Thursday, 5 January 2012

A letter from Kristor on Free Will and Determinism


This is excerpted from a letter by penfriend and commenter Kristor, in relation to:



The first thing I would say is that while the left and right brains may process their data using different sorts of algorithms, so that one half treats of things in terms of linear causal chains while the other treats of them in terms of holistic field superpositions [how different, really, is a vector sum from a field superposition, when push comes to shove?], nevertheless they must both be subject to ontological causal inputs from their pasts. I.e., however things might seem to be different to the two sides of the brain, the world as it impinges upon them causally must impinge upon both to the same ontological extent and via the same ontological mechanisms. The two halves of the brain do not, after all, inhabit different metaphysical causal orders.


So, any resolution of the seeming contradiction between freedom and causal order – for that is what we are talking about – must be made available to both of them, must cover both of them, equally. The resolution cannot be derived from the differences in the way that they treat data. The resolution must rescue all sorts of creatures from the contradiction.


Some related items that are of interest:


1.       The problem of the resolution of freedom with causal order is a department of the problem of the resolution of creaturely freedom with Divine foreknowledge/Providence. This is a clue that should point us in the direction of searching for an ultimate resolution in the reconciliation of the reality of time and temporality – which is to say, simply, causation and a causal order, things happening, and happening to each other, and affecting each other, and all coordinated – with the superordinate reality of eternity – which is to say, not Eleatic immobility, not the impossibility of motion, but rather the subsumption of all subsidiary, creaturely motions in the immense and singular Divine motion, or act.

2.       If there is causation, if there is happening, then reality cannot be continuous. If one thing is to cause another, then the causer and the caused must be different from each other, and disparate. If they are not truly disparate, they are then but one thing, and there is not properly speaking any causal relation between them, but rather a relation of unity. So this means that if there is a past that is going to have causal effect upon this present moment, that is going to influence this present moment, then that past and its events must all be different entities than this present moment. So that, if things do really happen, then they must happen quantally. Reality must be discontinuous if there are really events.

3.       Given a certain configuration of past events, given a cosmic history, It is possible for a current eventuating event that arises from them as its data to turn out a number of different ways that are lawfully related to them. There are a number of different ways that the probabilities implicit in the [wholly determined] Schrodinger equation may turn out, without escaping the constraints of that equation. What evolves deterministically, then, is the range of possible orderly outcomes of a given past set of events. The predetermination of a given event that is imposed upon it by its past, then, does not constrain it to only one possible outcome. If it did, there would be no sense in talking about “probabilities” or “outcomes.” For, if an event were wholly determined by its past, down to the last jot and tittle, why then it would be nothing but a feature of that past. It would not in that case be a real entity, a real event. The complete and utter predetermination of events is the elimination of events as an ontological category – and, thus, also an elimination of entities.

4.       Items 2 and 3 obtain with equal force whether we construe causation in a left-brained, linear fashion, as of the vector sum of particular interactions, or in a right-brained holistic fashion, as a superposition of fields. Again, what is the difference that makes a difference between a vector sum and a superposition of fields? Are these not merely different mathematical formalizations of the same basic notion: of causal inputs delivered to a locus in the extensive continuum from its past?     

5.       NB also that a vector sum or integral can be just as finally, teleologically oriented toward and ordered toward a strange attractor as a field.


So, whether we treat of causation using fields or vectors, we still face the problem of freedom versus predetermination. What then is the resolution? Put in terms of the Schrodinger equation, what is it that does the determination of what precisely will be the outcome of a given quantum situation? What is it that might prevent that outcome from being always and everywhere the one that is under the equation the most probable? I.e., how can there be more than one lawful outcome of a given step in the evolution of the equation?


The resolution, then, it seems to me, is provided by a distinction between the past of an event and the event itself. The past as past is fixed, determined, changeless (tace for the moment on backward causation mediated by prayer, that takes place in the supratemporal causal order). The past has to be just exactly, changelessly, what it is, in order to function as a completed set of data for the processes of the present moment of eventuation. If you are going to have inputs to the present, as yet unfinished moment of eventuation, then those inputs must be themselves finished. If they are not finished, then they just don’t yet fully exist to function for any subsequent events as causal inputs. It is, then, the past that is fixed, determined. The Schrodinger equation arising from a given past is determined because that past is determined.


And, therefore, it is the present moment that is free and – despite the constraints derived from its past, and formalized in the Schrodinger equation – not yet wholly determined.


What then feels to us like a unity of experience, a unification of disparate feelings in the integrity of the present moment – this unification being the matter of the binding “problem” – is just our present feeling of the feelings of past moments. A present moment is an integration and concrescence of impressions, feelings, of past events. And this is so whether we formalize the unification using vectors of particular interactions, or superpositions of fields.


[I got everything I have so far said from Whitehead. He doesn’t say it all explicitly, but it is all implicit in his metaphysics. Everything from here forward I got from Boethius, and Aquinas.]


Now notice that this is not the ultimate resolution of the problem. For, while we may so far have dealt with the problem of determinism versus free will by ascribing the former to the past and the latter to the present (and, a fortiori, to the future), we have not yet dealt with the problem of creaturely freedom versus Divine Providence.


To resolve that contradiction, we must transcend time altogether, and remember that temporal relations are characteristics of an eternal state of affairs that comprehends all events, whatever their spatiotemporal loci. That that state of affairs is eternal does not mean that the events that constitute it – i.e., the set of events that includes all events whatsoever, of whatever spatio-temporal locus in all actual causal orders, all worlds (in secula seculorum) – are not free. God’s eternal act is free, even though (being eternal) it is also necessary. So likewise with everything he knows, including all creaturely events. Everything that happens happens freely, even though it is eternally known, and thus necessary.


Thus the causal inputs of a temporal event are present to it only via the medium of the Divine Providence. It is God who forms the Receptacle for creaturely eventuation. He is the causal order, He the nexus. The past is real to the present, is “thingish” to the present, by virtue of its reality to God. We access the past via God; He is the medium of the causal influence of the past upon the present.


So Leibniz, Spinoza and Descartes were all right in ascribing to God in their various ways the ultimate function of relating and coordinating all events that, absent his provision of an ontological milieu for causal relations, would not – nay, could not – be related to each other at all. Things are orderly insofar as they are ordered in the Divine comprehension. And a thing that is not ordered in the Divine comprehension is not ordered at all.




PS: what Zeno disproved was the impossibility of motion and causation in a continuous state of affairs. Motion is not, however, paradoxical in a state of affairs that is discontinuous. In such a state of affairs, things can be really disparate, so that there can be a relation of motion between them. It is obvious that if events are continuous with each other then there cannot be motion between them, for there is in that case no disparity between them; and where there is no disparity there is only unity.


Newton and Planck both in different ways ratified Zeno. Planck’s quantum of action is the physical implementation of the Newtonian infinitesimal.