I do not think that free and open academic inquiry is compatible with an ideology like Objectivism, because inevitably, one will have to be somewhat humble and recant various claims, or at least, repeatedly qualify one's position I disagree with the first half of this statement, mostly because I don't regard new objections as a threat to the philosophy. If someone proves me wrong, I'm happier for having gained the new knowledge. Interestingly, I don't believe in a determinist metaphysics, but I am a heirarchical reductionist. I'm posting the below, which I'm still working out as a sketch, because I believe in putting my money where my mouth is. Let's begin at the beginning as Dagny would say.
Determinism, Free Will, and Modern Science
The problem of free will versus determinism has plagued philosophy for the 300 years or so and there good reasons why this debate is so fierce. There is a societal and cultural divide between those who prefer studies of human intentionality and those who prefer investigations of nature. C. P. Snow was the most eloquent spokesman describing this divide between the hard sciences and the humanities. How many philosophers could describe in even vague terms the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and how many scientists
can enjoy a Shakespearean sonnet?
How can we resolve the conundrum of the everyday experience of free will in a universe governed solely by physical forces? The typical Objectivist argument for free will is some combination of arguing that it is an axiom, claiming that those who deny it are engaged in a stolen concept fallacy, and introspective evidence. The typical Objectivist argument against determinism is that it is self-defeating, that someone who holds determinism cannot verify that his thought processes and arguments are reliable since he could not, according to his own thesis, have thought otherwise. The argument for free will is hardly a rigorous proof and the argument against determinism answers the arguer but not the argument.
As an engineer, I am a reductionist. Matter can be reduced to its smallest constituents and in order to understand what happens at the macro-level in nature, we have to understand the micro-level. However, I am a hierarchical reductionist.
As Richard Dawkins observed:
The hierarchical reductionistÖexplains a complex entity at any
particular level in the hierarchy of organization, in terms of entities
only one level down the hierarchy; entities which themselves , are
likely to be complex enough to need further reduction into their own
component parts; and so on (Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker pp 13).
Therefore, there is no sense in which we explain human beings directly at the level of quarks! However, letís start at the level of subatomic particles. This is a world that is decidedly not deterministic. Many laymen misunderstand quantum mechanics as merely a measurement problem, that if only we measure accurately enough we could determine the position and momentum of elementary particles with precision. To demonstrate that this is not the case, Iíll use a simple example.
In nuclear fusion research, there is a method of catalyzing the fusion of two hydrogen nuclei called muon catalyzed fusion. The muon is a negatively charged elementary particle with a mass that is 207 times heavier than an electron. In order to catalyze the fusion a chemical bond is created between two hydrogen nuclei using a muon. Since the muon is so much heavier than an ordinary electron, the two hydrogen nuclei are brought much closer together than with an electron. The strong nuclear force then binds the two hydrogen nuclei together.
But hereís where it gets interesting! If the two hydrogen nuclei were really point particles with a definite position and momentum, they would not fuse. They would be too far apart for the strong nuclear force to act. In actuality, what happens is that the quantum mechanical wave functions of the two hydrogen nuclei overlap and at the two extreme ends and come close enough to fuse.
So what does this have to do with anything? After all, if quantum mechanical perturbations only move things around on a micro-level how does that affect the macro-level? We are, after all, concerned with whether micro-level perturbations cause macro-level phenomena. Ilya Prigogine, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist, has done pioneering work in self-organizing systems. Far from equilibrium chemical systems become more complex with each chemical reaction. Biochemists believe that the very origins of life occurred in chemical systems like this. Prigogine demonstrated that quantum mechanical perturbations cause irreversible changes in certain far from equilibrium chemical systems (Cf. Prigogine, The End of Certainty). These discoveries lay waste to the idea that quantum mechanics does not play a role in more highly organized entities. Determinism does not hold sway universally, even in the realm of highly complex molecules.
Determinism is a straw man in philosophy of science that has obscured the rightful role of hierarchical reductionism. Understanding the scientific mechanisms of human free will going forward will require a synthesis of modern science, thermodynamics and neurology. Making arguments about self-regulation, introspective evidence and the like without a physical basis to explain it or verification by experiment is mere philosophical handwaving.