Metaphysics 101 Part 4

(Part 4 of Ten)

(continued from Part 3 of Ten)

Cosmic Domino Effect

There can be no deeper issue than whether determinism or free will is the source of human thought. If my typing fingers are merely responding to the dictates of predetermined cerebral activity initiated by the dance of once superheated particles that began almost 14 billion years ago—particles that are currently in the form of a unique DNA-print of my brain cells—then, the text on this page is no more than an automatic microcosmic activity devoid of any meaning and is the antithesis of free thought.

At a macrocosmic level, the same is true. For example, suppose I “decide” to travel somewhere. Absolute determinism posits that it was particles (not I) that activated “my” decision to travel. Further, although I may believe I’m “free” to choose my destination, routes, methods of travel and time lines, determinism maintains that the dance of subatomic particles dictates all thoughts and action, including thoughts that arbitrarily leap out of the mind with no apparent motivation. Technically, determinism also posits that those particles had been activated by other particles that preceded them, and the particles that preceded those particles had similarly been affected by particles before them, and so on back to the creation of primordial particles eons ago. It follows that thought would be only part of a cosmic domino effect initiated at the Big Bang, along with the birth of time. In that world there would be no difference between inanimate and animate matter.

The overwhelming consensus in the scientific community is that time moves only in a forward direction even though there are no physical laws to prevent it from moving backwards. Time is calculated to have begun 10-43 seconds into the Big Bang. Hypothetically, if the temporal evolution of the universe were run backwards, physics as we know it ceases to exist beyond that infinitesimal fraction of a second. If absolute determinism is inseparable from that instant and therefore from the titanic primordial battle between matter and antimatter at the birth of the Universe to the present, then all metaphysical and epistemological speculation is meaningless and we are only puppets of the stars. Basically, astrology is a branch of determinism. In Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, the central theme is tragic determinism. At the beginning of the play, its narrator (Chorus) states: A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life. At one of the play’s critical moments, Romeo cries out against inevitability: Then I defy you stars! That is his attempt at free will, but of course he fails.

[In acknowledgement of Shakespeare’s profound diversity of themes, I add that he also expresses the antithesis of determinism in Julius Caesar when he has Cassius say: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, and in the same play has Caesar say: The cause is in my will!, an affirmation of free will.]

The inescapable corollary to the concept of determinism is that all thoughts and actions are predetermined whether or not a Supreme Being exists. In turn, the notion of predetermination precludes any validity to metaphysics, epistemology, and thought itself: Automatons do not think. By definition, determinism precludes free thought.

Free Thought and Truth

The very word truth is loaded with conceptual IEDs. For example, if we use the word “truth” in the context of metaphysics we are instantly in the minefield of axioms, paradoxes, and ironies. We are challenged by a glut of imperfect definitions, linguistic niceties, and circular, cliché arguments.

I remember a story that is probably true (note that the word “probably” shields me from a conceptual IED, at least for the moment). The story goes that in the course of a lecture on language and metaphysics, an expert linguist told his audience that there are many languages that include a grammatically correct double negative, but there is no language that has a double affirmative. At that point, a member of his audience interrupted with the words, Yeah…Yeah. Obviously, the lecturer had a larger concept in mind when he stepped on that perceived conceptual IED.

In a larger and significant context, metaphysical discussions often degenerate to word games. In that game, a better debater may ‘win’ a debate only because of her superior debating skills, but not necessarily because she is closer to truth than her opponent. Conversely, an inferior debater may ‘lose’ a debate only because of his inferior debating skills even though he may be closer to the truth than his opponent. If we engage in debates with our primary goal focused on ‘victory’ over our ‘opponent’ rather than focus on the search for truth, then we are not seriously seeking truth. A genuine search for truth is not a verbal olympic game.

In Search of Truth

Despite undergoing numerous evolutionary changes, dinosaurs remained mentally static for 150 million years. I’m sure that if that asteroid 65 million years ago hadn’t collided with the earth, dinosaurs would still be preoccupied with changing their armor from epoch to epoch. Insects preceded reptiles by millions of years, and they still haven’t risen above the donning of an infinite variety of wings and colors. Human’s appeared on earth barely two million years ago and suddenly (geologically speaking) metaphysical thought enters the stream of life. In the almost 14 billion years of its existence, the Universe has had a discrete number of colossal events. The advent of metaphysical thought is one of them.

(to be continued in Part 5 of Ten)

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