Sunday, September 18, 2011


[a continuation of this]

The antonym of determinism would be indeterminism, I suppose;  but there are a couple of things that might mean.   (This is because, in natural language, the negation of a composite or quantified predicate is not well-regimented regarding the scope of the negator.)
One variety would be complete randomness -- everything just happens, for no reason.   Less drastic would be cases of (what we may call) anaetiology (from an- 'not' plus aetiology 'causation'), considered as an epistemic state.  Matt Ridley, in Genome (1999), illustrates a related medical term, concerning the aetiology of Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease:

CJD  has killed lifelong vegetarians who had never had surgery, never left Britain, and never worked on a farm… The … greatest mystery of the prion is that even today -- when forms of CJD have been caught by all sorts of known means, including cannibalism,  surgery, hormone injections and possibly beef-eating -- eighty-five per cent of all CJD cases are ‘sporadic’, meaning that they cannot at the moment be explained by anything other than random chance.

This sporadic is thus something of a euphemism or weasel-word, and is characteristic of the medical profession, which is loath to put “we have no idea” as a diagnosis (and insurance companies might be squirrely about paying for such a Dx).   Similarly used is non-specific, as in non-specific urethritis, where there  is nothing ‘non-specific’ about the symptoms themselves, their cause is in such cases unspecified.
Similarly, I was recently informed that I had essential hypertension, which sounds like the very worst kind.  But all it really means is (in the words of Wiki), “the form of hypertension that by definition, has no identifiable cause”.  Primary hypertension is used in the same way.  (Naturally the physician can charge more for coolly confronting essential hypertension, than if it were just "high blood-pressure -- Lord knows how you got it".)  But since sporadic, essential, and primary already have important unrelated pre-existing meanings, medicine needed a special word all its own that means “we don’t know”, and that word is:  idiopathic.   

Or -- should the cat get out of the bag about that one -- agnogenic.  (“ ‘Agnogenic Systems Failure’.  It was military doubletalk for crash of unknown cause.” -- Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain (1969), p. 217.)
With these fine words, you can admit your ignorance and still sound smart.

Note:  There is a curious compatibility between this term idiopathic,  and that of emergent phenomenon -- that is, one that resists the program of Reductionism.   Just a thought.

Thus:  anaetiological means ‘acausal’ or 'uncaused'.  Similarly, Colin McGinn (“Truth and use”) speaks of “the causal inertness of abstract objects”.


In the field of linguistics, compare further:

The main problem of phonetic change  arises from ‘spontaneous’ (isolative) changes, in which a phoneme changes  in all, or nearly all, of its occurences, irrespective of environment.
-- M. L. Samuels, Linguistic Evolution, with special reference to English (1972), p. 18

The contrasting term here is conditioned change.  --  This does not mean that the phenomenon is conceived as being as mechanically inexplicable as spontaneous beta-decay of the nucleon, say;  on the next page he speaks of the “principal mechanism” of isolative change.

Hi!  I'm a hamster.  (eom)

[Update 8 May 2012]  And now this:
Are there fundamentally random processes in nature? Theoretical predictions, confirmed experimentally, such as the violation of Bell inequalities, point to an affirmative answer. However, these results are based on the assumption that measurement settings can be chosen freely at random, so assume the existence of perfectly free random processes from the outset. Here we consider a scenario in which this assumption is weakened and show that partially free random bits can be amplified to make arbitrarily free ones. More precisely, given a source of random bits whose correlation with other variables is below a certain threshold, we propose a procedure for generating fresh random bits that are virtually uncorrelated with all other variables. We also conjecture that such procedures exist for any non-trivial threshold. Our result is based solely on the no-signalling principle, which is necessary for the existence of free randomness.

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