Essays, Analyses and Meditations

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Free Will

  • We "feel" that we have free will (that we are in control of our decisions) but everything we find in science tells us the opposite: every movement of everything (including living beings and including sentient beings) is being explained by scientific formulas.
  • First of all, one has to define "free will". It is, in fact, easier to define the opposite of free will: an object does not have free will if all its movements are caused by laws of Physics (or, better, by "natural laws", since those laws were invented by Nature and not by physicists)
  • Then the real question is why would there be natural laws to start with. Why do all electrons obey the same electromagnetic laws? Why do all masses of water (all other things being the same) boil at the same temperature? Why do all members of a category behave the same way under some forces?
  • Could there be a universe in which the same force on two identical objects in identical conditions has completely different effects? Could there be a universe that is totally unpredictable? Could there be a universe in which the consequence of every action is determined by a throw of dice?
  • That's precisely how Quantum Physics describes our universe: whether a particle will be found in a place or another place is completely random. There are constraints, but within those constraints the particle is "free" to be in any place.
  • One would be tempted to write: "the particle is free to be wherever it wants to be".
  • Free will of this kind is inherent in matter. All matter, at the fundamental level, has "free will".
  • The word "will", however, is usually employed to mean "conscious will". Does an electron consciously choose where to be when someone observes it? To me, that's a different question. We assume that "free will" has to be conscious, but why can't there be unconscious things with free will and conscious beings with no free will? Many people spend their entire life studying, working and even passing their time based on what society "markets" to them. Why can't there be a being that is perfectly conscious of what is happening but incapable of making any decision, basically an intelligent appliance?
  • Does our refrigerator have free will? No. Is it conscious of being a refrigerator? We cannot know. I don't think that the two questions should be asked at the same time. The definition of "conscious" and the definition of "free will" are not identical.
  • Assuming that our gut feeling is correct, we do have free will and our refrigerator probably does not have it. If the elementary particles that constitute all matter do have it, why is it that humans have it (to an even larger degree) and refrigerators lose it?
  • In most cases when several particles are combined in a system, their universe of possibilities (i.e. their "free will") gets reduced to just one value. The particle is in one specific place. It has lost all free will. It is as if the "free wills" of all the particles neutralize each other. The resulting system does not exhibit free will.
  • There might be cases in which combining particles amplifies (instead of neutralizing) their free will in a sort of positive feedback loop: then the free will of the whole system should be much greater than the free will of each particle. The free will of the whole system is actually a quantum effect, even if it is no longer recognized as a quantum effect because its behavior (like love, work, sport, investment) has nothing to do with the quantities that are studied at the quantum level (like position, momentum, energy, spin).
  • The human brain might just be such a system, a system that does the exact opposite of what it does to the things it observes. When it observes (i.e. interacts with) a particle, it "collapses" its wave of possibilities. When it observes itself (i.e. the particles of the brain interact with each other), it "explodes" the waves of possibilities into what we normally call "free will".
Proof-edited by Alexander Altaras