Free will at Edge with Quantum Theory
How would you feel if you woke up realising free will was an illusion and you therefore had no control over your destiny? The central question of concern here is, do we have free will?
This is not simply a question of whether I decide to eat out or eat at home tonight, but more a question of whether I make choices because I have the free will to do so or my choices are already determined at a quantum level of reality (events less than 100 nanometers long), where my brain is use to functioning in a certain way or responding to an external stimulus in which I have already been conditioned to.
At a quantum level, reality seems to behave differently from events at larger levels. Physicists have described these events as ‘indeterminate’ in the sense that the outcome of events cannot be inferred in advance except in statistical terms.
Relating this to synapses in the brain, which are as small as 20 nanometers where the quantum principle operates, cannot be predicted. At a greater scale we can look at thoughts and emotions that function at a neural level, one can ask what initiates those thoughts and feelings.
Therefore, at a quantum level it is plausible to infer that one cannot predict whether a neuron will fire or not. Does this leave us with an explanation that an external force or something non-physical intervenes with a physical force?
If I do make choices in my mind, there should be a spot that reacts in my brain, or lights up, a stimulus that enables my body to respond to the decision I made. This spot can be pinpointed at the smallest level known to physicist, the quantum level.
However, if at the quantum level, things behave differently as we have stated above and concluded that because one cannot predict the behavior of a particle at a quantum level or whether a neuron will fire or not, then there should be a nonphysical intervening in the physical world, does that mean that one can imply that this nonphysical force that intervenes invariably results in a deterministic state and we are therefore not really free to make choices?
Even though quantum mechanics is accepted by physicists, it remains a hot and controversial topic due to its paradoxes. For instance, as described in the New Scientist: ‘you cannot ask what the spin of a particle was before you made an observation of it – quantum mechanics says the spin was undetermined and you cannot predict the outcome of an experiment; you can only estimate the probability of getting a certain result.’
Responding to this contradictory dilemma, Hooft explained: “we cannot talk of particles or waves to describe reality, so he defines entities called “states” that have energy. In his model, these states behave predictably according to deterministic laws, so it is theoretically possible to keep tabs on them.
However, both Mathematicians John Conway and Simon Kochen at Princeton University said: ” any deterministic theory underlying quantum mechanics robs us of our freewill.”
Can we use quantum mechanics to answer the question on whether the uncertainty principle is the correct description of our reality or can Gerard t’Hooft be right in saying that beneath that uncertainty there is a deterministic order?
t’Hooft leaves us with this; that we actually do not have free will as we commonly understand it ‘because the way it is commonly understood is wrong,’ he said.
New findings published in the journal Neuron, suggests that we need to rethink what “free will” actually means.
The most famous findings on free will was devised by Benjamin Libet in 1983. The Libet experiment found that neurons start firing well in advance of conscious decision-making: “The surge in activity, or “readiness potential,” started forming almost a full second before the experienced moment of decision.
Libet suggested that the decision making moment wasn’t the present-tense sensation of making a decision, but the past-tense sensation of already having made one. This felt, to many observers, like a blow struck against the idea of free will.”
However further studies proved the Libet experiment imprecise. An experiment performed by Fried, Mukamel, and Kreiman showed that the sensation of making a decision is found in the motor region of the brain and not in any ‘decision-making’ area and that the moment of making a decision involves a decrease and increase in brain activity.
Therefore, neuroscientist Patrick Haggard counter argued the Libet experiment by stating that it is “wrong to think of the ‘moment of decision making’ as prior intention. Rather it seems to mark an intention-in-action, quite closely linked to action execution when the brain manifests a prior plan into a motor act.”
In fact, the decreases in neural activity before the decision making, meanwhile, suggest that the brain is set up to “tonically inhibit unwanted actions”: the sensation of making a decision is more about green-lighting one of many competing impulses”.
What this experiment actually illuminates is our understanding of what free will is. Is it a hypothetical concept of ‘making a decision’ in our head?
It is in fact more to do with doing. It is in fact not about choosing a decision but enacting one.
The conclusion I am left with is that the meaning and understanding of free will is actually our ability to come to terms with reality as to whether we have the necessary conditioning in order not to just DECIDE but also to ENACT our decisions.
To relate back to the arguments presented at the beginning; if so, that at a quantum level, our decisions remain unpredictable but also somewhat deterministic, where should we place the limitations of our free will?
The final question to you is, do you really want to know whether you have free will? It seems to me that we are better off believing so, for the mindset can only give us hope for change.
Extraterrestrial life may be hiding in “terminator zones”
In a study published in the Astrophysical Journal, astrophysicists set out to find out if exoplanets could support life.
Astronomers have come to the conclusion that on the surface of some exoplanets there is a strip that may contain water, necessary for the existence of biological life. The terminator zone is the dividing line between the day and night sides of an exoplanet.
Many exoplanets are planets outside the solar system held by gravity. This means that one side of the planet is always facing the star they orbit, while the other side is in constant darkness.
The water on the dark side will most likely be in a frozen state, while on the light side it will be so hot that the water should just evaporate.
The terminator zone would be a “friendly place” – neither too hot nor too cold – in which liquid water could support extraterrestrial life.
Dr. Ana Lobo of the University of California, said: “The day side can be scalding hot, much uninhabitable, while the night side will be icy, potentially covered in ice. You need a planet that’s the right temperature for liquid water.”
“We’re trying to draw attention to planets with more limited amounts of water that, despite not having widespread oceans, might have lakes or other smaller bodies of liquid water, and that climate could actually be very promising.”
“By exploring these exotic climate states, we are improving our chances of finding and correctly identifying a habitable planet in the near future.”
The researchers created a model of their climate by analyzing different temperatures, wind patterns and radiative forcing, and found the “correct” zone on exoplanets that could contain life-supporting liquid water.
Researchers who are looking for life on exoplanets will now take into account the fact that it can hide in certain areas.
Astronomers discover the strongest evidence for another Universe before the Big Bang
The notion of the Big Bang goes back nearly 100 years, when the first evidence for the expanding Universe appeared.
If the Universe is expanding and cooling today, that implies a past that was smaller, denser, and hotter. In our imaginations, we can extrapolate back to arbitrarily small sizes, high densities, and hot temperatures: all the way to a singularity, where all of the Universe’s matter and energy was condensed in a single point.
For many decades, these two notions of the Big Bang — of the hot dense state that describes the early Universe and the initial singularity — were inseparable.
But beginning in the 1970s, scientists started identifying some puzzles surrounding the Big Bang, noting several properties of the Universe that weren’t explainable within the context of these two notions simultaneously.
When cosmic inflation was first put forth and developed in the early 1980s, it separated the two definitions of the Big Bang, proposing that the early hot, dense state never achieved these singular conditions, but rather that a new, inflationary state preceded it.
There really was a Universe before the hot Big Bang, and some very strong evidence from the 21st century truly proves that it’s so.
Although we’re certain that we can describe the very early Universe as being hot, dense, rapidly expanding, and full of matter-and-radiation — i.e., by the hot Big Bang — the question of whether that was truly the beginning of the Universe or not is one that can be answered with evidence.
The differences between a Universe that began with a hot Big Bang and a Universe that had an inflationary phase that precedes and sets up the hot Big Bang are subtle, but tremendously important. After all, if we want to know what the very beginning of the Universe was, we need to look for evidence from the Universe itself.
Read the full article here.
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