• Question: Nature has her own laws in which everything work. But, one of the laws QM talks all about uncertainty and probability. So, do I really have the free will to change my future by what I'm doing right now or is it that everything about my future has been modeled according to the laws of nature?

    Asked by rajathjackson to Dave, David, Jack on 27 Jun 2013.
    • Photo: David Freeborn

      David Freeborn answered on 27 Jun 2013:

      I guess it depends what you mean by free will. There’s a big philosophical debate around whether free-will is compatible with determinism or quantum mechanics.

      Here’s what I think (some might disagree): your brain is a physical object, and it obeys the laws of physics. Some people think of your mind as a sort of “software” to the brain’s “hardware”. In principle at least, then, the decisions your mind makes should be reducible to the physical processes of your brain and in turn to the laws of physics.

      But that reductionism isn’t the best way to view your mind. In the same way that electronics isn’t the best way to understand how computer software works, there are higher levels of structure in the brain, and it is VERY non-trivial to reduce these simply to the action of the brain. The brain’s entire state seems to affect the thoughts of the mind in a very complex network, filled by very complex feedback loops.

      So, yes, the mind and “free will” are in principle reducible to the laws of physics, but that would be complex to do. It’s still useful to think about free will as a useful idea in some senses, but yes, everything you do is ultimately just physics.

    • Photo: Jack Miller

      Jack Miller answered on 27 Jun 2013:

      Hi Rajath,

      David’s answer is bang on the money again. This problem of reductionism isn’t easy to solve — there are some phenomena in nature that are more than the sum of their parts (like magnets, and thought). One of the interesting things about quantum mechanics is that it fundamentally puts limits on what you *can* know, so that the old question of ‘If I knew everything, could I predict everything’ loses meaning. There are a lot of good books and people working on this field, and it’s filled with questions like that!

      — Jack