Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tests for psychological determinism

I have posted about the scientific merits of free will and determinism, but there are psychologists who look at the matter completely differently. They see these as just mental beliefs, and study people with these beliefs without regard to whether anyone is right or wrong. Here is a sample of views from a psychological test:
Free will

People have complete control over the decisions they make.
People must take full responsibility for any bad choices they make.

Scientific Determinism

People’s biological makeup determines their talents and personality.
Psychologists and psychiatrists will eventually figure out all human behavior.
Your genes determine your future.

Fatalistic Determinism

I believe that the future has already been determined by fate.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t change your destiny.


Chance events seem to be the major cause of human history.
No one can predict what will happen in this world.
It does seem that people have different views that have little to do with hard scientific evidence.

We know that genes do not completely determine your future, because identical twins often develop significant differences. (Actually identical twins do usually have slightly different DNA, and we now have the technology to distinguish them, but the differences are not thought to be significant.) But for the most part, these questions are largely psychological. We have no scientific definition of a "chance event". Was the election of Barack Obama a chance event, or the product of some long-term trends?

To have a scientific worldview, you have to have beliefs that some things are scientifically determined. But you also have to have some belief in free will if you are going to make your own decisions.

Some people have a fatalistic view of life, and believe that bad things are always happening randomly and out of control. Or bad things that are predetermined to be bad. It appears to me that these are superstitious people who will be hampered in life because they will not take necessary action to avoid trouble.

What is odd is to find smart science professors who do not believe in free will.

Update: A reader asks about DNA tests to distinguish identical twins. See Twin DNA test: Why identical criminals may no longer be safe or Genetic Sleuthing, Or How To Catch The Right Identical Twin Criminal.


  1. Roger: "Or bad things that are predetermined to be bad"

    Here is one...its called Computational Chemistry

    Computational Models Of Multistep Reaction Are Called So Flawed They Are ‘Not Even Wrong’

    "Computational studies on the reaction have been “arguably more misleading than enlightening,” they conclude. “It is not clear to us that any reliably accurate information that was not already apparent from experiment could have been garnered from calculations."

    "Experimental findings are often used to tweak theoretical predictions. In the absence of those tweaks, MBH reaction calculations “could have made an exceptional diversity of predictions, many of which would have been absurd,” Plata and Singleton write. They believe that’s what happened in the case of the proton-shuttle prediction."

    "Chemical theoretician Kendall N. Houk of UCLA says the paper “is full of profound insights, including one that astute computational chemists are all familiar with”—that they cannot currently use standard computational methods to predict some features of solution reactions. Theory, he says, “is still not capable, and may never be capable, of predicting what happens when many chemicals, four in this case, are mixed in solution.”"


    "Some people have a fatalistic view of life"

    And some people would rather put a bag over their head and pretend its still 1927.

  2. http://cen.acs.org/articles/93/web/2015/03/Computational-Models-Multistep-Reaction-Called.html


    This guy is in the 'Fatalistic Determinism(Resistance is Futile)' camp:

    "This "new" normal is only a symptom of the inevitable failure of the corporate (including finance)/government complex due to its cancerous growth. We created a potential evolutionary extension of ourselves - a potentially immortal legal creature, deriving its "rights" as a sentient being from our laws, and it became symbiotic with us. So symbiotic that we let these life forms into our individual lives.

    However, relationships between those of widely -varying power are often neither fair nor beneficial to both for long. The corporation turned, and assimilated the government using the legal system that gave it life as a weapon against us. It is now easily detected because of its size and its impact on the environment, including political and economic environments.

    The only question now is whether the neurons in the body politic can actually start working together as an intelligent unit to deal with this problem. If they do not harness this life form (and, perhaps, eradicate it), it will destroy them, as resistance is futile - it is a superior legal creature.

    Start thinking, Neanderthals."

  3. Roger,

    Good post.

    The last paragraph is logically incomplete; fatalism also runs on the good side, not just bad.

    Some people who carry a fatalistic view of life, at least to a certain recognizable extent, also think: (i) that good things happen randomly, or (ii) that there are good things that are predetermined to be good.

    Examples of the first category (a comparatively more benign thing) include a pretty common view often held by so many, which says that some people succeed, e.g. in business, simply because they were at the right time at the right place, or that in science, "serendipity" is important (by which they mean luck, and not the preceding hard work that has already prepared the mind to see the so-called "accidental" connections).

    Examples of the second would include believers in the inherent/essential nobility of higher castes in India, and the superiority of some social background, pedigree or even race(s) elsewhere.

    In a closed system (the "echo-chamber" effect), usually, the second do not very readily see that such beliefs do in fact hamper their own life, too. At least, historically, that has been the case for the most part, keeping exceptions aside.

    On another note, I don't know what technological advance you refer to, regarding the small differences in the genetic make-up of identical twins.