Why would omniscience and free will be mutually exclusive?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by wynn, Jul 17, 2011.

  1. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

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    But there's a BIG problem with all of that, which is that omniscience does not include (nor, perhaps, even require) any notion of time whatsoever, nor does it imply "passage" of time which is an intrinsic human concept, and something we, like most sentient animals, necessarily require in order to function according to evolutionary principles.

    If the predicated omniscient "one" can only be conceived as existing outside of time, or outside of our limited concept of time, why would evolutionary principles apply, or a requirement that events are predicted or remembered? What does an omniscient observer need to "do" as such, other than merely observe, and is this a completely passive capacity?

    Note that humans and other animals don't observe passively, but have an effect on events--the observer effect. This is true for quantum events, so it must be true for any event if any event is fundamentally "prescribed" by quantum laws of nature.
    That is to say, your argument
    doesn't apply to an omniscient being. Such a being would have no concept of "when" WWII occured unless they also remembered events. They would, however be able to "observe" WWII as it happened.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2011
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  3. Hesperado Don't immanentize the eschaton Registered Senior Member

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    Easy peasy: Omniscience is the sum total of all willed events. The sum totaling of them does not necessarily preclude their freely chosen eventuality. I.e., we are free to choose. God's omniscience embraces (or "includes" for the less New Agey among us) whatever we choose.

    There is, however, a pre-cognitive dimension to this conclusion (which was called, to the ancients who knew better, an epiphany); which all the complexity of Normand et al. are trying, hopelessly and indefinitely, to render cogent.
     
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  5. Pierre-Normand Registered Member

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    I'm not trying to render cogent any complex feature God may objectively have that may be of such nature as to necessarily elude our rational understanding. I'm only interested here in some intelligible features that are hypothetically attributed to God, and the consequences that would follow regarding our free-will. Such hypothetical attributions may make a travesty of your God, but I make no categorical claims about Him, nor am I even presuming (other that hypothetically for purpose of discussion) his existence.

    Obviously, if His powers were of an inescapably mysterious nature, then so would be the question of their compatibility with our free-will. There would be nothing much of philosophical interest here.
     
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  7. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

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    I don't understand "willed events". What does it mean?

    Does it mean omniscience is an exercise of will, or freedom to choose which events to observe? Surely an omniscient being would have no choice, but would necessarily observe everything?
    Doesn't that leave open the question of what "everything" really means, and does it mean everything that has ever happened, or does it mean everything that is happening, since the latter depends on the former and there is no logical reason to remember past events if you're aware of everything happening "now"?
     
  8. Pierre-Normand Registered Member

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    I think omniscience is usually understood to mean 'omni-knowledge'. Consider that even fully passive observers -- passive in the sense that they merely observe and don't intervene -- can only cognitively take-in from the observed scene whatever their limited conceptual repertoires enable them to take-in. If a Kalahari Bushman who had never before left his tribe were suddenly transported next to me in a sport stadium to watch the ongoing baseball game, assuming he'd remain calm enough to watch, could in a sense observe everything I observe but fail to gain much of the knowledge I myself gain, for he wouldn't know that what he sees constitutes a run, a strike or an out. In another sense, he wouldn't so much as see those things. In that respect, and in that North-American context, the bushman fall even shorter of omniscience than I do -- not because of lack of visual acuity, but because of a lack of specific conceptual skills.

    So, if you are going to assume that God lacks the concept of time in his conceptual repertoire he would likewise fall short of omniscience for he would never know that I got a speed ticket, that the speed of light is a relativistic invariant or that I arrived late a work.

    I don't see the connection between your two claims here. Why would God having no effect on the empirical facts known by him entail that he has no concept of time? It may be that it's physically impossible to observationally ascertain the timing of a physical event without effecting this event -- occasioning an uncertain and finite transfer of energy to the observed system as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle indeed dictates -- but we don't assume God to be an ordinary observer constrained by physical law.

    The idea of God's omniscience is, in any case, just an idealisation. Consider the limiting case of an ordinary observer who would passively learn more and more about the context and underpinnings of my actions. Would my freedom tend to diminish as his knowledge increases? This is the question raised by the omniscient God thought experiment, I think. Has Quantum Mechanics any relevance on the issue apart from the contingent practical limits it places on the hypothetical realisation of an ideal case?
     
  9. Hesperado Don't immanentize the eschaton Registered Senior Member

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    I don't think it's a black-and-white Either/Or issue of either

    1) utter inscrutability

    or

    2) apodictic cogency.

    It's interesting that the vast area in between these two poles seems to be slighted by both religious fundamentalists and atheists. No wonder: that vast area is called "Life".
     
  10. Pierre-Normand Registered Member

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    I have no inclination to deny the existence of the in between area. The bulk of human life is conducted there. I may just lack the skills required for exploring it much intellectually. I am grateful to the efforts of poets, novelists, playwrights and other artistic types who can productively explore it and convey their insights through their works.

    I'd rather characterise the two poles in Wittgensteinian terms thus though:

    1) Fully articulated and explicitly conceptualised; what can be said.
    2) Mostly ineffable and object of merely tacit understanding; what can be shown.
     
  11. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

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    Then I need to you tell me more, because you have just set yourself against centuries of standard theistic proselytizing and also much secular morality. Which is extraordinary.

    Why would those examples I have provided not be truisms?
     
  12. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

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    No, an omniscient being is aware of events as they happen, so they would "know" when you get the speeding ticket and when you arrived at work, by observing the events.
    The problem is "when" are the events observed, and further, is God able to project any event backwards through a chain of causes, so they do have a concept of time as causal history?

    As to knowing the speed of light is invariant, that requires that events are observed at different times, which doesn't make any sense to an omniscient being who only knows about "now".

    They would, however, presumably be aware that light of a given frequency also has a constant energy, i.e. they would be able to observe the properties of light "instantaneously"; we mere mortals have to wait for something we call measurement, which necessarily involves "intervals" of time.
     
  13. Pierre-Normand Registered Member

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    90
    I also doubt that there is such a thing as the instantaneous present moment (except conceived as an abstraction for purpose of theorising). Certainly, Einstein's Special Relativity makes it indeterminate what belongs to the instantaneous present over large expanses of space without reference to an arbitrarily chosen inertial reference frame. (And General Relativity presents further complications). But there are also other rather fundamental conceptual problems with the idea of knowledge that only spans events occurring for just one instant in time.

    The state of the world at one instant is an abstraction of physical theory. Real embodied animal observers represent events in the world through engaging them in active perceptual processes that unfold in time (Google Gibson's affordances; these are the archetypal empirical concepts, in my view). Most of these events (as perceived) belong to types that are essentially time-extended. I see no reason to postulate God as a sort of a physicist whose knowledge is restricted to that of the instantaneous state of the universe conceived as a unique point in phase-space, as opposed to a time-indexed trajectory. Further, I don't see why it would be less anthropomorphic to portray God as an ideal physicist than it would be to portray him as an ideal (embodied) rational animal. To different forms of embodiment would correspond different sorts of phenomenologies (and perceptual concepts), but we can imagine that God's knowledge spans everything that can be gathered from all the different possible forms of rational life.

    For instance, to pursue my baseball example, the bushman and I arguably have slightly different forms of life. So, God would know everything about the score of the game, which the bushman knows nothing about, and everything about the poises and postures of the players that the bushman may perceive but that may elude me. This is just the consequence of our presumption of omniscience; he knows everything about the situation -- and this means: every perceivable aspect (by anyone) of that situation.

    In any case, if God is to have as much as the knowledge of the physical state of the universe at an instant, then he must understand and know everything about position and momentum. Understanding these two entails understanding also time, force, mass and energy also. They're all part of the same conceptual package. It doesn't weaken the argument that the Universe really only seems Newtonian to us as first approximation. Time is no less inextricably entangled within a whole class of basic empirical concepts in our more modern and accurate theories of matter.

    You mean that God has knowledge of positions, shapes and distances but no understanding of speed and change? That would be to portray him as an observer of individual static (3D) holograms of the Universe with no real understanding of what the holograms depict, it seems to me.

    I don't think it makes sense to ascribe to someone an understanding of the physical concept of energy and deny him an understanding of the concept of time. And there is no presumption that the knower must himself live in time. Mathematicians invent all sort of abstract spaces, which they comprehend, but in which they don't live. Granted, you must related to them in some manner if you are to claim empirical knowledge of them but they may only need to remotely relate to your embodied form of life. In any case, my main arguments were presented in the previous paragraphs. This paragraph is more speculative, except its first sentence. And its last sentence's only purpose is to refer to itself.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2011
  14. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

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    And so, since omniscience logically implies that there is an instantaneous present moment in which the "state" of the entire universe is observed, omniscience must also be an abstraction.
    Not least of which must be how long is an instant? Is it something that has no duration at all?
    But any "foreknowledge" could be an extrapolation, from the known instant backwards that connects events to causes?
    But suppose the omniscient one is not "someone". Doesn't your statement only indicate that omniscience can't be compatible with the concept of free will which does require a concept of time and causality?

    More strongly: free will requires the ability to extrapolate in two directions of "time", neither of which actually exist, and cannot be compatible with omniscience because free will means choice, and choice cannot be possible if everything is known.
     
  15. Pierre-Normand Registered Member

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    (You responded to my post very quickly so you may have missed my last edit. I added an explanatory paragraph about the bushman.)

    I don't see why omniscience would imply that there is an instantaneous moment known. Why couldn't it be omni-science = cognition of eveything = knowledge of all the facts at all locations and all times?

    I have argued at length in this thread against the validity of some arguments that purported to justify this last assertion of yours that "choice cannot be possible if everything is known."

    Do you also have a specific argument justifying this conditional claim?
     
  16. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

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    A specific argument that justifies the argument that choice is not possible if everything is known:

    When you toss a coin so it spins in the air, you don't know which side of the coin is pointing upwards (your powers of observation don't extend that far).

    If you wait for the coin to land, you do know which side is pointing upwards. If you could observe the coin while it was spinning in the air, you would also know which side is pointing upwards at any time, and so there would be nothing to predict.

    Suppose you toss a coin in order to decide something. If you know everything about the coin's orientation and position, then this amounts to not making any decision based on a coin toss, except you decide to toss a coin.
    But suppose you knew that you were going to decide to toss the coin . . .
    But if there is knowledge of all "the facts" at all times, then there is the same knowledge at any instant of time, surely?
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2011
  17. Pierre-Normand Registered Member

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    I don't get it. Better knowledge might increase your predictive powers, as I see it, and hence enables you to (potentially, yet fallibly) know more about future events... I'm afraid I just don't get your point.

    You make a conditional decision: If the coin land tails up, then I will do A, else I will do B. Isn't that decision free? Then if you already know the coin will land tails up the whole rigmarole is superfluous. You've already decided (freely) to do A when you make the conditional decision.

    Maybe you are hinting at some trouble omniscience could make for God himself being able to decide freely? [Yes, I see from your edit that that's what you were hinting at] But I thought the subject of the thread what the implications of God's omniscience for our own human free-will.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2011
  18. Pierre-Normand Registered Member

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    For sure. What do you infer from that regarding human free-will?
     
  19. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

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    That free will necessarily implies that humans cannot know all the facts at any time. Omniscience is knowing all the facts at any (or every) time, so that implies that omniscience precludes free will.

    What would there be to decide if you know everything? On the other hand, if you don't know everything, does that then leave the (illusion of) choice, and hence freedom to choose? If you know everything why would you perceive change, at all?
     
  20. Pierre-Normand Registered Member

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    Yes, I agree that the simultaneous ascription of omniscience and free-will to one individual raises difficult and paradoxical issues. To put it in Kantian terms, that would mean the individual knows his own intended actions both through receptivity and through spontaneity. You know something through receptivity when you passively engage the world (or you own body) though perceptual experience (or proprioception). You know your own beliefs and intentions through spontaneity when you responsibly make up you mind what you must believe or should do. So, when God knows he intends to do something and that he will actually do it, what kind of knowledge is that?

    But still, that's a theological issue quite unconnected with the subject of this thread, so far as I can see. What does God's omniscience entail for human freedom? We aren't supposing God to have our kind of free-will or our having his omniscience.
     
  21. NMSquirrel OCD ADHD THC IMO UR12 Valued Senior Member

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    who are you?
    you talk with a very high level education.
    it is obvious that you have had a high level education.
    what field do you work in?
    do you know(personally) any of the big names of science?
     
  22. glaucon tending tangentially Registered Senior Member

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    5,502
    Excellent point P-N.

    Once can reasonably discuss omniscience without invoking a deity (and all its attendant tangential problems...).



    NMS,

    ... let's keep it on topic please...
     
  23. NMSquirrel OCD ADHD THC IMO UR12 Valued Senior Member

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    5,478
    sorry..i am curious though..
     

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