Free Will – Fact Or Fiction

free willˌ frē ˈwil
1. the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.
synonyms: self-determination, freedom of choice, autonomy, liberty, independence
adjective: free-will; adjective: free will; adjective: freewill
1. (especially of a donation) given readily; voluntary.
“free-will offerings”

Free Will, is it real? Or is every acton we believe we have made the decision to take, in the moment, already been decided for us at some point in the past and all we are doing is carrying out the motions required of us while still thinking we are driving the bus.

This question has been bothering me a bit lately and I am starting to feel I have no choice in the matter and must agree that there really is no such thing as free will.

What Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins have to say offers no real hope for free will.

Here is a very well done view from the psychological side of things.

Do We Have Free Will?
Is free choice real, or is it just an illusion?
Seth Schwartz Ph.D

One of the oldest questions in psychology, and in other fields such as philosophy, is whether humans have free will. That is, are we able to choose what we will do with our lives?

Our choices feel free, don’t they? I decided to be a psychologist because I felt called or inspired to understand what makes people tick. That was my choice, wasn’t it?

The free will issue is especially thorny because it represents a collision between two opposing, yet equally valid, perspectives. From a purely metaphysical perspective, if we don’t have free will, why are we here? What is the point of life if we cannot choose our own paths? Yet from a purely scientific perspective, how is it possible that anything can occur without having been caused by something else? If we really can choose, then these choices must be uncaused – something that cannot be explained within the model of science that many of us rely on.

There is no consensus within psychology as to whether we really do have free will – although much of our field seems to assume that we don’t. Freud and Skinner didn’t agree on very much, but one thing they did agree on was that human behavior was determined by influences within or outside the person. Freud talked about unconscious conflicts as causes of behavior, and Skinner talked about environmental contingencies, but either way we were not free to decide.

New “threats” to the possibility of free will have come from fields such as neuroscience and genetics. Many neuroscientists, armed with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other brain scanning tools, argue that, now that we can peer into the brain, we can see that there is no “agent” there making choices. John Searle (1997) approaches consciousness from a biological perspective and argues that the brain is no more free than is the liver or the stomach. Geneticists are discovering that many psychological experiences are linked with gene-environment interactions, such that people with a specific gene are more likely to react in a certain way. For example, van Roekel et al. (2013) found that girls with a specific oxytocin receptor gene felt more lonely in the presence of judgmental friends than did girls without this gene. These results suggest that at least some of what we perceive as “free” responses are really determined by our biology, our environment, or both.

In a controversial set of experiments, neuroscientist Ben Libet (1985) scanned participants’ brains as he instructed them to move their arm. Libet found that brain activity increased even before participants were aware of their decision to move their arm. Libet interpreted this finding as meaning that the brain had somehow “decided” to make the movement, and that the person became consciously aware of this decision only after it had already been made. Many other neuroscientists have used Libet’s findings as evidence that human behavior is controlled by neurobiology, and that free will does not exist.

Further still, Harvard University psychologist Daniel Wegner and his colleagues (e.g., Pronin et al., 2006) have conducted studies suggesting that people claim control over events that are initiated by others. Fans try to “give good vibes” to a basketball player shooting critical free throws, or to a football quarterback trying to complete a pass. Yet common sense tells us that our “vibes” have nothing to with whether the player makes that free throw or completes that pass. Wegner argues that what we call “free will” is really just events whose causes we don’t understand.

So is there any hope for free will? Are we really controlled by our biology and our environments?

Some psychological theories are actually based on an assumption of free will—or at least they are at first glance. Self-determination theory, for example, holds that volitional functioning—intentional, freely chosen behavior—is a basic human need (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Theories of personal identity, especially those rooted in Erikson’s (1950) ego psychology, state that adolescents and young adults must deliberately make sense of the world around them and of their place within that world (Côté & Levine, 2002; McAdams, 2013). Maslow’s (1968) humanistic theory regards self-actualization—identifying and living according to one’s highest potentials—as the ultimate goal of human existence.

This brings us to an inherent incompatibility. How can a person make self-determined choices, make sense of the world, and even self-actualize when neuroscientific evidence seems to indicate that our brains are making decisions before we even realize it? Are we claiming responsibility for events that have little or nothing to do with conscious intention? Are we really just automatons—creatures without the ability to choose? And if we are, what is the need for volitional functioning, making sense of the world, or self-actualization? An automaton would have no need for any of these things.

The free will issue has huge issues for many areas of our society, including our legal system. If a criminal defendant has no free will, then he cannot be held responsible for his crime, because he could not have chosen otherwise. A child who fails an exam cannot be punished, because that test score could not have been different. A parent who spoils her children is not doing anything “wrong”, because she did not make the choice to raise her children in any specific way.

Psychologists such as Roy Baumeister (2008) have attempted to develop a science of free will, but much of Baumeister’s argument focuses on the consequences of believing (or not believing) in free will—rather than on whether or not we actually have free will. Put differently, what matters is whether we think we are making choices, regardless of whether our behavior is really “uncaused”. For Baumeister, believing that we are free leads us to act as though we are, and he and his colleagues (Baumeister, Masicampo, & DeWall, 2009) have conducted experiments indicating that telling people that they have no free will leads them to behave in socially irresponsible ways such as cheating and refusing to help others.

So do we really have free will? Is this question even answerable? If we did not have free will, then a scientist who was able to measure all of the determinants of our behavior should be able to explain 100% of our behavior. If we did have free will, then even measuring all of the determinants would leave some of our behavior unexplained. Unfortunately, we don’t know all of the determinants of human behavior, and we may never understand all of these determinants—so the question of whether or not we have free will is likely to remain a philosophical quagmire.

But if Baumeister is correct, then does it really matter whether we actually have free will? Or does it matter only whether we believe that we do? And if the latter is true, and if Baumeister’s findings regarding how people behave when they think they don’t have free will are accurate, then should scientists be careful about making statements against free will? Are such statements encouraging people to behave as though they are not responsible for their behavior?

And perhaps psychology cannot speak to whether criminal defendants should be held accountable for their crimes. Libet’s experiments may have simply demonstrated that the brain is “gearing up” to initiate an action, which does not contraindicate free will. Gene-environment interactions generally explain very small percentages of variability in behavior, suggesting that there is a lot left over to be explained by other factors. The fact that we might overestimate the extent of our influence, as Wegner has found, does not necessarily mean that we have no influence at all.

So we are left pretty much where we started. Whether or not humans have free will is a question that philosophers have debated for centuries, and they will likely continue to do so. Psychology can provide some insights into how free will—or at least a belief in its existence—might work, but beyond that, we likely cannot verify or invalidate its existence. What is important, however, is that we treat each other (and ourselves) as self-determined beings whose thoughts and feelings are important. In that regard, Baumeister’s research has much to teach us. Maybe we should just follow the Golden Rule after all.


Baumeister, R. F. (2008). Free will in scientific psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 14-19.

Baumeister, R. F., Masicampo, E. J., & DeWall, C. N. (2009). Prosocial benefits of feeling free: Disbelief in free will increases aggression and reduces helpfulness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 260-268.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.

Libet, B. (1985). Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 8, 529-566.

Maslow, A. H. (1968). The farther reaches of human nature. New York: Van Nostrand.

McAdams, D. P. (2013). Life authorship: A psychological challenge for emerging adulthood, as illustrated in two notable case studies. Emerging Adulthood, 1, 151-158.

Pronin, E., Wegner, D. M., McCarthy, K., & Rodriguez, S. (2006). Everyday magical powers: The role of apparent mental causation in the overestimation of personal influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 218-231.

Searle, J. R. (1997). The mystery of consciousness. New York: New York Review of Books.

van Roekel, E., Verhagen, M., Scholte, R. H. J., Kleinjan, M., Goossens, L., & Engels, R. C. M. E. (2013). The oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) in relation to state levels of loneliness in adolescence: Evidence for micro-level gene-environment interactions. PLoS One, 8(11), Article e77689.

And finally, my all time anthem for the concept of individual freedom of choice (or what I used to be think it was before science got in the way of my wishful thinking).

Freewill – Rush
Music: Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson
Lyrics: Neil Peart

There are those who think that life
Has nothing left to chance
With a host of holy horrors
To direct our aimless dance

A planet of playthings
We dance on the strings
Of powers we cannot perceive
“The stars aren’t aligned –
Or the gods are malign”
Blame is better to give than receive

You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will.
There are those who think that
They were dealt a losing hand
The cards were stacked against them
They weren’t born in Lotus-Land.

All pre-ordained
A prisoner in chains
A victim of venomous fate
Kicked in the face
You can’t pray for a place
In Heaven’s unearthly estate

Each of us
A cell of awareness
Imperfect and incomplete
Genetic blends
With uncertain ends
On a fortune hunt
That’s far too fleet…

A Pebble In The Well

A Pebble dropped in a well in the Mines of Moria by an inquisitive yet foolish young Hobbit brings a dire admonishment from Gandalf about not awakening things in the deep. This to me seems to equate in some fashion to our particle physics experiments causing detectable ripples in the fabric of space and time within our universe and possibly within the entire scope of the multi-verse – caution is advised.

An infinity of universes implies an infinity of possibilities could come-a-callin’ in response to our inadvertent signaling. Much the way Stephen Hawking has suggested exercising caution with the electromagnetic signals sent out in attempts to communicate with other intelligent civilizations in the galaxy, we may also wish to be cautious with creating disturbances in the basic fabric of reality with things like the LRC and other high energy particle physics experiments.

Peace Out!

Eye Of The Beholder

Standard Model Quark Chart

Behold, the Standard Model, it ain’t beautiful, but it works!

The Standard ModelBeauty is quite often in the eye of the beholder.  It may not be as beautiful of a theory as we think it is, but everything we have in our modern world works because of it and several other provable theoretical constructs.

All of the technology we have built comes from these combined sets of theories AND they each work “Every Single Time” when they are tested and applied which are requirements number 1, 2 & 3 of real science and the technology that arises from it’s application.

Our entire industrialized civilization is built on our supposedly complete understandings of Thermodynamics, The Four Fundamental Forces & The Standard Model Of Particle Physics with Quantum Mechanics along for the ride because you cannot prove it is wrong. Everything tested 6 ways from Sunday to be absolutely mathematically correct to the smallest decimal point and infallible in practical use.

Then things start to get murky with developments concerning Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the last few years. Our current best direction of thinking about how it all really works is String Theory and following it would seem to suggest that what we currently think we know about how it all works is wrong, yet it still works.

So the question we now have to ask is, where did we go wrong? Or possibly more useful to ask is where do we start to go right again?

To quote something I read many years ago and have remembered to this day.

“We have not succeeded in answering all of your questions. The questions we have answered have only served to raise a new level of questions. We believe we are as confused as ever, but on a higher level, and about more important things”

Final thought regarding the Standard Model is a question that I have to ask myself whenever I think of the Particle Zoo “is any particle we can find actually real?”

CERN: The Standard Model Of Particle Physics:


Simplicity To Complexity

A Mathematical Explanation For Morphogenesis


BY A. M. TURING, F.R.S. University qf Manchester

(Received 9 November 195 1 – Revised 15 March 1952)

It is suggested that a system of chemical substances, called morphogens, reacting together and diffusing through a tissue, is adequate to account for the main phenomena of morphogenesis. Such a system, although it may originally be quite homogeneous, may later develop a pattern or structure due to an instability of the homogeneous equilibrium, which is triggered off by random disturbances. Such reaction-diffusion systems are considered in some detail in the case of an isolated ring of cells, a mathematically convenient, though biolo:~irall, unusual system. The investigation is chiefly concerned with the onset of instability. It is faund that there are six essentially different forms which this may take. In the most interesting form stationary waves appear on the ring. It is suggested that this might account, for instance, for the tentacle patterns on Hydra and for whorled leaves. A system of reactions and diffusion on a sphere is also considered. Such a system appears to account for gastrulation. Another reaction system in two dimensions gives rise to patterns reminiscent of dappling. It is also suggested that stationary waves in two dimensions could account for the phenomena of phyllotaxis.

Alan Turing’s accomplishments in computer science are well known, but lesser known is his impact on biology and chemistry. In his only published paper on biology, Turing proposed a theory of morphogenesis, the process by which identical cells differentiate, for example, into an organism with arms and legs, a head and tail.

Now, 60 years after Turing’s death, researchers from Brandeis University and the University of Pittsburgh have provided the first experimental evidence that validates Turing’s theory in cell-like structures.

The team published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on March 10.

Turing was the first to offer an explanation of morphogenesis through chemistry.  He theorized that identical biological cells differentiate and change shape through a process called intercellular reaction-diffusion. In this model, a Alan Turing system of chemicals react with each other and diffuse across a space — say between cells in an embryo. These chemical reactions need an inhibitory agent, to suppress the reaction, and an excitatory agent, to activate the reaction. This chemical reaction, diffused across an embryo, will create patterns of chemically different cells.

Imagine a field, with grass as dry as bone, teeming with grasshoppers. A small fire starts in one patch of the field and the grasshoppers hop away to avoid it. As the bugs hop, they perspire, wetting the grass along the way. The fire jumps to another part of the field, the grasshoppers hop away, creating another island of wet grass.

Now, picture an aerial view of this field — what was once a uniform plain is now spotted with patterns of burnt and unburned grass. This is Turing’s model of reaction-diffusion. The fire is the activator and the grasshoppers are the inhibitor. The reaction diffuses across a series of cells, activating some, inhibiting others and what was once identical is now different.

Turing predicted six different patterns could arise from this model.

Seth Fraden, professor of physics, and Irv Epstein, the Henry F. Fischbach Professor of Chemistry, created rings of synthetic, cell-like structures with activating and inhibiting chemical reactions to test Turing’s model. They observed all six patterns plus a seventh unpredicted by Turing.

Just as Turing theorized, the once identical structures — now chemically different — also began to change in size due to osmosis.

This research could impact not only the study of biological development, and how similar patterns emerge in nature, but materials science as well. Turing’s model could help grow soft robots with certain patterns and shapes.

More than anything, this research further validates Turing as a pioneer across many different fields, Fraden says. After cracking the German Enigma code, expediting the Allies’ victory in World War II, Turing was shamed and ostracized by the British government. He was convicted of homosexuality — a crime in 1950s England — and sentenced to chemical castration. He published “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis” shortly after his trial and killed himself less than two years later, in June 1954. He was just 41 years old.

Nathan Tompkins, Ning Li, Camille Girabawe from Brandeis University also contributed to this paper, along with G. Bard Ermentrout from the University of Pittsburgh.

The research was funded in part by from the National Science Foundation Material Research Science and Engineering Center grant DMR-0820492 and grant CHE-1012428.

The Belousov–Zhabotinsky Reaction is a perfect example of simple chemistry exhibiting self-organizational characteristics. Alan Turing’s “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis” describes how, in circular arrays of identical biological cells, diffusion can interact with chemical reactions to generate up to six periodic spatiotemporal chemical structures. Turing proposed that one of these structures, a stationary pattern with a chemically determined wavelength, is responsible for differentiation. Quantitative testing of Turing’s ideas in a cellular chemical system consisting of an emulsion of aqueous droplets containing the Belousov–Zhabotinsky oscillatory chemical reactants, dispersed in oil demonstrates that reaction-diffusion processes lead to chemical differentiation, which drives physical morphogenesis in chemical cells.

Belousov–Zhabotinsky Reaction

Computer simulation of the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction occurring in a Petri dish

Something From Nothing

or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Foam

Based on the uncertainty principles of quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity, there is no reason that spacetime needs to be fundamentally smooth. Instead, in a quantum theory of gravity, spacetime would consist of many small, ever-changing regions in which space and time are not definite, but fluctuate in a foam-like manner.

In quantum mechanics, and in particular in quantum field theory, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle allows energy to briefly decay into particles and antiparticles which then annihilate back to energy without violating physical conservation laws. As time and space are being probed at smaller scales, the energy of such particles, called virtual particles, increases. Combining this observation with the fact that in Einstein’s theory of general relativity energy curves spacetime, one can imagine that at sufficiently small scales the energy of these fluctuations would be large enough to cause significant departures from the smooth spacetime seen at macroscopic scales, giving spacetime a “foamy” character.


Quantum Electrodynamics

Quantum electrodynamics, commonly referred to as QED, is a quantum field theory of the electromagnetic force. Taking the example of the force between two electrons, the classical theory of electromagnetism would describe it as arising from the electric field produced by each electron at the position of the other. The force can be calculated from Coulomb’s law.

The quantum field theory approach visualizes the force between the electrons as an exchange force arising from the exchange of virtual photons. It is represented by a series of Feynman diagrams, the most basic of which is

With time proceeding upward in the diagram, this diagram describes the electron interaction in which two electrons enter, exchange a photon, and then emerge. Using a mathematical approach known as the Feynman calculus, the strength of the force can be calculated in a series of steps which assign contributions to each of the types of Feynman diagrams associated with the force.

QED applies to all electromagnetic phenomena associated with charged fundamental particles such as electrons and positrons, and the associated phenomena such as pair production, electron-positron annihilation, Compton scattering, etc. It was used to precisely model some quantum phenomena which had no classical analogs, such as the Lamb shift and the anomalous magnetic moment of the electron. QED was the first successful quantum field theory, incorporating such ideas as particle creation and annihilation into a self-consistent framework. The development of the theory was the basis of the 1965 Nobel Prize in physics, awarded to Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger and Sin-itero Tomonaga.




electron positron annihilation

Today’s Tom Sawyer

My mind is not for rent
To any God or government

A modern day warrior
Mean, mean stride
Today’s Tom Sawyer
Mean, mean pride

Though his mind is not for rent
Don’t put him down as arrogant
He reserves the quiet defense
Riding out the day’s events
The river

What you say about his company
Is what you say about society
Catch the mist, catch the myth
Catch the mystery, catch the drift

The world is, the world is
Love and life are deep
Maybe as his skies are wide

Today’s Tom Sawyer
He gets by on you
And the space he invades
He gets by on you

No, his mind is not for rent
To any God or government
Always hopeful yet discontent
He knows changes aren’t permanent
But change is

What you say about his company
Is what you say about society
Catch the witness, catch the wit
Catch the spirit, catch the spit

The world is, the world is
Love and life are deep
Maybe as his eyes are wide

Exit the warrior
Today’s Tom Sawyer
He gets by on you
And the energy you trade
He gets right on to the friction of the day

A Humble Beginning

At the age of five I was given my first toolkit which had a small pair of wire clippers. I clipped every wire in the house one morning, telephone, power cords (thankfully the clippers had insulated handles LOL), doorbell cable, every cable I could find.

My dad instead of being angry asked his friend who ran the neighborhood TV repair shop to stop by and fix things. My dad told me to help and in the process I developed an affinity for things like this and the next thing you knew I was hanging out at the TV shop and helping repair things.

I started taking old TV and radio chassis home to scavenge parts for building my own electronic devices. I had a Novice Ham Radio license by the age of 10 (WN6FNC) and was winning Science Fairs with my home built gear all through school.

This is my story and that’s why I am here!