Some have argued that you can escape determinism (assuming it's real to begin with) by flipping a coin: heads = chocolate, tails = strawberry.

But determinists can argue that you were preordained to flip a coin, once again negating your belief in free will.

But what about the result of the coin toss? Do determinists argue that the result is destined to be heads, or do they say the result is random, but it still doesn't prove the existence of free will, because the result was caused by a preordained coin flip, not free will?

  • For what it's worth, if determinism is true there is no point arguing for it because our beliefs and our words are all determined by any state of the universe taken at any time in the past or future. The only reason we have this argument at all is because we actually have enough free will to do so. Jan 23 '18 at 2:53
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    @FrankHubeny I disagree. What if you were predestined to make that statement? I agree there's no point in arguing if determinism exists, but we also literally have no choice. If determinism says we argue about free will, we must.
    – user935
    Jan 23 '18 at 16:24
  • Yes, it may indeed be pointless in arguing for or against determinism. Maybe the answer is too complex for the human mind to understand. Jan 24 '18 at 0:32
  • @barrycarter Perhaps we do agree. If determinism were true, we would be predestined to do whatever we are doing. The only place we might disagree is whether we think we are "arguing" or not. It looks like an argument, but if determinism is true it is really the effect of a cause having an origin back to the big bang--actually even further back since the big bang would have to be a determined event as well. Jan 24 '18 at 1:09

A coin toss would still be subject to the laws of physics. Coin results are not inherently random; if anything, coins are MORE deterministic than the quantum mechanics at the heart of brain function. They're affected by Coriolis effect, wind conditions, initial energy input (the flip), including the exact amount of angular momentum applied and the distance from the ground when the coin is released.

So in that sense, a coin toss would prove that the choice of ice-cream is even more deterministic.

I think it important to note here that free will may well require a non-deterministic mechanism in which to operate but most of the universe would appear to operate on purely deterministic principles. Even quantum mechanics (which many claim has a random element) seems to obey deterministic rules; the Double Slit Experiment for instance always gives a known result based on a probability distribution; NOT a 'slightly random' element as many claim. It should also be noted that the idea that summing the probability distributions of 2x single slits doesn't give the same result as the DSE because it doesn't take into account resonance. If you account for phase of waveform in the SSE results, you'd probably find that the sums DO match (although that would be a VERY hard experiment to perform and the observation requirements would be impossible with current technologies).

Why is all this important? Well, what we're saying is that the Quantum Mechanical functions in the brain are considered a possible source of non-deterministic function; that's more plausible than introducing a coin flip, and even then not by much. The coin flip would only make it WORSE in terms of the application of free will because it removes the choice of the mind and replaces it with a classical Newtonian deterministic function.

If you got Heads and STILL picked strawberry though, you may have the start of a case...

  • The issue of randomness has been debated in physics over half a century ago. I've no idea to what you're referring by "resonance", but if we simply assume that something (classical) inside particles determines what happens... it doesn't matter what (just that "something" does restricts it logically), and if we assume locality, that alone will predict a particular kind of result that differs from what QM predicts regarding "Bell Inequalities". Experiment shows QM wins. That ipso facto means no classical state in Bell Experiment aligns with determinism (assuming locality).
    – H Walters
    Jan 23 '18 at 4:27
  • ...I've left a dump for you in the symposium chat; that doesn't cover Bell though; we have to start with the DSE.
    – H Walters
    Jan 23 '18 at 4:29
  • +1 I agree that the coin toss could be viewed deterministically and so it is not a way to get free will for us. I also don't think the indeterminism of quantum mechanical functions in the brain is any better than a coin toss for our free will. It might allow that quantum reality to make a free choice, but if it completely explains our free choice then our choice isn't free. If we have free will we will need something like what quantum reality has--an ability to act as an agent without hidden variables that could be used to completely explain what we choose. Jan 23 '18 at 13:53

If you define free will as freedom from the predictive power of an arbitrarily sophisticated external agent, then free will and determinism are perfectly compatible due to the onset of the phenomenon of deterministic chaos. Long term prediction in such systems is impossible even in principle, due to sensitivity to initial conditions. As to whether the universe is deterministic or not , that depends on the current state of the art physics model that you take into consideration.


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