Re: John Conway, "Free Will Theorem"

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Sun, 10 Apr 2005 15:19:19 +1000

Norman Samish writes:

>The answer to Stat[h]is' question seems straightforward. Given quantum
>indeterminacy, thought processes cannot be predictable. Therefore, genuine
>free will exists.
>"...Can someone please explain how I can tell when I am exercising
>free will, as opposed to this pseudo-free variety, which clearly I have no
>control over?"
>Norman Samish

So if, on a whim, I commit murder, I can present the following argument to
the judge:

Your Honour, quantum indeterminacy made me do it. If you could have looked
inside my brain just prior to the moment when I decided to become a murderer
you would have seen a sodium ion teetering at the edge of a protein ion
channel embedded in the membrane of a particular neuron. If the sodium ion
passes through the channel it will raise the voltage across the membrane to
just past the threshold required to trigger an action potential. The neurone
will then "fire", setting off a cascade of neuronal events which I
experience as the decision to kill an innocent stranger - which I then
proceeded to do. If, on the other hand, that crucial sodium ion had not
passed through the membrane channel, a different cascade of neuronal events
would have ensued, causing me to allow the stranger to live.

I cannot deny that it felt like I was exercising my free will when I decided
to kill, but clearly this must have been a delusion. Firstly, the cause of
my "decision" was a random event (to the extent where non-classical
behaviour applies to the sort of biochemical reactions which occur in the
brain). Secondly, my "decision" had already been determined at the point
where the behaviour of that initial sodium ion was determined; when I
experienced myself "deciding" to kill, in a sense my brain had already been
programmed to do so. Therefore, I don't think it is fair that I should be

--Stathis Papaioannou

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Received on Sun Apr 10 2005 - 01:21:44 PDT

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