Martin Kochanski’s web site


Physics and Free Will

Ever since people began to think about their own existence there has been a war between the Mouse People, for whom the Universe is just an elaborate mechanism and we nothing more than clockwork mice within it, and the Soul People, who cannot rid themselves of the belief , born of experience, that they have free will, consciousness, conscience – in short, that they have souls.

From time to time the Mouse People make forays into Soul territory and from time to time the Soul People pick holes in the Mouse view of things, citing noncomputability (the Gödel argument), or indeterminacy, or something vaguer than either.  In practice most of us occupy the boggy uncertain territory between the two.  We believe all the Mouse arguments implicitly, as we obliged to, since they are from Science and Science is never wrong; but at the same time we know (even when we try to forget) that despite everything we are real autonomous beings and not mere epiphenomena.

I once asked an eminent particle physicist who was also a practising Christian which view he took.  His answer is that he believed both: he could not see any way of reconciling them but believed in their compatibility nevertheless, because he needed to.  In other words, he avoided vertigo simply by not looking in two directions at once.

As an initial armistice this works quite well, but an unresolved contradiction never makes for a very stable world-view.  Some time later (I happened to be visiting a monastery at the time) it occurred to me to wonder what would happen if instead of fighting the Mouse view one accepted it – accepted it, indeed, more thoroughly and enthusiastically than the Mice themselves.

The papers

Martin Kochanski, “Physics and Free Will: I - The Abolition of Time”, in The Downside Review, vol. 111 no. 383 (1993) pp. 101-115.

Martin Kochanski, “Physics and Free Will: II - The Analysis of Action”, in The Downside Review, vol. 111 no. 384 (1993) pp. 187-197.

The exercise turned out to work rather well.  Time (that great illusion) was an early casualty, and with that out of the way, free will acquired not just an operational but an ontological character.

The immediate result was two papers in the Downside Review, intended to stake a claim on this line of inquiry, and the response to these papers showed that some of the arguments in them were genuinely novel: notably the argument from density, which combats some illegitimate applications of the Anthropic Principle.

The Downside Review papers were very dense, and suffered to some extent from having to explain essentially mathematical arguments to essentially non-mathematical theologians.  [J.R. Lucas used the chapter heading “Mathematical Theology” in one of his books, but it is not a discipline with many practitioners].

The next step is to quarry the dense material of the early papers and present selected arguments to a wider audience of philosophers. 


Why not everything can exist: the Argument from Density

On not simulating a universe: full paper (PDF, 212KB)

On not simulating a universe, presented at the European Conference on Science and Theology in Barcelona in April 2004.