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Persons and Personal Identity

Foundation or Individual in a Determinate Universe

Vitaly V. Tsuckerman

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ABSTRACT: The concept presented in this report makes a summary of the author’s attempts to find a solution to the problem of compatibility of determinism and the freedom of human choice. This problem becomes apparently an isoluble paradox if one admits that the notion of freedom of human choice includes negation of the predetermination of decisions taken. Denial of such an "inclusion" is based on an analysis of the reasons that have led to the notion of freedom of human choice. Basically, this notion is intimately linked with the actual mechanism of decision-making. However, the concept of freedom of human choice is not identical to this mechanism and should be regarded as a perception and self-interpretation of this mechanism by humans.

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If our making a decision on a particular action is preceeded by a prognosis of the possible course of events (an analysis of the actual situation, or a thought experiment) and the result of this prognosis is acceptable by us, and the act of making decision is perceived by us as a conscientious act, then we can speak of a free (deliberate) choice. Here prediction of the possible course of events takes occasionally the form of an anticipation of the future not quite worked out in detail. This specific mechanism of decision-making, by virtue of its tremendous efficiency, has rooted in the human consciousness as a specific idea of the freedom of choice, and has thus become a structural element of the self-consciousness of the personality, strongly suggestive of the personality’s self-sifficiency in taking decisions.

According to the concept in question, humans and human communities are regarded as self-developing and self-conscious structures, with an hierarchy of preferences and with a mechanism of decision-making as defined above. One can therefore assume, with a good reason, that this structure has originated in a determinate flow of human existence. Has it emerged evolutionarily or has it been created intentionally – this is a point of minor importance for the present discussion; it should be conceded, however, that, in the latter case, one might have invoked the idea of God, even if the source of life was initiated in the science laboratory of a preceding civilization. The phenomenon of conciousness, emotions, and intelligence of human beings – the functional properties of their exceptionally complex nature – is not at variance with determinism. This parenthetical remark is, certainly, a hypothesis, however, as reasonably well justified as any other. Intelligence imparts a new quality to life and provides the possibility to model environmental processes in terms that reflect specific features of the external reality as well as the nature of mechanisms of perception of this reality. Objectives are outlined and conditions are provided for their implementation. Life, its quality and preservation become targets on which the intellectual efforts of the man are focused.

The structure in question (alternatively, it may be named the cognitive system) identifies itself as a free one, since decisions it takes are in conformity with its system of preferences. As far as its evaluation of a situation is adequate to the reality, the projected plans can in principle be realized, and the human activities, initiated by the decisions taken, become thus formative factors of the future. Ethical norms emerge when a community of individuals recognizes the necessity to render the interest, pursued by an individual, commensurate with the communal interest, that is, when the comminuty accepts the idea of interdependence of individual and communal interests; neglect of a communal interest can set an individaul interest at risk. We shall desist from going into the particulars of how an individual can tolerate or accept ethical norms. This is a separate topic. Ideally, ethical norms should have been accepted a priori, which might have provided, in a natural manner, a way to the prosperity of a community of individuals and to good fortunes of life (at a definite level of accomplishments in science and productive forces). However, the ideal is far from reality, and this discrepancy in fact lies at the root of all social problems and necessitates the search for palliative and by no means simple solutions.

Philosophers and scientists have been committed, from time immemorial, to the search for, and implementation of, these circuitous solutions... Intellect, however, resolves its tasks staying confined to a determinate flow of human existence. Its freedom of choice has an internal definition (as given above), quite sufficient within the framework of life. Although the sphere of life is part of the Universe (undoubtedly, an infinitesimal part in terms of extent), it is a center of existence for the carriers of life, a focus of their world, a system of reference, and the starting point for comprehending the things as they are. They came into being here, they became aware of their selves here, they became conscious here of their separateness from the surrounding world and their link with it, and they are inalienable from their nature.

The standing of humans as a cognitive system has a temporal origin – it is the time when a hierarchy of preferences has emerged. In the human self-consciousness, this creates a sensation that the act of volition is independent of the processes of antecedent preferences; in fact, the previous history of preferences becomes eliminated. But it is precisely the previous history of preferences that makes it possible to regard humans and human communities as entities involved in the determinate flow of being.

So, it is natural to assume that all is predetermined on condition, however, that the pattern of the future in all its details will never be accessible to human prognosis and that the imminent future may carry in itself implementations of human designs in the same measure as usually thought of. In other words, humans, incapable of escaping from the determinate flow of being, do notwithstanding exert influence on it in pursuit of realization of their projects. If so, such a predetermination acquires attributes of the human creative activity.

We do not assert by any means that rigid determinism does indeed take place in realty; we are perfectly aware of the fact that the laws of the microworld are, according to quantum theory, probabilistic in character. Arguments of a more general nature can be advanced against the absoluteness of a rigid determinism – such a determinism can never be strictly substantiated. In any event, any proof presupposes clearness and definiteness of the original postulates. However, if we are concerned with the general aspects of the universe and all-embracing inferences, original postulates of such a dimension simply lack foundation to be built on. Such postulates, once formulated, reflect of necessity our immediate perception of the surrounding world and bear features of an intuitive understanding (for example, the notion of an "instant of time"). Fundamental notions such as time, space, casuality – all these are human abstractions that have come from the human perception of the surrounding world and from the experience of human activities in real world. All possible inferences reached by an extrapolation of these notions beyond the limits of tangible human activities are always issues open to debate. For this reason, any substantiation with pretentions to a global generality is merely a plausible argumentation. Its validity can be supported only by conclusions derived from the existing reality; however, alternative interpretations are not ruled out either.

Here rigid determinism is regarded as a hypothetical assumption that throws no unsurmountable obstacles in the construction of a model of the human existence; within this scheme, the freedom of choice is always a plausible argument. This construction holds true for any other form of determinism.

In a definite manner, rigid determinism can be motivated. An observation that occurred to the present author in his youth has become the starting point for subsequent reasoning concerning the problem in question: "If like causes produce, under like conditions, like effects, and the universe as a whole encloses all causes of, and all conditions for, its development, then the course of events must be perfectly well univalent." As follows from the aforesaid, these arguments cannot be accepted for a proof. Simultaneously, there is no indisputable reason for a categorical rejection of any form of determinism putting, as an argument, the probabilistic nature of microworld laws. Even the mathematical theory of dynamical (strictly determinate!) systems admits of statistical patterns. It may also be assumed that the probabilistic character of quantum mechanical laws is a limiting form of knowledge that is conceived of under the conditions where not sufficiently adequate notions and terms of macrophysics are used for description of microscopic processes. It may be conceded that the intrinsic processes leading to a probabilistic behaviour do indeed occur in reality; however, they remain yet a challenge to the present-day science. The occurrence of statistical regularities and associated therewith implications is at present a problem open to scientific endeavour.

As an example illustrative of an application of the concept in question, one may refer to an not-easy-to-solve problem bearing on the principle of compatibility viewed from the standpoint of rigid determinism (see [3, 5]).

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(1) V. V. Tsuckerman, Determinism and Freedom of Human Choice, Vestnik Vysshei Shkoly, Moscow, 1992, No. 4 – 6, pp. 93 – 94

(2) V. V. Tsuckerman, On Compatibility of Determinism and The Freedom of Human Choice, in: XIX World Congress on Philosophy, 22 – 28 August 1993, Moscow [in Russian], Deposited Document, INION, Russian Academy of Sciences, No. 48772, Moscow, 1993

(3) V. V. Tsuckerman, Do You Believe in Fate? [in Russian], Merkator i Knigi, Moscow, 1995.

(4) V. V. Tsuckerman, Determinism and the Freedom of Human Choice: Problem of Compatibility [Abstract]. Problem of Consciousness in Philosophy and Science [in Russian], Department of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 1996, pp. 168 – 169.

(5) V. V. Tsuckerman, Determinism and the Freedom of Human Choice: Problem of Compatibility [in Russian], Palamed, Moscow, 1996.

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