Free Will, or Free Willies?

What exactly is Free Will?  Does it exist?  Or is it something we like to talk about to make ourselves sound smart?  One forum describes the mechanistic actions of the neurons like pushing the lever on a toilet.  I do like the flushing allusions, sometimes my neurons feel like that – if I could feel them.  It reminds me of the deterministic universe theories that physicists held in the latter part of the 1800s.  They felt that, under Newtonian mechanics, if you could know the position and direction of every particle in the universe, you could predict every event until the end of time.  Of course this would hold for a brain as well, since it is made of particles.

These deterministic physicists were pretty confident for a while, until Heisenberg came along.  Turns out we CAN’T know the position of a particle if we measure its energy (speed and direction of travel), and visa versa.  Penrose took this a step further by suggestion our brains have quantum sized tubules that ‘explain’ our free will.

The forum I referred to talked about a scorpion that wonders if it has free will.  Does he?  We, as the Great Observers, say that he doesn’t because we understand everything around him.  To make this easier, let’s do a thought experiment suggested by Feynman.  (He’s great physicist by the way, smart guy.)

Take a look at a bacterium. Just one little guy; let’s call him Willy.  If we were inside Willy’s ‘brain’ is it just possible he thinks he has free will?  After all, he can jiggle his way towards food, or away from it.  It is his choice.

In case anyone thinks a bacterium is too simple to study, let me paraphrase what Richard Feynman wrote.

The study of behavior isn’t going to make any progress until it can explain the behavior of life’s simplest organisms.  That day will come when we can watch a single bacterium and predict exactly what it’s going to do.

Yes, it gets born and reproduces and dies – but we can predict the same thing about us!

Maybe, just maybe, Willy is packed with just as much free will as we are.


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