Friday, March 30, 2007

Two senses of "going to happen"

Free Will Taxonomy
But if it's free, why is it being taxed?
(Image from Wikipedia)

In yesterday's post, I noted the Big Ho's citation of 'my' words on middle-knowledge theology. Among other claims, this theology maintains that human free will is compatible with God's foreknowledge because God's foreknowledge of a free act does not cause that free act to occur. The free agent who freely chooses a particular action could have chosen a different action. If the free agent had done so, then God would have foreknown that free act. The Big Ho objects that this scenario assumes that the agent had a real possibility of choosing some other act than the one chosen:
There's a real question, though, whether divine omniscience, classically conceived, allows room for possibilities. Not being a compatibilist, I believe the answer is no: if God knows what's going to happen down to the minutest detail, there are no possibilities from God's point of view. Unconstrained by time, God perceives the universe from the aerie of his eternal Now, like a person who takes a roll of film off the movie projector, unrolls the entire thing, and can see at a glance how all the moments of the movie play out. What seems possible to us is actual to God. There are no other possible universes: if God knows you're going to sneeze in five minutes, you're going to sneeze in five minutes. God can't know what's not there to be known. Your sneeze is known to God because it's going to happen. The story of your sneeze was written before the world was born. (Kevin Kim, Water from a Skull, page 116; cf. Kevin's blog entry)
I should probably note here that the Big Ho is using "compatibilism" to refer not to the putative compatibilism of free will and determinism (as in the above taxonomy) but to the debatable compatibilism of free will and God's omniscience.

Be that as it may, I think that the Big Ho is conflating two senses of "going to happen" that ought to be kept distinct.

One sense is causal. For instance, I may look out the window and see that dark clouds are gathering, the wind is whipping up, and lightning is flashing. From the physical circumstances, I predict that it's going to rain. I'm using "going to" to describe a causal necessity. Now, I could be wrong, but that's due to the limits of my knowledge. If I knew enough about the physical conditions, I could inerrantly foreknow that rain would causally result if the conditions are such that it truly is going to rain.

The other sense is decisional. For instance, I may be watching a friend whom I know very well select among chocolate and various other candies. From long experience, I know his desires and his habits. I know for instance, that he likes chocolate more than any other candy, so as I watch him contemplating a selection of either chocolate or some other candy, I predict that he's going to choose chocolate. Here, I'm using "going to" to describe a decision. I might be wrong in my prediction, but once again, that's due to the limits of my knowledge. If I knew enough about my friend, I could inerrantly foreknow that he would decide upon chocolate if he truly is going to choose chocolate.

Now, I make the further assumption that my friend has libertarian free will. By this, I mean that his choice is not the result of a causal chain, either internal or external. My foreknowledge that my friend will choose chocolate thus does not cause his choice. I merely know his choice.

God happens to be in the position of omnisciently foreknowing choices, but this does not mean that he causes those choices.

At least, I don't see why omniscient foreknowledge would collapse the decisional sense of "going to happen" into the causal sense of "going to happen."

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At 12:47 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Damn... I just wrote a long comment in response to this, but it got eaten. I think our office computer is on the fritz. I'll just refer you to pp. 117-118 of my book, where I talk a bit more about the incompatibility of foreknowledge and freedom.


PS: One thing I'm kicking myself about is that I began reading more about middle knowledge in earnest right as I was finishing up the book's manuscript. One of the big issues appears to be the question of the existence of (true?) counterfactuals, which is a concise way of stating the problem. I hint at this, awkwardly, in my book, but I was fumbling around for the words to express what I was thinking.

At 12:52 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sorry to hear that it got eaten. That's so frustrating. Of course, God inerrantly foreknew...

I'll take a look at those pages and perhaps respond if I have any ideas. This morning's post took a lot of my miniscule brainpower.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:02 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

These questions require almost ALL of my minuscule brainpower, but they fascinate me all the same.

I should also note that, in my view, "causal" is all there is: even decisions arise from causes, and are themselves causes that produce effects. I'm not yet willing to move from that to strict Newtonian determinism (am still chewing the matter over, and would like for there to be room for Einsteinian and quantum realities), but I do think that, for the person who believes God is omniscient in the classical sense, determinism is, alas, all there is.

Not that this should bother theists: most Muslims have little trouble with such thinking, and Calvinist double predestination is, at least thematically, in the same deterministic ballpark as Muslim fatalism (see here; be warned that the link betrays significant bias).


At 2:11 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I would say that decisions arise from reasons, but if I understand you correctly, then an event is either the result of causes or the random occurrence of a quantum fluxuation.

In any event, no free will.

The presence or absence of an omniscient God would seem to make no discernable difference in the matter.

But if one assumes free will -- as I do -- then a decision is based upon reasons rather than being the effect of a cause. Again, I don't see how the presence or absence of an omniscient God would alter this.

God foreknows what we will freely choose.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:22 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Finding a place for free will is difficult, perhaps in part because of the filters we tend to adopt in such discussions-- ones that dichotomize free will and determinism, which in turn makes us wonder whether they are compatible or incompatible.

I think your point about randomness not being helpful for free will is a good one, and I agree. I think, though, that people generally look to quantum realities when they look for a "space" in which to insert free will. We're still exploring what those realities may be, but what seems obvious to those of us who'd like to believe we are free in some measure (I include myself in that number) is that quantum indeterminacy-- which is not necessarily the same as brute randomness-- seems friendlier to the notion of free will than does, say, hard determinism.

"...then a decision is based upon reasons rather than being the effect of a cause."

This brings us to the question of the nature of the mind, and the whole debate about substance dualism, supervenience, epiphenomenalism, and physicalism. A materialist/supervenience point of view (which is what I lean toward) would say "reasons" are causes because reasons are actually concreta manifested in the brain, not abstracta being handled by an immaterial mind. This view has the disconcerting effect of reducing "ought"s to "is"es, and to be honest, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with that, either.

I'm morbidly curious to see how you'll react to the chapter on mind!


At 7:25 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Thanks for allowing me to invade your blog. A bit on quantum physics can be found in this excerpt from a blog entry about Roger Penrose:

"There are actually several reasons, in my view, to think that quantum physics might be relevant to consciousness (although these are not Penrose's reasons). One is that the way two different states of affairs can apparently be held in suspense resembles the way two different courses of action can be suspended in the mind during the act of choice. A related point is the possibility that exploiting this kind of suspension could give us spectacularly fast computing, which might explain some of the remarkable properties of the brain. Another is the special role of observation - becoming conscious of things - in causing the collapse of the wavefunction. [Another] is that quantum physics puts some limits on how precisely we can specify the details of the world..."

This is a more articulate version of what I was trying to say in my previous comment.


At 12:36 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

If there were no life there would not be any uncertainty on the quantum level. The properties of quanta energy would have been determined only when the universe rolled out.

I like that rolled out analogy of the film. I see god encompassing the universe and without time.

Just my 2 cents.

At 1:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your examination of this topic was very thought-provoking. What amazes me as a Catholic turned follower of Buddhism (I say "follower" not "believer" because I do not accept all principal tenets, like reincarnation, but do learn the darmas and practice meditation) is that educated, thinking people like yourself believe in God the way you do. I don't mean that in a snide or condescending way. It's faith. You have faith in God. My mom has faith in God. Most people I know have faith in God. I do not. How does one explain faith? Have you dealt with this topic on your blog? Faith, to me, is far more of puzzle than the determination-free will debate. For those of us who do not believe in an omniscient God, the debate is merely mental exercise. The nature of faith is a discussion that invites everyone.

At 3:23 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Kevin, I haven't had time to respond to your comments, and now that I'm in the process of moving to a new apartment, I might not be able to respond for a few days. At the moment, I happen to be at Kyung Hee University campus, so I can at least post this comment to let you know that I will try to respond later on.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, I know too little about quantum mechanics to have an informed opinion. My guess would be that without intelligent minds attempting to understand events at a quantum level, there would be no issue of 'uncertainty' -- a bit like a tree falling in a forest without anyone to hear it (meaning that it depends on what you mean by 'hearing').

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:34 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, I think that one could consider such questions as mere intellectual exercises, i.e., without even an iota of faith (though one might then lack any motivation to think about such things).

My friend Bill Vallicella, of the blog Maverick Philosopher, would argue that one needs a necessary being, i.e., God, to ground all other, contingent beings.

My current interest in this issue has a long pre-narrative, but I don't have time to enter into that now. Maybe some other time . . . if I can think of a way to make the story interesting.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:11 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

Good luck as you settle into the new digs.

I think you'll be interested in these two links, which deal, each in their own way, with the foreknowledge/freedom question.

1. From the theistic point of view.

2. From the atheistic ("Bright") point of view.

Yeah, I find the term "Bright" annoying, too.


At 2:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HJH wrote:

"I think that one could consider such questions as mere intellectual exercises, i.e., without even an iota of faith (though one might then lack any motivation to think about such things)."

The motivation for some non-believers might be to cast doubt on the existence of God.

At 3:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Kevin, I just scrounged around in my new place and finally found your Water from a Skull, which had been hidden by those roaming spirits, the Son (손(損)), that Sonagi alludes to in her comment on my "Moving Experience."

I'll have to read your chapter on mind and get back to you . . . if I have anything intelligent to say.

Hmmm . . . that last statement implies that I only post things that are intelligent. My readers might differ from me on that point.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, that's probably a motivation for some nonbelievers, but another motive for a nonbeliever could be genuine intellectual curiosity about the possibility of God and what that might entail.

Jeffery Hodges

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