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?
In the corner of the garden between the Centre of Mathematical Sciences and the Isaac Newton Institute in Cambridge, sits a reminder of our ongoing quest to understand gravity: an apple tree that was taken as a cutting from the tree at Newton's birthplace, the tree that is said to have inspired his theory of gravity. Newton's theory was extended to the cosmological scales by Einstein's theory of general relativity – but can supergravity explain how gravity works in the quantum world?
"Astronomers are used to large numbers, but few are as large as the odds I'd have given this celebration today," is how Astronomer Royal Martin Rees started his presentation at Stephen Hawking's birthday symposium yesterday. He was talking about the 1960s when he first met Hawking who was then already suffering motor neurone disease. But Rees' prediction has been proved wrong. Hawking turned 70 yesterday and since the time of their first meeting he has made enormous contributions to cosmology and physics.
Human reasoning is biased and illogical. At least that's what a huge body of psychological research seems to show. But now a psychological scientist from the University of Toulouse in France has come up with a new theory: that logical and probabilistic thinking is an intuitive part of decision making, only its conclusions often lose out to heuristic considerations.
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.
"It's a great day for particle physics," says Ben Allanach, a theoretical physicist at the University of Cambridge. "It's very exciting, I think we're on the verge of the Higgs discovery." And indeed, it seems like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN has given particle physics an early Christmas present — compelling evidence that the famous Higgs boson exists.