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Determinism, Randomness, and Meaning
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Had one of those late-night-dorm-room type philosophy discussions yesterday with a couple of friends, and one person espoused a view of the universe I continually find very strange.

Most people are commonsensically resistant to the idea that we live in a purely deterministic universe...that is, that everything is caused by something else, that in all situations things could not have been otherwise, so there is no such thing as volition, or free will.

Now the polar opposite of such a universe is one in which all events are uncaused...where everything is random. Not many people would find such a universe much more comforting.

And yet, most people do tend to hold a view of the universe that is a mixture of these two notions. It is at this point that quantum mechanics is usually invoked by people who don't understand it much at all (and nobody, frankly, really understands it). But QM is invoked so that people can point and say, "See! Not everything is predictable! There's randomness at the subatomic level!"

Okay...let's grant for a second that that's true. How are you any more free in a universe where some events are determined and others are random? If your decision to eat chicken instead of beef is mostly determined by your genes and environment, but there's a little tiny bit that's purely random, how is that really any better?

In that case you're like a robot that acts in a purely deterministic way 99% of the time, but 1% of the time has a random number generator that affects decisions and actions.

How the hell is that comforting?

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