Citation for this page in APA citation style.           Close


Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
George Berkeley
Isaiah Berlin
Richard J. Bernstein
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
Michael Burke
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
Sam Harris
William Hasker
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
C. Lloyd Morgan
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Alasdair MacIntyre
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
Thomas Nagel
Otto Neurath
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Karl Popper
Huw Price
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
Isabelle Stengers
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf


Michael Arbib
Walter Baade
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Lüder Deecke
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Philipp Frank
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Donald Hebb
Martin Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
John Herschel
Art Hobson
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Martin J. Klein
Simon Kochen
Hans Kornhuber
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
John McCarthy
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Abraham Pais
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
John Stachel
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
Max Tegmark
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Vlatko Vedral
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek
Fritz Zwicky


Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
Henry Margenau

Henry Margenau was contributing to the problem of "Probability and Causality in Quantum Physics" in the philosophical journal Monist as a fresh Ph.D. from Yale University in the early 1930's (Monist, 42, 1932, p.161).

In 1937, Margenau wrote a seminal article on quantum theory, entitled "Critical Points in Modern Physical Theory" (Philosophy of Science, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Jul., 1937), pp. 337-370)
This work was cited by Pascual Jordan a dozen years later at a symposium organized by Margenau.

Margenau pointed to significant agreement with regard to the central axioms of quantum theory, and that "the ambiguities affect only their philosophical interpretation, a field in which differences of opinion may at present be honestly entertained." He notes that quantum theory establishes a "one-one correspondence, not between states and observed properties, but between states and probability distributions of observed properties."

Margenau says that this makes quantum theory a "non-causal" theory. "If causality were to be defined as residing in a unique transition between state and observation, then the description to which this axiom gives rise would have to be termed non-causal." But it is statistically causal and in macroscopic cases there is an "adequate" determinism.

Margenau distinguished between what he termed the "objective" (ontological) view and the "subjective" (epistemological) view of quantum mechanics, associating the latter with much talk by Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg about the observer and the observer's knowledge.

Bohr and Heisenberg mention frequently the conflict between observer and observed object with their unavoidable interaction and thereby presumably express themselves in favor of an objective world, the properties of which are to be described according to the first [objective] view. But this last diagnosis may be in error...

In common language, which after the foregoing orienting excursions may perhaps be used without fear of misinterpretation, the distinction in question is simply that between physical objects and the observer's knowledge about physical objects. In classical mechanics the distinction was extremely sharp, and it was supposed that the two, besides being generically different as logical entities, were independent even in a physical sense. States clearly referred to the objects themselves, positions and momenta were their direct properties. The objectivity of states had its culminating expression in the equations of motion, which were understood to imply actual space-time propagation of systems. This propagation took place according to rigid laws independently of the observer's knowledge.

Such an extreme view regarding the independent objectivity of physical states cannot be carried over into quantum mechanics; there must at least be a shift of emphasis. One of the great discoveries at the beginning of the present era in physics was the recognition that objects and knowledge are related, because the classical notion of ideally unlimited accuracy of experimental devices failed and made classical knowledge intrinsically impossible. Hence if the view of objectivity be adopted, its classical meaning must be modified to this extent. It goes without saying that states must also be stripped of all impediments pertaining to sensual perception, and thought of entirely in abstracto. Psychological objections to this procedure, frequently raised by members of the older school, are of no particular moment in this connection, for it is not a matter of convenience, but one of logic which concerns us here.

The objective view of quantum mechanical states is enormously strengthened by the fact that states develop in time according to a definite differential equation (Schr6dinger's) which has a form not unlike the equations of motion in classical physics. It is true that the simple interpretation of spatio-temporal propagation presents its difficulties or is at any rate no longer intuitively direct, but the fact remains that there are determinate changes in time which are difficult to correlate with simultaneous changes in the observer's knowledge because they seem enforced dynamically and not psychologically.

There are further points which may be cited as evidence for the plausibility of the objective view. We have seen (third axiom) that quantum mechanics makes very drastic positive predictions about possible experience, predictions which do not resemble laws of thought and give an impression of utter independence of human knowledge. To be sure this axiom has little to do with the new formalism concerns itself with matters that are thoroughly factual in a sense distinct from mere knowledge. And if this is true there seems to be little motive for insisting that another concept, that of state, should deal not with factual objects but with our modes of awareness.

It was pointed out that classical mechanics in all its structure suggests the objective view. Now it is possible to show that, if applied to large scale bodies, quantum mechanics leads to the same physical consequences as does the classical theory. The latter may be said to be the analytical continuation of the former in the field of ordinary experience. This is felt to be a very happy circumstance which bespeaks the unity of physics and encourages the hope that some day a universal theory may be achieved, a hope which at present animates the researches of Einstein. In view of the analytical smoothness with which the two disciplines join it might seem unwise to maintain in one a fundamental attitude which has no place in the other and which would constitute a conceptual break at the passage from one to the other. This argument, too, would suggest an adoption of the objective view. But it should be observed that the points here presented can aim at no more than plausibility, and do not render the opposite view basically untenable.

The opposite view, to be called for brevity the subjective view, is the one which holds that state functions describe our knowledge of physical systems. It is psychologically motivated by the significant observation that the independence of classical states is a fallacy. It springs from the desire of making a clean break with erroneous notions and therefore emphasizes an opposite extreme. Let us first see what can possibly be meant by it. Obviously it can not mean that the state function describes the observer's awareness, his momentary state of mind, and the changes in it which occur in time. It is clear that all this depends on factors far removed from the field of physics. Quantum mechanics certainly does not have the aim of converting physics into a highly expressionistict ype of psychology. Although proponentso f this view often employ ambiguous language, what they wish their states to represent is not actual knowledge but potential knowledge. The state function is to be regarded as a convenient carrier, a symbol for the sum total of all that knowledge which the speculative observer can possibly accumulate, at any instant, with the use of all his resources. It may coincide with that knowledge at certain moments of very acute awareness, that is, when the investigator has made all possible measurements and all calculations pertaining thereto. No one can deny that this view, even in its extreme, has in it a trace of objectivism because of the admission that states refer to potential and not to actual knowledge, and this is a feature which makes it slightly inconvenient to have to defend the subjective position; it demands constant vigilance lest an inadvertant lapse should contradict the initial tenet. The chief virtue of the standpoint under discussion is that it provides complete safety against positivistic attacks. Its tenant can justly pride himself in being under no obligation to transcendental agencies for transmitting his knowledge, for he deals with nothing but knowledge which he may believe if he wishes to be generated within his mind. He may wonder perhaps why the laws which govern the evolution of potential knowledge operate with almost dynamic regularity, but this is after all no greater a miracle than the existence of rigid laws in an objective world. The author has not succeeded in bringing to light any further merits of the latter, subjective view. While admitting its possibility on logical grounds, he wishes to record his preference for the former. This preference is partly based on reasons so far presented, partly on considerations of the meaning of probability peculiar to the two attitudes which will now be discussed. The contrast between objectivity and subjectivity of states has an interesting analogue in the theory of probability,6 which, as the reader very likely recalls, can be formulated either as an empirical frequency theory or as a subjective ("a priori") discipline. In the former case, probability is defined as the limit, with increasing number of trials, of the relative frequencies of an occurrence. 8 Probability can be ascertained only empirically, by con-

In 1949, Margenau organized a symposium on fundamental questions in quantum theory. The following questions were sent to each of the invited contributors of the symposium:

la) What is a physical system, and what is meant by the state of a physical system in classical physics and in quantum mechanics?

lb) What philosophical clarification in the concept of a state has resulted from quantum theory?

2a) What is the status of particles in quantum mechanics?

2b) What philosophical changes of the particle concept, and in the concept of mechanism, have resulted from the quantum theory?

3a) In what ways has "causal explanation" been modified by modern quantum theory?

3b) How do these changes affect the philosophic problem of determinism?

Pascual Jordan wrote perhaps the most important response to Margenau's questions in his essay "On the process of measurement in quantum mechanics," (Philosophy of Science, 16, 1949, pp. 269-278 (PDF)

Margenau was a close colleague, perhaps more a disciple, of the philosopher Ernst Cassirer and generally claimed to agree with Cassirer's thoughts on causality and determinism. When Cassirer died, Margenau was preparing an appendix for the 1956 English translation of Determinism and Indeterminism in Modern Physics. The appendix was to bring the question of causality up to date as of 1956.
A dozen years later, Margenau was invited to give the Wimmer Lecture at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania. His topic was Scientific Indeterminism and Human Freedom, and instead of holding to Cassirer's view "that it would be fatal for ethics to tie itself to and, as it were, fling itself into the arms of a limitless indeterminism," Margenau embraced indeterminism as the first step toward a solution of the problem of human freedom.
Margenau lamented that "it forces us to part company with many distinguished moral philosophers who see the autonomy of ethics threatened when a relation of any sort is assumed to exist between that august discipline and science." He clearly means his longtime mentor. "Ethics, says Cassirer, should not be forced to build its nests in the gaps of physical causation, but he fails to tell where else it should build them, if at all." (p.71)
In 1982, with co-author Lawrence LeShan, called his model of free will a "solution" to what had heretofore had been seen as mere "paradox and illusion."
No one will deny that an interaction between mind and body takes place whenever we consciously perform a movement. We now make the additional affirmation that our will — the core of consciousness, wherein the self proclaims its being most emphatically — interacts with the body in a special way when it makes a decision and deliberately activates the body. In pre-quantum days, when philosophy was dominated by Laplacian determinism, in which a state classically defined without recourse to probabilities rigorously entailed all future states (of an isolated system), free will was a paradox and an illusion. That is to say, either it could not be explained, despite the immediate, empirically accurate evidence that affirmed it, or its affirmation was false. This situation has changed by virtue of the discovery of quantum mechanics. The new discipline provides. the possibility of a solution by removing the impediment of old-style determinism.

Our thesis is that quantum mechanics leaves our body, our brain, at any moment in a state with numerous (because of its complexity we might say innumerable) possible futures, each with a predetermined probability. Freedom involves two components: chance (existence of a genuine set of alternatives) and choice. Quantum mechanics provides the chance, and we shall argue that only the mind can make the choice by selecting (not energetically enforcing) among the possible future courses.
(Einstein's Space and Van Gogh's Sky. p.240)

For Teachers
For Scholars

Human Freedom (section 5 from) Scientific Indeterminism and Human Freedom, Wimmer Lecture XX, 1968
In the first three sections of this lecture I have sketched the determinism of classical physics and the indeterminism of present science. The latter was not recognized until the present century. The problem of freedom, however, has been with us since the dawn of philosophy, and it behooves us now to follow up the allusions at the beginning of section 1 and comment on the uneasy union between deterministic science and freedom-conscious moral philosophy which existed throughout the centuries that preceded ours.

A systematic review of all the devices whereby philosophers have tried to harmonize causality and freedom is impossible here. A sketch of three of them must suffice. One, which has the authority of Spinoza and some modern theologians, invokes a distinction between inward and outward experiences. Freedom is a phenomenon of consciousness of which one becomes aware by introspection. Determinism regulates processes from without. A stone in flight, said Spinoza, if it were awakened to consciousness, would deem itself free to move along its predetermined path; it would feel it had chosen its trajectory. The difference between determinism and freedom has been likened to two seemingly contradictory properties of physical objects: The windshield of a car is concave when seen from the inside, convex from the outside. This explanation, in spite of its allegorical appeal, nevertheless leaves freedom in an unsatisfactory state, for when all is said and done it remains a psychological illusion.

Next is a thesis which accounts for freedom by an appeal to ignorance. An omniscient being is not free, since knowing what happens excludes all choice in situations which otherwise permit it. The example sometimes cited is that of a child which is given a choice between a dish of spinach and a piece of pie. His mother, knowing that he dislikes spinach, knows the outcome, concludes therefore that he has no choice, while the child believes he is facing a genuine alternative. It is the limitation of his knowledge about himself which gives him the sense of being free. Again, it is difficult to see how this kind of reasoning explains any more than one's feeling of freedom, not its actual existence.

Last is a view which is found in the writings of Kant and developed in detail to fit modern science by Cassirer. Their philosophy, called transcendental idealism, regards causality as a category of human understanding, a necessary form in which all knowledge of events must be cast. For things in themselves, which lie beyond our comprehension, causality and all other basic modes of thought are irrelevant. This is what is meant by calling causality a transcendental principle of understanding. From this point of view universal causality or determinism, whether of the classical or the quantum mechanical sort, must not be regarded as a metaphysical constraint upon all forms of being. It must be distinguished from what Cassirer calls a "dinglicher Zwang". Freedom, too, is a transcendental principle, but one regulating our actions, and it therefore controls another realm. If both were factual, descriptive attributes of the world they would indeed collide; only their transcendental nature keeps them out of conflict and makes them compatible.

Now it seems to me that classical determinism and freedom do collide — in a factual sense if both are taken as ultimate metaphysical principles, and in the form of logical irreconcilables if they are transcendental modes of explanation which regulate our understanding. Let me illustrate the meaning of this claim by reference to a trivial example (which has no ethical significance, to be sure).

Suppose I am asked to raise my hand, I can do this mechanically without thought and without engaging my will. In that case, habit acquired during my student days will probably cause me to raise my right hand. One may look upon this action as a causal one, whose result is predictable in terms of conditions existing in my brain, of associations acquired, of neural pathways previously established, and so on. But notice: I took care to say that I would probably raise my right hand, thereby implying something less than strict predictability.

But if I am told: raise which ever hand you wish, the sequence of events is different. I am somehow challenged to think and then to make a choice. To believe that, during the moment of reflection preceding the decision to raise my left hand, the configuration of the molecules in my body, the currents in my brain cells, or even the psychological variables composing my mental state have already predetermined that I must raise my left hand is clearly false, for it contradicts the most elementary, the most reliable, self-declarative awareness of choice which accompanies this act. Thus a serious contradiction arises if strict causality is a metaphysical fact.

Nor can the situation be saved by saying, with Kant and Cassirer, that causality is merely a transcendental principle in terms of which we are required to conceive things. For in that case we should require one principle of understanding to comprehend the sequence of events which compose the objective course leading to the raising of my left hand, and a different, incompatible one to explain my feeling of freedom. Human reason does not tolerate two incoherent principles where a single one will do. I shall now show that the loosening of causality required by quantum mechanics enlarges the scope of that principle sufficiently to allow removal of these difficulties and to cover both determination and freedom.

What I hope to accomplish needs careful statement. It might seem to be a proof that quantum mechanics has solved the problem of freedom. This is a vastly different task from showing that quantum mechanics has removed an essential obstacle from the road toward its solution, while the problem remains unsolved in its major details. The following analysis is directed toward this latter, much more modest aim. In approaching it, however, many of the difficulties, whose resolution constitutes the difference between the first and second tasks, will move into view.

The decision which hand to raise is totally without ethical relevance; it merely illustrates the contrast between instinctive-reflexive, almost mechanical behavior and an action which involves thought and will, thereby engaging to a small extent the quality of freedom. The question of motivation, so essential in ethics, hardly enters at all. Or if it does, if for some conscious reason — perhaps the desire to surprise my partner — I have chosen to lift my left arm when he expected the right one to be raised, that reason is far from the concerns of ethics. The distance from here to choices which can be said to be morally good or bad, which conform or do not conform to ethical principles, which carry responsibility, is very great. Yet somehow it can be travelled by vehicles already at our disposal.

Freedom a prerequisite to ethics
Most theories of ethics, including the one outlined in section 4, achieve their end, the explanation of moral behavior, once the possibility of freedom and motivation is established. These qualities, however, are present at least in embryonic form in the example we chose for discussion; hence we return to it. Its relative simplicity is an important advantage.

Precisely what happened to me as a conscious person during that crucial interval in which I "made up my mind" to raise my left hand? Of the enormous variety of physical and chemical processes which took place in my body I am not aware. I do know, however, that the physical condition before the arm raising and that after the act were connected by a continuous series of objective physical happenings. And the entire series could have been different because of my will, because of a choice of physical possibilities that were open to me.

The mental processes during the crucial interval are likewise difficult to record in detail. Nevertheless the following is perfectly clear. I was aware of having a choice, there was a moment of reflection, perhaps a brief recall of past occasions, then came a glimmer of rudimentary satisfaction in doing the unexpected, next a decision and finally the act. The choice was enacted within consciousness, and it evidently was permitted, but merely permitted, by the physical processes that took place.

One thing, then, is utterly apparent: freedom is not wholly a problem of physical science but one involving biology, physiology and psychology as well. Upon realizing this one immediately confronts the standard question of reducibility: Are the laws of psychophysiology merely elaborate versions of those encountered in the physico-chemical world, or do they differ radically?

Physiology and psychology differ radically because of information in body and mind
The first alternative which assumes the possibility of reducing all behavior to physico-chemical bases need not be tied to the naive supposition that all the laws of these basic sciences are now known, and it will not be construed in this narrow sense here. The second, which maintains a radical difference, takes two essential forms. First, one may interpret the difference as mere transcendence, secondly as outright violation of physico-chemical laws.
I Reducibility
IIa Transcendence
IIb Violation of Laws

To avoid circumlocutions, let us refer to the first alternative, that of reducibility, as I. The second will be labelled II, and we shall designate transcendence by IIa, violation by IIb. As already mentioned, acceptance of I does not commit us to the view that all basic laws of nature are already known.

The precise meaning of IIa involves a theory of levels of complexity among physical phenomena. It is most simply illustrated by recalling the relation between the mechanics of point masses and the statistical mechanics of gases which are here viewed as large assemblages of molecules, in the form of point masses. To describe the mechanical state of each individual molecule one needs to specify its position and its velocity, nothing more. The totality of molecules, the gas, however, exhibits measurable properties like pressure, temperature and entropy which have no meaning with respect to single molecules. In this sense they are radically different from the properties of point masses. Yet if the positions and velocities of all molecules were known, the aggregate observables, i.e. pressure, temperature and entropy, could be calculated. These latter characterize a level of complexity above the mechanics of mass points. Explanation is continuous from below; the concepts of the lower level have meaning on the upper, but not the reverse.

It is seen, therefore, that thesis IIa asserts no incompatibility between concepts and principles on two different levels. The physico-chemical and the physio-psychological can probably be regarded in a similar way as two different levels of complexity, even though the differences are so great that the full connection is not at present in evidence. The view, however, seems reasonable. If it is accepted, and the gap can some day be filled, the higher level concepts can be reached from below and thus be reduced.

The bearing of alternative IIa upon the problem of freedom, which as we have seen is encountered in the upper realm, is now apparent. Freedom cannot appear in the domains of physiology and psychology if indeterminacy is not already lodged in physics. Strict causality among the molecules, applied upward as a principle of nature to explain the behavior of aggregates, cannot entail freedom because of the requirement of continuity from below. It is equally impossible to engender freedom in the realm of psychology when strict determinism rules physics, so long as hypothesis IIa is maintained.

For our present purpose, therefore, IIa can be identified with I: neither permits freedom unless strict determinism is abandoned in physics.

Only alternative IIb provides the possibility of freedom in the face of unrelieved classical causality as it is understood in pre-quantum physics. That view cannot be rejected out of hand; indeed it is very prevalent. Since it is forced to assume the occurrence of violations of the normal order of nature, it is tantamount to a belief in miracles. As for myself, I refuse to regard freedom as a miracle so long as other avenues of explanation are open. This is the case if alternative I or IIa is adopted, provided physical indeterminacy is taken seriously.

Here Margenau parts company with his lifelong colleague and mentor,
Ernst Cassirer
I judge IIa to be the safest hypothesis, and propose to describe its consequences. This is a somewhat unpopular course; it forces us to part company with many distinguished moral philosophers who see the autonomy of ethics threatened when a relation of any sort is assumed to exist between that august discipline and science. For centuries, humanists have been impressed by the slogan already discredited in section 4 of this lecture, that science deals with facts, ethics with values, and these two categories are so disparate that they must forever stand apart. If unanalyzed this is a foolish and a dangerous dogma. Some feel that a view which finds a root of freedom in physical science denigrates and demeans the high estate of ethics whose legitimate concerns should not seek refuge in the indeterminacies of natural events. Ethics, says Cassirer, should not be forced to build its nests in the gaps of physical causation, but he fails to tell where else it should build them, if at all.

The view proposed here can hardly be criticised as debasing ethics, or as depriving it of autonomy. For in the first place, if, in espousing indeterminacy, physics abdicates control over part of its former domain, entrusting it to other hands, it does not threaten ethics. The new mood of physics is not one of intransigeance but of renunciation.

Indeterminacy not a solution to problem of freedom, but the first step
Secondly, embracing the belief that freedom is made possible by indeterminacies in nature will not solve the problem of freedom. As will appear later, it permits only one first step towards its solution, but an important step to a place from which freedom can be seen as a scientific challenge, where it appears no longer as a fallacy or an illusion. Beyond it lies an open countryside in which ethics must travel without the guidance of science if it wishes to explore the meaning of good and bad, the origin of moral values — in short if it wishes to convert the offer of science, which might be named chance, into responsible choice.

Another consideration must be borne in mind. Throughout this lecture one single physical law is continually called upon to do extremely heavy duty, namely Heisenberg's indeterminacy principle. It is unreasonable to suppose that this item of knowledge is absolute in its present understanding, forever immune to reformulation and refinement. Future discoveries will doubtless place it in a new light, but it is difficult to see how its essence, which is drawn upon in the present context, can ever be relinquished. No one, of course, can rule out this possibility. But it seems far more likely, and here is where I would place my bet, that further principles even more widely restrictive of Laplacian causality will enter science, in which case the position here taken will be re-enforced.

Quantum indeterminacy, being the only item of its kind now firmly known, must thus be placed in the center of the present discussion. Also, the time has come to be specific. An important argument has been directed against the use to which that principle is here to be put, namely the argument which asserts that indeterminacy is limited to the atomic realm and loses its validity in the macrocosm.

Its importance in atomic and subatomic phenomena is crucial, for without it the behavior of elementary particles makes no sense. But a complex organ like the human brain, the cortex, even a brain cell or a neuron consist of vast numbers of elementary particles, and it is well known that the statistics of large numbers usually add up to certainties. While the motion of a single molecule in a gas must be specified with wide margins of probabilities, the entire gas behaves in predictable fashion. Insurance companies can only assign a probability to the occurrence of death in a given period for a specific individual, but they are almost certain of the number of deaths in a large group of people. So, too, it can be argued that the organic structures which carry the physical function of free decision are predictable in their total action even in view of elementary uncertainty; in other words, that the indeterminacy of atomic events is ironed out in the macrocosm. The assertion is respectable, for since we do not understand the function of physiological complexes in terms of atomic processes it can not be disproved. Another, slightly different consideration, leads to the same result. If the principle of indeterminacy is written for position (x) and velocities (v) it reads

Δx •Δv ≥ h/ 2m

m being the mass of the object whose motion is being studied. Now for an electron the quantity on the right of this inequality is about 1 (in c.g.s. units). Hence if we assume its position to be wholly uncertain within the volume of the atom, where it usually resides, and assign to Δx the value 10-8 cm (size of an atom), Δv must be about 108 cm/sec; the indeterminacy in velocity amounts to more than 100 times the speed of an I.C.B.M. Many unforeseeable things can happen within that range of ignorance.

For a brain cell, m is at least one trillion times as great as it is for an electron, hence the uncertainty is a billion times smaller. Even if we assume again that Δx = 10-8 cm, we find Δv = 1 millimeter per sec. But for something as large as a cell it is unreasonable to allow Δx so small a value, which is far beyond the limit of detection. If we increase it 1,000-fold, the indeterminacy in velocity goes down to 10-3 mm/sec, a value so small as to be quite uninteresting.

But this argument is really no more cogent than the former. For one might well ask: who is interested in the motion of a brain cell, or a neuron as a whole? It is very likely that crucial processes within such miniature organisms are triggered by single electrons and photons which are very strongly affected by quantum mechanical indeterminacy. Although little is known about the details of these reactions there is a good deal of conclusive evidence to support the claim that quantum indeterminacy can project important effects into the world at large, that organisms, in particular, can have their behavior and their fate strongly influenced by interaction with elementary physical entities. Again observe: even if we succeed in showing this we are still far from having established freedom. I am not suggesting that the release of erratic behavior governed only by the laws of chance is tantamount to freedom. I am saying that it is a physical precondition for human freedom. As to the influence of atomic chance upon the macroworld, here are a few examples.

Meteorology is not an exact science, and I am particularly reluctant to draw upon it because my knowledge of it is most inadequate. Everyone knows, however, that large atmospheric disturbances spring from minute pressure and velocity changes taking place within small regions in the upper air. A few molecules with abnormally large velocities can trigger a movement which may develop into a cyclone. I had always thought that the nucleus of a large disturbance would have to contain a sizeable number of molecules. However, a distinguished meteorologist recently told me that a fluctuation in velocity no larger than is compatible with Heisenberg's principle can be the cause of a low. And on looking at the mathematics, I convinced myself of this possibility. Only the probability of its happening is extremely small.

Scientists working in the psychophysics of vision have shown that a receptor in the human retina is sensitive to the incidence of very few photons of light, in certain regions of the spectrum perhaps to a single one. This means that a conscious response can be elicited by physical entities whose behavior is controlled by the uncertainty principle, a response which is in the customary sense without original cause. To be sure, it was triggered by the impinging photons, hence there was an immediate cause. But the coming of the photons was unpredictable; therefore the ensuing sensation, the stimulus-response episode was causeless. Yet that sensation might have informed a subject in a dark night that "something was there", perhaps something threatening, and he could have taken measures to avert the danger.

A more impressive illustration of the intrusion of atomic chance into the living world is afforded by the mutation of genes, which is known to result sometimes from the impact of a single X-ray quantum. Such mutations. can be advantageous to the individual undergoing them, but more often they are debilitating, sometimes lethal. A documented example is found in the literature.' It is impressive because it affected the fate of nations. It is well known that hemophilia, the bleeding disease, was an affliction of the ruling families of Russia and of Spain ever since the middle of the 19th century, troublesome in politics and a threat to royal succession. The origin of this disease may well be hidden in the indeterministic realm of atomic processes. Haldane has suggested after considerable search that the hemophilic condition began with a gene mutation in the nucleus of a cell in one of the testicles of Edward, Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria's father, in the year 1818.

From there on the incidence of the disease is open to study. There were three hemophiliacs among Victoria's nine children, seven among her grandchildren, six in the fourth generation. The latter included Alexis, the crown prince of Russia, whose mother, neurotically anxious about his condition, sought help from the monk Rasputin. How he thus gained a fateful foothold in the affairs of the Czarist family is a matter of history. Hemophilia among the sons of Alphonso XIII, the King of Spain, who was a grandson of Queen Victoria, apparently affected the stability of the throne.

Clearly, it is difficult to maintain that atomic indeterminacy has nothing to do with the inhabitants of the macrocosm.

Having made this point, I now turn to a few logical arguments which have been levelled against the possibility of freedom, quite apart from physical indeterminacy. Professor J. J. C. Smart has attempted to dispose of freedom as an inconsistent concept by employing a simple and seemingly cogent logical argument. He constructs two theses which he assumes to be exhaustive of all possibilities and also mutually exclusive. One is Laplacian determinism as we have discussed it earlier, the other is the view that "there are some events that even a superhuman calculator could not predict, however precise his knowledge of however wide a region of the universe at some previous time." Freedom, he holds, violates both of them and is therefore ruled out. Certainly the requirement of impeccable logic is to be imposed on every phase of scientific and philosophic reasoning; nevertheless logic, in spite of its merited vogue, is not the sole arbiter of truth. There are instances where the diffuseness of the meaning of terms makes its formal application impossible and its conclusions spurious in spite of all the reverence it commands. In the present instance, its use to settle the argument concerning freedom is as ineffectual as the application of arithmetic to ideas.

Smart's algorithm was challenged neatly by Harris, who rightly insists that the two alternatives above are not mutually exclusive. If freedom were identical with Smart's second alternative we would call it erratic behavior or caprice. What makes Harris' point important is, first of all, the looseness which afflicts the term event (state, or observation, or measurement would be more acceptable), and second the fact that physical indeterminacy is precisely the kind of intermediate alternative which is neither coincident with Smart's proposition one nor with proposition two.

One of the most serious confusions about freedom arises in connection with the uniqueness of history. The course of events in the universe is a single flow; there is no ambiguity about the happenings at any given time, aside from our knowledge of them, and if a superhuman intellect knew everything that happened up to a certain time T, he would perceive, in looking backward, not only clear determinism but a rigid, filled space-time structure of events. He could in fact, if he were a mathematician, write a formula — with a proper qualitative text defining the nature of all events — which would represent all history up to T. Where, then, can freedom enter in the presence of that timeless formula which, although it was unknown at times before T, nevertheless "existed" in a mathematical sense?

The answer involves recognition of the fact that retrodiction is not the same as prediction. Indeterminacy permits the former but not the latter. Only Laplacian determinism makes inferences along the time axis symmetric in both directions. On classical mechanics, full knowledge of the state of a physical system at time T allows in principle the calculation of its state at any time before or after T. Indeterminacy introduces a peculiar asymmetry into states with respect to their temporal implications: the past is certain and the future is not. This causal irreversibility of time is, and must always be, asserted along with the affirmation of freedom.

Nor is this without consequences with respect to the nature of time. The recent controversy concerning emergence or becoming, and the sense in which time is a fourth dimension of space is strongly affected by it. Relativity theory, which is thus far an outgrowth of classical mechanics and does not incorporate indeterminacy, speaks in Laplace's voice and precludes creativity and emergence of features not already foreshadowed in the presence. In the controversy to which reference has just been made, Capec is right in arguing for emergence, not for any philosophic reason but for the simple scientific fact that ordinary 4-dimensional relativity, the basis for the claim of frozen passage, is not applicable to the atomic domain.

Having reviewed the most common objections met by those who affirm human freedom, and having attempted to expose their weaknesses, let me now summarize and state my case.

Classical determinism made freedom intrinsically impossible, unless its application to psycho-physical phenomena is arbitrarily interdicted.

Historic arguments designed to reconcile freedom with classical causality were able merely to establish a subjective illusion, a personal feeling of freedom.

Modern physics, through Heisenberg's principle of indeterminacy, has loosened Laplacian determinism sufficiently to allow uncaused atomic events, permitting in certain specifiable situations the incidence of genuine chance.

The consequence of such microcosmic indeterminacies, while usually insignificant in the molar world, do ingress into the macrocosm at least in several known instances. It is very likely that they play a role in delicate neuro-physical and chemical processes.

Physics thus makes understandable the occurrence of chance, of true alternatives upon which the course of events must seize. Physics alone, in its present state, can account for unpredictable, erratic human behavior.

Human freedom involves more than chance: it joins chance with deliberate choice. But it needs the chance. In so far, and so long, as science can say nothing about this latter active, decisive, creative element it has not fully solved the problem of freedom.

But it has lifted it out of the wastebasket of illusions and paradoxes and re-established it as a challenging problem to be further resolved.

And now an afterthought. Suppose physical science, perhaps with the aid of sister disciplines like psychology, philosophy and theology, had solved the problem of choice supervening upon chance to explain freedom, would this fuller understanding not restore determinism? If we can explain how the agency effecting choice selects from the alternatives presented by physics a particular one, will the inclusion of that agency into the scheme of things not leave us where we started, i.e. with an amplified Laplacian formula?

The answer cannot be forseen. It may be affirmative, but I strongly doubt it. For if that agency were one which looked into the future rather than into the past, were drawn by purposes rather than impelled by drives, partook of the liveliness of the incalculable human spirit — freedom in a unique sense would survive.

Chapter 1.5 - The Philosophers Chapter 2.1 - The Problem of Knowledge
Home Part Two - Knowledge
Normal | Teacher | Scholar