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The Strong Free Will Theorem

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This is a thread offshoot from here.

In 2005, John Conway and Simon Kochen, professors of mathematics at Princeton, developed a mathematical proof, which would seem to show that compatibalist free will is impossible. If we have free will, it is contra-causal: libertarian free will. If we don't have libertarian free will, then the whole universe, including everything that we have ever done or will do, is pre-determined.

More, the proof shows, say the mathematicians, that if we have contra-causal free will, which may more precisely be defined as nothing in the past causing or influencing our actions in the present, then so do sub-atomic particles. But, since such particles don't have minds, this is another way of saying that when we take some measurement of them in the present, they had no properties prior to measurement: i.e., nothing prior to measurement has any impact on the result of the measurement. Since the results are not caused, they are indeterminate. It can go either way with some degree of probability, but probability outcomes are the best nature can do. This also seems to be a ratification of quantum anti-realism: the non-existence of properties outside of measurement.

It is possible, according to this mathematical proof, that we have no free will, and neither do subatomic particles. But in that case, the proof shows the most astonishing outcome of all: in this case, we will necessarily always make measurements that fail to show that the universe is deterministic. We are forever forbidden from making a subclass of measurements that show determinism, and so we are tricked into detecting quantum indeterminism, when really, if we could perform the right experiments, we would find quantum determinism instead. If this is true, if we are forever debarred from a certain subclass of experiments, then the methodologies of science are fatally undermined. Moreover, such a result would, as one commentator put it, entail "a grand conspiracy of nature" that has no explanation or precedent. So unless there is some explanation for this cosmic conspiracy, it seems the mathematical proof endorses libertarian free will and anti-realism about the external world.

I do not know, yet, how this mathematical proof, which is called the Strong Free Will Theorem, holds up under the Many Worlds interpretation of QM. Separately, it is claimed that the proof undermines the relativistic block universe version of reality, because the block world is said to be fully deterministic. However, since I disagree that the block universe entails hard determinism, or any determinism, I can't agree with this. However, I will have to do more research.

For fuller accounts, with and without maths, just Google up "Strong Free Will Theorem," "Conway-Kochen," "free will," "determinism" and suchlike terms and you'll find a wealth of more in-depth treatment that this brief post can give.

In sum, it would seem, far from QM being a fairy tale, as the thread from which is an offshoot averred, the only real fairy tale is cause and effect, determinism, and mind-independent reality. This of course also has implications for subjects like philosophical idealism and the hard problem of consciousness, broadly the role of mind in reality and whether it may, as philosophical idealism has long held, be in some way fundamental, rather than merely an emergent property of matter.

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