Plus Advent Calendar Door #1: I'm free... aren't I?

Are you reading this page because you decided to or because you were destined to from the start of time? Plus shares Mick's sentiment that we are free to do what we want, any old time. But what does physics and mathematics have to say about free will? In one of our most mind-bending yet enjoyable investigations (published in January this year), we spoke to philosopher of physics Jeremy Butterfield, quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger, cosmologist and mathematician George Ellis and mathematician John Conway to find out more.


Freedom and physics — Most of us think that we have the capacity to act freely. Our sense of morality, our legal system, our whole culture is based on the idea that there is such a thing as free will. It's embarrassing then that classical physics seems to tell a different story. And what does quantum theory have to say about free will?


Free, from top to bottom? — A traditional view of science holds that every system — including ourselves — is no more than the sum of its parts. To understand it, all you have to do is take it apart and see what's happening to the smallest constituents. But the mathematician and cosmologist George Ellis disagrees. He believes that complexity can arise from simple components and physical effects can have non-physical causes, opening a door for our free will to make a difference in a physical world.


John Conway: discovering free will (part I) — On August 19, 2004, John Conway was standing with his friend Simon Kochen at the blackboard in Kochen’s office in Princeton. They had been trying to understand a thought experiment involving quantum physics and relativity. What they discovered, and how they described it, created one of the most controversial theorems of their careers: The Free Will Theorem.


John Conway: discovering free will (part II) — In this, the second part of our interview, John Conway explains how the Kochen-Specker Theorem from 1965 not only seemed to explain the EPR Paradox, it also provided the first hint of Conway and Kochen's Free Will Theorem.


John Conway: discovering free will (part III) — In the third part of our interview John Conway continues to explain the Free Will Theorem and how it has changed his perception of the Universe.


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