Lee Pierson

"What is Consciousness For?"

444 posts in this topic

There is a vast difference between determinism as applied to man and determinism as applied to other conscious beings: volition is a self-evident fact in our own case. We rule out "human" determinism because it violates a philosophical axiom. On the scale of showing what is false, this one's at the top.

I agree with what you say here, but it does not alter my point at all: no more justification has been offered for believing that in animals "given the exact same set of circumstances, the exact same action will occur" than has been given for the same proposition in humans. E.g,. in the Branden article quoted by Stephen, no justification is given. I'm just trying to make sure that the epistemological deck is not stacked against the animals at the outset.

I think that the evidence of our own case is helpful in various ways to our paper's hypothesis that volition is integral to consciousness, any consciousness. One way is that our own experience undermines any argument that would try to assert that conscious animals are deterministic because the matter from which they are made is deterministic. We know that no such argument cannot be correct, because we have a clear counterexample in one kind of conscious entity, namely ourselves. It's a bad argument, because if it applied to conscious animals, it would apply to us as well, and we know it doesn't.

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E.g,. in the Branden article quoted by Stephen, no justification is given. I'm just trying to make sure that the epistemological deck is not stacked against the animals at the outset.

What a coincidence. That is exactly what my dog Cali said to me the other day! :)

And, speaking of stacking the deck, I notice that twice now the article in The Objectivist from which I quoted has been referred to by Lee as "Branden's comments" and "the Branden article." Since Branden has deservedly garnered a rather stained reputation, I wouldn't want anyone to think or feel that that stain somehow lessens the status of the referenced article or the quoted words. Ayn Rand edited The Objectivist and was ultimately responsible intellectually for every word that appeared in that journal, and she herself explicitly acknowledged that Branden's writings in that journal were "valid and consonant with Objectivism." ("To Whom It May Concern," May 1968.) Here I'm just trying to make sure that the epistemological deck is not stacked against what should be considered the ideas representing Objectivism.

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What a coincidence. That is exactly what my dog Cali said to me the other day!  :)

Well, I hope that he also acknowledeges the possibility that you, too, have volition! :)

Ayn Rand edited The Objectivist and was ultimately responsible intellectually for every word that appeared in that journal, and she herself explicitly acknowledged that Branden's writings in that journal were "valid and consonant with Objectivism."

Oh, absolutely, but the evidence offered for what he says about animal action is still (to use the technical epistemological term) zilch.

And while we're talking about that article, I wonder about its usage of the term "automatic" to describe the action of animals. "Automatic" action is generally referred to as a contrast to possible "willed" or "conscious" action. Stones do not roll "automatically" (unless Mick Jagger, et al are not in the mood to put effort into their performances. :) ). Some machines, such as computers, can be said to be able to operate automatically, but this should be seen as a contrast to the volitional powers of their creators. The powers of machines are, in effect, manufactured extensions of their creators' powers.

I wouldn't go so far as to claim that "automatic" is a stolen concept when applied to the actions of purportedly non-volitional entities, but I'm not sure that this usage is really the best.

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Lee, if one of your purposes here is to explain the evolutionary role/function of consciousness, couldn't it be explained as an advantageous - perhaps even necessary - characteristic of locomotion. In order to move around an animal has to have awareness of its surroundings both to seek out what it needs for its survival as well as to avoid threats. Volition wouldn't be required. In fact it could be dangerous to the creature, allowing it to make choices which are not beneficial to its survival.

Further, since animals can't think, how can they decide which choices to make? In what sense then is an action they take *chosen*. Doesn't choice presuppose some kind of deliberative process?

It's a very noticeable characteristic of animals, even the more advanced ones, that there actions are highly predictable, ritualistic and extremely repetitive, e.g. the migratory, mating, and nesting habits of birds. That we can't predict every precise movement they make is merely a result of the enormous complexity of the factors which influence that movement. It wouldn't necessarily suggest volition or anything comparable.

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Lee, if one of your purposes here is to explain the evolutionary role/function of consciousness, couldn't it be explained as an advantageous - perhaps even necessary - characteristic of locomotion. In order to move around an animal has to have awareness of its surroundings both to seek out what it needs for its survival as well as to avoid threats. Volition wouldn't be required. In fact it could be dangerous to the creature, allowing it to make choices which are not beneficial to its survival.

But this explanation does not account for why conscious experience is necessary for the purely automatic control of locomotion. Neural processes alone could control such activity in, e.g., ants, who likely have no consciousness.

I'd like you to try the thought experiment that I suggested in post #1. Imagine you have the ability to have conscious experiences that you currently have, but no ability to put your intentions into volitional action. Wouldn't your conscious experiences be functionally useless?

Re the possible dangers of volition: this is discussed in our paper, along with a presentation of how the conscious experiences of pain and pleasure might serve to reduce the possibility of volitionally maladaptive action. Volition would need only to be adaptive on average to be selected for.

By the way, since no one has tried to identify the source of the quote "Doesn't help me to see where I'm goin' if I can't change course," I will identify it now. It comes from an episode of the TV series Firefly, the forerunner to the upcoming movie Serenity. Obviously, the statement was originally made in a very different context from the current one, but it applies quite nicely to the issue of the lack of adaptive value of conscious experience in an organism without volition, I think.

Further, since animals can't think, how can they decide which choices to make? In what sense then is an action they take *chosen*. Doesn't choice presuppose some kind of deliberative process?

I see a possible danger of "exclusion by definition" here. They don't think conceptually, but some cases they do engage in some kind of cognitive process (perhaps you may recall the chimp Sultan and his discovery of how to stack boxes to get a banana).

It's a very noticeable characteristic of animals, even the more advanced ones, that there actions are highly predictable, ritualistic and extremely repetitive, e.g. the migratory, mating, and nesting habits of birds. That we can't predict every precise movement they make is merely a result of the enormous complexity of the factors which influence that movement. It wouldn't necessarily suggest volition or anything comparable.

I think it would be best to say that some but not all actions of animals are highly predictable, even at the molar level. Also, the unpredictability of animal behavior may sometimes result from complexity, but in some cases, it may not. The mere fact of unpredictability does not decide the issue one way or the other.

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It's a very noticeable characteristic of animals, even the more advanced ones, that there actions are highly predictable, ritualistic and extremely repetitive, ...

This is half-in-jest, half-serious, in the regard of predictable, ritualistic, and extremely repetitive: How about, getting about at 7 am (or so), eating breakfast, driving to work, having lunch, having dinner, watching some TV, going to bed, and repeat cycle thousands of times, with of course variations in the above...

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This is half-in-jest, half-serious, in the regard of predictable, ritualistic, and extremely repetitive: How about, getting about at 7 am (or so), eating breakfast, driving to work, having lunch, having dinner, watching some TV, going to bed, and repeat cycle thousands of times, with of course variations in the above...

Yeah, I knew that you were going to say that! :)

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Lee, if one of your purposes here is to explain the evolutionary role/function of consciousness, couldn't it be explained as an advantageous - perhaps even necessary - characteristic of locomotion.

Perhaps this formulation will be helpful: the brain evolved as part of a system for controlling locomotion (and other things). Consciousness evolved on top of that for the more flexible volitional control of movement.

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And while we're talking about that article, I wonder about its usage of the term "automatic" to describe the action of animals. "Automatic" action is generally referred to as a contrast to possible "willed" or "conscious" action. Stones do not roll "automatically" (unless Mick Jagger, et al are not in the mood to put effort into their performances. :) ). Some machines, such as computers, can be said to be able to operate automatically, but this should be seen as a contrast to the volitional powers of their creators. The powers of machines are, in effect, manufactured extensions of their creators' powers. 

I wouldn't go so far as to claim that "automatic" is a stolen concept when applied to the actions of purportedly non-volitional entities, but I'm not sure that this usage is really the best.

I am perplexed by the criticism of this particular article. Surely Lee is aware of Ayn Rand's identifications of an animal's automatic consciousness, of the sole perceptual-level functioning of an animal that is automatic and non-volitional. Why suddenly question the use of "automatic" in this particular article?

And, regardless, the basis of the criticism given is somewhat specious. The contrast between "automatic" and "willed" is not the same as contrasting "automatic" and "consciousness," as, if nothing else, the voluminous literature on animal behavior and comparative psychology demonstrate. And, besides, there are many, such as William James, the philosopher and psychologist much revered by Lee, who wishes to get rid of the notion of consciousness altogether. (That is what happens when a psychologist only has faith in distinguishing between reality and illusion.)

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Perhaps this formulation will be helpful: the brain  evolved as part of a system for controlling locomotion (and other things). Consciousness  evolved on top of that for the more flexible volitional  control of movement.

...and then introspection-capable conceptual consciousness evolved on top of that, enabling open-ended long-range control of movement.

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I am perplexed by the criticism of this particular article. Surely Lee is aware of Ayn Rand's identifications of an animal's automatic consciousness, of the sole perceptual-level functioning of an animal that is automatic and non-volitional. Why suddenly question the use of "automatic" in this particular article? 

Well, I explained why I question it. But this is not an essential point in the current discussion, just something I thought to be worth thinking about.

And, regardless, the basis of the criticism given is somewhat specious. The contrast between "automatic" and "willed" is not the same as contrasting "automatic" and "consciousness," as, if nothing else, the voluminous literature on animal behavior and comparative psychology demonstrate.

True, but so what?

And, besides, there are many, such as William James, the philosopher and psychologist much revered by Lee, who wishes to get rid of the notion of consciousness altogether. (That is what happens when a psychologist only has faith in distinguishing between reality and illusion.)

It is important to distinguish James the psychologist (great, though far from perfect) from James the philosopher (execrable). Consciousness is not dispensed with in The Principles of Psychology .

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And, regardless, the basis of the criticism given is somewhat specious. The contrast between "automatic" and "willed" is not the same as contrasting "automatic" and "consciousness," as, if nothing else, the voluminous literature on animal behavior and comparative psychology demonstrate.

True, but so what?

Well, if you agree that the argument is specious even considering those who do not grasp the nature of consciousness, then certainly it is tenfoldedly (I like that word!) specious as criticism of Ayn Rand's formulation.

And, besides, there are many, such as William James, the philosopher and psychologist much revered by Lee, who wishes to get rid of the notion of consciousness altogether. (That is what happens when a psychologist only has faith in distinguishing between reality and illusion.)

It is important to distinguish James the psychologist (great, though far from perfect) from James the philosopher (execrable). Consciousness is not dispensed with in The Principles of Psychology .

I am not going to have a debate with you as to the role consciousness plays in the first edition of James' Principles of Psychology, but fourteen years after publishing that book James made unequivocally clear what he had been trying to teach his students regarding consciousness and psychology.

"For twenty years past I have mistrusted 'consciousness' as an entity; for seven or eight years I have suggested its non-existence to my students, and tried to give them its pragmatic equivalent in realities of experience. It seems to me that the hour is ripe for it to be openly and universally discarded." ("Does 'Consciousness' Exist," The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, Vol. 1, No. 18, pp. 477-491, Sept. 1, 1904.)

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"As applied to physical nature, determinism may be regarded , and commonly is regarded, as synonymous with universal causality. But, as applied to man ..." (The Objectivist, "Volition and the Law of Causality," March, 1966.)

Paul, you seem to be missing most all of what I have been saying. Perhaps the points will click if you re-read my posts sometime later. For now, I see no value in repeating my words again.

Stephen, thank you for citing the reference. I didn't miss anything you stated. We just had different priorities. You had stated that Objectivism had definitively stated that determinism applied to everything other than man's volition. Several times, I simply asked you for a source for that statement. I had searched every available source I had, including the Objectivism Research CD, which, unbeknownst to me, did not contain the articles on the Objectivist theory of volition. I found this hard to believe until I noticed in the beginning of The Objectivist table of contents the statement that only AR's and Peikoff's articles were included. If that information had perhaps been more clearly identified on the CD jacket, I might have been motivated to go look up past articles in The Objectivist.

I'll get back to you about the ideas later after I re-read the article.

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I am not going to have a debate with you as to the role consciousness plays in the first edition of James' Principles of Psychology, but fourteen years after publishing that book James made unequivocally clear what he had been trying to teach his students regarding consciousness and psychology.

"For twenty years past I have mistrusted 'consciousness' as an entity; for seven or eight years I have suggested its non-existence to my students, and tried to give them its pragmatic equivalent in realities of experience. It seems to me that the hour is ripe for it  to be openly and universally discarded." ("Does 'Consciousness' Exist," The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, Vol. 1, No. 18, pp. 477-491, Sept. 1, 1904.)

And I don't want to debate it either. But please note that in the passage you quote James "mistrusted 'consciousness' as an entity " (emphasis boldly added). As well he should, since consciousness is an attribute of certain living things. However, I agree that in his later writings James goes overboard on this issue.

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Here's a summary of what the first main issue that concerns me. I'll address my second issue in another post.

Lee asked, “Is conscious animal action deterministic?” To which Stephen answered "the Objectivist answer to this question is an unequivocal 'yes.' Upon reading the Objectivist literature, that this is the Objectivist view I consider undebatable. The two-part article, 'The Objectivist Theory of Volition,' appearing in the January and February 1966 issue of The Objectivist, is the most detailed presentation on volition in the Objectivist corpus. Here is the most clear and explicit answer to the question posed by Lee." I reread the article and didn't find an explicit statement explaining the question. The issue of determinism was only discussed in the context of man's volition. I asked Stephen for a source, and he replied, "As applied to physical nature, determinism may be regarded , and commonly is regarded, as synonymous with universal causality. But, as applied to man ...' (The Objectivist, 'Volition and the Law of Causality,' March, 1966.)" I have reread the article and my views are given below.

This last quote is definitely the strongest statement that apparently appears in the Objectivist literature that determinism applies to everything but human volition. However, I still have concerns about exactly how strong it really is. One thing that the quote is not, is a discussion of the applicability of determinism to nature (outside of man's volition). It is a sentence used to contrast with psychological determinism. Of significance is that Branden is explicit that determinism applies to physical nature, if nothing else. So consciousness, human or animal, seems to be out of the realm of determinism. Now, as to context. Again, as I've stated before, determinism is ONLY DISCUSSED IN THE CONTEXT OF VOLITION within the corpus of Objectivist literature. The quote of concern is not discussed in the context of physical nature and the laws governing its operation. Note the wording of the quote, "determinism may be regarded and commonly is regarded...." [emphasis added]. Considering how revolutionary the Objectivist view of volition is, this quote can hardly be called an endorsement of determinism in physical nature.

Consider what else is presented in the article in order to understand the Objectivist position on volition: the Law of Causality. This article states that the proper way to understand volition is to grasp that an entity's action is determined by the nature of the entity that acts. This theory is presented, in that article, in contrast to the post-Renaissance’s and today’s commonly regarded theory that causality is a relationship between actions and actions, not between actions and entities. Determinism is not mentioned when the law of causality is presented.

Consider how strong and positive the statements are throughout the article when presenting the Objectivist theory. Yet the quote that is “unequivocal” refers to what determinism “may be regarded and commonly is regarded.” Regarded by whom? In conclusion, I do not find this statement a definitive statement of the Objectivist position on determinism’s applicability to physical nature, least of all to animal consciousness. And, in the context of Objectivism’s constant and sustained attack on the very concept of determinism when it comes to man’s volition, I find it hard to accept that a concept that is so detrimental to human volition would be acceptable for use by any Objectivist.

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But please note that in the passage you quote James "mistrusted 'consciousness' as an entity " (emphasis boldly added).

Sorry, but you cannot pluck a single word out of context and make a virtue out of a vice. James' paper is a brutal assault on consciousness, a bizarrely fashioned mishmash of pseudo-intellectual psychology and philosophy. James' "pure experience" would have titillated Kant. The difference between the "subjective" and the "objective," between a "thought" and an "object," is solely of relationship to context, a perspective on "pure experience." It is interesting to note James' Note 12 in the paper.

"In the Psychological Review for July of this year, Dr. R. B. Perry has published a view of Consciousness which comes nearer to mine than any other with which I am acquainted. As present, Dr. Perry thinks, every field of experience is so much 'fact.' It becomes 'opinion' or 'thought' only in retrospection, when a fresh experience, thinking the same object, alters and corrects it. But the corrective experience becomes itself in turn corrected, and thus experience as a whole is a process in which what is objective originally forever turns subjective, turns into our apprehension of the object. I strongly recommend Dr. Perry's admirable article to my readers."

And, for those who will not read the referenced paper, here is James' final summation.

"But a last cry of non possumus will probably go up from many readers. 'All very pretty as a piece of ingenuity,' they will say, 'but our consciousness itself intuitively contradicts you. We, for our part, know that we are conscious. We feel our thought, flowing as a life within us, in absolute contrast with the objects which it so unremittingly escorts. We can not be faithless to this immediate intuition. The dualism is a fundamental datum: Let no man join what God has put asunder.'

"My reply to this is my last word, and I greatly grieve that to many it will sound materialistic. I can not help that, however, for I, too, have my intuitions and I must obey them. Let the case be what it may in others, I am as confident as I am of anything that, in myself, the stream of thinking (which I recognize emphatically as a phenomenon) is only a careless name for what, when scrutinized, reveals itself to consist chiefly of the stream of my breathing. The 'I think' which Kant said must be able to accompany all my objects, is the 'I breath' which actually does accompany them. There are other internal facts besides breathing (intracephalic muscular adjustments, etc., of which I have said a word in my larger Psychology), and these increase the assets of 'consciousness,' so far as the latter is subject to immediate perception; but breath, which was ever the original of 'spirit,' breath moving outwards, between the glottis and the nostrils, is, I am persuaded, the essence out of which philosophers have constructed the entity known to them as consciousness. That entity is fictitious, while thoughts in the concrete are fully real. But thoughts in the concrete are made of the same stuff as things are.

"I wish I might believe myself to have made that plausible in this article. In another article I shall try to make the general notion of a world composed of pure experiences still more clear."

Enough said.

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In conclusion, I do not find this statement a definitive statement of the Objectivist position on determinism’s applicability to physical nature, least of all to animal consciousness.  And, in the context of Objectivism’s constant and sustained attack on the very concept of determinism when it comes to man’s volition, I find it hard to accept that a concept that is so detrimental to human volition would be acceptable for use by any Objectivist.

Paul, earlier I wrote:

"To act deterministically is to act automatically without choice, to act without the volition to freely choose among alternatives. In the world which we live in and know, deterministic and volitional behavior are the only two fundamental alternatives."

Do you agree or disagree with this? (A simple sentence will suffice.)

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Paul, earlier I wrote:

"To act deterministically is to act automatically without choice, to act without the volition to freely choose among alternatives. In the world which we live in and know, deterministic and volitional behavior are the only two fundamental alternatives."

Do you agree or disagree with this? (A simple sentence will suffice.)

Simply, I'd say "yes." If you define deterministic behavior in the manner you did, then yes, I can agree. I think that the concept of automatic behavior is most appropriate to nonvolitional action.

But the "deterministic" behavior of conscious animals and the "deterministic" behavior of inanimate objects needs to be distinguished further, I think. Also, I'd have to think about this further, but one may also have to distinguish between the deterministic behavior of living organisms and inanimate objects. I have no problem with the concept of automatic behavior, but the concept of deterministic behavior seems to imply some sort of prior or antecedent cause or process that necessitates the resulting action with no relation between the identity of the entity and the action. And it is the nature of that cause or process that, in my mind, gives me concern or trouble with accepting the use of "deterministic." What distinguishes a determinism of antecedent factors from a determinism of supernatural factors? Does a comet crashing into Jupiter determine a volcanic eruption in the state of Washington, if one follows another in time?

Consider the following: A) The water temperature of the Gulf of Mexico determines the ferocity of the tropical storm and whether it becomes a hurricane. B ) During the reading of a book, my interest in the first chapter determines whether or not I read an entire book. C) Whether a dog is hungry or thirsty determines whether he eats food from a bowl or drinks water from another bowl. D) Faith in Jesus determines whether you get to heaven. E) The number of chromosomes you have determines whether you develop a volitional consciousness.

In all five cases, the subject of the sentence determines whether the action follows. Is not the concept "determine" different in each case? Is not the nature of the entities and actions different in each case? Perhaps I'm equivocating here, but I don't see that.

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Paul, earlier I wrote:

"To act deterministically is to act automatically without choice, to act without the volition to freely choose among alternatives. In the world which we live in and know, deterministic and volitional behavior are the only two fundamental alternatives."

Do you agree or disagree with this? (A simple sentence will suffice.)

Simply, I'd say "yes." If you define deterministic behavior in the manner you did, then yes, I can agree.

That's good, but then you go on and use "determine" in a different sense than I characterized, so it is no wonder that you get confused by your own examples.

Look, all actions are causal, but physical processes are deterministic. The physical actions of inanimate matter, and the physical processes that occur within all animals, including man, are deterministic, but man also has the attribute of a volitional consciousness. Of course, as you say, we distinguish between the behavior of inanimate objects and living organisms; among other things, the latter is self-generated. But that only indicates a somewhat different mode of action -- a different causal principle -- but the physical processes of life are still deterministic. According to my understanding of Objectivism, man is the only exception in that his volition allows him to freely choose among alternatives, even though the physical processes of his body, including his brain, are fully deterministic. Man's mind has causal efficacy over his brain and the body in which the brain resides. Note how in Galt's speech (p. 931), Ayn Rand characterizes the actions of other animals and contrasts that with man.

An animal is equipped for sustaining its life; its senses provide it with an automatic code of action, an automatic knowledge of what is good for it or evil. It has no power to extend its knowledge or to evade it. In conditions where its knowledge proves inadequate, it dies. But so long as it lives, it acts on its knowledge, with automatic safety and no power of choice, it is unable to ignore its own good, unable to decide to choose the evil and act as its own destroyer.

Man has no automatic code of survival. His particular distinction from all other living species is the necessity to act in the face of alternatives by means of volitional choice.

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Look, all actions are causal, but physical processes are deterministic. The physical actions of inanimate matter, and the physical processes that occur within all animals, including man, are deterministic, but man also has the attribute of a volitional consciousness. Of course, as you say, we distinguish between the behavior of inanimate objects and living organisms; among other things, the latter is self-generated. But that only indicates a somewhat different mode of action -- a different causal principle -- but the physical processes of life are still deterministic. According to my understanding of Objectivism, man is the only exception in that his volition allows him to freely choose among alternatives, even though the physical processes of his body, including his brain, are fully deterministic.

Stephen, do I understand you correctly as saying that although animal actions are self-generated, they are nonetheless the outcome of deterministic physical processes?

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Simply, I'd say "yes."  If you define deterministic behavior in the manner you did, then yes, I can agree.

That's good, but then you go on and use "determine" in a different sense than I characterized, so it is no wonder that you get confused by your own examples.

Look, all actions are causal, but physical processes are deterministic. The physical actions of inanimate matter, and the physical processes that occur within all animals, including man, are deterministic, but man also has the attribute of a volitional consciousness. Of course, as you say, we distinguish between the behavior of inanimate objects and living organisms; among other things, the latter is self-generated. But that only indicates a somewhat different mode of action -- a different causal principle -- but the physical processes of life are still deterministic. According to my understanding of Objectivism, man is the only exception in that his volition allows him to freely choose among alternatives, even though the physical processes of his body, including his brain, are fully deterministic. Man's mind has causal efficacy over his brain and the body in which the brain resides. Note how in Galt's speech (p. 931), Ayn Rand characterizes the actions of other animals and contrasts that with man.

Could you please offer a definition of deterministic or determinism? I have a grasp of what your saying but what is the difference between "physical processes are deterministic" and "physical processes are caused"? Are determinism and causality equivalent in your view? If that is your view, then why is the concept of determinism only refered to in the Objectivist literature in the context of denying volition? Why, throughout history, has determinism been used as a means to deny human volition but not used to explain physical phenomenon?

I don't remember ever having a science or math teach tell me that gravity, chemical reactions, or the Pythagorean theorem are deterministic. Causality is graspable: the actions of one entity affect the actions of another entity. Determinism seems to say that everything that happens in the universe is necessitated by previous factors and everything in the future is pre-set and inevitable (see AR Lexicon). This almost seems like the logical fallacy of "before this, therefore, because of this" (I forget the latin name). So one of those exploding stars that happened 10 billion years ago necessitated the birth of my son? I'm not sure that makes sense.

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This almost seems like the logical fallacy of "before this, therefore, because of this" (I forget the latin name).

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc means "After this, therefore because of this." In other words just because event B occurred after event A doesn't mean event A caused event B.

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Could you please offer a definition of deterministic or determinism?  I have a grasp of what your saying but what is the difference between "physical processes are deterministic" and "physical processes are caused"?  Are determinism and causality equivalent in your view?...

I'm not trying to answer for Stephen, but my opinion is that causality is a broader concept than determinism.

Causality applies to every action: every action is caused. But I use determinism to refer to those actions that, given what has happened before, had to happen, and could not have been otherwise.

And I've heard the adjective "deterministic" used to refer to physical processes. For example, a computer algorithm is deterministic: given the program and the input data, it will always perform the same way.

As I've heard the concept used, "determinism" or "deterministic" doesn't explain why something happened, it just says that what happened had to have happened.

If I'm following this thread correctly, the main point of contention is whether or not the behavior of some animals other than man is determined or volitional. That is, given the animal's inputs and its history, did it have to behave as it did, or could it have chosen to behave differently? But if an animal's action is determined, I don't take this to mean that it operates on the same principles as other deterministic things (such as computers, plants and solar systems). There can be many entities that act deterministically, in which the nature of the causality operating is quite different. (For instance, the (deterministic) actions of plants are self-generated; the (deterministic) actons of computers are not.)

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Of course, as you say, we distinguish between the behavior of inanimate objects and living organisms; among other things, the latter is self-generated. But that only indicates a somewhat different mode of action -- a different causal principle -- but the physical processes of life are still deterministic. According to my understanding of Objectivism, man is the only exception in that his volition allows him to freely choose among alternatives, even though the physical processes of his body, including his brain, are fully deterministic. Man's mind has causal efficacy over his brain and the body in which the brain resides.

Stephen, do I understand you correctly as saying that although animal actions are self-generated, they are nonetheless the outcome of deterministic physical processes?

Self-generated action is one characteristic that distinguishes inanimate objects from living organisms. As Ayn Rand states in Galt's speech (p. 931), "Life is a process of self-sustaining and-self-generated action." The physical actions of a plant are self-generated and physically deterministic. The physical actions of an animal are self-generated and physically deterministic, though, unlike a plant, the animal is conscious of its surroundings. But, as Ayn Rand stated quite clearly, an animal's consciousness functions automatically on the sensory-perceptual level, governed by the automatic integrations of the physically deterministic brain.

But this, as I understand it, is standard Objectivism, outlined repeatedly in the Objectivist literature, hardly in need of being repeated again. I see I have lapsed into doing what I said I would not do, debating as to what is the Objectivist position on animal volition. By best understanding of the Objectivist view is that animals other than man are not volitional. Period. I will not debate this here anymore.

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Determinism seems to say that everything that happens in the universe is necessitated by previous factors and everything in the future is pre-set and inevitable (see AR Lexicon).

In the absence of man's volition that would be exactly the case.

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