This is a related topic.
What is a deterministic system? Why is it important to have a solid definition of a deterministic system?
Or: is there anything to be gained from discussing determinism vs other views of how this universe might function?
Do you think those people who think clearly and precisely and thoroughly about the definitions they use can consistently make better choices than they would otherwise? Do you think those people who take the time to learn how other people are defining the words that they use are going to benefit from this method of thought?
That's one possible practical question that relates to this thread of thought (although there are others).
And I can see people go either way on this. Pretty sure more than one poster has already posited that there is most likely no real practical benefit to working through this sort of philosophical issue. I understand that, and I can respect that. We have compartmentalized minds. We have walls between the things we believe that we know. Those walls are high, and studying one topic does not necessarily mean any beneficial spillovers into other areas.
But I personally can't help but believe -- not based on too terribly much evidence, but nevertheless -- that people who can focus on the meat of the issue on this one topic are likely to be able to do the same on other, more practical topics. Now, it could be the case that certain people are just generally better at this skill at a fundamental level, which means they're good at it regardless of the topic. They didn't learn that practical skill from this one topic. Maybe they learned it elsewhere, and it just so happens to apply well in a highfalutin philosophical discussion.
But I personally believe it's possible for a person who is sufficiently curious to make a sort of mental breakthrough about how words like "determinism" are actually defined. This is [i]always[/i] a problem in these kinds of discussions. People don't really understand what a deterministic system is.
And this is really the prime issue.
Unlike free will, which seems to have as many different definitions as there are people who claim to believe in it, causal determinism is actually well defined. There is no room for fuzziness. It is absolutely clear what it is, and how it works, and how to identify a deterministic system from a non-deterministic system when looking at that system from the outside. (It is not possible to recognize a deterministic system from the inside, which is entirely the problem.)
Causal determinism is as well defined as any human concept can possibly get. And it's a simple definition!
Yet people still get it wrong. More than one person in this thread has made what seem like basic mistakes.
Are there any practical benefit to working through these kinds of philosophical issues to dig through these kinds of errors? Well... maybe. It depends on whether you believe, first, whether people who have made basic mistakes about definitions can admit their obvious errors (and I can cite at least one person who has been dogmatically ignorant for literally years on a very simple question of fact); and second, whether you believe someone who successfully recognizes their basic definitional error [i]in this particular topic[/i] will benefit from that revelation with the spillover effect, by making "better" decisions in other "more practical" topics. I would say that the chances of both of those events happening is very small. In all likelihood, there is most probably no benefit to the vast majority of people from these sort of highfalutin discussions.
But still. I think there can be exceptions.
The basic definition of determinism in the sciences is just the chain of "cause and effect".
Okay, then, we can ask ourselves, what is "cause and effect"? That's simple, too. It means that the physical system evolves in a fixed way according to basic rules. Think of it like a flow chart. Everyone has seen flow charts. All that determinism means is that there is [i]one arrow[/i] that comes out of every box. If you're in a box, there is only one way that the system can go to get out of that box. That is the essence of a cause and an effect system. At its core, it really is as simple as that.
If you're in box 1, then the next box that you're in is 2. And if you're in box 2, then the next box you're in is 3. That's it. That's determinism. There is a fixed rule about the one place where you can when you're in each box. Every time you're in box A, then the next box is B. Every time you're in box F, then you're next box is G.
In physics, this basic idea can be expressed mathematically with a continuous function, which is to say: an infinite number of boxes. That sounds complicated. Well hell, it is complicated. But we can still approach an infinite number of boxes from an easier perspective. Take a piece of paper, and draw a curve corresponding to y(t) = t^2. Or even simpler, draw a simple line where y = x.
There are an infinite number of points on that curve, right? Sure. But nevertheless, where the line is going to be in the future is still completely well defined. When the state of the line is at time t=0, there is no ambiguity about which "box" the line will be at two seconds later. If we know where we are at the bottom of the parabola, then we should know where the parabola is going in the "future". We human beings can create a deterministic mathematical system, and if we're asked, okay, this system is in Box B two seconds into the run-time, then where will the system be when it goes another six seconds? We look at the equations, we crunch the numbers, and -- if the deterministic system is simple enough! -- we can calculate the position where the system will be. It's complicated, yes, but the reasoning with equations is still exactly the same sort of reasoning as from the flow chart. If you know that we're starting with box D, then we just need to find out where the equations are telling us to go with box E and F and so on.
Follow the clearly defined rules to find the next box. That is determinism. That is all it is.