Hi Bill. My name is Thomas and I’m from Los Angeles. I would really like to hear your
opinion on whether or not we have free will in the conventional meaning. Is there really
an independent ego right here that is control of my every thought and action? I think Einstein
is a determinist so he does not believe in free will, but then there’s the Heisenberg
Uncertainty Principle, although to my understanding the uncertainty is in our scientific instruments
and the inaccuracies of the measurements. Thank you.
Well, you covered a lot of ground in there but nobody knows about the nature of consciousness.
I think we have free will up to a point, but we are driven by deep, deep things like wanting
to get food, making more people, that is to say mating. And then I cannot help but notice
how much people from the same family tend to do the same things. Same families tend
to do the same things just anecdotally. But clearly I know I have made decisions based
on things that happened around me that I wouldn’t have made without being informed by history
or what I’d noticed. I know I have. Now if that turns out not to be true I would be very
surprised. Now as far as the uncertainty principle goes,
uncertainty principle is roughly there’s a quantum, there’s an amount of energy below
which you can’t measure. The old saying is you can know where the electron is or you
can know how fast it’s going but you can’t know both, not exactly because anything you
would use to measure it would inherently move the electron or change its speed. That’s the
classic uncertainty principle at work. With that said, I am satisfied now, as an engineer
and scientist, that our brains are chemical reactions and chemical reactions, at some
level, depend on quantum mechanics, on the interaction of subatomic particles based on
this extraordinary thing called quantum electrodynamics, you alluded to it.
And so at some level there’s randomness in what we think because we’re made of chemicals
that have randomness. But largely human behavior is generally predictable. There’s whole schools
full of psychologists and psychiatrists who study humans and they come across patterns,
and those patterns have got to be part of our brains and our free will has got to be
part of that. I mean I don’t mean to skirt your question, but the nature of consciousness
– you are living at a time when the nature of consciousness is not understood but it
may be very soon because we’ll build computer models or computers that are as sophisticated
or as complicated or as messed up as human brains and they will behave the same way as
human brains, as long as they’re plugged, the computers. Carry on.