The Story behind Information PhilosopherMy life-long love of philosophy began over fifty years ago with three undergraduate courses at Brown University in 1956, two of which were required for my Bachelor of Science degree in Physics. A course in Ethics made the biggest impression, especially its conclusion that science has absolutely nothing to contribute to the subject of Ethics. Ethical values must be found in traditional sources like religion and secular humanism. This struck me as odd. As Bertrand Russell wrote, "What science cannot discover, mankind cannot know." 1 So I took a course in philosophy of religion taught by Curt Ducasse, who had been a graduate student at Harvard under William James. I learned that moral values were amazingly relative to different religious traditions, apart from a few axioms like "thou shalt not kill" and some form of the golden rule. My third philosophy course was Existentialism, then the most exciting new philosophy, since analytical philosophy appeared bogged down in nit-picking arguments over the truth of linguistic statements. I was introduced to Friedrich Nietzsche. He seemed to recognize that moral values were created by human beings, who turned them into truths and moral laws to acquire power over others. They invent gods as enforcers. After the "death of God," Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus saw us as free agents, but in the absurd situation of choosing with no moral guides. Back in my ethics course, I had studied various attempts to get at values based on human nature or on feelings. The logical philosophers found us to have decent value systems, but no freedom of action. For them, determinism was obviously true. Laws governing the universe as a whole surely applied to mere mortals. Causality required every action to have a cause, back to Aristotle's first cause which was - what, an uncaused cause? Compatibilists argued that as long as our own determined mind was involved as a cause of our actions, this was freedom enough and allowed us to accept responsibility for our decisions. I was not so sure. Freedom without values was absurd. But values without freedom were empty.2 I was greatly impressed by a course taught by my Physics Department chairman, Bruce Lindsay. We read his book Foundations of Physics, co-authored with Henry Margenau. We read Arthur Stanley Eddington's The Nature of the Physical World and The Philosophy of Physical Science. I thought Eddington was surely onto the secret of free will, but somehow no one else thought so. It needed a more subtle approach than mere quantum randomness. At Harvard to get a Ph.D. (in Astrophysics) in the 1960's, I found philosophy courses too shallow and started reading the philosophers on my own. I also learned a great deal about statistical physics (thermodynamics) and quantum mechanics. My thesis was on the quantum mechanics of hydrogen atoms in close contact.
For Scholars1. Determinism and Physics, The Earl Gray Lecture, 1936, p.18. 2. The reference is to the great chiasmos of Kant, with variations by Charles Sanders Peirce.