What Do Philosophers Believe?

Academics of all stripes enjoy conducting informal polls of their peers to gauge the popularity of different stances on controversial issues. But the philosophers — and in particular, David Bourget & David Chalmers — have decided to be more systematic about it. (Maybe they have more controversial issues to discuss?)

They targeted 1,972 philosophy faculty members at 99 different institutions, and received results from 931 of them. Most of the universities were in English-speaking countries, and the others were chosen for strength in analytic philosophy, so the survey has an acknowledged bias toward analytic/Anglocentric philosophy. They asked for simple forced-response answers (no essay questions!) concerning 30 different topics, from belief in God to normative ethics to the nature of time. The answers are pretty intriguing.

Results below the fold. Note that atheism easily trumps theism, and compatibilism is the leading approach to free will (although not by a huge amount). Only about half of the recipients identify as naturalists, which is smaller than I would have thought (and smaller than the percentage of “physicalists” when it comes to the mind, which is surprising to me). When they dig into details, there is a strong correlation between theism and whether a person specializes in philosophy of religion, predictably enough. Among philosophers who don’t specifically specialize in religion, the percentage of atheists is pretty overwhelming.

1. A priori knowledge: yes 71.1%; no 18.4%; other 10.5%.
2. Abstract objects: Platonism 39.3%; nominalism 37.7%; other 23.0%.
3. Aesthetic value: objective 41.0%; subjective 34.5%; other 24.5%.
4. Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes 64.9%; no 27.1%; other 8.1%.
5. Epistemic justification: externalism 42.7%; internalism 26.4%; other 30.8%.
6. External world: non-skeptical realism 81.6%; skepticism 4.8%; idealism 4.3%; other 9.2%.
7. Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%.
8. God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
9. Knowledge claims: contextualism 40.1%; invariantism 31.1%; relativism 2.9%; other 25.9%.
10. Knowledge: empiricism 35.0%; rationalism 27.8%; other 37.2%.
11. Laws of nature: non-Humean 57.1%; Humean 24.7%; other 18.2%.
12. Logic: classical 51.6%; non-classical 15.4%; other 33.1%.
13. Mental content: externalism 51.1%; internalism 20.0%; other 28.9%.
14. Meta-ethics: moral realism 56.4%; moral anti-realism 27.7%; other 15.9%.
15. Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.
16. Mind: physicalism 56.5%; non-physicalism 27.1%; other 16.4%.
17. Moral judgment: cognitivism 65.7%; non-cognitivism 17.0%; other 17.3%.
18. Moral motivation: internalism 34.9%; externalism 29.8%; other 35.3%.
19. Newcomb’s problem: two boxes 31.4%; one box 21.3%; other 47.4%.
20. Normative ethics: deontology 25.9%; consequentialism 23.6%; virtue ethics 18.2%; other 32.3%.
21. Perceptual experience: representationalism 31.5%; qualia theory 12.2%; disjunctivism 11.0%; sense-datum theory 3.1%; other 42.2%.
22. Personal identity: psychological view 33.6%; biological view 16.9%; further-fact view 12.2%; other 37.3%.
23. Politics: egalitarianism 34.8%; communitarianism 14.3%; libertarianism 9.9%; other 41.0%.
24. Proper names: Millian 34.5%; Fregean 28.7%; other 36.8%.
25. Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%.
26. Teletransporter: survival 36.2%; death 31.1%; other 32.7%.
27. Time: B-theory 26.3%; A-theory 15.5%; other 58.2%.
28. Trolley problem: switch 68.2%; don’t switch 7.6%; other 24.2%.
29. Truth: correspondence 50.8%; deflationary 24.8%; epistemic 6.9%; other 17.5%.
30. Zombies: conceivable but not metaphysically possible 35.6%; metaphysically possible 23.3%; inconceivable 16.0%; other 25.1%.

Yes, some of the descriptions might not mean that much at first glance. Google is your friend!

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79 Responses to What Do Philosophers Believe?

  1. James Gallagher says:

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  3. Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

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  4. Frank says:

    Yikes Torbjörn, tell us what you really think.

    I’m not a philosopher myself, but I am interested in some areas and try to keep up with recent developments here and there. This struck me as a fascinating poll, if somewhat difficult to interpret given our lack of access to the specific question wordings.

    From what I can tell, much of the thrust of modern philosophy is to do exactly the thing you accuse it in such sweeping and unfair terms as ignoring: to “ferret out” “fuzzy and unsubstantiated thoughts” in the conventional unrigorous ways in which we speak of things like consciousness, morality, knowledge, etc., and to treat them to the most rigorous and systematic analysis possible. The notion of “qualia” that you dismiss may be a highly controversial topic, but better minds than yours or mine have found it worthwhile to entertain in a serious fashion. And lest you accuse me of argumentum ad auctoritatem, in cases where some sizable group of PhD-obtaining professionals think about something complex with a great deal more seriousness than I, a cursorily-informed internet-commentator, ever will…well, I tend to defer to them. (See also: climate scientists)

    As for your second dismissal of cognitive states, it sounds to me like you’re interested neither in the philosophical nor cog-neuro pictures of the mind’s workings, both of which I’m sure would admit distributed, non-localized brain activity to lie within the broad category of “states.”

    All of which is to say, your philosophy-contempt comes across as unconsidered, hostile, and weirdly provocative for a humble comment thread…or “trolling.”

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  5. Jasper Johns says:

    They…. don’t believe in zombies?! Who will protect us when the apocalypse comes?

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  6. Daniel Arovas says:

    Would be nice to see some correlations.

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  7. Daniel Arovas says:

    Aha, so there are some correlations reported in the paper, in section 3.2.

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  8. Googling around will help you find explanations of a lot of the questions above. I’ve also put together a Google Doc with a lot of helpful links and concise summaries for all 30 questions. See here.
     
    Torbjörn: The data above is extremely consolidated. The original poll had 17-19 different responses per question, not just 3-5.
     
    I’m an eliminativist about ‘qualia’, but I don’t think belief in qualia is ‘stupid’. The issues here are a lot more complicated than a cursory look might suggest, and pattern-matching the very word ‘qualia’ to ‘science-hating anti-physicalist lunatics’ is certainly a very bad intellectual habit to get into. As a case in point, ‘qualia theory’ here has very little directly to do with the hard problem of consciousness, which I’m guessing is why you attacked it.
     
    Qualia theory is actually in some ways a very reductionist view. It’s also called the ‘adverbial theory’, and rejects or de-emphasizes the idea that perception involves a representation of or acquaintance with the objects of our experiences (e.g., trees, or depictions of trees, or tree-like sense-data). For example, David Chalmers is a representationalist rather than a ‘qualia theorist’, even though he is strongly associated with anti-physicalism about phenomenal consciousness. See SEP: The Problem of Perception.
     
    Also, ‘state’ here means something’s possessing a property at some time. States don’t have to be static or simple.

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  9. phil h says:

    What do you think about doing this for cosmologists ? do they accept inflation? eternal inflation? a universe with a beginning or without? best hope for quantum gravity? best model of the ealry universe? god or not?

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  10. Riccardo says:

    Torbjörn: from your post it is obvious you don’t know much about philosophy, or logic for that matter. Please refrain from inundating us with your stupidity.

    Anyway, I’m pretty suprised by the quite high level of agreement on many issues, in particular on the analytic-synthetic distinction. I guess that the two dogmas of empiricism haven’t defeated Kant after all.

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  11. Tony Rz says:

    Being highly intelligent does not always correlate with true knowledge.

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  12. Tony Rz says:

    These Philosophers just proved that they were free to believe as they so desired. Well, well, was freewill involved or were they forced to believe what they believe, perhaps their parents pounded their beliefs into their heads, if so it’s strange because my kids very often believe just the opposite that I do.

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  14. Pat Gunn says:

    Disapppointing to see it conflating academic philosophers with philosophers in general. Philosophy has traditionally been more the domain of gentlemen-scholar than academes; academic philosophy is not distinct from its non-academic counterpart.

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  15. Doug says:

    I am amused by classical/non-classical/other logic choices. The “others” must be interested in doing severe damage to the law of excluded middle.

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  16. Dr. Morbius says:

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  17. David Mathers says:

    On the naturalism issue, and there being more physicalists than naturalists, you have to remember that naturalism means something quite specific to philosophers. It doesn’t just mean not believing in God and other supernatural nonsense, it means roughly that one should be guided in what to believe about the nature of reality SOLELY by the sciences, sometimes with an explicit restriction to the hard sciences, rather than speculating or trying to use some distinctive philosophical methodology. Some philosophers just find the idea of being guided by the sciences in doing philosophy, in a stronger sense than just ‘don’t say anything that is inconsistent with leading scientific theories’ (everyone agrees with that, hopefully!) either too vague and unclear if ‘science’ is read widely enough for it to be plausible, including, maths, history, sociology etc., as well as the natural sciences, and otherwise just false if ‘science’ excludes the soft sciences. Probably those who take the ‘false or pretty vacuous’ attitude to naturalism are those responsible for naturalism doing significantly worse than atheism and slightly worse than physicalism, rather than any philosophers having non-theistic but supernatural beliefs. Here Timothy Williamson expressing roughly this line on naturalism, amongst other objections, much more clearly than I can, in an exchange with another philosopher in the New York Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/what-is-naturalism/ http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/17/why-i-am-a-naturalist/ http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/on-ducking-challenges-to-naturalism/

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  18. David and Sean: I would strongly advise against reading much into the ‘naturalism’ answer. As far as I’m concerned, the responses there give us zero information of any use, save the important datum that 9.7% of respondents thought the question ‘too unclear to answer’. The only other question to be so widely considered ‘unclear’ was the empiricism/rationalism question, which got 1 vote more. (Third place is physicalism, with 6.3% calling the question unclear; fourth is motivation internalism, with 4.8%.) Those are very big numbers. If so many people were too confused to even attempt an answer here (even though those same people answered most of the other 29 questions), then we have to seriously consider the hypothesis that the other respondents were also fairly unclear about what ‘naturalism’ means, but were a little more willing to go out on a limb.

    All of which is to say: Nothing could be further from the truth than to say “naturalism means something quite specific to philosophers”. No. The view you describe, David, sounds closer to scientism than to naturalism. (And I would venture that ‘scientism’ is not a well-defined or precise term, either; in many ways naturalism can be paraphrased as ‘having an interest in or fondness for science, in a good way’ and scientism can be paraphrased as ‘having an interest in or fondness for science, in a bad way’, which is obviously a philosophically problematic set of ‘doctrines’, risking both triviality and bias.

    Cf. the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, struggling over varying definitions of the term: “‘[N]aturalism’ is not a particularly informative term as applied to contemporary philosophers. [… T]his entry will not aim to pin down any more informative definition of ‘naturalism’. It would be fruitless to try to adjudicate some official way of understanding the term. Different contemporary philosophers interpret ‘naturalism’ differently. This disagreement about usage is no accident. For better or worse, ‘naturalism’ is widely viewed as a positive term in philosophical circles—few active philosophers nowadays are happy to announce themselves as ‘non-naturalists’. This inevitably leads to a divergence in understanding the requirements of ‘naturalism’. Those philosophers with relatively weak naturalist commitments are inclined to understand ‘naturalism’ in a unrestrictive way, in order not to disqualify themselves as ‘naturalists’, while those who uphold stronger naturalist doctrines are happy to set the bar for ‘naturalism’ higher.”

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  19. Michael Manning says:

    If we look at it all as a function of brain then we can see which illusions are the most compelling, or satisfactory or misleading! Fun.

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  20. Not having heard of the Newcomb’s paradox before I have some opinions which might be awfully naive, but here I go.

    To me, if the Predictor is really infallible (or accurate to at least 1:1000 independently of the situation) then you only have two outcomes, you take two boxes with (average) payoff of ~$1000 or one box with $1000000. Trying to “fool” the predictor by doing anything else doesn’t pay off on average, or requires that the accuracy of the Predictor be dependent on human decisions (which to me seem like terribly human-centric and arrogant assumptions).

    However I see the answers and Is this really what over 30% would take $1000, close to 50% would do something else (what that could be might be interesting, but definitely requires extra stretches to the problem statement) and only a meager 21% would take the payoff maximization solution (based on the strict statement of the problem). Either I am missing something really badly, or these philosophers are seriously misguided.

    Cheers,

    Edgar

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  22. Arlin Stoltzfus says:

    I would really like to see a survey of evolutionary biologists, focusing in the same way on those at the elite level of their profession (university professors). Off the top of my head, here are a few questions (but it would be helpful to reframe these as multiple choice questions with a more interesting set of possible responses). I welcome other ideas for questions.

    Is the majority of evolutionary changes at the molecular level the result of random fixation of selectively neutral alleles?

    Is the observed non-randomness of mutation a challenge to neo-Darwinism?

    Are evolutionary causes a matter of population genetics?

    Is group selection real?

    Is the human genome mostly composed of functional sequences?

    Our contemporary understanding of evolution is (1) encompassed by the Modern Synthesis, (2) encompassed by an extended version of the Modern Synthesis (3) at odds with the Modern Synthesis.

    Did Charles Darwin discover evolution by mutation and selection?

    Did terrestrial life originate on earth?

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  23. [Second attempt at posting this – hopefully it won’t double-post]

    I’m going to speak up in support of Torbjörn Larsson, here – the more I find out about philosophy, the less I think it accomplishes a damned thing. Someone is welcome to argue that “greater minds” than mine think it’s wonderful, and I’ll challenge them to bring up its additions to our knowledge base that we couldn’t do without. All I ever see is endless debating over labels and definitions, and this survey seems to exemplify it fantastically.

    Take, for instance, aesthetics: objective or subjective? To me, that’s like asking if salt is good or bad – deriving any kind of distinct answer means defining aesthetics in extremely narrow terms. Does it take a lot of thought to determine that we might have inherent/evolved recognition of, for instance, good conditions to live (such as green fields and fresh water) and at the same time, cultural standards of attractiveness? So which does the overreaching term of “aesthetics” apply to?

    Not to mention that free will is still being considered a valid subject to discuss when it’s not even defined in a useful or applicable manner. How long is it going to take philosophers to puzzle out that it’s a nonsense concept with religious roots that should have been discarded ages ago? Apparently, a hell of a long time, since what’s important to philosophers is perpetuating their field, rather than integrating with what the rest of the world is doing.

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  24. Tony Rz says:

    What do people mean when they say there is no such thing as free will?

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  26. Tony Rz asked: “What do people mean when they say there is no such thing as free will?”

    In short, that a universe governed by the physics we know means that our minds are also governed by such, and thus like all atoms they respond in a known manner to interactions with other atoms. Given enough information (which is more than we’ll ever manage,) all such interactions could be predicted – meaning that we will follow the path that physics tells us to, regardless of whether we believe we’re “deciding” or not. Those decisions are also part of the predictions.

    “Free will” was created to counter exactly this kind of situation, but from another source: an omniscient god that knew everything that would happen. Such a concept meant that humans were mere players in god’s plan, and thus not responsible for how it played out, eliminating all of the manipulative power of religion. Couldn’t have that, so “free will” was the dodge that meant humans could either “sin,” or choose to follow whatever someone’s idea of divine responsibility was.

    The resistance to the idea of deterministic (predictable) physics is that people think this means they’re automatons, or forced to do something “against their will.” But their “will” is how much they approve of their own actions, which is also defined by the same atoms – we will approve of how our brains function, because “will” is part of the structure. Nothing changes but perspective (which far too many people seem to forget – finding out that free will doesn’t exist, and never has, doesn’t change how their lives have been before, nor how they’re going now.)

    Note that the “predictable” function of physics also relies on the constant interaction of everything, meaning our decisions are based on input from our senses, all of which can “change our minds” – including anyone’s decision to demonstrate their capriciousness in defiance of this comment ;-) The weather is completely predictable too, by the same physics – but we’re never going to have that much information at our disposal.

    Every movie someone sees, every place they visit, is predetermined. We know this. This doesn’t change our desire to experience them for ourselves. We are a species that gets delight (positive internal response) from exploring and discovery. So be it.

    The idea that we cannot punish criminals or some such rot, because it’s all going the way it’s “supposed” to and thus they weren’t responsible for their actions, is also nonsense. Again, constant input plays a part, as does our own motivations. If we feel there should be punishment, and that it will change things, then there’s no reason not to engage in that activity. Our actions can and do change the actions of others. We could make ourselves unhappy by believing nothing we do matters, but that doesn’t change physics in any way, so why not simply obey our instincts and avoid torturing ourselves?

    So free will isn’t denied by physics, from the standpoint of how we think it affects us, nor is it supported by physics, in implying that we have the ability to deny or depart from physics. It’s just a holdover from previous ignorance that should go away. And like many concepts in philosophy, without it we have a better understanding of what kind of creatures we are.

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  27. Tony Rz says:

    Al D. That is a definition that means nothing, it’s saying you can have it both ways, you’re are programmed by your atoms but can choose to do otherwise, how is this different than free will? Somehow Physicists believe that Physics will have have all the answers to humanities reasons for existing and doing. They are trying to be the new religion. They’re are like the teenager telling his parents what and how to do everything, they now know best. Atheism will be a temporary belief of most Scientists and will not last.

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  28. vmarko says:

    @ Al Denelsbeck:

    “In short, that a universe governed by the physics we know means that our minds are also governed by such, and thus like all atoms they respond in a known manner to interactions with other atoms. Given enough information (which is more than we’ll ever manage,) all such interactions could be predicted – meaning that we will follow the path that physics tells us to, regardless of whether we believe we’re “deciding” or not. Those decisions are also part of the predictions.”

    You’re wrong in thinking that laws of physics are deterministic — they are not. Not even in principle. This is a theorem, and a consequence of the interplay between Heisenberg’s inequalities and nonlinear differential equations of motion. For an introduction into this, you might look up “chaos theory” on wikipedia.

    So given all the information you might like about the “present”, and all the computing power you might desire, you just cannot calculate the “future” from that data. There is always a fundamental element of randomness that can never be taken into account, and the future is not predetermined until it actually happens.

    HTH, :-)
    Marko

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  29. Tony Rz said: “Somehow Physicists believe that Physics will have have all the answers to humanities reasons for existing and doing. They are trying to be the new religion.”

    You are welcome to link to anything, anywhere, where any physicist can even loosely be construed as saying this, much less all of them. It might help you to understand that what you think is occurring and what really is are two different things.

    Nobody in the hard sciences is likely to be trying to be “the new religion.” A significant percentage of them, as demonstrated by more than a few polls here and there, think religion is pointless. What science is mostly after is finding real, dependable answers, ones that provide both something useful and something that predicts. That it has been so successful at this is what irks so many who value religion (and spirituality, and mysticism, and so on.) No one has ever claimed science has all the answers – contrast that with religion – but if it produces results, what kind of idiot would stop using it?

    Given what you’ve demonstrated here, the next bit is likely to be completely lost, fighting upstream against your preferred worldview, but hey…

    “That is a definition that means nothing, it’s saying you can have it both ways, you’re are programmed by your atoms but can choose to do otherwise, how is this different than free will?”

    Technically, you’re not choosing – you’re just following the structure within. A bad analogy perhaps, but the computer program is pleased with itself, because it cannot be otherwise. As I said, most people believe the loss of free will means they’ll be unhappy with what happens, or making decisions they don’t like or can’t control. It means nothing of the sort. It just means that there has never been anything that demonstrates a departure from the physical, so no reason to propose one. As a child, you might have believed airplanes fly using the same powers as Superman or whatever – they didn’t stop flying when you found out it was due to aerodynamics. That’s all we’re talking about here.

    It probably helps to note that this is dealing with the philosophical concept of free will, which stands opposed to deterministic physics. The common concept of being pleased with our actions remains unchanged either way. What I’m trying to show is that much of philosophy starts with wrong premises and perpetuates, often in gross denial of any evidence against it because it was not arrived at by philosophical means.

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  30. vmarko said: “You’re wrong in thinking that laws of physics are deterministic — they are not. Not even in principle. This is a theorem, and a consequence of the interplay between Heisenberg’s inequalities and nonlinear differential equations of motion. For an introduction into this, you might look up “chaos theory” on wikipedia.”

    First off, none of this alters the philosophical concept of free will in any way, which is loosely a form of dualism – something distinctly separate from the physical mind. If you think about it, it doesn’t even make sense. At best, compatibilism may consider it an emergent property of a living organism, still linked to the physical, but even then, how is this supposed to be any different from feeling hungry when our bodies demand more calories?

    And I know that wasn’t specifically what you said. Addressing that, there’s a difference between “deterministic” and “determinable.” Being limited in what we can know (Heisenberg’s Uncertainty and so on) does not mean that physics is working randomly. Introducing energy into a phosphor will result in it being re-emitted as a photon, but with a certain degree of unpredictability – the glow-in-the-dark toy gradually loses its glow, rather than all at once. Vacuum energy occasionally produces a matched set of particles.

    But overall, and certainly on the gross level of our brains, such effects are negligible and have little to no affect on our decisions. Even if they did, what they would represent would be random, and should they generate (like Chaos Theory implies is possible) up to the level of an action, there are two potential outcomes. We might find it to be something totally unintended (where it might be viewed as a muscle spasm or a brain fart); or it might simply fit in with all of the regular structure of the brain anyway, where we have the connections between emotional reaction (“this is a good idea”) and imagined consequences and all that, meaning we still believed it was our will, a conscious decision.

    Recall that dreams often introduce random elements, or so it might seem to our conscious minds. Even if we’d prefer they not happen, especially the traumatic ones, we never consider this a denial of, or even evidence against, free will.

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  31. Riccardo says:

    @Al Denelsbeck

    “I’m going to speak up in support of Torbjörn Larsson, here – the more I find out about philosophy, the less I think it accomplishes a damned thing. Someone is welcome to argue that “greater minds” than mine think it’s wonderful, and I’ll challenge them to bring up its additions to our knowledge base that we couldn’t do without.”

    The first things that come to my mind :)

    Modal logic
    Paraconsistent Logic
    Intuitionism
    Formal ontologies
    James’ Principles of Psychology
    Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason
    Husserl’s Logical Investigations
    Mereology
    Functionalism
    Correspondence theory of truth

    There you go.

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  32. vmarko says:

    @ Al Denelsbeck:

    “First off, none of this alters the philosophical concept of free will in any way, which is loosely a form of dualism – something distinctly separate from the physical mind.”

    The concept of free will is very intertwined with the concept of (in)determinism. Simply put, if determinism is true, then our will is not “free”. If indeterminism is true, then we just act randomly, i.e. we are “free” but there is no “will”. This is called the “problem of free will”. One of the ways to resolve this problem is called the two-stage model of free will, see for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-stage_model_of_free_will for a nice review. This model does not involve any intrinsically dualistic setup.

    “Being limited in what we can know (Heisenberg’s Uncertainty and so on) does not mean that physics is working randomly.”

    Oh, but it does, that’s the whole point! It is not about humans having limited knowledge about nature, it is about nature not having any deterministic description at all. The Heisenberg’s inequalities forbid the existence of any fully deterministic description of nature. Physics indeed does work randomly, in the most fundamental way possible.

    “But overall, and certainly on the gross level of our brains, such effects are negligible and have little to no affect on our decisions.”

    Chaos theory is an effective means to amplify quantum uncertainties up to macroscopic level, especially in a highly nonlinear physical system such as the human brain. This is the “free” part of the two-stage model, which provides the brain with a alternative possibilities for taking action. It “seeds the possibilities”. The second stage is a conscious choice of one of these possibilities over all others, by deterministically evaluating various outcomes, similar to evolution. On one hand a choice is a conscious, deliberate choice, while on the other hand this choice is completely unpredictable by laws of physics, since the pool of possible choices is chaotic in nature.

    One would have a hard time formulating any concept of “free will” that is simultaneously more “free” and more “will”-full than that. And all this is in complete accord with all laws of physics. Moreover, one could argue that the laws of physics (as we understand them now) actually *imply* the existence of free will in a physical system that is complex enough.

    HTH, :-)
    Marko

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  33. Tony Rz says:

    Thank you Marko, however, I believe in a higher dimensional origination of free will.

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  34. Jesse M. says:

    vmarko said: “You’re wrong in thinking that laws of physics are deterministic — they are not. Not even in principle. This is a theorem, and a consequence of the interplay between Heisenberg’s inequalities and nonlinear differential equations of motion. For an introduction into this, you might look up “chaos theory” on wikipedia.”

    This is wrong, for two reasons. 1) There are interpretations of quantum mechanics that are fully deterministic and compatible with all experimental data, such as the many-worlds interpretation and Bohmian mechanics. 2) There isn’t really any agreed upon “interplay” between quantum mechanics and chaos theory, for the simple reason that the equations of quantum mechanics are entirely linear, and chaos theory requires nonlinearity (there is a study of “quantum chaos” which deals with the quantum analogues to systems that classically would be chaotic, but while one may be able to get some interesting results like showing the probability distribution mirrors that of a chaotic system, the governing equations remain linear). Also, classical chaos theory is entirely deterministic, it’s just that one would need to specify the initial conditions to infinite precision to accurate predict a chaotic system’s behavior, any small inaccuracies tend to inflate exponentially over time.

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  35. vmarko says:

    @ Jesse:

    “1) There are interpretations of quantum mechanics that are fully deterministic and compatible with all experimental data”

    The interpretations are irrelevant. Heisenberg’s inequalities are a hard-proven theorem within quantum mechanics, which has to hold in all interpretations, including many-worlds and Bohm.

    “2) There isn’t really any agreed upon “interplay” between quantum mechanics and chaos theory, for the simple reason that the equations of quantum mechanics are entirely linear, and chaos theory requires nonlinearity”

    Ordinary nonrelativistic Schrodinger’s equation (for a free particle) is linear. The Standard Model is not. Care to guess which is an approximation of which?

    In general, only free-particle, interactionless systems might have linear equations of motion. Interacting systems are always nonlinear. As an elementary example, just couple Schrodinger’s equation to Maxwell equations, in order to account for electromagnetic interaction between particles. The resulting system of equations is very nonlinear, despite both Schrodinger’s and Maxwell equations each being linear when not coupled together.

    “Also, classical chaos theory is entirely deterministic, it’s just that one would need to specify the initial conditions to infinite precision to accurate predict a chaotic system’s behavior, any small inaccuracies tend to inflate exponentially over time.”

    Sure, “just” specify initial conditions to infinite precision. The Heisenberg’s inequalities give you a theoretical boundary on the precision of initial conditions, so these cannot be specified with infinite precision (position and momentum do not commute). Then, the corresponding uncertainties of both position and momentum will therefore inflate exponentially over time, destroying any predictability, despite the deterministic nature of chaos. This is the “interplay” between chaos theory and quantum mechanics I was referring to. And there is no way to circumvent it, it’s a theorem (and a rather obvious one, at that).

    HTH, :-)
    Marko

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  36. vmarko said: “One of the ways to resolve this problem is called the two-stage model of free will,” … “This model does not involve any intrinsically dualistic setup.”

    One other way to resolve the problem is to realize the concept was corrupt from the very start and toss it out. This solution does not involve making up various machinations to try and dodge simple physics and biology.

    “Oh, but it does, that’s the whole point! It is not about humans having limited knowledge about nature, it is about nature not having any deterministic description at all.”

    Waaayyy the hell overboard here. Quantum indeterminacy is just that: quantum or subatomic. As I said, there are vestiges of effect on the molecular level, like phosphors and ionizing radiation, but the vast majority of physics is wholly predictable.

    “This is the “free” part of the two-stage model, which provides the brain with a alternative possibilities for taking action. It “seeds the possibilities”. The second stage is a conscious choice of one of these possibilities over all others, by deterministically evaluating various outcomes, similar to evolution.”

    You know, my inkjet printer works the same way! Chaos Theory seeds the ink droplet on the verge of leaping to the paper, and deterministic physics (which didn’t exist mere moments ago) encourages it the rest of the way! My printer has free will! And by some remarkable coincidence, still prints exactly what I wanted it to!

    Even better, philosophers from several hundred years ago predicted inkjet printers! Amazing!

    You have established that you’ve spent at least a little time studying philosophy, because you’ve mastered sophistry. Now, let’s have a little fun.

    First off, there is no reason for any quantum effect to “seed” a potential decision, since the variables will have been provided by our senses and thought processes. Turn left or turn right? Why the hell would you need any form of subatomic influence when there are countless neuronal contributions to the process?

    Second, this implies that some/most/all decisions somehow boil down in the brain to a single point of balance, one lone atom, which starts the process that is then taken up by the “conscious choice” function you mention. This is utter nonsense – it’s well known that decisions impinge on numerous areas of the brain (and are even influenced by current sensory input, lack of sleep, and so on.)

    Third, the “conscious choice” function is all that’s needed – if that exists, why would it need any start from the quantum level? This function is simply the comparison of perceived benefits.

    Fourth, this is still simply physics.

    Fifth, what atom, structure, or property of brains permits them to use such quantum effects thousands of times a day when we cannot see them occurring anywhere else? Your idea of Chaos Theory would imply that we should be seeing random changes appearing at least occasionally among all other manifestations of physics, rather than never.

    Sixth, none of this supports the concept of free will. You just admitted that to make it work, the idea that it starts with an entirely random element is proposed. To produce the “will” part, you have to fall back on the physical processes that are deterministic, and thus introduce a direct contradiction. Someone apparently thought working it out one word at a time made sense.

    And finally, what purpose, effect, or function is free will supposed to provide that is not covered by simple biological imperatives?

    You have offered nothing whatsoever to demonstrate that any of these exist beyond mere speculation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this, mostly when I duel on UFO and paranormal forums. It’s the desperate attempt to salvage a favored idea, to dodge the evidence that the theory is dead wrong. But no one seems inclined to try and prove it right. It’s taking shelter in possibility, rather than trying to establish probability.

    All of this, in a wild attempt to rescue a concept that doesn’t make sense and remains poorly defined and constantly debated. Several of the sciences have recognized how reluctant humankind is to admit being wrong – too bad philosophy cannot learn from them.

    The brain has already been amply demonstrated to possess functions to favor certain kinds of decisions, and weigh various factors differently – we’re more generous to attractive people and stuff like that. Biologists not only know why this is, they can see the same traits in many other species. The various ideas of “self,” especially as separate from the physical brain, are more than likely just an extension of self-preservation, creating an “ego” from attaching importance to the individual. No other manifestation of this abstract has ever been supported with anything more than speculative blather, while we have perfectly rational ways of explaining not only why we might have such feelings, but how they could have been selected for. This is exactly why I say philosophy could stand to integrate with the hard sciences, because there are infinitely more useful ways to apply logical consequences than with trying to shore up a pointless label.

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  37. vmarko says:

    @ Al Denelsbeck:

    “One other way to resolve the problem is to realize the concept was corrupt from the very start and toss it out.”

    You are welcome to not believe in the concept of free will — it’s certainly a possible choice. But claiming that laws of physics are deterministic and therefore incompatible with free will is not true, and I just wanted to point you to one specific example model which *does* allow for free will, while at the same time *is* compatible with laws of physics.

    “Quantum indeterminacy is just that: quantum or subatomic. As I said, there are vestiges of effect on the molecular level, like phosphors and ionizing radiation, but the vast majority of physics is wholly predictable.”

    No, the vast majority of physics is *not* that much predictable. Only the part with small number of degrees of freedom is. One cannot even predict the motion of a double pendulum, after a certain moment (when it reaches an unstable equilibrium position). As for unpredictable stuff all around us, look at weather, fire, turbulence, neural activity, N-body motion (i.e. the Solar system), etc. These systems are unpredictable not because we cannot calculate precisely enough, but because their initial conditions do not exist with indefinite precision.

    Quantum indeterminacy is indeed small to begin with, but nonlinear (and deterministic!) laws of physics can amplify them to macroscopic scales, rendering the resulting physics unpredictable.

    “You have offered nothing whatsoever to demonstrate that any of these exist beyond mere speculation.”

    I wasn’t trying to demonstrate the existence of free will, but only to demonstrate that such a concept can be compatible with physics — the laws of physics are not in direct contradiction with free will. Whether or not free will exists is an open question, and you are welcome to pick your favourite answer. But you cannot invoke laws of physics as an argument that free will cannot exist.

    I really don’t have enough time to answer all your comments, sorry, I just picked the most important ones. But I can see that you have a very passionate opinion about the subject of free will, which can lead to bias in judgement if one is not careful. My advice is to try to stay calm and open-minded. Invoking UFO’s, ink-jet printers and sophistry is really not helpful in this kind of discussion.

    Best, :-)
    Marko

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  38. Riccardo says:

    @ Al Denelsbeck

    Still waiting for your response to the multiple important contributions of philosophy to knowledge, as listed above… in the meantime, I will throw another one in:

    (causal) decision theory

    Enjoy.

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  39. Tony Rz says:

    When all is said and done no one has a convincing argument that says I cannot choose to do what I so choose except, law, ability and perhaps my wife.

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  40. vmarko said:
    “You are welcome to not believe in the concept of free will — it’s certainly a possible choice.”

    It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with wanting to believe, or the decrepit appeal to possibilities. It’s having a standard where the concept is both explanatory and functional.

    “No, the vast majority of physics is *not* that much predictable. Only the part with small number of degrees of freedom is. One cannot even predict the motion of a double pendulum, after a certain moment (when it reaches an unstable equilibrium position). As for unpredictable stuff all around us, look at weather, fire, turbulence, neural activity, N-body motion (i.e. the Solar system), etc.”

    Unfortunately, choosing items of a scale where it would be impossible to demonstrate how physics operates does not support your case. I could say, “If you’ve read every book that’s ever been written, it would clarify the situation,” and I’d make no more sense than your statement.

    Second, thank you for proving my point. While you didn’t like the comment about inkjets, it was intended to demonstrate that the properties you were using are present everywhere. You were kind enough to substitute weather and pendulums as explaining free will, which I tend to think shows you really don’t know what it’s supposed to do or why it is invoked. Even accepting that these show indeterministic physics doesn’t explain either the meta or dualistic properties of it.

    “I wasn’t trying to demonstrate the existence of free will, but only to demonstrate that such a concept can be compatible with physics…”

    You missed what I said about possibility versus probability, didn’t you? Would it help if I pointed out that “possibility” is the lowest that any bar can be set? How about if I propose the existence of invisible space ferrets? Do they become more plausible, useful, or explanatory if I build a theoretical structure for their existence?

    “But you cannot invoke laws of physics as an argument that free will cannot exist.”

    Actually, I invoke the very inability of philosophy to even define the concept distinctly and without debate as the primary argument that free will does not exist. I honestly don’t care what kind of labels someone wants to put onto any abstract, and the ‘common’ usage of it works fine for most purposes. Otherwise, you have it backwards, playing the old, “Prove it doesn’t exist,” game. What’s required is proof that it does.

    “But I can see that you have a very passionate opinion about the subject of free will, which can lead to bias in judgement if one is not careful.”

    Mmm-hmmm. Do I need to drop any more hints?

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  41. Tony Rz says:

    The new religion is naturalism a belief in only that which can be seen and experimentally known, in our case we’re only an accident of nature subject to natural processes, beyond which we have little control, in other words a natural god that has no interest in whether we are good or evil, whether we succeed or fail, or are intelligent or ignorant, etc., then I ask why does man care, or should he. What is it in man that makes him concerned about others, when it matters little to him personally? What makes him choose to do good at all, often at his own expense?

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  42. Tony Rz says:

    Another question, why do we even recognize evil as evil and good as good and choose mostly to do good even when there is no fear of punishment

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  43. Riccardo said:
    “Still waiting for your response to the multiple important contributions of philosophy to knowledge, as listed above…”

    Sorry about that – not honestly avoiding you. I’d subscribed, and yours didn’t get e-mailed to me, and I missed it otherwise.

    If it helps, I’ve actually argued elsewhere that about 10% of philosophy has value. This is offhand, and you’re welcome to argue it – I see no point in doing extensive studies to correct this figure for accuracy. I’m supportive (and a constant user) of abstract thought and logical structure in promoting understanding. While some seem to believe this defines philosophy, I consider that crass opportunism, since it very likely existed from the beginning of our species. The more classical definition of philosophy revolves around logical structure revealing knowledge/truth/whatever. This implies, if not outright assuming, that our minds are capable of actually forming pure logic, which has never been demonstrated. Very distinctive areas within philosophy, including numerous degreed persons that get published far too frequently, actually denigrate things like empiricism as being too limited, while I see it as the only practice that’s given us dependable results.

    Now, would you like to take a challenge in return? How about if you contrast the items you listed against the items polled in the OP, and talk about the relative values of them all? What I’d like to see is a distinct tally of how often philosophy contributes against how often it’s pointless mental gymnastics. You see, every psychic is right, if you only select the right answers. But this doesn’t really demonstrate the powers of psychics, does it?

    Now a few in direct response, because even I have more to do than expound forever on a list of philosophical accomplishments:

    Causal decision theory – Not exactly news; biologists and animal behaviorists have been familiar with it for a long time, and it’s rather obvious that decisions are based on past experiences and imagined consequences. More interesting is how often this process is subverted by other biological processes – hunger, sex drive, etc.

    Modal logic – Largely useful; I’ll give full credit to this one, even when I find it ridiculously tedious at times. It would be a hell of a lot better if applied more functionally than mathematically.

    Paraconsistent logic – Totally lost on this one, at least the way your link describes it (Wikipedia is a horrible reference for philosophy, mathematics, and advanced physics.) I’m taking it to mean that in certain circumstances ‘classic’ logic does not produce a dependable result – is that correct? If so, I’m not sure this is a significant discovery.

    Intuitionistic logic – This one is about the shortcomings of classic logic. I’m not going to extend any credit for something that a) is a new proposal instead of abandoning a previous corrupt system, and b) is covered by empiricism anyway.

    Formal ontology – Complete miss. Credit for promoting the idea of distinctiveness, though I think language revolves around this in the first place (not as firmly as it could, of course, but it still means it’s not a new idea.) Loses credit when vast areas of philosophy suffer, as I’ve been arguing for the past few days, from never having bothered to implement this internally.

    Functionalism – Welcome to the hard sciences. Half-credit for correcting previous unsupportable concepts, but contribution to the fields which had already been using it? No.

    Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason – Let’s be generous and give full credit to this one, even though I see indications of faulty reasoning several places within (mathematics is solely about relationships – fussing with what “five” means makes no sense. It is five times one and 5/7 of seven.) I can see where this might underlie much of the modern scientific method, and even though I’m not sure he deserves the credit for this, I’ll let it go anyway.

    Now, an illustration: “Kant’s goal was to find some way to derive cause and effect without relying on empirical knowledge.” And apparently goes off on ideas of “synthetic judgment.”

    Today, we currently know about pattern recognition, and how and why this could evolve – an idea that wasn’t going to have an effect on Kant back in 1781. But what this illustrates is how wrong “pure reason” can go without the process of seeking solid support – evidence, empiricism, testable results, whatever. And it would seem this is still lost within philosophy, at least to a noticeable degree – perhaps not entirely, to be fair.

    Long enough? ;-)

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  44. Tony Rz said:
    “What is it in man that makes him concerned about others, when it matters little to him personally? What makes him choose to do good at all, often at his own expense?”

    This question has been asked countless times – and answered. However, too many people think this is unanswerable, and thus use it to support their views about naturalism being corrupt or nihilistic.

    The world is full of social animals, by which I mean, animals that do better in groups (flocks, hives, packs, tribes, etc.) They derive benefits not possible from being individualistic, such as protection against predators, community child-rearing, or pack hunting.

    The first of any species that develops a ‘desire’ to work or live cooperatively receives this benefit, and is more likely to pass it along to their offspring. Gradually, the number of individuals with the trait grows, until it’s a trait of the entire species.

    That’s all being “good” is – paying attention to the benefit of others (including how they react to our actions) rather than remaining self-centered. It’s really pretty simple. Which means it’s not at our own expense – there’s a tradeoff, mutual benefit. I can hunt my own food, or hunt in a pack that might increase the yield and almost certainly reduces the danger. If more of my offspring make it to reproduction age than any individual hunting alone, that’s natural selection. The genes that made me behave that way gain greater numbers among the species.

    It’s imperfect – we also have competition, over food, mating rights, and so on. Neither is an overriding ‘drive,’ but they register (influence us) given certain circumstances. One of those circumstances is how related we might be to one another – this is kin selection, which is more detailed than I could go into here. And our culture is complicated, so basic explanations like this comment aren’t going to cover everything.

    If you think about it, there is nothing in our world that qualifies as perfectly “good” or “evil” – but we can (usually easily) tell “better” or “worse.” And to be honest, that’s all that’s really necessary in any given decision, isn’t it?

    I don’t expect you to accept the naturalistic explanation right off the bat (if at all,) but it’s actually remarkable how much it does explain. I deal with it a lot on my site, if you have the interest ;-)

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  45. JimV says:

    Tony R:

    My answer would be that some notions of good/evil are probably inculcated by instinct (i.e. evolution) as explained in the previous comment, and others culturally (i.e., by our parents, peers, and mentors). The obvious example is slavery. Is slavery good or evil?

    Whether or not you accept my answer, it makes sense to me. For me, a naturalistic (non-theistic) outlook answers far more of such questions than theism can.

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  46. Tony Rz says:

    I would say that there is an innate sense of what is right or wrong, that killing, stealing, treating others with respect, taking care of each other, etc. spring from a God that sits in the center of all, and is both man’s Creator and Savoir. Perhaps those of you who don’t believe in anything other than the natural life should try meditation, learn how to do it, it’s good for your mind and good for your health and just might change your minds. It’s not difficult but does take practice, begin by putting everything out of your mind and I mean everything, use a mantra, such as a short sentence like “Jesus Son of God I Love You”, well you get the idea, concentrate on your breathing and you might fall into a place you never knew existed, or meet up with something or someone beyond your wildest imagination. You will never know until you try, and if you don’t like the above mantra try one of your own, but do concentrate on your breathing.

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  47. Riccardo says:

    @Al Denelsbeck

    Now, would you like to take a challenge in return?

    I am always very open to challenges :) So, let me start by examining your replies:

    1) “What I’d like to see is a distinct tally of how often philosophy contributes against how often it’s pointless mental gymnastics. You see, every psychic is right, if you only select the right answers. But this doesn’t really demonstrate the powers of psychics, does it?”
    Of course; I would say that all (or almost all) of the problems listed above, are of great interest and important conceptual contributions to knowledge (independently of whether there is on them a given consensus). The items I listed are simply some which I am acquainted with, so that I am actually able to see if you know what you are talking about, or not :D.
    2) Decision Theory: Biologists might be acquainted with decision theory, and that’s good, however the discipline is arguably born with Pascal… much before contemporary biology even existed. Secondly, the point is not simply that actions are guided by previous outcomes, but the issue lies in finding good models, both normative and descriptive (an important philosophical distinction), for how this is actually accomplished. And that’s not trivial, of course… and it requires a great deal of work in developing interesting conceptual frameworks.
    3) Modal logic: what the hell does it mean “if it were applied more functionally than mathematically” ? This sentence does not make sense, or it is at least highly unclear.. things that thorough philosophical studies help to avoid :)
    4) Paraconsistent logic denotes a family of logics which are able to deal with contradictions, i.e., contradictions do not lead to the triviality of the logical system. This is an interest contribution because (i) the study of inconsistencies is of importance both philosophically (e.g., are there real contradictions, i.e., contradiction which are not epistemic, but ontological?), mathematically (paraconsistent set theories), and for its applications (database theory, where inconsistency-handling is crucial).
    5) Intuitionistic Logic: what ? Are you serious ? :D oh my. First, the fact that intuitionistic logic is covered by empiricism (which, btw, is a respectable philosophical framework…) is… well, completely absurd :). Empiricism as it stands is generally compatible with having classical logic as the background logic for mathematics, since mathematics is not an empirical endeavour. Tons of hardcore empirists throughout the centuries have been perfectly at ease with classical logic.
    Intuitionism was born as the idea of developing mathematics starting from the philosophical point that mathematicals theorems should be about determinate mathematical objects which are freely constructed by the mind (see the foundational works of Brouwer). This has given us enormous conceptual advances in mathematics and logic, from Heyting algebras and constructive approaches to order theory, to topos theory, constructive topology and so on. Not mentioning the importance of constructive mathematics, proof theory and intuitionistic type theory for computer science, without which the latter would lose almost all its fundamental tools…
    I think I might as well skip the other points, since it is now clear to me what the issue is: you don’t really know what you are talking about, no offence :) Just for fun, though:
    mathematics is solely about relationships – fussing with what “five” means makes no sense. It is five times one and 5/7 of seven.
    Oh really? Interesting philosophical point; I would be curious to know how you justify that by empirical means. I am expecting the results of an experiment, of course. So, let me see: your definition of the number “five” is “5/7(7)”. Beautiful circularity; how am I then supposed to know what the definition of “5/7″ is, if I am using the very concept I wanted to define in the first place ? Let me guess: the definition of “5/7″ is “5(1/7)”, so that we can define “5” as “5(1/7)(7)” :D. I would also be interested to see how you would get a computer to understand this definition. In the meantime, I would notice that Kant inquiries into what the number 5 means eventually led us to Peano’s formal arithmetic (where 5 is defined as SSSSS(0), S being the successor operation) or to the recursive definition of natural numbers as we have it in set theory.
    I think your problem is not that you don’t like philosophy, it’s that you do very bad philosophy :)

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  48. vmarko says:

    @ Riccardo:

    “I think your problem is not that you don’t like philosophy, it’s that you do very bad philosophy :)

    It seems Al Denelsbeck doesn’t know much physics either. :-) I sort of gave up discussing with him when it became apparent that he has a very strong opinion about stuff he is apparently not familiar with. The purpose of the discussion got lost. :-)

    HTH, :-)
    Marko

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  49. Tony Rz says:

    Without a soul, and a hope for life after, you’re at the mercy of your past, your genes, protons, neutrons, etc. and into the black void you go, with no future, no hope, no joy, of course in that case Physics has all the answers, or will have, but for what, and free will, free will mean nothing, for it means nothing now or ever. So whatever your knowledge of Physics or Philosophy, where is your meaning, for you are at the very most an asterisk in some book you will never know. Does Plato know, is Aristotle aware? Does the black void of nothingness care? Will Sean? Free will, what is it, free to do what?

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  50. Riccardo said:
    “Of course; I would say that all (or almost all) of the problems listed above, are of great interest and important conceptual contributions to knowledge (independently of whether there is on them a given consensus). ”

    Yes, and I would say that most of them are not, instead simply mental masturbation without a method of determining any accuracy or even value. So, what have you got that isn’t mere assertion?

    “Decision Theory: Biologists might be acquainted with decision theory, and that’s good, however the discipline is arguably born with Pascal…”

    Just because someone attempted to formalize (and ‘abstractize’) their own approach doesn’t mean in any way that it was born with them. Biologists, naturalists, and even just breeders were examining the selection processes among species long before Pascal came along, and it took Darwin and Wallace, despite Pascal’s theories, to demonstrate how much it affected speciation.

    Moreover, a decent understanding of decisions requires knowledge of any factors that will impinge on the decision, which includes whatever modifier evolved as being more useful and the curious affect of the biological matrix, such as “being tired.” The counterintuitive responses to the various trolley problems demonstrate that decision theory is inadequate to explain what’s happening.

    “Modal logic: what the hell does it mean “if it were applied more functionally than mathematically” ? This sentence does not make sense, or it is at least highly unclear.. things that thorough philosophical studies help to avoid.”

    Uh huh. Tell me again about free will.

    First off, basic forms of “modal” logic were (and still are) expressed in speech by adjectives, which are sufficient for the majority of situations. Second, most of the “formal” forms are very specific, meaning their application is demonstrable only with good examples, since the abstract makes no sense. Wikipedia even shows this in one example:

    Thus it is possible that it will rain today if and only if it is not necessary that it will not rain today;

    … which, as you say, is nonsense – there is no necessity that can be applied to precipitation. However, there are conditions, such as humidity, which can prevent rain, and these have been used for centuries as simple probability. Far from clarifying anything, modal logic can (and does) confuses the issue by trying to present it as an abstract. I can see programmers, for instance, using it in one form or another, but the application to common knowledge requires a misleading amount of surety and firm definitions. Since I have to frequently make the point to people that science is probability, the weight of the evidence, I’m not very sold on the value of modality.

    “Paraconsistent logic denotes a family of logics which are able to deal with contradictions, i.e., contradictions do not lead to the triviality of the logical system…”

    Still not making any sense – maybe you should try that philosophical approach that clarifies things. But I’ll be nice and simply grant you that mathematics has a use for it, since my math sucks.

    “Intuitionistic Logic: what ? Are you serious ? :D oh my. First, the fact that intuitionistic logic is covered by empiricism (which, btw, is a respectable philosophical framework…) is… well, completely absurd”

    Ah, you’re one of those that feels that philosophy is to be thanked for abstract thought, I see. I could just abandon things right here, and say, “You’ll never understand,” but instead I’ll point out, again, that we’ve been doing it long before anybody tried to take credit for it.

    All of your points reflect on making things complete abstracts, which is fine from the standpoint of examining something like potential consequences of an action, but of very limited value when it has to be applied in any way to anything physical. Classical logic actually has “true” as a value – fine for math, fine for statements, worthless for any hard science. Again, what we deal with routinely is probability – B has happened every time we’ve observed it, especially after we did A, so provisionally we’re going to go with A causing B – with full recognition that there may be things we’re missing (this probably has to do with the long, checkered history of finding out how often we were dead wrong, despite the marvelous contributions of the philosophers who relied on “true” statements.) What this demonstrated is that any kind of definitive conclusion is only as solid as the information we have to make it, which is limited and will forever remain so (since I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that omniscience is not likely to occur.) Thus, formal or classical logic, or any approach dealing with absolutes such as “true,” are solely abstract because it isn’t possible to apply them to any given situation. Rather than spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to spell it out in some long-winded manner, most of the hard sciences simply ignore all forms of classic logic and stick with “to the best of our knowledge.”

    “Oh really? Interesting philosophical point; I would be curious to know how you justify that by empirical means.”

    There actually is no reason to. You’re demonstrating exactly why I find philosophy so ridiculous, in that you get so involved in how these things have been expressed that you’re not bothering in any way to see how ridiculously ponderous they’ve been made.

    It’s extremely simple. What use do you put “five” to? Well, I have five dollars. That’s five times more than one dollar, or only half of a tenner, or not enough to purchase gas to get home. All applications of math are abstracts, only applicable to anything we do by accepting a given premise. “This is one orange” – but in the time it took to say that, a certain amount of mass of the fruit dissipated as gas, and changed due to heat transfer, and on and on. Philosophically, “one orange” makes no sense, since it is a constantly changing state with no firm boundaries, but for any given common usage it works fine. Every math equation only demonstrates a relation between multiple abstracts, often numbers that can only be used to represent a given (assumed) set of affairs. F=MA requires applying M and A to a real situation in some way that it is meaningful to us.

    So what I would demonstrate empirically is not math, but cause-and-effect; math is the convenient method of communicating it to someone else. Spark makes gunpowder go “fsssscch!” – but when you need to apply this to something else, you use a common abstract to express gas expansion or temperature increase per second.

    “I think your problem is not that you don’t like philosophy, it’s that you do very bad philosophy”

    [Shrug] I think your problem is that you’ve believed everything someone has told you of the value of philosophy without recognizing how little it means all by itself, and how fantastically often the assumptions therein have gone wrong – demonstrating that as a discipline it cannot self-correct. Which is, once again, plainly evidenced by even the learnéd practitioners not being able to reach any consensus on all of the items in the OP. I’d be fine with this from theoretical sciences, since by nature they exist in the absence of confirming evidence, but these are basic tenets of philosophy, which still resorts to “metaphysical” as both a state and a convenient “out.”

    Of course, we can throw around some more arrogant bullshit too, if that’s the way you want to play. Is that the way philosophy taught you to be convincing?

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  51. Tony Rz:

    I want you to understand that I feel no need to convert you, and am fine with whatever choice you make (until it begins to harm others.) But just the fact that you’re posting here implies that you might have some questions about it yourself. On top of that, there are different perspectives that can apply, so the assertion aspect of your comments deserves a response.

    No future, no hope, no joy? How do you arrive at that? My future may stop at death, unless I’ve made some kind of lasting impression – so that’s something to try and achieve. Hope and joy occur as long as anyone’s alive, regardless of their perspective on life.

    “So whatever your knowledge of Physics or Philosophy, where is your meaning, for you are at the very most an asterisk in some book you will never know.”

    Life goes on. Humans can learn, and change what they do based on it, so if I manage to produce some of that change, that’s meaning enough for me. That and positive interactions with others, as simple as those are. Most of our desires are pretty easy to meet when you think about it.

    “Does the black void of nothingness care?”

    Probably not – caring is a living trait. How much do the other people around you care? That hasn’t changed regardless of your perspective on metaphysics and creation. Is it important to make an impression on the entire universe, and isn’t that hubris/egotism on a stunning scale?

    Here’s an interesting aspect of naturalism. We stop thinking of ourselves as transcendent, and start thinking of ourselves as one organism among millions, carving out a niche. We’re not expected to do anything, but have the ability to do a lot – this means everything we do is an achievement of one kind of another, especially in comparison to many other life forms. Our desires being shaped by evolution does not change our ability to meet them, and in fact it is easier than impressing the universe or whatever. And the limited time we have to do all this is the prime motivator – eternity means there’s always time to do it later, and would probably make accomplishments completely pointless.

    To me, there’s nothing nihilistic, depressing, or meaningless about all this – it’s actually fascinating. Part of this is, I have a deep desire to make sense of things, and naturalism was the thing that accomplished it better than anything else. Your mileage may vary.

    Cheers!

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  52. Tony Rz says:

    With God you’re more than one among a million, each person is a special creation known personally, each is His favorite, the trouble is that few know Him, little if at all.

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  53. Riccardo says:

    @Al Denelsbeck

    I apologize, but I am not going to reply to you: there are so many absurdities, silly prejudices, and instances of sheer ignorance in what you write, that it would take me a day to sort them out properly. I don’t have neither the time nor the will to do that, so I will follow vmarko’s example and let you simmer in your ignorance – which you have given ample demonstration of. Your remarks on modal logic and classical logic vs. probability theory are simply delirious. You don’t even know what “triviality of the logical system” means (“ex falso quodlibet”: google it), and yet think you can evaluate modal logic and give your opinion on its “intuitiveness””. You go on a super silly rant about probability theory vs. classical logic, and you don’t understand that the two are intimately connected, and that the former actually relies on the latter (see, e.g., here ). In short, I repeat, you don’t know what you are talking about, so I am not going to waste my time :)

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  54. Riccardo says:

    Ah, I forgot: I should have also added that the idea that science does not use logic, but exclusively probability theory, also comes from ignorance: the theory of relativity is founded on classical logic (so much so that there are first-order formalizations of special relativity), while quantum mechanics is founded on von Neumann’s quantum logic. You are confusing two different things here; one thing is to say that scientific theories are “provisional”, which is of course true, and another thing to say that scientific theories themselves (i.e., the propositions and laws constituting the theory) must be probabilistic, which is false (classical mechanics being the plainest and most obvious example).
    Ah, the bliss of ignorance :)

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  55. I’m amused to see that the rules for a discussion of free will on comment threads remain eternal:

    (i) assert that free will either (a) obviously exists, so philosophers are wasting their time supposing otherwise; or (b) obviously does not exist given modern science, so that philosophers are just displaying a tired obeisance to outdated religion; or ( c), most commonly, both.
    (ii) Have an incoherent philosophical discussion of free will which displays most of the mistakes that first year philosophy undergraduates learn about when they study free will, and which have been very well understood in the free will literature for decades if not centuries.
    (iii) continue to maintain in the process that philosophy can’t contribute anything.

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  56. Riccardo said:
    “Ah, I forgot: I should have also added that the idea that science does not use logic, but exclusively probability theory, also comes from ignorance: the theory of relativity is founded on classical logic (so much so that there are first-order formalizations of special relativity), while quantum mechanics is founded on von Neumann’s quantum logic.”

    Never said science doesn’t use logic, nor did I say that about philosophy either. It simply doesn’t rely on either. From the logical conclusion comes the test, and when the test fails, the conclusion, however strong logically, gets thrown out. That’s why so many philosophers hate empiricism so much.

    “I apologize, but I am not going to reply to you: there are so many absurdities, silly prejudices, and instances of sheer ignorance in what you write, that it would take me a day to sort them out properly.”

    That’s quite all right. I actually waited to see if either you or vmarko could address the salient points, such as why so many of those basic philosophical concepts remained ambiguous and without agreement, even among philosophy faculty, and of course what they provided that was distinct from the empirical understandings. What I got instead was a lot of twaddle and assertions, which I’m used to seeing from theology and pseudoscience.

    I can see three reasons why neither of you answered the important questions, even though I brought them up in each comment:
    a) You actually never recognized them as salient;
    b) You had no answer for them;
    c) You had an answer that you didn’t want to give.

    All of the three provide the same score anyway. I’ll let you guess what that is.

    But since I’ve long held the opinion that people who think philosophy is hot shit are self-absorbed and impressed with their own brilliance, I thank you for not just reinforcing it, but displaying it prominently on yet another forum.

    Enjoy contemplating the gestalt of ‘seven!’

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  57. Riccardo says:

    @David Wallace

    Have an incoherent philosophical discussion of free will which displays most of the mistakes that first year philosophy undergraduates learn about when they study free will, and which have been very well understood in the free will literature for decades if not centuries.
    That’s exactly the point: one should understand that if you want to talk about x, then you need to know something about x. Otherwise you are only going to embarrass yourself, has we have seen prominently above, and as we see even more clearly by… :
    @Al Denelsbeck
    Never said science doesn’t use logic, nor did I say that about philosophy either. It simply doesn’t rely on either. From the logical conclusion comes the test, and when the test fails, the conclusion, however strong logically, gets thrown out. That’s why so many philosophers hate empiricism so much.
    Many philosophers have been empiricist, only they developed versions of empiricism which are slightly more refined and convincing than your first-year-not-too-bright-undergraduate empiricism. It is of course true (albeit in a first approximation, Kuhn would have something to say about this) that if given data falsifies a theory T, formulated by means of a given mathematical framework relying on, e.g., classical logic, you must revise or abandon the theory. It is of course also true, however, that data themselves do not provide you with a logically consistent theory to explain those data in the first place. The process is much more complex than what you make it seem; it is not the case that one stares at the data and then comes up with the appropriate theory or conceptual framework to explain those data. Very often the contrary happens: one develops a theory or conceptual framework, from philosophical and mathematical arguments (involving the analysis of previous theories or conceptual frameworks for the phaenomenon at hand), and only then this theory is checked against the data. More: you can have two conceptual frameworks or theories which explain or predict the *same data*, but one is philosophically much better than the other (example: Minkowski’s space-time versus the Lorentzian formulation of special relativity theory). To make a long story short, logico-mathematical theories can exist without reference to data: that’s exactly why they can go wrong, or study wildly remote possibilities. But that is exactly why it is interesting to study them per se , since each wrong or unlikely theory is a description of a way the world is not like; and from wrong theories, or conceptual frameworks which are unlikely to be correct, one can learn a lot about how the right theory should look like. If you had bothered to study philosophy or the history of science seriously, you would have understood that science crucially relies on logic and mathematics as much as it relies on data, since with the latter alone you don’t go anywhere near real science, but you remain in that limbo represented by natural history in the past ages: just a collection of facts about the world, without understanding of what those facts mean, nor the capability of forming any prediction.
    I can see three reasons why neither of you answered the important questions, even though I brought them up in each comment:
    a) You actually never recognized them as salient;
    b) You had no answer for them;
    c) You had an answer that you didn’t want to give.

    The correct answer is d): we gave you all the answers you need (see above), but you are too arrogant in your ignorance to admit that perhaps you should revise your position :)

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  58. Riccardo says:

    @Al Deneslbeck
    Enjoy contemplating the gestalt of ‘seven!’
    Again, google is your friend : Peano arithmetic . Investigations into the “gestalt of seven” are the reason why you are enabled to write these moronic comments all over the place…

    Cheers

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  59. KD says:

    Philosophy has been going on for over 2,500 years. The Philosophers of the Past were not stupid people, probably some of the brightest in the history of the species. But can we point to one “philosophical problem” philosophy has solved in its history? Doesn’t that tell us something “essential” about the nature of “philosophical problems” and their “philosophical answers”? E.g. philosophical problems are not “really hard problems” but that the methodological assumptions of philosophy are fundamentally suspect?

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  60. I am delighted to have discovered Professor Carroll’s blog via Slate.com, as I am now discussing these fundamental questions with my very bright and inquisitive teenage sons and we all have different views about them. But, professor, with all due respect, by what alchemy do you transform 931 “philosophy faculty members” into “scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality” and take the fact that 72.8% of them don’t believe in God as conclusive proof that God doesn’t exist? What would Socrates have made of the notion that Truth could be determined by a popularity poll? The head spins.

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  62. Riccardo said, even after vowing not to pursue this:
    “Many philosophers have been empiricist,…”

    Funny, this actually doesn’t contradict my statement in any way, even though you ostensibly said it in rebuttal. There yet remains a lot of people with degrees in philosophy that openly (as in, articles in major publications) denigrate empiricism.

    Now, you would probably try to claim that my noticing this is evidence of the value of modal logic or whatever (which, you may note if you actually read close, I never dismissed – I gave you credit for that one,) but frankly, I never bothered with all the horseshit of trying to classify arguments in some diagrammatic fashion. Quite long ago, I just learned how to pay attention, and how to avoid assuming an argument was something else.

    So, the philosophical question: Did you realize that you hadn’t actually contradicted me, and wanted to see if I’d catch it? Did you miss applying the logic entirely, showing you really haven’t learned from philosophy despite championing it? Is there some other motivation we can assign to this action?

    The pragmatic, stop-contemplating-your-navel-and-aim-for-real-accomplishments answer: Who cares? The results remain the same.

    “…only they developed versions of empiricism which are slightly more refined and convincing than your first-year-not-too-bright-undergraduate empiricism.”

    Or, did you really just want to continue to sound like a self-important twit? It would appear to be the last one.

    I’m really not concerned with what philosophers believe they have accomplished, especially after it’s been in use for centuries by other disciplines (way to lead the charge, guys.) Nor do I give the tiniest bit of excrement for their refinements, since they haven’t changed any of the uses it’s been put to. They can delve into auto mechanics and label the troubleshooting process with new words too, but this doesn’t mean they’ve added a damn thing.

    But, you’re right. I didn’t give a complicated treatise on empiricism while commenting on a blog post, and that is indeed truly my failing. I simply spoke about the key point of failure that philosophy still cannot grasp. I kept my point simple and direct; woe!

    “It is of course true (albeit in a first approximation, Kuhn would have something to say about this) that if given data falsifies a theory T, formulated by means of a given mathematical framework relying on, e.g., classical logic, you must revise or abandon the theory… [yadda yadda blather blather, look how much I can expound and never get the point.]”

    Congratulations, you actually came in and explained exactly why philosophy fails so badly and tried to make it look like you were informing me about something.

    I’m going to once again do my first-year inept childlike grasp thing and condense it down to the point of failure. The logic is only as good as the data. This is what you learn when you study the long history of science and philosophy and, really, our entire learning process. Everything from planetary orbits to the five fundamental geometric shapes to the four humours to ohmygod Freud demonstrates this repeatedly. Now, I will admit that this is noticed only by those who can look at all of the results objectively, and not just the ones that support their standpoint.

    So (and I do beg your pardon for speaking so far below your exalted level,) when the results of logic have been so varied, what exactly is the value of logic? Does this possibly mean, and I’m going out on a limb here, that logic really isn’t very strong at all, or perhaps even that humankind really doesn’t know what the hell it is – maybe even that there really isn’t any such thing as logic in the first place, only pattern recognition and the reapplication of past experience?

    I’ll let you ponder all that. The people responsible for actually getting results just discard the idea that logic is solid and rely on the tests instead. It’s the difference between creating working vaccines and sitting in a dark corner wondering if the concept of “vaccine” is nuanced enough.

    I should also thank you once again for demonstrating that every last person who wants to glorify philosophy always falls back on claiming it means abstract thought, and thus that everyone who formulates any idea of cause-and-effect owes their very thinking processes to philosophers. Which is one hell of an accomplishment when you come to think about it, since capuchin monkeys have even grasped this concept! Must have gotten it through osmosis – no, that can’t be it, that’s a hard science. Let’s just call it one of those “other ways of knowing” and then philosophers can still take credit.

    “The correct answer is d): we gave you all the answers you need (see above), but you are too arrogant in your ignorance to admit that perhaps you should revise your position”

    Um, no, there’s actually not a damn thing to be found that addressed those points. Merely asserting it doesn’t work. But keep being condescending, because at least you’re providing some entertainment with your misdirection.

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  64. Jesse M. says:

    vmarko:
    “The interpretations are irrelevant. Heisenberg’s inequalities are a hard-proven theorem within quantum mechanics, which has to hold in all interpretations, including many-worlds and Bohm.”

    Agreed, but what’s your point? “Heisenberg’s inequalities” have nothing to do with determinism vs. indeterminism, they are just predictions about the relations between measurements of non-commuting variables like position and momentum (or the relation between the spread of the wavefunction when projected onto a position basis vs. a momentum basis, if you prefer). Bohm and MWI don’t predict anything different about these relations.

    “Ordinary nonrelativistic Schrodinger’s equation (for a free particle) is linear. The Standard Model is not. Care to guess which is an approximation of which?”

    What aspect of the Standard Model are you saying is non-linear? I haven’t studied quantum field theory yet, but according to this paper, although equations of quantum field theory can be non-linear, “the field operators remain linear, as does the whole quantum mechanical setup for these quantum field theories.”

    ‘Sure, “just” specify initial conditions to infinite precision. The Heisenberg’s inequalities give you a theoretical boundary on the precision of initial conditions’

    When I made the comment about infinite precision I was talking about classical physics, where it’s assumed that position and velocity do have precise values even if we don’t know them, and that the dynamics are determined by these precise values. In QM, it is a mistake to think of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in such terms–unless you believe in some form of hidden-variables theory, it’s not true that the particle has an exact position and momentum at all times but you just can’t know them, the quantum state vector is supposed to represent the full physical state of the system. Of course, you can choose to believe in a hidden-variables theory where the particle has extra well-defined properties beyond those in the quantum state, but note that in Bohmian mechanics the only hidden variable is position, Bohm does not assume that measurements of momentum are simply measuring a preexisting hidden “velocity” variable. I don’t think anyone has actually come up with a hidden-variables interpretation which assigns the particle both an exact position and an exact momentum, such that the exact values match what you get if you try to actually measure either property.

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  65. optimize this says:

    Torbjörn Larsson said

    ‘“qualia” is obviously a damned stupidity’

    So if I shoot off your kneecap, it won’t actually hurt you?

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  66. Riccardo says:

    @Al Denelsbeck

    Funny, this actually doesn’t contradict my statement in any way[…]So, the philosophical question: Did you realize that you hadn’t actually contradicted me, and wanted to see if I’d catch it? Did you miss applying the logic entirely, showing you really haven’t learned from philosophy despite championing it? Is there some other motivation we can assign to this action?
    1) You started by claiming that classical logic is worthless for science, and that probability theory is the real deal. Your claim went as follows: Classical logic actually has “true” as a value – fine for math, fine for statements, worthless for any hard science. Again, what we deal with routinely is probability – B has happened every time we’ve observed it, especially after we did A, so provisionally we’re going to go with A causing B”.
    2) I made the point that (a) probability theory is essentially an extension of classical logic, (b) you are confusing uncertainty regarding the truth of scientific theories with uncertainty in the claims or laws of the scientific theories, and I pointed out examples of scientific theories which rely on classical logic (classical mechanics, relativity theory). Morevoer, I pointed at the fact that even quantum mechanics relies on a particular system of (non classical) logic.
    3) You decided to revise your position, and said that: Never said science doesn’t use logic, nor did I say that about philosophy either. It simply doesn’t rely on either. From the logical conclusion comes the test, and when the test fails, the conclusion, however strong logically, gets thrown out. That’s why so many philosophers hate empiricism so much. . Notice that just a post above you made the claim that logic is “worthless” for science. I will let posterity to decide whether this is a contradiction… ;)
    4) I then went on to consider this aforementioned revision of your claim, and pointed out that conceptual and mathematical frameworks are as important to scientific endeavour as data. We all agree that you don’t have science if you have a heap of data; you only have science if you have a theory explaining those data; and formulation of a theory does not simply arise from the data themselves by staring long enough at them. I substantiated these claims by pointing at various examples in the history of science. Let me line up some of them for you: a) the formulation of the Copernican heliocentric model of the solar system relied crucially on new philosophical considerations, which led to the rejection of the Tolemaic system, even though the latter was in terms of explanatory power even superior to the Copernican model; b) the development of classical mechanics relied crucially on the Leibnitzian-Cartesian meccanicist philosophy, of course on top of the tools of real analysis; c) the development of special relativity theory relied crucially on a philosophical operationalist analysis of the notion of simultaneity (one could even say phenomenological, as Gian-Carlo Rota correctly pointed out), as well as on a background deterministic philosophy.
    d) The discovery of Higg’s boson relied crucially on the theoretical work done by Higgs 50 years before the boson was actually observed, theoretical work which of course drove the empirical investigations
    e) Peano Arithmetic -> intuitionism -> intuitionistic logic -> Heyting arithmetic -> Shannon MSc thesis -> all sorts of cool computer sciency stuff that you use every day. Actually the birth of logical computing by means of calculators is another instance of the fact that often theories and ideas precede and are needed to understand and interpret data, but I won’t go into it now.
    5) All of the above goes to support the conclusion that philosophical frameworks, often in the background, and mathematical tools are as important as the data for scientific investigation. Your response to the above was: [yadda yadda blather blather, look how much I can expound and never get the point.]
    6) You then went on to ignore all my yadda yadda :) and restated you point: The logic is only as good as the data. […] Now, I will admit that this is noticed only by those who can look at all of the results objectively, and not just the ones that support their standpoint. To which I say that you are again missing the point, namely, that theories which can explain and predict data do not arise simply by staring at the data themselves, but are a product of a much more complicated interaction between experimental and conceptual investigations, as the examples above show.
    7) Then you went on to say that So […] when the results of logic have been so varied, what exactly is the value of logic? Does this possibly mean, and I’m going out on a limb here, that logic really isn’t very strong at all, or perhaps even that humankind really doesn’t know what the hell it is – maybe even that there really isn’t any such thing as logic in the first place, only pattern recognition and the reapplication of past experience? This would need a longer reply, but I am just going to point out that without abstract logic and mathematics science would not have arisen in the first place, since science, as I expounded above, requires not only data (which are certainly necessary) but also a language and fundamental concepts and philosophical commitments to work with to construct theories. Of course you could always try to do science without logic or mathematics, without abstract concepts nor philosophical frameworks, but only using pattern recognition. Let us know how that goes :)
    8) It’s the difference between creating working vaccines and sitting in a dark corner wondering if the concept of “vaccine” is nuanced enough. That this is what you believe logic and philosophy are about explains what the problem is, i.e., that you don’t know much about logic, mathematics or philosophy.
    9) [skipping some nonsense] everyone who formulates any idea of cause-and-effect owes their very thinking processes to philosophers. Which is one hell of an accomplishment when you come to think about it, since capuchin monkeys have even grasped this concept!
    See, see is another instance in which you show that you are ignorant of what philosophy (and maths, and physics… how long is this list? :) ) is about. Consider the problem of causality. The question is: when can it be considered true that event A causes event B ? Now you would probably say that this is a trivial question, since capuchin monkeys already “know” the answer: it is when P(B|A)>T where T is some kind of probability threshold (although I am not sure capuchin monkeys know the notion of conditional probability..). Now, let me notice that (i) this definition makes sense only if you have an appropriate definition of what P(B|A) means in the first place, i.e., what kind of conceptual framework for probability and randomness you consider, whether Kolmogorov’s axiomatization or something else (reference) (ii) that P(B|A) is high does not necessarily mean that A causes B: for instance P(“the stock market crashes”|”I blow my nose”) might be very high, but that does not mean that my blowing my nose causes the stock market to crash. (iii) how should we consider cases of preemption? (reference) (iv) would it not be better to define instead “A causes B” as P(B|A)>P(B)? But then how do we deal with spurious regularities? Take A=”drop in barometric pressure”, B=”drop in column of mercury”, C=”A strom happens”. Then certainly P(A|B)>P(A|not B), thus the drop in the column of mercury would be the cause of the storm, which is certainly not the case, as the cause of the storm is the drop in barometric pressure. So it seems that to find a good model for the concept of causality is not that straightforward after all, and that is something for which you need philosophy.
    10) Um, no, there’s actually not a damn thing to be found that addressed those points. Merely asserting it doesn’t work. But keep being condescending, because at least you’re providing some entertainment with your misdirection. I think there is a rationality failure here. You have been asserting stuff without providing any argument worth noting, and dismissed entire fields which you are not familiar about, only because you have prejudices. That’s all it is: it is like the old lady who decided the world stands on a turtle, and would never hear anything to the contrary. I instead explained to you where I think you go wrong, I gave you numerous examples and references supporting what I say, I pointed you to various instances showing that you approach is naive and based on a superficial knowledge of the matter. Superficiality is a human trait: I myself have also often dismissed biology and life sciences as crap, on the basis of the superficial impression that even an half-wit can carry out research in biology. However, I have most certainly changed my opinion on the matter, because I am not like you :)

    Cheers,
    R.

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  68. vmarko says:

    @ Jesse:

    “Agreed, but what’s your point? “Heisenberg’s inequalities” have nothing to do with determinism vs. indeterminism, they are just predictions about the relations between measurements of non-commuting variables like position and momentum […]. Bohm and MWI don’t predict anything different about these relations.”

    Ok, my point is that (a) Heisenberg’s inequalities hold in all QM interpretations (it seems you agree with this), and (b) Heisenberg’s inequalities actually *do* have something to do with the question of determinsm vs. indeterminism (it seems you do not agree with this). Therefore, if you want to discuss (b), it is not important to invoke any particularities of various interpretations of QM, since they all agree on the status of Heisenberg’s inequalities (statement (a)), and are thus not going to contribute anything useful to the discussion of (b). So let’s not complicate the discussion by getting into QM interpretations. :-)

    “What aspect of the Standard Model are you saying is non-linear? I haven’t studied quantum field theory yet, but according to this paper, although equations of quantum field theory can be non-linear, “the field operators remain linear, as does the whole quantum mechanical setup for these quantum field theories.”.”

    The Lagrangian of the SM is nonlinear in field variables. If you haven’t studied QFT, it might appear a bit confusing — the “wavefunction” in QM represents the state of the system, while in QFT it represents a “field operator” acting on a state (which is a different object). This conceptual jump is necessary in order to deal with the nonconservation of the number of particles, and is usually dubbed “second quantization”, although the latter terminology is somewhat misleading.

    The paper that you have quoted is correct, but you need to be aware (as was also emphasized in the introduction of the paper) that there are many types of nonlinearities. You need to be careful about saying with respect to “which object” are equations linear or not. Hence the confusion — in QFT, states are linear, but wavefunction-fields are not (for brevity I’m heavily oversimplifying the exact statement).

    However, none of this actually impacts the (in)determinism argument, which is about the *classical* equations of motion, which are nonlinear in classical observables (like position and momentum). See below.

    “When I made the comment about infinite precision I was talking about classical physics, where it’s assumed that position and velocity do have precise values even if we don’t know them, and that the dynamics are determined by these precise values. In QM, it is a mistake to think of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in such terms […].”

    Ok, there are two ways one can think of Heisenberg’s inequalities. For example, if we discuss position and momentum of a single particle, one can say that (a) Heisenberg’s inequalities imply that the particle intrinsically *does not have* values of position and momentum beyond a certain precision, or (b) that the particle still *does* have a value of both position and momentum, but we just can’t measure them beyond the precision dictated by Heisenberg’s inequalities. The (a) route is the standard QM, while the (b) route is the hidden-variable scenario. I have never seen a convincing hidden-variable theory (and don’t believe any such exists), and until someone constructs such a model, I will go with the standard QM and assume (a) is valid.

    Now, I’ll try to give you a sketch of a proof that Heisenberg’s inequalities destroy predictability in classical nonlinear deterministic systems. Let’s start by what we want to describe — whatever everyday-world classical physical system you wish (my pet-peeve is the double pendulum, but anything better than a free particle will do). Your system is macroscopic, with a lot of particles, etc. It is perfectly ok to start (in principle) from the Standard Model, and approximate it by (a) taking a classical limit (i.e. removing everything “quantum”) and (b) discard all unnecessary degrees of freedom, while keeping only the relevant part of the system in question. After doing this, one typically ends up with a set of partial (or ordinary) differential equations, which are nonlinear in positions, momenta, etc., and look like Netwon’s laws of motion (there are many examples of this). The classical limit is the “hbar-goes-to-zero” rule, which should be good enough for most macroscopic systems.

    Now you say “those equations are deterministic” (due to a well-defined Cauchy problem, etc.). I respond “yes, but only if you know initial conditions with infinite precision, which you don’t, unfortunately”. Then you say “But regardless of me knowing them or not, they do exist with infinite precision”, to which I say “no, they do not, due to Heisenberg’s inequalities”. To see why, consider taking a slightly more precise approximation from the Standard Model down to our classical equations of motion — add a first-order quantum correction, i.e. re-derive the equations while keeping the terms linear in hbar. The equations will become more complicated (due to the presence of hbar terms), but they are in general still deterministic, still have a well-defined Cauchy problem (hopefully), and the hbar-corrections are too small do make any serious difference to the gross behaviour of the system (and we can safely ignore them).

    But, lo and behold, what happened to initial conditions! Since we are not neglecting the hbar-linear terms, the Heisenberg’s inequalities appear, claiming that initial conditions must have finite certainty. According to QM, this is fundamental (as opposed to hidden-variable theories), and it renders the Cauchy problem for our approximate equations inapplicable, since the Cauchy problem assumes initial conditions with infinite precision. Furthermore, given that equations are nonlinear in positions and momenta (even the leading-order terms, not just the hbar-corrections), the small uncertainties of initial conditions eventually lead to bifurcations in the solutions, chaos theory kicks in and blows up the uncertainties to macroscopic levels — after a finite time. At this point, your simple-real-world-classical-mechanics system becomes completely unpredictable, and determinism dies a bitter death. :-)

    As a nail in the coffin, going beyond these approximations (i.e. including hbar^2 terms and higher) is certainly not going to restore determinism back, because Heisenberg’s inequalities do not have these additional terms, and will remain unchanged to arbitrary level of approximation.

    I hope this clears things up. :-)

    HTH, :-)
    Marko

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  69. Jesse M. says:

    The paper that you have quoted is correct, but you need to be aware (as was also emphasized in the introduction of the paper) that there are many types of nonlinearities. You need to be careful about saying with respect to “which object” are equations linear or not. Hence the confusion — in QFT, states are linear, but wavefunction-fields are not (for brevity I’m heavily oversimplifying the exact statement).

    Well, as I said I haven’t studied QFT, so I can’t comment directly on whether the nonlinearities in it are sufficient to allow the theory to be chaotic. Does QFT still involve something akin to the “quantum state” of a region of space and everything in it, as in non-relativistic QM? If so it should be possible to look at the dynamics of a single point or vector in Hilbert space or something like it, and say whether these dynamics exhibit sensitive dependence on initial conditions. But I vaguely remember reading that there are foundational questions about whether QFT even makes sense as anything more than an approximate perturbation-series treatment of some more fundamental theory, so I don’t know if this notion of precise “states” with well-defined dynamics even applies. Also, is it a mainstream view among physicists that QFT allows for true chaos in a way that non-relativistic QM does not, or is this your own original argument? If it’s a mainstream view, could you refer me to a link or book that says this?

    Your system is macroscopic, with a lot of particles, etc. It is perfectly ok to start (in principle) from the Standard Model, and approximate it by (a) taking a classical limit (i.e. removing everything “quantum”) and (b) discard all unnecessary degrees of freedom, while keeping only the relevant part of the system in question. After doing this, one typically ends up with a set of partial (or ordinary) differential equations, which are nonlinear in positions, momenta, etc., and look like Netwon’s laws of motion (there are many examples of this). The classical limit is the “hbar-goes-to-zero” rule, which should be good enough for most macroscopic systems.

    Now you say “those equations are deterministic” (due to a well-defined Cauchy problem, etc.). I respond “yes, but only if you know initial conditions with infinite precision, which you don’t, unfortunately”. Then you say “But regardless of me knowing them or not, they do exist with infinite precision”, to which I say “no, they do not, due to Heisenberg’s inequalities”.

    I don’t think this argument can be sound, because it makes no special reference to the nonlinearity of quantum field theory. Suppose we lived in a universe where non-relativistic QM was exactly correct and the “Standard Model” referred to the fundamental dynamics of that universe, couldn’t the version of you in that universe make precisely the same argument as above, word-for-word? But in that universe it’s easy to see that the argument cannot be correct, because the underlying dynamics are totally linear and deterministic. It may be that one can approximate the dynamics with a classical theory, but the fact that the classical theory is non-linear must just be an area where the approximation is incorrect, not a demonstration that the HUP implies predictions are impossible. And if that would be a flaw in the argument in the non-relativistic QM universe, it could just as easily be a flaw in the same argument when it’s made in a QFT universe.

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  70. Tommy D Cosmology says:

    Dr. Carrol,
    I am curious where you stand on the theories of time? I suspect that you are a “B-Theorist”. My own position is that past and present are real, but not future.
    I enjoy your work very much.
    TD

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  71. Jesse M. says:

    Tommy D, does that mean you reject the relativity of simultaneity? (I suppose an A-theorist could accept relativity of simultaneity in the physical sense that no physical experiment or observation can ever pick out a preferred definition of simultaneity, yet still believe that there is an undetectable “metaphysically preferred” definition of simultaneity…this seems inelegant to me though)

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  72. vmarko says:

    @ Jesse:

    “Well, as I said I haven’t studied QFT, so I can’t comment directly on whether the nonlinearities in it are sufficient to allow the theory to be chaotic.”

    Oh, now I think I finally understand what is confusing you. :-) I never said that QFT or QM should be chaotic themselves. There is an important detail to understand here about chaos theory.

    Chaos may (and does) appear when the equations of motion that one uses are nonlinear in terms of variables which describe the state of the system. But note that you can also have *additional* variables in the equations, which *do not* describe the state of the system. Nonlinearity in terms of those variables does *not* produce chaos. This is the case in both QFT and QM, but not in classical theory.

    In QFT, the state of the system is described by a vector from the so-called “Fock space”, which is a (big and complicated) vector space. The equations of QFT are *linear* in the state vectors, superposition principle holds, and consequently there is no chaos in QFT. However, the equations of QFT are very nonlinear in field variables and observables like positions and momenta — but these do not represent states of the system, so it doesn’t matter for linearity and chaos.

    QM is an approximation of QFT where you linearize the QFT equations of motion in one field (of your choice), and make all other fields classical. Then you *redefine the state* of your system to be described by the (expectation-)value of that field, call the resulting space “the Hilbert space”, and call the value of the field “the wavefunction”. Note the change of the object used to describe the state of the system. Given that the equations of motion are now linearized in the wavefunction, the superposition principle again holds, and there is no chaos. Like in QFT, the QM equations of motion are still very nonlinear in terms of the other fields (which are now approximated as classical) and observables like position and momenta. But these are not used to describe the state of the system, so it still does not matter for linearity and chaos.

    The classical theory is an approximation of QM (and therefore also of QFT), where you make all the fields classical, and you redefine (again) the state of the system to be described by the (expectation-)values of positions and momenta. Note another change of the object used to describe the state of the system. The space of states is now called “the phase space”. But the equations of motion are nonlinear in terms of these variables (as they have been from the very beginning back in QFT and QM), so the superposition principle does not hold for these states (the phase space is not a vector space!), and the theory becomes intrinsically nonlinear. At this point chaos appears. Note that we have avoided chaos in QM by linearizing the QFT equations in the wavefunction. If you try to do the same here — linearize classical equations in positions and momenta — you will get a trivial theory which can describe only free particles. This is an over-approximated theory, not very useful for anything. You need to keep interaction terms in equations in order to have a realistic theory, and these will induce chaos because the state of the system is being described by the same variables in which the theory is nonlinear. As explained above, this is not the case in QM and QFT, so here you have chaos, and there you don’t.

    As a side remark, there are models (like in the paper you quoted) where people are studying nonlinear QM (for various reasons), where they give up the superposition principle for the states (wavefunctions), and consequently chaos can appear. This is called “quantum chaos”. But this is not the usual QM, and I am not sure if such a model can be obtained as an approximation of the Standard Model. I am also not sure about the usefulness of those models (I can only guess that people who study quantum chaos do have some motivation for doing it… :-) …).

    “Also, is it a mainstream view among physicists that QFT allows for true chaos in a way that non-relativistic QM does not, or is this your own original argument?”

    That is *not* the argument, as I explained above. As far as chaos is concerned, QFT and QM are both non-chaotic, and they can both be approximated down to a classical theory which *is* chaotic. That would be a correct statement, and it is of course the mainstream view, I didn’t make all this up! :-) That said, I would have a hard time finding a typical QFT textbook where the word “chaos” appears explicitly — it is usually enough to say that the Lagrangian is nonlinear in fields (every textbook says that), while the conclusions about chaos are understood to follow. Maybe better look at some textbook which deals with chaos as a subject.

    “I don’t think this argument can be sound, because it makes no special reference to the nonlinearity of quantum field theory.”

    Yes, I missed to spell out that part in the previous post, but have discussed it above. :-) The nonlinearity of QFT equations (in terms of fields) and the nonlinearity of QM equations (in terms of “approximated-to-classical” fields) will eventually turn into a nonlinearity of equations in the classical theory (in terms of positions and momenta). Note that in the QFT and QM those fields, positions and momenta are *not* used to describe the state of the system (hence no chaos!), while in the classical theory they *are* used to describe the state (hence chaos!).

    “It may be that one can approximate the dynamics with a classical theory, but the fact that the classical theory is non-linear must just be an area where the approximation is incorrect, not a demonstration that the HUP implies predictions are impossible.”

    As I mentioned above, you can approximate QFT and QM down to a classical theory, and you can either keep it nonlinear or linearize it. The linearized classical theory is a worse approximation, since it ignores interactions between particles. There is no chaos in linearized theory, but on the other hand it is completely trivial, and contradicts basically all experiments — there are interactions (forces) in nature that we see even at the most classical everyday level, which cannot be ignored. So the only classical approximation of QFT/QM that is useful (for making predictions) is the nonlinear one, which has chaos built-in.

    HTH, :-)
    Marko

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  74. Tommy D Cosmology says:

    Jesse.
    Thanks for the question on simultineity and relativity. Very good point. I guess if I can accept superposition and “many worlds” at an instant in my vicinity, which I do accept, then “many histories” and “many futures” could be just as real.

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  76. Mike says:

    I don’t know any philosophers in the department of which I am a part who are not empiricists to some degree, so I’m quite surprised by the claim that there are apparently lot of philosophers around who hate empiricism (although to be fair only 35% in the survey above are straightforwardly empiricist enough to respond that way to a question).

    I do, however, know of a mathematical physicist who is an Idealist (he thinks there are only minds), and I’ve met numerous mathematicians who are Platonists.

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  77. CB says:

    Ah, free will. That great conundrum. I’m torn.

    On the one hand it is clear that the laws of physics, which I believe my brain operates on like everything else does, has no mechanism by which such could exist. Determinism and predictability are red-herrings. You can’t determine precise outcomes, but you can calculate probabilities. A system progressing precisely as the laws of physics dictate isn’t any less contrary to free will just because the laws of physics includes randomness. Putting calls to rand() in my conditionals doesn’t make my computer algorithm “willful” no matter how good a source of entropy powers the random number generator.

    On the other hand, it appears to me that I and others have free will, I appear to be able to execute what I feel is free will, and so I will continue to live my life as though I have free will.

    What philosophical bucket do I fall in? :)

    P.S. I’m obviously no philosopher, but it’s still hilarious to me hearing someone try to downplay the importance of philosophy. Logic, aka math, is how you determine what sets of conclusions are true given a set of assumptions. If your conclusion is logically strong — which is to say that it is correct, given the premise — then if the data contradicts the conclusion then one or more of the assumptions are wrong and you need to find new ones. This iterative process of deducing which assumptions about the nature of reality are best, and using those assumption to make useful predictions, is the entirety of science, and it would be impossible without being able to logically deduce consequences.

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  78. Riccardo says:

    @CB

    This iterative process of deducing which assumptions about the nature of reality are best, and using those assumption to make useful predictions, is the entirety of science, and it would be impossible without being able to logically deduce consequences.

    Yes, that is exactly (part of) my point, i.e., that the process of scientific enquiry is much more complex than a linear progression data -> theories by means of “pattern matching”; conceptual structures (mathematical and philosophical) have a fundamental (albeit often “in the background”) role in it, as I pointed out by means of examples (of course mathematics and philosophy are also interesting in themselves). Anyway, the fact which most amuses me is that the preacher above has a most hilarious self-righteous blog on critical thinking :D it is indeed amazing what one sees these days.
    Facetiousness aside, as far as free will is concerned, I am no expert in the field, so I am not sure I can help you out of your dilemma :) However my two cents are that, if you subscribe to the naturalist view (which I do not), then the most natural hypothesis to formulate would be a reductionist one, i.e., that your intuition of free will, as well as that of consciousness, are at bottom simply an ensemble of neural mechanisms, which cause this intuition of free will in much the same way as they cause your perception of the colour red. Whether these mechanisms be intrinsically deterministic or stochastic, as you said, would not really make a difference in “explaining away” free will. Notice that this conclusion is a direct consequence of a naturalist-materialist standpoint; perhaps the growing cooperation between neuroscientists and philosophers will shed more light on the matter. If one accepts this position, however, then one has to face two further interesting questions to reflect upon, namely:
    1) How and why, evolutionarily speaking, did the intuition of free will develop? What is its evolutionary advantage?
    2) What do we do with respect to ethical problems? If free will is at bottom just an illusion, so that my actions are the result of a given process of neural computation without “free will element”, then on what basis am I punished for doing wrong?

    Cheers,
    R.

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