What Quantum Physics Can Tell You About Your Identity
R. David Dixon Jr.
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This is deeply confused and full of bad, cursory, history of ideas. Newton surely did not introduce the concept of physical determinism. The principle of determinism is that, given knowledge of states and positions of all things along with knowledge of the laws that govern their changes and motions, all future states and positions of matter, all events, are, in principle, predictable. Only in principle, of course, because its impossible to know everything, and anything, of which we are ignorant, might be relevant to our determinations. That humans and their behavior fit into this causal scheme is likewise a much older idea than Behaviorism in clinical psychology. It’s safe to assume, I imagine, that the idea of human free will has never been immune to doubt by reflecting persons. It’s a very problematic idea, one that seems essential to our conception of ourselves as acting agents, and yet which seems to break down under analysis. Your attempt to couch the progression of thought on the subject within the history of science is stupid and misleading, and will no doubt give a lot of people very stupid ideas about how to think about this subject.

The idea that quantum indeterminism someone relevantly informs the problem of free will and human action is also stupid. It is a tempting thought, of course, and it has occurred to me, as it has occurred to many others, I know, that the seeming unpredictability of quantum phenomena might give us the wiggle room we want to have inside the seemingly determined causal universe, as though, somehow, particles coming in and out of exists, apparently at random, somehow makes it possible for me to more comfortably conceive of myself as a prime mover, unmoved,unbounded by the laws that govern macro interactions of matter. But, of course, the macro world, at middle scale, where we live, is basically Newtonian, and it is only at the extremes of scale that Newton’s math breaks down. Two billiard balls colliding still have the same, predictable effect, regardless of whether fugitive, unobserved particles, without significant mass, perchance pass through the interstices of the atoms making up those billiard balls. There is perhaps some cumulative effects of random quantum phenomena, but its not at all clear what those would be, much less that they would have any effect on human action, and if they did, that fact would subvert our vision of free will, just like every other influence, which naturally tend to displace agency. It is our situation within the causal chain of events which fundamentally threatens our conception of ourselves as free actors, and that is true regardless of how screwy the laws of causation might turn out to be.

Finally, this whole idea, which seems so rampant, about certain quantum states being themselves determined by observation, is absurd and I wish people would stop propagating it. The point is that there is no method of observing certain quantum phenomena that does not introduce and effective interaction. So we leave with the impression that our acts of observation have some kind of mystical control over how particles behave, which is obviously not true — or if it is true, it has not been demonstrated to satisfaction, and to so demonstrate would imply a much more radical upheaval of our conception of things then I think most physicists are ready to agree to. This is infuriating, really, because its an area of extreme and rampant muddle-headedness. Subatomic particles and quantum phenomena in general defy straightforward observation because our means of observing inevitably interfere with the situation. So, it turns out, our best descriptions of such phenomena are irreducibly probabilistic. But that does not make the quantum world ontologically probabilistic, and its not at all clear what that could even mean.

And none of that has anything to do with the question of Free will.

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