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Introduction to Philosophy 101 -- Free will and determinism - Twisted Bonsai Tree

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October 19th, 2016

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02:55 pm - Introduction to Philosophy 101 -- Free will and determinism

I'm posting it here for the benefit of my students in metaphysics / introduction to philosophy classes (i.e., so they have an easy access to some movie takes representing classical positions in the debate about the freedom of will, choice, determinism, and so on):

Merovingian represents a classical "statement" of hard deterministic position in the debate about the freedom of will:

A battle scene following the above scene anding at about 13:30 (purely for fun):

EVERYTHING BEGINS WITH A CHOICE (OR MAYBE NOT). Various characters depicted here represent different philosophical positions in the debate about determinism and the freedom of will.

Libertarianism is a view that we have free will and that free will is incompatible with the "event causation" (i.e., causation by previous events and states of affairs). Libertarians reject the idea of universal event causation but postulate a different special kind of causation, so called, "agent causation". Neo is a libertarian.

Hard determinism is a view that every event (including every action) is causally determined by previous events and states of affairs. Hard determinists believe that determisism and freedom of will are incompatible and that we have no free will. As a hard determinist, Merovingian, observes: choice is but an illusion (created by these in power to control others). In effect, hard determinists reject the idea of moral responsibility. This is the weakness of this position. It's hard to stomach the idea that no one is ever responsible for anything. Merovingian is a hard determinist, at least officially. Then bad things happen to him...

Soft determinism (a.k.a compatibilism) is a view that every event (including every action) is causally determined by previous events and states of affairs. Unlike hard determinists, soft determinists believe that freedom of will is compatible with determinism and causation. They maintain that freedom is incompatible with compulsion (i.e., the mental set ups where agents are somehow "fixated" on doing something). Soft determinists believe that we are responsible for what we do freely.

Oracle is clearly a determinist. It is not completely clear what kind of determinism she represents. I would argue that she is a compatibilist (or soft-determinsist). First, on many occasions she says that all we can do is to understand the causes of our actions (or reasons that make us do something). To paraphrase what she says to Neo, "you did not come here to make a choice, you have already made a choice. Yoy are here to understand why you make this choice". (This is a bit unclear. Perhaps she should say that programming and set up have aready determined the choice and all we can do is to understand what this choice is.) Furthermore, she claims that some programs (or some "beings") function as they are supposed to function while some other programs ("beings") do not. This hints at some idea of right and wrong and responsibility. In turn, it would entail compatibilism (soft determinism). By comparison, typical compatibilists contrast freedom of will with compulsion and/or obsession (rather than causation). The claim about programs no working properly raghly corresponds to the idea that some of us act in a compulsive and/or obsessive ways.

Oracle's position seems quite different from what Merovingian says and does. They both acknowledge that we can understand the causes that make us do things. But only Oracle introduces the idea that some programs acting "properly" (i.e., as they are supposed to do) while others not so much. To be completely sure where Oracle stand, we would have to know a bit more what she thinks about moral responsibility.

The Architect acknowledges there are some probabilistic elements in human actions. This represents a shift away from the XIX c. Newtonian physics that postulated fully deterministic laws of nature. Contemporary physics postulate that there are random (i.e., un-caused) events and that laws of nature are probabilistic rather than deterministic.

It is hard to know whether he is a compatibilist about the freedom of will or not. Either way, he admits that even the probabilistic programs cannot function as intended. Probabilities are in some ways "tilted" (perhaps by a genuinely free will). These "tilts" add up which eventually leads to the "systemic collapse".

Neo thinks that the "problem" and, at the same time, the cause of the "systemic collapse" is the choice. As he observes, echoing Morpheus, "everything begins with the choice". On one hand, as the Architect acknowledges, some kind of choice (even if only at the subconscious level) seems necessary for the matrix to function at all. (Again, there is an analogy to recent scientific discoveries; see the essay from "The Atlantic" linked below. It suggests that our well being requires a belief in the freedom of will. Otherwise, we become depressed and anti-social.) That is, if you eliminate the choice, sentient beings reject matrix (as they rejected the first one). Someone may suggest that all we need is but an illusion of choice; Merovingian makes this point. But the Architect seems to be making a stronger point. On the other hand, if you allow for choice, beings like us (endowed with free will) exercise freedom. This also causes a "systemic collapse" described by the Architect. It's still unclear to me how the Architect thinks about the issue of free will and responsibility.

The Agent Smith is just really pissed off...

More here (with some funny comments superimposed on the clip)

The Agent Smith is just really pissed off... "Why? Why? Why? ... Because I choose to" (3'23"):

* "There’s No Such Thing as Free Will. But we’re better off believing in it anyway"
by Stephen Cave. "The Atlantic", June 2016.

* "Is Free Will an Illusion? Don't trust your instincts about free will or consciousness, experimental philosophers say"
By By Shaun Nichols, "Scientific American", November 1, 2011

* Scientists say free will probably doesn't exist, but urge: "Don't stop believing!"
By Jesse Bering, "Scientific American, April 6, 2010

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:October 27th, 2016 01:41 am (UTC)
This is great! I would happily take a philosophy class from you :)
[User Picture]
Date:November 3rd, 2016 12:00 am (UTC)
Thank you! I have updated my musings a bit; I am now even more convinced that Oracle is a soft determinist. I will probably update them some more.
[User Picture]
Date:November 3rd, 2016 12:07 am (UTC)
haha I liked the clip so much I stole it :D
[User Picture]
Date:November 3rd, 2016 09:29 pm (UTC)
Noticed! And great you can use something like this.

Feel free to borrow my commentary, too. In fact it's best to watch all clips together with the commentary. I just added one more, including Neo's fight the Agent Smith (philosophy starts at 3'25"), and few links to popular science/philosophy essays. :-)
[User Picture]
Date:November 4th, 2016 04:44 pm (UTC)
Where do you teach in corpus?
[User Picture]
Date:November 4th, 2016 10:13 pm (UTC)
Texas A&M. The best philosophy program in South Texas.

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