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Philosophers

Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Anaximander
G.E.M.Anscombe
Anselm
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
Aristotle
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Augustine
J.L.Austin
A.J.Ayer
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
George Berkeley
Isaiah Berlin
Richard J. Bernstein
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
F.H.Bradley
C.D.Broad
Michael Burke
C.A.Campbell
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Carneades
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Chrysippus
Cicero
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Democritus
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Epictetus
Epicurus
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Gorgias
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
W.F.R.Hardie
Sam Harris
William Hasker
R.M.Hare
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Heraclitus
R.E.Hobart
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Leucippus
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
C.I.Lewis
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
C. Lloyd Morgan
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Lucretius
Alasdair MacIntyre
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
G.E.Moore
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
P.H.Nowell-Smith
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
Parmenides
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Plato
Karl Popper
Porphyry
Huw Price
H.A.Prichard
Protagoras
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
C.W.Rietdijk
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
T.M.Scanlon
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
J.J.C.Smart
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
Isabelle Stengers
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
Voltaire
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
W.G.Ward
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf

Scientists

Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
A.O.Gomes
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
John Herschel
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek

Presentations

Biosemiotics
Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
 
The Illusion of Determinism
Abstract
Adequate determinism is an emergent property in a universe that was initially chaotic and which remains chaotic at atomic and molecular levels. Consequently all physical processes are statistical and all knowledge is only probabilistic. Strict determinism is an illusion, a consequence of idealization.

Statistical knowledge always contains errors that are normally distributed according to a universal law that ultimately derives from the discrete quantum nature of matter.

The existence of this universal distribution law of errors convinced many scientists and philosophers that the randomness of errors was not real, that strict deterministic laws would be found to explain all phenomena, including human beings.

To the extent that randomness is needed to break the causal chain of strict physical determinism, many philosophers continue to think that free will is the illusion.


The fundamental nature of the universe is discrete (all things are particulate - atoms for example) and chaotic (irreducibly random).

In some parts of the universe however, stable information structures have emerged from a creative process involving indeterministic quantum mechanics (wave function collapse) and transport of entropy away from the new structures to empty parts of the expanding universe.

This core process of information creation underlies the formation of microscopic objects like atoms and molecules and macroscopic objects like galaxies, stars, and planets.

Physically large objects appear to be continuous and highly deterministic, for example the motion of planets around the sun. Planetary positions are predictable to a very high degree of accuracy, using analytic equations of motion.

But this apparently perfect determinism is an idealization, an abstraction from reality, achieved by treating a small number of macroscopic objects as a system in isolation and ignoring the effects of bodies external to the system.

Isaac Newton's laws of motion perfectly explain Kepler's observation that a planet moves in an ellipse around the sun. But this result depends on treating the sun and planet as point masses and ignoring the other planets. If they are included, classical mechanics becomes only approximate and the determinism only adequate (albeit accurate to many significant figures).

In addition, measurements of planetary position and motion (indeed all experimental measurements) are only approximate because of observational errors. These errors are a combination of human ignorance (our minds and instruments contain limited information and lack perfect precision) and fundamental randomness - whose source is quantum uncertainty.

At the other extreme of physically small objects, James Clerk Maxwell and Ludwig Boltzmann successfully described the motions of atoms or molecules in an "ideal gas" by ignoring the details of their interactions (collisions with one another and with the walls of their container).

Maxwell and Boltzmann knew very well that their results were only approximate and statistical. But their statistical mechanics provided a quantitative physical explanation for macroscopic thermodynamic observables that seemed to confirm the deterministic nature of physics.

The astounding success of deterministic mechanical theories describing the largest and the smallest objects in the universe appeared to late nineteenth-century scientists and philosophers to confirm physical determinism, and by association the many other forms of determinism.

But quantum chaos is the fundamental condition of the early universe and the present microcosmos. How can we reconcile this fundamental and irreducible randomness and disorder with the appearance of cosmic order, including life and intelligence?

The "adequate" determinism of macroscopic structures is simply a consequence of the very large number of quantum particles involved.

Since the fundamental particles follow the laws of quantum mechanics, their macroscopic behavior approaches classical mechanics in the limit of large quantum numbers (the Bohr correspondence principle) and as a consequence of the law of large numbers that describes macroscopic objects made up of vast numbers of quantum particles.

We are of course quite fortunate that the determinism we have, while not the strict, necessary, logical determinism that scientists and philosophers thought, is adequate enough to provide us with a highly predictable and orderly world. Information structures have stability over time scales of the same order as the age of the universe. Parts of DNA have not changed in 2.8 billion years.

Living systems have learned to manage the underlying chaos (with sophisticated error detection and correction mechanisms). Far from being the problem that many philosophers think it is, randomness is used by living systems to escape the trap of determinism and provide us with the alternative possibilities needed for freedom of action and creativity.

The Calculus of Probabilities
Many ancient and modern philosophers rejected chance and randomness as unintelligible ideas. Chance was used to describe situations in which humans simply lack the knowledge of what exactly is going on. Randomness was regarded as an epistemological problem, not a metaphysical or ontological reality.

The limits on knowledge were considered to be a problem only for humans. Theologians were confident that God could know details of which humans were ignorant. Metaphysical chance was regarded as atheistic.

Gottfried Leibniz and Pierre-Simon Laplace postulated a super intelligence that could know the positions and velocities of all the particles in the universe and thus know the complete future.

Laplace and contemporary mathematicians were convinced of the deterministic nature of the universe by their discovery of the underlying distribution law that governs chance events - the law of errors (Legendre, Gauss) or normal distribution.

Laplace named his theory about random events the "calculus of probabilities" to signal approbation of a subject that originated in illicit games of chance.

Calculating a priori probabilities is a means to justify degrees of belief, the fundamental basis for epistemology. Admitting the reality of metaphysical chance in the world helps a posteriori to explain events after the fact that do not agree with our expectations.

Theories are probable.

Experiments are statistical.

Epistemology, the study of what we know, is fundamentally probabilistic. Ontology, the study of what exists, is fundamentally statistical.

Knowledge is (subjective) information in our minds about (objective) information in external things.

Chaos Theory
"Chaos theory" is a deterministic mathematical formalism that describes the dynamics of physical systems near singular points in their motions where infinitesimal differences in position or velocity lead to exponentially large differences at later times. It does not involve quantum uncertainty, simply extreme sensitivity to initial conditions.

Chaos theorists are determinists who think that chaotic behavior is only apparently random.

Most complexity theories are also deterministic.

Free Will
In the 1870's Maxwell noted the occurrence of singular points in hydrodynamical flows and argued that something like them in the mind might allow living creatures to escape from strict determinism.

After the discovery of quantum uncertainty, some scientists (Arthur Stanley Eddington, Arthur Holly Compton, John Eccles, Henry Margenau) proposed quantum randomness as the source of free will.

But they all admitted failure if chance was the direct cause of our actions.

Free will is a two-stage process of "free" (random generation of alternative possibilities) followed by "will" (adequately determined selection of the best action).

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