I think that all the events of the world are just the results of the application of the rules of nature on the previous situation of the world. Our thoughts or efforts are also completely predetermined. If this is true then there remains no deep meaning to the moral values such as persistence and tolerance as well as no true meaning of a personally claimable success, defeat, etc. Our efforts don't truly matter in any fundamental sense because they (the efforts) have also been predetermined. Is this true? It feels counter-intuitive to our experience of living with a free-will, but logically I am helpless.

PS: I have edited the question quite massively to rectify grammatical issues that it previously had and to enhance the logical clarity of arguments.

  • Even if it's true, it's a terrible way to live your life. It seems that people who go out and try to change the world often succeed. So I don't think the future id determined. We are the agents of creation. – user4894 Apr 30 '14 at 21:09
  • @user4894 You boldly doubt life can be terrible? Or that it is terrible RIGHT now for somebody? – Asphir Dom Apr 30 '14 at 23:17
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    If the world is deterministic then all efforts are predefined and hopeless? Right? But if the world is not deterministic (random) how do you know your efforts will make any difference? How do you know they will be successful? – Asphir Dom Apr 30 '14 at 23:26
  • @Asphir Dom I see that I'm in trouble. I believe that the physical world is causal; but that as a conscious being, I have free will to manipulate the universe. But of course I myself am just a pile of atoms. I admit I have no justification for my belief. But if I thought that I had no free will ... I would be unable to live like that. So my life would be terrible. Therefore I choose to believe that I am a pile of atoms that has free will, in a universe that appears predictable and understandable, if not completely deterministic. Not determined but not random either. – user4894 May 1 '14 at 2:48
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    Welcome on the Philosophy SE, @Dvij! This is a good but broad first question. There are a few ways in which the question could be improved: You say that you are "logically" compelled to believe in a "predetermined world", but you forgot to give the reasons that make you think so. Also, what is moral about "success, defeat, winning and so on"? It would be great if you could edit your answer! – DBK May 10 '14 at 22:35

One distinction to make clear is that between "deterministic" and "predictable." Predictability is generally not a precondition for determinism. Even if a world is unpredictable by any means, it doesn't directly follow that it could not be deterministic. For example, say a set of all past events X leads to an outcome Y determined by the probability function F(X), as long as F(X) puts some restrictions on the space of possible outcomes and the probabilities for those outcomes, then there is a causal mechanism in place. As such, even if we are given X, which includes all the possible knowledge of past events, we would still not be able able to predict the following event Y. However, we know that some function of X is responsible for determining Y. (By "we" here I mean in general, not just human beings.)

Such a world would still be deterministic in the sense that all prior events (X) completely determine the following Y. Just because Y can take on several possible values, it doesn't mean that Y can then take on just any unrestricted value with equal probabilities. One can think of it as throwing X into a machine, which crunches out Y. No one can ever know how the machine works but we know that it takes X as the input and only uses that information to produce Y.

One view is that a non-deterministic world would be one where given the knowledge of all past events, X, there would still be no set mechanism for determining (not predicting) Y.

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    That's not how the term "deterministic" is used in physics (what you describe as "deterministic" would be called "causal" in physics, while "deterministic" means exactly that from the past, a single specific value for the present follows; note that this still does not imply predictability since that, in physics terminology, implies that you can also get a reasonable prediction from approximate knowledge of the earlier state); is this a terminology mismatch between physics and philosophy? – celtschk May 1 '14 at 21:54
  • To the best of my knowledge there is indeed a mismatch. From what I understand, even the so-called "hard determinist" would not go so far as to say that reality is deterministic in the physics sense (i.e. by denying any probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics). – cyht May 1 '14 at 22:22
  • As for predictability I intended to describe it in a much broader sense. It may not just be how us as humans can predict the future given information we have at hand, but it could even be the information that physical laws are informed by (that we could have no knowledge of). Some more reading: plato.stanford.edu/entries/determinism-causal/#QuaMec – cyht May 1 '14 at 22:25
  • What you are talking about is a chaotic system: a deterministic system where a tiny change in the initial state leads to a big change in the resulting state. Those systems are typically hard to predict. – Simon Bergot May 2 '14 at 9:27

I think that all the events of the world are just the results of the application of the rules of nature on the previous situation of the world.

I agree with you Dvij, I can tell you are sincere in your search for truth and I myself came to a very similar point in my life. This is why I am going to try my best to give you the answer I have found for this problem.

I agree with you that results from a moment of action/inaction are determined by the laws/rules governing nature. I also agree that this applies to every moment of action/inaction. We can call a moment of action/inaction by a different name, "the previous situation", because that was the state of the world that was changed into the resulting state of the world by that action/inaction. In other words, a "previous situation" is indeed what caused the resulting state of the world/reality, because it is made of two elements: the previous state of the world and the action/inaction that changed it.

However, even if we didn't have a choice about what the previous state of the world was, we still definitely had free will when it comes to the action/inaction that we took and that resulted in the next state of the world (with the exception perhaps of some mental illnesses which might completely or partially dictate a person's actions, but I'll ignore those in this answer due to their low incidence/prevalence in the population). This free will is evidenced by the great sense of freedom we have right now about getting up from our chairs and jumping out of a window, laying on the floor shouting, going outside and jumping over the neighbor's fence, studying hard for an exam, or doing a cartwheel into the bathtub. We can decide to do any of those things right now, and every moment of our lives we have many things we can do. We decide, and that is free will. There are many things we can't do, like teleporting to a friend's house, traveling back in time 20 years, or turning rocks to gold; but the reason for that is not that we don't have free will, it's that it's impossible to us.

Therefore free will is the ability to decide what to do between the things that are possible for us. Because of this, it is true that the events of the world are just the results of the application of the rules of nature on the previous situation of the world (which is comprised of the previous state of the world and what we decided to do/not do with our free will at the time).

Our thoughts or efforts are also completely predetermined.

The events of the world are not predetermined, as shown above, they are what we do with the world around us by using our free will to decide between things that are possible for us. In the same manner, our thoughts are mostly common/usual responses that each individual's brain has as a result of repetition. We can slowly change the way we think, as well as the nature of our thoughts; this means that we have some measure of free will even in our thoughts. Our effort is the amount of work/energy we decide to apply to something; and if we had some measure of free will when it came to our thoughts, we have all of it when it comes to the amount of effort we decide to apply to something.

If this is true then there remains no meaning of moral values such as success, defeat, winning and so on.

Perhaps, or perhaps not; luckily for us that is not the case because it is not true (as shown above). However, even if it were true, there might still be some intrinsic worth to moral values. Success, defeat, and winning are not moral values; but they would certainly have no meaning if hard-determinism were true.

Our efforts also don't matter to any large extent because they have been pre determined.

Our efforts have not been predetermined, as shown above, but the importance of our efforts lies in that they strongly influence the likelihood of success in what we apply them to. I honestly hope this aids you in your quest for truth.


From Wikipedia:

A [Quantum] particle's path simply cannot be exactly specified in its full quantum description. "Path" is a classical, practical attribute in our every day life, but one which quantum particles do not meaningfully possess. The probabilities discovered in quantum mechanics do nevertheless arise from measurement (of the perceived path of the particle). As Stephen Hawking explains, the result is not traditional determinism, but rather determined probabilities.

In other words: No one can determine the exact path a quantum particle will take, you can only guess down to an area where chances are reasonably high for it to travel.

That would answer your question as: no. The world is not deterministic, but follows a path that can be reasonably guessed, so that it appears - on a larger scale - deterministic with regular minor surprises.

  • "[Y]ou can only guess down to an area where chances are reasonably high for it to travel". As I explained elsewhere, this is not the way QED works. You seem to try to wrangle QM into a classical frame. QED answers the question "By which path did it travel to where I detected it?" with "By all paths. But effectively all paths that are not near a stationary path destructively interfere with each other. However, they are all taken, and necessary for the explanation." This is Hawking's point, which, I fear, you kinda missed. – user3164 May 1 '14 at 16:32

I think for the morality it is completely irrelevant whether nature is ultimately deterministic or not. This is because if you think that a predetermined decision cannot create moral responsibility, then adding randomness certainly cannot cause any more responsibility. Should you be held responsible for that electron jump which, unpredictably, happened to occur in your brain, and which ultimately changed your decision?

If you think about it, the perfect moral decision would take into account all your knowledge about the situation, and then take the decision which is, according to your judgement based on your values, the most morally desirable, or at least the least morally undesirable. But what I just described is a highly deterministic process. So determinism cannot release you from responsibility; quite the opposite, it's things you cannot influence (which certainly includes randomness) for which you cannot be made responsible.

Now what makes you responsible for a decision is that the cause of your decision lies inside you, in your consciousness. If you kill someone you'll have a hard time convincing anyone you're not responsible for that because you believed killing that person was the right thing, and therefore were predetermined to do it. While thinking it to be the right thing may indeed predetermine you to do it (assuming you always do what you consider to be the right thing), it doesn't absolve you from the responsibility; indeed it is this very assumption that makes you responsible for doing it.


Is the world deterministic?


Our efforts don't truly matter in any fundamental sense because they (the efforts) have also been predetermined. Is this true?

No. Actually, your efforts matter tremendously. Everything you do, although predetermined, has an effect. If you work hard to discover the cure for cancer, then your efforts will have the effect of giving others a better quality of life. If you work to provide for your family, your efforts will have effects on your children. Actually, your efforts matter even more in a deterministic world than they would if you somehow had freewill (I cannot vouch for this statement because I believe it’s impossible to demonstrate how an act of freewill could even exist).

For example, if you are a heroin addict, science has shown that your body is biologically predisposed to addictive behavior. Now that you use heroin (which could be caused by any number of factors), your body and mind crave it because of many different neurological reasons- such as dopamine. If you had freewill, then you could just will yourself to stop. Unfortunately this seems to be the positions of governments, so they throw heroin addicts in prison in an effort to cause people to behave accordingly.

However, since you know every cause has an effect, then the correct procedure would be to find the underlying causes of your addiction and substitute your heroin addiction with cannabis or kratom. These efforts can help you bring about the desired effects of ending your addiction, and set you on a new path of causes and effects that will influence the world in ways you wouldn’t have otherwise. Of course, whether you come to realize the cause and effect relationship in your life and get the help you need is also predetermined. But once more and more people learn about it, the ideas spread through a massive amount of causes and effects that eventually make society a better place.

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    I completely agree. I actually have a more resolved understanding of the topic than I had back in the high-school when I asked the question! And my understanding is in perfect overlap with your answer. I would suggest reading a very small but fantastic book by Sam Harris titled 'Free Will' where he discusses these ideas at more length--you must enjoy it I believe. – Dvij D.C. Aug 11 '18 at 5:39
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    @DvijMankad I’ve been wanting to read it for a while, but for some reason I haven’t. I decided it would be amusing if I buy it because of your comment, so I went ahead and got it lol. I’m excited, and thanks for the recommendation. – Cannabijoy Aug 11 '18 at 6:38

I'm not really into philosophy point of view about this question but here is what I think:

as already said, the current world state is a consequence of the previous state and the rules of nature. If we think about simpler behaviors like a living cell, we know that its function is pretty limited. Therefore, its behavior is pretty much more predictable. We still might not be able to say for sure what is about to happen accurately because still there are other things (lots of things) interfering like the climate, the surface where the living cell is on, its shape, etc. But following the same reasoning, smaller entities become more and more predictable like an electron. Sure we cannot say where exaclty is the electro or its precise movement, but we know that a single electron inserted in a electric field will follow the field in a defined way.

So I think the supposed non-determinism is only the great number of interactions happening at the same time. Real randomness is closely tied to non determinism but I really think that this randomness is, in fact, lack of knowledge by us about all nature/human laws.

I fail to believe that there is something in our world that given exaclty the same set of input can lead us to two different outputs. Such thing would never could have an accurate model and besides that, it would go against most of things that science/engineering fields already built so far (which are strongly based on mathematical models describing nature).

I prefer to think that if something goes wrong or in an undesireble way, so there is a problem in our model. Also, even if we have in our hands a set of deterministic systems, the combination of them could become really complex. In this case, even knowing each single system, the combination of them is not well known. Think of a particle system. Even if you can describe a single particle movement accurately, what would happen with the 50th particle in a set of 1000 numbered particles inside a box where the initial impulse to each particle is direclty proportional do its number, on a given time? And in an even greater system? So on those cases we start to try different approaches. I see the statistics/probability as one of them. You cannot say for sure what is gonna happen but you can estimate based on what you know.

At least, what would happen in a combination of many complex "statistical systems"? So I made this image which represents what I think:


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