John Horton Conway, the English-born Princeton mathematician whose body of work ranged from the rigorously highbrow to the frivolously fun, earning him prizes and a reputation as a creative, iconoclastic and even magical genius, died on Saturday in New Brunswick, N.J. He was 82.I think this theorem is an important insight, but others downplay it, such as Scott Aaronson:
His wife, Diana Conway, said his death, at a nursing home, was caused by Covid-19. ...
One of Dr. Conway’s favorite accomplishments was the Free Will Theorem, conceptualized casually over the course of a decade with his friend and fellow Princeton mathematician Simon Kochen and first published in 2006 (and later revised).
The theorem, simply put, is this: If physicists have free will while performing experiments, then elementary particles possess free will as well. And this, Dr. Conway and Dr. Kochen reckoned, probably explains why and how humans have free will in the first place.
Closest to my wheelhouse, Conway together with Simon Kochen waded into the foundations of quantum mechanics in 2006, with their “Free Will Theorem”—a result Conway liked to summarize provocatively as “if human experimenters have free will, then so do the elementary particles they measure.” I confess that I wasn’t a fan at the time—partly because Conway and Kochen’s theorem was really about “freshly-generated randomness,” rather than free will in any sense related to agency, but also partly because I’d already known the conceptual point at issue, but had considered it folklore (see, e.g., my 2002 review of Stephen Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science). Over time, though, the “Free Will Theorem” packaging grew on me. Much like with the No-Cloning Theorem and other simple enormities, sometimes it’s worth making a bit of folklore so memorable and compelling that it will never be folklore again.Really? Free will is just freshly-generated randomness?
In a sense, that is right. If I make decisions out of my free choice, they appear to be freshly-generated randomness to someone else who cannot predict what I do.
If he can predict what I do, then I don't have free will. So yes, you can say free will is nothing but freshly-generated randomness, but that is just a linguistic trick for devaluing it.
(Off-topic, a comment says about the corona virus, "This is going to be on the order of a standard flu season." Scott compares this to "Holocaust denial". Wow, a lot of smart people have gone mad. It does appear that the COVID-19 death total will be comparable to a bad flu season. Yes, Conway is reported to have died of COVID-19, but he was age 82 and living in a nursing home. Most of those who die of COVID-19 have multiple other health issues contributing to the death.)