17 August 2008

Determined Determinists

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.

That might seem bad news for dyed-in-the-wool determinists like me (sorry, I can't help it). But no, it was all pre-ordained that no less a personage than Gerard 't Hooft, long ago the top man of instantons, the subject of my PhD, would step in and save the (determinist) day:

Gerard ’t Hooft of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1999, says the pair’s conclusions are legitimate — but he chooses determinism over free will. “As a determined determinist I would say that yes, you bet, an experimenter's choice what to measure was fixed from the dawn of time, and so were the properties of the thing he decided to call a photon,” ’t Hooft says. “If you believe in determinism, you have to believe it all the way. No escape possible. Conway and Kochen have shown here in a beautiful way that a half-hearted belief in pseudo-determinism is impossible to sustain.”

So where do *you* stand - and remember, you have no choice in the matter....

4 comments:

Dave said...

Personally, I have never really understood this desire some people have that "free will" and "creativity" have to be somehow rooted in non-determinism.

I am completely comfortable with the notion that my next thought is entirely founded on a combination of my environment, my DNA, and my memories and recent thoughts.

The fact is - even though that next thought is theoretically predictable, Chaos Theory rules the day and makes such an attempt impractical.

It is far more important to me that, because of the above factors, I am unique. Even if someone could predict my every move, that wouldn't change the fact that all those moves are uniquely mine!

glyn moody said...

Absolutely. And I am still responsible for my actions because they are *my* actions, rooted in what I was before (plus a whole load of other stuff)....

Anonymous said...

but supposing that you were cloned.p

glyn moody said...

Above still applies....