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    Pam B


    REDEFINE the concept of free will? Only a Nobel laureate would have the nerve.

    Last year, the Dutch physicist Gerard ‘t Hooft announced that the weird effects that spring from quantum mechanics arise from a deeper deterministic reality based on classical physics. People objected that his theory appeared to rob us of free will, and now ‘t Hooft has responded by moving the goalposts. No, we don’t have free will as it is commonly understood, he says – but that’s because the way it is commonly understood is wrong.

    ‘t Hooft, of the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, shared a Nobel prize in 1999 for laying the mathematical foundations for the standard model of particle physics. Like Einstein, he was troubled by the indeterminism at the heart of quantum mechanics, according to which particles do not have clearly defined properties before you measure them, and you can never predict with certainty what the outcome of your measurements will be. So ‘t Hooft constructed a deterministic alternative which showed that fundamental states which exist on the smallest scales do start out with clearly defined properties. Information about these states gets blurred over time, until we are no longer able to tell how they initially arose – leading to their apparently probabilistic quantum nature, he says.

    However, mathematicians John Conway and Simon Kochen at Princeton University showed that if ‘t Hooft’s theory is true, then people’s ability to make instantaneous, unpredictable choices on a whim is similarly constrained – we don’t have free will (New Scientist, 4 May 2006, p 8).

    The revelation has been a stumbling block for his theory, ‘t Hooft admits. “It’s not the mathematics that loses other physicists,” he says. “It’s this metaphysical worry about free will. Why worry at all about a notion so flimsy as ‘free will’ in a theory of physics?”

    Imagine you are holding a cup of coffee. “I can’t change my mind in an instant about whether to drink the coffee or hurl it across the room. My decision must have roots in brain processes that occurred in the past,” he says. “What’s important is that I have freedom to calculate what happens if I throw my coffee cup. Equally, I have the freedom to calculate the effects after I drink from my cup.” What we lack is the freedom to instantaneously switch between which of these initial states we start from. ‘t Hooft calls his new formulation the “unconstrained initial conditions postulate”.

    Hans Halvorson, a philosopher of physics also at Princeton University, agrees that our ideas of free will need to be revised. “It’s likely that our naive gut reaction about what free will is may need to be radically rewritten in just such a way, if we really want to consider what’s happening at the deepest levels,” he says.

    Conway and Kochen say a deterministic theory denies us the freedom to choose what to measure about a particle’s characteristics. The only way ‘t Hooft’s theory matches experimental results, they say, is if nature is conspiring to prevent physicists measuring certain characteristics of a quantum particle by changing its properties at the same moment that they decide what to measure.

    ‘t Hooft sees nothing mysterious about this. Any decision about what to measure must have been influenced by environmental factors in your recent past, and it will take time to enact your choice as you modify your measuring apparatus. It’s safe to assume that in this time, the particle you plan to measure will also be influenced by these environmental factors – a disruption that accounts for nature’s ability to tweak what you are able to measure, he says.

    However, Antoine Suarez, a physicist at the Center for Quantum Philosophy in Zurich, Switzerland, remains troubled. “If ‘t Hooft is really correct, then the work for which he is famed was not carried out as a result of his free will. Rather, he was destined to do it from the beginning of time,” he says. “In that case, maybe his Nobel prize should rightfully have been presented to the big bang instead.”

    Suarez has performed an experiment that he claims proves ‘t Hooft wrong. ‘t Hooft’s deterministic theory and his redefinition of free will rely on fundamental states obeying causal laws, so that a chain of events can be calculated precisely, given the starting conditions. By bringing the effects of special relativity into play in a standard entanglement experiment, Suarez and his colleagues were able to check how time flow interacts with the quantum world (see “Effects without causes”). “We tested the very concept of time,” says Suarez.

    The result was a resounding success for quantum mechanics, says Suarez. His team showed that the well-behaved time-ordering ‘t Hooft needs simply doesn’t exist: there is no causality at a deep level. Suarez is submitting his paper to Foundations of Physics, a journal that is edited by ‘t Hooft. “I think it will spark an interesting debate,” Suarez says.

    ‘t Hooft is ready to meet that challenge. Although his theory cannot yet explain the results, he is confident that it will eventually do so. “After all, we know that quantum mechanics produces eccentric results,” he says. “That’s exactly why I am looking for an alternative.”

    From issue 2615 of New Scientist magazine, 01 August 2007, page 10-11
    Effects without causes

    To test ‘t Hooft’s deterministic theory, Antoine Suarez at the Center for Quantum Philosophy in Zurich, Switzerland, and his colleagues performed an entanglement experiment with a relativistic twist.

    Entangled particles are inextricably intertwined, so that making a measurement on one instantaneously affects its partner. In standard experiments, two entangled photons, A and B, follow different paths until they come to a beam splitter, which allows the photon to follow either a longer path or a shorter one to continue its journey (see Diagram). In every case, A and B make the same choice, proving they are entangled.

    A deterministic theory can explain the result if A hitting the beam splitter somehow affects the environment of B, encouraging B to take the corresponding path – a straightforward causal link. To test this, the team exploited an effect of special relativity, which causes two events to appear to occur in a different order to different observers if those observers are moving relative to one another.

    Suarez’s set-up uses a pair of beam splitters that are moving apart. An observer sitting at the first beam splitter, BS1, would observe photon A hitting BS1 – and making its path choice – before photon B hit BS2. An observer sitting at BS2, would see the reverse – that photon B made its choice before A (

    If a deterministic theory such as ‘t Hooft’s is correct, any entanglement should disappear. This is because it is not possible for either photon to “tip off” its partner about its choice before its partner chooses its own path, since both photons are making their choices both before and after their partner, depending on which beam splitter you observe from. Yet the team continued to observe entanglement. “Quantum mechanics beat both time and ‘t Hooft,” says Suarez.–is-our-understanding-wrong.html


    Great article Pam! I wonder what ‘t Hooft would make of Dr. Weiss’ work with future life progressions and the alternatives the sitters are shown based on their present/future free will decisions.

    Pam B

    Interesting! Do have more information or links to Weiss’s work writings on that subject?


    Same Soul, Many Bodies: Discover the Healing Power of Future Lives Through Progression Therapy is the book where Dr. Weiss goes into case studies of life progressions. He progresses both into the current life and into future lives. I passed the book on some time ago, but one that sticks in my memory was a present life progression of a woman who was a doctor, had worked very hard to become a doctor and was now troubled because her mother needed care and attention in ways she didn’t feel she was able to … if I remember correctly it was a traditional Asian family and the expectations for this daughter to care for her mother were extremely high. Dr. Weiss’ progressions showed her several future paths and each path offered different challenges and different outcomes. Many of the “obstacles” the daughter had perceived in the present moment were less than she anticipated and offered more rewards than dreamed of.


    So, basically free will is about the journey and not the destination.

    Then what happens when the universe comes along and kicks you in the butt because your stagnant and not where your supposed to be? It provides an opportunity to move on and learn something new when what you really want is to stay where you are where it’s safe and secure.

    Free will is about whether you react to something in a positive or negative way, and whether you really want to wear your white shoes after labor day.

    But some things are destined like death and taxes.


    So, basically free will is about the journey and not the destination.

    Hmmm. That’s not at all what I was saying; nor what I believe. I believe the journey and the destination are inexorably intertwined. If I choose A journey, I choose A destination; if I choose B journey, I choose B destination (I don’t wind up at A destination). And although you may feel like that universal kick in the butt is personal, it is — it’s the path YOU chose. You may have thought that that C journey was the safe one, but, in fact you were choosing to get kicked in the butt. I believe we are all always “where we’re supposed to be” because we choose where we are. I believe we are never NOT “where we’re supposed to be.” That’s what I love about free will, I can ALWAYS change my destination (or destiny). Having said that, I believe that when I came here I had certain intentions about my journey and my destination. I set myself up with challenges and gifts to allow my journey and my destination to unfold in a way that will ultimately allow me to be all I can be … BUT in the end, I can ignore those gifts, succumb to the challenges and wind up somewhere entirely different. I do believe, though, that those intentions are integrated into my journey and I can call upon those intentions through my higher self to attain that which I set out to attain. This actually brings us over to the discussion about the Law of Attraction and does it work … it works, but you need to have your here and now intentions in line with your past and future intentions of your higher self. It’s another one of the tools (or gifts) on our journey.

    I don’t mean to imply, by that way that having chosen A journey, I can’t change my journey several times (to B, D and Q for example) and wind up back at A destination; I will, though, have learned different things, and have been presented with different challenges or gifts than if I had stayed on the A journey path to start with. And there’s no judgment attached to that … it’s just different, not right or wrong.

    I believe that’s why we can and probably should use tools like Astrology, Numerology, Tarot, etc. to gain insight into what our higher self intentions were/are/will be for our journey and our destination. The more we connect with those higher self intentions, the more likely we are to fulfill that which we intended/intend/will intend.

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