Apropos of the philosophical noodle-making that has gotten to be a habit around here, I’ve got a question.
Is there any objective way to distinguish true randomness from free choice?
That is to say (for example): if person (a) said that evolution is the result of random mutation plus natural selection, and that therefore there is no room for a human telos derived from transcendent values (since we ourselves are only here by chance), while person (b) countered that what appears to be random is really God using this mechanism as the most efficient means to achieve His ends, and that therefore “random” is the wrong word to use for the process by which we came to be here – would there by any way to settle the dispute?
Or (for another example): if person (a) said that there is no free will because human beings are deterministic Hobbesian machines, and therefore our language of right and wrong has no real meaning, and person (b) countered that, in fact, human beings are not deterministic machines because we are quantum-computers at the micro-tubule level, and person (a) countered again that uncertainty has nothing to do with free will, it’s just physical laws operating in their mechanical way just like any Newtonian laws – would person (a) be provably right or wrong? In theory, I mean.
My intuition says, “no” – that there’s really no room for the concept of an independent entity possessed of “will” in a worldview shaped by cause and effect; the only place for “will” to retreat to is the zone of true randomness, of complete uncertainty, which means that truly free will as such must be completely inscrutible. But in that fortress, it seems to me, freedom rests reasonably secure. Statistical laws govern the decay of a block of uranium, but whether or not this atom of uranium chooses to fission in this instant is a completely unpredictable event – fundamentally unpredictable, something which simply cannot be known – which is equally good evidence for the proposition that it’s God’s (or the atom’s) will whether it splits or remains whole, as for the proposition that it’s random chance. The choice of one or the other interpretation has everything to do with our emotional response to the event (and, hence, to the universe), and nothing to do with making accurate predictions (the latter being the proper business of science).
The above probably sounds like a hash of Schroedinger and James, which I guess it is, and which may not reflect well on me for making it. I realize that the specific conjectures Schroedinger makes about the nature of life and consciousness have been mostly proved false, but I’m curious whether, abstracted to this degree, there’s anything left of his (rather Hindu) speculations about the relationship of mind to matter.