In the post Stochastic Sempiternity, commenter Bedarz Iliaci was uncomfortable with the notion that nature proceeds stochastically, as I there suggested. He insisted that the world must evolve deterministically in order to make any sense, and especially if rational agents such as we are to make sense of it, or of our acts in relation thereto; so that the irruption therein of inputs from rational free agents such as ourselves – and, ergo, the source of our freedom – must be to us ultimately mysterious, as flowing into the rational, determined world from some supra-mundane realm. I paraphrase him, hoping he will correct me if I have got him wrong in any important way.
Mr. Iliaci suggested that, in order to see better what he was talking about, I might profitably refer to some arguments of Fr. Stanley Jaki in his Miracles and Physics. This I did, and can now say that, compelling as Fr. Jaki’s arguments are, they do not seem to me to contradict my suggestion that nature proceeds stochastically.
Jaki excoriates the notion that the Uncertainty Relation of quantum mechanics can open room in the natural world for the causal effects of free rational agents. He argues that our inability to predict quantal events with perfect certainty does not at all justify an inference to the notion that such happenings are somewhat undetermined with respect to their causal antecedents, and therefore ontologically free. Furthermore, we ought to be cautious in making such an inference, for it would lead to a conception of nature as radically disordered at the most fundamental level.
I think Jaki is right. The inference to ontology from epistemology is unwarranted, even if it is in practical terms insuperable.
But I don’t think it matters.
The suggestion that nature proceeds stochastically nowise relies upon any ontological wiggle room that quantum mechanics might have opened up.
Events are exhaustively determined by their precursors, or they are not. There are no other alternatives. If they are thus determined, then no event can be ever other than what it is, there is no such thing as contingency – thus, notice, no such thing as causal relation – and there is no possibility of free action of any kind. That’s just all there is to it.
In that case, our existence qua free rational agents is simply an illusion. Cogito, sed non sum. But what doesn’t exist cannot do anything, including thinking. So if we don’t actually exist, we can’t think that we don’t exist.
Thus to think that you are not free – or to think anything else – you must exist and be free.
I agree with Mr. Iliaci that free actions cannot be rational except in respect to some orderly context. To act in respect to a world in such a way as to be coordinated thereto, that world must first be ordered in its own right, and prior to such acts. That is to say, simply, that it must be certainly in and of itself wholly definite, wholly one thing rather than any other. Only thus could it even be possible for us to err in our understanding of what it is. And for a thing to be wholly definite, it must be immutable.
The world in respect to which our free actions are ordered, then, must present itself to us at every instant in the first place as wholly determined.
This is not controversial. It is only to say that at any given moment, our past must be really and truly past.
How then can this present moment of our life be free? There is only one way: if as still becoming, and thus not yet fully definite – i.e., not yet fully actual – it is not yet a part of the wholly determined, wholly actual world. Until an event has completed the process of coming into being, it does not yet actually exist to have causal relations with its actual past. Only once it is actual can it have actual relations. Once it has finished becoming, and is fully definite, then and only then is it wholly determined in respect to that past. Then, and only then, can we see how it is completely and rationally ordered to its past. Then, and only then, is it completely a part of its world.
This present moment, then, is undetermined by its precursors because it is not yet fully coherent with its world.
None of the foregoing would change if quantum mechanics were someday completed. So the claim that becoming proceeds stochastically does not at all depend upon quantum mechanics, or upon any other scientific theory. Yet it is interesting – and, perhaps, indicative – that quantum mechanics seems (at least for the moment) to agree with – that is to say, does not contradict – the notion that becoming does not proceed deterministically.
All of which is by way of saying simply that I am pretty sure that Mr. Iliaci agrees with me, and I with him: the source of our freedom must be to us ultimately mysterious, as flowing into the rational, determined world from some supra-mundane realm.