Saturday, May 30, 2009

Particle physics: Do electrons have free will?

At Slashdot ("News for nerds. Stuff that matters"), "snahgle" advises,
Mathematicians John Conway (inventor of the Game of Life) and Simon Kochen of Princeton University have proven that if human experimenters demonstrate 'free will' in choosing what measurements to take on a particle, then the axioms of quantum mechanics require that the free will property be available to the particles measured, or to the universe as a whole. Conway is giving a series of lectures on the 'Free Will Theorem' and its ramifications over the next month at Princeton. A followup article strengthening the theory (PDF) was published last month in Notices of the AMS."
Hmmmm. There seems to be a confusion here between "freedom" and "free will."

Freedom just means that no law of nature forces the electron into one path rather than another. Free will requires, at minimum, consciousness and rationality - the ability to observe one's state and form a conscious intention about it.

We better keep this straight before someone forms a "particle rights" movement , ripping off the animal rights playbook. (Though I think Weed Rights International will probably precede Particle Rights Universal.)