Do Elementary Particles Have Free Will?

Princeton mathematicians John Conway and Simon Kochen are giving a series of lectures explaining their "Free Will Theorem" to academics, as well as the general public. If you're in the area, you might want to attend.

Their basic assertion is that if human beings have free will, then elementary particles, like atoms and electrons, possess free will also.

The world [the Free Will Theorem] presents us with is a fascinating one, in which fundamental particles are continually making their own decisions. No theory can predict exactly what these particles will do in the future for the very good reason that they may not yet have decided what this will be! Most of their decisions, of course, will not greatly affect things we can describe them as mere ineffectual flutterings, which on a large scale almost cancel each other out, and so can be ignored. The authors strongly believe, however, that there is a way our brains prevent some of this cancellation, so allowing us to integrate what remains and producing our own free will.

Science fiction fans well-versed in the works of A.E. van Vogt may recall that in his book Far Centaurus, savants study adeldicnandar - also called electron psychology:

Renfrew roused himself, grimaced. "He's been trying to tell me that electrons think; and I won't swallow it."

Cassellahat shook his head. "Not think; they don't think. But they do have a psychology."

"Electronic psychology!" I said.

"Simply adeledicnander," Cassellahat replied...

Conway and Kochen are convinced that their work on the Free Will Theorem can be made accessible to the general public:

"It's not about theories anymore -- it's about what the universe does," said Kochen, a professor of mathematics and the associate chair of the Department of Mathematics. "And we've found that, from moment to moment, nature doesn't know what it's going to do. A particle has a choice."

From The Free Will Theorem (pdf) and High-powered mathematicians take on free will. Thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip and the reference for this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/23/2009)

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