Friday Science: Fate or Free Will?

It never ceases to amaze me the ability for quantum mechanics to entangle (okay, pun’s intended) itself in every day life. Take the long philisophical argument about fate and free will for example. This topic has been debated for thousands of years, probably since mankind was able to create symbolic images (theory mine), i.e., cave paintings, carvings and tattoos, etc. But Nobel laureate Dutch physicist Gerard ‘t Hooft announced that the weird effects that spring from quantum mechanics arise from a deeper deterministic reality based on classical physics:

“No, we don’t have free will as it is commonly understood, he says – but that’s because the way it is commonly understood is wrong.”

‘t Hooft, of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, shared a Nobel prize in 1999 for laying the mathematical foundations for the standard model of particle physics. Like Einstein, he was troubled by the indeterminism at the heart of quantum mechanics, according to which particles do not have clearly defined properties before you measure them, and you can never predict with certainty what the outcome of your measurements will be. So ‘t Hooft constructed a deterministic alternative which showed that fundamental states which exist on the smallest scales do start out with clearly defined properties. Information about these states gets blurred over time, until we are no longer able to tell how they initially arose – leading to their apparently probabilistic quantum nature, he says.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle says that a quantum particle’s properties can’t be determined until it is “measured” somehow. The very “act” of measurement destroys the particle’s pristine “state”, then it assumes the property one is measuring for. For example if one is measuring the speed of a photon (particle of light), the said particle isn’t a photon until the “act” of measurement says it’s a photon, savvy?

Okay, how that relates to fate or free will is that t’ Hooft can write equations proving that particles aren’t “indeterminable” until the act of measurement says what they are, he claims that particles are what they are from the beginning, but become “blurred” over time, thus making them “seem” indeterminable:

“…’t Hooft constructed a deterministic alternative which showed that fundamental states which exist on the smallest scales do start out with clearly defined properties. Information about these states gets blurred over time, until we are no longer able to tell how they initially arose – leading to their apparently probabilistic quantum nature, he says.” (Link)

Imagine you are holding a cup of coffee. “I can’t change my mind in an instant about whether to drink the coffee or hurl it across the room. My decision must have roots in brain processes that occurred in the past,” he says. “What’s important is that I have freedom to calculate what happens if I throw my coffee cup. Equally, I have the freedom to calculate the effects after I drink from my cup.” What we lack is the freedom to instantaneously switch between which of these initial states we start from.

In other words the very act of measuring a particle or performing a certain act is “predetermined” by fate, not our free will to act upon or measure anything.

I’m ambivelant about the issue myself, I know some historical arguments, but tying them in with quantum mechanics is new to me. But that’s the beauty of quantum mechanics, all things are tied at a very basic level. We just haven’t found that level yet, string theory not withstanding.

Original Article

If you feel brave or smart enough, read the PowerPoint Presentation t’ Hooft wrote. I got through half of it before my head started to hurt. :-P

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12 responses

  1. What a way to start a Friday, philosophy and physics, ain’t it kewl? ;-P

  2. I don’t believe in fate.

    Free will and random chaos govern the universe in my view.

    Think about it: a new father boards a flight to a distant city for a business trip and the plane crashes, leaving a devastated wife and infant child behind to fend for themselves. A scenario almost more than I can wrap my brain around.

    Was it fate for the husband to board that flight? Nonsense. He may’ve been unlucky (as was his wife and new born) but chaos theory set in motion a chain of events leading to the disaster.

  3. I’ve heard of chaos theory before, but I admit I don’t know the specifics of it without Googling. The name implies randomness to the max, pure probability in action!

    My rational side of my psyche agrees with you Christopher, but I’ve had some experiences that one could give serious thought to fate.

    If you notice at the bottom of the original article, Antoine Suarez did a quantum entanglement experiment that put a serious dent in t’ Hooft’s theory.

  4. I’d love to hear about them, Dad.

    I’ve has several experiences that fall into the category of psychic phenom and as much I try to apply linear logic and physics, it still can’t explain it any other way.

    I do know one thing: there’s so much we don’t understand and I have come to realize that I understand nothing.

  5. Uber Highwayman | Reply

    I believe the HUP has significance, in that using a scanning electron microscope would alter elements at the microscopic level by virtue of the fact that intrusive particles are needed to ‘reveal’ the presence of others. It would be like throwing basket balls into a group of basketballs blindfolded, to determine their arrangement, then removing the blindfold to see the result; which would be a scattered arrangement totally unlike the group’s original pattern. So, bearing this fact in mind, we can only go so far into inner space without totally destroying it’s internal arrangement. Theory and conjecture necessarily transcend physical observation.

    It would be like picking fly shit out of pepper with boxing gloves on!

  6. Good comparison UH and one of the reasons Einstein himself hated his stepchild quantum theory, “God doesn’t play dice”was one of his famous remarks about it.

    This is one instance where you can link Einsteinian physics with Newtonian, both believed in an order and symmetry to the Universe, thus the existence of God. Quantum theory with it’s underlying layer of probabilities implies as Christopher pointed out, “chaos” and “disorder”.

    But even with quantum theory, there are laws that must be obeyed, too numerous to mention here, that are universal constants. If there weren’t, no work would get done!

  7. There is order and symmetry in the behaviour of all vibrations, as described by Pythagorius and later by Newton, as the octave in sound and the visable spectrum in light. I believe that there is no change in the way the waves break down as they accelerate to double their original frequency, and that these characteristics exist in all vibrations. The diversities are infinite because another octave can begin on any note in the octave ad infinitum. It’s something that I accept as a truth and it doesn’t change anyplace, anytime, anywhere that I know of…which by the way isn’t much.
    I does tell me though that there is a mystery here that shows there is life in all and everything and that it evolves in all of its intricate ways within a pattern that I can only marvel at. So to me there is a higher power and the existence of every waveform and element is because of vibrations within the octave.

    I noticed in some of the documents and graphics from the caret program that there is mention of the octave and that it is prevalent in the pictorial diagrams. Could it be that the designer of this anti gravity engine used mathematics using the base eight instead of the base ten?

    Interesting observation from “In Search of the Miraculouse” by P. D. Ouspenski.

    0/7=000000000000

    1/7=142857142857

    2/7=285714

    3/7=428571

    4/7=571428

    5/7=714285

    6/7=857142

    7/7=1

    So any number divided by seven ends up with the same repeating decimal of six periods.

    What does it all mean? I don’t have the froggiest, but it is interesting.

    Anyhow, back to the subject, I believe that we all have free will, but when considering the infinite, our fate is decided by whether we have been enlightened at all in this lifetime…G:

  8. Math was never my better subject.

  9. I can understand uber-math to a certain point, then I hit a glass ceiling. My limit is classical calculus, after than it might as well be Chinese. ;-)

  10. Several things:
    1) Chaos theory has nothing to do with probability – chaos theory is the study of dynamical systems in which a slight difference of initial conditions gives a drastic difference in the result, some time after. Of course, this makes things like weather systems very difficult because then we’d need to know where and how fast every particle on earth is moving with good precision! The theory as far as I know is purely deterministic.
    2) The repeated digits thing will happen with many numbers – if a and b are whole numbers, then the decimal expansion of a/b will always have a series of repeated numbers (or simply stop at some point). This is a property of all rational numbers (the set of all numbers a/b).
    3) The problem i’m having is this ( i did a little quantum mechanics, but not much – so it could be the case of little knowledge being dangerous…): there’s a theorem in quantum mechanics (Bell’s inequality) which says basically that there cannot be a set of underlying hidden deterministic variables which determines the evolution of a quantum system. Does that mean there is no such thing as fate?

  11. Fate Exists. Free will eventually ends up BEING fate if you think about it.

    the only way to prove free will would be to know fate but

    1. how do you even know it is really fate if you do find out?

    2. if you did know what fate was, then it wouldnt be fate, because you would have the power to change it, therefore making it free will, meaning it would be impossible to know fate LEADING BACK TO it would be impossible to prove FREE WILL exists

  12. Check out experiments done by Libet and others who demonstrate that decisons are made before we are consciously aware we have made them, no “Free Will”. But there may be “Free Won’t” Get you head around that! http://scienceweek.com/2004/sa040813-1.htm

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