Monday, December 26, 2016

6.  Practical Origins
 
Arguments in philosophy are made contending determinism prevents identifying choices as origins or sources of action, root causes of events, because prior causes exist under the assumption of determinism.  There is no ultimate responsibility because only  some electron gone astray at the dawn of time could be at fault.  Only indeterminate choices, unique to gods and men, or "first causes" in ancient terms, can serve as origins in the abstract position in philosophy.   This has been called the "argument from consequences" in free will, where being a consequence of external factors eliminates responsibility.  Long convoluted, far flung analyses are made of this such as Fischer's "Metaphysics of Free Will".  In practical terms the argument is circular, assuming only the most abstract, simple cause and effect relations are relevant.  The image of determinism presented is a chain of causal links, all alike, without reasons to distinguish one from another.  In practice links comprised of random phenomena have very different implications for practical goal directed action than those with predictability.

From a practical perspective the concept of cause and effect relation serves a purpose, to identify predictions which can be made to plan effective action.  Not all such relations support prediction in practice.   A chain of connections traces back to an origin, the source of a phenomenon, where changes predict all subsequent events.  So in medicine, microbes are identified as the source of illnesses.  Yet what stops tracing at the microbes is not made clear theoretically, allowing philosophy to puzzle over abstactions.  The missing principle appears to be the randomness explained previously.  The prior causes of microbes are random and incapable of prediction.  There are more complex cases of disease with epidemiology, seeking disease vectors and so on, still with some random starting point, some animal wandering out of the jungle, or one of Darwin's random mutations.

Philosophy and mathematics can ignore the practical distinction between randomness and order.  Prediction over-abstracted includes determination by whatever set of facts necessitates a result.  When the set of determining facts is infinite, it can appear the same in abstract perspective of mathematics but make quite a distinction for practical purposes.   Infinities have been a popular source of puzzles since ancient time with famous paradoxes, and gave the Jesuits fits when encountering forerunners to calculus in Galileo and his school before Newton and Leibnitz. (Historical details in "Infinitesimal" by Amir Alexander).  Elaborate systems of axioms have been devoloped to render it logical, in work extending into modern times.  In the end, infinite sets are not very knowable or serve for practical predictions in human activity.  Perhaps they rule the cosmos astronomically, but in the end the uncertain weather on earth must be dealt with by the residents.

A Compatibilist rule can so be formulated: the origin of phenomena in practice, the end of causal chains for any practical purpose, is a random event with predictable consequences compared to more randomness.  What originates is predictability.  Remarkably chaos begets order, as well as the reverse, in a constant evolution of the universe (Daniel Dennett has written much on this in "Darwin's Dangerous Idea", and "Freedom Evolves"; chemist Ilya Prigogine also had much to say about forces involved).  Such facts are known only in modern science, unavailable to old philosophers like Descartes segrating mind into a dualist inscrutable realm of spirit and magic, perhaps just out of necessity for the intellectual work, lacking the requisite facts.  There has been a lot of work since.

The principle can be illustrated by machines, those most predictable of things, by design, the fascinating clockworks (otherwise why bother).  A power transmission gear train, for example, has gears meshed one with another making each gear thoroughly determined by the prior gear in the train.  The gears are moreover encased in a strong housing specifically made  to prevent effects by other factors in the environment, purifying the chain.  So while one gear predicts the next, it is not an origin point.  The chain of causes ends at the more flimsy control buttons or levers, on-off switches etc., on the machine.  The control inputs are points where the structure itself no longer defines what forces will act on the component.  The controls are open to random, unspecified influences, the better to be manipulated by human action.  Individual machines can serve as components within larger structures, such as whole systems of trains operated by a railroad, all according to a schedule, very predictable.   The control input then becomes creating the schedules in the management office, by unpredictable people with that pesky freedom of will (much to the frustration of investors in such enterprises).

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