Sunday, March 3, 2013

February 17, 2013
Frank wrote:

Hi Kent,

Mine is a bit of a saga. I hope you find it interesting. I appreciate having someone to communicate with who understands and is interested in these ideas.

(I am beginning a new project, which is to turn my ebook into a series of videos. It ‘s a long-term project. I am currently writing the script and taking a course in After Effects to create necessary animation.)

The following explanation is part memoir and part philosophy of science. I’ll be interested in what you think of it as a story and your evaluation of the philosophy. Again, I appreciate being able to run it by you. Parts of it I have never communicated to anyone.

In high school, I fell in love with physics. It was my greatest pleasure and I thought I could do anything with it. So, I was blind-sided when I realized the deterministic implication. At the time, I had no idea that I had encountered a long running philosophical problem, so I thought it was a problem with me, that I was not smart enough or was too twisted to come to terms with what didn’t seem to be bothering anyone else.

So, I struggled with it for over a decade.

It wasn’t until my 30s that I discovered the discipline of Philosophy of Science where I learned that determinism had been debated for a couple of centuries and was still a matter of “inconclusive controversy.”

It is odd that I could have been struggling ‘in a vacuum’ for all that time. But that is what happened and I think it shapes who I am.

Of course, when I found out that determinism wasn’t just my problem but was the world’s problem, I was greatly relieved and able to move forward with my thinking.

I realized that I had been making an assumption (that many people make, even, I think, very smart ones like Richard Dawkins) that science is THE source of knowledge. And, if that is the case, free will is impossible. But, at some point, I realized that my experience of my free will is just as fundamental as scientific reasoning. That realization allowed me to lift up a corner of science and look around it.

My next step was to do the Einstein Maneuver, as I call it. In Infeld’s book on Einstein, he describes a state of physics where experimental results were contradicting each other. Physicists kept performing experiments and kept getting contradictory results. What Einstein did was accept the experimental results “without further appeal,” and he made the contradictory results his fundamental premises, which he used to develop a new paradigm in physics.

So, I felt that after a my decade of struggling with determinism, and after world philosophers’ centuries of struggling with it, it was time to accept both horns of the dilemma “without further appeal.”

I was gratified when I discovered in Erwin Schrodinger’s “What is Life?” a precise formulation of exactly what I was thinking:

i)     My body functions as a pure mechanism according to the Laws of Nature.

ii)   Yet, I know by incontrovertible direct experience, that I am directing its motions, of which I foresee the effects that may be fateful and all important, in which case I feel and take all responsibility for them.

It was nice to hear from you that Rebbi say the same thing: that we are free and determined at the same time. I called the acceptance of both horns of the dilemma, the theory of incompatible, co-existent realities.

Since determinism is a direct result of science, I needed to get a better idea of what science is.

Peter Medawar in his LIMITS OF SCIENCE makes a very clear and convincing argument that science has limits. As he says, “Science is a house with empirical furniture.” Science is the authority without limit in the empirical world, but it has no sway in the world of, as he calls them, “first and last things,’’ like where we came from or where we are going.

I extend science’s limitation, that is, I think it has nothing to say about human values and all things human.

For Einstein, his maneuver was effective because he developed a new paradigm that resolved the contradiction. When I made the same maneuver, I had no thought of a new paradigm. But, that didn’t make it any less foundational for me. Freewill and determinism are both true and it is fruitless to deny either.

Though a new paradigm is not necessary, it is desirable, and I have been thinking about the relationship between these two worlds/realities. I see the human word as everything and the science world also as everything. If they were Vin diagrams, they be two concentric circles on top of each other. Add to that, they are fundamentally contradictory.

Though I am no closer to removing the contradiction, I have developed some very speculative ideas of what science is that get closer to understanding the contradiction. I’ll save those for a later time.

Once you wrote, quite rightly, that it is better to spend our time making the world a better place than speculating on whether a city is an organism or not. I couldn’t agree with you more. However some people, some notables like Copernicus and Darwin, are consumed by asking what is, rather than what we’d like it to be.


I’d like to run some speculative ideas past you.

The first is that there is a human world and a science world. Each is everything and yet they are contradictory and non-overlapping. Science can tell us nothing about the human world, that is, the world of human values and of all things that make us human; similarly, human values, etc. have nothing to say about the empirical science world. One is the world of things, the other is the world of humanity. Determinism is in the domain of things, free will is in the domain of what it is to be human. This makes sense as we are both things and human.

Next, I want to draw a distinction between simultaneous and synonymous. Here is an illustrative scenario: A man is walking down the street. He is in a hurry. He sees an old woman who is having trouble. In his mind he debates if he should hurry on and let someone else help the woman, or help her and be late for the appointment. He is experiencing a conflict of values.

Physics and chemistry can, in theory, give a complete description of the scenario using descriptions of matter – forces, location, time, etc. Even biology can, theoretically, give a complete description of the scenario in terms of organs and their reaction to stimuli. But none of these descriptions can say a single thing about the man’s moral dilemma, about his values. Science is ‘blind’ to values.

Separating my human mind and my science mind has made it much easier of me to deal with both, and made it easier for me to live in the world. But I still struggle with how these contradictory worlds can exist and how my will can influence the behavior of matter. (hubris to think I shouldn’t be still struggling with that.) But there are a couple of even more speculative ideas that I am thinking about.

One is that science is nature. When an amoeba is on the quest for food, and it encounters an obstacle, it needs to decide whether to go left or right around the obstacle. In this case the amoeba is practicing science in the same way humans and machines do when building a bridge across a river. The amoeba’s behavior is both nature and science.

Another idea is of human thinging. That is when a human behaves as a thing. From the Metropolis Organism perspective, a human is always thinging. Down here on our level, our bodies are always thinging. And certain activities, for example eating or having sex, can be seen as thinging. The question is, can we talk about our higher-level activities like making moral decisions as thinging? If we could, then they would fall under the egis of science and determinism. However, if that were the case, where does freewill fit in?

I hope this has not been too tedious for you. Once you wrote, quite rightly, that it is better to spend our time making the world a better place than speculating on whether a city is an organism or not. I couldn’t agree with you more. However some people, some notables like Copernicus and Darwin, are consumed by asking what is, rather than what we’d like it to be.

All best,


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