Friday, September 24, 2010

Quantum Mechanics and Free Will, By Dr. John Conway

If you want a series of philosophical discussions on quantum mechanics and free will I would suggest this series of lectures (sorry I can't embed the videos. I could figure it out but it is easier to just link to the videos). These were a series of lectures by Dr. John Conway at Princeton in 2009.

Lecture 1, March 23: “Free Will and Determinism in Science and Philosophy”
Lecture 2, March 30: “The Paradox of Kochen and Specker”
Lecture 3, April 6: “The Paradoxes of Relativity”
Lecture 4, April 13: “Quantum Mechanics and the Paradoxes of Entanglement”
Lecture 5, April 20: “Proof of the Free Will Theorem”
Lecture 6, April 27: “The Theorem’s Implications for Science and Philosophy”

The lectures are about an hour long each, so don't expect a quick fix. But just to give you a sample, "If we, human beings, do in deed have free will...then so do elementary particles....Free will means that our behavior is not a function of the past. If our behavior is a function of the past then what ever we do was written down, so to speak, in the great book before the world got started."


  1. Quantumleap42,

    Thank you very much for posting these. I will watch them for sure. I've always been interested in knowing what philosophers think of how quantum mechanics effects indeterminacy and free will.

  2. Wow! Now this is interesting. It turns out this Princeton professor you discuss has published a theorem called the Free Will Theorem that states "if we [humans] have a certain amount of "free will", then, subject to certain assumptions, so must some elementary particles. " Just like the quote you discuss Quantumleap42.

    Now that is an interesting concept. Anonymous, maybe you can weave this into your "the universe is sentient theory." :)

  3. It is interesting to note that he is not a philosopher. He is a mathematician.

  4. Philosophers generally think that whether the world is deterministic is just orthogonal to whether people have free will. According to the very interesting Phil Papers Survey of philosophers, 59% of philosophers accept or lean towards compatibilism -- the view that free will and determinism are compatible with one another. Among philosophers of science and also among philosophers of physics, the number goes up slightly to 60.6%.

    I was convinced that compatibilism was the correct view after reading Harry Frankfurt's excellent paper, "Freedom of the will and the concept of a person," as an undergrad.

  5. Oh, I forgot to say, the second-place finisher among philosophers -- libertarianism -- is a distant second indeed at ~14%.

  6. Jonathan Livengood,

    Thank you very much for explaining this and linking to the survey. I looked it over and find many stats very interesting indeed.

  7. Speaking as a philosopher of physics, I think we have managed to sufficiently explain to other philosophers that the sort of indeterminism which arises in QM has no significant bearing on the free will question. That seems to be the position of virtually everyone I speak to these days.

  8. Anonymous ,

    Thank you very much for clarifying this.

  9. JS,

    It appears that there are two Anonymous alias users. I think I proposed Universe as sentient first!

    In any case, if we assign "free will" - and I hasten to add that I have not seen the videos so I could be wrong in interpreting Prof. Conway - to most elementary particles, it would probably lead to strings! And, if strings have free will, we simply can not even think of creating any theory at any level, unless we find enslaving mechanisms for strings. Do I have to call strings alive, but confined? If I do, who/what is the confiner?

    I could go on, but we will enter in the realm of meta-physics, where I would have to introduce "Spirit" without any definition, and if I define it, it will be very similar to various definitions of gods and various faiths. I am done with that in my comments in your previous post.

  10. Anonymous,

    I appreciate you r thoughts and would be curious is Dr. Conway thinks strings changes the picture.

    I will say, if you plan on staying around a while you might as well just make up a name to distinguish yourself from the other anonymouses so we aren't as confused who is saying what. Just a suggestion.

  11. Agreed...I envision a degree of chaos to the order of the universe as well, I call itFree Chaos Will

  12. JS,

    OK, I figured out about the name, and happy that I do not have to get google or any other account/

    Now I am Ancient1, not Anonnymous...


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