Barnette's Zeno's Coffeehouse
Challenge #63 Result
Over 200 Zeno's
Coffeehouse patrons dropped by the
Coffeehouse and responded to Mr. Coleman's challenge! ! Thanks for all
your replies from around the globe. Zeno's Coffeehouse continues to
gather a rich and
diverse group of patrons, which is
most appreciated as we explore mental challenges!
I have listed
below the original challenge, followed by several respondents' thoughts
on the matter, and encourage continued Zeno's support, as critical thinking exercises are
mental growth and recreation. As mentioned before, minds need exercising with shared,
reflective thinking; this is enjoyable and enriching. Help spread the
Was to Be"
Mr. Coleman walked in to the
Coffeehouse last week, he asked Charles and Maggie if they have ever
thought about free will and determinism and if they were familiar with
the 20th C. philosopher Gilbert Ryle, who reflected on this topic.
Curious---and familiar with the name of the influential British
philosopher---Maggie asked Coleman for more details.
Coleman replied thusly:
"Ryle poses for deliberation a situation where he coughed and then went
to bed. He noted that thus it was true that when he coughed (on Sunday,
as it occurred) it was therefore true that on Saturday---and always
beforehand---that on Sunday he would cough at the one moment and then
go to bed at the other. But if it was true beforehand that Ryle was to
cough and go to bed on Sunday, then he was not able to avoid doing so.
Hence, Ryle's coughing and going to bed was determined and unavoidable.
And further, he wasn't free to avoid this!"
Yikes!! What do you make of Mr. Coleman's challenge?? Surely professor
Ryle wasn't pre-determined to cough and then take to his bed! Or was
Please formulate your thoughts
and submit your reasoned responses below...good luck!....Ron
[A humble proprietor's note: for those who might want to explore
some further reading on the topic of the inconsistency of possible
prior truths and free action, but totally independent of this new
challenge, I must add, you might want to look at this piece I wrote for
a logic class many years ago:
Omniscience and Freedom: A Case for the Opposition...RB]
Some sample responses follow below:
From Mark Young in Canada:
comments: If this argument is sound, then the very concept of
nondeterminism (and noncompatibilist freedom) is
self-contradictory. For suppose that some nondeterministic event
occurs at time T. Then it is true that that event occurs at time
T, and ever has been true that it would occur at time T. But then
that event was unavoidable and determined -- contradicting the
assumption that it was nondeterministic.
The assumption that some event is nondeterministic leads to a logical
contradiction. Thus nondeterminism is self-contradictory and
A corollary is that determinism (of the sort posited by the story) is
tautological: its contradiction is self-contradictory.
So, I'm thinking the argument is not sound -- nondeterminism is not
only conceptually possible, it is the scientifically dominant theory of
physics. Where to find the error?
I think that the error falls between noting that something has always
been true and claiming that it is therefor determined. *Why* is
it true on Saturday that Ryle will cough and go to bed on Sunday?
Well, it is true *because* Ryle does cough and go to bed on
Sunday. The action is not determined by the truth; the truth is
determined by the action. The determination runs backward in
time, it is true, but it is a benign sort of reverse causality -- a
truth is not a fact, and so no facts of the past have been
changed. The event itself is either predictable or not, based on
the facts of the past. If it is unpredictable in principle (for
example, if it is a nondeterministic event), then the truth that it
will happen is unknowable in principle (and may, in fact, be literally
So, no facts in the past make our putative nondeterministic event
happen (per hypothesis), and the truth (in the past) that it will
happen is determined by the event itself, not the other way
round. No self-contradiction, and non-compatibilist freedom is
safe to come out again and spread its lies. Oh, well -- you win
some, you lose some.
From Eva Long in India:
What is claimed to be true beforehand---Ryle's coughing on Sunday---was
based on what happened when Ryle went to bed on Sunday! Had he not
coughed, that too would have been true beforehand. Thus, what
'determined' Ryle's Sunday cough was Ryle's Sunday cough!!! No dilemma
here, as I see it! So there, Mr. Coleman:)
From John English in Scotland:
The blueprint of our present is written in the past only if you believe
in pre-ordained determinism. Nothing in Coleman's challenge supports
pre-ordained determinism, pure and simple,
From Jesus Ortega in Brazil:
This is a silly challenge. Then I went to Barnette's website on
Omniscience for another issue. I sensed a big problem with his
argument, but I can't figure out why it is WRONG!
From Ida McPherson in Ireland:
We try to act free. We don't know what is out there. Our unconscious
minds react to all kinds of things. Who knows what is in the cards? But
my optimism about my ignorance gives comfort to my freedom.
Please contribute to new Zeno's Challenge!