Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

Final Mails

From: palash mazumdar <>
To: Dennis Littrell <>
Sent: Mon, February 15, 2010 9:14:26 PM
Subject: Re: More on free will

Hi Dennis,

I think we are entering into a never ending cycle of discussing this. Thats of course to be expected as we two can hardly hope to resolve something that has not been resolved for so many years. But its good to keep on discussing as it forces us to clear up our own thinking.

But I feel that although this question has been around for so many years, the fact that randomness has been proved to occur in at least one aspect of the world, the quantum world, this changes the whole equation and we can quite positively rule out determinism.

The main point is that you want to make a distinction between randomness and unpredictability.

I do not accept such a distinction. Nor as far as I can make out is this a valid distinction made in any field like philosophy, statistics, etc. An event is considered random if it is unpredictable. There is no event which is unpredictable but not random.

Events in chaotic situations, which you are interested in, are considered unpredictable, and also considered random.There is no distinction that they are unpredictable but not random.

It is true that our present software does not generate true random numbers, but random numbers are nowadays generated in some computers using quantum event boxes, which generate true random numbers.

"Or it is enough to say that because any quantum event is in principle indeterminate, and because quantum events can influence macro events, we can say that some events are unpredictable."

I think the main thing is, that when you say random, you mean something which is totally unpredictable, which does not follow any laws at all. If you mean that by randomness, then certainly a distinction can be made between unpredictable and randomness. For example, when an electron orbits the nucleus, it can be in any particular orbit which is not predictable, but it would not be placed randomly in the sense that it could not be just anywhere, there are definite points which have higher probability of appearance. In this case, you would say that the appearance of the electron in indeterminate but not random, because it does follow the laws of probability.

If you define randomness in such an absolute way, then certainly a difference can be made between randomness and unpredictability. But in most fields including statistics and physics, randomness is used simultaneously with unpredictability.

Similarly, in case of free will also, you would say that a person has free will only if he can perform absolutely random acts. As J.C. Smart said, "I would feel that my freedom was impaired if I thought that a quantum mechanical trigger in my brain might cause me to leap into the garden and eat a slug."

You would grant free will only if a person was capable of performing such absolutely random acts as these.

But for me, randomness or unpredictability, and therefore free will, is not absolute. Although we say free will, there is definitely some determinism and it is not absolute indeterminism. That I agree. The challenge is to allow sufficient indeterminism in order to say that the actions are unpredictable. As long as we believe there is sufficient indeterminism to say that a person's actions are unpredictable, then we can say that he has free will.

But I see your point, you would not grant free will unless there was absolute indeterminism, just as you would not grant there is randomness in the world unless there is absolute randomness.

So in your view, there is no randomness in the world as you would accept randomness only if it is absolute randomness, which is difficult to prove. So also you would not grant free will unless there is absolute free will, which of course also cannot be proven.

Your points are valid in your way because you have defined randomness and free will in absolute terms, and therefore you deny their existence in the world because they do not exist in an absolute way.

But I define randomness in a less absolute way, by saying that randomness is synonymous with unpredictability. Therefore I see the existence of randomness in the world.

Similarly, I define free will also in terms of unpredictability. Therefore I see free will also in the world.

I believe we are in agreement finally?

Warm regards,

From: Dennis Littrell <>
Subject: Re: More on free will
To: "palash mazumdar" <>
Date: Tuesday, 16 February, 2010, 11:02

Hi, Palash:

I would say your email is brilliant but...well, heck it is, and by the way it is exceptionally clear. Furthermore I am pleased to see that I think you are right: we are in substantial agreement!

It was fun to work this out and I am so pleased to communicate with someone who really knows what he is talking about and can think things out. Even at my advanced age I feel I learned something and that doesn't happen every day.

I am going to look further into Advaita. I was at the UC Davis library yesterday and got a rather weighty book on the subject. Maybe there will be a new subject we can discuss. Maybe we can go after the question, Why is there anything at all? Why isn't there nothing?

With warm regards,

From: palash mazumdar <>
To: Dennis Littrell <>
Sent: Tue, February 16, 2010 10:35:53 AM
Subject: Case solved!

Hello Dennis,

I really feel like a detective who has just solved a murder mystery!

I am glad we both managed to work this out.

The thing is that when you use the words randomness, indeterminism, free will, etc. you are talking about concepts for which I would use the words absolute randomness, absolute indeterminism, absolute free will, etc.

When I use the word randomness for example, I use it to mean virtually the same thing as unpredictability, which means randomness to me.

But when you use the word randomness, you mean something in which there is absolutely no determinitiveness.

Of course both our concepts are equally valid, we are just using the same words to mean different things, you are holding it to a stricter interpretation.

By your concept of randomness, even events in the quantum world would not be truly random. This is because though they are unpredictable in the actual occurrence, they do follow general laws of probability, an electron for example can appear in an unpredictable manner in any orbit, but it does follow laws of probability and we know that it has say, 70% chances in one orbit, 20% in another and so on. So you are quite right in your way that it is not absolutely random, even though it is unpredictable.

For me on the other hand, it is sufficient that it is unpredictable to say that it is random.

Similarly, when you say there is no free will, you mean that there is no will which has no determinism at all. This is quite true too, there really is no will in which there is no determinism at all.

But in my use of free will, we call the will free if after knowing all the actions of the genes in a person, all the events which occurred in his life and their influence, etc. the person can still perform actions which are unpredictable based on his past experiences alone. It is sufficient in my definition if we can prove enough indeterminism to allow a person to behave unpredictably (unpredictable even to a cartesian demon).

So we were both actually quite agreed in our concepts, only the words used were confusing us both.

In this, I must say though that it is my use of the words which in fact is the accepted convention. The word random is used in almost all instances as simultaneous with unpredictably. It is certainly used in quantum physics when describing events as random, in statistics, mathematics, etc. It is also used as such in most discussions on philosophy, although now I think that some passages which I did not understand earlier were perhaps using it in your sense.

Similarly, almost all discussions on free will in philosophy also use the word as I use it, although here also now I think that some apparently confusing statements against free will were using it in your sense.

In fact, it is likely that quite a bit of confusion in philosophy could be cleared up with this differentiation between 'straightforward' free will and absolute free will. Many people perhaps are using the words without fully making this distinction. To some extent, I think that you too perhaps did not make this distinction clearly always, as for example when you apparently accepted randomness sometimes, yet would deny it a little later, which confused me no end!

On the other hand, you did point out quite early on that perhaps the major part of our confusion lay in our different definitions for the terms, but at that time I was not able to comprehend this difference clearly in my mind.

Another point of confusion for me lay when you defended 'everything influences everything'. It is clear to me now what you meant, please correct me if I am worng.

The principle which you were attempting to enunciate is this:

There is a basic order in the world, and not chaos.

Because of this:

There is no absolute randomness, though there is unpredictability.
There is no absolute indeterminism, though there is unpredictability.(this is why you said 'everything inluences everything', but I think you expressed it very loosely so that it became an argument for what I call qualified monism).
There is no absolute free will, though there may be some element of indeterminsim.

The main main principle on which these three statements rest is the first, that there is a basic order in the universe, and not absolute chaos.

You are of course maintaining a quite correct position which is very valid logically. I was maintaining a position which did not deal with absolute terms but with relative terms, which also is equally valid.

All our long and extensive discussions would have been avoided if we had discovered what we were saying when we used terms like randomness. As your use of the terms means something different from the conventional use of the words, I think it would be best for you if you used words like absolute randomness, absolute free will, etc. when you mean your concepts. This would avoid confusion later on also with other people.

The reason why I say we could have avoided these long and now seemingly futile discussions is that I have already done quite a lot of thinking on this basic principle, there is order in the world and not chaos, and this is also one of the centerpoints of Advaita logic.

Why is there order in the world? Why can the universe be described mathematically? Why does physics and science work?

The answer is that there is an absolute principle behind it all, which gives it a commonality. It is only when there is a commonality behind the things in the world that they will interact with each other in an orderly manner and not chaotically. Because there is this absolute, things interact with each other in specific ways since they are cut from the same cloth, so to say. Hence reactions can be described mathematically. If there is no absolute, there should have been no such order and things should have behaved with the absolute randomness that you describe. Thus if Buddhist metaphysics were true, there should have been chaos in the Advaita logic. This is a very important point in Advaita. I have described this in the book, though I gave it in a brief form and did not give a longer argument.

This then is our final meeting point I think. I think you can now see that we were really in complete agreement all the while.

Finally, coming back to Advaita and my book, I have not revealed an important secret in my book, namely that I cleared up some important philosophical confusion which is present internally in Advaita texts. The clear cut definition of Advaita that you will find in my book is not the Advaita that you will find in traditional texts, or books describing the traditional texts. I have brought out clearly two very important philosophical points, which always appears to cause confusion in Advaitic texts, not much different than the confusion between us in 'randomness' and 'absolute randomness'. The two important points that I have changed is to make the individual soul the consciousness itself and rule out a second entity apart from the mind in bringing about consciousness, and secondly to place Advaita firmly on a realistic ontological basis and rule out idealistic ontology. Thinking out these approaches and finding my way through the confusing texts to reach a position of clarity has caused me more blood and tears than you can imagine.But in the final analysis, my interpretation still holds very true to the basics of Advaita, these points would appear almost superfluous or unnecessary to most general readers, but true thinkers would appreciate how much clearer Advaita has become by making these points clear.

To understand what and why I did, you should look up my website under the 'discussion' page, I think since your first introduction to Advaita was through my book and you now propose reading further books on Advaita, it is essential that you read up on this.

Please give me your feedback regarding the points in the website.

Warm regards,

* People who read this also read:

* To read more on Advaita Vedanta and Yoga and its harmony with modern science and reason, you can go through my book on Amazon:

Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

The Circle of Fire: The Metaphysics of Yoga

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