Free Will vs Group Think

John K Clark (
Sat, 25 Jan 1997 22:42:47 -0800 (PST)


On Sat, 25 Jan 1997 Omega <> :

>Von Neumann was a very great mathematician, I don't think the man
>was capable of making a mathematical blunder even if he wanted to,
>however Von Neumann was not a great physicists, his mistake was
>physical not mathematical.

>Sorry, his blunder was mathematical not physical.

First of all I want to make it clear that I'm not defending Von Neumann's
proof, I'll grant you that it's wrong, I'll even grant you it's silly, but
only because the axioms he used were silly. I quote from "The Cosmic Code"
by the late great Heinz R Pagels page 166:

"Von Neumann's proof was logically flawless, but as Bell first pointed out,
one of the assumptions that went into Von Neumann's proof did not apply to
quantum theory and therefore the proof was irrelevant."

>Specifically he applied the average of a set to the individual
>members of that set when doing his mathematical proof.

Exactly, he thought it was physically obvious that because a quantum system
on average obeys commutative rules then each individual part of it must too.
There would be nothing illogical about a world that worked that way, it just
doesn't happen to be the physical world we live in. As I said, Von Neumann
was a great Mathematician but not a great Physicists. I quote from
"Quantum Reality" by Nick Herbert page 50:

"Von Neumann and his colleagues had shown that any scheme in which ordinary
objects combined "in reasonable ways" could not reproduce the results of
quantum theory. Bell showed that Von Neumann's notion of "reasonable ways"
was unnecessarily restrictive. In particular, Von Neumann would not have
considered "reasonable" electrons which could adjust their attributes via an
invisible field that can sense the configuration of the measuring device.
Bohm's model, which is based on such context-adaptable electrons is not
"reasonable", hence it evades Von Neumann's proof. The fact that thirty
years passed before this loophole was discovered is a measure both of the
authority of Von Neumann and the leisurely pace of quantum reality research".

None of this has anything to do with Von Neumann's lack of mathematical
ability, it has to do with his lack of physical intuition concerning what is
physically reasonable and what is not.

>The short definition of free will is: "The ability or discretion to
>choose; free choice" [The American Heritage dictionary 3rd edition].

Yeah, and if you look up free choice in the same dictionary I am sure you
will find something like, the act of making a decision based on free will,
and round and round we go. I don't think you will find much insight in this
matter by reading the dictionary, most Lexicographers are not great

I gave you my definition, it's precise and as good as any I've seen, I'll
give it again: A being has free will if and only if it can not predict what
it will do next.

>I think there's a big jump when going from 'feeling that we have
>free will' to 'actually having free will'.

Not a big jump at all, not even a hop if you use my definition, and that's
the only one I have ever found useful.

>I don't think the question of determinism has much to do with
>free will. He [Turing] proved that no computer program (and I think
>that's what we are) can predict what it will do next, that is, if it
>will ever stop. The easiest, indeed the only way to know what a
>computer program will do is to run it and see, we figure out what we
>are going to do when we actually do it. This would be true
>regardless of whether the Universe is deterministic or not.

>This is misleading in the extreme. Free will has everything to do
>with the absense of determinism

Why? Everything, absolutely everything, happens because of cause and effect
OR it does not happen because of cause and effect, and if it does not then it
is by definition random. From your last post I thought we agreed on this.

>To take the inverse of this and define free will as the absence of
>predictability is to gratutitously redefine the meaning of the term
>"free will" itself

Forget about redefining it, just define it so I can have some idea about what
we're talking about here, and please, no circular dictionary definitions.
If you don't like my definition then I'm willing to continue this debate
using your definition regardless of what it is, provided only that it is
precise and logically consistent.

>This gratutituous redefinition of "free will" to mean Turing non-
>predictability in the AI, extropian, and scientific community is, in
>general, a strong testament to the pervasiveness of "group think"

Yes, I've found that nearly everybody I meet on the street has exactly the
same opinions I do.

>or "political correctness"

Also true, as any long term member of this list will tell you, I've never
made a politically controversial statement in my life.

>The redefinition of words to new meanings is right up there with
>the Marxist rewriting of history.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party.

John K Clark

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