Wednesday 13 April 2016

Inequality --- Difference (variations in the basic set-up of our lives on earth)

1. (In the real, inner, true. eternal self) Men and Women are essentially different (each a complementary 'half' of the complete human whole).

2. Premortal souls differ in terms of spiritual advancement - and their needs for further advancement.

3. General earthly conditions throughout history have changed - the evolution of consciousness. We have been placed in the best for our needs.

4. The micro-specific personal conditions of our births differ - time, place, parents. We have been placed in the best for our needs.

5. Our specific natures differ: personality, intelligence, special abilities, defects, diseases and disorders. We have been placed in the best for our needs.

THEN - we are subject to the primordial agencies (of many types and strengths) of others - of men, angels, demons and the environmental features of animals, plants, minerals... These may make conditions better or worse for our needs.

These are responsive to our own choices and attitudes - there is nothing that 'just happens' to us; and nothing is random.

Our basic situation: We are who and where we are for good reason - so we should not wish for any other.


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I think free will implies that some things are random, or at least coincidental. For example, if two people, each independently exercising his free will without knowledge of the other's plans, decide to go to a particular bookshop at a particular time, they will meet by chance. Neither individual's decision is random, of course, but the coincidence of the two decisions is. Of course it is possible that God or some other spiritual agency was orchestrating this "chance" meeting behind the scenes, but to maintain that every seemingly random event is so orchestrated is to reduce human beings to puppets.

Free will also implies that much more consequential events can be random. If, as often happens these days, someone decides to start shooting people at random in a public place, some people are going to die randomly. Divine micro-interventions might see to it that the bullets his this person rather than that, but in the end God probably didn't plan for any of those people to die on that day in those circumstances. The fact that he didn't intervene to stop the whole massacre implies that each of those deaths was at least consistent with his plan, but their not-dying would presumably also have been consistent with the plan. If you ask why those particular people died on that particular day, there's probably no answer. It was random. Those 18 on whom the tower of Siloam fell, think ye that they were sinners above all that dwelt in Jerusalem?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I have been considering this matter lately in light of that talk from David Deitsch I posted a while back and further discussion by Owen Barfield (also William Arkle) - and it has suddently struck me that nothing at all ever is random: randomness is merely a mathematical construct that does not, and cannot, exist anywhere in the real world. (Unless we decide to make randomness a metaphysical assumption.) More exactly, probability does not make sense - it is just a tool.

William Wildblood said...

I think we are definitely where we need to be for our spiritual education, unpleasant as it may sometimes seem. But I think we are also put where we may best serve, dull as that service may often appear.

As for randomness, this would surely go against the idea of divine providence as well as introducing injustice. It may be that there are certain eventualities possible and the one that comes to pass is dependent on free will but it is not random. If not even a sparrow falls to the ground outside of the Father’s care (or will, depending on translation), that cannot be.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William. Yes. I am beginning to recognize that this (historically recent) idea of randomness as being the ultimate or default reality (which people suppose has been 'proven' by Quantum theories or by Natural Selection - both of which are metaphysical theoretical assumptions and not scientific findings) is doing immense damage to us in modern life.

People don't realize that randomness and probability are (essentially) mathematical tools - and they are not a fundamental description of reality (in particular randomness cannot be found - cannot *remotely* be found - in biology or medicine: except, approximately, in very particular and artificial circumstances).

In particular, randomness is not an explanation of anything - is indeed the opposite of an explanation. Same with 'probability' - a probability is a prediction, not an explanations; and all probabilities are essentially inductive (and therefore have no logical validity).

Clearly, however, people get mixed-up between randomness and that which is (merely) unpredictable or unknown - The truth is that we don't know much and cannot predict very much; but that fact does not imply that that which is unpredictable (by us, here and now) is random.

Also, people tend to assume that either God controls (and foreknows) everything down to the tiniest things or else nothing - whereas (at least from my type of Christian metaphysics) God's power, although immense - is not of that kind. It is the power of the creators, and creation is (more or less) an on-going and cumulative shaping of chaos to order and purpose in a context which includes the free will/ agency of various entities including but not restricted to Men.

Anyway, this is going a bit further than I intended!...

William Wildblood said...

Yes, as I understand it what you say in your last paragraph is how things are. God has a plan for us, both individually and collectively, but this plan is constantly modified by and adjusts to our free will. We can’t change it but we can help or hinder it. Maybe in certain tragic circumstances we can thwart its workings out indefinitely. But anyway it’s not free will or destiny so much as both together.

Kirk Forlatt said...

It's very interesting to observe how the concept of "free will" is so precious to so many. It's even more interesting in light of Scripture's silence on this topic (and in fact, many explicit and implicit passages refute this Proverbs 16:9).

I understand why the "men as robots" concept is repugnant, but in my own musings, I have to ask, "How much real control have I had over any choice I've ever made?" Equally repugnant to ME is the idea of God's constantly altering and remolding and updating His will and intentions based on what His children are doing at a given moment.

Also, if we have free will, why don't we simply "will" ourselves to be rich? To be healthy? To be in different circumstances? This is not a sarcastic question. If our choices and actions are our own and if these choices/actions keep the Father forever scrambling to reevaluate the chessboard, then the idea of willing ourselves into/out of certain situations doesn't seem at all ridiculous. And yet....whom among us can do this?

I tend to think we gravitate towards beliefs and ideas that give us that elusive thing: comfort. Personally, I derive more comfort from the idea of God as Divine Author. He wrote the book, plotted the action, created the characters, and knows how He wants it to end. And as writers tend to do, He didn't ask those characters to make choices or exercise some "free will." He created the story, and it serves His ends.

That being said, I struggle with these ideas constantly. This fine blog helps me to ask myself difficult questions and also to reject easy, pat answers. I appreciate Dr. Charlton's insights and active, lively mind very much.

Bruce Charlton said...


I have written about this before

But I shall try to summarize.

First, I suggest that you just set aside everything you said (!) and try reformulating the question on the following assumptions.

1. Free will can be better termed 'agency' - and having agency means that an entity is able to initiate action (including thought) from within itself - and therefore what it does is *not* merely a passive response to external causes.

(But that would also mean that all of your reasoning on the subject of free will is also merely a passive response to external causes - which seems to invalidate that reasoning, and lead to a paradox/ nonsense.)

2. Agency could be termed an un-caused cause, or an un-moved mover. This capability is traditionally allocated to God, but if agency is real, then humans must also have this 'divine' capability. (I personally also believe that this capability is not restricted to humans.)

3. Agency should be thought of as a possibility - and not necessarily as the usual or preponderant reason for behaviour. So you might usually, nearly-always, be responding to causes, but you are an agent if you have the capability to initiate without a cause for it.

4. Agency is a metaphysical assumption - it cannot be either proven or disproven by evidence. So we either assume that we (and/ or other things) are (potentially, sometimes) agents - or else we assume that we are merely consequences and not-at-all agents.

5. So - having understood what we mean by free-will/ agency, we are confronted with a metaphysical assumption much like a religious decision - and we can only make such decisions using the kind of evaluations that are appropriate to metaphysics - and what counts as a valid method of evaluation is itself already metaphysics!

For example, you could say that metaphysics must be logically coherent - but that 'must' is an assumption; or you could say that metaphysics must have consequences which feel intuitively valid at what feels like the deepest and most stable and personal level - but again there is that 'must'.

So - to start on this - you need to get back to whatever is the bottom line for you - and evaluate your answer accordingly.

This does not mean that metaphysics is necessarily arbitrary, but that what count as true metaphysical assumptions are more profound than - for example - science. (Because science is, itself, based-on and operates-within metaphysical assumptions.)

William Wildblood said...

If I could try to address some of Kirk’s points.

Free will is precious because it defines our humanity. Without free will there is no individual and therefore no love. And it seems to me that only a creature that had free will could even know what free will might be.

God doesn’t update his will. Situations might adjust to reflect new circumstances but the end purpose remains the same. God’s will is unaltered but its mode of coming to be in the world might be changed.

You cannot will yourself to be rich or healthy because free will is the ability to choose not complete power over ourselves. It is also limited by the free will of others and by outer circumstances. Mind you, some people perhaps do will themselves to be rich and work towards that. It’s not only their will that determines whether they succeed or not though.

God is certainly the Divine Author but the characters he creates have a degree of autonomy too. So we can become co-creators. That makes the book more interesting!

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

"Randomness is not an explanation of anything - is indeed the opposite of an explanation."

Precisely. To say that some things are random is to say that some things have no explanation. Coincidences have no meaningful explanation. Surely you must admit that some things are coincidental? Take, for example, the fact that I happen to have the same birthday as Sly Stone (and Andrew Jackson, and Saint Nicholas, and millions of others). Do you seriously maintain that every one of those apparent coincidences has some explanation other than "just chance"?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - It seems to me you are conflating different things here.

Coincidental does not mean random - it means, I suppose, that things are *not* linked. Or that there is no specific meaning in this co-occurrence. Or that there was no single purpose behind this specific co-occurrence.

In other words, nothing to do with randomness.

Randomness refers to a complete lack of structure, relationship, inner logic, purpose, meaning etc. Chaos.

It cannot be programmed, it does not exist in biology -- it is just a mathematical assumption and a kind of approximated fiction in real world studies.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Okay, so you accept the existence of meaningless and purposeless coincidences but prefer not to call them "random." It appears that our disagreement is purely verbal.

I'm not sure I get the distinction you are trying to make, though. You say that coincidence means that the constituent elements of an occurrence are not linked (have no relationship) and that therefore the occurrence has no specific meaning or purpose. Then you say that randomness refers to a lack of relationship, meaning, and purpose. So how do you arrive at the conclusion that coincidence has nothing to do with randomness?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - You may need to remember that I was a lecturer in epidemiology for three years - and that randomness has a specific meaning which I use.

The idea that all coincidences are proximately meaningful is a thing I have never heard anybody assert. It is surely obvious that some coincidences are coincidental. But this is not the default interpretation of coincidence - unless we have chosen in advance to make this assumption.

Such meaningless coincidence is compatible with believing that everything has some linkage somewhere, just not at the here and now moment of coincidence - perhaps a considerable way back down the causal chains. In other words the occurence of two similar events in the same time and place may have two different reasons related to different pasts for each event - rather than that both happened here and now for the purpose of happening here and now.

None of this has anything to do with randomness.

The assumption of randomness is used as a metaphysical assumption in statistics with the 'null hypothesis' when everything is 'explained' by chance variation between random samples association unless the quantitative difference and distribution of the samepls is judged sufficiently improbable on that basis - but the threshold for refuting the null hypothesis on the basis of such differences is an arbitrary convention.

What has happened is that these statistical procedures are only justifiable in terms of specific usages in particular situations - there is no generalized rationale for this. But the principle has spread to being misapplied in science, and then very generally misapplied in life.

So, the reigning paradigm is coincidence is an effect of randomness - unless this seems unlikely (where unlikely is statistically defined uing further assumptions).

I am NOT saying that coincidence has nothing to do with randomness: I am saying that there is *no such thing* as randomness in the real world - or more exactly that there is *no reason* to believe that there is such a thing as randomness. The belief in randomness is metaphysical.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

No such thing as randomness. So if you flipped a coin 20 times, you wouldn't call the resulting series of heads and tails "random"? How else would you characterize it?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I don't get your point. Everybody knows that every coin has a bias - albeit usually small. And how could you ever excluce small biases. Of course, 20 coin tosses would be VERY unlikely to come out as 10 heads and 10 tails - but you could never be sure you had done enough to exclude bias completely.

I think you are saying that we can approximately model a coin toss (over a small number of tosses) *as if* it was random - and that is usually true; but that does not at all mean that tossing a coin IS random. Merely that it may be pragmatically modelled for certain purposes as random - which is a very different thing indeed.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Well, that's what randomness is: a pragmatic model. Perhaps that is what you mean when you say it doesn't exist.

Regardless of how biased the coin might be, what I mean is that there is no meaningful reason why the first toss was heads, the second heads again, the third tails, etc.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - "Well, that's what randomness is: a pragmatic model. "

(Sort of - it is a mathematical abstraction which can in some very specific situations be used as a pragmatic model - but even if it has worked 1000 times there is no assurance of its continued/ future validity. i.e. the problem of induction.)

The point of this post is that modern people regard randomness as THE metaphysical reality. Indeed, I have a feeling that *you* may have this tendency - partially overcome!