Weak foundation of determinism analysis

by yamar69 2 min read6th Aug 201955 comments


Determinism is the belief that every action in time is born by the previous one. [1] In deterministic terms you cannot have an event E if you didn't have an event D before, which in turn is the result of a cause C and so on, without any type of alphabetical bound. This philosophical conception is one of the most discussed, directly or indirectly, because it is the generator of very important ontological implications, first of all the existence of free will which, we could claim, is one of the most courted topics by the philosophers of all time. Something that has always struck me about the endless debates on the subject it is a simple logical flaw that people seem to commit when they put forward their arguments, both for and against determinism. This (ir)rational weakness lies in the very concept core of determinism itself and, for simplicity, I will call it the "What if ?" problem. It goes like this:

  • " If determinism is true, then should criminals be persecuted for their crimes ? "
  • " If determinism is true, then should science cease to exists ? "
  • " Why, if determinism is true, do we look carefully before crossing the road ? "
  • " If determinism is true why should I do anything ? "

I think you got the point. Now, questions like these can be found in countless publications, online blog discussions, talk with friends on a drug-induced Friday night and they generally give way to endless verbosity flows, some of which may also contain angular viewpoints that shed new lights on your beliefs. So far so beautiful, too bad all these intellectual disputes are inconsistent with the very premise of determinism. Think of the first question, the only correct answer is:

  • "If determinism is true, criminals will continue to commit crimes and we will condemn them for this, we could not change our way of acting because otherwise it would not be determinism."

The second answer is a reflection of this and also the third. In fact, this answer is a blueprint for every possible observation to such questions which, notice well, make up a good 95% of the total discussions on the material. The same errors are dragged by induction into the reasoning on any type or by-product of the main theme.
For example, I remember a post on reddit in which a user wondered if, taken as assumption the veracity of eternalism (block universe determinism [2]), then it would have been more ethically appropriate for human beings to stop having children because you know, life is unfair and in this way those poor beings would suffer forever. To this my answer was the following:

  • "If eternalism is true nothig is created. Everything already exist. You fail to see it from a 4D perspective. Everything is already arranged, begginning to end, every state of matter, every permutation of it all. There is no movement, no action, no intention. "

You can observe a certain isomorphism between this answer and the one given above. If you want to explore these concepts (eternalism and its philosophical, physical and ethical implications) in a baroque, literary fascination, I strongly recommend the monumental novel Jerusalem by Alan Moore [3]. Nowadays science has not yet succeeded in proving the existence of a single random natural source and even if quantum physics seems to put sticks in the wheels of determinism, my personal belief is in line with that of nobel prize Gerard 't Hooft [4] , which hypothesizes that there may be a mechanistic structure at the base of everything, of which quantum physics is nothing more than an emergent property that we do not yet fully understand [5][6]. However, the thesis of this post is not to affirm the existence of determinism, the thesis, to make it short, is to affirm that determinism (in all its spectrum of forms) is a sort of ontological cul-de-sac. I don't think we will ever be able to design experiments, physical or psychological, that can prove or disprove it, let alone arrive at a solution through the tools of logical investigation. The existence of determinism could very well be an undecidable problem. Psychological studies have already been conducted, showing that people who believe in determinism are less productive, flirt more easily with depression and have a more creaky morality than others but these studies (and consequently the results) fall into the same categorical errors analyzed above. If everything is carved in the marble of time, we cannot change things in any way and people who believe in stochastic salvation do it because they cannot do otherwise and are (generally) more serene because they cannot do otherwise. In essence, in my opinion, it is impossible to determine whether a system is deterministic or not from within the system itself. Determinism, as a concept, can develop the same sometimes annoying and sometimes fascinating self-referentiality of the halting problem.