Conway's Free-Will Theorem (was Geddes's final hurrah)

From: Mitchell Porter (
Date: Fri Aug 05 2005 - 21:34:45 MDT
I had not heard of this before. If we accept the paraphrase advanced on this
page - "if some experimenters are able to behave in a way that is not
completely predetermined, then the behavior of elementary particles is also
not a function of their prior history" - then the "theorem" gives
determinists absolutely no new reasons to believe in free will, as it boils
down to this: "if some events have no causes, then certain other events also
have no cause". But why would you believe of any event that it has no cause?

Conway's only reported argument in support of free will comes after the
lecture: "Holding up a piece of chalk, he said he felt he could choose
whether or not he would drop it or continue to hold it." So, the fate of the
chalk is determined by Conway's choice; but is Conway's choice not in turn
determined by something else, whether it be psychological or physiological,
conscious or unconscious, an aspect of himself or something external to him?
Apparently he really wants to assert the existence of something called
"whim", a type of event in the mind which has no cause at all - it just
happens. Well, he is free to postulate such a thing, but I would like to
know what sort of phenomenological *evidence* he might have for it. Even if
there is a faculty of knowledge allowing a person to say whether they are
causally involved with a perceived event, that tells you nothing about the
causes (or lack thereof) of events for which you think you are *not*

Celia Green's "The Lost Cause" looks to be a good book about mind, matter,
and causality.

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