The thesis of this page is that there is a relationship between our view of how the universe is working as a whole and the way we think about ethics (what is “good”). There are various models, e. g. whether there is a spiritual component in the universe or not (materialism vs. religious idealism) and whether the development of the universe is determined by the initial state or not (determinism vs. indeterminism).

Model 1: materialistic determinism (positivism)

Basically this is the idea that one should only believe what one can see, that all phenomena are either matter or energy, anyway measureable in effect, and that everything that happens can be in principal understood by causal relationsships. Of course this excludes ideas like “God” or “soul”, as long as they to not appear to be measured. All we need is hard science and enough time.

Lion, I think this is your position, unless I misunderstand you.

This is not my position, although I feel as a scientist.

Without a choice, there is of course no “good” and “bad” and the feeling of freedom, of being able to make a choice is just a kind of self-deception.

I think that based on this model, ethics is not possible. If humans are just complicated fully determined mechanisms, then nobody has a real choice and nobody is really responsible for what he is doing. Then, in the extreme, a murderer is born and determined to be a murderer.

If ethics is constructed then it will be, primarily, in terms of pragmatic utilitarism (rational egoism on a society level) or moral relativism (everyone constructing his own rules, if able to).

I’m sorry (for miscommunication,) this is not my position. (See post at bottom for continuation.)

Model 2: religious determinism

This is very common with people that believe in a single God, because they attribute to him all power and knowledge, especially about the future.

It is difficult for a religious person to cope with indeterminism because it seems to limit the knowledge of God. But I think this is naive reasoning.

Ethics is derived from acting according to God’s will, either from some holy scripture or by some personal experience which is held true. The paradoxon of the situation that God already knows what a man will do, of not being autonomous, is resolved by some “sacrifice of belief” that is part of the religious mystery. So a Christian may believe that he is completely free and and the same time, that even believing is only possible because of the grace of God.

I think that Marxism is also a religious determinism.

Model 3: interpretable indeterminism

This means the the universe is based at its roots on highly dynamic, fluctation processes, which can neither be measured nor ever be predicted. Special situations and large systems (due to statistics) show causal behaviour to some extent, which can then used for predictions.

With respect to materialism vs. religion, no decision is necessary, it is suspended. One can expect that there are more effects and phenomena in the universe than we know now. There may be a God, or not. There may be other spiritual phenomena or not. We will learn many things in the future. Maybe we will know better at some time, maybe not.

I think - based on modern physics and PatternTheory as two sources of belief - that the universe is not deterministic. This means that predicting the future by causal knowledge is limited to special simple or abstract situations.

I understand the human as an unpredictable living unfolding organism who has, at each point in time, the magical chance to do good or bad, be a genius or a fool, resonate with the universe or not.

This view is open to be interpreted either in a materialistic or a religious way.

Ethics can be constructed from the universe/creation as the only source given. “good” is relative, depending on the “good for whom” perspective. We can resolve this conflict if we seek to act in way that helps (1) us (2) our family (3) our society (4) the earth ecology (5) the universe at the same time. So ethics comes out as a system theory of resolving interest conflicts, as a science/guide of holistic unfolding.

Especially important is that the “good” is not in the theory or “by belief”, it is in any single moment, in any situation and decision, in any single contribution to unfolding processes. So you can’t “subscribe to the good”, neither by being “Christian”, “Marxist” nor “Scientist”.

Original Discussion (from PatternTheory): Freedom and responsibility

Lion, in what way are you a free and responsible person, when you are part of a clockwork-like universe that is determined in every detail from the first to the last second of its approx. 100 billion years of existance?

Easy: You make decisions, (free,) and you are held accountable (responsible.)

That your thoughts are determined by your nature makes no difference. You can think whatever thoughts you choose, whatever you desire. What do you choose? What do you desire? The whole is determined by nature: Your nature, and the world around you. You can change it, you can adapt it, and so on. The universe constantly manipulates itself.

That it’s all determined, (assuming universal determinism,) it doesn’t change any of the above.

It’s just a grand misunderstanding that universal determinism would mean that we’d have to somehow change our concept of human rights and responsibilities. (It does not.)

I think it changes everything.

Okaaay… Then, how so?

I think this leads us away from PatternTheory into DeterminismAndEthics.

I think there is a causal :-) relationship between worldview and ethical concepts that are compatible with it.

I wonder how would you classify a belief that everyone lives in ones own universe, governed by its own laws. The universes (spelling?) overlap wherever there are interactions between the agents, and obviously, they must be “compatible” in the area of overlap. If not, no contact is possible. People who have a large common part can form various theories and cultivate science – but this doesn’t mean that their results make any sense for the ones with more differences. It is possible to tune your private universe to someone else’s to some extent – but there must be continuity. There is no “uinversal”, “true” world.

I know this is pretty exotic… but consider the implications on the ethics. Some people live in determinstic, clockwork worlds – they just fail to perceive anything that wound’t fit. Others live in a world of their belief, guided by their deity – they observe miracles all the time – other people just call them blind luck or tricks of the mind. And there is an infinite variety of others, sometimes so alien, that only a sporadic interference between their world and worlds of other people is possible. Now, pretty large number of them has a lot in common – and they agree on some rules that loosely fit to their universes – others agree to the rules even though they make no sense in their world and they cannot understand them. Yet others see much better approaches in their worlds…

Sorry for adding confusion :)

I’m sorry (for miscommunication,) this is not my position. Further, there is a confusing of several concepts together, that are altogether separate:

  • Whether matter and energy are determined / completely causal, and by extension, your thoughts.
  • Whether matter and energy are ultimately measurable.
  • Whether soul or God exists or not.
  • Whether a person can be held accountable for their actions.
  • Whether a mind is making choices.
  • Whether utilitarianism is a good choice or not, as a philosophy.
  • Whether things should be considered alive or not.
  • Whether all things will be understood with enough time and science.

There are a great many cuts on these axes.

I myself have not come to hard & fast solid conclusion on a number of these, but I’ll tell the position that I argue:

  • Matter and energy are probably completely determined and casual, and, by extension, your thoughts.
  • At the finest level, due to fundamental limitations in the process of measurement, we cannot see initial states sharply enough, and thus cannot humanly determine whats happening, though the universe is deterministic.
  • God is the universe, and Soul is conscious experience. Neither are explained. If conscious experience is not a product of the material Universe, then we can hypothesize another God that creates consciousness, and the material universe. (This is the Gnostic model, which I am somewhat partial to, because consciousness remains unexplained.)
  • People are held accountable for their actions; This is basic evolutionary sense.
  • Minds make choices all the time, based on desires, imperfect information, and countless other factors.
  • Utilitarianism probably isn’t a good choice; I for one don’t want to live in that world.
  • Intelligent systems are alive (intelligence = life = adaption.)
  • I, like (I dare say) the majority of scientists, do not believe that all things will be understood with enough time and science.

We feel freedom daily, regardless of the minutia of particle physics (deterministic or not.) People who believe that the universe is deterministic feel freedom as well. It is simply following our nature, which is to make choices.

From the outside, a choice is when a brain is fed a bunch of conflicting information, and needs to determine a course of action. A bunch of ideas are explored and considered and imagined and felt and predicted, and, push come to shove, a choice is made. This explanation of choice does not contradict determinism, because every step along the way is determined.

You are held responsible by the facts of the world. If you are a chipmunk, and don’t squirrel away acorns, then nature will kill you. When we people gather together into societies, we do it because it’s a successful way of living. If someone’s behaving in such a way that it harms others in the society, then we jail that person. This is the NaturalisticSourceOfEthics.

Humans have rational and irrational (not to be confused, at all, with “good” and “bad”) tendencies in their thinking. We can often convince someone, through their rational considerations, to change a way of thinking, talking, and behaving. And often times, they can convince us! So we’re constantly adapting ourselves in a SelectivelyOpenMinded way, and developing our sense of ethics.

None of this has any sway, one way or the other, from determinism or indeterminism.

If someone is a murderer, and it’s because their brain and environment developed in such a way that they are easily angered, and commit murder, then we put that person in jail. Of course, before that time, we try to sway them to allay their anger, put knives out of reach, and so on, because we (A) don’t like murder, and (B) don’t like putting people in jail. That person should struggle to overcome their angry tendencies, no? It’s a struggle within their brain between multiple situations. They are either successful or unsuccessful. If they are successful, some systems in their brain were successful at overriding the other systems (that led to murderous action.) If they are unsuccessful, then the systems that lead to murder won out, the person commit murder, and thus we put them in jail.

Of course this excludes ideas like “God” or “soul”, as long as they to not appear to be measured.

This is the biggest leap; Causality in no way excludes ideas like “God” or “soul.” I do not understand how you get from: “God and soul cannot be measured” to “therefore they don’t exist.” And, further, you have to consider those two concepts separately, because they are radically different things, and even definitions are in question. Like I’ve said in EvolutionarySpirituality, I believe in Spinoza’s god. That it exists is utterly clear: There is an experience of a world. God is the name of that.

All this said, it’s not clear to me that there are no cosmic random number generators in the universe. There may be one. If that’s “choice,” I think it’s a pretty sad “choice.”

The whole concept of human transcendental choice is bizarre: What would it even mean? If you rolled time backwards, and replayed the same person through the exact same situation, would it mean that the person might make a different decision? Based on what? Why? What for? How is this choice, rather than randomness? What is the concept even trying to say or establish?

So I think it’s crucial to define choice in terms of the thoughts going on in their heads, and other things that happen in the brain.

Radomir: If the world is like you’re describing, then that would be the one reality, the one universe.

Conflating “How does the universe work?” with “How do people’s concepts of the universe work?” is the source of the confusion.

Of course there are as many concepts-of-the-world as there are people. But there can only be one reality. “Multiple realities” could only be sub-realities of a larger, containing reality, likely unknowable. But if you postulate multiple sub-realities, you are in fact postulating one reality.

Theory D and Theory P

I’ve come across a description of “Theory D and Theory P” "Which theory fits the evidence?".

In particular, it applies these theories to software development. That essay asks whether

  • Is software development is inherently deterministic? Are there “hidden variables” that completely determine the outcome of a software project? Or,
  • Is software development is inherently probabilistic? Is there is completely unpredictable turbulence that always occurs, and you have to make course corrections all the time?

I get the impression that the author is convinced that Theory P is the best one to use, and (like HelmutLeitner) is crying out in frustration because everyone else seems to used Theory D by default and acts like they’ve never even heard of Theory P, much less fairly compared it against Theory D.

I find it interesting to point out that Wiki:TwoThingsCanBothBeTrue: It is conceivable that perhaps both (a) “software projects generally turn out better when the project manager believes in theory P” (or at least acts like he does), and yet (b) “there are hidden variables that completely determine the outcome of a software project.” If that, hypothetically, turns out to be the case, then it might be “rational” for a project leader to decide to temporarily, until the project is finished, believe in something (or at least act like he believes something) that he knows is not true. But is that ethical? Or even sane? Of course, this is entirely speculative – further understanding of both software development and the art of managing software development may make this moot. A similar dilemma occurs in the context of DestroyingTheMoon.

I see that people are still discussing this: "Aristotle: De Anima, On Souls and Soullessness" by Rufus F. on September 30, 2010.