Friday, July 5, 2013

Quantum mechanics leaves possibility of free will

I believe that free will is a metaphysical issue, not a scientific one. Denying free will is foolish.

Hard-core determinist Jerry Coyne writes on the free will theorem:
I haven’t seen his formal treatment of the Free Will Theorem, so I can’t say I can evaluate it — much less understand it. From the interview it sounds simply like a refutation of pure physical determinism, which most of us who accept quantum mechanics don’t see as problematic. The question is whether our behaviors and “choices” can be influenced by quantum dynamics, but even if that were true it wouldn’t prove “free will” exists in any meaningful sense. But the proof of “free will” is also connected with the bizarre phenomenon of quantum entanglement.
One of his readers comments:
I think that we agree that everything is determined from the Big Bang

Not that I like it ~ I want a loophole to exist, but I can’t imagine what a legitimate [non-woo] loophole looks like. I would like it to be true that brains can control events, but brains would seem to be just a higher order implementation of fields, forces & particles.

The problem is that they cannot imagine quantum mechanics.

Physicist Matthew Leifer comments on my essay:
The so called "free will theorem" does not establish that particles have free will or exhibit genuine stochasticity, whatever those terms may mean. It is just another proof of Bell's theorem, pure and simple. Of course, Kochen and Conway do not conclude this, stating instead that measurement outcomes must be undetermined prior to measurement. However, they fail to note that this is incompatible with the other assumptions they have made. In particular, TWIN implies that measurement outcomes on the two wings have to be perfectly correlated and the only way this can happen in a hidden variable theory is if it is deterministic. Therefore, undetermined measurement outcomes is not an option unless you give up at least one of their other assumptions, with locality and realism being the obvious choices.
Maybe Kochen and Conway overstate their results, and they are really restating Bell's theorem. Regardless, quantum mechanics leaves open the possibility of free will.

I do not think that free will can be scientifically proved or disproved. But for those like Coyne who say it can be disproved, they ought to reconcile their supposed scientific beliefs with quantum mechanics.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose the question an enterprising young cub reporter would ask you at a suitable press conference is whether any of these more-or-less "classic" formulations of the free will question are tending toward scientific explicability, or if instead they'll always remain aloof. IOW, today you and I can safely sit on a fence. But tomorrow? P.S. no fair cheating by saying "Tomorrow never comes."