(Roughly) Daily

Where there’s a will…

If the atoms never swerve so as to originate some new movement that will snap the bonds of
fate, the everlasting sequence of cause and effect—what is the source of the free will possessed by living things throughout the earth?
-Titus Lucretius Carus, Roman philosopher and poet, 99–55 BC.

Do rational beings have free will— control over their actions and decisions?  The question has haunted philosophical debate (and as a consequence, both scientific and social research) from the dawn of culture.

Now, in a move not likely to make the issue any clearer, two highly-regarded Princeton mathematicians, John Conway and Simon Kochen, claim to have proven that if humans have even the tiniest amount of free will, then atoms themselves must also behave unpredictably.

The finding won’t give many physicists pause; traditional interpretations of quantum mechanics already embrace unpredictability.  The best anyone can hope to do, quantum theory says, is predict the probability that a particle will behave in a certain way.

But another group physicists, from Einstein (“God does not play dice”) on, have been unhappy with this idea since the birth of quantum theory and Heisenberg’s expounding of The Uncertainty Principle.  Indeed, some have offered alternate interpretations of the quantum equations that aim to get rid of this indeterminism– most famously, physicist David Bohm, who argued in the 1950s that the behavior of subatomic particles is entirely determined by “hidden variables” that cannot be observed.  (For a marvelous account of this debate, and Bohm’s role in it, see John Casti’s The One True Platonic Heaven.)

Conway and Kochen say “good luck with that”; they claim to have proven that indeterminacy is inherent in the (macroscopic) world itself, not just in (the microscopic realm of) quantum theory.  To Bohmians and other neo-Classicists, the pair says: give up determinism, or give up free will… even the tiniest bit of free will.

Read the report in Science News, replete with critiques from the unconvinced and testimonials from the converted, here.

As we consider our options, we might sketch a birthday card for Isadore “Friz” Freleng, an animator, cartoonist, director, and producer, born this date in 1906.  Best known for his work on the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons from Warner Bros., he introduced and/or developed several of the studio’s biggest stars, including Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the cat, Yosemite Sam (to whom he was said to bear more than a passing resemblance) and Speedy Gonzales.  The senior director at Warners’ Termite Terrace studio, Freleng was also the most honored of the Warner directors, winning four Academy Awards.  After the 1963 closing of the Warners animation studio, Freleng and business partner David DePatie founded DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, which produced, probably most notably, The Pink Panther… a character who knew a little something about indeterminacy.

The Pink Panther

Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 21, 2008 at 1:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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