18 October 2017
Free Will as an Interdisciplinary Subject
It could be argued that Aristotle, a philosopher and one the first scientist, argued the discussion of free will back in the 4th century BC. Even though not formerly addressed, his writings on the four causes shows his rejection of free will because he states every event has a cause to trace back to. However this discussion of free will was far from over. Still in present day people still debate its existence, but now this debate is more thorough because the number of fields influencing it has increased. Similar to Aristotle, many findings in today’s world are interdisciplinary, among many disciplines, in this case both scientific and philosophical. Dr. Vukov mentions how philosophy can give an ethical perspective to neuroscience findings, and vice versa. Since science itself is driven by novel ideas and the philosophies that create these ideas, this is not hard to believe. However to build off Dr. Vukov’s presentation I will be bringing in the opinions/findings of Dr. Musser, who takes a quantum physical approach. From the discussion of the Neuroethics presentation key points were made that relate to Dr. Musser’s writings, kovmost clearly to his discussion of quantum indeterminism and quantum no-cloning theorem.
Firstly within his indeterminism discussion he brings up interesting points saying how we actually want determinism, one determinist feature doesn’t make the whole system deterministic, and brings in arguments of fellow scientist Sabine Hossenfelder’s concept of “free-will functions”. In class A and B type actions were describe as A being well thought out and B being rapidly chosen. From the studies Dr. Vukov also brought up the compatibility perspective, combining determinism and free will. Musser also mentions this topic when he advocates the 1) need for determinism and 2) the idea that different levels of decision making can be different (determined v free). He makes the point that whether every decision is already set or ever decision is completely random, indeterminism, neither one allows for free will. However if an action has both aspects, ex. eating (determined) vs. eating a sandwich instead of candy (indetermined), our actions now have the opportunity for free will. Extending from that example just because a part of a decision was determined, to eat, does not automatically mean every level of the system is determined as well, what you eat. “Free-will functions” do not relate directly back to what was talked about in class, however the explanation behind them is notable. They promote the notion of free-will by saying decision are “fully determined” by a function but “unpredictable” because the only one who “knows” the function is the individual that it is affecting. In a conversation Musser had with Hossenfelder he says
Her point is that whereas hidden variables are part of the state of the system, the free-will function is part of the laws of nature. It is not a hidden variable, but a hidden law. Nature still meets the definition of determinism—a given state evolves in a definite way—even if the rules guiding evolution are unknowable. The free-will function might not be definable as an equation or algorithm, but would be what theoretical computer scientists call an oracle.
While this ideal does not relate to what was discussed in our class it could contribute to the compatibility discussion of future classes.
Another item discussed by Musser in his post was quantum no-cloning theorem. This theorem says that it is physically impossible to have a computer simulation that can predict every aspect of a person. This relates back to class when we discussed the need of a 100% accurate system to negate free will. However in class we also mentioned predictability does not disprove free will, which Musser also agrees. A new point Musser leads the reader to is through Scott Aaronson’s paper “The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine”. In here Aaronson discusses Newcomb’s Paradox, a system where there are two entities and one predicts the other. If the ‘predictor’ could aptly predict a person, which clones them, how does a simulation verses the original copy of a person know which they are?
While all fields add noteworthy ideals and discoveries is apparent that if topics, such as free will, are limited to the thinking’s of one sector well are actively limiting our potential knowledge.
Aaronson, Scott. "The ghost in the quantum turing machine." arXiv preprint arXiv:1306.0159 (2013).
Musser, George. “The Quantum Physics of Free Will.” Scientific American, www.scientificamerican.com/article/quantum-physics-free-will/.
Soon, Chun Siong, et al. "Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain." Nature neuroscience 11.5 (2008): 543-545.