).

Now what we must note is that, insofar as the beings involved determine what shall happen in any event, that definite beings give definite conclusions. It is the very definiteness of the beings that allows the transference of energy to occur as it does, for otherwise there must pertain an indefiniteness of just what occurs, for definition cannot follow from indefinition. But what occurs is, in fact, definite, and it must be definite, for otherwise it would not be. This is because any being that is at all a being must be a certain particular being, a definite being, for otherwise it should fail to be a being at all. But then, if there is no room for indefiniteness in a being, then we must conclude that there is no room for indefiniteness in cause.

Concretely, what we mean by this is that it cannot be a being’s final cause that it will cause A or B, and that it causes either A or B shall be for no reason. It simply wouldn’t mean anything to state that it is a thing’s nature to not be naturally disposed towards one consequent over another under certain conditions; we’d be saying it’s nature is to be without nature. But if a thing has a nature, it has a nature, and if a thing didn’t have a nature, it wouldn’t be a thing. Therefore, we must conclude that, if a being is a being, it’s efficient causes can only be of a particular and explainable sort. This precludes the metaphysical possibility of randomness, because randomness requires a being to not have a nature, which is a contradiction in terms. Thus I say “randomness” is meaningless.

*What is a nature? A nature is simply what it is in the being's being to do; or, what Aristotle calls "final cause."

That there are final causes in the world is not difficult to demonstrate. Typically, we like to describe complex processes in terms of what its constituent parts do. However, this mode of explanation falters when it comes to theoretical fundamental particles, which would have no constituent parts to explain their behavior. Yet these fundamental particles would have a definite range of behaviors, and while this behavior is informed by the effective environment of that particle, it remains the case that we can only explain the particle's normative tendency by positing that it is just the nature of the particle to do what it does, and that it has the nature to do what it does is not caused by any underlying constituent parts. In other words, final causes constitute a real aspect in nature.

A practical example of final cause is any given natural law. Take Boyle's law:

"For a fixed amount of an ideal gas kept at a fixed temperature, P [pressure] and V [volume] are inversely proportional (while one doubles, the other halves)."

What is being described here is the nature, of final cause, of gaseous matter. We would say it is just the nature of gas for its pressure and volume to be inversely proportional.

Just to show I'm not being illicit in my utilization of "natures" as an aspect of beings.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 2: Fri Oct 28, 2011 2:52 am
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Metaphysics aside, any single event, such as the flipping of a coin, may be impossible to predict, not because there is no cause, but because an almost infinite number of causes combine together to produce the result. The density, shape, and exact motion of the flipping fingers, microscopic imperfections in the coin, and the temperature, mass, position and momentum of each of the trillions and trillions of atoms and molecules in the air all contribute to the final result, and for all practical purposes are impossible to individually detect, let alone measure and calculate.

However, if a large number of similar events is observed, a relatively simple mathematical analysis can determine whether or not the SEQUENCE of events is random, even though each individual event may be impossible to predict. In the real world, this is usually what is meant by randomness.

John

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 3: Fri Oct 28, 2011 3:10 am
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If no laws of interaction existed in our reality, yes. No laws would result in a complete lack of order, chaos would be present. Chaos is by definition random.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 4: Fri Oct 28, 2011 11:53 am
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Re: The Metaphysical Possibility of Randomness

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AquinasD wrote:

Now for our question; is randomness metaphysically possible? Before I delve into the strictly metaphysical argument, I want to defuse a possible argument that comes from quantum mechanics. This argument states that randomness must be possible, for it is utilized in certain interpretations of quantum mechanics, viz. M-Theory and the Copenhagen interpretation.

However, I think what is important to note is that randomness is scientifically unfalsifiable. We must remember that science operates under a method that is of the form “If x were true then we would see y under conditions z.” Randomness is not observably distinguishable from events that occur in which we are simply unable to observe the antecedent causes of the consequent. If it is not observably distinguishable, then it is not scientifically unfalsifiable. This means that garnering support from science-qua-scientific-method in favor of the possibility of randomness is to beg the question. What is actually the case is that these interpretations of quantum mechanics are presenting a metaphysical explanation (more properly, non-explanation) for what happens, not a scientific one. This means that no substantial help will come from science in answering this question. It is a purely metaphysical exercise.

Properly speaking the Copenhagen interpretation does not say that reality is inherently probabilistic. Rather…
Quote:
It holds that quantum mechanics does not yield a description of an objective reality but deals only with probabilities of observing, or measuring, various aspects of energy quanta, entities which fit neither the classical idea of particles nor the classical idea of waves. According to the interpretation, the act of measurement causes the set of probabilities to immediately and randomly assume only one of the possible values. This feature of the mathematics is known as wave function collapse.

And…
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The Copenhagen Interpretation denies that the wave function is anything more than a theoretical concept, or is at least non-committal about its being a discrete entity or a discernible component of some discrete entity.

And also…
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Bohr emphasized that science is concerned with predictions of the outcomes of experiments, and that any additional propositions offered are not scientific but meta-physical. Bohr was heavily influenced by positivism.

As you say, the Copenhagen Interpretation cannot be used to claim that randomness is fundamental to reality. There might be hidden variables. (However the experiments based on Bell’s Theorem make it clear that hidden variables of a classical physics form are impossible. Non-classical variables are still possible. The world is definitely weird but not necessarily insane.)

A physics major I know once came up with an idea on what kind of hidden variable might account for the apparent random nature of wave function collapse but still be deterministic. Modern physics is full of speculation about ‘rolled up’ spatial dimensions too small to directly detect. He imagined a rolled up time dimension through which quanta cycle around. What part of their waveform was encountered by an observation depended on what part of the cycle time it hit in. The timing of the observation and the timing of the waveform cycle could each be deterministic but unrelated and therefore appear random. He was just playing with ideas of course but I find this one to be intriguing.

Anyway, quantum theory does NOT mean inherent randomness.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 5: Fri Oct 28, 2011 1:10 pm
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AquinasD wrote:

However, I think what is important to note is that randomness is scientifically unfalsifiable. We must remember that science operates under a method that is of the form “If x were true then we would see y under conditions z.” Randomness is not observably distinguishable from events that occur in which we are simply unable to observe the antecedent causes of the consequent. If it is not observably distinguishable, then it is not scientifically unfalsifiable. This means that garnering support from science-qua-scientific-method in favor of the possibility of randomness is to beg the question. What is actually the case is that these interpretations of quantum mechanics are presenting a metaphysical explanation (more properly, non-explanation) for what happens, not a scientific one. This means that no substantial help will come from science in answering this question. It is a purely metaphysical exercise.

I agree that the quantum indeterminacy is a metaphysical interpretation, and that it might be non-falsifiable. It IS nonetheless based on scientific analysis – deterministic causes have been sought, and it is metaphysical explanation of the scientific evidence. But I agree, it's not a scientific theory – it's just a hypotheses. So what? That doesn't make it false. The scientific evidence suggests it might be true. You have provided your justification for your assumption that it is false, but you have not, and CAN not, prove that it's false.


AquinasD wrote:
I think that randomness, defined like above (based on how it is typically used in the context of causality), is meaningless. What I mean is that the proposition “Things can happen for no reason” is void of semantic content.

I disagree. The proposition: A causes (B or C) has semantic content. The fact that there is not reason for B (vs C) to result is not a semantic issue. It is a metaphysical principle that is either true or false. You choose to reject the notion that something like this can occur.

AquinasD wrote:
Now what we must note is that, insofar as the beings involved determine what shall happen in any event, that definite beings give definite conclusions.

I agree. An implication of QM is that there is indefiniteness to being (where being includes a complete description of the state of an entity). There is indefiniteness to the being of a radioactive atom, which is why it cannot be determined exactly when it will decay.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 6: Fri Oct 28, 2011 5:09 pm
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I wanted to share me and aquinasD's "off the forum" discussion of the metaphysical possibility of randomness to see if anyone has some thoughts on it. Well actually, I'll just post my thing and let AquinasD entail his objections against it.

-----------------------

Definition of randomness (according to AquinasD):

Quote:
When something occurs for no reason.


But I don't think that this is a sufficient definition, for we must define "reason", or else this definition would just be a repetition of itself without actually defining anything.

We could, perhaps, define "reason" as "caused by something else", but then we are thrown into an infinite regress of causes - for there must be a thing that caused without being caused itself. That leaves the possibility of our first cause being a determined thing right out. Using this definition, there must be at least one being that caused without being caused - so this definition wouldn't work.

But then, in this argument, randomness is argued against, but in the process you also argue against free will. The impossibility you accuse randomness of having is also present in the free will model.

From AquinasD's argument:

Quote:
Concretely, what we mean by this is that it cannot be a being’s final cause that it will cause A or B, and that it causes either A or B shall be for no reason. It simply wouldn’t mean anything to state that it is a thing’s nature to not be naturally disposed towards one consequent over another under certain conditions; we’d be saying it’s nature is to be without nature. But if a thing has a nature, it has a nature, and if a thing didn’t have a nature, it wouldn’t be a thing. Therefore, we must conclude that, if a being is a being, it’s efficient causes can only be of a particular and explainable sort.


However, isn't the very nature of free will "able to cause A or B (or C, D, etc)? By this argument, free will is rendered impossible, since you said yourself that "something that's nature is to cause A or B shall be for no reason" - which is exactly what free will argues. If not, then when you say that "if some being is not disposed towards one thing or another, then it has no nature" - then humans with free will do not have the nature to choose, which is a contradiction.

This brings me to an interesting conclusion, though. Since determinism alone can't be the case (or else we'd have an infinite regress of causes - which means *exclusively or* randomness and free will cannot be the case), I can see that both randomness and free will share a certain property, that, based on your argument, that if one is not possible, then both of them are not possible. But we know this not to be the case. When trying to explain free will, we simply can't get any further than "it simply happens because the thing doing the choosing desired it", just like when explaining randomness, we must say "it just happens".

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 7: Fri Oct 28, 2011 9:16 pm
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jamesmorlock wrote:

This brings me to an interesting conclusion, though. Since determinism alone can't be the case (or else we'd have an infinite regress of causes - which means *exclusively or* randomness and free will cannot be the case), I can see that both randomness and free will share a certain property, that, based on your argument, that if one is not possible, then both of them are not possible. But we know this not to be the case. When trying to explain free will, we simply can't get any further than "it simply happens because the thing doing the choosing desired it", just like when explaining randomness, we must say "it just happens".

What is free will? A compatibilist defines an instance of 'free will' as one in which the agent had freedom to act, neither coerced or restrained. This definition is consistent with determinism.

On the other hand, an incompatibilist defines free will such that it is incompatible with determinism. This could mean:
--Free will is real and determinism is false (libertarianism)
--determinism is real but free will is not (hard determinists) – they believe that the appearance of free will is an illusion. Our motivations and thoughts are the result of a complex series of past events.

It could also be that hard determinism is false (as suggested by quantum mechanics) and free will is false.

I take an agnostic view to all the possibilities, but lean toward compatibilism because we do make choices. However, we don't have the level of freedom that Christians typically suggest. People are clearly influenced by their genetics and by their environment. Environmental factors are massively complex, easily complex enough to comprise a chaotic system. No two rocks have exactly the same shape. This doesn't imply there is indeterminism involved, but rather that the factors that influence the shape a of a vast number. Human behavior, including all the "free will" choices we make, are the byproduct of a set of events significantly more complex than those affecting the shape of a roci.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 8: Fri Oct 28, 2011 10:15 pm
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This definition is consistent with determinism.


We've already eliminated determinism as a possibility for our first cause. As to whether or not humans have true free will is irrelevant to this argument.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 9: Sat Oct 29, 2011 11:00 am
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jamesmorlock wrote:
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This definition is consistent with determinism.


We've already eliminated determinism as a possibility for our first cause. As to whether or not humans have true free will is irrelevant to this argument.


Obviously, if there is a first cause then it wasn't a product of determinism. I was leading toward a two pronged Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). Consider William Lane Craig's formulation of a Principle of Sufficient Reason:

everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.

If there is a first cause, then it just exists necessarily (this is sufficient reason; it follows logically from the assumption that there is a first cause). Had it not existed, then nothing else could exist. Everything else after that, is caused. I see no problem with this: it leaves no gaps. It doesn't prove a first cause, but it provides a reason for everything even if there is one. As you said, the alternative to a first cause is an infinite regress of causes. But those appear to be the only two possibilities (infinite regress or first cause). I see no justification for dismissing either.

I don't understand why you said "free will is irrelevant to the argument," given your comment:

Quote:
The impossibility you accuse randomness of having is also present in the free will model.

I was pointing out that apparent randomness can be present in a deterministic framework, as demonstrated by chaos theory. This even applies to free will.

The point I've been trying to make is that probabilistic determinism is perfectly consistent with Craig's Principle of Sufficient Reason, and it is also consistent with an infinite regression of causes. You don't have to choose one or the other to identify a sufficient reason for the existence of any being (where "being" is anything that exists).

Probabilistic determinism (which is not strictly deterministic) implies that conditions A results in effects (B or C). The pertinent question is: do B and C have a sufficient reason for existing? The answer is yes.

---Assume A probabilistically causes (B or C)
---Assume B can only exist if A
---Assume C can only exist if A


B and C have sufficient reason for existence; their respective causes are known: B is caused by A; C is caused by A. Craig's PSR is satisfied.

Aquinas D objects: but there's no reason for B rather than C. But it doesn't matter. The only thing that requires explanation is EXISTENCE. His dismissal of probabilistic determination is based on nothing more than his insistence that randomness cannot occur. But randomness does not preclude the reason for each being's existence. I have pointed out to him that his arguments against randomness are equivalent to an argument in support of deterministic causation vs probabilistic causation. He objects to THAT because he says it would conflict with free will, so he suggests that free will is an exception (the basis of which is, I assume, a supernatural or spiritual element - but we haven't gotten into it).

I think my approach is tidier, in that it requires fewer assumptions. It doesn't matter if there is a first cause or not. It works irrespective of whether or not causation is purely deterministic or probabilistically deterministic. And it doesn't depend on the existence of a supernatural.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 10: Sat Oct 29, 2011 1:21 pm
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IMHO, any attempts to apply formal logic to questions such as this are ultimately nothing more than word games, dependent on a host of hidden assumptions, arbitrary definitions, semantic interpretations, and even the grammatical structure of statements. Appeals to the real world for concrete examples, such as human free will, probability theory and Quantum Mechanics, are equally futile appeals to the unknown.

Quantum Theory is not even a theory. After more than 80 years, quantum theory remains nothing more than a method of calculation which is found to provide useful results, without even a hint of explanation for why it is so. The famous "Copenhagen Interpretation" as formulated by Niels Bohr essentially says "Just do the calculations and don't ask questions!"

John

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