It was an experimental problem. Margenau: It was an experimental problem. At that time, theoretical problems were not available. Neither you nor Page had any or wanted any students. I remember this very distinctly. Lindsay: too much cross-talk on Page, because he had the kind of feeling that most students, I think, really should do an experimental job.
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The latter was not recognized until the present century. The problem of freedom, however, has been with us since the dawn of philosophy, and it behooves us now to follow up the allusions at the beginning of section 1 and comment on the uneasy union between deterministic science and freedom-conscious moral philosophy which existed throughout the centuries that preceded ours.
A systematic review of all the devices whereby philosophers have tried to harmonize causality and freedom is impossible here. A sketch of three of them must suffice.
One, which has the authority of Spinoza and some modern theologians, invokes a distinction between inward and outward experiences. Freedom is a phenomenon of consciousness of which one becomes aware by introspection. Determinism regulates processes from without. A stone in flight, said Spinoza, if it were awakened to consciousness, would deem itself free to move along its predetermined path; it would feel it had chosen its trajectory. The difference between determinism and freedom has been likened to two seemingly contradictory properties of physical objects: The windshield of a car is concave when seen from the inside, convex from the outside.
This explanation, in spite of its allegorical appeal, nevertheless leaves freedom in an unsatisfactory state, for when all is said and done it remains a psychological illusion.
Next is a thesis which accounts for freedom by an appeal to ignorance. An omniscient being is not free, since knowing what happens excludes all choice in situations which otherwise permit it. The example sometimes cited is that of a child which is given a choice between a dish of spinach and a piece of pie.
His mother, knowing that he dislikes spinach, knows the outcome, concludes therefore that he has no choice, while the child believes he is facing a genuine alternative. It is the limitation of his knowledge about himself which gives him the sense of being free. Last is a view which is found in the writings of Kant and developed in detail to fit modern science by Cassirer. Their philosophy, called transcendental idealism, regards causality as a category of human understanding, a necessary form in which all knowledge of events must be cast.
For things in themselves, which lie beyond our comprehension, causality and all other basic modes of thought are irrelevant. This is what is meant by calling causality a transcendental principle of understanding. From this point of view universal causality or determinism, whether of the classical or the quantum mechanical sort, must not be regarded as a metaphysical constraint upon all forms of being. It must be distinguished from what Cassirer calls a "dinglicher Zwang".
Freedom, too, is a transcendental principle, but one regulating our actions, and it therefore controls another realm. If both were factual, descriptive attributes of the world they would indeed collide; only their transcendental nature keeps them out of conflict and makes them compatible. Now it seems to me that classical determinism and freedom do collide — in a factual sense if both are taken as ultimate metaphysical principles, and in the form of logical irreconcilables if they are transcendental modes of explanation which regulate our understanding.
Let me illustrate the meaning of this claim by reference to a trivial example which has no ethical significance, to be sure. Suppose I am asked to raise my hand, I can do this mechanically without thought and without engaging my will.
In that case, habit acquired during my student days will probably cause me to raise my right hand. One may look upon this action as a causal one, whose result is predictable in terms of conditions existing in my brain, of associations acquired, of neural pathways previously established, and so on. But notice: I took care to say that I would probably raise my right hand, thereby implying something less than strict predictability.
But if I am told: raise which ever hand you wish, the sequence of events is different. I am somehow challenged to think and then to make a choice. To believe that, during the moment of reflection preceding the decision to raise my left hand, the configuration of the molecules in my body, the currents in my brain cells, or even the psychological variables composing my mental state have already predetermined that I must raise my left hand is clearly false, for it contradicts the most elementary, the most reliable, self-declarative awareness of choice which accompanies this act.
Thus a serious contradiction arises if strict causality is a metaphysical fact. Nor can the situation be saved by saying, with Kant and Cassirer, that causality is merely a transcendental principle in terms of which we are required to conceive things.
For in that case we should require one principle of understanding to comprehend the sequence of events which compose the objective course leading to the raising of my left hand, and a different, incompatible one to explain my feeling of freedom. Human reason does not tolerate two incoherent principles where a single one will do. I shall now show that the loosening of causality required by quantum mechanics enlarges the scope of that principle sufficiently to allow removal of these difficulties and to cover both determination and freedom.
What I hope to accomplish needs careful statement. It might seem to be a proof that quantum mechanics has solved the problem of freedom. This is a vastly different task from showing that quantum mechanics has removed an essential obstacle from the road toward its solution, while the problem remains unsolved in its major details. The following analysis is directed toward this latter, much more modest aim.
In approaching it, however, many of the difficulties, whose resolution constitutes the difference between the first and second tasks, will move into view. The decision which hand to raise is totally without ethical relevance; it merely illustrates the contrast between instinctive-reflexive, almost mechanical behavior and an action which involves thought and will, thereby engaging to a small extent the quality of freedom. The question of motivation, so essential in ethics, hardly enters at all.
Or if it does, if for some conscious reason — perhaps the desire to surprise my partner — I have chosen to lift my left arm when he expected the right one to be raised, that reason is far from the concerns of ethics. The distance from here to choices which can be said to be morally good or bad, which conform or do not conform to ethical principles, which carry responsibility, is very great.
Yet somehow it can be travelled by vehicles already at our disposal. Freedom a prerequisite to ethics Most theories of ethics, including the one outlined in section 4, achieve their end, the explanation of moral behavior, once the possibility of freedom and motivation is established.
These qualities, however, are present at least in embryonic form in the example we chose for discussion; hence we return to it. Its relative simplicity is an important advantage. Precisely what happened to me as a conscious person during that crucial interval in which I "made up my mind" to raise my left hand? Of the enormous variety of physical and chemical processes which took place in my body I am not aware.
I do know, however, that the physical condition before the arm raising and that after the act were connected by a continuous series of objective physical happenings. And the entire series could have been different because of my will, because of a choice of physical possibilities that were open to me.
The mental processes during the crucial interval are likewise difficult to record in detail. Nevertheless the following is perfectly clear. I was aware of having a choice, there was a moment of reflection, perhaps a brief recall of past occasions, then came a glimmer of rudimentary satisfaction in doing the unexpected, next a decision and finally the act. The choice was enacted within consciousness, and it evidently was permitted, but merely permitted, by the physical processes that took place.
One thing, then, is utterly apparent: freedom is not wholly a problem of physical science but one involving biology, physiology and psychology as well. Upon realizing this one immediately confronts the standard question of reducibility: Are the laws of psychophysiology merely elaborate versions of those encountered in the physico-chemical world, or do they differ radically?
Physiology and psychology differ radically because of information in body and mind The first alternative which assumes the possibility of reducing all behavior to physico-chemical bases need not be tied to the naive supposition that all the laws of these basic sciences are now known, and it will not be construed in this narrow sense here.
The second, which maintains a radical difference, takes two essential forms. First, one may interpret the difference as mere transcendence, secondly as outright violation of physico-chemical laws. As already mentioned, acceptance of I does not commit us to the view that all basic laws of nature are already known.
The precise meaning of IIa involves a theory of levels of complexity among physical phenomena. It is most simply illustrated by recalling the relation between the mechanics of point masses and the statistical mechanics of gases which are here viewed as large assemblages of molecules, in the form of point masses.
To describe the mechanical state of each individual molecule one needs to specify its position and its velocity, nothing more. The totality of molecules, the gas, however, exhibits measurable properties like pressure, temperature and entropy which have no meaning with respect to single molecules.
In this sense they are radically different from the properties of point masses. Yet if the positions and velocities of all molecules were known, the aggregate observables, i. These latter characterize a level of complexity above the mechanics of mass points. Explanation is continuous from below; the concepts of the lower level have meaning on the upper, but not the reverse. It is seen, therefore, that thesis IIa asserts no incompatibility between concepts and principles on two different levels.
The physico-chemical and the physio-psychological can probably be regarded in a similar way as two different levels of complexity, even though the differences are so great that the full connection is not at present in evidence. The view, however, seems reasonable. If it is accepted, and the gap can some day be filled, the higher level concepts can be reached from below and thus be reduced. The bearing of alternative IIa upon the problem of freedom, which as we have seen is encountered in the upper realm, is now apparent.
Freedom cannot appear in the domains of physiology and psychology if indeterminacy is not already lodged in physics. Strict causality among the molecules, applied upward as a principle of nature to explain the behavior of aggregates, cannot entail freedom because of the requirement of continuity from below.
It is equally impossible to engender freedom in the realm of psychology when strict determinism rules physics, so long as hypothesis IIa is maintained. For our present purpose, therefore, IIa can be identified with I: neither permits freedom unless strict determinism is abandoned in physics. Only alternative IIb provides the possibility of freedom in the face of unrelieved classical causality as it is understood in pre-quantum physics.
That view cannot be rejected out of hand; indeed it is very prevalent. Since it is forced to assume the occurrence of violations of the normal order of nature, it is tantamount to a belief in miracles. As for myself, I refuse to regard freedom as a miracle so long as other avenues of explanation are open.
This is the case if alternative I or IIa is adopted, provided physical indeterminacy is taken seriously. Here Margenau parts company with his lifelong colleague and mentor, Ernst Cassirer I judge IIa to be the safest hypothesis, and propose to describe its consequences.
This is a somewhat unpopular course; it forces us to part company with many distinguished moral philosophers who see the autonomy of ethics threatened when a relation of any sort is assumed to exist between that august discipline and science. For centuries, humanists have been impressed by the slogan already discredited in section 4 of this lecture, that science deals with facts, ethics with values, and these two categories are so disparate that they must forever stand apart.
If unanalyzed this is a foolish and a dangerous dogma. Some feel that a view which finds a root of freedom in physical science denigrates and demeans the high estate of ethics whose legitimate concerns should not seek refuge in the indeterminacies of natural events. Ethics, says Cassirer, should not be forced to build its nests in the gaps of physical causation, but he fails to tell where else it should build them, if at all.
The view proposed here can hardly be criticised as debasing ethics, or as depriving it of autonomy. For in the first place, if, in espousing indeterminacy, physics abdicates control over part of its former domain, entrusting it to other hands, it does not threaten ethics.
The new mood of physics is not one of intransigeance but of renunciation. Indeterminacy not a solution to problem of freedom, but the first step Secondly, embracing the belief that freedom is made possible by indeterminacies in nature will not solve the problem of freedom.
As will appear later, it permits only one first step towards its solution, but an important step to a place from which freedom can be seen as a scientific challenge, where it appears no longer as a fallacy or an illusion. Beyond it lies an open countryside in which ethics must travel without the guidance of science if it wishes to explore the meaning of good and bad, the origin of moral values — in short if it wishes to convert the offer of science, which might be named chance, into responsible choice.
Another consideration must be borne in mind.
Oral History Interviews
World War II Margenau worked on the theory of microwaves and the development of duplexing systems that enabled a single radar antenna both to transmit and receive signals. He also worked on spectral line broadening , a technique used to analyse and review the dynamics of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. His topic was Scientific Indeterminism and Human Freedom. Margenau embraced indeterminism as the first step toward a solution of the problem of human freedom. Freedom involves two components: chance existence of a genuine set of alternatives and choice. Quantum mechanics provides the chance, and we shall argue that only the mind can make the choice by selecting not energetically enforcing among the possible future courses.
World War II[ edit ] Margenau worked on the theory of microwaves and the development of duplexing systems that enabled a single radar antenna both to transmit and receive signals. He also worked on spectral line broadening , a technique used to analyse and review the dynamics of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. His topic was Scientific Indeterminism and Human Freedom. Margenau embraced indeterminism as the first step toward a solution of the problem of human freedom. Freedom involves two components: chance existence of a genuine set of alternatives and choice. Quantum mechanics provides the chance, and we shall argue that only the mind can make the choice by selecting not energetically enforcing among the possible future courses.
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