Free Will Versus Determinism

"... We conclude with brief comments on some of the more philosophical consequences of the Free Will Theorem (abbreviated to FWT).

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 humans who choose x, y, z, and w may of course be replaced by a computer program containing a pseudo-random number generator. If we dismiss as ridiculous the idea that the particles might be privy to this program, our proof would remain valid. However, as we remark in [1], free will would still be needed to choose the random number generator, since a determined determinist could maintain that this choice was fixed from the dawn of time. We have supposed that the experimenters’ choices of directions from the Peres configuration are totally free and independent. However, the freedom we have deduced for particles is more constrained, since it is restricted by the TWIN axiom. We introduced the term “semi-free” in [1] to indicate that it is really the pair of particles that jointly makes a free decision.

Historically, this kind of correlation was a great surprise, which many authors have tried to explain away by saying that one particle influences the other. However, as we argue in detail in [1], the correlation is relativistically invariant, unlike any such explanation. Our attitude is different: following Newton’s famous dictum “Hypotheses non fingo”, we attempt no explanation, but accept the correlation as a fact of life.

Some believe that the alternative to determinismis randomness, and go on to say that “allowing randomness into the world does not really help in understanding free will.” However, this objection does not apply to the free responses of the particles that we have described. It may well be true that classically stochastic processes such as tossing a (true) coin do not help in explaining free will, but, as we show in the Appendix and in §10.1 of [1], adding randomness also does not explain the quantum mechanical effects described in our theorem. It is precisely the “semi-free” nature of twinned particles, and more generally of entanglement, that shows that something very different from classical stochasticism is at play here.

Although the FWT suggests to us that determinism is not a viable option, it nevertheless enables us to agree with Einstein that “God does not play dice with the Universe.” In the present state of knowledge, it is certainly beyond our capabilities to understand the connection between the free decisions of particles and humans, but the free will of neither of these is accounted for by mere randomness.

The tension between human free will and physical determinism has a long history. Long ago, Lucretius made his otherwise deterministic particles “swerve” unpredictably to allow for free will. It was largely the great success of deterministic classical physics that led to the adoption of determinism by so many philosophers and scientists, particularly those in fields remote from current physics. (This remark also applies to “compatibalism”, a now unnecessary attempt to allow for human free will in a deterministic world.)

Although, as we show in [1], determinism may formally be shown to be consistent, there is no longer any evidence that supports it, in view of the fact that classical physics has been superseded by quantum mechanics, a non-deterministic theory. The import of the free will theorem is that it is not only current quantum theory, but the world itself that is non-deterministic, so that no future theory can return us to a clockwork universe."



En la mitología azteca el axolote (atl-agua y xolotl- monstruo; monstruo acuático), es la advocación acuática del dios Xólotl, de donde provino su nombre. Hermano de Quetzalcóatl y monstruoso a causa del nacimiento gemelar, Xolotl se encuentra asociado a la idea del movimiento y de la vida, de acuerdo con la leyenda del quinto sol. La dualidad se manifiesta en las transformaciones a las que recurre para evitar el sacrificio. Bernardino de Sahagún cuenta que Xolotl rehusaba la muerte, huyendo cuando vio llegar al verdugo y ocultándose en las milpas, se convirtió en una planta de maíz de dos cañas o ajolote (xolotl); al ser descubierto echó a correr otra vez y se escondió en un magueyal, donde tomó la forma de una penca doble o mejolote (de metl, maguey y xolotl). Una vez más lo halló el verdugo y escapó de nuevo introduciéndose al agua, donde se transformó en un pez llamado axolotl. Ésta es su última metamorfosis. Finalmente, el verdugo lo atrapó y le dio muerte. Xolotl es un dios que le tiene miedo a la muerte, que no la acepta y quiere escapar de ella mediante sus poderes de transformación.


She hits the blade with both hands high.
Downward is heavenward, and we are not alone.
Condensers on and the drop is found,
a fingertip trace says to me I can see you and you are wet.

A bed of dead leaves grace the ground,
a quick glance to the other side and we will not be found.
Symbionts in haste demand come close,
screams to me I can see you above the rest.
And through it all she seems secure.
Downward is heavenward, and we are not alone.
Head thrown back, a sickened sigh, her eyes shut,
Beelzebub can we do this without a net?