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The first scientific proof of free will (based on Conway & Kochen)

  1. May 5, 2009 #1
    Dear Group,

    This new paper by two famous Princeton mathematicians named J.H.
    Conway and S. Kochen examines a particular case in quantum mechanics
    (QM) and then proves a new theorem which shows that if humans can be
    said to have "free will" then so do elementary physical particles.
    They show technically that free will means the opposite of both
    determinism and randomness (chance):


    This second paper on QM shows that the wavefunction of QM is both non-
    local and non-sequential which means that the wavefunction of QM
    transcends conventional notions of causality, probability, time and


    Thus, we see that free will must exist and that this free will must
    have a meta-physical origin.

    Further, the work of Giuseppe Castagnoli also shows that quantum
    computation must be non-deterministic thus agreeing with my new
    argument above. For example, consider his newest paper:


    It deals with the fact that a quantum algorithm requires the number of
    operations (function evaluations) of a classical algorithm that knows
    in advance 50% of the information that specifies the solution of the
    problem. In a way, the quantum algorithm works like it knew beforehand
    50% of the information about the solution it will find in the future.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 5, 2009 #2


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    There's a good chance you'll be banned and this thread deleted before you even see this, but I have to ask. How can you possibly conclude this:
    ...from this:

    By the way, it might have been interesting to discuss the first paper you linked to, but your absurd comments about what this all means is going to get this thread locked or deleted, so I won't bother.
  4. May 5, 2009 #3
    Fredrik, you obviously have not even looked at any of the three physics papers I have cited. The first paper shows that "free will" is the opposite of determinism or randomness. The second paper shows that the wavefunction of QM transcends ordinary concepts of causality, probability, space and time. Thus, by definition, the wavefunction is meta-physical or trans-physical.

    Perhaps if you disagree you could post an accurate *mathematical* reason why you disagree.
  5. May 5, 2009 #4


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    If this thread is still here tomorrow, I might. I won't write a long reply only to get it deleted with the rest of the thread. I'm reading the first paper now. It seems interesting even though your conclusions don't make much sense to me.
  6. May 5, 2009 #5


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    First, whether quantum mechanics should be viewed as deterministic or not remains open to interpretation.

    Second, physical indeterminism is hardly what's traditionally meant in philosophy as 'free will'.

    Finally, it doesn't make one whit of difference. During the 'Newtonian' era, when the universe was perfectly deterministic as far as we knew, few philosophers used it as an argument against 'free will'. And nobody was walking around feeling they didn't control their actions.

    This isn't physics. It's not even good philosophy.
  7. May 5, 2009 #6


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    Since humans are made up of elementary particles, it is quite obvious to me that if humans have free will that then elementary particles also should have free will. It does not prove that humans indeed do have free will. Indeed, there are theories (like Bohmian mechanics) compatible with quantum mechanics which say that neither humans nor particles have free will.
  8. May 5, 2009 #7


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    Before that, you could first post an accurate *mathematical* reason why you think that the results of these papers prove that free will exists.
  9. May 5, 2009 #8


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    First, welcome to PhysicsForums, cstromeyer!

    Second, as other posters have mentioned, there are posting guidelines here at PhysicsForums. Personal theories are not generally allowed to be advanced.

    Third, you must be extremely cautious when taking papers written by independent teams and putting them together to form a new expanded conclusion. As in this case, most papers make extremely specific arguments and they are of limited scope. In addition, the papers you cite are not generally accepted within the literature at this time. This is true notwithstanding Conway/Kochen's reputations, and I was already familiar with this very nice paper of theirs.

    To accomplish your intended result, you might want to consider writing your own paper in which you reference these works. See if you can perform the background requirements to tie them together. Finally, seek to get it published.

    Last edited: May 5, 2009
  10. May 5, 2009 #9
    If free will really exists and if it is caused by some choice we can have in which way our wavefunction will collapse, then why can't an observer choose what the outcome of a measurement will be?
  11. May 5, 2009 #10


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    There is an earlier related/companion paper to the referenced one:

    The Free Will Theorem

    In their endnote 1, they state:

    "1. On measuring squared spins. Our assertion that Sx^2, Sy^2 , Sz^2 must take the values 1, 0, 1 in some order may surprise some physicists, who expect sentences involving definite values for Sx, Sy, Sz to be meaningless, since these operators do not commute. However, for a spin 1 particle their squares do commute.

    "We can envisage measuring Sx^2, Sy^2, Sz^2 by an electrical version of the Stern–Gerlach experiment (see Wrede[W]), by interferometry that involves coherent recombination of the beams for Sx = +1 and Sx = −1, or finally by the “spin-Hamiltonian” type of experiment described in [KS], that measures an expression of the form a(Sx^2) + b(Sy^2) + c(Sz^2). An example of a spin 1 system is an atom of orthohelium."

    So my questions are:

    1. I was not aware that the spin squares commute. Is that true for spin 1/2 particles (electrons) as well? How is it that the squares commute but the spins don't? That seems counter-intuitive.

    2. I likewise had never heard that the spin squares must total 2 for 3 orthogonal directions. This too seems counterintuitive. It seems to imply that there is a connection between the 3 spins which is absent when considering 2 alone.

    Can anyone provide any insight?
  12. May 5, 2009 #11
    Demystifier, the very brief second physics paper I cited is not compatible with Bohmian mechanics, as the two authors say.

    Dr.Chinese, I will think about your two questions and see if I come up with anything.
  13. May 5, 2009 #12
    I forgot to mention that Conway's recent lectures on the Free Will Theorem for the public are now available online:


    Also, I agree with DrChinese that we should not argue on the base of reputation. For example, I once worked in science at Harvard University and I also helped a student to obtain his PhD from MIT, but this is not a credible scientific argument.

    FWIW, G. Castagnoli agrees with my argument above, but all that matters is whether there is a valid mathematical or scientific flaw in any of the three papers I cited.
  14. May 5, 2009 #13
    I think if you were to substitue "metaphysical" with "highly abstract" this thread may have a chance.
  15. May 5, 2009 #14
    There is a far simpler way to disprove free will.

    All it takes is a fortune teller's exact account of an event that will be fulfilled on the said date in the future.

    For good or bad, the only such example I am aware of is of an extremely popular local clayervoyant named Vanga, who in 1982 said in a book printed same year( i have a copy) - "At the end of the century, in August 1999 or 2000, Kursk will be underwater, and the whole world will be weeping over it"(nobody understood what that was supposed to mean at that time).

    The Kursk submarine(not the town) sank on 12 August 2000 and the media made it a truly world tragedy for a week or so.

    There is no free will if our fates are sealed. Loosing free-will will be by far the hardest blow for me. I can swallow giving up realism/reality altogether, put up with a 2-dimensional universe where the 3rd dimension is created by the brain(hologram that would solve a lot of infinity paradoxes), and even live in a CI universe but not being a pre-programmed toy. That'd be way over the top.

    Time travel in a single history universe is also a top quality indicator for the absence of free will.
    Last edited: May 5, 2009
  16. May 5, 2009 #15
    So some lady happened to make a vague remark that later loosely corresponded with an event, I fail to see how that is significant. Also in the last paragraph of yours that I quoted, you start talking about 2 dimensions etc, I have absolutely no idea where you are coming from. Maybe I am just dense.

    To the original poster: putting aside the huge leaps you are taking, your claim is far too vague and seems more like an undeveloped idea than anything else. Free will is much too complicated to address by simply referencing a few papers and presenting a couple of sentences.
  17. May 5, 2009 #16

    A holographic universe is a prediction of all 5 versions of String Theory. Basically it says the universe is a projection and space and time are not fundamental concepts.

    As for the fortune-teller - I need to see more of this stuff before any conclusion whatsoever can be drawn. If anyone knows of such fulfilled predictions, let us know.
  18. May 5, 2009 #17
    I was so entrenched in the whole free will thing i thought you were talking about some bizarre new interpretation.
    As for the fortune teller thing, Even if one were to make a semi accurate prediction of an event in the future, I dont think that it would necessarily mean anything as far as free will goes. In fact it happens all the time in varying degrees.
  19. May 5, 2009 #18
    I agree with that. I think drawing the conclusion that free will indeed exists is evident every time we post on this thread. I don't see how saying that we do not have free will has any value in science, philosophy, or any other discipline. Why do we need proof of free will? Do we need proof that we are conscious in order to know that we are? The only value I see in the question at all is as entertainment, an intellectual exercise.
  20. May 5, 2009 #19


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    The authors write:

    "Some readers may object to our use of the term “free will” to describe the indeterminism of particle responses. Our provocative ascription of free will to elementary particles is deliberate, since our theorem asserts that if experimenters have a certain freedom, then particles have exactly the same kind of freedom. Indeed, it is natural to
    suppose that this latter freedom is the ultimate explanation of our own."

    The paper can be taken as a bit of fun. But for the argument to actually go through, the authors would have to do more work to show what is "natural" about such an explanatory reduction.

    The alternative approach (which others would take to be more natural) is that freewill is what we call a particular high level emergent property of psycho-social systems.

    Freewill, when examined as some practical capability of humans, boils down to the fact that humans could act in other ways than the ones that they know to be desired by their societies. Then mostly don't. The psychological freedoms are severely constrained and lead to a creative self-policing.

    By being crisply focused as to "the right thing to do", we must by default also be crisply aware of "the many wrong or stupid things".

    It is a curious part of the western sociocultural script that this internalisation of social goals is read as "individual freedom". In many other societies, there is not this pretence.

    But then it stems in turn from the USP of Christianity, the separation of individuals from their social context so that they instead have a personal conscience relationship with the Christian God. A theological position which was a smart trick for selling a new cult across cultural boundaries.

    So if you, like these authors, find it easy to equate freewill in humans with indeterminism in particles - so easy that no further discussion seems required - then that may be evidence of how a religious doctrine still grips your scientific imagination.

    OK, I'm winding you up a bit as the strong separation of individuals and societies - thinking at local and global scales of the human system - is actually productive in other ways. The basis of democracy, intellectual freedoms, etc.

    But is still works the same. The local freedoms are not to be "free" in some undetermined sense, but free to creatively pursue general socially-evolved goals.

    Mind science gets itself in knots just trying to reduce freewill to neurons (Libet, etc). Unless you have some reason not to believe in the systems perspectives, you will learn more by instead looking "upwards" in scale as freewill is another of those many socially constructed terms.
  21. May 5, 2009 #20
    I agree that it is very entertaining to postulate about free will (in my opinion philosophy is very fun), but i don't think I would say it is useless scientifically (i really dont have any evidence either way, but there may be a time in the future in which this subject may indeed prove useful), nor would i say it is useless philosophically. The existence or lack of free will may not have any noticeable effects on certain decisions (and actually there are certain areas that are affected by the existence or lack of free will such as religion etc), but philosophy is all about this kind of thing.
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