Aug 052014
 

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I want to yell this from the rooftops to all of those people who conflate reductionism with hard determinism. Determinism is not reductionistic! Okay…not literally yell it from the rooftops as (the majority) of people who aren’t into philosophy would just think “huh”? But you get the point. :)

For people who don’t already know, hard determinism states that since every event is causal, free will is incompatible with such. I don’t label myself as a Hard Determinist, but rather a Hard Incompatibilist (Meaning free will is incompatible in both a deterministic univerese as well as an indeterministic universe), but either way neither implies a reductionistic framework.

Reductionism, at it’s stripped away base, means that everything can be reduced down to it’s parts. And there are reductionists out there who think everything is just the “small bits” bouncing around. Some even say large scale objects don’t really exist due to this.

This is what I call “extreme reductionism”.  The rejection of what those parts make up due to being able to reduce an object to the parts. And it’s a big, ginormous, whopping mistake from what I can tell.

And some of these people not only reject free will (which they are absolutely correct in doing so), but they also reject consciousness itself and say that is an “illusion”. Let’s just disregard the fact that you can’t have an illusion without consciousness, so the illusion of consciousness is within an illusion of consciousness within an illusion of consciousness, so on ad absurdum.

But why is this reductionistic framework a mistake? Because we know otherwise. We know that parts make up wholes which have an actual effect on the parts themself. That simply isn’t possible without extending existence to the very wholes that the parts make up.

For example, a rubber ball on a slope with only a little incline (on Earth with gravity) will tend to roll down the slope. The roundness of the ball is one factor that allows this. But if the ball is only it’s parts, those properties don’t really exist. Yet at the same time the “small parts” that comprise the ball get displaced to the “bottom of the slope”. If we were to take those exact small parts that make up the rubber ball and reconfigure them into a rubber cube, place it on the top of the slope (which again, only has a small incline), the cube will just stay there. The “small parts” that make up the cube do not get displaced. If, however, we were to configure those parts into an ice cube (rather than a rubber cube), well that ice cube might slide down the slope and displace those parts.

The very fact that large scale objects have properties that the individual parts alone do not, and that those properties have a very real effect on those smaller parts, means that we simply can’t say that it’s only those parts that exist and everything else is an “illusion”. Rather, we must add in wholes to our ontology (our understanding of being / existence).

When we say that the whole can have an effect on the parts, that is often called “downward causation”, and it is opposed to reductionism.

And if the universe is entirely causal (determinism), then both upward and downward causality apply. This means that parts create wholes which effect parts, which effect wholes, and so on. Wholes of some parts can be parts of even bigger wholes, which can causally funnel back down to what the parts do and in turn what the wholes do.

Keep in mind that free will is equally as incompatible with a framework that accounts for the wholes, just as much as it is for one that only accounts for the parts. When someone uses that “reductionistic” word to describe determinism and the lack of free will, they are mistaking determinism as reductionism.  And though some determinists are also reductionists, it doesn’t follow that one has anything at all to do with the other. Upward, downward, sideways, multidirectional, or even special swirly whirly causation is “deterministic” and incompatible with free will.

Chapter thirteen of the book goes through this in detail as well. It’s important to understand the nature of causality and the relationships between parts and wholes so we don’t make false assumptions.

If you are a determinist or incompatibilist, and you find someone using the “reductionist” word on you, educate them. After all, they were led through the upward and downward causal path that created such a thought and erroneous claim.

 

 

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'Trick Slattery

'Trick Slattery is the author of Breaking the Free Will Illusion for the Betterment of Humankind. He's an author, philosopher, artist, content creator, and entrepreneur. He has loved and immersed himself in philosophy since he was teenager. It is his first and strongest passion. Throughout the years he has built a philosophy based on analytic logic and critical thinking. Some of the topics he is most interested in are of a controversial variety, but his passion for the topics and their importance drives him to want to express these ideas to others. His other passions include pen and ink line art and digital artwork.

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  7 Responses to “Hard Determinism (or the Lack of Free Will) is Not Reductionistic!”

  1. This is the first article I’ve read on your site, and I look forward to reading more.

    I would say I’m a reductionist, though not of the the “extreme” sort you describe, as to deny consciousness is absurd, and would say it is properly basic. I’d also class myself as a hard incompatibilist and agree with all but one (or two) points.

    I don’t think that your rubber ball/cube/ice cube on a slope opposing all reductionism is accurate, only for the “extreme” sort you describe above. The fact that the arrangement of particles affects the whole body’s behaviour doesn’t disprove reductionism. This form of emergent behaviour is not the sort of emergentism that is contrasted with reductionism. This behaviour is explicable by the laws of physics of particles, merely scaled up to suit the scenario described. Whereas consciousness is not explicable by particle behaviour and is (possibly) an emergent property of the other contrasting form of emergentism. Though I have heard of problems with consciousness being an emergent property, but have not read into it yet.
    Also I don’t agree that “downward causation is opposed to reductionism”, though don’t know enough to comment.

    As a non-philosopher I found it accessible and engaging, keep it up!

    • Hi James, thanks for the response and for stoppin’ by. In philosophy, the concept of downward causation is considered an alternative to reductionism. Reductionism, at least in philosophy, says that the system is the sum of it’s parts (and that isn’t an extreme version). It doesn’t preclude emergent (large scale) phenomena but it does suggest that larger scale phenomenon is irrelevant to the working of the system itself (that such working can be explained by the parts alone). I’d suggest that roundness, rolling, wetness, etc…run into similar problems as “consciousness”, but that’s another topic. More important is the fact that these properties feed back “down” into what the parts do. 😉

      Regardless, if you think downward causation is not opposed to reductionism, then our disagreements is simply semantic (and therefore it isn’t too important other than perhaps confusing others). My attempt for this post is to clear up some of the confusions of these words (especially when some use the word “reductionist” as some sort of “dirty word”). 😉

      • “In philosophy, the concept of downward causation is considered an alternative to reductionism.”
        Our disagreement is semantic in terms of the definition of reductionism, but still leads to a disagreement on whether there can be downwards causation.
        Downwards causation seems to me to be meaningless. Causation is temporal and not relevant to reductionism.
        I think it is due to disputing the nature of the irreducible part.
        E.g. Ice having a lower coefficient of friction than rubber is due to the differing arrangement of electrons.
        An electric field extends infinitely, so there should be no ontological difference to its role if isolated or in a system with other particles.
        The fact that two systems of the same parts arranged differently act differently does not disprove reductionism. Both particular systems are sums of their parts (including space and time).
        So how physical systems work is reductionist, as far as I can see.

        “It does suggest that larger scale phenomenon is irrelevant to the working of the system itself.”
        “More important is the fact that these properties feed back “down” into what the parts do.”
        Addressed above…maybe.

        By extreme reductionism I meant what you referred to in the article, namely people who reject large scale objects and consciousness.

        “I’d suggest that roundness, rolling, wetness, etc…run into similar problems as “consciousness””.
        I think this form of emergentism is distinct from consciousness being emergent, since the physical phenomena are explicable by the sum of their parts and the space-time
        they inhabit. E.g. the physical phenomena of wetness is explained by the viscosity of a fluid, fluid dynamics etc., though the experience of wetness is a part of one’s consciousness.
        I think consciousness is not reducible to matter, but am not clued up enough on alternative viewpoints e.g. dual-aspect theory or neutral monism.

        Back to the original article:

        Why is free will incompatible in a deterministic and indeterministic universe, when neither are necessarily reductionist?
        I agree that neither necessitates free will, but the only reason I can think of free will not existing in either is reductionism.

        My syllogism –

        1. Free will (a function of the mind) is completely dependent on the brain.
        2. The brain is a physical thing (subject and reducible to physical laws).
        3. We cannot affect physical laws, therefore we have no free will.

        Where free will means the ability to make choices not dependent on anything else.

        Determinism seems superfluous to denying free will.

        “Free will is equally as incompatible with a framework that accounts for the wholes.”
        Because the whole are incorporated into my reductionist ontology.

        Hopefully that was slightly clearer than mud! Please excuse the poor and repetitive language. :)
        No doubt I’ll not agree with any of what I said tomorrow.

        • Determinism seems superfluous to denying free will. — ignore that.

        • James,

          Good thoughts. :)

          Downwards causation seems to me to be meaningless. Causation is temporal and not relevant to reductionism.

          I’m not sure where the temporal nature of such is relevant either, but these are side topics. Downward simply means that the large scale objects properties are important to the effect.

          E.g. Ice having a lower coefficient of friction than rubber is due to the differing arrangement of electrons.

          Let’s be clear how we understand these things. We understand that the different arrangement leads to the lower coefficient which leads to a property of the coefficient, because we observe the property for that arrangement/coefficient. We understand the nature of how a coefficient relates to the friction, because we observe/measure the friction for the coefficient. The quality of having “less friction” or “more friction” is a property of object X with coefficient Y, not because we know why that’s the case, because we observe it is the case.

          I know that sounds complicated. What’s important, however, is that such “friction” doesn’t exist until the parts are put together in a certain configuration in which we recognize the quality that arises from the configuration. The property is inherent to that configuration / coefficient, and the property itself (which is an effect of it’s large scale configuration) is what, for example, might cause a “slide” rather than a “stick” action. Technically, the very same particles (parts) could be configured differently which will output very different properties (due to a different coefficient)…so it isn’t the parts alone but rather the configuration of the parts, that produce a specific ontological large scale property which feeds back down into the behavior of the particles. Note that we can’t even measure a coefficient without assessing the large scale shape (another property).

          By extreme reductionism I meant what you referred to in the article, namely people who reject large scale objects and consciousness.

          Ah, gotcha. Yes, that is the more extreme reductionism side indeed (so it’s good you haven’t gone to that level). I’ve known people who hold such positions. :-)

          I think this form of emergentism is distinct from consciousness being emergent, since the physical phenomena are explicable by the sum of their parts and the space-time
          they inhabit.

          I’d suspect that consciousness arises the same way, and that it is “physical phenomenon” just as much as “wetness” or “roundness”, but that has to do more with my theory of consciousness. Something we can’t really get into here.

          I agree that neither necessitates free will, but the only reason I can think of free will not existing in either is reductionism.

          I’d suggest both downward causation as well as holism are equally as incompatible with free will as reductionism. In other words, these aren’t some kind of special systems that reach beyond the causal/acausal dichotomy (both which are incompatible with free will) – and that’s my primary point. That free will is incoherent regardless of reductionism or not.

          My syllogism –

          That is a fine syllogism, given the premises. But the illogical nature of free will extends even beyond any reductionistic or even physical notions (keep in mind that I don’t agree with non-physical notions, but rather that such doesn’t matter). In other words, even if we assess that things are holistic, logically, free will doesn’t fly. In fact, even if we assert some non-material or spiritual assertion, or some non-temporal assertion, and so on…free will is too logically incoherent to fit in with any model. I go over these in great detail in my book.

          That being said, I do agree with you that the mind is completely dependent on the brain, and that the brain is physical. The only distinctions I’m making is, even if those premises weren’t the case (which we agree they are), free will can still be shown as logically incoherent. 😉

          Catch-ya later good sir!

  2. Trick

    Have you read Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture? He makes a good case against strong emergentism. Or read this on his blog: http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/08/01/downward-causation/

    Jan

    • Hi Jan,

      I haven’t read his book but I did read that article you linked to a while back (and a few others) and think Carroll’s position here is quite mistaken on a few different fronts. Perhaps this post I wrote on “mental causation” can help you see why I think that:

      Mental Causation – A Case for Mental Causation

      I also think that the “exclusion argument” is a failure, as it denotes a wrong-headed way of thinking about physics. The reality is that we do not know physics by observing particles, we know it be observing “large scale properties” (making mental models of properties via sensory input), and we assess the entirety of our “physics” based on that model. If, for example, the molecular structure of H2O at room temperature was that which we “observe” as a dry compound (rather than wet liquid), our physics about atomic spacing and what it means for the “stuff in the universe”, etc…would simply change based on the large-scale observation, regardless of the lower level. In this way, both are required for every scientific assessment, and have to be considered “equally real”. But this is a very long topic. The mental causation argument I made above is different, and is just as important.

      Sidenote: This isn’t the only topic I disagree with Carroll on. 😉

      Take care.

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