The idea of determinism is a useful tool in classical physics making it easier to understand and calculate. But I find it logically impossible to claim or believe that it is actually a true description of reality.

First: There is no concept of alternative in determinism. Both claim and belief imply two alternative truth values. Seems illogical to claim or believe in one's own inability to claim or believe anything.

Second: Determinism denies the existence of several phenomena of reality, like voluntary actions (free will) and stochastic processes. Believing in determinism requires believing in the nonexistence of these indeterministic phenomena.

Third: Determinism does not seem to explain anything. There is no deterministic explanation for the phenomena denied by determinism. There is no explanation for how the Universe is shaped the way it is and not in any other way. Determinism denies both intentional design and unintentional evolution.

There seems to be no way to reconcile determinism with reality. Is there?

Please, write your answers instead of commenting the question.

  • 3
    Maybe it is not the "true description of reality" but on what ground do you assert that "it is logically impossible to claim or believe that it is actually a true description of reality"? As you said, it is common in classical physics; thus, ot was not "logically impossible" at all. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Feb 18 at 9:22
  • 4
    First, on determinism outcomes are determined by the totality of prior events, if one abstracts from some of them, as a human must, there can be plenty of alternatives. You are confusing physics with thinking about physics. Second, voluntary actions are not "phenomena of reality", they are interpretations, and determinists explain them away as illusions, see compatibilism. And third, determinism is perfectly consistent with "intentional design" of deterministic laws, by God or whoever, if that counts as "explanation", and with evolution. – Conifold Feb 18 at 10:09
  • There is no concept of belief in determinism. Believing in determinism means believing in the nonexistence of beliefs. – Pertti Ruismäki Feb 18 at 10:38
  • 1
    One can have a concept of alternatives even without actually having any alternatives, so believing in determinism is perfectly compatible with believing in existence of beliefs. Decisions to act happen in the physical brain, they can be just as determined as physical stimuli are, so "voluntary actions" in this sense are perfectly compatible with determinism. And one can be determined to mistake something for something else, i.e. have an illusion. – Conifold Feb 18 at 11:03
  • 1
    Your argument is just as circular as a determinist: If I say that all that really is, is a causally closed physical world, then everything else is obviously illusional. But if I simply state that "Decisions to act are not physical events caused by prior events." and follow that determinism has to be false, my argument is just as bad. Without a philosophy of nature which explains what physical reality is and stands in relation to that (how causes across categories are possible), I uttered nothing but mere belief. – Philip Klöcking Feb 18 at 13:24

I am a modal realist. Thus if you ask whether (in)determinism is integral to reality my answer, based on modal realism, that it is possible that such worlds exist.
More specific only regarding the observable universe I do tend to be agnostic about interpretations of QM as it's not quite trivial to settle on the ontological status of the wave function. Generally, determinism does not in all cases imply predictability as "some" Computational problems can not be decided by turing-machine equivalent models of computation.

  • U seem in the camp of computationalism which claims consciousness can be emergent or deducted from simulation, not from any physical system. For me, a major issue lies in the computational content - math can only be truly understood in a conscious mind. So this is like chicken-egg puzzle, does abstract math notion create mind, or does mind create math? Since I agree with Searle's Chinese Room Argument, I favor mind create math like traditional idealists. What do u think from your modal realist perspective? – Double Knot Feb 25 at 6:03
  • @Double Knot I do not consider the mind to be turing computable. Modal Realism does not imply such conclusions about the mind. To clarify, I agree with the chinese room argument and would like to add that turing computability of the mind would imply that we could create a large lookup table and let it run on a (in practise massive) mechanical computer like a Curta Calculator as long as it is turing computable. This is an reductio ad absurdum to me. I suppose the mind might be as Roger Penrose suggested Hypercomputable. – 1Zer0 Feb 26 at 10:12

For me, any description is just a metaphoric depiction of the "reality". Some are more closer to verifiable measurements if measurement is possible such as in the areas of science and engineering, some are hard or impossible to know its proximity with the "reality". Since above reason, determinism is just a belief which cannot be scientifically validated or invalidated. It's more like a personal choice of a religion. If you're dealing with Quantum Mechanics, you may be inclined to disbelieve determinism like Copenhagen school, while Einstein strongly believed in it, there were numerous debate and thought experiments you can find online...

To advance one's epistemic choice, one has to further speculate and choose his or her own ultimate metaphysical belief. If you seriously take monotheist view like western Christianity, you'll be more inclined to accept/believe determinism as the omni-One certainly designs the laws of this world in a most deterministic way (pre-established harmony in Leibniz's word), otherwise if the laws are just created by throwing dice, from an intellect perspective, it's not perfectly intelligent since it has no teleological "final cause". If you seriously take the atheist view, however, you'll be more open to accept non-determinism modeled with most likely infinite chain of "efficient causes" at the cost of abandoning the a-priori perfect finite teleological as final cause criterion. Due to the long held universal principle of sufficient reason from western determinism, even if you believe in non-determinism while still being an idealist trying to speculate a behind reason, there's still possible reason behind the indeterministic phenomena, otherwise as long as you accept non-determinism, you must also accept irrationalism. Usually atheist idealist determinism explain phenomena by "dependent origination" like the ancient Indra's Net told in Eastern mysticism. The only difference here is this "dependent origination" explanation does not admit the existence of any real substance in itself since any existence is dependent on another one, while all the reflected illusive phenomena (not real substance) interact with each other in a perpetual never-ending networked process, and the real ontology can be just total emptiness per the previous "no real substance on its own" idealist requirement.

In conclusion, determinism is not a hard choice for most rational thinkers, it's the choice of theism/atheism deciding one's ontological metaphysics...

  • What do you mean by "reality"? Is it any different from reality? – Pertti Ruismäki Feb 22 at 14:52
  • I mean the ontological reality in philosophy jargon which is unknowable. What we know is from our senses perception/understanding from it. Like Socrate's famous cave men analogy, we can only see our shadow reflected on the cave walls and no idea about ourselves and the outside sun if remained there... – Double Knot Feb 22 at 21:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.