The Last Post on this Topic for a While

Darrell says:

Mr. Wright, if I recall rightly, refers to himself as a compatiblist (a determinist who believes in free will – a position that I thought Dr. A held as well, but I am now uncertain) and believes in an “underlying reality” for which BOTH physical and mental descriptions apply while neither is able to do so fully and sufficiently without the other. To provide an analogy, if one person only sees a car crash and another only hears a car crash then neither witness can fully describe the crash. Nor did hearing the crash did cause what the one witness saw anymore than seeing the crash cause what the other witness heard.

I suspect that Mr. Wright is quite possibly a monist, or at least someone that would argue that we are unable to observe what the underlying reality “really” is. If this is so, and I stand ready to be corrected, then the underlying disagreement is what is reality composed of? Do we have access to observing this underlying reality?

Well, well. It will sound snarky, but I have been waiting for two years to see if anyone would actually ask me what I thought on this topic. You are all too shy (or have too much good sense).

The question is exactly what is reality composed of. That is the basic question of ontology. It is a question I have now asked Dr Andreassen an even dozen times to address, and he has now given an answer, which as a curt refusal accompanied by an unconvincing face-saving justification. Enough of him.

The question of whether monism implies an unobservable buried reality, however, is fascinating. My answer would either be a qualified yes or a definite maybe.

Oddly enough, Amelia Windrose in my ORPHANS OF CHAOS trilogy is asked exactly this question, and replies that she believes in monads, but that she cannot explain how the physical dimension of the monad relates to the mental dimension of the monad. It cannot be a physical relationship, like a gravity field, because then a brick would have to have the concept ‘brick’ attracted by gravity and connected to it; it cannot be a symbolic or mental relationship because then the physical brick would have to have the concept ‘brick’ producing or manifesting it the way a mind produces an imagination or a god produces an avatar. So she said the concept was unanswerable.

At the time I made it up, I meant it for a clever bit of science fictional reasoning, but seeing how this conversation is trending, now I am not so sure.

Since you are the first person to ask me, dear Darrel, I am do indeed believe physical determinism (and for that matter the omniscience and foreknowledge of God) is entirely compatible with free will, which is not a theory of physics but a category of moral capacity.

I am an immaterialist monist along the lines of Bishop Berkley, in that I assume that the only way sense impressions could make an impression on my thoughts and come into my awareness is if the things sensed were things like thoughts, external forms of thought, as it were. I believe all things are thoughts in the mind of God. God, in His grace, has granted physical objects sufficient independence of Him that they act of their own nature, and, for a parallel reason, man acts of his own volition.

I differ in emphasis from Berkley where I hold that what we call matter is a specific manifestation of a concept or an idea placed in such a relation to us that we can perceive it from the outside, seeing the external nature of a concept by its behavior, rather than, as with concepts we contemplate by introspection, perceiving the concept from within.

So I am something also like a Thomist, who holds that the inward soul of man is the essence of man, and the outward body is his form. If you can grasp this rather non-intuitive concept, you can see why I think of Cartesian mind-body duality as a misleading metaphor.

I hope I will scandalize no one if I say I agree with Ayn Rand on this point. The mind and body are one. We are not corpses without ghosts nor ghosts without corpses, as Cartesian dualism would have it. That is why I believe in the Resurrection of the body, a glorified body, and not in merely the Gnostic silliness or dismal Socratic notions of becoming a floating wisp of gossamer after death, or a pure mental entity like an angel.

We are, in effect, thoughts thought into being by the Divine Mind. From Shakespeare’s point of view, Hamlet’s external garb of dark clothing or the skull of Yorick he contemplates are made of the same substance as the melancholy of that indecisive prince. Both are inventions of Shakespeare, maintained by his imagination. There is no admixture or separation of two separate substances if Shakespeare directs Hamlet to drop his sword while fencing with Laertes and pick up his opponent’s blade by mistake. But no one can mistake the imaginary sword (represented on stage by a prop) with Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, or think the sword is only in Hamlet’s mind or words the way the arms one takes up against a sea of troubles are. Neither does anyone doubt that Hamlet, from the point of view inside the play, has free will, and so his indecision has moral and dramatic weight, whereas Sir Tristan, after he quaff a love potion that overthrows his reason, does not.

I freely confess that as a writer, this metaphor seems quite natural and quite appealing to me, and that is I had the power of a god to make the characters I invent real and act of their own free will and not mine, I would do so. And, at times, something so akin to this happens that I cannot say what is the difference.

Determinism is a built-in and inescapable category of human thinking. No one, not even modern physicists, can say that events happen for no reason, not and really mean it, not and make sense. Likewise, so-called indeterminism, free will, is a built-in and inescapable category of human thinking. No one, not even a modern Liberal, can say that no man is ever at fault no matter what he does, and no one, not even a Hindu, can say that everything which happens to a man is his own fault.

But there is a difference, unbridgeable and fundamental, between human action (things we do on purpose, to get something or to do something) and inanimate reactions (things which happen for no purpose, merely because the machinery of the universe is in that shape and can move no other way). Any philosophy that for any reason comes to the conclusion that one or the other does not exist (that matter is illusory or mind is an epiphenomenon) is useless for every day life.

And since the purpose of philosophy is to learn how to live and how to die and how to bear sorrow manfully and without undue emotion, obviously a philosophy that is useless for every day life is useless altogether.

If you have reached the conclusion that no humans ever can or ever will reach conclusions, then you have entered the land of absurdity, and need to retract and retrace your steps. If you make it all the way back to your axioms without detecting a flaw, abandon your axioms and get better ones.

70 Comments

  1. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    Touching our discussion of Newtonian mechanics, I can now at least answer the question of where conservation of momentum comes from (my statement 2 from a while back): Newton derives it as his Corollary III to the laws of motion. His statement is

    The quantity of motion, which is collected by taking the sum of the motions directed towards the same parts, and the difference of those that are directed to contrary parts, suffers no change from the action of bodies among themselves.

    For action and its opposite re-action are equal, by Law III, and therefore, by Law II, they produce in the motions equal changes towards opposite parts. Therefore if the motions are directed towards the same parts, whatever is added to the motion of the preceding body will be subducted from the motion of that which follows; so that the sum will be the same as before. If the bodies meet, with contrary motions, there will be an equal deduction from the motions of both; and therefore the difference of the motions directed towards opposite parts will remain the same.

    Note that Newton’s “motion” is what I call “momentum”. All else aside, I see what you mean when you call him a bad writer; if I had not seen the same proof in modern mathematical notation I would have a very hard time following it. Perhaps it’s better in the Latin.

    There remains the question of whether jumping in the lake violates that corollary, provided that drinking coffee observes it.

    • Comment by Nostreculsus:

      Momentum is conserved in Newtonian physics, because of the Third Law (action equals reaction). Curiously, energy is apparently not conserved because Newton takes no proper account of energy gained from chemical reactions or lost to heat.

      So, if Shakespeare decides to jump into the Thames rather than finishing “Hamlet”, his momentum increases as he falls from the embankment and then decreases after he hits the water, but there are compensatory changes in the momentum of the earth. On the other hand, Shakespeare draws on chemical stores of energy to leap and his energy is eventually dissipated into an imperceptible heating of the cold river.

      I still don’t see how either the conservation of momentum or the non-conservation of energy changes the metaphysics. Dr Andreassen is advancing two positions.

      Argument 1
      Momentum is conserved in Newtonian physics. Therefore mind is an emergent property of physics.

      Argument 2
      I am a physics postdoc. I have shewn that I know more about Newtonian physics than John C Wright. When he realizes this he will blush and accept my authority when I say that mind is an emergent property.

      I don’t find either argument particularly compelling.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        Momentum is conserved in Newtonian physics. Therefore mind is an emergent property of physics.

        Please do not put words in my mouth. I did not put forward your “therefore”.

        I am a physics postdoc. I have shewn that I know more about Newtonian physics than John C Wright. When he realizes this he will blush and accept my authority when I say that mind is an emergent property.

        Again, your words, other people’s mouths, please do not leave the one in the other. I did not say a word about emergent properties. I said that our host had said contradictory things about Newtonian physics, apparently without realising that there was a contradiction. I will further add that he insulted me when I said they were contradictory, and claimed that I only said so because I did not understand philosophy.

        • Comment by Nostreculsus:

          Good point. But I wish you would explain your case rather than putting forth these challenges. If you don’t believe in some sort of emergence, what do you believe?

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “Again, your words, other people’s mouths, please do not leave the one in the other. I did not say a word about emergent properties”

          Once again I agree with Dr Andreassen. This is not what he said and is not what the argument is about.

          I said that our host had said contradictory things about Newtonian physics, apparently without realising that there was a contradiction. I will further add that he insulted me when I said they were contradictory, and claimed that I only said so because I did not understand philosophy.

          I will also add that Dr Andreassen reacted to the insult with the patience and forbearance of Job, and will here and now proffer a humble apology to him for my uncouth and emotional words. I am sorry.

    • Comment by huardzc:

      I am apparently the ‘witness’ that was asked for, so this will be my only post. I have a PhD in physics and I am employed as a researcher at the moment. This is probably a catch-22 in terms of claiming ‘authority’ and posting a statement that agrees with Rolf.

      Rolf posed the following situation to me. Assume we live in a completely Newtonian world. Would the following violate conversation of momentum: Someone drinks a cup of coffee, we rewind time/the universe and now instead use that momentum to propel someone off of a riverbank.

      The short answer is yes it does violate conversation of momentum. In a pure Newtonian world everything is completely deterministic. Each particle of the coffee has a trajectory that it will follow. Using/stealing momentum to be used elsewhere in the system/universe might not change the total momentum but it will completely change what the coffee molecule was going to do (in this example). Before the theft of momentum it had a well-defined path, but after the theft it is now on a different path without the influence of another body/force to explain the change (i.e. to maintain the conservation). The total momentum of the universe would appear to be the same, but the individual linkages from one moment of time to the next broke by taking momentum from one place and using it in another.

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        Your witness as an expert is credible, but Dr Andreassen asked you a different question than he asked me. He did not ask me what happened if we rewound the universe and then “we” used or stole the coffee momentum introducing new motion out of nowhere for no reason and used it to push a man into the river.

        The question he asked me was what happened if we rewound the universe and the man, instead of deciding to drink the cup of coffee, decided to jump in the river. The question was whether the act of a man jumping in a river in and of itself violates Newton’s laws concerning conservation of momentum.

        There was no ‘theft’ of momentum. Dr Andreassen merely asked you a question that assumes the answer he is seeking. In effect, he asked you if, in a universe where there is conservation of momentum, momentum came out of nowhere for no reason and pushed a coffee drinker into the drink. Obviously, I would not have asked him to ask you if that were what we had been talking about.

        I apologize for dragging you into this. He has wasted your time and mine with his antics.

        • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

          The question was whether the act of a man jumping in a river in and of itself violates Newton’s laws concerning conservation of momentum.

          Please keep the assumption firmly in mind: The question is whether jumping in the river violates conservation of momentum, given that drinking coffee does not do so. Or to put it differently: If we have two universes that are initially identical in respect of particle locations and velocities, and at a later time differ, can we immediately conclude that conservation of momentum was violated in at least one of these universes?

          Zach’s a busy man, so perhaps it would suffice if I give the derivation from Newton, and he says whether or not it is correct?

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            “Or to put it differently: If we have two universes that are initially identical in respect of particle locations and velocities, and at a later time differ, can we immediately conclude that conservation of momentum was violated in at least one of these universes?”

            It seems you are arguing that if I decide between two alternate options to do any deliberate act, that this by definition violates Newton’s Laws of motion, provided only that the first option does not violate the law of conservation of momentum.

            And you are going to derive the proposition the decision-making by definition violates the law of conservation of momentum from the Principia and present it to a real physicists and ask him for confirmation? And you are going to quote the proposition and lemma by number from Newton’s PRINCIPIA in support of this this?

            There is no need to go to such elaborate lengths. Tell me right now which proposition in Newton speaks about human decision making?

            In any case, you misrepresented the discussion to Zach, and I set him straight. The witness did not confirm your case. We need not trouble him again.

            • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

              you misrepresented the discussion to Zach

              I did not. Zach, not having the dubious benefit of long experience in this discussion, expressed his understanding of the problem in slightly different terms. The question I put to him was, nonetheless, “If you see me drinking coffee, and that doesn’t violate conservation of momentum, would it violate conservation of momentum if you saw me jumping in the lake?” It seems he is having the same problem as me, that as soon as the discussion turns to physics it is really hard to get you to understand what is being claimed.

              It seems you are arguing that if I decide between two alternate options to do any deliberate act, that this by definition violates Newton’s Laws of motion, provided only that the first option does not violate the law of conservation of momentum.

              If you have a state of the world, meaning a particular velocity and location for each particle, which does not violate conservation of momentum relative to an earlier state; then any other state does violate it.

              So, if you see me drinking coffee on 1200 Tuesday, and measure the overall momentum, and find it to be the same as the overall momentum on 1200 Monday; then, if you instead saw me jumping in the lake (at 1200 Tuesday), you would immediately know that momentum had not been conserved. Whether there was a deliberate decision, a divine intervention, or a change in programming by the Dark Lords of the Matrix does not matter to that conclusion, which is one of physics alone.

              Tell me right now which proposition in Newton speaks about human decision making?

              The statement to be proved is this: “If, at time t0, the overall momentum of a system is X; and at time t1, the momentum is X and the location and velocity of all particles is Y; then any other set of locations and velocities Y’ at time t1 has a different overall momentum X’, and therefore violates conservation of momentum.”

              To prove this it is sufficient to refer to particles; the theorem is the same whether or not the system under consideration contains any humans, and Newton therefore does not refer to human decisions, nor does the proof.

              We are discussing a theorem within physics, having to do with particles, velocities, and distances. The assertion is that a particular set of velocities, under a particular set of assumptions, breaks conservation of momentum. The physics is the same no matter what caused Shakespeare to jump in the lake: If he is a robot without free will, nonetheless lake-jumping would violate conservation of momentum under the stated assumptions. So, for this problem, deliberate decision-making need not appear anywhere in the proof; it is irrelevant.

              Now, you may say that as soon as decision-making makes an appearance, then physics no longer applies and thus I am making a philosophical mistake in even mentioning conservation of momentum. Very well, but I am stubbornly going to do so anyway: Because the momentum in both cases is a measureable quantity, and it is either the same or not the same.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                You will excuse me if I do not again get drawn into this conversation. If you got any sane men who read Newton to say that one of Newtons propositions defines human thought as violating the conservation of momentum, I congratulate you on your deceptive cunning. I asked you to ask him to name the proposition by number. He did not. I asked you. You did not. Neither of you admits that no such proposition exists in the PRINCIPIA.

                You have presented evidence to the court in the form of a book by Newton which I have read and I assume you have also, since you claim to be a physicist. The proposition is not in the book. You asked if you could present an expert witness to confirm. I agreed. He confirmed a different matter, an unrelated hypothetical question which had different premises and conclusions than anything we discussed. Neither did he name the page where this alleged proposition is written. The evidence is inadmissible. The expert witness is irrelevant. Case dismissed.

                • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                  I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that it is not usual for the attorney of one party to make decisions such as ‘case closed’. Who appointed you judge?

                  I did not say a word about human thought. I made a claim about momentum, a physical quantity; and about what may be concluded from hypothetical observations of Shakespeare’s body. If you thought I was talking about something else, then I suggest it is better to clear up that misunderstanding than to get huffy about what you thought I was saying.

                  • Comment by John C Wright:

                    I am the judging judging the soundness of your arguments. If I judge them to be more sound than any opposing arguments, I am obligated to change my mind to conform with the conclusions.

                    If you do not regard me as competent to judge the soundness of your reasoning, why present your reasoning to me? If you are not trying to persuade, why are you talking at all?

                    What is your motive?

                    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                      Indeed, I’m beginning to wonder. For if you were a judge who displayed this level of incomprehension of legal matters, I’d vote to impeach you, or whatever the term is for removing a judge from his position.

                      Perhaps I can approach this from another angle. Are you able to describe an experiment to confirm or falsify conservation of momentum? Let us ignore Shakespeare for a moment, and turn to the lab bench. Imagine that all high school physics has been wiped from our minds, and we must reconstruct it. How would you design an experiment to test the hypothesis that momentum is conserved?

                      I’m asking this question because, with respect, I’m not sure you understand what “conservation of momentum” means. You seem to think it has something to do with Shakespeare’s decisions, and then it gets all tangled up in your philosophies. But it’s a purely physical question. And, before you take umbrage, yes, I know you’ve read Newton in the original Latin. I opine that this is not a good way to learn physics. In fact I don’t think anyone can understand physics by reading alone, whatever the language and the text; you have to do the exercises. Until you’ve actually used the principle of conservation of momentum to solve a problem, even a simplified textbook problem, you don’t really understand it, no matter what you’ve read. I’d be much more impressed by the brag that you’d done all the exercises from chapters five through nine of Halliday and Resnick.

                  • Comment by Darrell:

                    Dr. A

                    I apologize for intruding as I have not read Newton and last took a physics course over twenty years ago, so I am really not a qualified participant in this conversation, but I think the confusion is about where the momentum is coming from and if Shakepeare is a closed system.

                    If in world X Shakespeare wakes up from a sound sleep and walks to the river Thames and tosses himself in and yet in world Y Shakespeare wakes up from a sound sleep and walks to a cafe for a cup of coffee was momentum not conserved because each Shakespeare started with the same potential momentum while they slept (or when they were born, if you’d like) and it had to be expended at the same time and in the same way?

                    If a inter dimensional time traveler had restrained Shakespeare in his bed before he could get up to throw himself in the Thames what would have happened? Would he explode?

                    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                      If in world X Shakespeare wakes up from a sound sleep and walks to the river Thames and tosses himself in and yet in world Y Shakespeare wakes up from a sound sleep and walks to a cafe for a cup of coffee was momentum not conserved because each Shakespeare started with the same potential momentum while they slept (or when they were born, if you’d like) and it had to be expended at the same time and in the same way?

                      Well, you could put it that way; but it’s not Shakespeare, per se, who has that “potential momentum”, but rather the system as a whole. Hence, in your hypothetical:

                      If a inter dimensional time traveler had restrained Shakespeare in his bed before he could get up to throw himself in the Thames what would have happened? Would he explode?

                      Shakespeare would not explode. Either the time traveler was included in the calculation from the start, in which case momentum is still conserved; outside things are allowed to interact with Shakespeare! Or else he is introducing additional momentum into the system, which violates a law of physics but doesn’t cause Shakespeare to explode, it just causes him to react in a different deterministic manner.

                      A billiard ball on a particular trajectory has a given “potential momentum”, and if we disregard chaos and quantum it will always hit exactly the same spot, but it doesn’t explode if someone reaches in from outside the billiards table and pokes it. The effect is, however, detectable! A billiard physicist sitting on the green felt, ignorant of the outside world and unable to detect the poke, would still be able, with sufficiently accurate measurements, to see that momentum had not been conserved by the objects he knew about.

                  • Comment by Darrell:

                    Dr. A

                    Nesting has gotten out of hand which is why I am posting further up the thread.

                    This, as I said, is where my understanding of physics breaks down. But just so that I can ensure my understanding, a physicist could, for example, measure the motion in the baseball sitting on my desk and tell me that it will be thrown tomorrow at 2:00 pm EDT?

                    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                      No. Firstly you have to assume Newtonian physics and infinite measurement accuracies, or you run into all kinds of difficulties with, respectively, quantum mechanics and chaos. But even ignoring that, it is not sufficient to measure the baseball. You also have to measure all the momenta of all the things that could possibly interact with the baseball before 1400 tomorrow. If you assume strict Newtonian physics, with no lightspeed limit, then that set includes everything in the universe; if you assume a lightspeed limit then it includes everything within a light-day or so, say roughly speaking everything in the Solar System.

                      Note that when I say “all the things”, I mean “all the atoms”; sitting here at my desk I have, presumably, zero overall momentum (well, ignoring the motion of the Earth around the Sun), but there are all kinds of movements internal to my body, most obviously the beating of my heart and consequent circulation of the blood; I’m only “sitting still” at the macro-level of my whole body. So you cannot treat me as a block of wood, you have to look at the individual atoms.

                • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                  Since you will not take my word that Zach is answering the question you asked, apparently because he expressed himself in his own terms and you are unable to recognise the identity, I put the question elsewhere on the web, where you can see for yourself what I said.

                  • Comment by John C Wright:

                    Before I click through the link, did you in that response cite the number of the proposition or lemma in Newton’s PRINCIPIA which shows that human decision making violates the Third Law of Motion? I asked for chapter and verse where Newton says that if a man drinks coffee rather than jumps into the river that this violates conservation of momentum (which it obviously does not). You asked Zach whether if the momentum in the coffee particles were transferred to the jumper without cause, would this violates conservation of momentum (which is obviously does).

                    It is the informal logical error known as strawman. Formally, it is merely irrelevant.

                    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                      I asked for chapter and verse where Newton says that if a man drinks coffee rather than jumps into the river that this violates conservation of momentum (which it obviously does not).

                      You asked two questions; one of them was this strawman, the other is the legitimate question I’ve been answering. Let me quote the exchange for you. I said:

                      2. The total mass times velocity, the momentum, in each of three dimensions, is a conserved quantity, which Shakespeare cannot change by any act of will. Therefore, if I measure the total momentum on two different days, it will be the same, whatever Shakespeare does in the meantime.

                      3. Suppose I measure the momenta on Monday, when Shakespeare receives the news of his son’s death; and on Tuesday, when I observe him drinking coffee. Suppose further that they are the same. In that case, if we consider instead a hypothetical Shakespeare who jumped in the Thames at the moment when the real one was making coffee, the momenta of the world that contains the hypothetical Shakespeare would be different.

                      Do you disagree with any of these assertions?

                      (I’m leaving out assertion 1 as it was apparently uncontroversial) and you replied:

                      If statement 2 is true, statement 3 must be false.

                      I then said

                      Both these statements are just direct consequences of Newtonian physics.

                      and you responded

                      Your understanding of Newtonian physics is faulty — if I may be forgiven the understatement — if you conclude that a man jumping into a river violates Newtonian physics.

                      This is your strawman; I did not say anything about jumping into rivers in general. Please re-read assertion 3, which you disagreed with so strenuously. It speaks of a hypothetical Shakespeare who jumps into a river at the moment when the real Shakespeare is drinking coffee. Knowing that the real one, the coffee-drinker, is not violating momentum, can we conclude that the hypothetical one does? This has nothing to say about river-jumping in general, or about decisions; it is a question only about physics. It may equivalently be formulated in terms of “running the universe back” to the day before and seeing if Shakespeare does the same thing.

                      Now, please observe that we are here arguing about physics, not philosophy. “Is momentum conserved given these observations” is not a question about Shakespeare’s state of mind; it is a question that can in principle be answered by sufficiently accurate measurement, or by reasoning from Newton’s three laws.

                      You then asked, and this is the question I’ve been responding to:

                      if you can find another witness, someone with a high school level of physics or higher, a credible expert, to tell me that Shakespeare jumping into the Thames violates the law of conservation of momentum on that assumption that Shakespeare drinking coffee conserves momentum

                      Here you say nothing about human decision-making, nor should you; that’s not what we are discussing. This is the question I asked Zach, and the question I asked in my link.

                      You go on to say:

                      So have your witness tell me by section number, proposition, lemma and line, which part of the PRINCIPIA is violated by a man jumping into the water if he decides not to drink coffee.

                      Here decision-making appears, and already you are distorting the question: In the space of a single paragraph you have managed to forget the assumption of coffee-drinking conserving momentum. I won’t ask this question, for it has nothing to do with what I am claiming, and nothing to do with the three assertions I made initially. If you insist on this I must declare a mistrial; you cannot win a case by requiring me to find witnesses for something I did not say.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      “I did not say anything about jumping into rivers in general. “

                      But that is what the argument is about, and all it is about.

                      The idea that the real Shakespeare and the hypothetical one undergo the same motions, independently of any decisions they make in the meanwhile, because the law of conservation of momentum is conserved is the very point in dispute. You are arguing in a circle.

                      You slide from talking about momentum in a physical system, to talking about human decisions in the cosmos in general, and then ask whether momentum in a cosmos is conserved.

                      If the answer is yes, you conclude that human decisions are parts of the physical system, and human decision making part of physics and governed by its rules; and if no, you conclude that human decisions are parts of the physical system, and violate the laws of physics.

                      The answer that the discipline of physics deliberately excludes all talk of final causes, including human decisions, from any talk of physical systems is the point in dispute; and it is the point you talk for granted; and it is the point you are unwilling or unable to address.

                      Statement Two contains an ambiguity: you say “total mass times velocity, the momentum, in each of three dimensions, is a conserved quantity” this either refers to (a) “a physical system which does not take human decisions into account i.e. physics” or refers to (b) “a cosmos which takes human decisions into account.”

                      The question hence has two answers. If your question means (a) “is all momentum in a physical system conserved?” the answer is obviously yes. If (b) “is momentum conserved when discussing a cosmos containing entities, some of which have momentum (bodies) and some of which do not (decisions)” the answer is that the question is meaningless.

                      It never occurred to me that you meant interpretation (b) since the question of whether the cosmos including minds and bodies and all statements that can be made on all topics can be reduced to physics is the point in dispute. I did not think you were merely asking me a circular question. So I assumed you meant (a).

                      Statement Three concerns human decisions. Since we are not talking about cosmos (b), we are only talking about Newtonian physical system (a) and in Newtonian physical (a) Statement Three is false. It is not only not true that the momentum of the total universe would be different, there is no way it can be true if Statement Two is true, because human decisions may change any number of things in the universe, but they do not violate the conservation of momentum; and do not make entropy run backward; and do not revoke the law of gravity; indeed no human act changes any physical law. Human acts do change the locations of physical bodies, however.

                      Hence the two statements contradict each other.

                      Your argument goes as follows:
                      1. In a closed physical system, all momentum is conserved.
                      2. Human decisions are a set of physical motions in a closed physical system;
                      3. The momentum of human decisions is conserved.

                      Now, since the conclusion is a nonsense statement, like talking about the taste of noon or the sound of six pounds, I conclude that the minor premise, that all human decisions are physical motions, is false. The major premise, that IN PHYSICS all momentum is conserved, is undisputed.

                      Knowing that the real one, the coffee-drinker, is not violating momentum, can we conclude that the hypothetical one does? Actually, since the law of conservation of momentum is a rule of physics, physics only deals with the motions of human bodies to the degree that they act like inanimate objects. Otherwise physics ignores them.

                      Human decisions are not a question of physics. They have no mass, length, duration, temperature, or candlepower. The have no location in time or space. Only actions based on those decisions have any of these properties. Human decisions cannot violate the law of momentum because decisions are logical relations between means and ends.

                      They do not have location in space any more than the interest rate has location. Therefore no, no deduction can be made that if physical system one (coffee) describes the physics of decision one, that in physical system two (jumping) the laws of conservation are violated.

                      If I throw a baseball to the left or to the right, F still equal ME. Gravity is still equal to 32 feet per second squared. You are argument is basically arguing that if baseball fall at 32 feet per second per second, I cannot decide to throw left rather than throw right. The argument, to put it mildly, is missing a step.

                      I do not object if you deduce from the fact that Newton describes a law of conservation of momentum that, in your hypothetical, human decisions violate that conservation. I object to calling Newton as a witness to back up that deduction.

                      Newton did not say it. You asked if you could call upon an expert witness to back up that this was what Newton said. I said yes, under one condition: Actually quote Newton’s actually words from the PRINCIPIA to prove the point. You did not pass that requirement along, and he did not. I then asked you the same thing. You dodged the question.

                      Everyone who has read Newton knows that he never mentions the topic of Determinism. Please admit this.

                      Once again:

                      The conversation cannot leave this impasse until you are prepared to address the unspoken and unexamined assumptions concerning the nature of reality and the nature of knowledge you make which leads you to this metaphysical conclusion. You are unwilling or unable to admit that the subject matter of the discussion is metaphysics rather than physics, or to give an argument or explanation why you think the discussion is metaphysics rather than physics, and so you are not prepared to address those assumptions. So the conversation remains at an impasse.

                      To take one small example: please give me the experimental evidence on which your conclusion that human action is determined by physics is based; or please admit, if the conclusion is not based on experimental evidence, and is true, that at least one truth is not based on experimental evidence.

                      I have asked this before and do not recall any answer, nor any response.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      … if you can find another witness, someone with a high school level of physics or higher, a credible expert, to tell me that Shakespeare jumping into the Thames violates the law of conservation of momentum on that assumption that Shakespeare drinking coffee conserves momentum…

                      Here you say nothing about human decision-making

                      I am talking about Shakespeare deciding whether to jump in the river versus Shakespeare deciding to drink coffee, and you say I am not talking about human decision making?

                      Huh?

                      Let’s remind ourselves of the conversation—

                      I asked you to find someone with a high school level of physics who would agree that decision to drink did not violate conservation of momentum but who thought the decision to jump did: someone who would say drinking is possible under the laws of physics and falling is not.

                      I was partly kidding. I thought you would see the absurdity of your contention, realize that people have jumped into rivers for recreation, bathing, and suicide since the dawn of time, and at no point has any physicist ever claimed that jumping violates the law of conservation of motion.

                      And when I asked you to quote me chapter and verse from Newton showing which proposition or lemma of his argues that men cannot jump into rivers, that also was meant to shock you into realizing that what you are saying is beyond absurd.

                      You mischaracterized (I would like to assume unintentionally) our conservation to your friend, leaving out what the discussion was about, and did not ask him what I asked you to ask him, and ergo what he said is irrelevant to our conversation.

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        And I also for chapter and verse from Newton in support of the proposition that jumping in a river violated conservation of momentum.

  2. Comment by Stephen J.:

    I found this elaboration very intriguing, and comparing it to my own perspectives, concluded that I am both a monist and non-monist.

    I am a monist in that, paraphrasing the old materialist dictum about nothing existing that is not matter or energy, I believe nothing exists that is not information. However, I believe that information can exist in one of two modes: eternally, outside time, or temporally, inside it, and that these modes are ontologically distinct. Only information which exists inside time can change; only information which exists outside time can be truly permanent. Everything that we consider as a manifestation of the “material” universe, everything quantifiable as matter and energy, including our own living bodies, is, in a manner of speaking, a “bubble” pushed inward upon the space-time continuum of existence by the eternal information they embody.

    Humans are unique in the universe so far as being the only creatures known who, in addition to the universal information principles they embody, also embody in each and every individual a unique transtemporal information principle we call the “soul”. Consciousness, I believe, is the epiphenomenon of the zero-point intersection between the eternal soul and the temporal body; it is what allows us to conceive and act rather than merely perceive and react, and it is why I believe human free will is the single existential phenomenon not wholly subject to the observed causal determinism of the rest of the universe. It is also why I believe no form of physical science will ever isolate “free will”, because it is the original and purest example of those quantum-type phenomena which cannot be observed without destroying them.

    This also explains the necessity of the Incarnation; when we were first created, our souls were “instinctively” as it were fit for union and synchrony (harmony?) with God, but to make that union voluntary, we had to enter into Time where true change, and true choice, are possible. We made the wrong choice (original sin) and permanently distorted the nature of all our souls that then followed after, requiring God to enter into Time Himself as Jesus of Nazareth, and then to transform the very nature of how Time and Eternity were connected through His death and Resurrection, giving us a way to achieve that long-desired Union after all.

    I suppose this is an extremely long-winded way of saying, “If it’s either turtles all the way down, or at some point there is Magic,” my own soul yearns towards the Magic as the more satisfying explanation. (In Christian terms the word is more properly Mystery, but thanks to Agatha Christie that word lacks much of the emotional punch it used to.)

    • Comment by Darrell:

      What is “time” within your hypothesis?

      • Comment by Stephen J.:

        Time is the membrane between the Changeless and the Everchanging; it is the state of being in which matter and energy exist and move according to the laws of physics, a necessary aspect of a continuum where choices can be made that change the arrangement of that matter and energy, and of a continuum where those choices, no pun intended, matter — where they make a difference that makes a difference.

        Or as Neil Gaiman, I believe, phrased it, “Time is the thing that keeps everything from happening at once.”

  3. Comment by mhssu:

    Mr Wright,
    It seems to me that your positions could be brought in accord with St Thomas’s quite easily, and it might solve some of the remaining perplexities.

    On the nature of concepts to external reality: The concepts of men are derivations from reality, while the concepts of God are the source of reality (and thus, being the origin of the Forms, are merely analogous to our concepts), but concepts also exist “in” external reality in the sense that it is the Forms of things which we abstract from nature, adopting the Forms without joining them to matter, when we comprehend it with our intellects. It is in virtue of the Form of the substance that a Substance, that composite of Form and Matter which is analogous to your “monad,” moves in the way that it does, hence, an atom in motion, which is a substance in motion, is not any less formally directed than a human being in motion. It is true, of course, that bare concepts, the ideas that we grasp in our minds, are causally effete- that is because they are no longer complete substances but abstractions, and without any matter to condition.
    I think that insofar as you suppose that things have individual existence, you must divorce yourself from Berkeley. Not only does his metaphysics lead to something like pantheism, it just as much as the materialist’s metaphysics seems to dismiss the individual self as an illusion. It is true, of course, that we exist moment to moment only through God’s will, and it is that will that imparts Form and matter to the world, but it is also true that the Forms have a degree of independence from God insofar as they are not parts of the divine essence or even the divine mind, but metaphysical components of things in the world. I think that Aristotle’s doctrine of the relation of form to matter captures what one would want to affirm of Berkeley, without leading to his excesses.

    (I’m not sure if this is a double post- if it is, kindly delete it!)

  4. Comment by The Deuce:

    Hi, John, when you say you are a determinist, what exactly do you mean?

    Are you saying that all observable occurrences in the universe, including the physical actions taken by humans, can in principle be fully accounted for and predicted in mechanistic, mathematical fashion?

    Or are you a determinist in the broader sense, meaning simply that everything that happens is fully accounted for by *something* (iow, that nothing happens by chance/no reason at all), but where that something can include peoples’ intentions, and does not necessarily reduce to mathematically predictable mechanism?

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “Hi, John, when you say you are a determinist, what exactly do you mean?”

      Thank you for asking. I mean ex nihilo nihil fit. I mean specifically when discussing the physical and only the physical aspects of the material universe, it is illegitimate, when someone asks you what the mechanical cause might be which led to a mechanical effect, to answer by saying that the motion arose from nothing for no cause.

      Likewise it is improper, not metaphysically proper, to say something happened because of probability (unless “probability”is the name of a guy wearing a purple shirt who gave the object a shove with his hands) of because of an accident, or because of a base vacuum state. We talk this way as a shorthand, but in real life it conflates two different types of causation.

      Are you saying that all observable occurrences in the universe, including the physical actions taken by humans, can in principle be fully accounted for and predicted in mechanistic, mathematical fashion?

      No. All observable occurrences would include the actions of living things. Determinism only applies to the reaction of nonliving things to external forces, or to the motions of automatons using energy temporarily stored with them, but ultimately of external origin, such as a wound mainspring of a watch or music box.

      And no, obviously determinism only claims that the mechanical motions can be accounted for by means of other mechanical motions. Not only is this not the whole picture, it is a deliberate cross-section of a many-dimensional reality to the one dimension of physical motions of physical objects.

      And no, in principle, not all actions can be accounted for and predicted because of the innate limitations of human knowledge, and mathematics is a formal system which by its nature is incomplete.

      Or are you a determinist in the broader sense, meaning simply that everything that happens is fully accounted for by *something* (iow, that nothing happens by chance/no reason at all), but where that something can include peoples’ intentions, and does not necessarily reduce to mathematically predictable mechanism?

      No. Some things, namely accidents, do happen by mishap, that is, the universe is such that two events could coincide which while caused by chains of cause and effect leading to their ultimate causes, do not have any chain of cause and effect leading to each other. Chance and mishap is a category of human thinking which is metaphysically necessary and inescapable. People who say they do not believe in chance are saying something self contradictory.

      The next time someone says “There is no such thing as chance” ask him if he meant and deliberated and thought and intended to speak a sentence with three and only three uses of the letter E? Clearly the sentence did not arise out of nowhere for no reason. The speaker spoke it with the intent of conveying the thought conveyed. But the fact that there are three E’s in that formulation of the sentence (which could have conveyed the thought with different words in a different order or in a different language) is unintentional. It is a coincidence.

      And, no, I do not make the claim that the material aspects of the material universe can be reduced to a mathematically predictable mechanism. There are limitations to the nature of mathematics and the nature of prediction which make that proposition questionable.

      All I say is that no mechanical effect arises without a mechanical cause.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        Consider the two cases of Shakespeare jumping in the lake versus Shakespeare drinking coffee. The trajectory of his body in the air, and the temperature of the liquid that scalds his tongue, are both mechanical effects. Since they are different, they must have different causes. Agreed so far?

        Now, if we suppose that these two universes, which differ on Tuesday, were the same (so far as their mechanical effects go) on Monday, then how did the difference arise? I assert that the same cause gives rise to the same effect every time. It follows that, since the mechanical effects of Tuesday must be traceable to the mechanical causes of Monday, if the former differ, the latter must also.

        • Comment by MikeR:

          Mr Wright’s statement, “All I say is that no mechanical effect arises without a mechanical cause” can mean that mechanical effects arise solely from mechanical causes (and this gives me pause). But I do not think a careful reading of the statement precludes non-mechanical causes from acting alongside the mechanical causes to produce the mechanical effect. (And I sincerely hope that Mr Wright does not clarify to cut off this avenue of agreement, else we find ourselves back where we started.)

          If this plausible, then it need not follow that the mechanical causes of Monday differ in the two cases of Shakespeare mentioned above.

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            A non-mechanical cause would be one of three things: (1) a description of the shape of the object or the legal or logical rules of the concept (2) a description of the material of which the object is made, or the subject matter of the concept (3) the end or goal or desirability of the ends sought, a description of that for the sake which the motion or change is made.

            If you are asking about the possibility of a non-mechanical cause, such as the desirable nature of justice, creating a mechanical effect, such as bending bars or snapping chains through psychokinesis, you are in effect asking about a mechanical non-mechanical cause, which is a contradiction in terms.

            If you found Saint Peter outside of prison, and the bars and chains snapped and shattered behind him, and you asked “what snapped these chains?” it would be a perverse answer for him to say, “Justice requires the innocent not to be deprived of liberty.” It answers the question correctly, albeit it is not the question which was asked. You were asking what physical force snapped the chains, whether it was an angel or a crowbar or an angel with a crowbar. You were not asking the angel’s motivation.

            Peter’s answer is akin to me telling my stubborn child who yawns, “Why must I go to bed? I’m not sleepy!” when I say “Because I am your father!” I have answered the question, but not what he asked. I answer the formal answer. The child must go to bed when in my sole and sovereign judgment as father, it is needed for his rest and wellbeing, as well as the peace and order of the house, and the development of disciplined habits, during those years when he is too young to make that judgment guided by experience. But the child is actually asking for the particulars which form the judgment, that is, whether he will indeed be tired tomorrow with six rather than eight hours of sleep. By not debating the soundness of the judgment that six hours is insufficient — which is what his question actually was — I have answered perversely.

            Likewise when asking what mechanical effects follow from non-mechanical causes. If the question is actually about the mechanics of what caused the effect, it is a perverse answer to answer in terms of the motive, or form, or matter which form the explanation of the event unrelated to the mechanics of the event.

            All that is happening in this conversation is that Dr A continues his dogmatic assertion that thought is non-thought because thought is matter in motion, and that what set Shakespeare’s legs in motion is not the mechanical energy in his nervous system released by his muscles, and is not the formal cause of his desire, but instead is the mechanical cause of his desire, which he seems to think is either an epiphenomenon of the mechanical cause, or is a mechanical cause from a prior point in time, perhaps the thing that triggers the nerve firing in the brain. If that is the case, the nerve firing happens for no reason, and conservation of momentum is violated. Therefore the desire to move cannot be a mechanical cause.

            He and I agree all but the last step. He is too reluctant to consent, or I am too inarticulate to explain, the distinction between mechanical cause and final cause. Or his metaphysical assumption is that all causes are side effects of mechanical causes, because no substance aside from matter exists.

            Whatever the reason, he rejects the last step in the argument, concluding instead (so I assume) that since the desire to move must be a mechanical cause, and since conservation of momentum cannot be violated, the nerve firing were causes by something else such as previous nerve firings, caused by cellular actions, caused by nutrition from lunch, caused by energy stored in the sun, caused by the Big Bang.

            So he insists that decisions, final causes, are things like atoms that bump into other atoms and cause nerve firings, but decisions have no mass or duration or extension, so he concludes that they do not exist at all, or if they did, they are things that don’t matter. And he decides this absurdity is not an abstract deduction from a metaphysical principle, but a scientific deduction from the physical sciences, Newton and so on.

            And I cannot get him to discuss why he does not make the distinction between two things that seem to me to be both obviously real, immaterial thoughts I can know through thought, and material bodies I can know by sight, and things which are obviously distinct, as my thoughts are interior (“me”) and physical bodies are external (“world”).

            For his position to be defensible, he would have to make one type of knowledge or the other indefensible or illegitimate. Either me thinking thoughts is an illusion of matter in motion, and I do not exist, or me seeing physical bodies is an illusion, and life is but a dream, and the world does not exist.

            But he will not discuss the nature of what exists and what does not exist, and he cannot discuss the nature of knowledge. He merely becomes inarticulate if asked to react to these questions, or he changes the subject, or he falls silent. And then a few months later the cycle repeats itself.

            Clear?

            • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

              Whatever the reason, he rejects the last step in the argument, concluding instead (so I assume) that since the desire to move must be a mechanical cause, and since conservation of momentum cannot be violated, the nerve firings were caused by something else such as previous nerve firings, caused by cellular actions, caused by nutrition from lunch, caused by energy stored in the sun, caused by the Big Bang.

              I have not drawn this conclusion anywhere in the discussion of Shakespeare. I do have an opinion on the point, but the Shakespeare example is not intended to argue in favour of it. What I’ve been trying to do – not that I have any great hope for yet another reformulation, but oh well – is to get you to agree that there are two possibilities:

              1. Momentum is conserved.
              2. Momentum is not conserved.

              and that we can in principle measure which is the case, even if a living being making deliberate decisions is involved.

            • Comment by MikeR:

              I was sloppy in my terminology. I was using “mechanical cause” not as a synonym for efficient cause, but as the subset of efficient cause intelligible to physics. Thus non-mechanical cause was not a reference to one of the other three Aristotelean causes but to efficient cause outside the ken of physics. (Monads anyone?)

              I hope my last statement is clearer now. I meant to avoid a deterministic reading of Mr Wright’s statement, “All I say is that no mechanical effect arises without a mechanical cause,” in which I had read “mechanical” as “physics-y” rather than as “efficient.”

              I therefore see no problem in two different effects on Tuesday having the same mechanical cause on Monday.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                Your terminology confuses me. Is there an efficient cause unintelligible to physics? What would the study of such causes, natural causes, be called, if not natural philosophy? What in the realm of efficient cause, which is the realm of physics, is outside the realm of physics?

                I am not disagreeing, I just don’t follow. Can you give an example?

                • Comment by MikeR:

                  I’m afraid I can’t give you an example. In my mind, it reasonably follows from a non-deterministic view of human action that there are efficient causes unintelligible to physics. How else to resolve the mind/body connection?

                  I struggle with the four Aristotelean causes and do not find his categories satisfactory to describe the mind. Nor do I find that physics has much to say about mind distinct from brain and body.

                  One should reasonably accept explanations of phenomena to the extent that those explanations are supported by reasonable proof. But no further. Physics has demonstrated reasonably mastery of matter but not of mind nor of the connection between mind and body. I also see no satisfactory explanation of the mind-body connection from the metaphysical side.

                  Yet I am convinced of mind, and of matter and of the connection between mind and body. Neither a wholly natural explanation nor what I understand as separate formal and efficient metaphysical explanations are convincing. The one fails to account for the mind, except for as an epiphenomenon or illusion (which is epistemological bunk). The other fails to account for the causal connection. Thus my supposition of an efficient cause unintelligible to physics.

                  Mr (Dr?) Andreassen, below, supposes that we can set up physics experiments to shed light on this question. Perhaps. But I should make clear what I am proposing. I am not proposing an efficient cause that is presently undiscovered by physics yet in principle discoverable by a more advanced physics (though I would be surprised if there weren’t more of those out there). My efficient cause is proposed as what, at present, provides to me the most convincing explanation of the mind-body connection. Whether such an efficient cause can, even in principle, be known to physics, I have no idea.

                  It is likely that the idea arises only because I fail to sufficiently understand another better idea sufficiently. But it is what I have and I prefer it to what I understand of other ideas.

                  I suspect others may find this idea unappealing, perhaps because they find the logic unconvincing, but more likely because it amounts to little. And so I’ll end with a little Chesterton:

                  Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion… To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. … The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

                  • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                    Mr (Dr?) Andreassen, below, supposes that we can set up physics experiments to shed light on this question.

                    To be more specific, I propose that, even if tehre are causes which cannot be described in terms of physics, they are still detectable if they have any physical effect at all. Suppose for a moment that a billiard ball had free will, and that its trajectory is therefore not describable purely in terms of the initial impetus of the cue and subsequent collisions. Nevertheless, we can detect that it deviates from that calculable trajectory, and in consequence say “Something is going on here that is not the physics we know”.

                  • Comment by John C Wright:

                    “In my mind, it reasonably follows from a non-deterministic view of human action that there are efficient causes unintelligible to physics”

                    This is a misinterpretation of what efficient causes are. They are mechanical causes, and they only describe the physical motions of the human body to the degree and in the way that human bodies act like inanimate bodies, or else the medical description of what organs do to the degree and in the way that human bodies act like the bodies of plants and animals.

                    I also have a non-deterministic view of human action. On Earth, the acceleration due to gravity is 32 feet per second per second, and on the moon roughly a sixth of that. If I copulate with a woman outside of marriage, my sin is the same if done on Earth or on the moon (assuming a likely moon maiden at hand to cooperate, of course). So the law of gravity simply does not determine the substance and nature of my adulterous act.

                    If the outraged father stuffs me in a chest and throws it from the top of a tower, the rate of fall is determined by the laws of gravity, and it would differ depending on whether the tower was mundane or lunar. Under Earthly laws, at least in this nation, the father’s act would not be legally justified. The laws of the moon, despite my studies, are as yet unknown to me, but in neither case do the laws of morality change the laws of gravity.

                    So, since I have a non-deterministic view of human action, and since I have a deterministic view of physics, to me at least the leap of logic seems too far to jump to reach the conclusion that there must be efficient causes unknown and unknowable to physics.

                    • Comment by MikeR:

                      I have been thinking about efficient causes as causes that produce physical effects, causes that can change the material and formal causes. This is somewhat broader that then meaning you give above. And, using your definition, I agree with your conclusion. (And I also agree that the laws of morality do not change the laws of gravity. That’s not at all what I’ve been trying to say.)

                      But I struggle to see why yours is the better definition. We both agree that in the case of Joe, even when viewed solely as a mechanical system, that the laws of physics are not dispositive. He has free will. Why start with a definition of efficient cause that avoids this issue?

                      Another way to look at the issue is that I view the reality of free will as more fundamental than the facts of physics. Where there is apparent conflict, the latter must yield to the former (in a way consistent with the observable). The implication of this line of reasoning is that, though physics is deterministic, the physical is not wholly so.

                      But I think the real question here is one of semantics versus substance. Though we don’t as yet speak the same philosophical dialect, I can’t see that the import of our words leads us in different directions.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      “Why start with a definition of efficient cause that avoids this issue? ”

                      Good question. I use the definition because without it, I am left arguing that immaterial entities, such as the thoughts and conclusions, as if by telekinesis, use physical force and expend energy to physically move brain electrons to physically move limbs (and here I say “physically move” because it is not disputed that love or hate can move man and beast to action, or curiosity move a man to inquire), and such an argument implies that actions happen without reason, and some forces and energies come into existence for no reason, and if we lived in such a universe, the study of physics is impossible.

                      I use that definition because, without it, there is a paradox between the laws of morality, which says humans have free will, and the laws of physics, which says all physical motions are determined by prior physical states. I use the definition to avoid the paradox, while maintaining both the the laws of morality and the laws of physics.

                    • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                      MikeR said:

                      The implication of this line of reasoning is that, though physics is deterministic, the physical is not wholly so.

                      This is precisely the conclusion I draw from your premises. I then make the further observation that, if physics is deterministic but the physical is not, it must be possible to measure a difference between what physics says, and what the physical does.

                      Unfortunately I’ve seen at least three commenters draw precisely Mike R’s conclusion without managing to either agree or disagree with my corollary, and also without making any sort of dent in our host’s insistence on the irrelevance that nothing physical changes morality. No word was said about morality. The point is about physics versus the physical. If I could make murder moral by turning down the speed of the fusion reactions in the Sun, that would have zero implications for the point that the physical is either determined or not, and if not, then the difference is measureable.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      This is because MikeR is making precisely the same error in semantics as you. He is using the word “the physical” to refer to nonphysical realities, entities like decisions, motivations, forms, rules of logic, mathematical objects, ideals, spirits, minds, virtues, emotions, etc.

                      The conclusion he should reach, given his definition, is that all reality can be reduced to physics, because all reality is ultimately nothing but matter in motion. He draws back from this conclusions, despite that it is the logical conclusion given his definition, because it is absurd. You embrace the absurdity despite its absurdity because it is logical.

                      On the third hand, I reject the definition as ambiguous, and so arrive at a conclusion that is in harmony with logic and with common sense, and I need make no painful decision between them.

                    • Comment by MikeR:

                      Rolf,
                      I am firmly agnostic about your corollary. There is a lot I must consider before anything I say even rises to the level of speculation I’ve displayed here. I’ll briefly list three issues:

                      1.) Practical determinism in physics. Consider, for example, the n-body problem, for which most n, as I understand it, only approximate solutions exist. Consider a beaker of water. We can say a great deal about its behavior on a macro-level and a great deal about the behavior of the constituent molecules on average, but relatively little about individual molecules. I’m sure that you can come up with many more examples where the predictive or explanatory power of physics breaks down without actually causing anyone to think that the physics principles involved have been challenged.

                      2.) Physics gets weird on a very small scale. More probabilistic than strictly deterministic.

                      3.) How can we expect my non-mechanistic efficient cause to behave? I don’t know. It’s not at all clear to me that the effect of such a cause would necessarily entail the violation of a physical law such as conservation of momentum.

                      Thus I, for one, am not avoiding your corollary; I simply have not considered the issues involved to the extent necessary to say anything intelligent about it.

                    • Comment by MikeR:

                      This is because MikeR is making precisely the same error in semantics as you. He is using the word “the physical” to refer to nonphysical realities, entities like decisions, motivations, forms, rules of logic, mathematical objects, ideals, spirits, minds, virtues, emotions, etc.

                      Aack! NO! I use “the physical” to refer to matter/energy, not any of those metaphysical categories.

                      I am left arguing that immaterial entities, such as the thoughts and conclusions, as if by telekinesis, use physical force and expend energy to physically move brain electrons to physically move limbs

                      I do not go so far. I know that there is a causal connection between the (nonmaterial) mind and the (material) body. You disagree because you suppose that if there is such a connection, that it must be a physical one in which the immaterial somehow acquires enough physical matter or energy to interact with the material. I don’t see that this supposition necessarily follows.

                      and so arrive at a conclusion that is in harmony with logic and with common sense, and I need make no painful decision

                      Come now, Mr Wright. We are each explaining our differing positions as best we can. The only pain I am experiencing here is from the frustration of communication. I am, if not exactly content with my conclusions, at least more satisfied with them than with the alternatives I presently know.

                      I intend to make no further posts on this topic for a long while. I’ll let my thoughts ripen–or decompose.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      It is clear that I misunderstood your point. I should mention the other reason why I tend to use the technical vocabulary of Aristotelian philosophy is to minimize misunderstandings of this sort.

              • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                Very well, but in that case physics may still detect that something unknown to it is happening: It will set up the same known-to-physics causes in different experiments, and see different known-to-physics effects. Such as, not to belabour the point, the violation of momentum conservation in one of the Shakespeares.

  5. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    And when I asked you to quote me chapter and verse from Newton showing which proposition or lemma of his argues that men cannot jump into rivers

    I DID NOT SAY THAT!

    Of course you can jump in a river. You are mis-representing or mis-understanding what I said.

    You seem to think that I am asserting this syllogism:

    1. Jumping in rivers violates conservation of momentum.
    2. Momentum is conserved.
    3. Therefore you cannot jump in rivers.

    I have not drawn that conclusion, and in fact I haven’t asserted 1. Please stop putting words in my mouth.

    I did say

    1. In a particular set of circumstances, Newton’s mechanics imply that for Shakespeare to jump in a river would violate conservation of momentum.

    I did not draw any conclusion from this; I asked whether you agree that it is true. This is a question of what Newtonian physics says. Whether or not they are a correct or complete description of the situation is a completely separate question.

    I do not object if you deduce from the fact that Newton describes a law of conservation of momentum that, in your hypothetical, human decisions violate that conservation. I object to use daring to use the prestige of Newton to back up that deduction. I object to daring to use the prestige of Newton to back up that deduction.

    What?

    I do not understand what you are trying to say, here. Either the deduction is valid, or not. The prestige of Newton has nothing to do with it. If you have no objection to the deduction, what on Earth are you arguing about? Conversely, if you think the deduction is not valid, why don’t you say so?

    Everyone who has read Newton knows that he never mentions the topic of Determinism. Please admit this.

    Certainly. Then again, he didn’t have his own shoulders to stand on. Others have furthered the work he started.

    Are you just disputing that Newtonian mechanics are deterministic? If so I ask you again to have a look at Zach’s comment, for he asserts that fact in so many words; as do several of the commenters in the link I gave. Is it just that you wish to see the argument laid out explicitly? It follows from conservation of momentum and energy; Zach gave the argument, but rather briefly, and unfortunately worded it as “we steal” rather than in the passive voice. I can repeat the argument more formally if you declare that this is the point of disagreement.

    It is not only not true that the momentum of the total universe would be different, there is no way it can be true if Statement Two is true.

    I am going to state the same assertion in a different way: “For given initial conditions, at a given time, given conservation of energy and momentum (which follow from the laws of Newton), there is only one possible location and velocity of each particle in the system. If any particle is observed to have a different location or velocity, then either energy or momentum has not been conserved.” Notice that nothing is said about why the particle is found in a different location: Divine intervention, deliberate human decision, quantum fluctuation, it is all the same.

    Do you agree that this is the same assertion? In particular, if Shakespeare is observed in the river instead of the coffee house, then clearly the particles making up his body have different velocities and locations. Therefore “Shakespeare jumps” is equivalent to “at least one particle has a different location”. This is all in terms of measureable quantities, you’ll note.

    • Comment by Darrell:

      Dr. A

      Continuing our conversation from earlier (about the momentum, or lack thereof, of the baseball on my desk), I was assuming a Newtonian universe but I was trying to determine if Shakespeare was being considered a closed system in your and Mr. Wright’s example. If Shakespeare, like my baseball, is not a closed system then I’m not clear how conservation of momentum is not conserved if in Universe X he awakes and runs to the Thames and jumps in or in Universe Y he awakes and attends to his breakfast. The overall momentum of each respective universe would stay the same — much like in your quantum Many Worlds theory — because energy is neither added nor subtracted but there would be clearly larger and larger divergences in the histories of Universe X and Universe Y.

      What you seem, to me, to actually be arguing is that in a Newtonian universe there is one and only one path for each atom to travel and therefore if both universes start precisely the same then something magical must have happened (an influx of energy) to diverge Universe Y from the path of Universe X. I don’t believe that Mr. Wright is actually arguing against this point. Are you, in fact, arguing against this point Mr. Wright?

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        No, you correctly say that this is not the point I am arguing. The hypothetical is exactly as you said. We have two examples of two universes. In one, Shakespeare drinks coffee and there is no violation of any laws of physics. In another, Shakespeare, no doubt driven to despair by being forced to be used as an example in a tedious conservation about determinism and materialism, leaps into the Thames, and there is no violation of any laws of physics.

        Dr A introduced the idea of transforming one universe into another, or transferring energy from one universe to another for some reason known only to himself, and unrelated to the conversation.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        What you seem, to me, to actually be arguing is that in a Newtonian universe there is one and only one path for each atom to travel and therefore if both universes start precisely the same then something magical must have happened (an influx of energy) to diverge Universe Y from the path of Universe X.

        Yes, precisely. And while Shakespeare, himself, is not a closed system, the Newtonian universe as a whole is.

        I don’t believe that Mr. Wright is actually arguing against this point. Are you, in fact, arguing against this point Mr. Wright?

        He now seems to be saying that a universe that contains Shakespeare is not Newtonian. Which is fine. Nonetheless, in that case the laws of Newton are broken; that’s what the phrsae means. “The universe is not Newtonian” is exactly equivalent to “The laws of Newton are broken”; and moreover, since Newton makes an exact prediction for the location of every atom, we can experimentally detect whether he is right or not, or in other words, whether the universe is Newtonian. (Or Einsteinian, or Heisenbergian, or whatever.)

        • Comment by Darrell:

          Three random thoughts:

          This argument is a telling example of why there is no peace in the Middle East.

          The two of you should setup a wiki or a web page with agreed upon definitions.

          Should the two of you ever agree that the other person has a point and is not as mad as a March hare, you should collaborate on a book based off of this argument. I would like to suggest the title, OF PHYSICS AND PHILOSOPHY.

        • Comment by Darrell:

          Dr. A

          Being neither a physicist nor a philosopher I fear that some, or maybe even many, of the subtle distinctions and arguments that the two of you are making are lost on me. I do believe, however, that I am clear on two points: neither of you are arguing about the same thing and that the Newtonian model that was agreed upon to simplify the discussion is in fact too complex and so the model, that both of you agree to be implausible and unreal, is increasingly becoming the object of argument rather than the venue for the argument.

          I’d like to make a suggestion. Rather than continuing to argue over what is meant by Newtonian physics that the two of you answer these questions:

          Within your system of philosophy, how is truth defined?

          Is truth objective or subjective? Please show the work at how you arrived at this answer.

          Can either the subjectivity or objectivity of truth (as defined by your philosophy) be proven by logic or experiment?

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I am glad we have cleared up the point that (1) jumping in a river does not violate Newton’s laws and (2) Newton says nothing about determinism.

      The core of your argument, then, is this: “For given initial conditions, at a given time, given conservation of energy and momentum (which follow from the laws of Newton), there is only one possible location and velocity of each particle in the system. If any particle is observed to have a different location or velocity, then either energy or momentum has not been conserved.”

      Here you are talking about inanimate objects in motion, like balls on a billiard table. The statement is obviously true, but obviously incomplete, that is, it is only true when talking about inanimate objects in motion.

      In particular, the last sentence “If any particle is observed to have a different location or velocity, then either energy or momentum has not been conserved.” is true if an only if the observer does not impishly reach out with his foot and kick the billiard table.

      Energy and momentum is still conserved, for the observer’s leg moved due to biologically generated energy in his cells, which came from his lunch, or ultimately from the sun. But had he kicked in another direction, or with a different degree of force, or not kicked at all, energy and momentum still would have been conserved, but the eightball would not have fallen in the side pocket, and the ten dollar wager would not be in the observer’s pocket.

      “if Shakespeare is observed in the river instead of the coffee house, then clearly the particles making up his body have different velocities and locations.”

      The statement is false. You switch from talking about inanimate objects in motion, like balls on a billiard table, to talking about human decisions, like Shakespeare deciding whether to drink or to jump.

      Shakespeare does not reverse entropy nor create matter, energy, or motion out of nothing, nor break any law of physics when he decides one way or the the other.

      But from the fact that he does not break a law of physics, it does not follow that he cannot made a decision, and move some particles one way as opposed to the other way.

      The two things, the laws of physics and what he decides to move where, have nothing to do with each other. They are not even part of the same conversation.

      “Therefore “Shakespeare jumps” is equivalent to “at least one particle has a different location”. “

      The statement is false, and the conclusion is absurd. The two statements are not equivalent, they are not even part of the same conversation, because one is a conversation about the physics of a closed system that contains only inanimate objects in motion, like billiard balls, and the other conversation is about the life and death of the Bard of Avon, or at least the Breakfast Drink and Dunking of the Bard of Avon.

      An eightball must go into the side pocket when struck, or move with equal and opposite reaction. It does not have a choice. If the eightball ends up in the corner pocket instead, it is correct to conclude that conservation of momentum was not preserved.

      But a man can turn the other cheek when struck, or he can strike back with equal and opposite force. It is not correct to conclude anything about conservation of momentum, because this conversation is no longer about a billiard ball.

      The argument you present rests on an ambiguity. You start with a rule about momentum that is true only Mutatis mutandis with everything else being equal, and then you introduce a hypothetical where everything else is not equal, where you just pretend that human beings are billiard balls, and you come to the absurd conclusion that human beings are billiard balls.

      The three statements of your core argument above cannot be true unless an argument of the same form were also true, such as this:
      1. In a deterministic physical system like a game of billiards, all billiard balls end up in their final locations; for if not then momentum is not conserved.
      2. Shakespeare is a billiard ball.
      3. Therefore Shakespeare ends up in his final location, or else momentum is not conserved.
      Since it is absurd that momentum not be conserved, therefore Shakespeare is a billiard ball.

      The minor premise is the point in dispute.

      And this is the same place we stood two years ago. I suggest we both either go to the coffee house for a friendly drink or both go jump in the lake.

      • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

        Here you are talking about inanimate objects in motion, like balls on a billiard table. The statement is obviously true, but obviously incomplete, that is, it is only true when talking about inanimate objects in motion.

        No, it is talking about any particles whatsoever, whether they are part of Shakespeare or of the dwarf planet Pluto.

        Do you wish to say that it is not true of the particles of Shakespeare’s body? If so, fine, I make no objection. All I say is that, if that’s the case, then we can discover it by measurement and calculation.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “No, it is talking about any particles whatsoever, whether they are part of Shakespeare or of the dwarf planet Pluto.”

          To the degree in in the respect that those particles act like parts of an inanimate system. Otherwise not.

          Suppose someone, call him Max, were to argue that birds and balloons break the laws of physics, particularly Newton’s law of Gravity, because they do not fall at 32 feet per second squared. Suppose that you were to point out that, first, the acceleration of gravity is still operating on every particle in the bird and the balloon; and, second, that other forces such as the birds wings in motion or the lift in the gas envelope were acting against the gravity.

          Suppose again that Max were then to argue that the particle in the balloon which do not fall are just the same as the particles in a stone dropped from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and if the stone falls, ergo so must the balloon.

          Suppose yet again you were to point out that the balloon is not like the stone because of other factors present, namely, the atmosphere, and the density of the lifting gas in the envelope.

          Suppose finally that Max waved all that aside as mere rubbish and obscurantism, and insisted that balloons either break the laws of gravity, or that they fall like stones.

          What is the error Max is making in his argument? It is a simple one. As a man of scientific training, you should be able to spot it immediately.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            To the degree [and] in the respect that those particles act like parts of an inanimate system. Otherwise not.

            Very well. And if I calculate their future motion on the fixed and inflexible assumption that they are, in fact, inanimate, I will get some particular unique answer. Agreed?

            And if I compare that answer to the measured position of Shakespeare at some future time, my answer using the assumption that Shakespeare is inanimate will be wrong; it will say he drinks coffee (or whatever) when in fact he is jumping into the Thames. Agreed?

            And then I will say “This demonstrates that Shakespeare break the laws of Newton”, and you will accuse me of being unphilosophical, because the laws of Newton do not apply to Shakespeare’s volitional acts, and so he cannot break them whatever he does. Fine, fine, whatever. I am using “break the laws” in a different and special sense. Ok?

            And all that aside you are still mistaken about conservation of momentum, because on the one hand you say that conclusions derived from conservation of momentum and energy do not apply to Shakespeare’s deliberate acts, and then on the other hand you claim that his will cannot add any momentum to the universe. These statements are inconsistent. You can have one or the other, but not both. Your examples of the baseball and the billiard ball are insufficient, because neither specifies what the system to be considered is. In the case of the billiard ball nudged by the player, you first consider the table and balls as a closed system, and agree that it is deterministic; then you introduce forces from outside the system, namely the player, and cry in triumph “Ah-hah! It is no longer deterministic!” Well, of course not; you broke the assumption of closedness – not, as you claim, the assumption of inanimateness; there is no such assumption to be found in Newton. Consider instead the billiards room as a whole, and then yes, Newton, or at any rate the system based on his work, does claim that the outcome is deterministic, at least if no forces or particles are permitted to enter the room.

            Finally, it occurs to me that I am using the phrase “Newtonian mechanics” in a way that may be unusual outside physics; it does not refer only to the Principia, but also to the work of, for example, Lagrange, Laplace, and Hamilton. Physicists speak of “Newton” to mean “Neither Einstein nor Heisenberg”. A better phrase might be “classical mechanics”. I apologise for the confusion, I am so used to the usage that it did not occur to me that it’s actually jargon.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              “Fine, fine, whatever. I am using “break the laws” in a different and special sense. Ok? “

              The problem with this conversation is that whatever. You are making an error, and you refuse to see it. The error is one of ambiguity: you are conflating two related concepts, treated them as if they are the same, and so the conversation ends up running in circles, over and over again.

              If you think the ambiguity does not exist, you should make an argument to prove that I am using two different words to refer to the same thing, or something of the kind.

              If you do not understand the distinction I am making to cure the ambiguity, then you should ask for clarification. Instead you do neither.

              Instead, you merely brush aside my argument as if the point is irrelevant to the topic.

              But this point is the reason why, the sole reason why, I do not find your argument persuasive, and do not think your argument cogent. You cannot talk me into your point of view by ignoring the objection I raise. My objection has to be answered, not brushed off, or else, in effect, you are brushing off the whole topic.

              And if I calculate their future motion on the fixed and inflexible assumption that they are, in fact, inanimate, I will get some particular unique answer. Agreed?

              No, absolutely not. Newton’s three laws cannot be used to predict what Shakespeare will drink with his breakfast. The idea is risible. Newton’s laws are used to predict things like the falls of apple and the motions of planets and the motions of billiard balls after, but not before, they are struck with a pool cue.

              Your argument consists of an elaborate and, if I may be blunt, very stupid analogy. You say that physics can predict the motion of “particles” and you say that people are made of “particles” and therefore you conclude that physics can predict the motion of people.

              Yes, physics can predict the motion of people shot out of a cannon or thrown off a tower or any other time people act just like billiard balls. Physics can predict the acceleration due to gravity on every atom in my body. But physics cannot predict whether I will drink coffee, because that decision is not a case where I am acting just like a billiard ball.

              Now, you seem to think that physics can predict human decisions, based on what seems to be the flimsiest argument I ever heard, more like a play on words than an argument, namely that physics can predict the inertial reactions of dead body to external forces, and that you personally due to an odd quirk of philosophical colorblindness cannot tell the difference between living and dead, therefore physics can predict everything in the universe whatsoever including the behavior of people.

              It is just a mistake in reasoning. You are conflating physics with non-physics, physical with non-physical, immeasurable with nonexistent, real with imaginary, and on and on.

              • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                No, absolutely not. Newton’s three laws cannot be used to predict what Shakespeare will drink with his breakfast.

                And astrology cannot be used to predict the death of princes, but that does not mean I cannot make an astrological prediction.

                You are conflating two senses of ‘predict’. (In addition to which, I did not say ‘predict’, I said ‘calculate’. I may ‘calculate’ tomorrow’s weather “on such-and-such assumptions” without making any claim of prediction – perhaps as a school exercise in meteorology. “All right,” the teacher says, “now assume that weather satellite 3 was shot down by the Freilax battlestation at 0115 New York time, and you therefore don’t have observations 15, 19, and 23; now redo the calculation. Would you still tell the general that he can launch his attack under cover of the rain?”) One is “to accurately foresee”. You are claiming that I cannot use Newton to accurately foresee what Shakespeare will do. Very well. But the other sense of ‘predict’ is “to speak about the future”. If I say “Shakespeare will write a sonnet in iambic hexameter”, that is a prediction; if it turns out that in fact he uses the pentameter, the prediction was wrong, but no less a prediction for that.

                Now. If I, and I cannot believe I am writing this down yet again, measure the position, mass, charge and velocity of every atom in Shakespeare’s body and surroundings, then I have a list of numbers. There is clearly nothing that physically prevents me from applying whatever operations I like to those numbers; I can make them stand on their heads if I so choose, or interpret them as future movements of the stock market. (I am not a professional financial advisor. All measurements of Shakespeare’s atoms are provided purely for information, and any use of them in making financial decisions is at the reader’s own risk.) In particular, I may apply the operations we usually speak of as “Newtonian physics”, completely ignoring your carping about when Newton’s laws do or do not apply. I go on merrily adding, subtracting, and multiplying, and eventually get a different set of numbers. I squint at them for a while and say “This set of atoms, which I decided to label ‘Shakespeare’ in my original measurements, is now close to this other set of atoms, the ‘coffee house’. Let’s just check the location of those atoms in real life, and compare the numbers.”

                That is what I mean when I say “calculate their future motion”. Is there anything that prevents me doing this? If so, what?

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  I was using the word “predict” as a shorthand for being able to model his behavior using a model that contained nothing but physics.

                  If your string of numbers does not take into account the final causes which move the organism, neither you nor anyone nor God Himself can predict the action because the model is incomplete. In the case of a physics model, it is deliberately incomplete, because physics deliberately confines itself to the contemplation of repeatable mechanical causes only, not final causes.

                  You may manipulate the numbers in any way you wish. Nothing prevents you. By leaving out the crucial factors which define the thing being modeled, (in this case, the crucial factor is thought and the thing being modeled is a thinking being) your manipulations and your resultant model will mean exactly nothing.

                  We two will never move one iota from this impasse until and unless you address the deeper issues. Unfortunately, each request of mine that you do so is not refused, it is merely ignored, as if I had not spoken. When I draw your attention to the fact that you do not answer these requests, that is also ignored. I do not know what causes it.

                  Whatever is causing it, in the face of such steadfast lack of response, I confess myself unable to proceed. There is no point in you repeating yourself, and no point in hearing me repeat myself. The only way to move the conversation beyond the point of endless repetition would be to address the deeper metaphysical issues of ontology and epistemology, which you are unable or unwilling to do.

                  I suggest we retire this discussion.

                  • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                    If your string of numbers does not take into account the final causes which move the organism, neither you nor anyone nor God Himself can predict the action because the model is incomplete. In the case of a physics model, it is deliberately incomplete, because physics deliberately confines itself to the contemplation of repeatable mechanical causes only, not final causes.

                    You may manipulate the numbers in any way you wish. Nothing prevents you.

                    Very good. Now, I take it you assert that when I, having manipulated the numbers as described, interpret some of them as indicating Shakespeare being in the coffee house, I will be wrong: Shakespeare is in fact in the Thames. (Or wherever. At any rate I won’t be correct more often than if I had consulted the Tarot; any agreement between my prediction and Shakespeare is purely coincidental.) Will you please acknowledge that this is

                    a) what I have meant, throughout this discussion, by “breaking Newton’s laws” and
                    b) a point of testable fact, which we can confirm or deny experimentally?

                    Let me hold out a carrot for you: If we can agree on these two points, I will shut up and let you get back to pictures of Catwoman. The reason is that, if we do, then you and I have a disagreement on an experimental prediction. In that case all I need to do is to perform the experiment, and successfully predict the actions of a living being using nothing but physics (or else convince myself, through repeated attempts, that it cannot be done). Or perhaps it has to be a human, or a mammal? I’m not quite clear on whether you think a bacterium can be predicted by physics. But in either case we will be disagreeing about something that is in-principle possible to settle by experiment, which is precisely what I’ve been trying to get you to realise.

                    We may then, if you like (I suppose you probably don’t), have a separate discussion about conservation of momentum, which you still don’t understand; but that is a side issue.

          • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

            Suppose finally that Max waved all that aside as mere rubbish and obscurantism, and insisted that balloons either break the laws of gravity, or that they fall like stones.

            Well then, what is the physical difference between a carbon atom in Shakespeare’s body, and one in a rock? Max is ignoring a factor not present in the case of the rock, but one which can be measured: To wit, the density of the air within the balloon. What measureable factor am I ignoring in the case of Shakespeare? If it is to produce a physical difference, it must be physical, no?

            You claim that the physics of Newton cannot be applied to objects which are ‘animate’. Well, sir, please define your terms. How can I detect this property of ‘animation’?

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              “What measureable factor am I ignoring in the case of Shakespeare? If it is to produce a physical difference, it must be physical, no? “

              You tell me. Is there no measurable difference between a living body and a dead one? If you say there is, then I will ask you what is being measured? If you say there is not, then I will ask you what the term “measurable” means.

              If we assume physics predicts all things both physical and nonphysical, then we conclude physics predicts humans decisions, which is absurd (because then it would also predict such things as, for example, physicists inventing theories and devising experiments; and then physics would be deducing experimental outcomes without the need for the experiment, or in other words, a physics that eliminates physics).

              If we assume physics only assume physical things, then nonphysical things such as human decisions are deemed to be nonexistent, which is also absurd (because then we are deciding by this argument that decisions don’t exist).

              But the point in dispute is precisely whether nonmeasurable things exist or not, or in what way. It is a question of ontology. I submit that human decisions do exist, and that physics can say nothing about them, one way or the other. For if not, then we are left with the paradox that dead Shakespeare is the considered by physics to be the same as living Shakespeare on the grounds that life is not a substance that can be reduced to a measurement.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              “Well, sir, please define your terms. How can I detect this property of ‘animation’?”

              If you have reached a point where you honestly cannot tell whether you are alive or dead, your philosophy has lost all contact with reality. Check your axioms. One or more of them is wrong.

              • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                Is a bacterium alive? Does it make deliberate decisions? I assume you will say it is alive, but does not make decisions. Since it is deliberate decision that is alleged to make Newton inapplicable, it follows that the bacterium cannot have the property of ‘animateness’. It further follows that the test for ‘animateness’ cannot be the same as checking whether the entity is dead or alive; you are just making a play on words.

                On the other hand, if you claim either that a bacterium is not alive, or that it makes decisions… well, I suggest you check your axioms.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  Having announced, in effect, that since physics cannot measure it, there is no such thing as life, and being unable or unwilling to defend that extraordinary announcement except by the schoolboy mockery of repeating my words, I think the chair will entertain a motion for tabling the discussion.

                  • Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

                    since physics cannot measure it, there is no such thing as life

                    I did not say that. I asked you whether a bacterium is alive, and I also asked you whether it makes deliberate decisions. I suppose you agree that the answers are respectively yes and no? In that case, can I use Newton to predict the actions of a bacterium, since it makes no deliberate decisions? If I can, then ‘alive’ is not the same as ‘animated’. If I cannot, then ‘animated’ is not the same as “makes deliberate decisions”, which in other comments you appear to have used synonymously. I am asking you to clarify your terms; I have not said anything about what exists or doesn’t.

                    To answer your earlier question, there is indeed a measureable difference between a living and a dead body, starting with the electrical activity. And before you go about suggesting that I should make a living as a resurrectionist by supplying current from the wall socket, please observe that the distribution matters as much as the amount; it is not a question of counting up the total current. Three wires each with 100 mA are not the same, physically, as one wire with 300 mA.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          But let me answer your question:

          It is true in the case of the particles of Shakespeare’s body to the degree and in the way that those particles act like inanimate particles, such as when we throw him from London Tower, and, knowing his mass and the mass of the Earth, and the initial impulse of the throw, we can calculate the parabola of his fall to a nicety. Naturally, a sack of flour or small ape of the same mass would also describe the same parabola.

          It is precisely for this reason, and no other, that a physicist can ignore the particulars of the experiment and arrive at a general principle, namely, that two masses attract each other in an inverse square of the distance and directly as a mass. Physics excludes from consideration the particulars irrelevant to the general rule. One of the things excluded is deliberate action by animate beings.

          It is not true in the case of the particles of Shakespeare’s body when we take into account such things as local violent motions, deliberate actions on his part, or interference by the observer with the experiment, such as if Queen Elizabeth rushes to the roof of the Tower with a squad of beefy Welsh dragoons and tear the weeping Shakespeare from our murderous hands and gives us both a sound drubbing when we explain the murder was for the sake of scientific experiment. Looking at the particles inside Her Majesty’s head will tell the observer only utterly irrelevant data, such as her blood pressure and brain temperature. It will not tell you why she commanded the Bard of Avon to be rescued.

          Likewise, propping up a sack of flour at Shakespeare’s desk and proffer it his freshly cut quill dipped in ink will not result in a new sonnet, and will not allow you to predict the contents of the sonnet. Indeed, seating an ape or even Queen Elizabeth at the same desk and proffering the same quill will not result in a sonnet. From this we can conclude that something other than the mass of the body has a bearing on the outcome.

          That is not a question of physics. No study of physics ever has or ever will predict human actions. Physics makes no attempt whatsoever to do so. Physics only predicts reactions.

          To prove me wrong, give me a single example of any physicist predicting the end rhyming couplet of a sonnet before the sonnet was written, when the physicist did not ask the poet his intentions, but instead took careful measurements of the poet’s mass, velocity, and temperature?

  6. Comment by Darrell:

    Mr. Wright

    With all of the discussion of physics and geometry of late, I thought that you might find this link about the non-Euclidean geometry of R’leyh to be of interest.

    http://titaniumphysicists.brachiolopemedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Rlyeh.pdf

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