The unreality of indeterminism

Indeterminism is the idea that events cannot be absolutely determined by causal relations given that particle physics is characterised by randomness. That is, if physics, at its most fundamental level, is characterised by randomness, then it is impossible to determine through causal relations the final states of events.

One implication of indeterminism, some argue, is that it makes free-will possible. If events cannot be absolutely determined through causal relations then events, like our will, might not be causally determined, and free-will is possible.

This is the argument that Compatibilists use to reconcile the otherwise incompatible views between libertarianism and determinism. Compatibilists sustain that even in a causal world free will is still possible, since there are certain elements of it which are not dominated by causality. Compatibilism is an attempt to rescue the possibility of free-will in a world dominated by scientific explanations. We are going to sustain that the argument of indeterminism to defend the possibility of free-will is fallacious on two aspects: it involves a misconception of the physical world (of particle physics), and regardless if events are causal or not, in a natural world free-will is not possible.

First of all we have to make a distinction between indeterminism and indeterminacy. Indeterminacy is a natural occurrence in particle physics. Indeterminism is a theory inspired on indeterminacy to explain the possibility of free-will. In particle physics there is a limit to what we can know about the physical world: this is what we call indeterminacy. As we said in one of our first premises, any variation in space occurs in its continuity and involves a transmission of information with a variation of energy. To make a measurement we need information from the event. And taking information from the even means a transmission of energy; which means an emission or absorption of energy from the event. This means in turn, that when we try to measure an event we are physically altering it. At large scales this variation might be negligible, but in particle physics it means that we cannot measure events without changing them. And this is what indeterminacy means: it is the impossibility to know physical events in arbitrary detail for there is a limit of the information we can receive without altering them. Indeterminacy takes the form of the uncertainty principle where we find impossible to determine simultaneously and with arbitrary accuracy complementary variables like time and energy, positions and momentum, etc.
Because in particle physics there is a limit of what we can know about physical world, events cannot be causally explained but they are described instead in terms of probability functions. Now, the first argument against indeterminism is that physical indeterminacy is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for it. The fact that we find it physically impossible to establish a causal connection between events does it mean that events are not causally connected.
We sustain that indeed, in a monist universe (as we explained in The unreality of causality) causality is a mental interpretation of the physical world, and not a world’s quality. So causal connections among events are a mental interpretation and not a physical relation.

But even so, indeterminsts seem to confuse indeterminacy with randomness. Even if events are not causally determined, this doesn’t mean that they are random. Nothing in the universe behaves randomly. Not even in the absence of causality. Randomness means lack of order. And Nature is the opposite: it is an order of variation on things. If indeterminism associates the possibility of freedom with randomness due to probabilistic descriptions of quantum mechanics, then this association is wrong. Indeterminacy is not randomness. Random events are characterised for having unpredictable outcomes. That is, they are events that lacks any relation, order or function between the initial conditions and their outcome. Throwing a dice for example, is a random event for there is no way we can predict its outcome; that is, there is no way we can follow a casual sequence of event from the dice in my hand down to the dice on the table to predict its outcome. A determinist would say that randomness doesn’t preclude causality. If we cannot predict the outcome of a dice, it is not because there is no chain of causal events determining it, but it is because the chain of events is so complex that it is unintelligible to us. But in particle physics things seems to be different. The indeterminacy of events in particle physics could suggests that causality might not form part of the physical world at all. And this is what some people take as the origin of our free-will. If events, at the most fundamental level of the physical world, are not determined by causal relations then free-will seems to be physically possible: and this is wrong as well. In a monist universe there might be natural events, like in particle physics where there is indeterminacy. But even these events are still natural, ordered and not random. They might not be causally determined, but this doesn’t mean that they can be random or free. Events would be following a natural order of variation under a Nature that is not causal.


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