WHAT ARE WE ANYWAY?
By Karl Arnold Belser
5 June 2015
I believe that Luck is when opportunity meets a
prepared mind, and I got lucky when my old friend David from IBM asked
me to comment about Free Will.
David is one of the smartest people I know, and I frankly was intimidated when he asked for my opinion on a definition of Free Will he was developing. I have no credentials in philosophy. I was immediately afraid of making a fool of myself by making a comment.
After a few emails I agreed to comment. David's definition started " A person has free will if ..., and I immediately wondered what exactly is "a person"? I wrote:
So, when you say "a person" you have made a mental construction in your mind of what this person is. I ask the question: Is the person really an integral unit with some stable characteristics? After all the brain is made up of millions of cells each of which apparently has aliveness and independence on its own. Mightn't the person be a society of cells and the cells societies of organelles all of which have some degree of independent action.
If I take this point of view, I could just as well ask the question: Does the United States have free will? I am pretty sure that the United States does not really have free will. It has chaotic behavior that is not able to be modeled by science.
My conclusion is that the question "Is there free will?" is not falsifiable in the Karl Popper sense. So this question is similar to the question "is there a god?" These questions can be debated but never resolved by science.
David like this response and said that it was totally different from any other comment he had received from his circle of intellectual friends, I felt relieved, but he said he would continue trying to find a definition for free will.
Many years ago I read the book The Emperor's New Mind by the scientific philosopher Roger Penrose in which he conjectures that life has it's origins in quantum mechanics. The problem with quantum mechanics is that it happens at the atomic level.
One of the properties of quantum mechanical computing is that it can instantaneously pick the best or optimal solution to some physical situation. It has always appeared to me that life finds an optimal solution on a macro scale in the same way quantum mechanics works. However, I knew of no physics to back this observation. I conjectured that maybe there was another macro type of quantum mechanics that had not been discovered yet.
I realized in my description of "a person" that it might be possible that life is a bubbling up of a quantum mechanical process to a larger scale. That is, the DNA and organ els within a cell are magnifying quantum mechanical behavior. After all every plant and animal that we know of starts as one entity, a cell, a seed, a bacteria, a virus, or a prion.
Another association I have is with Constructor Theory in which David Deutsch is trying to unify several branches of physics including quantum mechanics. I discussed constructor theory in my second blog posts The Shadow Future.
One of the conclusions that Deutsch's colleague Chaira has shown using constructor theory is that "self--reproduction (i.e. evolution) is compatible with no design laws of physics, in particular with quantum theory". This does not say the there exist no design laws. It says that they have not been discovered. So my initial intuitive suspicion that there might be a macroscopic kind of quantum mechanics could be a physical process yet to be discovered.
I said in the beginning of this post that I was lucky. However, I am not going to pursue the physics of life bublling up or of constructor theory. I am only making a possibly silly observation.
Last updated June 6, 2015
KARL BELSER HOME PAGE