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I understand why determinism is self-refuting in general because if a mind is fallible then it can only achieve certainty if it isn't constrained by factors out of one's control which may determine it to be wrong in it's conclusions. The human mind is clearly capable of certainty and to challenge that would be self-refuting. Therefore we can be certain because we can, and have no grounds for doubting that fact. The mind is also capable of error. Since we are capable of both certainty and error we cannot be determined.(The four main points of confusion/questions I have will be in italics)

What I don't understand is what a consciousness would be like if it was determined conceptually and capable of error. By determined I mean follows a process of concept-formation automatically. Even if a being with a determined conceptual faculty could never be certain that he has corrected his errors or is not persisting in error, because he is fallible and determined, but may only think he has or isn't, the fact that he is still thinking conceptually about something suggests that he is at least certain of something of which he is conscious.

Why couldn't it be possible that a determined conceptual mind could be fallible with respect to some information but infallible with regard to other information? This idea can be made coherent by assuming that there are different subsystems of awareness which all operate through the conceptual faculty. Even if everything beyond the perceptual level is conceptual knowledge, there are different types of possible content to conceptualize which are available to differing degrees in people. For example, when a person has a stroke that damages a particular part of the brain such as the one which supports the ability to perform mathematical computations, that person has lost a particular mode for conceptual functioning even though they can still work with concepts regarding other data. By a similar line of reasoning, it's possible to imagine a mind which is determined conceptually but which can be aware of different channels of information. One which is reliable and one which is not. And can identify that through the one which is reliable.How could you make the distinction in your own mind between being someone who is free and capable of achieving knowledge and certainty as well as someone who can make errors but can correct them and someone who is determined, capable of knowledge and understanding the concept of error but who is really only ever certain about things he was never wrong about and only thinks can correct his errors. To put it more concisely, could a free conceptual consciousness tell itself apart from a determined conceptual consciousness also capable of knowledge but also of "unresolvable" error?

Could a determined, fallible, conceptual consciousness know anything? It would be conscious conceptually after all.

Update: Clarification I do agree completely that man's consciousness on the conceptual level is fallible and volitional. My previous comment was misleading in the sense that I was referring again to a being with a "mixed case" of fallibility so I will rephrase it.

The point I am trying to clarify is that if a consciousness were to be simultaneously fallible and determined, and therefore incapable of certainty, what would the state of that mind be like aside from and beyond imagining it with the type of automaticity we experience with our emotions, sense perceptions, etc. By that I mean if it is truly incapable of certainty, that being or person would have to be a raving lunatic, incapable of any intelligible way of communicating to others or to itself as a means of self-reference, and unable to fathom anything about any thought which might enter it's mind. It couldn't address any of it's own thoughts as something "real" or as something that might correspond to reality because that would constitute an understanding (and certainty of what the concepts "might correspond to reality" or "real" denote) that it by definition could not have. I know that both fallibility and determinism in combination logically leads to a mind that is incapable of certainty because it wouldn't be able to identify or correct it's errors.

Yet I still don't see how a mind that could be aware of concepts, even if it is determined, could be utterly uncertain of everything. If properly formed concepts are something which accurately represent reality, a mind automatically producing concepts, for better or worse due to fallibility, seems like it would produce some viable understanding once in a while. Something to which the conscious, though determined and fallible person, could grab hold of mentally to make sense of at least something.

Additional Update: Concepts

Given that one is determined and fallible and might stumble upon some truth accidentally, couldn't the certainty of that truth be manufactured by or be intrinsic to the functionality of the design of that concept, which happens to be valid, expressed in awareness? An analogy can be made to a piece of software that is successfully executed. One could be functionally certain about the truth of a concept in a particular instance because that concept would be designed to take shape that way.

Without certainty in first level concepts, one would never be able to have a meaningful train of thought because his concepts could never be identified as being relevant to one another and it would be impossible to pursue any inquiry of any kind because there would be no understanding of all of the requisite concepts that would comprise the idea motivating that pursuit. One would just have a grab bag kind of mind full of disjointed concepts all of which cannot be reduced to any valid identifications. Which leads me to wonder how that could be so. For example, if a mind, still determined and fallible, perceptually and correctly identifies the difference between the lengths of two sticks and is subsequently aware of the concept "length", how could it not be certain in the context of that awareness? It's observation of that conceptual truth would be inescapably self-evident to it.

I want to reiterate that I still recognize the self-refuting nature of determinism. My goal is to systematically weed out as many of the points of confusion or contradiction I have possible.

asked May 10 '14 at 02:37

dc32's gravatar image

dc32
604

edited May 16 '14 at 00:05


...determinism is self-refuting in general because if a mind is fallible then it can only achieve certainty if it isn't constrained by factors out of one's control which may determine it to be wrong in it's conclusions. The human mind is clearly capable of certainty and to challenge that would be self-refuting.

The important point is that determinism is self-refuting, because a deterministic conscious that is also fallible could not be certain of its conclusions and could not be sure if determinism is true or false. This is not an argument for volition; it is only a refutation of determinism. The validation of volition is primarily by the full context of observational evidence by which man forms the concept of volition and understands how volition influences conceptual cognition.

Remember that Objectivism's basic methodology is to look at existence and identify what exists. In the words of John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, "Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification." Man is part of existence. Looking at existence includes looking at man, both extrospectively and (for oneself) introspectively. Man's fundamental nature is what it is, namely, a type of animal with a consciousness that is conceptual, volitional, and fallible. Objectivism identifies these characteristics by observation and concept formation.

A consciousness that is determined and fallible would be far less able to recognize its cognitive errors and correct them until the consequences of the errors become more perceptually obvious. Remember that non-human animal consciousness operates automatically and perceptually, serving as the basic means of survival for the animals, and that animals, too, can err in their actions. In the history of philosophy, determinism has been a theory that man's conceptual faculty is just as determined (automatic) as his sensory-perceptual capacity (and also his emotional capacity, especially when driven by deeply automatized conclusions and habits). Objectivism points out that if determinism were correct, man would be unable to know it with certainty, since man is fallible (capable of error) yet determined to persist in his errors (according to determinism).

Biologically, one might ask why man evolved with free will in regard to his conceptual faculty. What is the "survival value" of being able to suspend one's conceptual faculty? This is a more specialized question that is outside the scope of philosophy, but I suspect the answer may be that persisting in an error on the conceptual level can have devastating consequences for the life of the animal if the error is not detected and corrected soon enough. Man's ability to "step back" and consider additional context, and to insist on a definite methodology for validating his ideas in the first place, gives him an enormous survival advantage over animals that lack this capacity. In any case, Objectivism's focus is on what is, and what it is. The fact is that man does have free will in regard to conceptual cognition.

... we can be certain because we can, and have no grounds for doubting that fact. The mind is also capable of error. Since we are capable of both certainty and error we cannot be determined.

The possibility of achieving certainty in conceptual identifications is not axiomatic. Man absolutely can have grounds to challenge certainty in any of his knowledge, and even the possibility of achieving certainty at all. That is why man needs a definite methodology for validating his ideas. Refer to OPAR, Chap. 4, "Objectivity," for additional explanation, especially the subsections titled, "Concepts as Objective" and "Objectivity as Volitional Adherence to Reality by the Method of Logic."

What I don't understand is what a consciousness would be like if it was determined conceptually and capable of error.

The best way to project such a consciousness is by comparing man's conceptual faculty as it is to other aspects of human and/or animal consciousness that are automatic. I mentioned the two main aspects already: sense-perception, and automatized responses of all kinds, including any emotional content they may have. Automatization and lightning-like recall are automatic aspects of man's consciousness. Refer to the topics of "Automatization" and "Emotions" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.

Another good point of comparison is simply to observe others (and/or oneself) when they fail to focus their minds and plod along in spite of it. The Lexicon topic of "Focus" explains, in part:

Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality -- or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.

When man unfocuses his mind, he may be said to be conscious in a subhuman sense of the word, since he experiences sensations and perceptions. But in the sense of the word applicable to man -- in the sense of a consciousness which is aware of reality and able to deal with it, a consciousness able to direct the actions and provide for the survival of a human being -- an unfocused mind is not conscious.

Note that Objectivism identifies the choice to focus one's mind or not (on the conceptual level) as the essence of man's free will. Cognitive focus is the precondition for forming and using concepts in a manner that is life-furthering for man.

Why couldn't it be possible that a determined conceptual mind could be fallible with respect to some information but infallible with regard to other information?

This is a hypothetical that, as far as I know, has never been proposed as a serious theory in the history of philosophy, nor addressed by Objectivism, nor needing to be addressed by Objectivism. Again, Objectivism focuses first and foremost on what is, and on what is. If someone wants to develop and propose a hypothetical theory, go ahead. Who knows; it might have applications or implications in the field of "machine intelligence" someday. Such a hypothetical and its implications are not essential to any aspect of Objectivism, however, since Objectivism is concerned with what exists and the nature of that which exists. But the special sciences are nevertheless welcome to speculate on what might be possible and how, if there is cognitive or other value in doing so. (A serious theory of limited conceptual infallibility would need to specify how such a thing could be possible at all, which areas would be infallible, why only those, and how a consciousness would be able to know which areas are fallible or not and therefore not doubt all of its conclusions. In the context of man as he is, such a hypothetical seems utterly fantastic.)

[In the event of brain damage or a consciousness that is different from a normal human consciousness in some other way:] How could you make the distinction in your own mind between being someone who is free and capable of achieving knowledge and ... someone who is determined...? ... To put it more concisely, could a free conceptual consciousness tell itself apart from a determined conceptual consciousness...?

A damaged or deficient conceptual consciousness most likely would be as limited in its ability to understand anything as is a normal human consciousness that chooses to function in a chronic out-of-focus state. Again, this question is largely hypothetical except insofar as it can be related to man as he is, or to confirmed instances of "savant" individuals who have spectacularly heightened mental abilities in some areas (or spectacularly vivid and accessible memories of everything they experience).

Could a determined, fallible, conceptual consciousness know anything? It would be conscious conceptually after all.

This is the refutation of determinism again. If a consciousness is fallible and determined (automatic), how would it be capable of correcting cognitive errors, especially in advance of direct sensory-perceptual evidence of an error? How would it be capable of understanding an objective method of validating its conclusions, and capable of adhering to that methodology? How would it be able to judge whether or not it is functioning in a valid manner? If it functions automatically, how would it even need a "methodology of validation"? It wouldn't be able to do anything with such a methodology, since it operates automatically. And without validating its conclusions, how could it claim to know that they conform to reality (given the fact of fallibility)?

It takes more than merely having concepts and being able to form them to know if they are valid and truly correspond to reality. One needs non-contradictory integration and the ability to question each step of the process, to achieve an unbreached validation. It is extremely easy for man to unfocus his mind at any time, and it's a very simple way to stop himself from persisting in a potentially life-damaging error. What happens next is crucial, however. A habitual pattern of unfocusing and never revisiting one's issues to find a better resolution isn't life-sustaining for man in the long run.

Update: Reiteration of Key Points

In a comment, the questioner reiterates:

I'm just failing to understand how it is possible that one is aware conceptually without at least holding some implicit,rudimentary knowledge of the meaning of what one is thinking about even if one's conclusions turn out to be wrong.

This sounds like a description of human consciousness. Yes, man's consciousness is fallible and volitional (and self-conscious). Objectivism doesn't say that alternatives are possible on the conceptual level. Objectivism says that proponents of determinism who say so are wrong and even self-refuting. It is the determinists who claim that man's consciousness (and probably all of existence) is deterministic.

What I'm most struggling to grasp is how a mind while determined and infallible could be certain of a large body of information....

If a consciousness is infallible, then it has no errors. It has certainty about everything that it concludes. And if it is also deterministic, this means it is certain automatically, with no context for any possibility of error.

... then, with the presence of errors in it's mind....

If a consciousness has errors in it's mind, then it is fallible. The description then pertains to a fallible consciousness.

... have that potential knowledge be totally wiped out. It's methodology of validation could lie in just simply recognizing the internal logical consistency of some facts automatically while other facts fail to produce the same response.

If a consciousness is both fallible and infallible at different times and/or in different respects, and/or both determined and volitional at different times and/or in different respects, I would expect (offhand) that the extent to which it is either infallible or volitional would allow it to reach certainty to that extent and in regard to those areas of its cognitive experience. Man is not like that, of course; he is neither infallible nor automatic on the conceptual level, and it is thus exceedingly difficult for man to imagine a "mixed case" as a serious metaphysical possibility. Objectivism does not say that it is a serious metaphysical possibility. Objectivism only says that proponents of determinism (historically) have said so and are not only mistaken, but actually self-refuting. In particular, it is specifically the combination of fallibility and determinism together, simultaneously, that leads to the self-refutation of determinism (being fallible and having no capacity to recognize and correct one's errors, and/or to apply a systematic methodology for finding errors and correcting them).

Incidentally, when Objectivism mentions "infallible consciousness" on the conceptual level as inapplicable to man, my understanding is that this refers mainly to man's initial conceptual products, prior to performing a process of validation (and potentially to any gaps or deficiencies in his validations). The very distinction that man makes between validated and unvalidated conclusions is itself a consequence of the fact that man's consciousness is fallible and volitional. If someone expresses a purported statement of fact, it is eminently reasonable and even necessary for others to ask: how do you know that? -- and to discount answers such as, "A voice told me so," or "I just feel it," or "Everybody says so," or "The Bible says so," or "It just came to my mind," etc. The search for reinforcing validation of some kind is the nature of man's consciousness.

Update: Accidental Truth

Referring to a consciousness that is "simultaneously fallible and determined":

I still don't see how a mind that could be aware of concepts, even if it is determined, could be utterly uncertain of everything.... [A] mind automatically producing concepts, for better or worse ... seems like it would produce some viable understanding once in a while.

This seems to confuse ideas that correspond to reality, though one may not know it, with ideas that one knows correspond to reality. If one is deterministic and fallible, then how could one know whether or not any given idea corresponds to reality? The mere presence of the idea in one's mind could not be regarded as proof. One would be in the position of not knowing one way or the other, and having no capacity to do anything to find out. Some of one's ideas might, indeed, correspond to reality, but one wouldn't have any way to know it (or prove it).

Update: Learning about Objectivism

An update to the question states:

Given that one is determined and fallible and might stumble upon some truth accidentally, couldn't the certainty of that truth be manufactured [!] by or be intrinsic [!] to the functionality of the design [!] of that concept, which happens to be valid [validation is not the same as truth], expressed [!] in awareness? An analogy can be made to a piece of software [!] that is successfully executed.

I haven't seen much evidence in the various formulations in this question (including the above) that the questioner is familiar with the Objectivist view of concepts and free will. An excellent place to begin a more detailed study of the Objectivist perspective is The Ayn Rand Lexicon, especially topics such as "Concepts," "Free Will," "Focus," and "Objectivity." Here is a key passage from one of the excerpts in the topic of "Free Will":

... man is a being of volitional consciousness. Reason does not work automatically; thinking is not a mechanical process; the connections of logic are not made by instinct. The function of your stomach, lungs or heart is automatic; the function of your mind is not. In any hour and issue of your life, you are free to think or to evade that effort. But you are not free to escape from your nature, from the fact that reason is your means of survival—so that for you, who are a human being, the question “to be or not to be” is the question “to think or not to think.”

The questioner's approach, so far, seems to be along the lines of "I am very familiar with determinism; I seek to understand Objectivism's view of free will by understanding all the possible refutations of determinism." I doubt that such an approach will produce much enlightenment on the Objectivist view. One cannot understand Objectivism's perspective on free will by trying to rule out determinism first, without understanding the Objectivist perspective in more detail before grasping the key aspects of determinism that conflict with reality (as Objectivism identifies it).

answered May 10 '14 at 19:46

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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edited May 16 '14 at 23:12

The important point is that determinism is self-refuting, because a deterministic conscious that is also fallible could not be certain of its conclusions and could not be sure if determinism is true or false.

I don't understand this. Certainty and infallibility are two different things.

(May 11 '14 at 09:41) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Objectivism does not equate certainty and infallibility. Man is fallible, but he can achieve certainty if he follows the proper cognitive method. Infallibility (in my understanding) basically means automatic certainty. For man, certainty is not automatic. See also OPAR p. 71 for a more in-depth discussion of volition vs. determinism.

(May 11 '14 at 18:09) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Thank you for your response Ideas for Life. I'm just failing to understand how it is possible that one is aware conceptually without at least holding some implicit,rudimentary knowledge of the meaning of what one is thinking about even if one's conclusions turn out to be wrong. Determinism would then be self-refuting even if you were determined which is impossible.What I'm most struggling to grasp is how a mind while determined and infallible could be certain of a large body of information would then, with the presence of errors in it's mind, have that potential knowledge be totally wiped out.

(May 12 '14 at 13:41) dc32 dc32's gravatar image

It's methodology of validation could lie in just simply recognizing the internal logical consistency of some facts automatically while other facts fail to produce the same response.

(May 12 '14 at 13:42) dc32 dc32's gravatar image
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Asked: May 10 '14 at 02:37

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Last updated: May 16 '14 at 23:12