The Philosophy of Science Takes A Nosedive – Sept. 30, 2008

A freewill/determinism experiment in modern physics

Here is a discussion from the Linkedin philosophy groups I initiated, discussing freewill/determinism in modern physics. Let’s pretend the folks are from intelligence agencies, like Israel’s Mosaic, the US CIA, and Britain’s MI5/MI6. We’ll call the respondents with names like Agent X, etc. Let’s follow the Aristotelian laws of logic – for purposes of discussion – and “assume” the premises are true.

Premise 1: The same atom can exist light years away, in another galaxy.

This is from an email by Evangelical minister Larry Ollison:

“Recently, I was reading a nationally known magazine and I came across a very interesting article. A group of scientists and mathematicians stated that they could mathematically prove that an atom on this earth could also be light years away in another galaxy. They didn’t say that the atom on earth and the atom in the remote galaxy were identical, they said they were the exact same atom in two different places, light years apart, at the same time.

Premise 2: The very act of observing a wave will break down a wave function.

The double-slit experiment shows us essentially, that the act of observation creates a physical situation. Mainstream opinion, is that the very act of observation itself, regardless if it is by a conscious or non-conscious entity, is sufficient enough for the breakdown of a wave-function.

Premise 3: An atom has consciousness. — Human free will might seem like the squishiest of philosophical subjects, way beyond the realm of mathematical demonstration. But two highly regarded Princeton mathematicians, John Conway and Simon Kochen, claim to have proven that if humans have even the tiniest amount of free will, then atoms themselves must also behave unpredictably.


Professor Dudley is observing an experiment, involving waves. The act of observing causes the wave to break down. One atom is found in at Fermilab. The same atom is found in the physics laboratory, of the Star Wars Galactic Chamber of Scientific Research. Both atoms are conscious. Does the one in the Star Wars Laboratory have free will? Why or why not?

Agent X

Is it behaving unpredictably? That would seem to be the missing premise, right? Obviously, however, the truth of these premises is highly questionable.


Agent X,

It does add a question about the philosophy of mathematics. All three of these premises are based upon mathematical demonstration or mathematical proof. Actually, the whole “string theory” is nothing but mathematical demonstration or proof – yet a lot of brainy mathematicians demonstrate or proof it. So if we question the premises, then we need to question the philosophy of mathematics – or more concise – the demonstrations or proofs utilizing mathematics.

 It also raises many questions about brainy scientists accepting things are given, based upon mathematical demonstration or proof. It seems we are also looking at the philosophy of science, when we question the mathematical foundations, for these premises.

Agent Y

Proof” in science is a concept of science students. There is no “proof” in science nor will any epithetical descriptions of scientists make it so. There are varying degrees of corroboration (both structural and multiplicative), but using mathematics as anything other than a means by which to _describe_ the Universe fails. The simplest example is the concept of 1 + 1 = 2. What do you get when you add the speed of light to the speed of light?

Agent Z

This discussion can be seen very much on the light of Process Theology, as expressed by the late Alfred N. Whitehead. According to him, those particles, as energy events, are “actual occasions of experience” having a dual nature consisting of a physical pole and a mental pole. The former is that characteristic of it which is merely a replication of precedent occasions of experience. The latter has an element of subjectivity; that is to say, it has a somewhat partial although real freedom that allows such energy event, in the process of becoming, to have some determination over the form it adopts.


Agent Z,

I am happy you brought up process philosophy. For those who want to get up to speed, there is a Wiki article at The head of the philosophy department at Aurora University – also an evangelical Christian – was primary into Whitehead. There is a school of theology called process theology at, which is why the good professor embraces it.

Agent X,

I was thinking about the disconnection between mathematical proof/demonstration, and what reason and our senses tell us. For example, nobody really thought time and space were connected, until Albert Einstein formulated E=MC2. Now they talk about string theory (see, which is really theoretical physics, based upon mathematics. String theory tells us that there can be several dimensions to reality (I.E. – 25), but reason and our senses are grounded in three. However, I was a math major at the undergraduate level, so I have respect for mathematical proof/demonstration. And hard sciences, like physics and chemistry, are solidly rooted in mathematics.

Agent A:

One of your axioms is “an atom has consciousness”. John Conways claims that IF there should exists a human (or whatever life form) that has free will, THEN there has to exist at least one atom free from determinism. This does not give rise to the premise above, in two ways:

1. Being free from determinism does not implicate consciousness.

2. Humans might not even have free will, so the IF clause fails.

Agent X:

I’m still not buying premise 3: “But two highly regarded Princeton mathematicians, John Conway and Simon Kochen, claim to have proven that if humans have even the tiniest amount of free will, then atoms themselves must also behave unpredictably.”

First of all, it is not a claim that people have free will: it is a conditional statement. It’s also not substantiated. Additionally, science, despite its presupposition of mathematics, carries no claim of “proof” with it. Mathematics only has “proofs” because (arguably) it is a closed linguistic system. Once it is applied outside of that closed system, it is used as a _description_ of a state of affairs. A description is not the same as a mathematical proof, thusly; there is no “proof” in science. Science describes the Universe, it does not “prove” its descriptions because the application of math, having the concept of “proof” tacitly presupposed, does not have a direct correlation to any given state of affairs that exist outside o math’s formal linguistic construct. If you add a drop of water to a drop of water, how many drops of water do you have?


Agent A,

This is an interesting observation by John Conways. Since I indicated in a prior post somewhere, that Zombies were a big topic of discussion in philosophy (See and, I wonder how John Conways would relate item 1 to Zombies:

1. Being free from determinism does not implicate consciousness.

I wonder if Zombies are free from determinism?

Agent X,

I don’t know how many people that matters buy the proofs of the Princeton Mathematicians. I first like to see how many recognized mathematicians and scientists buy into it. I see you – being a non-mathematician – might be skeptical of the application of mathematics, outside its own system. But here is an interesting observation. Many great mathematicians were also great philosophers. Great means that history recognizes them as such. But I don’t recall a case (correct me if I’m wrong), where folks were both mathematicians and philosophers, having the same viewpoint on mathematics you just mentioned. Of course, this is a good question. If there are famous people, holding both recognition in mathematics and philosophy, do they publicly agree with your viewpoint in their writings? For the famous folks being both mathematicians and philosophers, this is the statement you made where they would agree with you: “…Does not have a direct correlation to any given state of affairs that exist outside of math’s formal linguistic construct.”

Agent B:

Agent X,

If anything, quantum statistics shows its ontological indeterminism; a degree of freedom within uncertainty if you wish. That does not imply pointless randomness, but chance, which are constrained by both historical opportunity, and some underlying, non-objective structure (akin to the “logos spermatikos” of the good old stoics, I dare to say), which we can partially grasp. And what we grasped so far is that the news of the regularity of the Newtonian world-as-machine was somewhat premature.

So, if there’s any room for subjective becoming at all, some form of “consciousness”, no matter how limited, must be intrinsically to the nature of atomic particles.

Agent X


Again, I’m not arguing against mathematics as being inconsistent with philosophy, simply saying that despite the Pythagoreans, “math” does not exist in the universe. It is used in science as a _description_ of the universe. This is why the GUT remains elusive and math religions are few and far between. It also explains why LinkedIn doesn’t let us clean up our responses instead of deleting and reentering (not really, but I definitely agree with you on that one).

Agent B,

I’ve always liked quantum theory’s implications on the incompleteness of our description of the universe as well as its potentiality to show logical contradiction in our ability to provide a comprehensive theory of causality. Namely, because I think that by doing so, we could put the free will/determinism thing to rest. I, personally, am not particularly keen on supervenience, epiphenomenalism, or, as it its current form “emergence” theory. However, I would reluctantly agree that if “mind” _is_ to manifest then particulate consciousness would seem to necessarily obtain even if it is beyond our grasp as to how it does so. Again, my personal theory is that, in the same way one can’t have an atom without its components’ components, one can’t have “mind” without those particles having indeterminate attributes that carry up to the level of brain. The primary reason that I struggle with such a theory is that one then runs into the problem of being able to “stop” consciousness at “brain” level when “brain” is comprised of the same sub-sub-atomic particles as any other hunk of stuff. That said, it does appeal to my guna nature so maybe I just need to be a bit more enlightened on the whole matter. 🙂

“Even stones have a love, a love that seeks the ground.”

Meister Eckhart


Agent X,

Thanks for clarifying your answer. Did you ever read Wittgenstein’s Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers by David Edmonds and John Eidinow? But it is a great book, by the way. The book is described, along with reader reviews, at

At least we aren’t going after each other with “virtual pokers” – like the famous philosophers in that book – because we didn’t wait for the clarification of previous posts. I don’t look at the “idea math theorem” existing in the Platonic world either. Thanks for quoting Meister Eckhart, as he’s one of my favorite theologians.

For the benefit of forum readers, I will give a couple references, to terms Agent X used:

For the record, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and Wiki articles, are great sources for Internet information on philosophy.

Agent X


Thanks to Randy. I sincerely apologize for failure to define the terms I used. I was writing “train-of-thought” which also brings to light the fact that I should have went back and checked my spelling. 🙂


Agent X,

No problem. I always assume that not all folks on the forum are familiar with big words used in philosophy, so I try to make external reference links, where I can. Now if I substituted “stream of consciousness” for “train of thought writing”, then folks would wonder what I met. Whoops! Another reference needs to be made –


Will we continue this conversation next week? Or will we cover something other than philosophy – something easier to understand – like entertainment at a Three Stooges Convention? Maybe we will study the metaphysics of Moe and Curly, as Moe says to Curly: “See this hammer? See that nail? When I nod my head, you hit it!” And we might watch Curly respond in a Zen manner, and enlighten Moe. Actually, we will do something completely different. It’s called, “Steve! Why did you do this to me?” Stay tuned

Randy Kemp



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  2. […] the philosophy of science takes a nosedive – sept. 30, 2008 it does add a question about the philosophy of mathematics. all three of these premises are based upon mathematical demonstration or mathematical proof. actually, the whole “string theory” is nothing but mathematical demonstration or … […]

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