Entanglement a measure of Free Will?

Religion / Science

So do human beings have free will or not? That’s not just a theological or philosophical question, it’s also a scientific one. In a completely deterministic world as envisioned by Newton and his followers, every action is pre-determined by the conditions which lead to it. (Biology has a version of this question in its nature vs nurture debate.) Quantum effects, with their fundamental unpredictability are usually invoked to counter a deterministic world view, and create the space for free will actors in the Universe.

So here’s something interesting today involving an idea that would seem to backdoor a way to explain away the results of Bell’s Theorem which has confounded many for years. The issue is whether or not the randomness and unpredictability of the quantum regime is not actually fundamental. It arises because there’s a deeper physics we don’t understand. (This was Einstein’s suggestion, and its line of reasoning is what led to Bell’s work and the experimental verification of the non-locality of quantum effects.)

But Bell’s analysis of the situation depends in a fundamental way on the observer in the system having free will. So what happens if the observer doesn’t?

This is on the ArXiv blog today:

“Jonathan Barrett from the University of Bristol and Nicolas Gisin from the University of Geneva provide us with an interesting new take on this problem. They assume that entanglement does occur as quantum mechanics proscribes and then ask how much free will an experimenter must have to rule out the possibility of hidden interference.

The answer is curious. Barret and Gisin prove that if there is any information shared by the experimenters and the particles they are to measure, then entanglement can be explained by some kind of hidden process that is deterministic.

[…]In fact, if an experimenter lacks even a single bit of free will then quantum mechanics can be explained in terms of hidden variables. Conversely, if we accept the veracity of quantum mechanics, then we are able to place a bound on the nature of free will.”

Read the full article here.

So, if this idea turns out to be broadly accepted, does this mean we can finally answer the conflict between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism? Will we be Calvinist or Arminian as a result?

The Author

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


  1. Margaret Moore says

    Okay, Nick, let’s see if I understand this. Not only are entangled states affected by the observer(s), but the observer(s) must not be affected by one another for the outcome to be neutral. If the observer(s) are affected through communication/contact, then the outcome is determined, at least in part, by the extent of that communication/contact betweem observer(s).
    Taking this one step further, how would the cultural/theological samenesses or differences of the observer(s) affect the outcome?
    Can I relate this in some way to the current controversy over Park51?

  2. It’s a bit more complicated that that Margaret – sorry, I was writing quickly and didn’t link to all the definitions. The short version is that if Quantum mechanics is true, then there’s a good reason to think that we all have free will. If it’s not then there might not be. Entanglement is the premier phenomenon that can only be explained philosophically by using Quantum Physics. Lots of people have good reason to object to a pure understanding of Quantum Physics. The objections center on the idea that there are not yet understood things happening that are causing the weird paradoxes of Quantum Physics.
    This paper is arguing that if we have free will, there are no misunderstood causes…
    I don’t know if you really could relate this to the Park 51 controversy, but let me think about that for a while…

  3. martha blacklock says

    You’re not going to preach this one, are ye?

  4. Margaret Moore says

    ah, I have a better idea of it now. I need to read more about this. Sounds very interesting.

  5. Martial Artist says

    Count me in the “free will” camp on this one.
    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  6. Paul Martin says

    I was going to post a smart remark asking how much free will we could attribute to Physics grad students. Then I started thinking about professors working toward tenure and any number of professional pressures which could affect our impartiality in observing experiments. If the results are really this sensitive, perhaps physics will have to consider some of the elaborate double procedures and statistical analysis we apply to clinical drug trials.

  7. The answer to whether or not there is free will was answered in my article, “Is There Free Will? Finally an Answer” which appeared two weeks ago in the newsletter of the Hypnosis Research Institute. You can read a copy of this article by going to the Dr. Barrios Articles section of my website, http://www.spccenter.com. Among other things, the article first properly defines free will, something that has never really been done before, and points out HOW there is no conflict between free will and determinism.

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