Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Free Will

Minor remarks concerning Dennis Overbye's excellent New York Times Article, "Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don't"

Regarding Dr. Levin's characterization of Godel's work on incompleteness, I find her use of the term "complex" problemmatic. A key point of the related Church-Turing Thesis is that a great many systems (both natural and formal) are equally complex - and that it really is not asking so much of these systems that they should behave in such a way. As is made especially clear by Zenon Pylyshyn in "Computation and Cognition," the import of Dr. Levin's statement to the subject of free will lies in the implications of how intelligence is defined, rather than complexity or representation. In a very real sense, the behavior of asteroids orbiting a star are every bit as complex as the behavior of a human brain (or mind, depending on how one chooses to discuss such things). The real questions here are "what is intelligence?" and "is intelligence a necessary or sufficient condition for free will?" Have you ever watched a time-lapse motion-picture of a vine crawling up a pole? Do the reachings of its tendrils and the twistings of its stem not look eerily intelligent?

As strange as it may seem, the most intuitive escape from this crisis of intuition comes from that most counter-intuitive branch of physics, quantum mechanics. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the "spooky" phenomena of quantum entanglement, which so vexed Albert Einstein, say, literally and demonstrably, that the future is not determined. There are limits not only for knowledge, but also for causality and locality (Einstein may have been right to say that God does not play dice, but he was surely mistaken about what it means for God to do so). Mr. Overbye is quite right to say, "the more reasonably you try to act, the more unpredictable you are."

No comments: