From my physicist's point of view, there are basically two ways of seeing the world: The world can be fundamentally deterministic or fundamentally stochastic (see also indeterminism). I believe that there is no third option, as the immediate future in a non-deterministic universe would appear random to us as observers (as is the case at least at the quantum level), even if the universe as a whole has regular trends (as is at least generally the case at the classical level). I understand that I may be overlooking something, whence my question.

For the sake of this question, superdeterminism and fatalism are variations of determinism, even though in the fatalist case there can, in theory, exist worlds which appear stochastic in spite of a predetermined history. Also, let all views in which the universe is composed of both deterministic and stochastic parts be a stochastic view, as stochastic events would necessarily disrupt deterministic trajectories in a non-deterministic way unless completely separated from all deterministic parts (which seems unlikely to occur).

Question: Are there any possible ways to view the universe which would not fall under one of these two categories?

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    A deterministic, computable universe would be fundamentally different from a deterministic, non-computable universe. – Nick R Sep 15 at 16:53
  • @NickR After further reflection I am beginning to realize this. Perhaps it would be better to let fatalism be my primary deterministic category with causal determinism as a subcategory? – The Ledge Sep 15 at 17:44
  • @NickR Either way I am wondering about the existence of an option not mentioned in my question. – The Ledge Sep 15 at 17:48
up vote 2 down vote accepted

perhaps C. S. Peirce's doctrine of "tychism, anancism, and agapism", "that absolute chance, mechanical necessity, and the law of love are severally operative in the cosmos", respectively


For a good overview of indeterminism, see Charles de Koninck's "The Problem of Indeterminism" (1935) and "Reflections on the Problem of Indeterminism" (1937), pp. 357-442 of Writings of Charles de Koninck (vol. 1).

  • I am puzzled by the link to de Koninck after the Peirce answer. How are they related? Perhaps another alternative? – Frank Hubeny Sep 15 at 1:28
  • @FrankHubeny De Koninck doesn't mention Peirce; I just added that because it's a good overview of indeterminism. – Geremia Sep 15 at 4:38
  • I have research some into the ideas you suggested. I think that understanding them enough to decide if they are real alternatives within the context that interests me will require time (I'm currently very busy). I am choosing your answer because I think it is the only one which provides a potential unique alternative, and will look more into the ideas later on. I appreciate helpful clarifying comments by @DavidThornley and Nick R . – The Ledge Sep 28 at 22:38
  • I appreciate helpful clarifying comments by David Thornley and @NickR. (StackExchange only allows mention of one additional user per comment...) – The Ledge Sep 28 at 22:39

I believe a third, and more "realistic," view would be chaotic. As shown on "Chaos Making a New Science (1987), pp 74, 75," there is order inside chaos, and vice versa.

One can view behavior at the micro level as chaotic (stochastic), and behavior at the macro level as orderly (deterministic). Thus, a chaotic view, will give us a more complete view of our universe.

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    Metaphysically speaking, chaos fits determinism, not an alternative. – ChristopherE Sep 17 at 21:56
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    It seems to me that chaos could also be stochastic, as it can imply results that can't be predicted but can be modeled probabilisticly. Either way, it's not an alternative. – David Thornley Sep 18 at 22:09

There are other views. I find it does not help to distinguish stochastics from determinism since, as David Thomley notes in his comment, the two seem compatible. Presumably the interactions that create the statistics are determined even if we cannot easily predict their outcome (much like the distribution of prime numbers).

Another view would be to say that all events are determined and law-governed but in a manner that is compatible with human freewill. This is not a fundamental view since it reifies human beings, freewill and the phenomenal universe but it can work as long as we concede this.

A good description of this other view would require delving deep into the doctrine of the Upanishads, Buddhism, Taoism and so forth and you might not want to go there, but it is an alternative view to the two you mention.

EDIT: This was a little abrupt so here are some quotations to flesh things out. The choice is randomly determined by what I happened to come across first in my quote-bank but it is just to give a flavour of this other view, not to explain it.

On freewill Ramesh Balsekar writes this, giving the meaning of ‘Wu Wei’, or non-volitional living.

"Living volitionally, with volition, with a sense of personal doership, is the bondage. Would, therefore, living non-volitionally be the way in which the sage lives? But the doing and the not-doing - the positive doing and the negative not-doing - are both aspects of ‘doing’. How then can the sage be said to be living non-volitionally? Perhaps the more accurate description would be that the sage is totally aware that he does not live his life (either volitionally or non-volitionally) but that his life - and everyone else’s life - is being lived.

What this means is that no one can live volitionally or otherwise; that, indeed, ‘volition’ is the essence of the ‘ego’, an expression of the ‘me’ concept, created by ‘divine hypnosis’ so that the ‘lila’ of life can happen. It is this ‘volition’ or sense of personal doership in the subjective chain of cause-and-effect which produces satisfaction or frustration in the conceptual individual.

Again, what this means is that it is a joke to believe that you are supposed to give up volition as an act of volition! ‘Let go’ - who is to let go? The ‘letting-go’ can only happen as a result of the clear understanding of the difference between what-we-are and what-we-appear-to-be. And then, non-volitional life or being-lived naturally becomes wu wei, spontaneous living, living without the unnecessary burden of volition. Why carry your luggage when you are being transported in a vehicle?

To be enlightened is to be able to accept with equanimity anything in life at any moment as God’s will.

(Ramesh Balsekar, The Ultimate Understanding)

“I asked G. what a man had to do to assimilate this teaching.

“What to do?” asked G. as though surprised. “It is impossible to do anything. A man must first of all understand certain things. He has thousands of false ideas and false conceptions, chiefly about himself, and he must get rid of some of them before beginning to acquire anything new. Otherwise the new will be built on a wrong foundation and the result will be worse than before.”

““How can one get rid of false ideas?” I asked. “We depend on the form of our perceptions. False ideas are produced by the forms of our perception.”

G shook his head. “Again you speak of something different,” he said. “You speak of errors arising from perceptions but I am not speaking of these. Within the limits of given perceptions man can err more or err less. As I have said before, man’s chief delusion is his conviction that he can do. All people think that they can do, and the first question all people ask is what they are to do. But actually nobody does anything and nobody can do anything. This is the first thing that must be understood. Everything happens. All that befalls a man, all that is done by him, all that comes from him - all this happens. And it happens in exactly the same way as rain falls as a result of a change in the temperature in the higher regions of the atmosphere or the surrounding clouds, as snow melts under the rays of the sun, as dust rises with the wind.

Everyone finds that nothing is being done in the way it ought to be done. Actually everything is being done in the only way that it can be done. If one thing could be different everything could be different. … Try to understand what I am saying. Everything is dependent on everything else, everything is connected, nothing is separate. Therefore everything is going in the only way it can go. If people were different everything would be different. They are what they are, so everything is as it is.”

This was very difficult to swallow.

“Is there nothing, absolutely nothing, that can be done?” I asked.

“Absolutely nothing”.

“And can nobody do anything?”

“That is another question. In order to do it is necessary to be. And it is necessary first to understand what to be means.”

P.D.Ouspensky Conversation with Gurdjieff In Search of the Miraculous - Fragments of an Unknown Teaching (1949) Penguin Arkana, London (p 20)

"Furthermore," Zen master continued, "for the reformation of mind it is good to observe the principle of cause and effect. For example, even if others hate us, we should not resent them; we should criticize ourselves, thinking why people should hate us for no reason, assuming that there must be a causal factor in us, and even that there must be other as yet unknown casual factors in us.

Maintaining that all things are effects of causes, we should not make judgments based on subjective ideas. On the whole, things do not happen in accord with subjective ideas; they happen in accord with the laws of Nature. If you maintain awareness of this, your mind will become very clear."

Source: Zen Antics

  • Please correct me if I am wrong. I understand "stochastic" essentially to mean "random." A process which is in practice unpredictable but is fundamentally deterministic is, in principle, perfectly predictable. What leads to the apparent unpredictability is our lack of information or computational ability. But a process that is random (stochastic as I understand it) is not predictable even theoretically. So it seems that what you describe in your first paragraph is really a complex deterministic world, and a stochastic world is still a theoretical alternative. – The Ledge Sep 19 at 17:29
  • And can you give more details or an example of a universe "determined and law-governed but in a manner that is compatible with human freewill?" – The Ledge Sep 19 at 17:30
  • @TheLedge You could look at determinism as the limit of stochastic as all the probabilities go to 0 or 1. – David Thornley Sep 19 at 18:01
  • I'm not seeing an answer here so much as a general handwave towards a claimed answer, particularly since the handwave is at three major religions. Personally, having given all three religions some study, I don't know what the answer could be. – David Thornley Sep 19 at 18:05
  • @DavidThornley you're right... You just blew my mind... – The Ledge Sep 19 at 18:08

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