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Quantum Mechanics and Free Will

Discussion in 'Philosophy and Religion' started by WaeV, Apr 25, 2010.

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  1. WaeV

    WaeV Community Member

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    Preface:
    Hi, I'm WaeV. I'm a first-year Computer Science major and I have never studied Quantum Mechanics in school, so corrections and clarifications are welcome. I value free will very highly, so maintaining the concept of free will is one of my highest priorities when evaluating a theory.

    Also, my inclusion of my explanation of the Double-Slit Experiment serves two purposes. Those who already know a lot about quantum mechanics and the experiment will be able to spot any errors in my thinking, and those who lack such a grounding should be able to gather enough from my summary in order to follow along.



    The Double Slit Experiment:
    Matter behaves either as a particle or a wave. We have separate theories for each, and each theory works some of the time. Scientists started to develop a test for whether something is a particle or a wave. When particles are shot through two slits in front of a detector wall, a high concentration of particles directly behind the slits with a smooth fade off to the sides is produced. When (properly aligned?) waves are shot through the same two slits, interference between the waves causes a distinct interference pattern on the detector wall.

    I know I haven't explained the premise of the experiment as clearly as perhaps could have been done in so short a space, so hopefully the following picture help to clarify. The Wikipedia article explains it pretty well.

    Top-down View:
    [​IMG]

    When there is just one slit, the light doesn't interfere. With two slits, the interference shows that light is a wave:
    [​IMG]

    The experiment has been performed with photons, electrons, atoms, and other small particles. When the experiment is set up with only one open slit, the simple smoothed pattern appears, and when both slits are open the interference pattern appears.

    What's particularly interesting is that even if particles are fired one at a time through the slits, the interference pattern still appears - the particles are actually interfering with themselves! I take from this the understanding that there is no definite location for the particles whilst en route, and that their position is represented by probability fields. These probability fields behave as waves and can subsequently interfere with themselves.



    Wheeler's Delayed Choice Experiment:
    What I find even more interesting is Wheeler's Delayed Choice Experiment, derived from the Double-Slit Experiment. In this experiment, the decision to observe which gate the particle passed through is made to be delayed. Long after the particle (or wave?) has passed through the slits, the decision is made to not observe the particle and to let the interference pattern appear on the detector wall OR to observe which gate the particle had passed through, lift the detecor wall, and detect the particles further back, in which case the interference pattern is not observed.



    My Intrepretation:
    If I roll a die, the result of the roll is represented by a probability field. As with Schr
     
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  2. IndigoSensor

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    post got long, sorry.

    I very much like this, and you pretty much described much of what I believe when it comes to how science, and (how I see it) spirituality.

    I have taken a course on quantum mechanics, so I am versed in the background of it. For the purposes of what you are explaining here, I think you gave enough of a background. Anymore would start going into the mathimatics of quantum mechanics, and very few people here on the forums would understand it (if any). The details of the double slit experiement are rather glossed over, but that's fine for this. You covered one of the key points of it. That particles interact with each other indepedndently of each others presence (a very hard concept to get conceptually). One clarification about quantum though, we assume and say that photons and nearly everything we deal with is indeed a particle. It just has wave light properties.

    Wheelers thought experiement (later proved experimentally), just shows you how confusing quantum is conceptually. This is sort of a slippery slope though. Because it is so non-intuitive, it has scientific basis, and it is the "core" of everything, it can lead people to have very very large leaps of logic, which could very easily be incorrect. In this case, assuming that our brains have control over quantum propabillity, and also saying that we can expand these quantum principals to large scale scenarios that we can see with out eye, and physically interact with on our size scale, is tricky. We don't know that this occurs here, nor can we experimentally prove it at this time.

    Despite that though, I actually believe in much of this stuff to be true. I use this as a basis for my spiritually beliefs afterall. Taking a class in quantum mechanics, and inorganic chemistry, just further solidified my spiritual views being based off these principals (ironic concidering my dad told me it would kill my belieifs, not that I believed it would). These events, such as shrodingers cat, and your die example, have basis to me. The reason is, is that these are thought ideas. They are physical, but they aren't based in the physical. They are thoughts, ideas, a propabillity. Thus I feel they are effected by quantum principals. I have the idea that dark matter, and dark energy, is the reason to why quantum particles behave the way they do. It doesn't make sense that simply reducing the size of an object would cause it to behave in such different ways. Because we can not directly observe dark energy and dark matter, there is no way to prove that they effect and drive quantum principals, but it is not unreasonable to think this.

    Now, assuming that dark energy and dark matter does effect these quantum particles. Who is to say they don't effect other things? It's clear that at our size scale, it doesn't in a way we often observe. It seems that dark matter/energy mostly would effect the propabillity of chance and events, and even allowing things to transcend what would be physically possible (i.e. quantum tunneling). It is then not unreasonable to say dark matter/energy could effect things on our size scale that involve probabillity. Again, going back to your die example, backs this up. There is the chance of the die being on any side, and is assumed it is therefore on each side simultenously. Viewing it, "collapses the wave function" (I say that here just as a formality), and therefore solidifies its posistion. Over a large sample size, an average would occur and appear for each side appearing equally. However, each individual event could appear to be effected by dark matter/energy.

    That last paragraph is rather circular, but it is because I used the die example. Everyone in this world, has encountered situations that seems to transcend what would be logical. These "miracle" circumstances where a person seems to survive something they should not. Dark matter/energy could play a roll in this. You stated that our brains could in essence "detect" quantum principals by drawing a parallel to how chlorophyll uses quantum mechanics to improve effiency of the reaction. This is a bad parallel actually, because the reaction relies on light to enter excited states of the molecules. Our brains do not do that because they are not subjected to light. Despite the bad parallel, it is still usable. Molecules can enter excited states in a vareity of ways, light is just the easiest and most common. If our brains can sense these quantum disparities, which would be effected by dark matter/energy, then in reality we are picking up on dark matter/energy. We could in essence be using it. To an extent we could use this dark matter/energy which interpenetrates everything in exsistance (that much is known), to effect our environment around us. To an extent.

    Our brains can do things that science has thought was impossible before it was discovered to be so. It is not unreasonable to think that this is possible. How dark matter/energy works is not understood. It could be possible that thoughts, ideas, and actions effect dark matter. In essence, we think something, it effects dark matter energy, which effects quantum particules and probabillity, which can also take place in non physical propabillistic events. Our thoughts, could effect our world around us. Our feelings could effect the world around us. We see examples of this every day. Syncroncities. Casually unrelated events that occur, that seem interconnected. You for no reason think of a candy bar you haven't had or seen for years. Later, you a rapper on the ground for that bar. It could be assumed, that your thought, effected dark matter/energy, which then interacts with quantum size particles in your brain, then effects the probabillity of such an event occuring, because in essence it is non-physical, and not related to something totally improbable. You in essence, with your thoughts, manipulated reality.

    All brain activites take pratice and training. You won't be good at baseball if you don't pratice at it. It's reasonable to think if you don't pratice at such things that could effect the probabillity of reality, you won't be good at it. This is why some people seems to experience these kinds of improbable events more then others. Use it or loose it.
     
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  3. just me

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    Why is it, in free will, when we choose to move a finger, leg, or such: another different part of our brain fires before the part that enables the motion of our will to move something? Will have to look up the experiments....later. Think it was using a PET scan of the brain when this was found...
     
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  4. Ecton

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    Interesting thoughts. Waev's interpretation has been around a while, but this is of course awesome to think about. And Indigo's interpretation I've not heard before (dark energy and dark matter were dim subjects back when I was an undergraduate.) I'd love to join this conversation now, but its too late at night, so I'll jump in tomorrow. I've got a physics and computer science degree so I will add my own thoughts.

    I'd be interested to know how you two see your ideas relating to the recent 'results' from Bell's Inequality Theorem experiments.
     
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  5. Flavus Aquila

    Flavus Aquila Finding My Place in the Sun
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    Much of theoretical physics is couched in a-priori physical principles, probably under the influence of Einstein's work (his work dated before about 1905) which favoured the use of such theoretical models. The most developed a-priori form of theory seems to be multi-dimensional theory.

    However, the fact that we can logically understand what is physically (by the science of physics) possible or probable, it does not therefore follow that what we understand exists actually, other than it exists mentally. All particles have certain properties which determine what is possible for them. However, if one be dealing with an actual particles, that field of what is possible is equivalent to the number of particles. In other words, a single actual particle can only produce singular effects/interactions. An infinite field of particles can have an infinite field of effects, within what they, by their nature are capable.

    So our concept of what a beam of particles can do is always going to be almost infinitely greater than what a single particle can actually do. The act of observation reduces, or applies our universal mental principle to a particular existing thing. In this interraction, the observed thing has not been changed, but rather our concept has been applied. Physicists and chemists can tell you about the fundamental difference between theoretical and applied physical science.



    ... The free will thing. Hmmm. I guess it is entirely possible for a person to become an astronaut or pop star, however, it may be entirely impossible for a particular, actual person to do either. This however, does not limit the freedom of their will, because despite being limited by their particular (no pun intended) nature, they are intirely able to function as freely as those particular people who do end up being astronauts or pop stars - because they too are limited by particular reality.
     
    #5 Flavus Aquila, Apr 26, 2010
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2010
  6. Poetic Justice

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  7. enfp can be shy

    enfp can be shy people vs the bad people?
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    But when does the zygote, or the embryo, or the newborn, or the 2-years old baby stop being a mere mechanical automaton reflecting everything around it (like its culture, based on metaphysical concepts like success, honor, free will), and when does this magical free will ability to change reality through quantum mechanics pop out in its brain synapses? Why doesn't it pop out for the child who was brought up by wild animals, and as adult it can't even learn human language, and can't even be sexually attracted to human beings? Why the free will to become an astronaut and to win the Nobel prize doesn't pop out in the heads of an ancient tribe on an island, that still lives there as they did ten thousand years ago? Sure, at least sometimes some tribesman would appear on a cover of a magazine, holding the Fields Medal for life-long contributions in mathematics? Meanwhile, if we took a newborn baby of those tribes and brought it up in the western culture - POOF! - magic!, the free will pops out in its head! Of course, it gives it the right to explain why its culture has predatory unsustainable habits, just like Intelligent Design tries to defend a concept which justifies why some people are cursed to suffer and why we shouldn't try to help them, but despise them, for they have fallen in the hands of the Devil. But hey, the Holy Inquisition had to explain somehow why they needed to keep the population at large fearful and obedient too. So now, why do I have ten thousand wage slaves to work for me, well, man, free will, sure they could choose to be emperors too, but they don't want to, man. It's for their own good, because it seems they've chosen to be stupid, lazy, and die in poverty. Well, it's their own problem right, how was the magic spell: free will. Allakhazam! :) Sure, babies even pick up the language of their mothers, before being born, by listening to them talk, according to studies, but it must be free will, because we love it so much. <3 <3

    Apart from that rant, I do enjoy very much the well presented thoughts in this thread, so thanks to all and will rep some too.

    My position is: randomness. Studies also show that people learn to assume they "deserved" to win, within experiments based on pure luck. Whoever wins the (implicit) lottery assumes they "deserved" it more than the rest, as long as each participant was required to struggle some /without knowing that this is unrelated to the outcome, being told that it's a legit competition/. But we are inclined to have many other superstitions, and the school system based on exams is not likely so far to deal with those, too. After all, just compare with society only a few centuries ago - they would say whoever wins the lottery was blessed and the chosen one by some god. Well, same thing, really. Metaphysical concepts for the win, to keep injustice justified. Burn witches, sacrifice for rain, and slaves are slaves due to cosmos order.
    Please note, randomness does not contradict with determinism. Relatively, certainty becomes uncertainty, as long as we don't know some explanation. There's always this unknown randomness, and we could admit that we have no clue how it works, by calling it randomness, or we could abuse some mystical explanation to skew the social reality.
     
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    #7 enfp can be shy, Apr 26, 2010
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  8. NeverAmI

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    Ooooh new content! nom nom nom

    To me, this discussion is completely dependent upon your theory/philosophy of time, and there are many.

    Does time flow? Many contemporary physicists say no. Relativity suggests that time is inextricably connected to space and motion, and that we only infer a flow based on our perceptions. Based on that, it is also important to understand the neurological framework our mind works in.

    There is a very interesting read at http://urgrue.org/lib/mysterious-flow.html

    With some of these ideas, the concept of free will becomes irrelevant because the past, present, and future don't function in the flow we typically assign to them.

    It is also hard to argue that our thoughts in our mind are truly our own. Sure, we have thoughts and we perceive/observe them, but how do you know that your thought is truly you? How can one prove that your thoughts don't come from a source outside your own physical brain and the physical brain is not a conduit? Ok, you can say that damaging the brain can damage your personality, how you make decisions and how you process thought, well does that mean the signals are still out there but the conduit is broken/hampered or do the signals stop being generated because their source of existence is only neurological?

    Ok, so from an empirical standpoint, I have the ability to observe through senses, and I have an ability to interact with the external world. Scientifically it is shown that changes to our brain also change how we interact and how we communicate. So the idea of free will is that our ability to interact is completely ungoverned by anything but our own thought, which traditionally is not controlled by any source outside ourself. In my opinion we simply don't have enough information about our thought process and the human brain to answer the question of free will.

    Define time, define thought, define you, define decision.

    An interesting metaphor I thought about:

    Think of a radio, and think of an observer that has no idea how a radio works. Also assume that radio transmissions are constantly coming in. There are two different scenarios, one in which the observer understands the language and one in which they don't. In pristine condition the radio transmits audio which is perceptible. The observer says, is it alive? Well, the object responds to our interaction of turning knobs, messing with the antenna, poking at the insides etc, where does this come from, what generates the interaction? If I open the radio up or damage the antenna then it's ability to interact is damaged and so that must generate the audio! What governs the audio's transmission? Remember that these observers don't comprehend electromagnetic transference. So the insides must generate the content!

    If you open up the radio and start touching things with a metal object, you may get audio 'twitches' or other unexpected interactions. If you alter the tuning coil you might lose the reception completely or tune into something different! If the observer understood the language, they could say, yes but I talk to the radio and it does not respond! Is it deaf? What if there was a mic and the radio was 2 way? Then you might say oh it is alive! It interacts with me! While the radio does not reproduce, it still has many portions of interaction similar to our body. At this point the metaphor fails because the observer at the other end of the radio would probably understand the concept, but maybe they don't but eventually they would figure it out. But you have to expand with a more elaborate and complex metaphor to include self realization, etc. On each side the external observer have senses outside of the audio of the radio, but what if they didn't? The observer does not comprehend electromagnetic transmission and so it assumes the process of thought/content generation is completely contained within the 'brain' of the radio. I just wonder if we see a similar circumstance with our own thought or if our brain is the beginning and end of our thought generation.

    Classical debate.

    Sorry, I am not well versed enough in quantum mechanics or neuroscience to link them theoretically yet. Maybe one of these days. :)
     
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  9. Stu

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    I think that what is more important than proving our free will is a scientific proof of Jung's theory of Synchronicity ("temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events."-CGJung) The idea that the physical world can lay out events, not causally connected, that hold meaning to an individual flies in the face of our ego driven Newtonian view of the world.
     
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  10. IndigoSensor

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    And I will be seriously happy when this is proven scientificly. The post I said is an idea I have that could indeed prove it. However, it is just that; an idea. Whatever the drive and reason behind it is. I firmly believe that syncronicities are real, they have specefic meaning, and are indeed based in (sub)quantum theory. The free will argument is largely irrelevent to me.
     
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  11. Rakawi

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  12. Jack

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    Actually I believe I recall this experiment, however I remember the interpretation of it was published as "the unbearable automacity of being" which ironically, seemed to take a radically different perspective of the results than you might expect, and their implications on free will. Rather than seeing it as contrary, they maintain the distinction between consious action as seperate from automation, the analogy they use in the conclusion is that of "Mental Butlers" lol.

    Anyway, this is the abstract.

    Here is the full article.
     
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  13. OP
    WaeV

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    I would say that the "I" who is thinking those thoughts would be the source of the radio waves and not the radio.


    In various discussions I've been having on this topic, I think I have found a way to reconcile free will and determinism. Everything follows laws, but since we can;t ever know everything that there is to know about a particle's state it is impossible to derive the future. In the space provided by this uncertainty, there is room for free will.
     
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  14. Kavalan

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    I would chip in that in QM, degenerate an indistinguishable states exists, these states can/may lead to different cascade of events which themselves have(possibly) degenerate states in the probability distribution.

    This would say there does exist a finite number of outcomes X number of steps down the line but the actual number would/could be staggering.
     
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  15. Morgain

    Morgain defective wisdom
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    so basicaly, all possibilities exist until the moment you look, and the way you look at it influences your answer

    not only the future is open until we look at it. Also the past. The die has already been thrown. It still is the way we look at it that determine the outcome, that makes a decision on what is real. And like NAI said, is time a linear line? What if time doesn't exist and all the seconds from the future and past are here right now. Maybe this "looking" is what determines for us the difference between past and future. That what we have looked at is past and that what we haven't decided on yet is future.

    our perception of the world is very limited, we only see what we can understand, we can only measure something we expect to happen. I think we are capable of much more than we are doing now. You say that photosynthesis can be boosted by quantum mechanics. I think the same could happen to us, we are also under the influences of the fotons coming from the sun or the electromagnetic waves coming from the universe. I wonder, if I decide that from tomorrow on all the trees are blue, would they be blue??

    I'm sorry that this is not a very scientific reply, I'm not smart enough to talk quantum physics, but I like kto ponder on it :D
     
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  16. Ecton

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    Guys, I'm so excited by this discussion, it is awesome!

    Here's the argument as it existed in our physics department 15 years ago, and experimental results that have occurred since then:

    Bell's inequality theorem is incredibly important
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/bell-theorem/
    (I recommend avoiding Wikipedia on this subject, as it is controversial and the articles there have been heavily edited in a maleficent way by those who cling to hidden variable theorems.)

    There have been experiments recently that have suggested that there is no local realism.
    http://www.iscid.org/encyclopedia/Local_Realism_in_Physics

    If there is no local realism, then any combination of the following may be true. a) "things" do not exist independent of observers, b) determinism is not complete, and/or c) matter and energy can travel faster than light speed. d) There exists some different means of information transfer (action at a distance to collapse a wave function.) A 'new realism' would have to accommodate one or more of these possibilities.

    The first thing most physicists are willing to give up on is the concept of luminal locality. So they stick to the concept of realism but assume super-luminal mass and energy communication. Others give up on mass/energy being required to carry information. In these models, there is some element of mass or energy or information that conveys information across vast distances, supporting immediate non-local wave function collapse.

    However, more recent results have suggested that such 'spooky' action at a distance may not be a correct assumption:
    http://www.iscid.org/encyclopedia/Local_Realism_in_Physics
    That is, there is no non-local realism either.

    If this is true, then c and d cannot be true. Thus modified realism requires that we accept that either or both of the following would be true
    1) Some natural systems (paired electrons, for example) correlate deterministically by the rules of Eigenvalues but are unpredictable at an atomic unit of the system. (Fundamental non-determinism of reality: Reality may be objective, but not deterministic.)
    2) "Objectivity" is an artifact of our mental models, and an unfit approximation of 'reality' (Fundamental non-objectivity of reality: Reality may be deterministic, but objects are a failed approximation.)

    A final possibility is that there is no 'reality'.

    So that is the end of the standard story. Now here's my interpretation:

    The concept of 'will' in a 'classic realistic universe' requires that there is an animating source of original purpose that enters the universe and modifies it. But in a quantum mechanical universe in which Bell's Inequality experiments hold, free will may simply be the containment of a non-deterministic process. Of course, in this model, the rest of the universe, and everything in it, has just as much free will as you do. You're nothing special in that model, your're just another non-deterministic object. This one appeals most to independent people.

    The other possibility is that you are not an object. Objectivity, seperation of self and other, self and universe, are themselves an illusion. This would support the 'global consciousness' interpretation. I can either look on this from the eastern perspective of being in an illusory reality or the western perspective of being trapped in hell separate from god.

    Another possibility is that feedback from a non-real substrate into our minds allows us to impose 'partial reality' onto the substrate, thus creating a partial reality. In this interpretation, we must realize that 'reality' is made by churning a froth in a model. We bring predictability to a more chaotic element. This is my preferred interpretation. At a more religious level, we are a strady state in a self-sustained relationship between a substrate and a partial reality created long ago.

    Another interpretation is that objectivity is a flawed model of the mind. Predictability exists in a universe, but to categorize and describe it in parts is inherently limited. (A truly correct model of the universe cannot describe its parts accurately without describing the whole.)

    There is always the popular 'multi-verse' theory, in which we travel through and choose paths or randomly end up on paths, through the multiverse at a line of overlapping points in quantum fields. However, I have found that this model's time symmetry need not hold, and I would prefer a model that explains the orientation of the time vector. Similar theories require only a converging future or past, and I find those more interesting.

    There are a myriad of other interpretations.

    I look forward to the next 20 years of experiments to either push back on results against non-local realism or find a further theory.
     
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    #16 Ecton, May 4, 2010
    Last edited: May 4, 2010
    Morgain likes this.
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