Friday, September 7, 2007

Causal Determinism (was "God's Warriors")

This started out as a tangent from "the God's Warrior's" main Topic thread. Perhaps all has been said in the many cross-Comments there. However (at Joel's suggestion), here is my new Topic on determinism. Although Spinoza and Einstein cannot speak for themselves, having passed away, I believe I have inherited some measure of their "spirit" and they would agree with most of my views. (Other Spinoza/Einstein fans might disagree :^)

The best and most readable scholarly treatment I've found on the topic may be found in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at:

DEFINITION (from Stanford):

Causal determinism is, roughly speaking, the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature. The idea is ancient, but first became subject to clarification and mathematical analysis in the eighteenth century. Determinism is deeply connected with our understanding of the physical sciences and their explanatory ambitions, on the one hand, and with our views about human free action on the other.

Given the "initial conditions" of the world, and the laws of nature, everything that has happened and everything that will happen, have been and are destined to occur. However, that does not imply either perfect predictability of the future (at least not by humans) nor what is ususally meant by "fate".

"Fate" is a mystical concept and sometimes the subject of fiction: Person A is "fated" to die in a certain way or on a certain date, he or she learns of that "fate" and tries to avoid it, but it happens anyway. For example, Macbeth thinks he is safe from being killed by Macduff because his "fate" is that he "cannot be killed by woman borne". Macduff tells him he was born by Cesarian section, and kills Macbeth! Or, in a modern context, a person learns he is to die on a certain day and it turns out he has airplane tickets for that day. So, he cancels his flight and stays in his apartment, only to die of an explosion due to a gas leak! The airplane on which he was scheduled to fly lands safely.

Perfect predictability depends not only upon the universe being causally deterministic (which I happen to believe it is), but also on perfect knowledge of all the laws and forces of nature and positions and velocities of all objects (which, other than in certain limited domains, is impossible for humans, even with the aid of computers, to achieve.) The Stanford link provides an 1820 quotation from Laplace that "the perfection [of] the human mind ... affords but a feeble outline of such an intelligence."

When Joel speaks of the "predictability" at the heart of the scientific method, I believe he is refering to highly controlled experiments where extra care is given to isolate the experimental chamber from the rest of the universe. If an earthquake or lightning or a clumsy assistant causes the beaker to shatter, the results are discarded and the experiment must be repeated.

Something is a scientific fact if and only if any competent scientist can replicate the experiment under the same or similar controlled conditions.

An Actual Example of Determinism With (and Without) Perfect Predictability

I mentioned my HexLife computer simulation of evolution of life forms in the previous thread. HexLife is a very well-controlled situation and the model for my concept of causal determinism. It is run within a PC and is therefore both finite and discrete.

I make use of the PC "random number generator" to determine when and where genetic mutations and crossovers occur, how much of the "sunlight energy" falls on any given location, and so on. However, I allow the user to select one of a number of pre-set "initial random seeds" (or make up his or her own). Thus, if something interesting happens during a given run, that run can be repeated and will proceed bit-for-bit in the exact sequence to allow the user to analyze and exactly recreate that interesting event. In that sense, HexLife is perfectly predictable, so long as the PC does not malfunction.

In any case, I was quite pleased when my HexLife program turned out to exhibit a logarithmic "power spectrum" of extinctions (many small extinctions, a lesser frequency of moderate extinctions, and few large extinctions) just as Stephen J. Gould ("punctuated equilibrium") says characterizes the evolutionary history of life on earth!

I did not specifically program HexLife to have extinctions. Each simulated organism lives its own life in accordance with the behaviors and asexuality or sexuality set in its genetic code and its interactions with other organisms. It absorbs energy and matter (which are conserved in the total simulation), and reproduces asexually (if it gains enough mass and energy) or sexually (if it gains enough mass and energy and happens to meet a suitable sized mate). It dies when it gets eaten by another organism, or has an accident, or of old age.

Although not specifically programmed to do so, the total living biomass increases as new organisms evolve and become more effective at exploiting the environment and other organisms. The biomass stabilizes as a balance is reached between resources (dead matter and energy available in each location). Then, as yet other organisms evolve, there are extinctions, which are noted as significant reductions in the living biomass. Extinctions are characterized on a logarithmic scale and, amazingly, each increment of the scale eventually gets about the same number of extinctions. That result indicated to me that I had captured, on a very small scale and under controlled conditions, some "true" aspect of evolutionary life.

"God" and His/Her Possible Powers

With respect to HexLife, I am "God" -- having made up all the rules for DNA codes and reproduction and energy and mass distribution and so on, and having written every line of Pascal code. (Therefore, *I* am the closest thing to "God" you may ever meet on earth, so pay attention! :^)

When I start with a different set of initial conditions and/or a different initial random seed, I cannot predict in detail what will occur. Based on prior runs with different conditions, I can predict the general results: if the simulation is started with randomly-generated genetic codes, and if it does not die out early in the run, genetic diversity (number of different genomes in live organisms at any given time) will decrease and morphologic complexity (size and variability of genetic code string) will increase. After a while, these measures will stabilize. Then, there will be an extinction during which genetic diversity will increase a bit and morphologic complexity will decrease a bit. This will go on and on in sequence and there will be a power spectrum of extinctions.

Therefore, for a new run, only the general results are more or less perfectly predictable by me, but the details are not. However, if I have run the same initial conditions before, and kept the data, I know exactly, bit-for-bit, what the detailed results will be. Assuming there is a God of the Universe separate from His/Her Creation (which, as a Pantheist I do not accept), if the Earth has not been "run" before but other biological runs have been done, God only knows the general results. On the other hand, if the Universe has been run before with the same initial conditions, God can perfectly predict each and every event that will happen in full detail.

With HexLife I can intervene during a run, increasing or decreasing the strength of the "Sun". I can also stop the run or revert it to a previous data point and add or subtract organisms and/or change the genetic codes of any organisms. During the development cycle, I rewrote the Pascal code to change the "laws of nature" within the simulation. However, when I did these things with a situation that had been run before, any specific data I had about future events became more or less moot. Thus, if there is a God separate from Creation, and He/She performs a "miracle", God cannot predict the long-term consequences perfectly. Of course, if God has access to multiple Universes, He/She could put our Universe on hold while He/She tests out a "miracle" on a doppleganger Universe and then come back and start our Universe up again with perfect predictability!

Random Number Generators and Enumerability

The random number generator that comes with the PC is pretty good and would pass most statistical tests of "randomness". However, even the best computer random number generators are not "truly random". Digital computers are "finite automata" and have a finite number of possible states. Thus, the random number sequence will, at some point, repeat itself. How often? Well, depending upon the design, it might not repeat for days or years or decades or longer -- but it *will* repeat.

Therefore, any digital computer random number generator has a sequence that is FULLY DETERMINED and ENUMERABLE. Given any initial state, it is possible to determine the exact sequence of "random" numbers that will follow and you could store each and every "random" number in that sequence on a CD or other storage medium.

Do you ever get the impression that TV programs repeat? Well, it is true. Even if you have the latest digital HDTV "1080p" (1920 x 1080 pixels, each with 12 bits for color), that is "only" about 8 billion different FULLY PRE-DETERMINED and ENUMERABLE instantaneous pictures, most of which would look like confetti and are therefore unlikely to be broadcast. Thus, there is a much smaller number of instantaneous pictures actually broadcast. Of course, there are 50 individual pictures each second and they are presented in different orders, so the number of TV programs is enormously large, but still FULLY PRE-DETERMINED and ENUMERABLE.

It is possible, at least in principle, to enumerate all 30-minute TV programs that could be broadcast in HDTV. That enumeration would include all videos broadcast so far by Osama bin Laden and all future Osama diatribes that will be presented in the future. Of course, it would also include many Osama videos that will never occur in actuality, including the one in which he appologizes for 9/11 and converts to Judiasm :^)

This reminds me of the old thought experiment of the "million monkeys randomly typing on a million typewriters for a million years". They will eventually "randomly" type out all the great literature of the world.

Of course, you would have to get a million language professors to paw through all this stuff to find the gems. Imagine one professor, after years of reading gobbledegook, picking up a sheet that starts: "To be or not to be ..." (But then, it continues: "that is the gribnick? Michan&83( jkjhs nnnneo ...")

Is the Universe Both Finite and Discrete?

Although I am not sure if philosophers have made this point, I believe causal determinism depends upon the Universe being both finite and discrete (and I believe it is).

Here is my reasoning: According to chaos theory, a tiny difference in initial conditions can result in a major difference over the long-term. The example usually given is the "butterfly effect". Imagine an experiment in which the Universe is run twice with absolutely identical conditions, except, in the first run one particular butterfly flaps its wings slightly to the right and in the second slightly to the left. Well, in the first run, six months after that butterfly flap, hurricane Katrina strikes New Orleans, while in the second run, it strikes Miami.

If the Universe is continuous, that tiny difference could be 1/infinity, which, for all practical purposes, is zero. Therefore, with a difference approaching zero, all long-term determinism goes out the window. On the other hand, if the Universe is discrete, the difference must at least one quanta of energy or matter or space or time.

There is an old thought experiment where a donkey is placed exactly midway between some food and some water and it is exactly as hungry as it is thirsty. The donkey will be exactly equally attracted in each direction and will therefore die of thirst and hunger. Of course, that experiment depends upon a level of exactness and constancy that is unlikely in the animal world. The donkey would probably sense the water before the food (or vice-versa) or, after standing motionless, would become thirsty before becoming hungry, etc.

Let's do that thought experiment a bit differently. Take a common plastic straw and stand it upright on a flat table. If there are no strong breezes or gusts, it will remain stationary, falling neither to the left or right, front or back. Now try it with a toothpick! Unless the toothpick has a flattened end, or is poked into a hole in the table, it will fall over no matter how carefully you place it. The slightest waft of air or vibration of the table will knock it over. The difference between a straw and a toothpick? One has an end with a discrete diameter, the other an end with a near-zero diameter.

As I mentioned in the previous thread, we know that energy comes in discrete quanta. Since we also know energy and matter are interchangeable, that would mean matter is also quantized. That leaves only space/time, and I believe they may also come in quanta. Thus, I think it is a good guess that the Universe is discrete.

The second requirement, a finite Universe, is, I believe fairly obvious. I think the current scientific consensus is that the Universe began with a "big bang". (The alternative -- watch your daily newspaper -- is that the consensus will change to "continuous creation" of matter which I believe also entails continuous recycling of matter to keep the balance.) In either case, there is only a limited amount of energy/matter in the Universe.

Furthermore, the Universe is curved in some or all dimensions, which would entail space/time being finite as well. (The surface of a sphere, for 2D "flatlanders" appears infinite in that they can go forever in a given direction without reaching the "end". However, we 3D-ers recognize the sphere as finite, and we explain the delusion of the 2D-ers as being the curvature of their 2D space.) Thus, to us 3D-ers, what appears to be infinite time and space may actually be finite (and would appear so to a 4D-er or higher).

Ira Glickstein


joel said...

From Joel re: causal determinism
Hi gang,
I'm packing up my computer and hitting the road for Florida via Little Rock, Arkansas where I'll visit family. Communication will be spotty for the next two weeks. However, I've a few comments to make before shutting down.
One is just procedural. Ira, started his discourse on determinism with a reference to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP). I've used this internet source often and find it very clear and concise. It might be interesting for us to select topics that interest us in the SEP, read them one by one and discuss as seems appropriate to us, each bringing to bear his/her own point of view.
The most interesting aspect of determinism for me is it's relation to "free will." The two seem mutually exclusive. If humans have free will and are actors in a process then the process is not determinate. On the other hand, if the process is determinate then humans cannot have free will. I'm perfectly comfortable with the latter. However, it seems to me that the problem as presented by many, arises because of a difference in viewing scale. It's a bit like saying that a glass of water paradoxically is mostly empty space, because of the interstitial space between molecules. The phrase "glass of water" implies a macroscopic view, while "molecules" implies a microscopic view. The paradox arises because of a blurring of observers. In a similar fashion, "free will" is a macroscopic view of our actions and behavior as produced by the microscopic deterministic action of our brains. Hence the two views can exist simultaneously and are not mutually exclusive. Another analogy might be the pointillist painting of Serat. An image of dots of pure color appear quite clearly to the viewer standing at 2 feet from the painting. At 15 feet the dots disappear and the image of a beautiful woman appears. It would seem foolish to argue over which is the correct image or if one excludes the other. With respect -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks for your Comment Joel!

I'll get to my Comment on "free will" and determinism after this word from your Administrator:


PLEASE NOTE: Good news! I finally fixed the widget for Recent Comments. You no longer need to start your Comment postings with "From {name} Re {Topic}".

There are now two widgets in the right hand column:

1) "Recent Comments" - Date, Name, Topic, and Initial words of ten most recent Comments, and

2) "Access Text of Recent Comments" - Clickable link that takes you to a page with full text of Comments.


To me, "free will" is simply your free ability to make decisions based on your nature, nurture, life experiences, and recent events. If some "chance" affects your decision making, such as cosmic rays or other "noise" in your brain circuitry, that would seem to me to *decrease* the "free" aspect of your "will".

Therefore I cannot understand why some people focus on *chance* as an aspect of free will for humans (and also for God with respect to why bad things happen to good people in natural disasters).

Absent the "noise", free will is determined by the factors I have listed above. If anyone knew all the factors in full detail, they could predict your decision. That is why I believe it is deterministic. (Of course, I also believe the "noise" that affects your decisions also has causes that, at least in theory, could be known, and is also deterministic.)

I see no conflict between absolute causal determinism and "free will" so long as the later is properly understood.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira is not making the distinction between models based on faith and models based on empirical evidence (scientific models). One can imagine all kinds of possible universes including Laplace’s and Ira’s strictly deterministic universe, but the evidence is missing.
The strongest evidence for indeterminism is quantum uncertainty that actively precludes determinism and that has been clearly demonstrated empirically. Today there is no experimental evidence that our universe is deterministic. One cannot demonstrate determinism because all measurements are subject to error. Also, for the same reason one cannot prove or demonstrate that the universe in NOT deterministic. Scientific models are not provable, but are evaluated on the preponderance of evidence.
Computations only appear deterministic because they are designed to make the probability of error very small. One may say “for all practical purposes” it is deterministic, but since it is a dissipative irreversible system it is not strictly deterministic.
Of course, most indeterminism is the result of incomplete information, but it is impossible to have complete information. Complete information implies an infinite regress. To store the information (initial conditions) about a system you must have a memory structure. But that structure has more microscopic degrees of freedom than the information it stores. To be deterministic you must acquire all the information about the structure of the memory storage, and that must be stored in another memory, and so forth.
A similar argument shows that you can’t demonstrate ultimate continuity or discreteness in the real world. These are both only modes of perception (models) in the brain that we apply depending on which fits the evidence best. Reality may be neither.


joel said...

It seems as though the early church fathers created an unnecessary problem for later philosophers. They insisted that God be omnipotent, omnipresent and all-knowing. The all-knowing property of God and the gift of human free-will created a contradiction that remains a mystery. It would all have been so simple, if they had simply decided that God loved mankind so much that He gave up a small piece of his all-knowing property in order to give Man free will. Know one would have thought less of God and it would have saved reams of paper and many gallons of ink. With respect -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

I totally agree with Howard when he wrote:

"Today there is no experimental evidence that our universe is deterministic. One cannot demonstrate determinism because all measurements are subject to error. Also, for the same reason one cannot prove or demonstrate that the universe is NOT deterministic." [Emphasis added]

Given these facts, which Howard and I agree on, what exactly is "the distinction between models based on faith and models based on empirical evidence (scientific models)" that Howard says I am failing to make? If there is currenty (and perhaps forever) no way to use the scientific method to prove the universe is one or the other, what is left? I would say faith, based on the best current evidence.

It is true, as Howard maintains, that "quantum uncertainty ... actively precludes determinism and ... has been clearly demonstrated empirically." Most physicists would agree with Howard on that, yet David Bohm and his followers make a science-based interpretation of QM that is an argument for determinism. See

The basic choice is between abandoning what may be called "realism" and retaining "locality" or the reverse.

The currently accepted "Copenhagen interpretation" of QM requires acceptance of "wierd", "strange", "absurd" and "paradoxical" things, such as that "Schrodinger's cat" is neither alive nor dead until someone opens the sealed chamber and observes it! See

On the other hand, the Bohm interpretation requires that we abandon "locality" and accept apparently instantaneous communication over long distances, which also seems absurd!

So, we are between a "rock and a hard place" and may either go with the majority (Copenhagen), the minority (Bohm) or remain agnostic. I find it more reasonable to stick with "realism" even if "locality" must be abandoned.

Howard appeals to "infinite regress" as an argument against ever having "complete information" about a given system. That is true for the observer separate from the system. However, assuming there is no "God" separate from the universe, the universe *is* "the system" and therefore has complete information about itself.

For example, I know everything there is to know about HexLife and, having run a given situation before, I know it is absolutely deterministic and I can predict absolutely everything about it. On the other hand, if the PC malfunctions or the power goes out, my predictions will fail.

Howard ends his Comment as follows: " you can’t demonstrate ultimate continuity or discreteness in the real world. These are both only modes of perception (models) in the brain that we apply depending on which fits the evidence best. Reality may be neither."

I agree!

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel, I'm pleased you were able to tune in to the Blog while traveling.

There is an old German song, "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" (loose English version):

My thoughts they are free,
My thoughts give me pleasure,
No scholar can map them,
No hunter can trap them,
And that is why,
Die gedanken sind frei!

According to the German version of the song, even if I'm imprisoned in a dark dungeon, no one can deny me my wants and desires and happy thoughts, so long as I express them discretely. My thoughts tear all gates and walls apart! My thoughts are free!

Is that what we mean by "free will"? I think so!

Even if my jail walls don't literally come tumbling down or I don't get to bed the beautiful woman of my dreams, I can still think about those happy situations and get some measure of pleasure.

Therefore I have no difficulty with "free will" properly understood. However, it seems many people do. If person A (or God) knows exactly what decisions person B will make, then, it seems to some people, person B has no real "free will".

(Of course, to me, if person B is free to reason based on his or her nature, nurture, experiences, and the current situation), then he or she has "free will".)

But, what if some scientist or technologist figures out how to "map" my thoughts and predict them before even I know what they will be? What if some despot uses that technology to "trap" them and change my thoughts before I even get to think them?

I guess that type of development would be the end of "free will".

The Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent (OOO) God of the church founders is in a perfect position to do just that. Does He? If He does that, He is taking away the "free will" the church fathers claim He has given us.

According to religious "true believers" God alters the future according to our thoughts, when properly expressed in prayers.

For example, the Jewish High Holy days begin in a couple of days. The period between Rosh Hashona (the "Head of the Year") and Yom Kippur (the "Day of Atonement") are critical. We say to each other "May you be inscribed for a good new year." During those ten days, we are to think about our sins of the past and beg forgiveness. At the end, God "inscribes" for us our fortunes for the coming year.

True believers say "God answers all prayer" (to which the cynic replies, "Yes, He answers, but He usually says NO!")

I guess to true believers, although God knows our thoughts in advance and could alter them, He holds back on doing so, thus preserving our "free will". At the same time, although God knows our future in detail, God has the power to change that future, according to our prayers.

For me, as a Pantheist, God is only omniscient and Omnipresent (o-O, notice the first "o" is lower case because my Pantheistic God only "knows" the present, not the future). For a Pantheist, God is identical to Nature or the Universe and is present everywhere and therefore "knows" what is happening everywhere now.

I guess, to an Atheist, God is (---, no knowledge, no power, no presence).

Getting back to Joel's thoughts:

"The all-knowing property of God and the gift of human free-will created a contradiction that remains a mystery. It would all have been so simple, if they had simply decided that God loved mankind so much that He gave up a small piece of his all-knowing property in order to give Man free will."

If God gives us "free will" by not interfering with our thoughts and responds to our proper prayer and changes the future accordingly, it would seem He could be OOO and we could still have "free will", resolving the contradiction.

On the other hand, since God created us and our environment, He, in effect, caused us to think those thoughts and say those prayers. Therefore, He is not actually changing the future because He knew we would pray properly (or not) and the future would unfold in a deterministic way. Oy! A circular argument!

Ira Glickstein

wwp said...

Casual Determination: quanta

I'd like to suggest that .."the one quanta of energy or matter or space or time..." can be divided one more time.

Perhaps, the division of one quanta is what separates the physical from the non-physical regardless of energy, matter, space or time.

As many Christians (and maybe others) believe, " 'God' created the sun and earth out of nothing"...

Did God create the first quanta of energy, matter, space and time?

We know a lot (and still need to know more) about our physical world, but the non-physical has yet to be defined, and can only be experienced when we are there..


Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks "wwp" for your Comment.

You suggest that "Perhaps ... one quanta is what separates the physical from the non-physical ..."

Descartes and other early philosophers were "dualists" - believing that "spirit" (or thought or form or other non-physical things) was a different substance from "body" (or matter or physical things). They thought that those things were orthogonal (at right angles) so they could not interact with each other.

Some dualist philosophers wrote that, when you have the thought that you want to move your finger, that thought goes up to God who transforms that non-physical thing to the physical nerve impulse that actually moves your finger! When your finger gets pricked, the physical effect on your nerves is similarly transformed by God into the pain you feel! Others wrote that the pineal gland, a pea-sized body located between the two hemispheres of your brain, performed the function of transforming non-pysical thoughts into physical actions, and vice-versa!

Spinoza waw one of the first "monists" who taught that there is only one universal substance. For Spinoza, the non-physical (which he called "thought") and the physical (which he called "extension") were merely two of the many aspects of the one universal substance we mere humans could never fully understand. To us, they appear separate and distinct, but they are actually two views of the same thing!

Perhaps, going back to your idea that physical and non-physical are separated by a tiny "quanta", we could analogize the situation to looking at a brilliant diamond with many facets. You and I, looking at the ring from slightly different angles (aspects) would see very different patterns of sparkling light. Similarly, if you held the diamond and rotated it ever so slightly (to look at a different aspect of the diamond), the sparkling patterns would change.

For Spinoza and the rest of us monists, that one universal substance is like a brilliant diamond with a large number of aspects. Due to limitations of our human brains, we can see only two aspects clearly, and they look very different to us. One appears to be non-physical and the other physical.

The universal substance is something that we cannot comprehend in its totality - we see only those two aspects out of the many, many that consitute that substance.

Since that univesal substance has so many aspects, and we can only make out two of them, perhaps they are separated by a tiny quanta, as you postulate.

Ira Glickstien

Howard Pattee said...

IRA wrote: Given these facts, which Howard and I agree on, what exactly is "the distinction between models based on faith and models based on empirical evidence (scientific models)" that Howard says I am failing to make? If there is currenty (and perhaps forever) no way to use the scientific method to prove the universe is one or the other, what is left? I would say faith, based on the best current evidence.

HOWARD replies: Science will never “prove” anything. As you say, we should base our beliefs on the current evidence. I think you are trapped in your language that uses “cause” as a universal syntactic answer (without needing evidence) to all questions. Why? Be-cause. When we say that the rotation of the Earth is the cause of night and day we only mean that this syntax appears to answer the question. To a physicist, the use of “cause” here is entirely gratuitous and explains absolutely nothing beyond what the laws of motion tell us. Cause is not an observable in physical theories like mass and charge. Consequently, causality does not appear in physical models.
As I suggested in a previous comment, some philosophers and most physicists think of causality as only an anthropomorphic metaphor derived from our human intentional control activities. As shown in our examples, Aristotle used human activities to explain his four causes.
If you mean by the “cause” of radioactive decay just a syntactically correct statement of its behavior, then I agree there is a cause. However, if you claim that your description is strictly deterministic I would say you are talking about your personal faith, not science. There are many speculative ideas about determinism, but they have no empirical test. In other words, there is no evidence for determinism, only speculation. On the contrary, at present, I know of no fundamental physical theory that can be interpreted as strictly deterministic on the basis of the empirical evidence.


Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks Howard for your reply. I accept your statement that science does not prove anything, it just provides a descriptive and mathematical structure that helps us know what to expect in certain circumstances.

For example, if a person tosses a fair (balanced) coin many times, very close to 50% of the time it will land Heads and 50% Tails. We cannot predict which toss will land H and which T, but we know that the more tosses are made, the closer the proportion will be to 50:50.

A similar situation holds for radioactive decay. If we have a large quantity of a particular material, we know very close to 50% will decay during the well-known half-life. We have no idea which specific atoms will decay, but we know the mass property very well.

Howard wrote: "If you mean by the 'cause' of radioactive decay just a syntactically correct statement of its behavior, then I agree there is a cause. However, if you claim that your description is strictly deterministic I would say you are talking about your personal faith, not science."

In both examples above (the fair coin and the radioactive decay) we have a "syntactically correct statement of behavior" which you agree is a (kind-of) "cause".

I agree there is a large element of my "personal faith" in my claim of strict determinism. Einstein, who of course understood the details of QM way better than all except the top physicists, also appealed to his personal faith in clinging to a type of determinism.

But wait! Let us go back to the coin toss example. If we have a videotape close up of each toss, and we calculate the height and velocity and rotational rate of the coin toss, we could probably predict, to some level much better than 50:50, which coins are most likely to be H and which T. We could also probably construct a machine that would toss a fair coin quite precisely and almost always get a H.

Thus, I would say the "cause" of a fair coin landing as a H or T is due to the details of how high and how hard it was flipped. As humans are not capable of a high level of precision, some tosses are a bit high, for others the coin rotates faster, etc., so we get 50:50 over many tosses.

Therefore our inability to predict individual tosses (unless we have that videotape and a computer on our side) is not firm evidence of lack of a specific cause for each H or T. My "personal faith" (and Einstein's) is that there is a specific cause for the decay of each atom.

QM has been fantastically successful in making predictions. In particular, the EPR paradox (1935) was proposed to demonstrate the incompleteness of QM. When the experiment was run by Aspect (1982) the results were not good for Einstein's supporters! The results refuted the principle of locality and apparently demonstrated instantaneous spooky action at a distance.

Given those apparently clear results, and subsequent experiments that give added support to those results, nearly all physicists accept QM as a theory that has firm experimental evidence despite its lack of the type of "realism" Einstein expected.

Therefore, Howard, you are on very firm ground in your acceptance of QM. Bohm and others continue to carry Einstein's torch despite the strong evidence to the contrary. They are willing to sacrifice "locality" to retain some hold on "realism". I agree, it is all a matter of "personal faith". Perhaps the only value of Bohm (et. al.) is to challenge QM and make it better.

Ira Glickstein