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Old 2013-01-03, 15:07   Link #1
ZGoten
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Determinism (Science & Philosophy)

Hello everyone,

as I've indicated a number of times here on animesuki, I am an adherer of determinsim. I actually think a lot about the topic since I've always been interested in the world and the universe. You know, the big questsions. I found out that there actually isn't a thread dedicated to this particular topic yet and wanted to create one. I will be refering to scientific information later in this post. Given that I am no scientist, I am likely to butcher some of the detail, so please excuse me for doing so, if there are people more knowledgable than me in this regard on animesuki.

Maybe some people aren't aware of the term determinism, so let me summarize it real quick. Determinism is pretty much the philosophical idea, that the future is the result of the present and past and that everything that happens is the only thing that can happen. This concept is very much connected with known and unknown natural laws, that shape the future in a way that is predetermined by what happened prior to it.

One of most well-known determinists was Pierre Simon Laplace, who became famous for creating the concept of what many people today like to call Laplace's demon. It was pretty much derived from the following quote:

Quote:
We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.
What this means is that if the idea behind determinsm was indeed correct, the future would theoretically be calculatable. A being knowledgable enough to know the properties and positions of all particles in the universe at a given time would be able to exactly predict the future. Such a being is what is called Laplace's demon. Of course, determinsm would imply that things like free will don't actually exist, since our own thoughts are results of prior influences and can therefore also be calculated or predicted. It is in essence the idea that something similar to fate exists. However, to call it fate would be wrong in this case, since that would imply an overall plan of events, which determinism does not deem necessary. Both fate and the deterministic view of the world are similar in that they dictate only one possible future for any given present and past, though. Sam Harris, by the way, gave an interesting lecture about free will not too long ago. It is closely related to determinism and highly interesting. You can check out part of it in this video:



Of course, today, quantum physics has pretty much proven, that this demon could never exist in reality. The uncertainty principle by Werner Heisenberg makes it impossible. What this theory has proven is that there is no way to know the exact position and momentum of a particle at the same time. This leads to the result that a situation in which everything is known about the universe at one given time cannot be possible.

It seems like quantum physics does not support the idea of determinism, since it disproves the possibility of a scenario in which one could proof the reality of determinism. To make it short: Quantum physics make it impossible for determinsm to be proven right. That does not disprove the principle idea, though. There is evidence that supports determinsim: any cause-effect-rationship, increasingly important the more complex and repeatable it is. However, we can only close in on irrefutable evidence, but won't be able to ever reach it. To me however, looking at the world and the universe, determinsim is what seems more logical than all alternatives.

What about you guys? What is your take on determinsm? Have you had prior exposure to this idea or not? Do you welcome or resent it?
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Last edited by ZGoten; 2013-01-03 at 16:49.
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Old 2013-01-03, 15:16   Link #2
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Sounds like Pyschohistory.
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Old 2013-01-03, 15:27   Link #3
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I don't know about determinism, but if we're talking about worldview, then I do believe in the Biblical God, a being who knows and can and does influence the past, present, and future.

Based on that, I don't believe any being other than God is capable of absolute free will, but I do believe in free will set within God's boundaries/limitations.
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Old 2013-01-03, 15:49   Link #4
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You already noted that Laplace's demon died with classical mechanics' faith in the ironclad laws of science. You may note that further scientific developments has only added more knives on its corpse.

Computational science, for example, brings to attention the fact that, to put it in layman's terms, the universe cannot calculate more than itself. If your determinism works by arguing that sentience is just advanced computering, then recognize that no computer can exceed its theoretical computational capabilities. Once the demon steps outside the frame of the universe, it's just a wizard, and we don't like wizards.

Also note that the most complex "real world" societal systems work on the principle of "close enough," something that's only ever going to be "close enough" to determinism. Money is ever going to be close enough to its true value; the stock market is a mechanism achieved by having a sufficient mass of sufficiently wrong people making choices from limited information; voting predictions work not by predicting every vote correctly but trends and statistical extrapolations. Oh, and the ever-glorious model of evolution, which given its absurdities and mistakes, should make anyone doubt determinism in the first place (unless that fucking demon has a really, really nasty sense of humour).

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Originally Posted by ZGoten View Post
To me however, looking at the world and the universe, determinsim is what seems the most logical explanation for everything.
Why?
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Old 2013-01-03, 15:54   Link #5
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You cannot use science to prove the truth. You may only construct a model that coincides with currently gathered information and used said information to deduce what isn't possible, creating a reality that is supported all this evidence.

Humanity has constructed these things due to uncertainty. We fear the uncertain and seek to conquer it through acquiring knowledge.

However, due to this tendency we tend to create a lot of the "God of the Gaps" scenarios, in which it's easier to explain away what we do not understand as the product of supernatural beings being our understanding. There's nothing wrong with this; as we humans only comprise a tiny bit of the universe so it's only natural that our worldview contains things much greater than us.

So while, yes, the universe probably has a solution that can be "solved" in which every micro and macro event can be deconstructed and broken down into cause and effect, but such things are beyond the scope of our human perception and to me, holds no value. What only matters is the world we see right now because that's how we conceptualize anything-- in those terms.

Ultimately, it's all subject to interpretation. Based on current data, the Earth will be too hot because of the sun dying in about a billion years, and the universe will die a heat death some trillion years later. But the process is much more interesting than the goal, especially when it comes to what we care about.
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Old 2013-01-03, 16:02   Link #6
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@Irenicus:

Your example is just further evidence against the existence of Laplace's demon, which in this case is redundant, because the possibility of it has already been disproven. But even though that's the case, what's more important is the fact that the absence of such an entity would not mean the absence of a deterministic functioning universe. Just because one cannot prove the theory true does not mean that it isn't. Of course one might wonder how this theory differs from religious views then. The answer is, that there actually is scientific evidence that would suggest a deterministic functioning universe, which is not the case for religions. There is no proof, which is correct, and there likely will never be, but there is evidence (any instance of cause-effect-realtionships, increasingly important the more complex and repeatable they are) and the possiblity for more of it.

Your question as to why I believe it is the most logical way to make sense of the world, I can answer by saying that I have yet to see or experience anything that would make me believe that there is actually something that is not the single possible result of some cause(s). I just don't believe in chance.


@Archon_Wing:

I don't quite understand why you equate determinsim to supernatural explanations. It's quite the opposite of it actually. There is nothing supernatural to mathematics, physics and just overall science.
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Old 2013-01-03, 16:03   Link #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZGoten View Post
Your question as to why I believe it is the most logical way to make sense of the world, I can answer by saying that I have yet to see or experience anything that would make me believe that there is actually something that is not the single possible result of some cause(s). I just don't believe in chance.
That's not an answer.

Also, study up on random probabilities. Ever flipped a coin?

You flip a coin, it's heads or tails. Flip ten coins, you may get ten tails or ten heads. Flip a million, and you're likely 51.19% or 48.53% heads vs tails or whatever.

A single wrong cog in the mechanism -- a coin that goes heads over tails -- is going to ruin the perfect deterministic machine.

The furthest advances in predictive analytics are -- again -- working on the principle of "close enough," close enough to get a good answer. Close enough to get election outcomes right. Not close enough to run the perfect universe. Never will be, inside the universe, unless there's a major breakthrough in scientific understanding in very, very interesting directions (which will only likely destabilize things further...).
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Old 2013-01-03, 16:12   Link #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZGoten View Post
But even though that's the case, what's more important is the fact that the absence of such an entity would not mean the absence of a deterministic functioning universe. Just because one cannot prove the theory true does not mean that it isn't. Of course one might wonder how this theory differs from religious views then. The answer is, that there actually is scientific evidence that would suggest a deterministic functioning universe, which is not the case for religions.
That is not true, and is the classical "Appeal to Ignorance" argument that often gets thrown around on the internet. On AS, it usually is "The show hasn't ended so you aren't allowed to make an opinion"

Yes, it's true that there is no way to prove impossbility. But if we accept this, then all discussion becomes worthless because then why even bother talking. You can't prove that there aren't pink unicorns running the universe, and any degree of absurdity can be defended. Instead, science has certain standards.

And science is definitely not like religion because when sanely applied states we can only theorize, not force truths on people. Or at the least not imply terrible punishment if you don't accept all of its "truths" and determinism.

Not all religions are like that of course, but the popular ones do seem pretty damned self centered in their popular interpretations to me, which generally give an infinitely inflexible interpretation of the universe (and thus far more deterministic) then any scientific argument can ever give.

But I'll invoke my own argument to uncertainty, just in case. How many religions do preach that other religions can be mutually true as them anyways?

Quote:
There is no proof, which is correct, and there likely will never be, but there is evidence (any instance of cause-effect-realtionships, increasingly important the more complex and repeatable they are) and the possiblity for more of it.

Your question as to why I believe it is the most logical way to make sense of the world, I can answer by saying that I have yet to see or experience anything that would make me believe that there is actually something that is not the single possible result of some cause(s). I just don't believe in chance.
You can't seek truth without second guessing yourself all the way. It's a good idea to examine yourself for validity and accuracy, but if you truly believe every step you take has no more value than another just because the alternative is not impossible, then you'll end up dead in the water.
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Old 2013-01-03, 16:16   Link #9
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@Irenicus:

You asked me why, I gave you why, so in my book that's an answer.
Probability is just a term used for something that we cannot calculate sufficiently. Your coin example is one of them. If I flipped a coind right know, I wouldn't know the result. That doesn't mean that it's theoretically impossible to predict it. What the result is, is dependent on factors such as the mass of the coin, gravitation, the power and angle you flipped it with, air pressure, the composition of whatever it is landing on etc. It is extremely complex to exactly predict a result, but that result is still dependable on factors that could in theory be analized sufficiently - according to determinism. Whether we ware capable of this or not, has no impact on whether or not it's true.

@Archon_Wing:

Please read what I'm actually writing. I already established that there is scientific evidence supporting determinsm, which is why the concept was brought up to begin with. In this regard it differs immensely from the unicorns or religions you mentioned. I am not argumenting just on the basis that it can't be disproven. That would be ridiculous. Also, who said I'm not second guessing myself?
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Old 2013-01-03, 16:22   Link #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZGoten View Post
@Archon_Wing:

I don't quite understand why you equate determinsim to supernatural explanations. It's quite the opposite of it actually. There is nothing supernatural to mathematics, physics and just overall science.
I'm more describing it as more of a mechanism to humans to explain away unexplainable things in a deterministic fashion. By doing that, the answer becomes a clear cut one.

It is in fact, a delusion created via a need for certainty, and ultimately determinism.

Quote:
@Archon_Wing:

Please read what I'm actually writing. I already established that there is scientific evidence supporting determinsm, which is why the concept was brought up to begin with. In this regard it differs immensely from the unicorns or religions you mentioned. I am not argumenting just on the basis that it can't be disproven. That would be ridiculous. Also, who said I'm not second guessing myself?
Am I reading the wrong thing?

Quote:
Just because one cannot prove the theory true does not mean that it isn't.
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Old 2013-01-03, 16:30   Link #11
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To me however, looking at the world and the universe, determinsim is what seems the most logical explanation for everything.
And it was logical to say that the sun orbits the earth, and that the planets are actually stars.

And when theism was a big deal, it made sense to say that the earth is the center of the universe.

However, science has disproved all of the above, and as you stated, it has disproved determinism as well. While it may make sense to you, remember that an individual can only observe so much about things on our own scale, and beyond that is impossible. Especially on the scale of the microscopic realm of quantum physics.
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Old 2013-01-03, 16:30   Link #12
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@Archon_Wing:

That's just not correct. The roots of determinsim are indeed born by seeking certainty, but that is what all sciences strive for. And unlike you are suggesting, determinsim does not claim to be an answer or even to grant certainty. It does not know more about black holes or the beginning of the universe than any other school. It only adds the notion that it there were no alternatives for these things. Please stop connecting determinsim or even its function or creation with religions.

You are reading the right thing, but not enough of it:

Quote:
Just because one cannot prove the theory true does not mean that it isn't. Of course one might wonder how this theory differs from religious views then. The answer is, that there actually is scientific evidence that would suggest a deterministic functioning universe, which is not the case for religions. There is no proof, which is correct, and there likely will never be, but there is evidence (any instance of cause-effect-realtionships, increasingly important the more complex and repeatable they are) and the possiblity for more of it.

@Lightning_Wing:

Don't confuse things. Science has not disproven determinism. It has only disproven the possibility to prove it right irrefutably.
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Old 2013-01-03, 16:33   Link #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZGoten View Post
You asked me why, I gave you why, so in my book that's an answer.
It's a deeper why. Metaphysical why. Philosophical why. Not just why you think so, but why you think it matters -- and more, really, why not, why else, why the hell, etc., etc. I wanted to see your worldview you stated you have in the first post.

Basically, what Archon_Wing is questioning you on which seems to be a tangent to your main point, but is actually quite important to the rest of us reading what you write down -- what, aside from pure, implacable philosophical curiosity, does this belief means? To you, to your thinking, to your concept of your very ability to think.

But I guess I should ask you a more direct question: what do you think is sentience, then?

Quote:
Probability is just a term used for something that we cannot calculate sufficiently. Your coin example is one of them. If I flipped a coind right know, I wouldn't know the result. That doesn't mean that it's theoretically impossible to predict it. What the result is, is dependent on factors such as the mass of the coin, gravitation, the power and angle you flipped it with, air pressure, the composition of whatever it is landing on etc. It is extremely complex to exactly predict a result, but that result is still dependable on factors that could in theory be analized sufficiently - according to determinism. Whether we ware capable of this or not, has no impact on whether or not it's true.
The coin was computational, the most famous display of random probabilities really, but even if it were physical -- atomic level, so to speak -- then you've already put a pretty sharp knife on your own belief when you acknowledged the inherent uncertainties of [the current models of] quantum physics. If the particles are not entirely where they should be, or they have a million possibilities to be at a million places all at once but actually aren't or maybe are or whatever ["until observed"], why would you think air pressure ten thousand years from now when the last bajillion coin gets flipped, would be predictable today even by the theoretical bigger-than-the-universe machine?
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Old 2013-01-03, 16:34   Link #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ZGoten View Post
That's just not correct. The roots of determinsim are indeed born by seeking certainty, but that is what all sciences strive for.
No it's not.

Quote:
And unlike you are suggesting, determinsim does not claim to be an answer or even to grant certainty. It does not know more about black holes or the beginning of the universe than any other school. It only adds the notion that it there were no alternatives for these things. Please stop connecting determinsim or even its function or creation with religions.
It's still a human construct and subject to human limitations, which is my point. And even if there were a true solution to the universe, that it's simply not measurable in universe. And I will not stop connecting an important aspect of humanity's search for answers with the search for truth and greater knowledge, mind you.
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Old 2013-01-03, 16:45   Link #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Irenicus View Post
The coin was computational, the most famous display of random probabilities really, but even if it were physical -- atomic level, so to speak -- then you've already put a pretty sharp knife on your own belief when you acknowledged the inherent uncertainties of [the current models of] quantum physics. If the particles are not entirely where they should be, or they have a million possibilities to be at a million places all at once but actually aren't or maybe are or whatever ["until observed"], why would you think air pressure ten thousand years from now when the last bajillion coin gets flipped, would be predictable today even by the theoretical bigger-than-the-universe machine?
Because even ten thousand years from now, coins and air pressure are influenced by causes prior to them that make them behave in a certain way that is in theory calculatable, if one knows about the properties of those causes. And again, whether or not that's possible for us, is not the issue.

You ask me, what it matters to me, am I correct? You ask me what it means 'aside from pure, implacable philosophical curiosity'. The answer is nothing. I have a genuine interest in philosophy. Determinsim does not impact my life whatsoever, though. Still, I'm allowed to tackle those questions to satisfy my curiosity, am I not?

/edit: I want to add on that. While it is true, that determinsim does not impact my life, it further solidifies other views I have of the world. For example, the 'fact' that everything is connected in a cause-effect-relationship, would suggest that the human mind is nothing else than a very complex machine of organic material. Like I said, this does not impact my daily live, since this is no devaluation of the human race for me. It is a revaluation, and one that would imply that sentience is not restricted to organic liveforms. It is a few hundred years too early, though, for those questions and convictions to even matter in life.

Now, what sentience is ... that's a complicated question that I will answer some other time, if you don't mind.
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Old 2013-01-03, 16:58   Link #16
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Personally I feel that hard determinism which is what you are talking about here is an amusing distraction, but otherwise pointless outside of academic and philosophical discussion. It is similar to theology in that it espouses one perfect absolute solution or answer to the question that is everything -- and ultimately states that the question itself is the answer.

It is applicable to any and all of life's problems as Macroeconomics is applicable to one single person balancing his weekly grocery budget. The scale you propose with which determinism can be relied upon to accurately gauge the results of "All Things(tm)" has already been succinctly pointed out by other posts above as needing to be "outside the system" -- which in theory requires some theoretical computational device that not only contains all the information of the universe, but is able to sort through this information, which .. aside from the "chicken & egg"-style allegory of how something can be outside of the Universe, simply presents the issue of relevancy of scale. So in summation, if we're talking about determinism and it's impact on our daily lives -- what time scale are we also talking about? Within discrete time there's no guarantee that even mean regression has occurred .. which is what the coin-flipping someone else previously mentioned was attempting to point out.

The chicken & egg allegory itself is quite amusing .. how is determinism itself affected by the existence of something that can calculate and thus deduce all outcomes? It's very circular.

My perspective: So, basically, it's novel and amusing .. but unless someone is paying for you to think about it .. it is about as relevant as spending an afternoon having a long brunch.
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Old 2013-01-03, 17:52   Link #17
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I think I remember stories about Einstein adhering to something akin to this determinism, which is why he very strongly rejects the idea of Quantum Physics and that brought out his "downfall" in the scientific community. It's the famous "God does not play dice" quote.

I get the sentiment that "just because science can't prove it(yet) doesn't mean it doesn't exist". Since science is still ultimately a human construct, it will never be able to tell anyone everything there is to know. So far on the grander scale, science seems to also have refuted the idea of both Idealism and Materialism, but smaller cases where either one of these still holds true at least partially or in different context (the "nature vs nurture" for example).

But taking the following quote, I'd like to point out something as well
Quote:
Originally Posted by willx
It is applicable to any and all of life's problems as Macroeconomics is applicable to one single person balancing his weekly grocery budget. The scale you propose with which determinism can be relied upon to accurately gauge the results of "All Things(tm)" has already been succinctly pointed out by other posts above as needing to be "outside the system" -- which in theory requires some theoretical computational device that not only contains all the information of the universe, but is able to sort through this information, which .. aside from the "chicken & egg"-style allegory of how something can be outside of the Universe, simply presents the issue of relevancy of scale.
Laplace's Demon could very well be God in this regard, don't you think?

So, ZGoten, this philosophical thinking is very much a spiritual thinking, even if you use science as the background. And there's nothing wrong with that. Science did reaffirm my theological belief so I know it's not impossible.
====

Also, I'm wondering if we should merge this thread with the earlier general philosophy thread.
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Old 2013-01-03, 18:02   Link #18
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God would indeed be a being capable of the functions Laplace's demon would have to fullfil. It is also true, that determinism can go either way with theological claims, even though I personally do not share them and reckon determinsim on its own.

However, determinism is not spiritual thinking. I am under the impression, that many people here attribute far too much importance to that being that is called the demon. Determinism does not stand and fall simply on this entity's ability to exist. In fact, it is not even needed for the general idea of determinsm, which just says that there is only one possible result for each given cause at a given point in time. The theory does neither say that Laplace's demon exists, nor does it say that it has to exist in order for determinsim to be true. I wanted to make this clear, just in case. The only importance to it stems from the fact that Laplace's demon would be the only way to prove the idea beyond a shadow of a doubt (or beyond quite significant doubt, actually). This will never be the case, but like I said, people are focusing too much on this aspect, which is not the actual issue.
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Old 2013-01-03, 18:15   Link #19
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So,... how would determinism calculate dreams?

Will I eat vanilla, or chocolate icecream as dessert?
make me scratch that itch or decide that it'll go down by itself?
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Old 2013-01-03, 18:20   Link #20
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@erneiz_hyde - Yes, my point was that the "demon" or the "machine" is pretty much "A god of some kind" or would result in circular logic problems.

@ZGoten - I'm actually not focusing on the demon much at all. I was addressing it because it was brought up and discussed. My whole point is simply equating that, and I quote, "[T]he general idea of determinsm, which just says that there is only one possible result for each given cause at a given point in time" has the same relevance as contemplating theology on a person's everyday life. You have answered all questions in life and existence with a single statement.

Anyways, the starting point of this entire discussion from ZGoten's introductory post was: "What about you guys? What is your take on determinsm? Have you had prior exposure to this idea or not? Do you welcome or resent it?" --
Basically, what do you think?

Me? I think that:

Both Determinism and Theology are, barring some unique circumstance (financially, professionally or personally), 1) in a mild form -- irrelevant in a person's life beyond a mild distraction and 2) in the extreme -- dangerous to scientific study, logical reasoning and how a person views their own lives.
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