How to not be a fatalist? Need help from people who care about true beliefs.

by Laoch1 min read7th Dec 201385 comments


Personal Blog

Dear LessWrongers

I've been struggling a bit with the idea of fatalism or at least I keep find myself slipping that direction.To be clear the only reason I use the word fatalism is because of it's dictionary definition. I have not allegiance to the concept. Are there powerful arguments to counter fatalism? I've read the sequence about dissolving the question about free will for example, i.e. I understand how the question itself(have I free will?) is incoherent. I.e. free from what?

I also accept that I am a physics and that my cognition and subjective experience are more than adequately accounted for by non mysterious understandings of the evolution of life. However I can't seem to figure out a way of reconciling my current understanding of those ideas with the idea that I'm in control of my future. Maybe I already have the answer and haven't got the corresponding affective/emotional state which is not an unprecedented problem for me.

My biggest fear is that for me to believe that my future is not set that I'm going to take on some irrational silly belief? Can anybody give some useful algo's for thinking about this in a coherent, detached from desire way?

One thing that I've heard is that physics is non-deterministic but I always thought that had to do with the observer. Surely particles were going to do what they were going to do anyway regardless of whether I can determine the reason or not?

Thanks for reading,


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Are there powerful arguments to counter fatalism?

How committed are you to countering fatalism with arguments?

For example, if it turned out that you could effectively reduce the temptation towards fatalism by means of a regular exercise program, a healthy diet, socializing more with friends, and/or making noticeable progress on projects you think are important... would that be acceptable, even if none of that provided you with arguments that you could articulate for why fatalism was false?

I wish I could upvote this comment more than once. This is something I've struggled with a lot over the past few months: I know that my opinions/decisions/feelings are probably influenced by these physiological/psychological things more than by my beliefs/worldview/rational arguments, and the best way to gain mental stability would be to do more yoga (since in my experience, this always works). Yet I've had trouble shaking my attachment to philosophical justifications. There's something rather terrifying about methods (yoga, narrative, etc.) that work on the subconscious, because it implies a frightening lack of control over our own lives (at least if one equates the self with the conscious mind). Particularly frightening to me has been the idea that doing yoga or meditation might change my goals, especially since the teachers of these techniques always seem to wrap the techniques in some worldview or other that I may dislike. Therefore, if I really believe in my goals, it is in my interest not to do these things, even though my current state of (lack of) mental health also prevents me from accomplishing my goals. But I do want to be mentally healthy, so I spent months trying... (read more)

Particularly frightening to me has been the idea that doing yoga or meditation might change my goals, especially since the teachers of these techniques always seem to wrap the techniques in some worldview or other that I may dislike.

Yesterday I was in a church, for a friend's wedding. I was listening to some readings from the Bible, about love (obviously 1 Cor 13) etc. I knew this was cherry-picking from a book that a few hundred pages sooner also describes how non-believers or people who violate some rule should be murdered. But still, the message was nice, and some of the people around me were my friends, so I felt good.

And this is what I thought: "The people who wrote these parts of the Bible were good people who tried their best at optimizing the world. They lived long before Science, they were ignorant and brainwashed about too many things, so of course many of their beliefs were wrong, and subsequently their followers did a lot of harm. But their intentions and emotions were similar to mine. Instead of thinking about them as my enemies, I should think about them as my predecessors; a homo sapiens neanderthalensis to homo sapiens sapiens. A few thousand years ago, they... (read more)

5MathiasZaman7yIf you haven't, check out Anathem, by Neil Stephenson. It features a monastic order based on mathematics and science rather than any deity. (The book has all the up- and downsides of any other Stephenson novel, which might be a good or a bad thing for you.) It also features a couple of ceremonies. There is a certain power in ceremonies and most humans react well to that power. Marriages are a good way to channel positive emotions, funerals help people cope with the loss of loved ones, baptisms are about welcoming new humans into a community... Despite the religious connotations those things tend to have, having a rationalist counterpart might indeed be valuable.
0Gunnar_Zarncke7yActually many modern western wedding ceremonies are on a good way toward that. As many people are paying less and less commitment behind their nominal religion their wedding ceremonies consequently carry less and less weight on the scripture and more on the athmosphere, the ceremony (which by its structure supports the promise) the feelings (which are loosend by such celbrations), the music (which also works on the emotions), and lots of customs which all help to bring all involved together and by the facilitated exchanges support the couple. Those people use the effects of the ceremony and the traditional willingness to participate in the ceremony without neccessarily believing the scripture or more than paying lip-service to it. The question is: How to progress from here? Weddings outside of a church are usually not as grand. But maybe they can be made so (if you want to use this device at all of course). The longer I think of it, the more it becomes clear that any ceremony is analogous to a technical device which makes some outcomes more likely than others. In this analogy a ceremony is like a pump which brings the actors/particles sufficiently close together that in this mood/field certain interchanges (commitments/reaction) are more likely to happen. And afterwards when the ceremony/pressure is over the commitment will not simply undo because of the same reasons the molecules formed will not (likely) revert.
6Viliam_Bur7yA ceremony is a machine that uses emotions to change people. For some people this may be a sufficient reason to hate ceremonies. Because they are typically designed by someone else, and may support goals we don't agree with. Or the idea of some process predictably changing my mind feels repulsive. The problem is, "changing my mind using emotions" is what happens all the time. No ceremonies, not even other people are required. The mere fact that I feel hungry, or tired, or lonely, or angry, is enough to change my mind. If these influences happen all the time randomly, usually without providing me any benefit, what's wrong about using the same process deliberately to bring me something that I want? My emotions are subject to thousand biases. I may believe that something is important, and yet not feel strongly about it; I may even forget it quickly. I may believe something is harmful, and yet not feel repelled by it. Modifying my emotions to fit my beliefs could be very helpful. (Also risky, if my beliefs are wrong. But that does not mean that having random emotions is safe.) I would like to have a machine to give me the emotions I want to have. (Similar to the "remoralization" spell in Night Watch [].)
0Brillyant7yThis is a great little phrase. And, in the church, I think ceremony is a useful or harmful machine in the ways you mention. And I think the potential for emotion-alteration is greater in a ceremony than just regular life. Not only at weddings, but in all kinds of formalized ceremonies -- funerals, baptisms, worship services, etc. Generally, it seems to me that adherents of religion enjoy the experience. It is meaningful and sometimes even euphoric. And it "gives them the emotions they want to have." It's a win for them in every sense...apart from having to accept nonsense. But they don't seem bother with that aspect from my experience. (In that way, it all functions like an anti-fatalist mechanism for the believer...)
1Viliam_Bur7yWhich is exactly why I'd love to have the ceremonies without the nonsense. To feel rational [], strongly and reliably. (Well, more reliably than using other methods.)
0Gunnar_Zarncke7yYou talk about it as if it were ovious/well known. Is there actually any theory which does apply technical theories like particel dynamics, thermodynamics and/or process optimization theories to human social behavior patterns thus actually exploiting this analogy of ritual=machine?
1Lumifer7yPsychohistory [\]) :-D
0Gunnar_Zarncke7yI know that one :-) I especially liked the part where the student discovered that the predictions were met better than 'possible' (probably by some convergence speed theorems). But no. I thought more about something along the lines of [] (actually mentioned on your link). Some theory which doesn't try to predict aggregate outcomes of human actions (that wouldn't work for longer time spans for the same reasons whether cannot be forcast precisely - chaos theory). I thought about some theory which models smaller structures like transactions, rituals, customs, ceremonies and measures and predicts their frequency and 'success'.
5TheOtherDave7y(nods) I think this happens to a lot of people, especially in our tribe... we tend to prefer to engage the world as an intellectual puzzle, even the parts of it that are better engaged with in other ways. I got better about this after my stroke and recovery, but it's still something I fall back to a lot. I hope it gets easier for you.
1Laoch7yI'm trying to find out if fatalism is wrong and why or why not. So I'm committed to that. I'm not saying I'm behaving fatalistically, I'm asking what choice do I have.

Ah, I see.

For my own part, I would agree that we are powerless to do anything other than what we are actually going to do.

So there are at least some versions of fatalism I think are true, and embrace.

But we are also ignorant of what that is going to be, and the process of considering alternatives and deciding what to do is part of the mechanism whereby we end up doing what we do.

As for what choices you have... we all experience lots of choices. Those experiences exist in our minds, just as the experiences of pleasure and pain and fear and love and etc. exist in our minds... there is nothing out there in the world outside our minds that is intrinsically lovable or frightening or painful or pleasurable or "choicey".

But that doesn't mean we don't have pleasure, pain, fear, love, or choice. We have all of those things. To say that my pleasure "isn't real" because it exists solely in my mind is to misunderstand the nature of pleasure; to say that my choices "aren't real" because they exist solely in my mind is to misunderstand the nature of choice.

4shminux7yTo me "we are powerless to do anything other than what we are actually going to do" is either meaningless or tautological, so I am not sure how one can disagree with it.
0TheOtherDave7yWell, I'm not exactly sure how either, but I suspect that if we asked a hundred randomly chosen people to agree or disagree with that statement, we'd find more disagreement than agreement. And perhaps I'm misunderstanding what Laoch means by "fatalism", but it was the first description here [] so I went with it.
2savageorange7yI like the SEP [] phrasing better, even though it's only slightly different: "we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do" Feels more sensible because the tenses are not jumbled.
3TheOtherDave7yI can't think of a meaning one sentence has that the other one doesn't, so I'm happy to use your preferred sentence.

I also accept that I am a physics

...I don't think you've fully accepted this, actually, because you also said:

Surely particles were going to do what they were going to do anyway regardless of whether I can determine the reason or not?

Yes, physics is everything. However, you are part of physics. You are those particles. So you should consider yourself as involved in the "decision" about what the future will be.

Take your naive intuitions about "souls" and about how they make decisions. Souls don't just do things randomly right? There is a method and reason to what they choose. They don't just think and feel things randomly - there is a rhyme and reason to it all. That's always been easy to naively accept, right?

The only thing to realize is that those methods and reasons of making decisions, and the feelings and thoughts, are constructed out of the same particles that construct the objects around you.

If it satisfies your dualist intuitions any, rest assured that there is one and a quarter inch of very sturdy bone separating your soul from the rest of physics. For the most part, decisions aren't particularly influenced by anything outside your head, other than useful information about the world around you. So the naive view of free will (regular decision making, only somehow separate from normal physics) is fine for all practical purposes, anyway

Does that make sense / help?

0Laoch7yYes it makes perfectly good sense. I find the idea that I'm physics doing something is solid. I can't and wouldn't argue with it. The whole concept of free will in it's incoherency still seems to set me up for uncomfortable feelings that I seem to be able to do nothing about. I want to feel fine but panic wins instead. When I talk about incoherence I mean things like what it means for my desires/actions/values to be free of causality or reason. If it were free of those things that means it would be random, and how can that be any more free(?!). It's times like this I wish I was a topclass mathematician/theoretical physicist/philosopher combined.
6Ishaan7yIt doesn't mean anything for your desires/actions/values to be free of causality and reason, because your desires/actions/values are a subset of causality and reason. A variable can't be "free" of itself. Lack of freedom implies something else is in control. It's a question of where you perceive the "I" to be. Because of the complexity of the machinery locked under the aforementioned 1.25 inch skull, humans have Ruleset 1 for "souls" (though we are unaccustomed to thinking of them as rules) and Ruleset 2 for "objects". If you identify yourself with Ruleset 1, and Physics says that Rule-set 1 is actually derived from Ruleset 2, your human intuitions will scream that Ruleset 2 is controlling Ruleset 1 and free will is dead. . All the naive intuitions of free will still apply. Currently your emotions say "I am being controlled by causality", and what they aught to say is "I am controlling things via causality". The emotional outcome you're aiming for is a sense of unity and continuity between yourself and the rest of the universe as well as a sense of partial control over it. Try working backwards: Instead of first understanding the situation and then forcing yourself comfortable with it, try first figuring out what sort of situation you would be comfortable with and then checking if it matches reality. (I'll bet it will)
1Laoch7yCould you give me an example of working backwards? I'm in too much of a panicky haze to think clearly about it.
3Ishaan7yWell, for example: Suppose my naive intuition felt uncomfortable that my brain is clockwork. Makes me feel like a machine.. However, my naive intuition felt comfortable with my "soul" having intangible thoughts which exist on some separate soul-plane and interact with only with one another (and not with objects) except insofar that they produce actions on the external, object filled world and receive sensory input from it. Once the "comfortable" view has been explicitly stated, it becomes clear that the "uncomfortable" view actually is the comfortable view, just phrased in different words and with minor alterations. So what is your version of the "comfortable" view?
0Laoch7yI'm not actually sure if I'm allowed to say that? Edit: oops The comfortable view is indistinguishable from the uncomfortable view I agree.
1Ishaan7yer...what? I do not understand.
1Laoch7yAw shit seg fault :D

I have depressive tendencies and have noticed having pessimistic ideas about the universe has nothing to do with evidence. Fatalism and compatibilism are both different, I'd say emotional, interpretations of the same evidence, so does picking either one really have anything to do with arguments?

It's better to pick interpretations that make you happier, if you don't have evidence either way. If you want to be emotionally neutral, don't pick any interpretation. You don't need fatalism or compatibilism for anything, they're really not beliefs that do any useful ontological work.

5Laoch7yI'm not alone then, what a relief. I can't seem to suck any long lasting joy out of the universe presently. The best I can do is keep myself away from depressive thoughts. How do you combat those tendencies? They always seem to get the better of me.

If you're generally tired, you should see a doctor so that common physical causes can be ruled out.

No matter what, I try to get quality sleep. If I'm sleep deprived, I'm absolutely useless. This is easily the number one thing far above others.

The other lowest hanging fruit for me roughly in order are: avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs, work and other kinds of mental exercise, social interaction, SSRIs, basic breath meditation, physical exercise, eating healthy, some caffeine and low dose nicotine. Improving your life situation in various mundane ways should work too, like gjm pointed out.

I try to avoid free thinking and interaction when I'm tired, which is usually in the evening. That's when I'm the most vulnerable to being moody and confrontational and making the kinds of mistakes that haunt me afterwards, or getting racing thoughts on stupid shit that doesn't really matter. I probably have other useful habits I'm not even aware of that I've developed over the years.

I recommend you study and experiment with yourself and try to make a habit of the things that work and ditch the stuff that doesn't. Reaping the rewards can take some time, so try to be patient. You can't improve everything at once, but every good decision makes the next good decision easier.

5Viliam_Bur7yA few years ago, I used to be tired most of the day. Then I fixed a few things and the problem seems gone. Unfortunately, I don't know exactly which of these things contributed to the outcome (maybe it was something else). First thing was to get enough sleep. So I started a habit that when I go to sleep, I set my alarm clock to T + 8 hours. Then I tried going to sleep at 23:00 (but if despite my plans I go to sleep later, I still set my alarm clock to T+8 ). Second was regular exercise: at least 20 push-up each day. Third was having enough light during the day: I turn on all the lights at work. Fourth was going outside for a few hours walk every week. Fifth was getting iron suplements (by blood tests I was at the bottom of the healthy range, but I had some of the anemia symptoms listed in Wikipedia, so I decided to get in the middle of the range). As a result, instead of feeling tired during most of the day, I feel okay. Which allows me to do things I was previously too tired to do. The chemistry of the body has a huge influence on the mind. Minds are made of atoms, not of magic. Sometimes a simple hack (such as taking a 20-min nap if you are too tired, unless it is late evening) provides better results than trying to use willpower. Yet for some reason, many people (including me) are prone to think about the "mental" solutions only. EDIT: It is bad for sleep to exercise before going to bed. So an important step in building the exercise habit was to exercise right after I get home from work. Otherwise other stuff starts interfering.
4hyporational7yI bet all of those things you mentioned helped, and perhaps none of them would have been enough alone. It's also worth mentioning sleep needs can vary a lot. I need 9-10 hours to feel refreshed. Some people do fine with 5-6 hours. If you have sleep debt, you might need several longer nights to recover.
3Baughn7yYou might also be able to try siestas. It depends on your school/work conditions, and quite possibly your biology, but I've found that taking half an hour out just after lunch helps me a lot. Generally I sleep about 7.5 hours if I take siestas, 8.5 otherwise, so I'm actually getting net positive waking time out of this in addition to generally being smarter for more of the day.
9gjm7yI think this question is basically equivalent to "How do you combat depression?". I have heard good things about cognitive therapy, and ambiguous things about SSRIs. There's a book called "Feeling Good" that's alleged (by at least one person on LW) to capture enough of the techniques of cognitive therapy that using it is a pretty good approximation to doing actual cognitive therapy. (And of course much cheaper. But also easier to stop doing without anyone noticing.) I guess the other thing I'd advise is to look mundanely for areas of your life that could be improved, and see if there's low-hanging fruit to pick. I believe some people report large improvements in affective state after improving their sleeping or getting a lot more exercise, for instance. Or if you're in a boring ill-paid low-status job or a relationship where you don't really get on with one another, maybe there are things you can do to improve (or replace) those. Someone else linked to the "Existential Angst Factory" article, which I think is correct in suggesting that many cases of general the-universe-is-useless wretchedness are really the product of "ordinary" unhappiness that might be fixable. Of course all this is easier said than done, especially if you're already depressed.
3Laoch7yThanks really helpful post. I've never had a close physical partner relationship and I'm not sure the kind of damage that has done to my affective state. I suspect an awful lot. But it has become the norm for me and find it extremely difficult to even relate to someone who is not in that situation. I've also developed a strong distaste(hatred) for normative behaviour w.r.t settling down and having kids even having a partner. I'm in a situation where it comes across as a personality death sentence. Also I struggle with the having of kids idea. So there's a lot there that I don't even no where to begin unravelling the problem especially since the problem has become a part of who I am. As for the exercise front for example, I'd say I'm in the 90th+ percentile of my local society or even the world I've no data on the amount of people with 6 packs(me: 85kg 1.85meters body fat level where I can see my abs) but most men my age (30.5 rotations of the sun) have double chins. This does not seem to translate well w.r.t attracting females I find attractive. Maybe I don't get out enough? My housemate tells me that the physical attractiveness of a man can be distorted when they open their mouth. I'm pretty sure my conversational behaviour and body language are rank with inadequacy, maybe even, juvenile. The job situation is a crisis zone. I'm a software engineer, quelle suprise but I've never really embraced it, while I'm a good coder and have great grades and some decent experience, I've wasted a lot of opportunity in the world of s/w dev. My guess is the powerful, "call the shots" kind of people in the industry are usually people I don't like, I find the developer, manager personality split nauseating (or maybe I'm imagining that split). On meta level I think my analytical skills could be put to better use somewhere else (MSc in CompSci, Machine Learning/CogSci). Pay isn't so bad but definitely not good enough for me to have the lifestyle of my contemporaries in Dublin.
3Lumifer7yThink there is a causal link from your observation #1 to your observation #2?
0Laoch7yCan't get the ones I'm interested in so I don't want them, perhaps? Bit of a catch 22.
3hyporational7yNot wanting them is ok too, you know. Most of male attractiveness today is determined by signals of intelligence, wealth and social power. It doesn't matter if you look like Brad Pitt if your social skills suck. Don't commit the typical mind fallacy when thinking about attraction. Women don't think like you do.
0Laoch7yYa that's for sure. Does that mean I have to think like them to get with them? Am I even capable of that. Sorry for the off topic post.
4hyporational7yNo and probably not. Don't get me wrong, there are also important similarities between men and women. Social skills are complex, and I recommend you improve them more generally if you really care about becoming better with women. This will get you actual social power, and help with getting a better job. You could also gain allies that can help you with women both directly and by teaching you by example. Here's a resource [] on social skills that might help you get started. Improving your life in other ways will make it more interesting to other people.
1ESRogs7yHi, just wanted to chime in with a recommendation for dealing with times of feeling depressed: try It's a site that offers a very short survey / game that you can take / play to register your current mood. You can use it daily, or just log in whenever you're feeling especially up or down. I think I usually come off as a pretty happy person, but sometimes I get depressed too. I found it to be surprisingly helpful to acknowledge and express those feelings. Tracking these moods on moodscope helps me to see that how I feel is very much related to temporary circumstances and is subject to change. Another feature of the site that I recommend is sharing your scores with a trusted friend. My best friend and I do this, so we each get an email when the other registers a score. One of the ways that this is useful is that it lowers the barriers to reaching out for help. If I'm feeling down, I don't have to track someone down and launch into a big explanation. I can just fill out a moodscope, which I find useful on its own, and then if my friend sees it he might also ask me how I'm doing, which makes me feel better too. I hope that helps!
2Laoch7yI actually use Moodscope, probably because you mentioned it before? Unfortunately my average score since I started using it is 30%, there are large gaps for the summer time and my mood was better when I started using it first but not great. See my Moodscope Graph [] for a pic that's worth a 1000 words. I don't think moodscope is appropriate for me tbh. I need to avail of a stronger mental health treatment I think. :(
3ESRogs7yOh, did I? I'm sorry to hear that it hasn't turned out to be helpful. It sounds like you are serious about getting the help you need though. Identifying the problem is obviously one of the most important steps to the solution. :) Good luck, friend!
3Laoch7yI should really ring the GP today.
3ESRogs7ySounds like a good plan!

Your future is completely controlled by the universe. Coincidentally, though, you are an important part of the universe. All the things that mystics might ascribe to souls and spirits - your ability to make decisions, your modeling and prediction of the outside world, your values and desires - are stored in physical patterns in the universe.

So when we say "your future is completely controlled by the universe," this can also be read as "your future is at least partly controlled by you."

-1Kawoomba7yFor streeeeeetched definitions of "important" ;-).

Well, I'm important to me :P

8fubarobfusco7yWell, you're a part of the universe that determines a lot of what happens next in that part of the universe — if only due to locality.
4Laoch7yWhy did this get -1 karma?
8fubarobfusco7yBecause I have a stalker.

However I can't seem to figure out a way of reconciling my current understanding of those ideas with the idea that I'm in control of my future.

What you do is part of what is determining the future. If you were otherwise, and thereby did otherwise, the outcome would be different. That's what freedom is - to have the future determined by who and what you are. What else could it be?

What does it mean when I say "I'm in control of my future"?

Here's a plausible translation: "Certain facts about my future depend on my present (and past) decisions and actions".

Let's try breaking this down further. What does it mean for a future fact to depend on my actions or decisions?

Well, I think it means that certain counterfactuals of the form "If I hadn't performed action X, then event Y would not have happened" are true. Example: If I hadn't applied to a Ph.D. program, I would not be writing my dissertation.

So now t... (read more)

0TheAncientGeek7yAnd "Is the universe deteminsitic"

Maybe you're not in control of your future, meaning you have real practical problems that you prefer not to address.

1Laoch7yYou mean like I'm ignoring real issues in my current situation that make me feel as though I'm out of control?
2Dorikka7yMight be relevant. []
1hairyfigment7yWell, it seems theoretically possible that someone with no such issues could share these concerns. But I was not even remotely surprised to check your comment history (after writing the grandparent) and see you looking for a better job.

One formulation of the incoherency about free will is that physical laws are descriptive rather than normative. If the physics would suddenly behave diffrently (false vacuums or anything previously undiscovered) it's the law in error and there is no blaming the matter as being "naughty". In the same way when you are deciding how to act the law itself isn't working as a cause in it. They are not human laws. Your freedom is not reduced by any obression.

from wikipedia: "Determinists generally agree that human actions affect the future but that ... (read more)

Move something eye-catching into an odd place where you'll see it shortly after waking up in the morning. Whenever you see it say to yourself, "I put that there."

Would it be appropriate to thumbs up everyone who contributed?

8lmm7yUpvote what you want to encourage. I've upvoted most of the replies here; this post seems to have got an unusually good ratio of valuable replies (admittedly those replies are somewhat repetitive)
2gjm7yI think the range of appropriate policies is roughly from "upvote everything you regard as, on balance, a net positive contribution to LW" to "upvote things you regard as exceptionally high quality". Indiscriminate upvoting (or downvoting) of everything in a particular discussion would be frowned on a bit, at least by me and anyone else whose brain happens to be identical to mine, but it's not forbidden or anything.
0JentryJones7yCould you explain how this solves the issue of fatalism? It is obvious that everything that happens and will happen is subject to physical laws that cause its happening to be possible. But the author of that post does not seem to advance the argument that everything that will occur is determined to occur inevitably — which is what the doctrine of fatalism claims to be true, in my understanding of it. Unless I missed something, I don't see how this solves the conundrum that is fatalism.
0Gurkenglas7yAssuming that the universe is indeed deterministic, we shouldn't conclude that the choices we make/the programming of our brain/"we" don't influence anything, just as we should one-box on Newcomb's problem; and since knowing that all is determined doesn't tell us what choices to make, we shouldn't be influenced by it in our choices.

In retrospect, everything is predetermined.

I have a question:

Let's suppose that you make the decision to improve yourself in some way (e.g. quit smoking, lose weight, get in shape, etc.) and by dint of careful study; planning; and effort you succeeded -- despite a lot of psychological obstacles. Let's suppose further that your success was a bit of a surprise to your friends, family, and even to yourself.

Would you take that as evidence that you have a good deal of control over your destiny? Or would you feel that even the high level internal process which guided your efforts were inevitable even if difficult for even you to foresee?

0savageorange7yWas your intent to point out that these two view points are strictly non-contradictory?. (Your decision algorithm is exactly physics, so no opposition is possible even in principle.)
0brazil847yMy intent was to get a better understanding of what the original poster was talking about.

Fatalism would require eveything-is-physics + physics-is-deterministic. The latter is open to dispute.

0Luke_A_Somers7yAnd for fatalism to be psychologically problematic, you also need what-you-value-isn't-possible.
0TheAncientGeek7yYou need it to be unikely. If you have a fairly specific and fixed set of requriements, you are unlikley to have them delivered to you by a determinsitc process that doens't care about you. Being able to change thiings to get your requiremetns is not guaranteed, but is more hopeful. And then there is thesage's advice to adjust your requirements to the situation...
0Luke_A_Somers7yI meant, what you value in terms of 'free will'.
0ialdabaoth7yWhich needs some VERY clear fences around it to avoid wireheading.
0hyporational7yIs wireheading really a clearly defined concept to begin with?
0ialdabaoth7yNo, which is why you need the fences.
0hyporational7yWhere would you put a fence between smoking and wireheading?
0TheOtherDave7yWould you mind unpacking what you understand "fatalism" to describe here?
0TheAncientGeek7yTo keep things simple, I was taking it to mean soemthing likefuture events occuring with probability 1. In fact, it is a rather ticker concept, that can inlude the idea that future evnts are inevitabe even if not causally determined, and the idea of acquiescing psychologically to the future.
0TheOtherDave7yOK; thanks for clarifying.

The human mind is an incredibly powerful and really weird contraption. If it believes something to be true, then it almost bends reality to make it so. This is most easily demonstrated with the placebo effect -- which works, even if patients know it's a placebo. Buddhist monks can alter their body temperature through meditation. Athletes can train for years in order to achieve superhuman levels of strength.

Unfortunately, that power works both ways -- if you believe that you're incapable of something, you will fail, even if you're otherwise capable. Most p... (read more)

As an update, I've read the the Free Will Solution sequence. It doesn't seem like there is any punchline to the sequences, I'm found the area of timeless physics interesting but I'm not sure how it helps. I don't think I'm any better off intellectually from the sequences.

Is it meaningful to say something is only deterministic from the point of view of an observer?

I don't believe I entirely understand the point of view of fatalists.

Like all other animals, the behavior of humans is essentially the output of a great many number of inputs, much of it which can be explained physiologically. For example, chemicals in the air will bind to receptors in a rat's olfactory system which will in turn communicate to the rat all of the scents of its surroundings. An empty stomach will activate a rat's sympathetic nervous system that will cause it to search for food. Add a certain stimulus to the environment -- say, cheese -- and ... (read more)