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Free Will and Quantum Chaos

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Free Will

Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2016 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License


"Old" Free Will

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I like two books on free will: Tor Norretranders' 1991 "The User Illusion," and Sam Harris' 2012 "Free Will." These authors show that free will has no objective definition, and it is the lack of definition on which their arguments rest. They do not know of the definition that I present here, and that changes everything.

"How can we be "free" as conscious agents if everything that we consciously intend is caused by events in our brain that we do not intend and of which we are entirely unaware?" -- Sam Harris, Free Will

With the advent of quantum and chaos theory physics has made progress in modeling free will. The first step to understanding free will versus determinism is to appreciate that neither hold up under scrutiny. Free will cannot be measured or defined, and deterministic systems only exist in theory and approximation. Let me recast them in terms of the particle versus the wave.

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Particle and Wave

In the realm of physics the true particle, by which I mean a fundamental particle, cannot have anything like free will because it knows nothing about anything outside itself. The particle carries all its own properties. No change is possible until the particle comes in contact with something. Should it spontaneously decay, then it is not a fundamental particle. For a particle to be a particle it must be complete and separate unto itself. This goes for anything that we conceive of as separate and self-contained: if there is no change then there are no choices.

In contrast the wave, by which I mean the connection of all the parts, is a representation of everything around it. You can't say where the wave "is," or where the information that the wave carries "is" because it is an extended thing, at least up to the boundaries of its world. Where the particle makes no choices because it undergoes no change, the wave makes all choices because its form connects it to every source of every change it ever experienced.

Here's what we've got so far. The particle description of things as indivisible and self-contained offers no choices. The wave description of the inseparable whole reflects all choices and all of their effects. How has our thinking developed in the field of these two possibilities? Which of these views of the world have we adopted for ourselves?


Well, the wave description forbids the independence that we reserve for ourselves. The "I" cannot exist as separate in a holistic wavelike world view. The only place such holism appears is in after death descriptions of cosmic unity. Granted we do often talk about our interconnection, and I think this is important, but we do not conceive of our connectedness as something that substantiates our notion of free will.

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Our egos are like particles and language itself is all about boundaries. Like particles, we define ourselves as separate and, in doing so, condemn ourselves to isolation. Choice, in so far as there is any, only arises through interaction but that does not make it "free." This is just the same with particles in physics.

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Physicist, neurologist, neurofeedback trainer, hypnotherapist, sleep therapist, junior sorcerer, mountaineer, enthusiastic participant in extreme explorations involving mind and body. Believer in the idea that individuals find meaning in (more...)

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