Many Forms of Determinism: Only One Indeterminism

Determinism is the idea that everything that happens, including all human actions, is completely determined by prior events. There is only one possible future, and it is completely predictable in principle, most famously by Laplace’s Supreme Intelligent Demon, assuming perfect knowledge of the positions and velocities of all the atoms in the void.

More strictly, determinism should be distinguished from pre-determinism, the idea that the entire past (as well as the future) was determined at the origin of the universe, and from pre-destination, the idea that the will of an omniscient supreme being has determined the one possible future.

Determinism is sometimes confused with causality, the idea that all events have causes. But some events may be undetermined by prior events. Such an event is indeterminate, sometimes known as a “causa sui” or self-caused event. But it may in turn be the cause for following events that would therefore not be predictable from conditions before the uncaused event.

Uncaused events are said to break the “causal chain” of events back to a primordial cause or “unmoved mover.” Aristotle‘s “accidents” and Epicurus‘ “swerve” are such uncaused causes.

Although there is only one basic form of indeterminism, there are many determinisms, depending on what pre-conditions are considered to be determinative of an event or action. We identify more than a dozen distinguishable determinisms.

A New Menu for Great Problems

The Information Philosopher website has a new drop-down menu with some great questions of philosophy for which information philosophy now provides us with the possibility of fuller understanding, with plausible and practical, if tentative, solutions to philosophical problems that have been known for millennia as well as major problems in physics from the twentieth century.

Several of these are problems that 20th-century philosophers like Ludwig Wittgenstein labeled “philosophical puzzles” and Bertrand Russell called “pseudo-problems.” Analytic language philosophers thought many of these problems could be “dis-solved,” revealing them to be conceptual errors caused by the misuse of language.Analytical philosopher Gilbert Ryle called them “category mistakes” that could be avoided by more careful “conceptual analysis.” For example, his critical analysis of the “concept of mind” concluded that a “metaphysical” – an immaterial – mind simply could not exist.

Using the new methodology of information philosophy, these classic problems are now back under consideration as genuinely important, analyzable and potentially soluble in terms of information.

Although it is neither matter nor energy, immaterial information can interact causally with the more familiar contents of the physical world. Information philosophy explains how “an idea can move a mountain.”

Albert Einstein’s 1905 Light-Quantum Hypothesis

In his 1905 paper on the light-quantum hypothesis and photoelectric effect, Einstein quantized the radiation field, where Max Planck had only quantized energy in his virtual oscillators. Einstein was first to see that electromagnetic radiation is particulate. And in his very next paper he proved the existence of atoms. In that one year he saw both matter and energy as particulate and how they are converted into one another, E = mc2.

Einstein thus saw that both the material and the energetic universe have discrete and discontinuous properties! On a careful reading of his 1905 “photoelectric effect” paper, we can see that Einstein was already concerned about faster-than-light actions, thirty years before his Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paper popularized the mysteries and paradoxes of quantum nonlocality and entanglement. We hope to show that virtually all of today’s controversies in the interpretations of quantum mechanics can be resolved by seeing these problems through Einstein’s eyes.

The Metaphysical Possibility of Possibilities

Alternative possibilities for Free Will depend on the reality, the metaphysical possibility, of possibilities. Actualists deny them.

Historically, the opposition to metaphysical possibility has come from those who claim that the only possible things that can happen are the actual things that do happen. To say that things could have been otherwise is a mistake, say eliminative materialists and determinists. Those other possibilities simply never existed in the past. The only possible past is the past we have actually had.

Similarly, there is only one possible future. Whatever will happen, will happen. The idea that many different things can happen, the reality of modality and words like “may” or “might” are used in everyday conversation, but they have no place in metaphysical reality. The only “actual” events or things are what exists. For “presentists,” even the past does not exist. Everything we remember about past events is just a set of “Ideas.” And philosophers have always been troubled about the ontological status of Plato’s abstract “Forms,” entities like the numbers, geometric figures, mythical beasts, and other fictions.

Traditionally, those who deny possibilities in this way have been called “Actualists.”

In the last half-century, one might think that metaphysical possibilities have been restored with the development of modal logic. So-called modal operators like “necessarily” and “possibly” have been added to the structurally similar quantification operators “for all” and “for some.” The metaphysical literature is full of talk about “possible worlds.”

The most popular theory of “possible worlds” is David Lewis‘s “modal realism,” an infinite number of worlds , each of which is just as actual (eliminative materialist and determinist) for its inhabitants as our world.

It comes as a shock to learn that every “possible world” is just as actual, for its inhabitants, as our world is for us. There are no alternative possibilities, no contingency, that things might have been otherwise, in any of these possible worlds. Every world is as physically deterministic as our own.