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Do we have free will?

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• Is the world eternal? YES
• Do humans have contra-causal free will (i.e., can humans do otherwise)? NO
• Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? YES
• Do humans have souls? YES
• Are there natural rights? YES
• Is it morally permissible to eat meat? NO
• Is the unexamined life worth living? NO
• Is truth subjectivity? YES
• Is virtue necessary for happiness? YES
• Can a computer have a mind? YES
• Can humans know reality as it is in itself? YES
• Is hell other people? YES
• Can art be created accidentally? NO
• Can we change the past? NO
• Are numbers real? NO
• Is it always better to know the truth? YES

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What if we don’t, but it’s hard to live with that fact? Read an interesting interview with Galen Strawson here. A representative quote:

No one can be ultimately deserving of praise or blame for anything. It’s not possible. This is very very hard to swallow, but that’s how it is. Ultimately, it all comes down to luck: luck—good or bad—in being born the way we are, luck—good or bad—in what then happens to shape us. We can’t be ultimately responsible for how we are in such a way as to have absolute, buck-stopping responsibility for what we do. At the same time, it seems we can’t help believing that we do have absolute buck-stopping responsibility.



  1. Benjamin Berntson says:

    Nope, we don’t. There is no plausible explanation for a “free will.” All thoughts and emotions can be traced to the neurological activity of the brain, which is not free from the laws of physics.


  2. Mike L. says:

    It’s at least interesting to note, though, that the laws of physics at the quantum level aren’t completely deterministic. Author Ken Miller in his book “Finding Darwin’s God” sees this as a potential source of free will. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really elaborate on HOW a person is supposed to get free will from this fact. In the card game war there’s shuffling and unambiguous rules, but it’s still a game where the players don’t really play.


  3. Huenemann says:

    Thank you, Vince, for taking the time to write such a clear and interesting account of the Copenhagen Interpretation (CI). For class I once assigned a book called “The Physics of Consciousness” by Evan Harris Walker. He used the CI to argue for dualism. As I recall, that argument was that, without consciousness, the universe can only be a “schmear” (my technical term) of superimposed states. It would take something nonphysical (not in a schmear of states) to collapse the world into any determinate state, and produce the stable world we in fact experience. So the mind must be nonphysical.

    It sounds so groovy that I can’t help but wonder if it constitutes a “reductio ad absurdum” of the CI. There are other interpretations available which don’t have these untoward consequences (though they may have others).

    I don’t follow what you said about the Anthropic Principle. It seems like, if the CI is indeed true, it wouldn’t favor this universe over any other possible universe with conscious beings in it — though it might favor the class of universes with conscious observers as a whole. But then again, why so? What’s wrong with schmeary universes that never collapse?


  4. Huenemann says:

    A student recently sent me this note on the topic:

    “I asked my physics professor about the things talked about in Vince’s response. I specifically asked him “What counts as an observation?” and he immediately started laughing. He continued, and without even prompting, he said that there’s a SMALL MINORITY of scientists that believe that observations require a human (conscious) observer. He said that the mainstream interpretation is that the actual interactions between particles can and do serve as measurements/observations. He seemed to scoff at the idea that the universe was incoherent before conscious observers, and reiterated that only a fringe group of “super-philosophical” physicists believe that. So it seems like, at least according to [this professor], the CI need not give humanity a special place in physics.”

    I recommended to him, and to any others interested, to read chapter 7 of John Casti’s PARADIGMS LOST for an overview of the range of QM interpretations.


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