It is an old question: do we really have a choice in our actions or is everything pre-determined? Philosophers have long been debating free will. Now two mathematicians from Princeton University have proved that if humans have free will, then so do elementary particles such as electrons.
In a recent paper in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, John H Conway and Simon Kochen state, “Our provocative ascription of free will to elementary particles is deliberate, since our theorem asserts that if experimenters have a certain freedom, then particles have exactly the same kind of freedom. Indeed, it is natural to suppose that this latter freedom is the ultimate explanation of our own.” Kochen says, “We’ve found that, from moment to moment, nature doesn’t know what it’s going to do. A particle has a choice.” The duo’s work involves subtle questions that come up at the intersection of quantum theory and relativity, but their results do not depend on one particular theory alone. The assumptions they start with are derived from actual observations.
The eighteenth century French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace had famously claimed, “We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at any given moment knew all of the forces that animate nature and the mutual positions of the beings that compose it, if this intellect were vast enough to submit the data to analysis, could condense into a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and that of the lightest atom; for such an intellect nothing could be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.” Conway and Kochen have put paid to the hope of omniscience: “The import of the free will theorem is that it is not only current quantum theory, but the world itself that is non-deterministic, so that no future theory can return us to a clockwork universe.”