project WORLDVIEW worldview theme info         copyright 2007                Home         

Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #11A: Fatalism   Worldview Theme #11B: Free Will
Contrast Worldview Themes #11A and #11B --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!          

Contrast Worldview Themes #11A and #14A -- these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!          

automatism -- an act or series of actions performed by a person without conscious thought or reflection that conceivably could be performed by someone or something functioning “on automatic” -- like a robot lacking human consciousness programmed and directed by someone else

behaviorism -- a branch of psychology that restricts itself to considering objective, measurable behavior and modeling it in terms of stimulus and response. Radical behaviorists steer clear of involving introspection, subjective mental states, conscious volition and free will in their explanations of human behavior. Critics charge that they view human beings as unfeeling automatisms. Failing to get a boost from more recent experimental findings and computer modeling efforts, many behavior psychologists’ once popular theories have lost favor.

causality -- the belief that events don’t just happen randomly or by accident (accidentalism), but that their occurrence can be linked to something else: some force, the prior occurrence of some other event or state, or to a set of facts or laws. Timing is important, the supposed cause (force that acts, energy release, triggering event, etc) must precede or occur simultaneously with the observed effect (phenomenon it supposedly causes). Causality is a cornerstone of the foundation of classical physics. For example, according to Newton’s second law, to change the state of motion of an object a force must act. In the subatomic world governed by quantum mechanics, with seemingly random events occurring, the discussion of causality becomes more complicated. But it certainly seems that in the quantum world, with respect to the occurrence of individual events, causality must be abandoned! 

computational theory of the mind -- asserts that the mind arises from the activity of the brain: responding to input from sensors, inscribing information into memory, processing information, doing computation / running programs, sending signals initiating action, etc. Encoding of information / data patterns and employing the logic needed for computation involve the brain’s one trillion or so neurons (each of which may be connected to up to 1000 other such cells). The brain activates links (synapses) between neurons. If each activation is equated with executing a digital instruction, the brain can execute about a ten million billion such instructions every second. This theory connects the mental world of perceptions, beliefs, desires, thinking, feeling, intending to do something, etc. with the brain and thus provides a solution to the mind--body problem. In emphasizing the role that natural selection played in the mind’s development, it provides insight into why the human mind is what it is and how it got that way.

conscious vs. unconscious behavior--distinguishes between behavior you were aware of and that which happened in such "automatic response to environmental stimuli" fashion that your conscious mind was unaware of it. This can be related to Freud’s distinction between the conscious and unconscious mind. If someone asks about what you are thinking / feeling or exactly how you did something, you have access to some information or details and can give them a report. But much involving bodily processes or mundane routines happens automatically. Information or details regarding these are unavailable to you--you certainly couldn't provide them in a report!

determinism -- the belief that future events (including those involving human behavior) are fixed, caused or predetermined by preceding events (forces acting, a chain of prior occurrences, etc). Taken to its extreme, hard determinists conclude that at any single instance there is but a single physically possible way the future will turn out.    Belief in determinism--and the accompanying notion that any free will that humans seem to possess is just an illusion--was scientifically supportable up until the full development of quantum mechanics prior to 1930. After that, appreciation of the uncertainty principle and the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanical predictions began to soften the position of hard core determinists.  The subsequent development of chaos theory had a similar effect.   

DNA -- deoxyribonucleic acid, the gene bearing double helix molecule, that is the primary hereditary molecule in most species. It’s made up of millions or billions of pairs of linked subunits (called nucleotides) that, along the length of the molecule, can be specified using letters (only possible designations of each individual link: AT, TA,CG, GC) in composing a long genetic code sequence.

fatalism vs. determinism-- fatalism is belief that people are powerless to do anything other than what they actually do.  Fatalists believe that human deliberation over possible actions they could take is pointless since in the inevitable end it will not matter. While fatalism and determinism technically are different, both fatalists and determinists believe that the future is in some sense already set or determined.

fatalism, poverty and responsibility -- There appears to be a link between the prevalence of belief in fatalism and living in poverty. It has been suggested that some poor people become resigned to their poverty and feel that no matter what they do, since they were destined to be poor, they can’t escape it. An important realization, that many who have worked with helping people get off welfare have had, is that escaping welfare / poverty begins with taking personal responsibility. This is consistent with believing people have free will and that confronting the issue of whether to take personal responsibility is unavoidable. On the other hand, a poor person who is fatalistic, when asked to take personal responsibility, might reply, “No one is ever free, so taking personal responsibility is meaningless”.

gene -- the basic physical and functional unit of heredity that is transmitted from one generation to the next.

instinct--an organism's response to environmental stimuli or inherent deposition toward a particular behavior. It is  genetically determined, hard-wired and thus independent of previous experience, learning, or memory.  Distinguishing  instinctual from learned human behavior can generate controversy amongst sociobiologists, psychologists, etc.

nature vs. nurture--refers to the ongoing debate over the extent to which human behavior is largely innate / preprogrammed by our genetic heritage or is chiefly shaped by the environment in which we are raised, what we learn from it and from those who care for and teach us as we grow. Experimental support emphasizing the importance of heredity comes from studies of identical twins (sharing the same genes) raised apart, whereas ongoing studies of the brain--in particular findings that show how the brain can “rewire” itself in response to environmental pressures (including head injury)--illustrate that despite the complex, innate structure of the mind, the learning environment fundamentally shapes human behavior.

orderly universe--the belief, which can be traced back to Greeks such as Thales in the sixth century BC, that there is an order and organization to the universe due to its functioning in accordance with a small number of natural laws--laws which can conceivably be uncovered and understood by humans. Such a notion is diametrically opposed by the belief that the universe is unorganized, transient chaos whose workings can never be comprehended.  Harvard historian of science Gerald Holton's term for the origin of belief in an orderly universe is "The Ionian Enchantment."

pre-destination -- a religious concept involving belief that the complete script of the human drama has already been written--that is, already determined by God--and that humans, completely lacking control over their own behavior and fate, are like actors merely acting out what’s been predetermined. It has been suggested that -- as far as humans can tell, given their illusion of being in charge of their own destiny -- it should make absolutely no difference in their behavior whether humans really have free will or not. The reasoning is that you should behave as if you’re in control and if you aren’t, because you lack free will, then there’s nothing you can do about it anyway!

teleology -- the idea that there is a design or purpose inherent in everything and belief that events unfold toward some divinely specified ultimate end or that everything strives to fulfill some purpose.

  Contrast Worldview Themes #11A and #11B --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!          

accidentalism -- the belief that events just happen randomly or by accident

chaos theory --can be understood on two levels: popular and technical.  Popularly, chaos theory involves hidden patterns that underlie seemingly random events and suggest their interconnectedness. Technically it is the theory of  non-linear systems whose behavior can be modeled by mathematical equations that can’t be explicitly solved -- their solutions can only be studied by computer. In theory accurate predictions as to the future behavior of such systems can be made, but these solutions are only good if the initial state or conditions of the system are known to extraordinary accuracy.  For some systems, a very small uncertainty in initial conditions can have very large future consequences. Thus if your initial modeling fails to account for "a butterfly flapping its wings in China", the result may be unexpected very rough weather in North America!

compatibilism--the belief that determinism is compatible with free will, and that human choice and free will can arise out of a deterministic universe.

existentialism -- a philosophical orientation that emphasizes individual choice, decision-making , and responsibility -- including the responsibility to put meaning into a seemingly irrational world that has no discernible purpose. Existentialist thinking is much concerned with the human condition. One can distinguish between "atheistic existentialism" and "theistic existentialism"--the former having no room for God, the latter perhaps realizing, in the words of Christian author James Sire, "whether or not God exists is a tough question to be solved not by reason but by faith."

free will and sin--it seems reasonable to conclude that only if humans have free will are they capable of sinning. Those who conclude this, argue that without free will, humans are ultimately not responsible for their actions and therefore have no moral responsibility.  Bringing pre-destination into their argument, they ask, "What kind of God would pre-determine your behavior long before you were born, and then on judgment day condemn you to Hell for the sinful behavior that you had absolutely no control over? Certainly not one that we can conceive of?"  It turns out that throughout the history of Christianity many have disputed arguments like this. Indeed, St. Paul's question (in the New Testament book of Romans) "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor" has been used to blame individuals for sinful acts even though they were pre-ordained by an omniscient God.

God, omniscience and omnipotence of -- many conceive of God as all knowing and all powerful, with infinite knowledge and power.  Use of infinity, in both mathematical and philosophical conceptions, can lead to difficulty and contradiction.  Here's a relevant one, provided by cybernetic pioneer Norbert Wiener: "Can God make a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it?  If He cannot, there is a limit to His power...if He can, this seems to constitute a limitation to His power too."  Those who value free will have qualified God's omniscience by restricting it to knowing everything that can be known--excluding the free choices human agents will make in the future.  Restricting God's knowledge in this regard can be avoided, but it comes at the expense of restricting His power: by assuming God knows everything that is to happen in the future, but lacks the power to doing anything to alter that future. 

Godel's theorem--based on the 1930s' work of Austrian mathematician Kurt Godel, the theorem has the effect of inserting unavoidable doubt in mathematics / undermining its logical foundation by asserting that there exist  mathematical propositions for which it is impossible to determine whether they are true or false.

indeterminism -- the opposite of determinism. This is part of a belief system that has room for free will, whereas belief in determinism more readily lends itself to fatalism, accepting one’s fate, etc.

introspection -- the process of looking inside one’s mind, recalling events, memories, sensory experiences, etc, and after this mental examination, perhaps reflecting on the experience, and formulating action. This only gives an illusion of free will, behaviorists and determinists would argue.

mind / body problem -- this is summarized by the question, “How do our thoughts, beliefs, desires and other intangibles in our mind interact with our bodies and trigger the actions and behaviors that are so real and tangible -- and in total effect have so dramatically reshaped the natural world? Theories of the mind have evolved from being built around “soul” to “substance” and “behavior” -- leading to the late 20th century emphasis on interpreting the mind according to what it does, not what it is. But now, at the beginning of the 21st century, based on new understanding of how the brain works and theoretical insights spurred by efforts to create artificial intelligence, the most popular theory -- the computational theory of the mind -- goes beyond behaviorism in asserting, “The mind is what the brain does”.

personal responsibility, accepting -- Before an individual can overcome some personal difficulty or solve a personal problem, he or she needs to acknowledge that the difficulty or problem exists, by saying something like, “This problem is mine and I must solve it”. In this context, taking personal responsibility means that you don’t ignore difficulties or problems, expect others to solve them for you, or shift the blame to others. In a family or social context, taking personal responsibility can mean voluntarily limiting your choices or restraining yourself for the good of the family, tribe, village, community or whatever. Richard Critchfield refers to this as “the freedom to choose self responsibility”.

positive thinking, the power of -- This phrase is the title of a 1952 best-selling book by Christian preacher and author Norman Vincent Peale. The basic idea behind his book--and behind similar routes to empowerment advocated by various New Age enthusiasts-- is that repeating good thoughts brings good things, while continually dwelling on negative thoughts can bring bad things. In short, people create their own reality by their thoughts.  Many, Peale included, consider thoughts to be things.  Some New Agers don't stop there, but connect whatever they are promoting with the mysteries of quantum physics in claiming that all matter is condensed thought.  For others, similar positive thinking / visualization techniques--and belief that God wants you to have abundant wealth--serve as the basis for teaching others how to get rich.  Coupling such "ask, believe, and receive" recipes with the idea that "you can control the world by what you think" methods provides the essence of numerous books about how to obtain wealth and power.

probability / random events -- the likelihood of a particular outcome occurring. In certain cases, this can be computed by dividing the number of ways the event can occur by the number of total outcomes possible.. Example: in the roll of a die (singular of dice!) the probability of rolling the number three is 1 divided by 6 = 16.7 % or .167. A probability of 100 % or 1.00 means it is absolutely certain that a particular outcome will occur. The concept of probability is intimately connected to that of events that happen at random -- meaning with no predictable pattern (at least with respect to knowing for sure what will happen next).

process theology--building on a non-deterministic philosophy that stresses the process of "becoming" rather than the state of "being,"  process theologians believe that God organizes and orders events in a universe of free agents by encouraging rather than coercing.  Many of their beliefs can be traced to British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), for whom God was less of an omnipotent creator / ruler and more of a participant in an ongoing creative process.

quantum mechanics -- a branch of physics, developed in the first half of the 20th century, dealing with motion and interactions of matter on very small scales (typically atomic or subatomic). Unlike the visible, large scale realm of classical physics -- where predicted future behavior of individual particles involves deterministic certainties -- predicting the behavior of discrete particles in the quantum realm involves probabilities not certainties.

uncertainty principle -- practically applicable in the microscopic realm of physics, perfectly knowing both the position and the speed or momentum of a particle is impossible. This principle, first formulated in 1927 by Heisenberg and fundamental to quantum mechanics, can be explained by thought experiments in which one realizes that any attempt to pin down the exact position of a particle disturbs it and changes its position. Therefore the concept of scientists making perfect measurements is meaningless, all measurements have some associated uncertainty

volition -- consciously choosing , from many possible potential actions, a particular action.


Back to Worldview Theme #11