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Do subatomic particles have free will? - Comments

J Mac's Avatar Comment 1 by J Mac

"That will prevent information from passing between the physicists or the particles"

The need for locality in quantum theory continually leads to the most absurd "conclusions." I would very much like to understand the aversion to non-locality which often rules out the otherwise most parsimonious explanation.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 08:11:00 UTC | #219460

Gamma ut's Avatar Comment 2 by Gamma ut

Sup Shawn

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 08:14:00 UTC | #219461

snoov's Avatar Comment 3 by snoov

If we follow the evidence where it leads,it seems to me that we don't have free will.

All our actions are produced by our genes and out experience.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 08:18:00 UTC | #219462

J Mac's Avatar Comment 4 by J Mac

If we follow the evidence where it leads,it seems to me that we don't have free will.


I would conclude that free will is an illusion (a very effective one), which is slightly different than saying it doesn't exist.

We recognize that colors exist even though there is no categorical difference between the colors; they're all just different wavelengths on a continuum. We see colors, they are essentially an illusion; but they are an illusion that provides some real information.

Free will is a similar form of illusion. I certainly can make up my mind whichever way I wish. But my choice, if dissected, is just the end result of a long process of electrochemical events. No one would honestly think they can control those electrochemical events through "will power" [Ok, SOME people do think that, but they're fucking nuts.]

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 08:36:00 UTC | #219472

debacles's Avatar Comment 5 by debacles

even illusions are real

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:08:00 UTC | #219492

J Mac's Avatar Comment 6 by J Mac

"even illusions are real "

That statement is so vague it's meaningless. If you had a purpose for saying it would you mind clarifying? What do you mean by "real"?

Santa clause is real, in the sense that there are real stories we tell. But there is not actually a fat man who flies around dumping toys down chimneys.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:10:00 UTC | #219493

m-man's Avatar Comment 7 by m-man

Hard Determinism all the way,

and it should be BCE, not BC

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:13:00 UTC | #219495

Sargeist's Avatar Comment 8 by Sargeist

I agree. Ever since I started to think about free will in any concerted way, I have come to the conclusion that our behaviour is either random or entirely determined. And the existence of personality means, I think, that the behaviour is not random. In fact, we all know anyway that we can often predict other people's behaviour with a high degree of accuracy, thereby showing that personality goes a long way.

It is often said that the unpredictability of quantum mechanics allows for free will. But I am not convinced by this, really. For example, we know that even though the aforementioned particle's spin must conform to certain rules (1-0-1) it nonetheless cannot be stated beforehand what the value would be. Its value when measured for the first time (because that collapses the wavefunction) is random, but random with some kind of constraint. However, we know that this randomness in quantum mechanics also leads, at the macroscopic level, to the observable "mechanical" laws that Newton propounded.

All very confusing and weird, of course. But that's why I got into physics in the first place.

Now, usually when people talk about determinism someone will pop up asking about where personal responsibility comes in. If people cannot control their actions, then why is it fair to punish them for it? Well, I have no real idea of "fair" in this context, but I do like the fact that determinism allows me (a hang-'em-and-flog-'em kind of guy) to equally say that I am unable to choose not to want to execute certain people, for I am similarly constrained by what is inevitable.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:15:00 UTC | #219497

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 9 by Steve Zara

It is often said that the unpredictability of quantum mechanics allows for free will. But I am not convinced by this, really.


I agree. There would have to be some sort of mechanism through which the "will" influenced quantum outcomes. That makes no sense at all.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:21:00 UTC | #219503

J Mac's Avatar Comment 10 by J Mac

Sargeist,

If you're a physicist perhaps you could point me to some good sources for my above mentioned curiosity.

I have very little formal education in physics, but I have read on such topics that interest me. Bohmian mechanics (aka pilot wave theories) seems to make so much sense and answer so many questions quite well. One of the critiques of it of course is that of non-locality. I have yet to find a good source which elaborates on why that is a problem.

I have many times heard the hand-wavy explanation that "oh its because of relativity and all that stuff, therefore non-locality cant work." While I'm no expert I think I have a working understanding of relativity and I don't see how it precludes non-locality.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:24:00 UTC | #219505

ThoughtsonCommonToad's Avatar Comment 11 by ThoughtsonCommonToad

The easiest thought experiment to show we don't have free will is to take, say, a conversation between any two people. If we "rewound the tape" and replayed the whole scenario, we'd have exactly the same conversation with the same trains of thought etc. Simple.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:27:00 UTC | #219507

Elles's Avatar Comment 12 by Elles

Something tells me that the whole free will debate will end in arguing definitions.

I'm going to go get some ice cream.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:28:00 UTC | #219508

Sargeist's Avatar Comment 13 by Sargeist

Hi Steve,

Your posts on here about physics often make me feel slightly down because I did 10 years of physics from A-level to PhD, and yet I have not kept up with things in the several years since I got my doctorate. Sadly, given my background, I have to say that I tend to find reading Suetonius, Cicero or Plato (and other ancient writers) more interesting to me now than popular science about physics. A shame really, cos I do have those Brian Greene books, and the Routledge edition of Einstein's Relativity, and even Penrose's popular books and his huge, fat, not-so-popular book. Ah, such is life.

I especially enjoyed your posts not to long ago about time travel, when you were discussing the idea of a "god" having been some"thing" from the future who travelled back to the start of our universe. Very interesting. Not sure I followed it all... my PhD did not touch on cosmology at all!

Anyway, you might be interested to know that the edition of Rev. Mod. Phys. from 1949 for Einstein's 70th birthday is freely available online from the American Physical Society:

http://prola.aps.org/toc/RMP/v21/i3

Yes, this is the issue in which Godel gives his paper on the rotating universe!

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:33:00 UTC | #219511

J Mac's Avatar Comment 14 by J Mac

I do have those Brian Greene books, and the Routledge edition of Einstein's Relativity, and even Penrose's popular books and his huge, fat, not-so-popular book.


Penrose's huge fat not so popular book was actually very good. While some of his ideas have since been torn apart he provides many ways of conceptualizing very complicated topics. Brian Greene on the other hand I did not get as much out of; His books are great overviews for non-scientists, but it seemed a little to watered down for me.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:39:00 UTC | #219513

Sargeist's Avatar Comment 15 by Sargeist

The trouble I tend to have with popular books about physics - perhaps why I much prefer to read popular books about biology - is that anything I can understand in them is something I already knew, and anything new in them is something I don't understand.

My archetype here is A Brief History of Time. I read this while at college and my feeling about it is exactly that anyone who knows anything about the topic won't learn anything from it because it is all presented in a simplistic way; but anyone who knows nothing about any of it won't learn anything because the simplistic descriptions are not detailed enough to provide understanding.

"oh, look, if you do it in imaginary time then the singularity vanishes" - eh? What? What do you actually mean by imaginary time? Show me some equations, goddamit!

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:47:00 UTC | #219515

Sargeist's Avatar Comment 16 by Sargeist

J Mac, sorry I didn't respond to your request for book info etc earlier. I have not really kept up with physics much in the years since my PhD (which was in condensed matter rather than cosmology, gravity or string theory), but I am always willing to waffle on in a semi-helpful way!

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:49:00 UTC | #219518

J Mac's Avatar Comment 17 by J Mac

It's alright. Your points about popular physics books seem to be valid. Though as a biologist I'm still continually learning new things from popular biology books.

Perhaps it is due to so many open yet answerable questions in biology. In contrast to physics where (I'm speculating) most of the big questions that can currently be answered have been answered thoroughly, where those than cant... cant.

I suspect I'll actually get more of what I'm looking for in philosophy than technically in proper physics. But good arguments have been against non-locality (or so it would seem), and it is those arguments that I'd very much like to read.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:56:00 UTC | #219521

82abhilash's Avatar Comment 18 by 82abhilash

Some of you may find this lecture by Daniel Dennett on free will to be of interest:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eS5Q-9uNCLU

He thinks determinism and indeterminism is besides the point when it comes to free will, evolutionary biology is the way to understand it.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 09:59:00 UTC | #219523

J Mac's Avatar Comment 19 by J Mac

Freedom Evolves is on my reading list. Currently I've just started Consciousness Explained. Dennett is not only an amazing thinker but an amazing writer as well. I look forward to the day when I have enough time to read all of his work.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 10:01:00 UTC | #219526

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 20 by Chrysippus_Maximus

And to Bohmians and other like-minded physicists, the pair says: Give up determinism, or give up free will. Even the tiniest bit of free will.


No shit.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 10:03:00 UTC | #219528

Dr. Strangegod's Avatar Comment 21 by Dr. Strangegod

Okay, well, the math and the metaphors in this article went right over my head. I don't know, but using metaphors to summarize complex mathematics never helps me. But I'll trust these guys for now, especially since it jives with my own determinism. Free will went right out the door for me a long time ago, even without all the math and physics. Seems a natural conclusion from the fact of a cause/effect, mechanical universe. Thank all of you here who know more about science than I, especially J Mac, for making this subject more intelligible.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 10:05:00 UTC | #219529

J Mac's Avatar Comment 22 by J Mac

Thank all of you here who know more about science than I, especially J Mac, for making this subject more intelligible.


Well I never turn down flattery, but I'm curious what I said that was productive.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 10:09:00 UTC | #219531

Quine's Avatar Comment 23 by Quine

Anyone have a view on how the recent work of measurement by partial disturbance and reversal of disturbance would impact the "proof" in the above? It sounds to me as if Conway and Kochen are depending on non reversible measurement.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 10:11:00 UTC | #219534

debacles's Avatar Comment 24 by debacles

"That statement is so vague it's meaningless. If you had a purpose for saying it would you mind clarifying? What do you mean by "real"?

Santa clause is real, in the sense that there are real stories we tell. But there is not actually a fat man who flies around dumping toys down chimneys. "

I wrote that hoping someone would get annoyed. It's my "i know what u mean man....like god is THIS table, man" argument... it was more of a joke than anything

but it holds some philosophical truth to me nonetheless... what i mean, is what we consider free will is an illusion... but that is the only way we've ever approached free will. Anyone slightly aware of the realities "modern" science implies, would assume free will does not exist. I dont think free will is a good term to use in any context other than when we are speaking of brains having free will. Basically, the illusion is real, because the term free will exists. It's similar to asking who's in control... we are in "control" of our bodies...but in reality, the molecules are controlling us to control our body... but i strongly believe they are not in control of themselves... and no matter how far down the line we go, im going to assume what we see is not truly in control of itself...

basically the term free will is an illusion... and if speak of free will, we must undoubtly assume this illusion to be real in whichever sense we choose to imply it exists...

maybe i should stick to knock knock jokes

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 10:13:00 UTC | #219535

Ex~'s Avatar Comment 25 by Ex~

Quantum Mechanics spits in the face of thousands of years of philosophical thinking. A is not A, says Quantum mechanics. The discovery of improbability is like a slap in the face, reminding us of what we've always known instinctually: that we DO have free will, has been true all along.

Absolutely fascinating.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 10:17:00 UTC | #219536

Sargeist's Avatar Comment 26 by Sargeist

Ah yes, Freedom Evolves... Another one of those 300 or so books on my bookshelf (it's a big shelf, ok?)

Damn, I'll not be alive enough to read all the books I have, let alone the ones I have not yet bought, but shall inevitably buy. Damn damn damn.

Anyway, once again we have here an article about physics that does not provide a link to the research about which it is talking! Come on, people, this is the bloody internet!

The original Kochen and Specker is available on the web, seemingly legally (well, from an edu domain, so that is legal I assume):

http://www.iumj.indiana.edu/IUMJ/dfulltext.php?year=1968&volume=17&artid=17004

(ignore the SQL errors (i had some) and download from the pdf link)

The previous Kochen and Conway paper is at:

http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0604079

The new paper is at:

http://arxiv.org/abs/0807.3286

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 10:22:00 UTC | #219539

Sargeist's Avatar Comment 27 by Sargeist

I am having to do this in two pieces because the site rejected my previous long comment. Maybe there is a new spam fritter, I mean, filter in place?

The rest of what I wanted to post:

There have been a number of objections to the papers, some of which can be found by searching for Kochen's name at the arxiv; e.g.

http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0611283v2
http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0604122v2

(The second one is amusing to me because it is written by Stephen Adler. And here was me wondering what he did after being kicked out of Guns'n'Roses!)

And there are the responses by Kochen and Conway to those responses. Which you can do a search for, if you want them.

This is an article about the Free Will Theorem:

http://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~jas/one/freewill-theorem.html

The Wikipedia page about the Kochen-Specker theorem is interesting, and it has one about the Free Will theorem, too.

Finally, the issues of non-locality and hidden variables come up with this free will thing, so it might be nice for me to mention again that one can get some nice papers from Rev. Mod. Phys. free online. And one of these is the Einstein Podolsky Rosen paper, and Bohr's response! Yes, it does deserve that exclamation mark!

http://prola.aps.org/abstract/PR/v47/i10/p777_1
http://prola.aps.org/abstract/PR/v48/i8/p696_1

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 10:23:00 UTC | #219540

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 29 by Chrysippus_Maximus

25. Comment #231960 by Ex~ on August 17, 2008 at 11:17 am
avatarQuantum Mechanics spits in the face of thousands of years of philosophical thinking. A is not A, says Quantum mechanics. The discovery of improbability is like a slap in the face, reminding us of what we've always known instinctually: that we DO have free will, has been true all along.

Absolutely fascinating.


It's idiotic to claim that no philosophers have argued for libertarian or compatibilist conceptions of free will.

In fact, several contemporary philosophers have put forward quantum conceptions of free will.

Unfortunately, as in this case, the arguments are tenuous, at best.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 10:27:00 UTC | #219542

J Mac's Avatar Comment 28 by J Mac

Thanks for the article links, but my bookshelves are much like yours.

While this article is intriguing, when compared to all the other reading I want to do, and the other reading I am expected to do, I'll have to put those articles in the "I really don't care that much pile." Which means if there is an eternal afterlife I'll find time to read them, otherwise it's not likely. Especially since I see something they take as a given premise as a bigger question then the ideas they present as conclusions.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 10:27:00 UTC | #219541

dloubet's Avatar Comment 30 by dloubet

Random does not equal free will.
Determined does not equal free will.
Why would a mixture of the two equal free will?

I don't think free will even constitutes an illusion. An illusion requires that you misinterpret some observation. Can anyone clearly describe where "free will" enters their decision-making? If not, then they're not observing anything that can then be misinterpreted as free will.

Free will isn't even an illusion, it's just an assertion.

Sun, 17 Aug 2008 10:28:00 UTC | #219543