What is free will? By Johannes Koelman

This post is also available in: Spanish

Being a physicist, you’ve learned the deterministic (albeit chaotic) theory of Newton, then jumped to the probabilistic (when making a measurement) Quantum Mechanics. Do you think free will is compatible with either of those world-views? Or is it just an illusion of our minds?
We have no clue whatsoever what is free will and how it emerges. What we do know is that our physical theories are deterministic, but that does not mean these leave no room for free will. Key concept in this is Turing’s idea of uncomputability. Newcomb’s paradox disappears and free will gets free reign when we take uncomputability into account. In this context it is important to realize that gravity profoundly deepens Turing’s concept of uncomputability. Gravity limits the size of the computation that can be accommodated in our universe. The universe itself is the ultimate computation, any larger computation will disappear behind causal horizons. So there is no way to predict what will happen other than to create a universe to make it happen. That concept leaves a lot of room for unpredictability, free will if you like.
However, all of this doesn’t tell us why you and I seem to have this thing we call free will and a stone apparently not. When it comes to issues like free will and consciousness, physics simply has no answers.

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