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Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
David Shiang

In 2008, David Shiang wrote God Does Not Play Dice, a polemic against the idea that chance is involved in the creation of the universe and the evolution of life. He agrees with Einstein's well known quotation. Like EInstein, Shiang's god is not that of any religion, but his basis for the origin of rational laws and order in nature.

Shiang's basic argument is that we can know through the use of memory that the past could not have occurred otherwise. This means that the future is not open to alternative possibilities and that there are no such things as equally likely outcomes. If a coin came up heads, it could not have come up tails. Each individual physical event is unique, and events can be treated as identical only for statistical purposes. But predictions about what will happen in the long run do not mean that chance or alternative possibilities are possible for any given event.

It is of course only an assumption that events that are otherwise similar can be assumed to have equal a priori probabilities. However productive that assumption, Shiang is logically correct that we cannot prove it to be true in any particular experiment.

All science consists of theories built on statistical evidence gathered from a very large number of experiments assumed to be identical. But as Hume's skepticism established centuries ago when he studied the problem of induction, the constant conjunction of any number of events B following events A cannot prove that a "causes" B.

The metaphysical problem of identity shows that although any two events have some identical information, there is always some information in which they differ. So identity is always only "in some respects." which Shiang claims invalidates the typical claims by scientists.

Here is Shiang on chance...

It is often contended that there is experimental evidence for the scientific viewpoint that "chance" plays a part in the fundamental workings of nature, but we will see that there is none. Only those who are ignorant of the underpinnings of science state that nature has been shown to be ruled by "chance" and "probability." It is unfortunate that extraordinarily large numbers of scientists fall into this category.

When a fair coin is tossed several times, we observe that some of the time it lands heads, some of the time it lands tails. In the long run, we find that it lands heads about 50% of the time, tails about 50% of the time. Does this observation about the long run in any way lead us to the conclusion that on any single toss "we must give equal likelihoods for heads and tails," as Feynman asserts? Not in the least.

If we think carefully about a specific toss that is about to be made, all we can say is that one of two future states (heads or tails) will occur. We have no actual evidence to support the notion that these states are "equally likely" or "equally probable." This view of the event is simply an assumption based on long-term , , frequencies. The assumption is of such considerable importance that scientists and philosophers have even given it a formal label, "the hypothesis of equal a priori probabilities."

Shiang's argument against free will is very simply stated. Just as you cannot affect the past, he argues that by symmetry, you cannot affect the future. Shiang is in the tradition of actualists from Diodorus Cronus to Daniel Dennett, who claim that the only possible thing that can happen in the future is the one thing that actually happens.

One confirms the notion of actualism, the view that the actual, the real, is the only possibility. Dennett poses the question, "Could anything happen other than what actually happens?" The answer is a resounding and unequivocal "No." One finds that nothing could have taken place in any way other than the way it actually happened. "Could have," with all its ghosts and shadows, is reduced to the actual. No more uncertainty and speculation about "what might have been."

The shocking realization that the past could not have taken place otherwise is made by consciously exploring what has been called the "collective unconscious" or "universal mind." There is a wealth of knowledge in the unconscious that extends far beyond the life of the individual—some of this knowledge has to do with the past...

The actual (real) situation we find ourselves in today, whether arrived at in a straightforward manner or through what may be (erroneously) seen as a series of "chance encounters," "improbable accidents," "amazing coincidences," "astronomical odds," and "fortuitous events," was bound to occur. The present was wholly unavoidable and unpreventable. Physicists and evolutionarv biologists alike are constantly telling us how lucky we are to be alive and how we have overcome huge and overwhelming odds, but luck has nothing to do with it. The mathematically wild improbabilities they calculate are based on a fundamental misreading of reality, little more.

At first glance, it may appear that human freedom has no place in a predetermined world. Nothing could be further from the truth, although we must define precisely what we mean by "freedom." It can be said that all future events are completely predetermined, from the place where the next electron will appear in an atomic experiment to the winners of all future Olympic Games, but humans still make choices and act upon them. We feel free and go about acting as though there are no artificial constraints that limit our activities, but we are acting in the only manner possible.

We have the feeling of being free but we are not free.

I myself find this an ingenious state of affairs (brilliantly simple, one might say), but you can find it objectionable if you so desire. However, if given the choice, I think most of us would rather feel free than be free.

Perhaps there is a paradox here. (No one ever said that nature was straightforward.) We are reminded of Einstein's "Raffiniert ist der Herr Gott, aber boshaft ist er nicht," which has been translated in various ways, including, "The Lord God is subtle, but malicious he is not." The only alternative in the future that is really "open" to us is the one that actually occurs, but since we don't know in advance which it will be, we are forced to choose among various courses of action. If we don't make a choice, we will probably end up not doing anything! We might not get out of bed in the morning. Or we might end up playing golf all the time. (It's not such a bad life; I know a few people who wouldn't mind trading places with Tiger Woods.) Incidentally, it is not as well known that Einstein later added, "I have second thoughts. Maybe God is malicious." Please keep this sentiment in mind as we explore why scientists have allowed themselves to believe that the lack of perfect design in nature is proof of Darwin's theory of evolution.

The fact that we don't know what the future will bring is an important and absolutely essential part of the way things have been designed. If we knew in advance that we were going to break a leg running the New York City Marathon, how many of us would choose to make the effort? Before the race is run, however, the future appears as limitless as our imaginations allow. We may even have hopes of winning! If everything is predictable in principle, things would be very boring (except in places like a casino or the racetrack). Much activity would revolve around refining our measurements and trying to make better predictions. Having irreducible human uncertainty about the future is what makes things interesting and keeps us guessing. We know that we cannot know what will happen, but we realize that only one outcome is possible.

Very few of us go about feeling that we are manipulated by unseen forces; to the contrary, most of us find that there is nothing stopping us from doing what we want. We make choices all the time and exert efforts to fulfill our desires. The fact that the future is not "open" poses few practical problems. Think of the issue in another way. In the view of reality I propose, you have been living in a predetermined world all along. You never have had any "free will," despite what you may have thought. But even though your choices may not have been "free," have you ever felt like a mere puppet? Have you ever felt a lack of "freedom"? Of course not.

Shiang is also in the philosophical tradition of hard determinists like Derk Pereboom and Ted Honderich. Philosophers of science like J. J. C. Smart defend a belief in strict determinism on Einstein's theory of special relativity, in which the future is already out there.

Shiang is sympathetic to the concept of superdeterminism.

[A]ccording to John Bell (of Bell's Theorem), who used the term "super-deterministic," the lack of free will solves a fundamental mystery posed by quantum experiments. The physicist assumes that he or she can choose which experiment to perform, but if this is not the case and there is no real choice, then "'the difficulty which this experimental result creates disappears." In response to an interviewer's question "Free will is an illusion - that gets us out of the crisis, does it?," Bell answers "That's correct." This elegant and uncomplicated solution to many mysteries of the quantum world is of the utmost importance, but it is hardly taken seriously by the vast majority of physicists. They would rather reject Bell's "super-deterministic" explanation (despite its beauty, symmetry, and simplicity) and keep the crisis of quantum theory alive and well, as they want to preserve free will.

Superdeterminism denies the important "free choice" of the experimenter (originally suggested by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg) and later explored by John Conway and Simon Kochen. Conway and Kochen claim that the experimenters' free choice requires that atoms must have free will, something they call their Free Will Theorem.

Following John Bell, Nicholas Gisin and Antoine Suarez argue that something might be coming from "outside space and time" to correlate results in their own experimental tests of Bell's Theorem. Since everything inside space and time is completely causal, the scientific equivalent of divine intervention - something like Kant's noumenal world - would be needed for a miracle or creative event outside the laws of nature.

In his 1996 book, Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point, Huw Price proposes an Archimedean point "outside space and time" as a solution to the problem of nonlocality in the Bell experiments in the form of an "advanced action."

Rather than a "superdeterministic" common cause coming from "outside space and time" (as proposed by Bell, Gisin, Suarez, and others), Price argues that there might be a cause coming backwards in time from some interaction in the future.

Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff have also promoted this idea of "backward causation," sending information backward in time in the EPR experiments.

Shiang's insight into the unique character of each event is reminiscent of John McTaggart's "B-series" of time, which lies behind modern metaphysicians who support a "presentist" or "perdurantist" theory of persistence and the idea of "temporal parts."

The great Anglo-American philosopher Alfred North Whitehead attributed the continued existence of objects from moment to moment to the intervention of God. Without a kind of continuous creation of every entity, things would fall apart. This notion can also be traced back to the American theologian Jonathan Edwards, who thought God creates every person anew from moment to moment, and is responsible for the way the world is at every instant.

Willard van Orman Quine proposed that we consider an object as existing in "stages." Quine's student, David Lewis argues that at every instant of time, every object disappears, ceases to exist, to be replaced by a very similar new entity.

He proposes temporal parts as a solution to the problem of persistence. He calls his solution "perdurance," which he distinguishes from "endurance," in which the whole entity exists at all times. Lewis says:

Our question of overlap of worlds parallels the this-worldly problem of identity through time; and our problem of accidental intrinsics parallels a problem of temporary intrinsics, which is the traditional problem of change. Let us say that something persists iff, somehow or other, it exists at various times; this is the neutral word.
The road parts do not exactly persist. They are intrinsically different parts. The enduring entity does persist simpliciter.
Matter that disappears and reappears violates the conservation laws for matter and energy..
Something perdures iff it persists by having different temporal parts, or stages, at different times. though no one part of it is wholly present at more than one time; whereas it endures iff it persists by being wholly present at more than one time. Perdurance corresponds to the way a road persists through space; part of it is here and part of it is there, and no part is wholly present at two different places. Endurance corresponds to the way a universal, if there are such things, would be wholly present wherever and whenever it is instantiated. Endurance involves overlap: the content of two different times has the enduring thing as a common part. Perdurance does not.
Shiang's God Does Not Play Dice Video
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