Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Rovelli on free will

Physicist Carlo Rovelli writes:
Trying to force the meaning of "free will" beyond the simple meaning of freedom from "exterior" constraints, is an enterprise doomed to failure anyway. Is our "free" decision completely determined by internal factors? Let's assume for moment that it is not, and we see that we are in trouble. Suppose to be able to do an experiment where we can put a person in exactly the same mental situation (with the same memories, values, character, mood ...) and suppose we repeat the experiment many times, always with the same initial conditions. What would observe? There are two extreme possibilities: the first is that we see that the person will decide entirely at random. In this case the results will be just governed by chance. Half the time he will make a choice, the other half he will make the other choice. The second extreme possibility is that instead the person will always make the same choice.

In which of these two cases, is there free will?

Both answers are meaningles.
I mostly agree with this. Furthermore, those two cases are not the only ones. His thought experiment cannot be carried out, and we have good reasons to believe that it could never be carried out. It is a false dichotomy.
Any attempt to link this discussion to moral, ethical or legal issues, as is often been done, is pure nonsense. The fact that it is possible to say that a criminal has been driven to kill because of the ways in which Newton's laws have acted on the molecules of his body has nothing to do either with the opportunity of punishment, nor with the moral condemnation. ...

Free will has nothing to do with quantum mechanics. We are deeply unpredictable beings, like most macroscopic systems. There is no incompatibility between free will and microscopic determinism.
As I have noted before, quantum mechanics teaches that our naive preconceptions of microscopic determinism and randomness are both incorrect. To the extent that quantum mechanics is relevant, it rebuts the above dichotomy and also the one portrayed in this comic.

No comments:

Post a Comment