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If We Have Free Will, Then So Do Electrons

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the hard-to-pin-down dept.

Math 610

snahgle writes "Mathematicians John Conway (inventor of the Game of Life) and Simon Kochen of Princeton University have proven that if human experimenters demonstrate 'free will' in choosing what measurements to take on a particle, then the axioms of quantum mechanics require that the free will property be available to the particles measured, or to the universe as a whole. Conway is giving a series of lectures on the 'Free Will Theorem' and its ramifications over the next month at Princeton. A followup article strengthening the theory (PDF) was published last month in Notices of the AMS." Update: 03/19 14:20 GMT by KD : jamie points out that we discussed this theorem last year, before the paper had been published.

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I choose... (-1, Offtopic)

dov_0 (1438253) | more than 5 years ago | (#27266939)

the first post!

Worse yet. (1)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267117)

Are they equating randomness with free will? i.e. non-determinism? If that's the case, then it's total BS unless they've determined what makes the choices at the quantum level.

Re:Worse yet. (4, Insightful)

locofungus (179280) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267225)

quote

More precisely, if the experimenter can freely choose the directions in which to orient his apparatus in a certain measurement, then the particle's response (to be pedantic--the universe's response near the particle) is not determined by the entire previous history of the universe.

end quote

I've not read the whole thing yet but it sounds like they've managed to prove that if free will exists then there is no non-local hidden variable theorem compatible with the results of QM.

Tim.

Re:Worse yet. (3, Interesting)

pallmall1 (882819) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267449)

More precisely,if the experimenter can freely choose the directions in which to orient his apparatus in a certain measurement, then the particle's response (to be pedantic--the universe's response near the particle) is not determined by the entire previous history of the universe.

I wonder if they have taken into account the history of the decision being made, or the machine actually being set in the chosen direction. Now, just from this one quote, it would seem that the act of making a decision may actually influence the history of the universe. So, choice is a part of the entire universe -- the only question is whether or not free will actually exists?

Dayum. To be or not to be.

I knew it! (5, Funny)

SirGarlon (845873) | more than 5 years ago | (#27266943)

The universe really IS out to get me!

Re:I knew it! (3, Insightful)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267233)

Mathematics is said to have an "uncanny" ability to model the universe. My pet theory is what we call our mind is a self referencing MATHEMATICAL MODEL of the universe that emerges from the cellular colonies we refer to as ourselves.

Re:I knew it! (3, Funny)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267437)

...our mind is a self referencing MATHEMATICAL MODEL of the universe

Hey! Don't bogart that thing, pass it around.

Re:I knew it! (1)

VernonNemitz (581327) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267253)

There are two much simpler proofs, although I don't know about considering the "universe" as a free-willed entity.
A1. Start with the notion that free will does not exist.
A2. The law of cause-and-effect therefore controls all events.
A3. "All events" is a series that can be traced backward through time.
A4. What caused the FIRST event?
A5. If it had a cause, then you haven't arrived at (A4) yet; go back to (A3).
A6. If it had no cause, then that violates (A2) above, implying some events can occur without being caused (essence of free will).
B. Alternately, just look at the randomness in Quantum Mechanics. We have experimental proof (via the Bell Inequality) that events can happen without cause; therefore to the extent that biological systems can tap into that randomness at the molecular/atomic/quantum level, those biological systems can use that to exhibit behaviors outside any purely macroscopic cause-and-effect sequence.

Re:I knew it! (2, Insightful)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267413)

I think the mistake you're making here is that free will is the only alternative to strict cause-and-effect, but much of quantum mechanics runs on probability, which isn't the same as free will.

Re:I knew it! (4, Interesting)

Oswald (235719) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267491)

Isn't it? In the paper that the story links to, the authors refine their use of the term "free will" to mean that the universe is "not determined by the entire previous history of the universe." That sounds a whole lot like "random," which (it seems to me) must surely mean "not subject to cause and effect."

I would welcome pointers to layman-appropriate corrections if I'm wrong.

Re:I knew it! (1)

sFurbo (1361249) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267513)

There is also a problem with A4, who says there is anything meaningfully described as "the first event"? There could be an infinite series of events, each being caused by the one before that.

If particles have free will (4, Funny)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 5 years ago | (#27266947)

Then that means that they can impose their will on other particles. In short, one will will the will of particles to impose your will to will other particles in your will to your will.

Re:If particles have free will (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 5 years ago | (#27266985)

That sounds like the perfect setup for a "sup dawg, I herd you like cars" off-topic that I sadly am not talented enough to pen.

Re:If particles have free will (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267005)

Sup dawg, I heard you like acting of your own accord, so I put free will in your free will so you can... meh, someone finish that for me. My head is starting to hurt.

Re:If particles have free will (1)

MadKeithV (102058) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267203)

Sup dawg, I herd u like free will in your free will, so we freed quantum Willy.

Re:If particles have free will (1, Funny)

tripdizzle (1386273) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267219)

"YO DAWG, I heard you like you some free will, so we put some free will in yo free will so you can choose while you choose."

Re:If particles have free will (1)

Sethus (609631) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267429)

So the free will of the universe really equates to Destiny. I wonder if I could exert my own free will over the universe... the two seem hardly comparable and if they were, perhaps our own tiny impact of free will is what allows us to break free of Destiny if only for short periods of time. The whole concept seems almost... romantic.

Yawn. (1, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27266953)

Well there you have it. A new breakthrough in the area of free will and our lives are...exactly the same.

Re:Yawn. (1)

AltGrendel (175092) | more than 5 years ago | (#27266971)

Only because you choose not to change your life.

Re:Yawn. (4, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267055)

Even if I did choose to change something about my life, it would have no bearing on free will.

The problem with free will is whether you have it or whether you don't it makes absolutely zero difference in your life (we're talking philosophical free will here, not material, so no one give me the snarky "I'm in jail you insensitive clod" response).

Everyone makes decisions with the implicit belief that their decisions matter. Now, if we have free will, then they actually do. If we don't have free will, then they actually don't. Regardless, you make the same damn decision, and it will have the same consequences.

So why the eternal wanking over whether or not we possess a property that cannot be measured and doesn't effect our lives in any way?

Re:Yawn. (4, Insightful)

KwKSilver (857599) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267191)

For myself, there's a psychological effect. When I have wanted to disbelieve free will, I also drifted towards victimhood. If I have free will, my choices matter and I can't be a victim. My life is better. YMMV.

Re:Yawn. (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267273)

...

Do you really walk around thinking you don't have free will?

Intuitively we grasp that our actions have consequences, and that, in order to get the consequences we want, we have to choose the right actions.

We all do stupid things, and a lot of people try to pass off the responsibility for their actions to other people, but as a society we have decided to hold each accountable for their own deeds.

Re:Yawn. (1)

tripdizzle (1386273) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267261)

All just theories in ethics (or thats where I studied it), you have a compatibilist POV with a determinist leaning, which really cant be disproven (is that a word?), unless we are able to find parallel universe where different decisions have been made and we can see the effects those decisions have had on yourself and everyone else.

Re:Yawn. (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267341)

Free will is an important idea in ethics because it touches on intentionality. If someone points a gun at your family and tells you to shoot someone else, that's generally considered to be an extenuating circumstance.

Philosophical determinism, on the other hand, isn't quite as important. The whole idea of ethics rests on the notion that we are in control of our own actions. If we're not, then there is no ethical angle. Note that this is different from the first case: you still have a choice there.

Re:Yawn. (1)

Knuckles (8964) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267439)

If you took the paper seriously you could draw the conclusion to become a daoist monk. It's up to you, really.

Re:Yawn. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267503)

So why the eternal wanking over whether or not we possess a property that cannot be measured and doesn't effect our lives in any way?

Why study distant galaxies if we can never interact with them?

Re:Yawn. (4, Funny)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267079)

Speaking of Adams, a quote from TFA: "Conway is set on explaining to the University community and the public over six weeks the tenets of their 'Free Will Theorem'." 6 x 7days = 42, spooky huh?

Re:Yawn. (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267201)

I can't believe he's spending 6 weeks on "If we have free will then so do things that we interact with." I wouldn't think that was meat enough for a good paper, more less six weeks of lectures...Though I guess that's snarky, since I've read innumberable goddamn books about free will, even one's with this guy in 'em (Freedom Evolves by Daniel Dennet, had a long bit about the Game o' Life.)

Re:Yawn. (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267339)

Conway had a "mathematical recreations" column in SciAm for years, brilliant stuff. The game of life was in an old copy I read in the mid 80's, it drove me nuts with pen and paper so I went and bought a secondhand AppleII for $80, hooked it up to a casette recorder and through the VCR's RF converter to the telly. Drove the wife nuts but I've been hooked on programing ever since...

Re:Yawn. (1)

mooglez (795643) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267493)

I can't believe he's spending 6 weeks on "If we have free will then so do things that we interact with." I wouldn't think that was meat enough for a good paper, more less six weeks of lectures...Though I guess that's snarky, since I've read innumberable goddamn books about free will, even one's with this guy in 'em (Freedom Evolves by Daniel Dennet, had a long bit about the Game o' Life.)

You misunderstand, the publics requirement to attend the explanation is an age requirement of atleast six weeks. Looks like he managed to simplify the matter a lot!

Re:Yawn. (1)

Sethus (609631) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267303)

Well CRAP!

Does that mean the Earth will be blown up to make way for a interstellar bypass this Spring? And I just finished paying off my college loan! I mean, I'm all for progress in the name of progress, but at least set a definite date of demolition. On the plus side, I'm gonna be sloshed for the next few months every waking minute!

Read the writing on the proverbial wall people! Doom is coming and it's color is yellow!

Re:Yawn. (1)

owlstead (636356) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267127)

Really? The fun of life is in my opinion is that it is never the same. If it is, make it change. E.g. the sun is shining here now, I've got no idea about the exact weather, but I'm going to find out now :)

So what you're saying is... (5, Funny)

boshhead (1357337) | more than 5 years ago | (#27266961)

So what you're saying is that everything I've screwed up on has really been my fault?

Re:So what you're saying is... (3, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | more than 5 years ago | (#27266993)

Yes sir, President Bush.

Axiom of Choice (1)

Saint Stephen (19450) | more than 5 years ago | (#27266987)

So, all we need to do is consider this universe to be thought about by a larger more richer universe and then everything can be seen to happen automatically :-)

One of the lamer cop-outs of the late 20th century :-)

Re:Axiom of Choice (1)

funkatron (912521) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267565)

20th century? The only 20th century part of that is "thought about", substitute "created by" and you're in the same place mankind has been forever.

If free will then free will (4, Insightful)

Hungus (585181) | more than 5 years ago | (#27266991)

I am sorry this proves nothing in the deterministic debate. All it says is If the observers have free will then teh particles must have free will. It does not answer the question: Does the observer have free will?

Re:If free will then free will (4, Interesting)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267149)

I think their definition of free will is rather weak, probably equivalent to non-deterministic.

Re:If free will then free will (2, Interesting)

inviolet (797804) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267247)

I think their definition of free will is rather weak, probably equivalent to non-deterministic.

Indeed. Lots of people are under the impression that free will is a function of randomness. Sorry guys, but randomness is insanity. I would prefer that my actions flowed deterministically from my inner mental state. How else could I act according to my convictions?

Anyway, the question is only relevant in the context of religion. Without a bearded guy giving out passes to heaven, it doesn't matter whether the universe could've progressed differently. Our actions ought to progress lawfully and predicatably from the programming that we've build into our minds.

Or maybe people are just afraid of the concept of predictability. In a jungle or a battlefield, predictability is terrible, so perhaps we've got a race memory against it.

Re:If free will then free will (2, Interesting)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267479)

Indeed. Lots of people are under the impression that free will is a function of randomness. Sorry guys, but randomness is insanity. I would prefer that my actions flowed deterministically from my inner mental state. How else could I act according to my convictions?

Randomness does not imply equal probability for all possible outcomes. While it may be mathematically possible, it's a safe assumption that the randomness of quantum mechanics will not cause you to jump off the next bridge you come to instead of just crossing it normally.

Re:If free will then free will (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267193)

Why are you sorry? Do you wish you didn't have your opinion?

Re:If free will then free will (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267267)

Sure it does. Now we know that if a human has free will, then particles must have free will. Since it's nonsensical to talk about a particle with will, it's also nonsensical to talk about a human with free will.

Re:If free will then free will (2, Interesting)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267403)

Now we know that if a human has free will, then particles must have free will. Since it's nonsensical to talk about a particle with will, it's also nonsensical to talk about a human with free will.

And now we know that if a human has a fated destiny, then particles must have a fated destiny. Since it's nonsensical to talk about a particle with a fated destiny, it's also nonsensical to talk about a human with a fated destiny.

The whole thing is based on several confusions. Let me recommend Raymond Smullyan's essay Is God a Taoist? [mit.edu]:

Mortal: Well, are my acts determined by the laws of nature or aren't they?

God: The word determined here is subtly but powerfully misleading and has contributed so much to the confusions of the free will versus determinism controversies. Your acts are certainly in accordance with the laws of nature, but to say they are determined by the laws of nature creates a totally misleading psychological image which is that your will could somehow be in conflict with the laws of nature and that the latter is somehow more powerful than you, and could "determine" your acts whether you liked it or not. But it is simply impossible for your will to ever conflict with natural law. You and natural law are really one and the same.

Mortal: What do you mean that I cannot conflict with nature? Suppose I were to become very stubborn, and I determined not to obey the laws of nature. What could stop me? If I became sufficiently stubborn even you could not stop me!

God: You are absolutely right! I certainly could not stop you. Nothing could stop you. But there is no need to stop you, because you could not even start! As Goethe very beautifully expressed it, "In trying to oppose Nature, we are, in the very process of doing so, acting according to the laws of nature!" Don't you see that the so-called "laws of nature" are nothing more than a description of how in fact you and other beings do act? They are merely a description of how you act, not a prescription of of how you should act, not a power or force which compels or determines your acts. To be valid a law of nature must take into account how in fact you do act, or, if you like, how you choose to act.

Mortal: So you really claim that I am incapable of determining to act against natural law?

God: It is interesting that you have twice now used the phrase "determined to act" instead of "chosen to act." This identification is quite common. Often one uses the statement "I am determined to do this" synonymously with "I have chosen to do this." This very psychological identification should reveal that determinism and choice are much closer than they might appear. Of course, you might well say that the doctrine of free will says that it is you who are doing the determining, whereas the doctrine of determinism appears to say that your acts are determined by something apparently outside you. But the confusion is largely caused by your bifurcation of reality into the "you" and the "not you." Really now, just where do you leave off and the rest of the universe begin? Or where does the rest of the universe leave off and you begin? Once you can see the so-called "you" and the so-called "nature" as a continuous whole, then you can never again be bothered by such questions as whether it is you who are controlling nature or nature who is controlling you. Thus the muddle of free will versus determinism will vanish. If I may use a crude analogy, imagine two bodies moving toward each other by virtue of gravitational attraction. Each body, if sentient, might wonder whether it is he or the other fellow who is exerting the "force." In a way it is both, in a way it is neither. It is best to say that it is the configuration of the two which is crucial.

Re:If free will then free will (5, Informative)

iangoldby (552781) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267353)

Whether the universe is deterministic or not does not really have a great deal to say to the free will debate.

The usual argument runs something like this: If the universe is deterministic, then we cannot have free will, because our actions are determined.

The trouble is with this view is that it equates free will with indeterminacy.

By this argument, to have free will there must be some fundamentally unpredictable element that contributes to your will in order to make it free. (If it were predictable then it would not be free, goes the argument.) But saying that something is fundamentally unpredictable is the same as saying that it has no deterministic cause. If that is the case, then the 'free' part of your will must be something that you - your mind - doesn't determine. But if so, then can it really be called your will?

On the other hand, in a purely deterministic universe, some kind of free will could be possible. Donald MacKay came up with a logical argument that demonstrates that there is no prediciton of an agent's future behaviour that could be given to that agent that the agent would be logically compelled to believe.

There's a reasonable explanation by Dennis l Feucht [arn.org] that Google has just thrown up for me.

That's rich. (2, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27266995)

Now all we have to do is prove that people have free will, something people have been trying to do for a thousand years, and then we'll know that particles have free will and by extension, the whole universe!

Jesus Christ what a waste of time. Proving free will is like trying to prove the immortal soul, except, if you proved the immortal soul you get all this interesting life-after-death crap, and if you prove free will you get the comfort of knowing that all your stupid decisions are your stupid decisions.

Re:That's rich. (4, Insightful)

pieterh (196118) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267041)

Ah, but if you can prove free will exists, then you can prove evil people will go to hell!

Seriously, this whole free will debate is pointless. Every manifestation of so-called "free will" can be adequately explained by assuming that our human brains can convincingly imitate free will (to other human brains). And that is a much simpler proposition that looking for free will in the fabric of the cosmos (what religious balderdash!).

I pretend to have free will, you believe me, and we're both happy.

Re:That's rich. (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267099)

Oh, it's worse than that, though you touched on the actual reasoning.

Free will is one of those damn pseudoproblems that crept into the discourse when we started arguing about religion. Basically belief in God (omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent) opens the door to the problem of evil, and the only way to get out of the problem of evil without removing one of the big three attributes of God is to give people free will: to explain why people do bad things.

So even having to pretend like you have free will is ridiculous. It's a fake problem with no actual solution that gives us nothing.

Re:That's rich. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267433)

Please, not another religious discussion. I ended up watching several hours of "Darwin pisses off the church" last night an could really use a break.

Re:That's rich. (5, Funny)

Samrobb (12731) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267227)

Seriously, this whole free will debate is pointless.

Of course, you couldn't help but say that.

Re:That's rich. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267499)

On the other hand, if you prove that particles do not have free will (which seems easier (but not easy) to me), then you get the comfort of knowing that all your stupid decisions are the consequence of stupid particles "decisions"

Disturbing (4, Interesting)

gmerideth (107286) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267021)

That a particle has free-will using the standard definition is rather disturbing. Particles, capable of making a decision implies an inherent intelligence or at least a built-in "table of actions" at some level.

Re:Disturbing (4, Interesting)

Shrike82 (1471633) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267081)

Not sure if the axioms they've defined work both ways, but if we take the reverse case, particles being incapable of free will would seem to imply that we oursleves don't have free will. So how can we determine whether or not particles are incapable of free will? Does free will require intelligence and the ability to think, thus implying that particles simply aren't capable of exercising some degree of free will? I'm not sure, but if this is true then perhaps this could be used to disprove the notion of us having free will.

Or is that a gross oversimplification resulting from me not being a whizz at maths?

That's because you don't have free will (1)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267529)

You are just a bunch of atoms and molecules being governed by the forces of quantum mechanics. Any idea that you have free will is merely an illusion. Given identical (ABSOLUTELY IDENTICAL, down to the quanta) inputs, you will behave in the exact same way.

It is a disturbing thought to people, but it is the truth.

One of two implications... (1)

pla (258480) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267023)

To mean, this seems to imply one of two possibilities.

Either Bucky Fuller had it right in his use of "Universe" as an article-less proper noun...

Or it means basically nothing more than that God does play dice with the universe.

Hmm... Bucky right, or Einstein wrong. Tough call...

Can we have the old Slashdot back? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267027)

All that Javascript crap is not tolerable. The site is not usable any more. I have stopped visiting Slashdot.

Re:Can we have the old Slashdot back? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267069)

Indeed. This is my first visit in a week, as it's so painful watching the front page load.

Wave equation? (4, Interesting)

usul294 (1163169) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267039)

I took baby quantum mechanics a year ago (an optional 3rd semester of intro physics), and the whole predestination thing was thrown out the window to me as soon as soon as there was a probability distribution of where the particle was at any given time. My thought philosophically is that the sum of tiny deviations from the mean made it so that I could not just take an inventory of all the particles in the universe, write a program to describe their governing laws, and then the output would be every moment of of the future. I much prefer a universe of surprises.

Re:Wave equation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267129)

Well, you can still do the calculation but instead of using points for the particle positions you should use a vector space for each. Then calculate the continuous time function from the continuous/discrete particle position spaces.

Re:Wave equation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267145)

This is not necessarily true. We describe the position/velocity of electrons as a probability distribution because we cannot directly measure this without knocking the electron out of its orbit. This does not imply that there is no deterministic function that would predict exactly where the electron would be; we just wouldn't be able to verify it at that scale and would instead have to see how that affects something at a more macro level.

Re:Wave equation? (1)

dexmachina (1341273) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267417)

We describe the position/velocity of electrons as a probability distribution because we cannot directly measure this without knocking the electron out of its orbit.

Actually, we describe electrons as a probability distribution because doing so generates predictions that match up with reality to the best of our measurements. That's it. You're talking about the "hidden variables" interpretation of QM, that just because we can't measure the (somewhat ironically named) "observables" generated by the Schrodinger Equation, that doesn't mean their values aren't deterministically determined. And that's perfectly fine, except that that is just an interpretation of quantum mechanics, which is exactly what Conway and Kochen's paper is about: the implications of different interpretations of QM. There are many interpretations of what quantum mechanics actually "means", what the deeper significance of the empirical equations is. Some of them try do away with the "spooky" possibilities like true randomness and action-at-a-distance, such as your view, and others which take the opposite approach (like Penrose). However, thus far no experiment has been able to prove one interpretation over another (though people have tried [wikipedia.org]), and there are many people who think the whole "deeper meaning" question is a question for meta-physics.

Anyways, I'm ranting. The point is, your statement makes an unproven assumption, and so, as unintentionally post-modern as this is going to sound, your view is no more valid than the grandparent's.

Re:Wave equation? (1)

kabocox (199019) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267571)

I took baby quantum mechanics a year ago (an optional 3rd semester of intro physics), and the whole predestination thing was thrown out the window to me as soon as soon as there was a probability distribution of where the particle was at any given time. My thought philosophically is that the sum of tiny deviations from the mean made it so that I could not just take an inventory of all the particles in the universe, write a program to describe their governing laws, and then the output would be every moment of of the future. I much prefer a universe of surprises.

You'd think that if their was a quantum observer watching the entire universe and had some say in the universe's construction that it would want the universe to constantly surprise it. Electrons having "free will" could be an easy way of setting that up.

This sounds silly to me (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267043)

I didn't RTFA, but from TFS it appears to me that humans having free will is taken as an assumption that the rest of the proof hinges upon.

If anything from reading the summary I get the impression it is against Free Will, as the words "free will" are quoted, and then attributed to inanimate objects.

Considering that quotes are often used to denote words that are being used to mean something different than what is being said (verbal irony?), it follows that a likely conclusion is "people have "free will the same way a rock does." Which is to say we don't have it as we understand it.

I think the headline should be Mathematicians Prove Universe Has "Free Will", or Mathematicians "Prove" Universe Has Free Will

What do I know though, I am not a Quantum Physicist, Mathematician, or Philosopher. In fact, I may not even have decent reading comprehension, so take it all with a grain of salt.

Re:This sounds silly to me (5, Interesting)

MutantEnemy (545783) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267169)

It looks to me like it's intended as a reductio ad absurdum of the concept of free will: i.e. assume free will exists, then show that ridiculous things follow. To me, it's obvious that free will doesn't exist. Our brains are made of the same stuff as the rest of the universe, obeying the same laws. These laws may be indeterministic, but since we have no control over quantum randomness, that randomness doesn't help us in any way.

Re:This sounds silly to me (1)

gwern (1017754) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267301)

> Considering that quotes are often used to denote words that are being used to mean something different than what is being said (verbal irony?), it follows that a likely conclusion is "people have "free will the same way a rock does." Which is to say we don't have it as we understand it. Yes, you can definitely understand this as a 'reductio ad absurdum', but it's more of a trilemma: "Here's what quantum mechanics says: your nondeterminism implies particle nondeterminism. Now, you can either reject free will (and accept determinism), or reject quantum mechanics, or you can dodge the bullet by revising your concept of 'free will' to some other property than predictability you have but a particle doesn't. Which will it be?" Obviously we don't want to take any alternative. If we reject quantum mechanics, we've declared war on a century of successes and the entire physics community; if we reject free will period, then we've rejected our entire philosophical platform; and if we modify free will to cut out particles and bacteria, then it's even more unclear what exactly we mean by 'free will'. But if you accept these theorems, you have to pick one of these three.

Re:This sounds silly to me (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267357)

Here's what quantum mechanics says: your nondeterminism implies particle nondeterminism.

nondeterminism != free will.

if we reject free will period, then we've rejected our entire philosophical platform

Maybe your entire philosophical platform, I've never seen a need for free will. The whole idea is pure anthropocentric hubris.

Re:This sounds silly to me (1)

tecnico.hitos (1490201) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267389)

Quantum physicists often says strange things. I'm not a quantum physicist too, but I'm suspecting Quantum Physics is actually some sort of magic cult or something along the same lines...

...now I'm considering to join

I don't fret about it. (3, Insightful)

Dr. Manhattan (29720) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267049)

If I have free will, I don't need to worry about it. If I don't have free will, there's no point in worrying about it. :->

Is this a joke? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267071)

Is this an early April fool?

They take as axiomatic *both* "instantaneous spooky action at a distance" *and* "information can't travel faster than light". Since those two principles are contradictory they can prove anything they damned well like by assuming they are both true!!!

Re:Is this a joke? (2, Interesting)

m.ducharme (1082683) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267159)

Are you sure this is a problem? I'm not a physicist, but I thought that a) "spooky action at a distance" has been demonstrated in a lab and b) there's no way to use it to transmit information at superluminal speeds. Maybe someone with a real physics edumacation could enlighten me?

unless, of course... (3, Interesting)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267085)

free will doesn't exist because it is all completely predetermined in a higher dimensional universe, and free will is just a kind of "optical illusion" because we only experience time in one dimension.

Crazy? No - read Barbour. [platonia.com]

Re:unless, of course... (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267573)

Why presume a higher dimensional universe? Free will does not exist because our bodies are made of particles that obey the laws of physics. Where classical laws prevail, those particles behave deterministically. Where quantum laws prevail, those particles behave randomly.

"Free will" implies non-deterministic behavior, but it also implies non-random behavior. There's no room for this in our understanding of physics.

Ha! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267091)

I *knew* the universe was out to get me.

"Free Will" that word doesn't mean what... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267137)

In this context, "free will" does not mean what you think it means. Please read the articles, especially the discussion section at the end of the Notices piece.

Put the electrons in jail! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267165)

If electrons have free will, we can hold them responsible for their actions. If an electron does something bad we can punish it.

Scientists should stay a mile away from stuff that is, at its heart, a moral question.
 

Obvious absurdity (5, Interesting)

brian0918 (638904) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267181)

This speaks to the absurdity of standard interpretations of quantum mechanics, and nothing else. The only cure, which physicists strangely resist, is a return to the deBroglie interpetation that was greatly expanded by Bohm [wikipedia.org] and Bell [wikipedia.org]. More information from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [stanford.edu]. It was the wishy-washy "primacy of consciousness" philosophy pushed by the likes of Bohr that got us to this dead end, and only a reality-based philosophy is going to lead to new insight. So long as we interpret the results incorrectly, we are destined to fall into the same trap.

The first assumption may be wrong. (1)

tgd (2822) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267195)

Its probably a bad assumption that the human experimenters have free will -- there's no real evidence to support that and a reasonable bit to suggest that free will is nothing but a "fantasy" our brains make up after the fact to justify a decision or action.

Sort of a dirty secret of cognitive science. If there's free will, there's not much chance its concious free will.

Re:The first assumption may be wrong. (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267495)

It also gives the impression that scientists who are coerced into doing an experiment, or who live in a totalitarian regime, will get different results from those in "free" societies.

Now that would be something worth measuring.

No Choice Really... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267255)

I have no choice but to believe that I have free will.

Not free will in most senses (1)

owlstead (636356) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267287)

I've skimmed through the article (can't claim I've read it because I skipped the mathematics). But there is nothing in there that defined "will" let alone "free will" in the sense you would define it for humans. There is a piece of text at the end that laments of mathematics not getting into newspapers. Well, using this slightly inflammatory title may help.

They define (strong) free [will] as:

      To say that Aâ(TM)s choice of x, y, z is free means
more precisely that it is not determined by (i.e.,
is not a function of) what has happened at earlier
times (in any inertial frame). Our theorem is the
surprising consequence that particle aâ(TM)s response
must be free in exactly the same sense, that it is
not a function of what has happened earlier (with
respect to any inertial frame).

But in my opinion of free is that you can make your own choice based on the information available to you. Proving that there is no theoretical/statistical way of influencing a decision is the worst thing you could do. Proving that everything "below" is just randomly moving in every direction without being steered could make it harder to prove human free will instead of easier.

I really would like to believe in human free will, but the scary thing is that I don't get to this conclusion when studying science. Oh well, it certainly *feels* and if that is all a scam, it's certainly a darn good one :)

Not quite what it seems (1)

hahiss (696716) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267293)

The paper doesn't show that there's free will of any sort (not even in the conditional sense indicated in the summary), just that if indeterminism is true with regard to the experimenter's actions (i.e., set up of apparatus), the same is true for the objects being studied.

It seems unlikely, though, that indeterminism is sufficient for free will; moreover, I would offer that it is a fairly mainstream view in contemporary philosophy that determinism is required for free will. I won't rehearse the arguments here, but you can check out some good summaries here:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/ [stanford.edu]

Contraposition (1)

O'Nazareth (1203258) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267297)

I see the contraposition of this predicate much more interesting. If we are able to show that the particles do not have free will... then it means we do not have neither. Which is what I really expect.

What is a soul? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27267311)

If this is the case, then we must once more consider the question, "what is a soul?". Presumably, a soul is what allows humans to be capable of free will. And if the smallest of particles can display traits of "free will", then it must rule it that a soul is any amount of chemical switches or other structures in the humans' evolved brain, and it must mean that a "soul" is something entirely different that has no physical structure, or at least one in our dimensions that we can measure.

CERN LHC = assisted suicide machine for particles? (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267387)

So when the good folks at CERN are smashing up particles in the LHC, the particles *want* to be smashed up?

I think I may need to brush up on my Euthanasia Laws of Physics.

Sounds more like religion than science (1, Interesting)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 5 years ago | (#27267477)

A good indicator of naive science is anthropomorphising it. Talking of H+ ions "liking" negatively charged ions, or "wanting" to bond with them.

Similarly, imbuing inanimate objects with human properties is a catchy way of persuading non-scientists (and by extension, the media) to engage, but it gives a completely wrong view of the world.

Bad science, don't do it again.

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