Tuesday, October 8, 2013

2013 Nobel Prize in Physics

The Royal Swedish Academy of Science just announced the winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics. This years winners are not very surprising at all however the press conference was delayed a full hour and a half and social media was filled with rumors of why since the Academy are usually announcing the winner on time. The press conference have never been delayed more than 5-10 minutes in the past. The simple reason that it was delayed this year was because one of the winners where “in hiding” and the Academy couldn’t reach him.

…and the winners are (surprise, surprise) professor Peter W. Higgs of University of Edinburgh and professor François Englert of Université Libre de Bruxelles “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider”.

Congratulations to both winners, it is very well deserved.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Do humans have free will or is it only an illusion?

Do you have a free will? The Bible tells us that we do but even if you’re not religious very few people would claim that we don’t have a free will. I however would claim that we are only free to choose between options that are presented to us and that that gives us the illusion of free will, the freedom to choose whatever we like. For example, if I would like to buy an ice-cream I do have a choice to pick vanilla, chocolate, or a strawberry ice-cream or I can also choose not to buy an ice-cream altogether. So isn’t this simple example proof that we do have the freedom to choose and therefore free will? I would claim: No it doesn’t!

Let me try to explain what I mean. If an ice-cream parlor only have the three flavors of ice-cream I mentioned above and for argument sake let’s say that you can only select one of these flavors and not have 3 scopes of ice-cream and picking all of them since that would not be fair since most of the time when you are presented with various options that you can “freely” choose from you can only pick one, and these choices might be life altering decisions you might have to do and not as simple as picking a flavor of ice-cream. However I’m going to go with this ice-cream analogy. OK, so picking one of these three flavors might not be so hard and it really isn’t since there is only three options, but this actually comes down to the root of my argument: A normal human being can only comfortably make a choice if the number of options aren’t more than 3 or 4, or thereabout.

Let’s say that the ice-cream parlor have 99 different flavors of ice-cream and you can only pick one flavor. Most people will look at the menu of all the flavors and have a really hard time deciding what to have. In fact most people will at this point have a feeling of discomfort simply because our brains are not wired to be presented with that many options.

Let me give you another example. Imagine a deck of regular playing cards (do not go a pick up a real deck, just imagine it in your head). The deck has all 52 cards (no jokers) and I would ask you to think of one card, any card. Please go ahead and do that before you read on….

OK, do you have a card in mind? I’m not going to do a magic trick for you here but when you are presented with this question chances are that you at least considered the Ace of Spades or the Queen of Hearts, depending a little bit on your gender, but even if you didn’t imagine any of these two cards it doesn’t matter and is besides the point, just read on. Now, let’s say that the card you have in mind is the wrong card, one that you shouldn’t have picked for some reason and I ask you to think of another card. Please go ahead and do so now…

So do you have a second card in your mind? Now be completely honest with yourself and consider how many choices you had. Oh, did you have 52 choices, any card in the deck? Really? No you didn’t! You only picked one of the 3 or 4 cards that occurred to you. At no point did you actually and truly see all the faces of all the 52 cards in your head. You might have imagined one or both of the cards I mentioned above and then a 3rd and perhaps even a 4th card, I don’t know which ones that was but let’s say that it was the King of Diamonds and the Three of Clubs (apart from the Ace of Spades and the Queen of Hearts). These choices came to you from your unconscious mind somewhere in the back of your head and you could only pick one of them. It’s rather obvious if you think about it, you can’t possibly have thought of a card that didn’t come to your mind in the first place.

When I then asked you to change your mind and think about a new card I’ll bet that you just went back to the cards you first had in mind, which you had discarded, and picked one of those. You did not come up with 4 new choices, even though you know that you could have but yet you didn’t do so.

So the illusion here is that you thought you had a free choice of 52 cards while in fact you most likely only had the choice of around four, the ones that was presented to you. Our minds truly works that way, we don’t want too many choices because that makes it hard to choose and leaves you with a feeling of discomfort. “So what?”, you might ask. Well, my point here is that you didn’t have a free choice of 52 possibilities. At no point did your brain allow you to choose completely freely and if it didn’t how can you ever claim that you did. You didn’t have a completely free will. Let me repeat that once more: Never did your brain allow you the freedom to freely choose any of the 52 possibilities. If you present this for a group of people they obviously going to think of different cards but that is not my argument. I’m only talking about the choices you had and from which your choice came from.

If we are not being presented of different choices from someone else, such as in my previous ice-cream parlor example where someone already have picked three different flavors that you can choose from, but only by choices that comes to us from our unconscious mind then are we really making a free choice? In many cases we aren’t even presented with different alternatives at all, our unconscious mind just tell us to do something and we do it without even thinking about it. I’m not talking about doing things that we know are wrong such as stealing or committing murder or anything like that (even though things like that actually happens to some people). I’m talking about things that you do on a regular basis, where when you think back you do realize that you had a choice to do something different but in reality, since that choice never entered your mind at that particular point, there was no way for you to actually choose it.

If you have never considered to become, for example, a police officer then you never really had the choice to become one. That is true regardless if you look back on your life and realize that you could have picked that particular career if you wanted to. Yes, you can think about it afterwards and give yourself the illusion that you actually had a choice to become whatever you wanted but the reality is still that if it never occurred to you at the time you did not have that choice.


If you truly had true free will you should at any point be presented with every possible choice that exist in any given point in time. However since that would be an uncountable number of choices there is no way we would than be able to make any choices at all. We always rationalize and we just pick one of the around four different choices that are presented for us. That is actually a good thing otherwise we would be completely paralyzed and never do anything at all, but it also means that we never have the complete freedom of will.

Complete and true free will is nothing but an illusion.