Paul Mawdsley's view of causality in re Objectivism


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Paul Mawdsley has offered a very important and well expressed opinion about the relationship of the concept of causality to the development of (and, I will add, possible corrections to) Rand's philosophic system. I quote several paragraphs, with added emphasis, that seemed central to his point, and which seem more appropriately posted here in the metaphysics folder:

It is the view of causality at the foundation of Objectivism that has captured my imagination and my thoughts for the last two decades: What a thing is determines what it does. I think this notion of causality, presented by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden (with roots in Aristotle’s writings), is the single most important, and possibly least understood, concept to come out of Objectivism. It is the concept at the base of the Objectivist understanding of the nature of existence, of human nature, of moral behaviour, and of politics.  

Objectivism can be considered a system of thought based on and shaped by the identity-to-action view of causation. This is why I now consider myself an Objectivist again even if I might disagree with some aspects of what Ayn Rand called Objectivism. Once Ayn Rand defined Objectivism as being based on objective reality, independent of anyone’s beliefs or wishes, and rooted it in identity-to-action causation, she made Objectivism an open system within the limits of these principles. Everything else follows. Even Ayn Rand’s beliefs or wishes cannot hold domain over the Objectivist interpretation of reality without self-contradiction. Her view of Objectivism and of the world must be held accountable to the basic principles she defined. If new information comes to light, if valid new integrations are made, if contradictions are found, then Rand’s original view of Objectivism may need to be adjusted.

My comment: I disagree with Paul's labeling of Randian causation as "identity-to-action." As Rand pointed out when she tied her view of causality to Aristotle's (as against Hume's action-action model), causality is the relation between an entity and its actions. Yes, it is the identity of the entity that determines what it will do, but it is the entity that is the cause of what it does.

Since these are (probably) just two ways of saying the same thing (since an entity is its identity, and to cause is to determine), I don't want to quibble too much about this. But it's important to underscore that it is not free-floating identity, but the identity of entities that is involved in causation -- which is why I like Rand's simpler formulation of entity-action causality.

I emphatically disagree with Dragonfly's assessment of the importance or value of the Law of Causality. (He is welcome to dispute this and to clarify his own view.) I think there is a lot we can do, as philosophers of science wielding Rand's metaphysical insights as a kind of "veto power" over invalid models of physical and psychological reality. As a relevant example, indeterministic models of physics (or psychology) that claim some actions are not caused but just happen, must be false.

My own way of drawing from this insight, which I came to independently from Paul a number of years ago, is in regard to the problems of mind-body and free will-determinism. I delivered a paper to the Objectivist Center's Advanced Seminar in 2003, in which I argued that because consciousness and matter are attributes of entities, it is nonsense to speak of the "causal efficacy" of consciousness, since attributes do not cause actions. It is the conscious (and material) entity, the human being, that causes human action.

If we do not firmly and explicitly acknowledge this, we are in danger of falling into Cartesian dualism, which views mind and body as two entities ("substances" in Cartesian lingo) that coexist in the same human being and "somehow" interact with one another. To be sure, there is interaction in human beings, but it is between the parts of human beings, all of which behave as entities, and all of which are material and some of which are also conscious. Thus, traditional Interactionism makes no more sense than to speak of red and blue colliding, when what you really mean is that a red car and a blue car collided.

Introspection is our privileged access to what is going on in our brains, and the form in which we directly grasp that activity is certainly in terms of memories, thoughts, feelings, etc., and not neurons or chemical and electrical processes. But this does not mean that we are not really directly aware of our physical brain processes -- any more than the form of our perception of an apple's red color means that we are not really directly aware of the physical processes taking place when an apple reflects certain wavelengths of light and absorbs others.

This is where Paul's comments about identity and causality help clarify what I am saying. The identity of a thing, its attributes, are its powers to do certain things -- and when the entity engages in certain actions that bring those powers/attributes into play, we are often aware of those actions in the form of the attributes themselves. Redness is a good example of what I mean for perception. A mental image or a thought or a memory is a good example of what I mean for introspection.

I'll close here and invite comments. But I just want to reiterate that I think Paul has touched on a vital issue in the status of Objectivism as a live, on-the-table philosophy -- and not a "done deal." We may have to rename it, since the Keepers of the Flame insist that major changes cannot be part of Objectivism. But we certainly know the vision Rand had to start with: man as a heroic being, with reason as his absolute and happiness as his moral ideal. Whether you call the new, improved system Objectivism or Randianism or Something Else, if Rand's core vision is still intact when the dust settles, we will have made a net gain for mankind, even if the Loyalist organizations crumble to dust in the process.

REB

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I think there is a lot we can do, as philosophers of science wielding Rand's metaphysical insights as a kind of "veto power" over invalid models of physical and psychological reality. As a relevant example, indeterministic models of physics (or psychology) that claim some actions are not caused but just happen, must be false.

What indeterministic model of physics is false?

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They all are false, and they must be false. Their truth is contrafactual and illogical.

If you want a listing of indeterministic theories (all of which are false but won't necessarily be acknowledged as such by a given source), I invite you to do a Google search. I did and got 197 pages of citations for the two terms "physics" and "indeterminism."

Here is one in particular from the early days of quantum physics. It is called "Vienna Indeterminism II: From Exner's Synthesis to Frank and Von Mises" by Michael Stolzner.

http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00...00/FIRENZP4.doc

In general, a physical theory that says that some phenomena, such as aggregate behavior of gas molecules in a container, are described by a statistical equation but can have no more basic physical explanation for that behavior, is an indeterministic theory. Indeterminism is basically a theory that something "just is" the way it is, that nothing determines that it be that way. As such, existence -- the universe as a whole -- is indeterministic. It had no cause. It always was. But each concrete thing within the universe has a causal source and explanation. To claim otherwise is an indeterministic scientific theory.

REB

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They all are false, and they must be false. Their truth is contrafactual and illogical

Why?

If you want a listing of indeterministic theories (all of which are false but won't necessarily be acknowledged as such by a given source), I invite you to do a Google search. I did and got 197 pages of citations for the two terms "physics" and "indeterminism.

I'm not interested in wading through the thousands of sites I get when I search for "physics" and "indeterminism".

Here is one in particular from the early days of quantum physics. It is called "Vienna Indeterminism II: From Exner's Synthesis to Frank and Von Mises" by Michael Stolzner.

That's far too long, I'm not going to read this endless discussion about old physisicsts and old philosophers. Let us look at a modern theory: Quantum mechanics is an indeterministic theory, is it therefore false?

As such, existence -- the universe as a whole -- is indeterministic. It had no cause. It always was.

How do you know?

But each concrete thing within the universe has a causal source and explanation.

Why?

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Roger,

We may have to rename it, since the Keepers of the Flame insist that major changes cannot be part of Objectivism.

Every person who uses his independent mind in addressing Objectivism is a Keeper of the Flame. A person who has received legal copyrights as an inheritance does not have dictatorial power over the intellectual content of a philosophy, nor the right to stipulate that a word cannot have two definitions or more - for instance, as a proper noun and as a general school of thought. Dictionaries exist. A is A. I personally will not give up the name.

(I have some comments on the actual discussion later, but basically axioms have to be on the table for any discussion on determinism and indeterminism to make sense.)

Michael

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Dragonfly,

To just post the repeated one-liner or one word question "why?" or "how do you know?" expects someone else to go to the trouble of composing lengthy answers while your end of the conversation doesn't require comparable effort.

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Roger,

Here's my first little attempt at getting my mind wrapped around determinism with you (and please don't be impatient if we disagree, as this subject tends to elicit a lot of exasperation).

I have a real problem considering consciousness as merely an attribute of a human being. If it is an attribute, than what is the human being? OK, maybe I can see consciousness as a "defining attribute," meaning if it is no longer present, the entity is no longer human (consciousness in this case including states of rest, etc.).

I hold that "conscious human being" is the whole and proper entity. This is what can give rise to causation, maybe. Certainly not consciousness divorced from the rest of the organism.

Life comes before the human being. Some people regard life as an attribute of matter. I don't. I regard it as a specific type of existent with its own identity that uses matter as part of its makeup.

Life forms vary according to awareness (and other things, some of them quite icky). I consider a particular life form to be defined by its awareness (in addition to other things), and awareness is not merely along for the ride. If the awareness is not present, the carcass or even living body of that entity no longer is the same thing.

How's that so far?

Michael

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Michael, you wrote:

I have a real problem considering consciousness as merely an attribute of a human being. If it is an attribute, than what is the human being? OK, maybe I can see consciousness as a "defining attribute," meaning if it is no longer present, the entity is no longer human (consciousness in this case including states of rest, etc.).
[emphasis added]

Michael, I think a stumbling block is to regard attributes as "merely" attributes. An attribute is a power of an entity. It is the capacity of an entity to do something specific. For instance, the attribute of color is the capacity of an entity to reflect certain wavelengths of light and absorb others. The means by which we perceive this attribute/capacity directly is through its actualizing that capacity, viz., by reflecting certain wavelengths of light that interact with our sense organs and give rise to a specific visual experience.

Matter is a capacity (or set of capacities) of entities, too. So is life. So is consciousness. They are things that entities can do. And we are aware of those attributes/capacities when we perceive (or introspect) the capacities in action. (E.g., inertia, commonly referred to as "an attribute of matter," is actually an attribute of entities; it is their capacity to resist having their state of motion changed. We perceive this attribute when someone or something tries to set an object in motion or to change or stop its motion. It takes effort, more for more massive objects, less for less massive objects. The attribute of objects by virtue of which effort is required to change their state of motion is their inertia.)

Another point of clarification: consciousness is a defining attribute not only of human beings, but of all animals. Some Objectivists have even argued that plants are conscious, so consciousness is a defining attribute of all life. I disagree with this, but I don't want to argue the point here. I'm in the camp that agrees with the Aristotelian view that animals are essentially distinguished from plants by their having locomotion and consciousness, while plants do not. (The Euglena, sometimes raised as a counterexample, is just like orange, a borderline case; see ITOE.)

I hold that "conscious human being" is the whole and proper entity. This is what can give rise to causation, maybe. Certainly not consciousness divorced from the rest of the organism.

The consciousness unique to human beings is included in the definition of man as a rational animal. All animals are conscious. Man's consciousness is uniquely conceptual or rational.

It's true that you can't speak of an entity as causing things to happen, except on the implicit understanding that it is one or more of its attributes (powers) by virtue of which the entity causes things to happen. Nor, however, can you speak of matter or consciousness or life as causing things to happen, apart from the entity whose powers to cause things to happen that those attributes are.

Since entities are their attributes, they are a metaphysical unity of entity and attributes. No divorce is possible; just death or disintegration.

Life comes before the human being. Some people regard life as an attribute of matter. I don't. I regard it as a specific type of existent with its own identity that uses matter as part of its makeup.

I really don't know what you mean by your first statement.

I agree that we cannot say life is an attribute of matter. First of all, both life and matter are attributes of entities. Secondly, while all entities have material attributes (powers), not all entities have vital attributes (powers). However, while not all material entities are living entities, all living entities are material entities. The same is true for consciousness: while not all material entities are conscious entities, all conscious entities are material entities. There is no free-floating "life" or "consciousness" apart from a material entity that possesses them among its various attributes/powers.

I don't see life as some other kind of existent than an attribute. If we focus in on the Big Four -- entity, attribute, action, and relationship -- it's pretty clear that life is a set of capacities/powers that characterize certain entities and by virtue of which they engage in certain actions. The same is true of matter. The same is true of consciousness. That is why I regard them all as attributes. So do Rand and Branden.

Very often, however, people have a tendency to abstract life or matter or consciousness away from the entities possessing them and treating them as though they were themselves things that have causal power. Descartes treated consciousness as though it were another entity coexisting with the body and "somehow" interacting. We often speak of matter as though it does things, but it never does anything apart from some entity of which it is a cluster of properties. No matter how nondescript and vaguely shaped a chunk of "matter" is, it's always an entity of some material type and not just "some matter." The same is true of life and of consciousness.

The real trap for philosophy, the mind-body problem, has occurred because people make the initial mistake of speaking as though matter itself does things. Matter is a power (or set of powers) of entities to do things. But people instead treat matter as a thing itself (instead of the power/attribute of an entity) -- and they wonder, well, if matter is a thing that does things, then so is mind, but how do they interact? This is a pseudo-problem which vanishes as long as (1) you hold on to the model of causation as entity-action, determined by the attributes/identity of the entity, and (2) you stop talking about an attribute as though it were an entity with causal powers, distinct from the entity of which it is an attribute.

It's just as bad to refer to matter or consciousness as though they were some kind of "stuff" or "material" out of which things (such as bodies or souls) are composed. Everything is entities, from physical objects on down to subatomic particles, and their attributes/capacities/powers and actions, and they are all material in their nature -- though some are also vital or conscious in their nature, as well.

Life forms vary according to awareness (and other things, some of them quite icky). I consider a particular life form to be defined by its awareness (in addition to other things), and awareness is not merely along for the ride. If the awareness is not present, the carcass or even living body of that entity no longer is the same thing.

Your last statement might be interpreted as saying that awareness is some kind of "ingredient" in entities that could somehow be detached from the entity and subsist on its own, as a kind of spiritual entity. This is not true. Consciousness and life are not "ingredients" or "constituents" of entities any more than matter is. They are all sets of capacities/powers that entities have.

It is certainly true that if an entity loses its capacity to do certain kinds of things, it is no longer the kind of thing that is essentially defined as being capacle of doing those things! It is still that same individual entity, but that entity is no longer the same kind of entity that it was before.

Are attributes merely along for the ride? No. But that doesn't mean that they "do" things. They are the powers/capacities by means of which entities do things. They are intimately involved in entities doing things, but attributes themselves do not do things. They are that by virtue of which entities do things. This applies just as much to matter as to consciousness or life.

Try to see this distinction: matter, life, and consciousness do not have causal efficacy (power). They are the causal efficacies (powers) of entities to do certain kinds of things.

How's that so far?

I think we have a way to go before we are on the same page!

REB

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Roger,

I don't think I made my meaning clear. I am trying to define terms before discussing. I'll give it a try with examples.

A single life form, a beaver, for example, is an entity. Correct?

A life is an entity.

This beaver has awareness and a body. The awareness is part of it, an essential attribute. The body is too. This beaver also has gray fur, while the other beavers have brown fur. The color of the fur also is an attribute, but only a nonessential one. The beaver can have a different color of fur without losing its beaver-ness. If it loses its awareness, you can no longer call it a beaver with the same meaning as before. It is a different thing - a carcass (dead beaver or catatonic beaver). It is definitely not a living healthy beaver that will cause dams to be built.

Thus to me, this awareness of the beaver is not something you can eliminate from it like you can fur color. The entity has some attributes that cannot be removed without changing the entity into something else causation-wise.

That is my starting point.

Also, one question. Where do you place will in human consciousness? (That's jumping ahead, I know.)

Michael

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I agree with Phil's comment about Dragonfly's approach to criticizing universal causality. I'm not going to stand on my head to answer his one-liner questions. However, I do have two further comments:

1. Dragonfly asked me for examples of indeterministic physics theories that were false, and rather than writing about them, I pointed to dozens of them posted on the Internet and even cited one, and he begged off because they were too long or too old. If he doesn't want to do any work on this, why should I?

2. Dragonfly then asked about quantum mechanics:

Quantum mechanics is an indeterministic theory, is it therefore false?

Its mathematical formulation is true, but its metaphysical interpretation is false. At least, any formulations of q.m. are false, if they interpret our inability to simultaneously measure a subatomic particle's position and momentum as meaning that such particles do not simultaneously have a determinate position and momentum. In other words, it is illegitimate to make inferences about the nature of reality from the limitations of human knowledge. In particular, the indeterminable is not equivalent to the indeterminate. Epistemological indeterminablism (quantum uncertainty) does not imply metaphysical indeterminism.

There are deterministic interpretations for quantum mechanics that do not require us to abandon the principle that position and momentum are co-existent physical attributes of all entities. They may have problems to work out, but they do not have the fundamental metaphysical and logical difficulties of the Copenhagen (indeterministic) interpretation of q.m.

There is an interesting parallel between the squirming of religionists to find some bastion of the miraculous, as science paints them into a smaller and smaller corner with its relentless progress in discovering the causal principles that govern the universe -- and the squirming of irrationalist physicists and philosophers to find some bastion of the a-causal. The presumption is that rational human beings will continue to understand more and more of the causal patterns and mechanisms of reality, so there will continue to be more and more desperate and virulent attempts to carve out a niche where the supernatural or brute happenstance rules. God save us from the mystics.

REB

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I agree with Phil's comment about Dragonfly's approach to criticizing universal causality. I'm not going to stand on my head to answer his one-liner questions.

If you present in your post without any explanation ex cathedra statements as if they're the ultimate truth, you may expect that people will ask you to back them up. This is a discussion forum, not a church (at least that was my impression so far, correct me if I'm wrong). It isn't necessary to write a long essay about them. A short statement would be enough; that might be the starting point for more focused questions. If you look up my contributions on different forums you'll see that I've never refused to back up my own statements. But I must say that this reaction is typical. In my experience Objectivists always avoid in discussions the fundamental questions, apparently you have to take them on faith. To borrow a metaphor: Objectivists have no problem in writing long essays about the number of angels dancing on a needle, but don't ask them whether they think that angels do exist, that kind of questions they're not prepared to answer. Objectivists always urge people to check their premises, but when it comes to checking their own premises they're less than enthusiastic.

1. Dragonfly asked me for examples of indeterministic physics theories that were false, and rather than writing about them, I pointed to dozens of them posted on the Internet and even cited one, and he begged off because they were too long or too old. If he doesn't want to do any work on this, why should I?

You make the claim that indeterministic physics theories are false. I wonder what kind of theory you have in mind and ask you to give an example of such a theory. What is your reply? That I just have to google on the words "physics" and "indeterminism". Well, I did that, and I got more than 600000 hits. I scanned a few of them, but I didn't find any mention of a specifically indeterministic physical theory. Is it strange that I'm not inclined to spend hours looking for such a mention? Well, I'm not going to do your homework for you, you make the claim, so you should be able to back it up. Sure, you do mention one specific site, an article of 54 pages. Do you really expect me to read that? Dumping tons of text in someone's lap, in effect saying: now refute this, is not the way to discuss on a forum like this.

About quantum mechanics:

Its mathematical formulation is true, but its metaphysical interpretation is false.

How can a metaphysical interpretation be false? A scientific theory may be false: you can test it in reality, and QM has passed such tests innumerable times with flying colors, not to mention its practical applications like everything that uses modern electronics or lasers. In short: it works. But what against what can we test metaphysical interpretations? That we don't like them? That they don't conform to what they've always told us?

At least, any formulations of q.m. are false, if they interpret our inability to simultaneously measure a subatomic particle's position and momentum as meaning that such particles do not simultaneously have a determinate position and momentum.

What do you exactly mean by "that such particles have a determinate position and momentum"? Did you ever think about what the exact meaning of such a statement is?

In other words, it is illegitimate to make inferences about the nature of reality from the limitations of human knowledge.

Why? What other inferences about the nature of reality can we make apart from human knowledge? Human fantasy about the lost paradise of a Newtonian world? Mystical insight?

There is an interesting parallel between the squirming of religionists to find some bastion of the miraculous, as science paints them into a smaller and smaller corner with its relentless progress in discovering the causal principles that govern the universe -- and the squirming of irrationalist physicists and philosophers to find some bastion of the a-causal. The presumption is that rational human beings will continue to understand more and more of the causal patterns and mechanisms of reality, so there will continue to be more and more desperate and virulent attempts to carve out a niche where the supernatural or brute happenstance rules. God save us from the mystics.

I think it's time to quote Rand again:

"Cosmology" has to be thrown out of philosophy. When this is done, the conflict between "rationalism" and "empiricism" will be wiped out—or, rather, the error that permitted the nonsense of such a conflict will be wiped out. ....

Now I think that he [Thales] meant, and all subsequent philosophers took it to mean, a metaphysical attempt to establish the literal nature of reality and to prove by philosophical means that everything is literally and physically made of water or that water is a kind of universal "stuff." If so, then philosophy is worse than a useless science, because it usurps the domain of physics and proposes to solve the problems of physics by some nonscientific, and therefore mystical, means. On this kind of view of philosophy, it is logical that philosophy has dangled on the strings of physics ever since the Renaissance and that every new discovery of physics has blasted philosophy sky-high, such as, for instance, the discovery of the nature of color giving a traumatic shock to philosophers, from which they have not yet recovered.

In fact, this kind of view merely means: rationalizing from an arrested state of knowledge. Thus, if in Thales' time the whole extent of physical knowledge consisted of distinguishing water from air and fire, he took this knowledge to be a final omniscience and decided on its basis that water was the primary metaphysical element. On this premise, every new step in physics has to mean a new metaphysics. The subsequent nonsense was not that empiricists rejected Thales' approach, but that they took him (and Plato) to be "rationalists," i.e., men who derived knowledge by deduction from some sort of "innate ideas," and therefore the empiricists declared themselves to be anti-rationalists.

So now you have it from the horse's mouth. Alas, this hasn't stopped her followers from Peikoff down to all the irrationalist Objectivists who, like the squirming religionists, presume, sitting in their ivory towers in an arrested state of knowledge and dreaming of a neatly ordered world that no longer exists, to tell scientists what is wrong about their theories. Is it a wonder that many scientists have a disdain for Objectivism and conclude that all that metaphysics is utter crap? God save us from the Objectivists.

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Dragonfly, one of the reasons O'ists are so long winded and write essays is because we are thinkers. We like to explore our thoughts and why we are having them. Typically when you are a writer, you will find that you start with one subject but the next thing you know you are branching off into something else and you think about that branch and explore it and it helps you understand the first thought you had better. This is called the Heirarchy of Knowledge. True O'ists do no abdicate reason.

When we write as we do, it helps us to UNDERSTAND it better. It helps us to branch off into other things (Heirarchy of Knowledge I referred to in another post) in an attempt to further our UNDERSTANDING in an attempt to further our knowledge.

This is one of the reasons Ayn Rand was such a prolific writer. She found the more she wrote the more she UNDERSTOOD. It gave her insight into her own mind and how it worked, how if affected her body, her emotions, etc.

We do not come up with one thought or question and then just leave it at that such as you refer to making it short and then wait for others to provoke more questions. We are exhaustive writers and exhaustive thinkers. Why are we this way...Because we're not depending on someone else to tell us what is right or what is wrong. We're doing it to DISCOVER our own understanding of it and to further that understanding.

Angie

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Why would you want to throw cosmology out of philosophy?

Isn't it better to look at things like this and see how they interrelate with one another? What they share?

It's interesting to look at the idea of philosophy pulling the strings of science. Interesting because I think it evolved from the times when religion controlled science. When scientific development finally got formidable, things changed. We broke into discrete units of operation, free of being interfered with. The Good (religion, philosophy) The True (science) and the Beautiful (art). They could grow undisturbed. But with the pulling apart, different problems arose.

Modernity created flatlands. Science was treated quite like a religion, one which was only what "is" without meaning. Unfortunately, science only tells us what is true. It does not tell us what something means.

My point of not wanting to throw anything out of anything is that we have had that happen already, and it was a good thing, that also created bad things. My view more that of an integrator, though.

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Roger,

Thank-you for your considered response to my thoughts and for moving my comments to the appropriate category. It sometimes feels like I am the ghost in the machine with no point of contact between the extended and the unextended. I send messages out into the void and then ask, “Is there anybody out there?” I will admit I have a tendency toward solipsism and require feedback to break the spell. There is no doubt Branden’s concept of Psychological Visibility even applies in the ethereal reality of the internet.

I was in error. Rand’s concept of causality is “entity-to-action.” When I broke free from Rand’s psychological grip almost twenty years ago, I set the goal of building my own perspective from the ground-up. I sorted out what I considered to be her basic principles and began to develop my own understanding of existence. Along the way, I found much of her view incomplete, not accounting for important elements of my experience. In some cases I had to make modifications to her(and Branden’s) ideas. In some cases I had to develop them further. In some cases I found I had to identify entirely new categories to account for the elements I had isolated in my experience.

Changing “entity-to-action” to “identity-to-action” causation resulted from a need to develop the concept of causation further. I had forgotten I changed the name of it.

The funny thing is, I think your desire to call it “entity-to-action” causation is based on similar reasoning that lead me to start calling it “identity-to-action” causation. It seems the word “entity” contains, for you, a sense of physicality.

When I started thinking about causality I would walk around with the mantra in my head: What a thing is determines what it does. (You can tell I was truly a fun guy.) I was struck by what still seems to me to be a very important question: What determines what a thing is? Put another way, in principle, what are things?

I answered this question with my own bias combined with an idea I found in NB’s books. He (and I believe Rand) says that there can be no disembodied actions. But this speaks more to the relation between an entity and its action, not what things are. What can we say about things? What is the nature of Identity?

I had decided at ten years old that I was an atheist. As an adult, I did not believe in ghosts or magic. I had a bias against the idea of any dimensions beyond the three spacial and one time dimensions. I had a suspicion (and still do) about the reality of the concept of singularities– the point at which all physical laws break down. I decided that whatever things are, they must, at some scale, be extended in three dimensional space and have duration in time. Ultimately, things must be physical and they must interact via physical contact. (Note: this is not intended as an argument for this point of view. It is merely an account of how I originally arrived at this perspective.)

I use the term “Identity” because it is a name that more properly represents what I mean. As I have said before, I play with causality in my imagination. I build models of existence. It is a hobby. It is a passion. It is the foundation of much of what I write. Having well defined concepts of identity and causality makes for a very powerful tool in shaping one’s model of existence. Lacking well defined concepts of identity and causality results in the mixed bag of personal metaphysics, epistemological principles, ethical principles, and political principles we see in individuals today.

If my statement of Identity is:

What a thing is is determined by the actions and interactions of its physical components,

and we grant that:

What a thing is determines what it does,

then my statement of Causality becomes:

What a thing does is determined by the actions and interactions of its physical components.

I found this made for a much better guide in the development of my causal models of existence. I must point out that this is not the statement of Identity and Causality I work with today because I found it did not account for and integrate certain existents. However, I think you can understand why I call it “Identity-to-Action” causation.

Paul Mawdsley

Just a fun guy having fun with ideas.

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Michael, you wrote:

I don't think I made my meaning clear. I am trying to define terms before discussing. I'll give it a try with examples.  

A single life form, a beaver, for example, is an entity. Correct?  

A life is an entity.  

This beaver has awareness and a body. The awareness is part of it, an essential attribute. The body is too. This beaver also has gray fur, while the other beavers have brown fur. The color of the fur also is an attribute, but only a nonessential one. The beaver can have a different color of fur without losing its beaver-ness. If it loses its awareness, you can no longer call it a beaver with the same meaning as before. It is a different thing - a carcass (dead beaver or catatonic beaver). It is definitely not a living healthy beaver that will cause dams to be built.  

Thus to me, this awareness of the beaver is not something you can eliminate from it like you can fur color. The entity has some attributes that cannot be removed without changing the entity into something else causation-wise.  

That is my starting point.

It's OK to say that "a life" (meaning: a living being) is an entity. But don't say "life is an entity." That leads straight to saying "consciousness is an entity," which is the old Idealist fallacy of treating spirit or mind or consciousness as though it were some kind of entity (maybe even "more real" than the body). Instead, say "a consciousness is an entity," in the sense that a conscious being is an entity. That way you keep the connection in your mind between life or consciousness as attributes of the entities that are living and conscious.

I agree with the rest of your discussion. (And I chuckled at being reminded of John Cleese's routine on Monty Python about the dead parrot. :-)

Also, one question. Where do you place will in human consciousness? (That's jumping ahead, I know.)

Michael, my first published journal article in 1975 (Reason Papers no. 1) was about the mind-body problem, and in it, I defined will in this way in this context. (Please forgive the length of the quote.) And pay particular attention to paragraphs 11, 16, 17, and 18 for the (contextualized) answer to your question.

V. Mind, Self, Will, and "Freedom."

 

We have established that the mind, considered as activity or process, is not a set of mental processes distinct from a set of accompanying physical brain processes. Instead, it is that set of physical brain processes, viewed introspectively.

 

From the standpoint not of activity, but of capacity to act, we also employ the term "mind" in common parlance, as if it were a capacity distinct from the capacity of the brain to carry out its processes. But the mind, qua mental capacity, is merely the capacity of the brain to carry out mental brain processes. As such, it is one and the same as the brain's capacity for carrying out physical brain processes of a sufficiently high degree of complexity and/or intensity that they take on a mental aspect.

 

The direct experience of the brain's capacity to carry out mental brain processes is the awareness of one's ego. That is, one's ego is one's capacity to carry out mental processes, as viewed introspectively. One is aware of a feeling that one can carry out certain mental brain processes.

 

From such direct, introspective data--the awareness of one's ego--one eventually infers conceptually that there is a persisting, abiding capacity of the organism to carry out such mental processes. This inference is how one arrives at the concept of mind qua capacity.

 

Entailed by the awareness of the ego, moreover, is the awareness of self--i.e. of one's self. The concept of 'self' per se does not necessarily imply a self-conscious being. It merely implies a being which is the object of some action which that same being has taken.

 

When the action is introspection, a mental brain process that is cognitively directed toward another mental brain process in the same organism, then that organism is being aware of its self. It is aware that, as an organism, it is introspectively viewing that same organism while it is carrying out another mental brain process.

 

So self is not some mysterious personalizing accompaniment of the human organism. It is the human organism, considered insofar as it is both the agent and the object of some action. Self-awareness (awareness by an organism of that same organism) occurs when that action is introspection.

 

One's conscious self is the human organism that one is, considered insofar as it is both the agent and object of consciousness (mental brain processes). Thus, one's ego is to one's conscious self as a human organism's mental capacities are to that organism--namely, in a relation of capacity to organism, known directly in the former instance, and inferentially in the latter.

 

Like the ego, the will also exists in a specific relation to one's conscious self, and more generally to oneself as a conscious, minded organism. This can best be seen by considering the nature and cause of human action, in the context of the specific way in which it exemplifies the action-principles common to all living organisms.

 

Like all living organisms, a human being "...is a complex integrate of hierarchically organized structures and functions...controlled in part by their own regulators and in part by regulators on higher levels of the hierarchy." In order to remain alive, an organism's component parts must "function in such a way as to preserve the integrity of that structure..." This function is self-generated, generated by the organism and its components--not by the outside physical factors impinging upon it. [28]

 

The continued life--i.e., the continued structural and functional integrity--of the organism, is the principle which is the ultimate regulator and director of the organism's life functions. In other words, an organism's actions are self-regulated toward its continued existence. [29]

 

Thus, life is an attribute of certain entities: the capacity to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated (and regulated) activity--activity which results in the continuance of the structural-functional integrity of those entities, and which is caused by those entities (and directed toward that end).

 

A distinction is implicit here between the capacity to act so that a certain goal is achieved, and the capacity to direct that action, monitoring it and correcting for deviation from (or obstacles to) the goal of that action. These capacities for self-generated and self-regulated action are not, however, separate capacities for separate types of action, but rather two analytically distinguishable aspects of one and the same capacity and action. (This in turn indicates how the nature of the will is to be characterized shortly.)

 

The higher the complexity of the function carried out, the higher the complexity of structure needed to carry it out, in order that all the subunits required to participate in the function have the necessary regulation. A network to carry signals to "trigger" activities on lower levels and to "monitor" data from those lower levels, a network including the brain and nervous system, is needed. The higher the level of complexity and/or intensity of brain processes involved in organismic activity, the more likely that they will take on a mental, or conscious aspect. [30]

 

At the perceptual level of consciousness, one is aware of alternatives on the range-of-the-moment, but one is bound by one's pleasure-pain mechanism, in the selection from among those alternatives. At the conceptual level, though, one is aware of long-range as well as short-range alternatives and their consequences. One is able to deliberate on the merits of the various alternatives beyond just the immediate pleasure or pain they yield, and to make one's choice on such a basis.

 

One is also aware that one has the power or capacity to make such a deliberative (rather than merely appetitive) choice. One is aware of a feeling that one can regulate certain brain processes--i.e., make a choice of which action to take. This direct experience of the brain's capacity to regulate mental brain processes, and related bodily actions, is referred to as one's will.

 

One's will, then, is one's capacity to regulate one's mental processes viewed introspectively. One's will is the regulative aspect of one's ego. The awareness of one's ego is inseparable from the awareness of one's will. For every consciously directed action that a man is actually capable of taking, he implicitly or explicitly is aware that "I can do this, if I want to (will to)."

 

From such direct, introspective data (the awareness of one's will), one eventually infers conceptually that there is a persisting, abiding capacity of one's organism to regulate its mental processes. This is how one arrives at the concept of volition (qua capacity). Volition is the regulative aspect of mind.

 

It was noted above that one's ego was to one's conscious self as mind was to a "minded" organism--the relation being capacity to organism (as known directly and by inference, respectively). The same is true from the standpoint of the regulative concepts just discussed. One's will is to the conscious, willing self as volition is to a volitionally "minded" organism.

REB

P.S. -- To access the full article, clink on this link:

http://members.aol.com/REBissell/indexmm3.html

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Dragonfly, I completely agree with your quote from Rand's journals. However, you have to realize that she was railing against philosophy's historic obsession with doing positive cosmology -- i.e., with trying to rationalistically dictate what everything has to be, without knowing the empirical facts to back it up. Obviously, Rand wanted to get philosophy out of the job of dictating what has to be. But this is not the same as dictating what what is has to be.

Rand, like Aristotle, also wanted metaphysics to focus squarely on what anything that is has to be -- i.e., what is the most fundamental fact about anything that exists, Being qua Being? Namely, that it is what it is. And that it cannot be what it is and what it is not at the same time and in the same respect.

As a result, the one thing she did not, and would never, give up in metaphysics is the Law of Identity, and its corollary the Law of Contradiction. (As you will note by referring to the same passage from which you quoted.) While kicking positive cosmology out of metaphysics, she insisted that metaphysics retain "veto power" over any theory (let alone cosmology) that posited contradictory notions. That is why Branden had a field day slashing his way through modern scientific anti-concepts such as "instinct," and why he insisted that we empirically study matter and consciousness as attributes of entities, rather than rationalistically asserting one or the other to be primary, or the "only real" thing in reality, as did the Materialists and Idealists. (I am an Entity-ist, by the way. I hold that entities are primary, but that matter and consciousness also exist -- as attributes and powers of entities. And I get this from observation and inference, not desire or dogma.)

This is not "religion" or metaphysics "dogmatically" imposing itself on empirical science. It is a brute fact that all knowledge of reality, including all science, must be consistent with. You cannot posit a violation of the Law of Contradiction without relying on that Law in order to do so. This is what Aristotle called Reaffirmation Through Denial, and which Rand and Branden developed into their discussions of the Stolen Concept Fallacy. It is an irrefutable, inescapable foundation block on which all science rests. Science is impossible without it. And you can be sure that any science that tries to do without it, even for a moment, is at best in fundamental error, and at worst in the hands of a person trying to destroy human knowledge and life. (Error of knowledge vs. error of morality aka deliberate evil.)

The same applies to the Law of Causality, since it is (as Aristotle and Rand et al showed) the application of the Law of Identity to the fact of change. There is no metaphysical or logical crawl space for a-causality to slip in -- only in the mind of someone who wants to escape or misrepresent the facts as being other than they are. Religionists do this, and some modern physicists do this. But it doesn't work. And metaphysics, as Rand minimally conceived it (again, see her journal entry), is ideally suited to be the watchdog of philosophy of science.

REB

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This is not "religion" or metaphysics "dogmatically" imposing itself on empirical science. It is a brute fact that all knowledge of reality, including all science, must be consistent with. You cannot posit a violation of the Law of Contradiction without relying on that Law in order to do so. This is what Aristotle called Reaffirmation Through Denial, and which Rand and Branden developed into their discussions of the Stolen Concept Fallacy. It is an irrefutable, inescapable foundation block on which all science rests. Science is impossible without it. And you can be sure that any science that tries to do without it, even for a moment, is at best in fundamental error, and at worst in the hands of a person trying to destroy human knowledge and life. (Error of knowledge vs. error of morality aka deliberate evil.)

The law of identity and the law of contradiction may be at the basis of all logical reasoning, but they don't tell us anything about the real world. That is the problem with Objectivists: they think that they can make statements about the world by quoting those "laws" as if these support their viewpoints. That is impossible however, due to the tautological character of those "laws".

I challenge you to tell me where and how quantum mechanics violates the law of identity or the law of contradiction.

The same applies to the Law of Causality, since it is (as Aristotle and Rand et al showed) the application of the Law of Identity to the fact of change.

Really? From Galt's speech: "the law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature, which is a classic example of a non sequitur. The funny thing is that the logical conclusion from that argument would be that the human brain is also a deterministic system and that she therefore should embrace compatibilism, which she denies vehemently, however. So her argument is in fact contradictory.

There is no metaphysical or logical crawl space for a-causality to slip in -- only in the mind of someone who wants to escape or misrepresent the facts as being other than they are.

Who is misrepresenting the facts? The facts are that we observe acausal events. That may go against our intuition, but intuition is not always a reliable guide. There isn't any a priori reason that acausal events couldn't exist, there is merely wishful thinking and that's where religionists and Objectivists meet. Both want to cling to a worldview that is outdated, both claim to know the "truth". But the truth about the world isn't found in the church or in the ivory tower of the philosopher, only in the laboratory of the scientist.

Religionists do this, and some modern physicists do this. But it doesn't work. And metaphysics, as Rand minimally conceived it (again, see her journal entry), is ideally suited to be the watchdog of philosophy of science.

That pretentious watchdog should first learn a few facts, its scientific knowledge is a few centuries behind. Objectivism is despite its grandiose claims in fact deeply anti-scientific, and it comes as no surprise that it's also a hotbed of crackpot theories.

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I am glad that this discussion is back to civil.

From my observations over the last year, people who discuss this subject within an Objectivist orbit usually end up calling each other names. This has happened to Dragonfly (from dogmatic Objectivists) and this has happened to Roger (from both dogmatic anti-Objectivists and from dogmatic Objectivists). One quality I particularly like about both of them is that neither are dogmatic and they both take their reasoning very seriously.

So I please ask all to remember that those who post here usually have been subjected to vile and obnoxious slurs elsewhere for what they think. Nobody can receive that kind of attack without becoming resentful (I know I can't), so when a similar disagreement like what was experienced elsewhere occurs, it is only natural for a person to imagine that the obscenities are in the wings waiting to be hurled.

With this in mind, my take on Dragonfly is that he is extremely intelligent and well meaning (with the added value of painting). My take on Roger is that he is extremely intelligent and well meaning (with the added value of playing trombone).

Qualifying our terms sometimes helps because of the context of these past experiences. When Roger says something like, "only in the mind of someone who wants to escape or misrepresent the facts as being other than they are," I don't think he is talking about a person studying quantum physics with an open mind to see what does exist. I think he is talking about dogmatic people (and some who study quantum physics can get very dogmatic, smarmy and so forth - we have all met them). And when Dragonfly belittles Objectivists and Objectivism, I have had to hold onto my own feelings sometimes. After all, I am an Objectivist. But it is clear as day to me that he is not talking about me (nor about others around here who call themselves Objectivists). He is talking about dogmatic Objectivists and a dogmatic interpretation of Objectivism - especially in light of how he has been treated elsewhere at Objectivist places. We have all met those kinds too. (And even when he talks negative about Rand, I understand that he is talking at that moment only against her side where she was unclear or wrong, but emphatic, thus giving the impression of dogma. I understand that he admires the rest of her achievements.)

One of the purposes of this site is to chew on Objectivist ideas - and no idea is so sacred that it cannot be checked and validated. By close examination, we hone and polish and correct and add to premises. This is good for everybody.

Sorry for the parentheses, but Roger and Dragonfly just gave a wonderful example of how to disagree, start to fall into acrimony, then back up and stay on the ideas. I wanted to highlight this. This is what is going to change the world for the better, not the insults of fanatics.

(Believe it or not, our little website is starting to make a positive impact at other places. I have to thank both Roger and Dragonfly - and all the others - for their contribution to that.)

Michael

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I'll get to the will thing a little later. For now, I have two things on my mind:

Roger, you stated:

It's OK to say that "a life" (meaning: a living being) is an entity. But don't say "life is an entity."

And you stated that only entities have attributes (did I get that right?). If so, do you consider reproduction, birth, growth, aging, metabolism and death to be attributes? These are present in all life. Accepting that they have been present in all single living entities up to now, but that is only because of random coincidence, really stretches the concept for me.

There is a reason the concept "life" exists. This concept is formed by the same manner as all concepts, isolating distinguishing characteristics (attributes) and eliminating the measurements. Am I missing something here?

Dragonfly,

I really need to read Popper. I am reading a book critical of Objectivism at the present by Greg Nyquist, Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature. In the introduction, he claims Popper as one of his philosophic bases. He also states that induction does not exist (basing that on Popper also). I find this line of reasoning strange, yet I need to read more about it. Still, it cuts to the core of axioms.

One of the normal complaints I observe from people who have read Popper is that a fundamental axiom does not tell you anything about what exists. The more I think about this, the more I see it as blaming an axiom for not being more than it is. The purpose of an axiom is merely to validate the interaction between our conceptual faculty and external reality. It does nothing more than that. It basically states that our mind is competent to know things and gives a starting point.

The logic of an axiom always boils down to itself, since the existence of logic itself is an axiom. That is why it is acceptable to say that you cannot prove an axiom because you need to accept it to try to prove the opposite. You need logic to prove that logic is not valid, thus it can't be done. Faith is not logical because you can at least presume the opposite and still be within a logical framework.

Axioms are the starting point of logic, not the starting point of reality.

I fully agree with you that way too many Objectivists accept axioms on faith. They use axioms for arguments where they are not appropriate and, given the nastiness of much of the discourse, they practically advertise that they don't really know what they are talking about.

But you have to admit that if things cannot be known validly, how can you observe them and gather information? Popper's notion of establishing truth through falsifying sort of falls apart if there is no standard for being able to determine what is false. Thus his system needs axioms too.

So, am I missing anything here?

Michael

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But now comes Rand's sleight of hand and huge equivocation which all Objectivists seem to swallow uncritically (which I find really amazing): the implication that "caused and determined" must mean that the moment of decay is exactly determined. But that is a non sequitur, it's an unwarranted switching from a general relationship (atom - decay - alpha particle) to a detailed mechanism. Logic reasoning can't tell us anything about that, we can only observe what happens. And our observations tell us that the moment of decay is not determined; it may happen the next second but it may also happen in ten billion years. The only thing we can determine is the probability that the atom will decay in a certain time interval. This fact doesn't violate any law of logics, it is the nature of the uranium atom that the moment of decay is unpredictable, it does not act in contradiction to its nature. Rand's trick boils down to the argument that we should conclude from a general connection between entities and actions that the physical world is deterministic, which is a classic example of a non sequitur. The funny thing is that the logical conclusion from that argument would be that the human brain is also a deterministic system and that she therefore should embrace compatibilism, which she denies vehemently, however. So her argument is in fact contradictory.

I haven't had time the last several days to read this list, and am just catching up to the causality discussion -- though I must now discontinue reading in mid-stream to again leave home for the evening.

Rapidly, however, I would like to enter for the record that I agree at least with Dragonfly's comment above -- except I wouldn't universalize it to "all" Objectivists. The description is applicable to a great many Objectivists. And I'd like to add, for the record, that despite my presence on this and other lists identified as Objectivist lists, I do not now consider nor have I ever considered myself an Objectivist. (And I do not swallow Rand's comment uncritically; I've always been aware that it was (a) imprecise and (b) led to contradiction with her views on volition.)

As to the anti-science characteristic which Dragonfly notes in Objectivists, I think that's true of a lot of Objectivists. Rand I think wasn't anti-science but she wasn't scientifically knowledgeable -- and she did have this view that modern physics must be corrupt. (See, e.g., the little story I told about an exchange between her and Larry. There were other occasions on which she exhibited this same attitude.)

In a rush ---

Ellen

___

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One of the normal complaints I observe from people who have read Popper is that a fundamental axiom does not tell you anything about what exists.

For the record: I've never read Popper, I just make it all up myself.

But you have to admit that if things cannot be known validly, how can you observe them and gather information? Popper's notion of establishing truth through falsifying sort of falls apart if there is no standard for being able to determine what is false. Thus his system needs axioms too.

But I don't deny the validity of logic, I only say that you can't derive knowledge about the world by logical reasoning alone. I see no problem in the determining what is false: your theory makes a prediction, if you do this then that will happen. If then "that" doesn't happen when you do "this", your theory is falsified. A nice example is Blondlot's theory of N-rays. His theory was that there existed some until then unknown kind of radiation which had some specific features. For example: the N-rays were refracted by an aluminium prism which produced a spectrum that he claimed to be able to observe (as small light effects in certain materials in the dark). The skeptical physicist Wood who visited Blondlot in his laboratory at a certain moment surreptitiously removed the aluminium prism. But Blondlot still could see the spectrum (or he thought he did). This falsified Blondlot's theory, as according to the theory the spectrum should have disappeared when the prism was removed (this particular prediction was probably never explicitly made, but it was implied by the theory). So his whole theory of N-rays was shot down and the obvious conclusion was that the N-rays didn't exist at all, except in the imagination of Blondlot and his collaborators. In fact the theory was falsified a second time, when Blondlot's assistant saw that Wood was monkeying with the prism. The assistant thought Wood had removed the prism, but in fact Wood had it just put back in place. Nevertheless the assistant claimed he couldn't see any spectrum then, while it should have been there according to the theory.

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Dragonfly,

I only say that you can't derive knowledge about the world by logical reasoning alone.

I'll certainly agree with this. If there is no interaction at all between the brain and the external world through the senses, then logical reasoning will not derive much.

However, if logic itself is not valid when you look at stuff, then... then... then...

?????

That's where axioms come in. Logic has to be valid to be used with any kind of value.

I will also admit that Ayn Rand derived a large number of her premises from mostly logical thinking. Still, as starting points, even when she was wrong (for example, claiming that she could control and account for all of her emotions through conscious thinking), it was a different kind of approach that I find valuable to reflect on and test.

(btw - Where Rand was wrong with the conscious programming of the subconscious was with the word "all." Many emotions and even involuntary muscle reactions can be controlled by will - such as specialized people lowering their own heartbeat rate through meditation - but not all. Also, I know of no case where a person thought himself to death by mentally stopping his vital processes, but I know of many with psychosomatic illnesses.)

The interesting part is when a consciousness looks inward at its own thinking and awareness processes. It is focusing awareness on what exists as "external reality," i.e., itself. It becomes both looker and looked at.

I wonder if a conceptual mind is the only one to be able to do that. I know that dogs and cats dream, so their consciousness is doing something more than just automatically responding to their environment.

Michael

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Dragonfly,

Lower your guns. Let's stay with what we say, not start taking offense at what we imagine is implied. (What we say is already difficult enough to communicate.)

I merely wanted to emphasize the role of axioms since this seems to be the main point of conflict.

You might be surprised at how many take the issues of axioms too far, in one direction (dogma) or the other (more dogma). So my thinking is that if we define not only what an axiom is, but why it is, we have a solid base for continuing a discussion of determinism.

Michael

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