On the nature of free will…

Science News is reporting on a paper to be published by a pair of Princeton Physicists that claims to show that the fundamental probabilistic quality to nature described in Quantum Physics affects the nature of reality at all levels. In a provocative claim, they argue that any attempt to remove the probabilistic, unpredictable behavior at the quantum level will necessarily force the negation of any claim that human beings have free will.

From the beginning of the article:

Human free will might seem like the squishiest of philosophical subjects, way beyond the realm of mathematical demonstration. But two highly regarded Princeton mathematicians, John Conway and Simon Kochen, claim to have proven that if humans have even the tiniest amount of free will, then atoms themselves must also behave unpredictably.

The finding won’t give many physicists a moment’s worry, because traditional interpretations of quantum mechanics embrace unpredictability already. The best anyone can hope to do, quantum theory says, is predict the probability that a particle will behave in a certain way.

But physicists all the way back to Einstein have been unhappy with this idea. Einstein famously grumped, “God does not play dice.” And indeed, ever since the birth of quantum mechanics, some physicists have offered alternate interpretations of its equations that aim to get rid of this indeterminism. The most famous alternative is attributed to the physicist David Bohm, who argued in the 1950s that the behavior of subatomic particles is entirely determined by “hidden variables” that cannot be observed.

Conway and Kochen say this search is hopeless, and they claim to have proven that indeterminacy is inherent in the world itself, rather than just in quantum theory. And to Bohmians and other like-minded physicists, the pair says: Give up determinism, or give up free will. Even the tiniest bit of free will.

Is this the next “Bell’s Theorem” sort of result that forces us to recognize that there’s not going to be a way for us to “fix” quantum physics so that it’s less offensive to our macroscopic preconceptions?

Karl Barth, working from the biblical texts, argues that God is Love acting in perfect freedom. So, just speculating here, does the otherness of the quantum realm point us ever so slightly to the otherness of God? I mean, if God is perfectly free, and Jesus’ dual natures of creature and creator bind God’s freedom to creation, then the randomness of the subatomic realm is, in a way, a sign of the presence of the divine…

Read the full article in Science News here.

Here’s the link to the original paper.

Here’s a link to discussion of the paper over on Slashdot.

Author: Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...