My Response To, “Does Quantum Mechanics Revive Libertarian Free-Will?”

So Matt DeStefano had asked me to comment on his article, Does Quantum Mechanics Revive Libertarian Free-Will?. Truth be told, and no offense to Matt, but I wasn’t very impressed. The main reason is because he pretends his treatment supports the conclusion, “free will is an illusion.” As far as particular gripes, well, first off… the classic materialist canard:

Traditional determinism has proclaimed that since there is causal closure, or there is no physical event which has a non-physical cause, events are wholly determined by their causes.

Aside from the standard allusion to cause-and-effect which we most all accept, this is meaningless tautology, made worse by the fact that no matter what physicists discover, it automatically falls under the rubric of “physical” in the minds of committed metaphysical naturalists.

We’ve talked about this ad nauseum, here.

The probabilities are adjusted by various physical situations: John’s energy levels, John’s current desire to watch basketball, how much money is in John’s bank account, whether or not John’s Dirk Nowitzki jersey is clean, and a whole host of other concerns. This is different from a hard deterministic conception in which depending upon the prior causes, John’s decision would already have been decided long ago.

I disagree. In the hard deterministic conception, John’s energy levels, John’s current desire to watch basketball, how much money is in John’s bank account, whether or not John’s Dirk Nowitzki jersey is clean, and that whole host of other concerns *ARE* dependent on prior causes, extending all the way back to… apparently the beginning of the universe — unless of course you wish to posit that something “non-physical” [oh-no’s!] intervened at some point. I mean, you either bite the determinist bullet and swallow, or don’t. Right?

Most definitions of free-will concern “the ability to have done otherwise”. Probabilistic accounts of the universe certainly allow for the situation to have gone differently.

They do, if and only if the priors are different. Also, I think Matt might be missing an important distinction here: I define “free will” as the ability to have done otherwise given all priors the same. On that definition, one can’t so easily assert that probabilistic accounts of the universe certainly allow for the situation to have gone differently.

If we were to rewind and replay John’s decision 100,000 times, we’re bound to get variations on what he does with his Sunday night.

How does Matt know? According to the standard materialist mantra, does he have any controlled experiments or evidence to back up this claim? Or, does it just feel right? It’s okay if the latter, but I want to know how Matt arrived at that conclusion, and whether or not it is supported by evidence and/or observation. If not, then I’m not under any obligation to accept it as true.

As Hawking said in the above quote, it just forces us to accept a new brand of determinism that relies on probability, but free will still remains an illusion.

Oh please. Passing references to Hawking don’t justify the claim that free will remains an illusion. That’s absurd, and that concludes my response to Does Quantum Mechanics Revive Libertarian Free-Will?.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the response, CL. I think we may have our wires crossed on this one, because I wasn’t actively making a case against free-will in my post, but examining the relationship between QM/free-will and irreducible probability/determinism.

    I posted a response here which attempts to clarify my position.

  2. cl says:

    Okay, I think I figured out where I misread you. I posted a comment at your place which ought to clarify that last paragraph of mine.

    I figure we may as well carry on the discussion over there. It’ll get pretty hard to follow with this back-and-forth deal.

  3. Ismael says:

    Gee whiz, and I thugoht this would be hard to find out.

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