The definitive guide to Britain's success in the twenty-first century

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Free Will?

Many scientists and philosophers have argued that ‘free will’ cannot exist. Their argument is simple – everything can be reduced to the lowest level at a single point in time. Knowing this ‘map’ of ‘the everything’, it is theoretically possible to predict the future of everything, including our own actions precisely.

Many people have an instinctive view that this is presumptive. It seems ‘absurd’ that if we theoretically knew the state of all atoms and subatomic particles and waves (and many things we don’t yet know about), at an early stage in the universe we could have predicted that a single drop of fine rain was to land upon a flower at a particular garden in Britain 14 billion years later.

Lets take a more critical analysis of what we know and don’t know.

a) Quantum theory tells us that we cannot define exactly the state of a subatomic particle (or even a larger particle if its moving fast enough). So, evidently we cannot define the state of everything accurately anyway.

b) Quantum theory's arguments and mathematics shows that the information held in multiple entangled 'qubits' is exponential. This means that with just a few hundred qubits this information holds a bigger value than all the particles in the universe. So, if this is correct, the universe is just an infinitesimal part of what we see. The larger universe that is all around us as part of nature determines the outcome of normal matter as we understand it. Since we also know that this depends upon ' measuring' the state of these qubits, the result cannot be foretold. This means that even if we did know 'everything' at the start of the universe, the results would remain hidden until at some point in time in the future we measured the result. This means that we cannot predict a future answer.

c) Also, Quantum theory tells us that we get spontaneous existence from nothingness. Something from nothing also seems to put a spanner in the ‘definition of everything’ as new things may arise at any time. Ok, so these may reflect the energy states that abound, but what if there is an energy leak from say another dimension or universe? We would have to also define all other possible dimensions and universes.

d) Probability. This is the big one. We understand that averaging many situations provides ‘a seemingly’ exact measurement. The atomic clock is a good example. The decay of many unstable particles is another. But take processes that have not yet had time to ‘average’ to provide an ‘exact’ measurement. Now, we humans are an excellent example of this, so perhaps is the decay of a stable atom (eg Platinum -190 half life similar to the age of the universe). The universe is ‘only’ 14.5 billion years old, nature has developed ourselves using a large fraction of that period by ‘probability’ (Nature’s probability function).

Many of the probabilities that could have happened won’t yet have materialised. Indeed, the coming together after 2 billion years or so of two bacteria that provided for ALL of life’s higher organisms took a very large fraction of the 14.5 billion years – so no way to give the probability of this event – may never have happened even if you run the SAME universe over and over many times. So the critics of this will simply say that the was bound to happen at this point in time. But, if it was influenced by lets say a Platinum -190 atom decaying, and since we cannot predict the probability of decay of this particle with any accuracy, their argument is stymied.

Either you need to play god – and know all the working of the universe down to however many levels there are, or if one accepts that our knowledge of the universe will always likely to be only an approximation, then we cannot predict that nature can predict what’s going to happen. This is important – we CAN define the undefinable – nature may well have a factor that provides for ‘no prior knowledge will be good enough to define what happens next’. Is this not just re-stating what we currently understand about Quantum theory?

If this is true, then we can easily see that our thought processes (nature being what we have come to see as utilising many unusual aspects of physics), may indeed be using one or more quantum level processes that provide for this unpredictability. This would lead directly to our (seeming) ability to create 'free will'. Thoughts anyone?

(And... if you are a believer in 'non-free will' , then don't bother answering as we already know what you will say....)