I've been reading a lot on determinism from a quantum mechanics perspective in order to reach a conclusion about freewill and determinism. So far, it seems that quantum interpretations (Copenhagen, Bohmian, Everett, etc) are simply interpretations, not testable. The question to whether our world is blurry/indeterminate/probabilistic or concrete/casually deterministic depends on which interpretation you like.

But the problem of freewill makes no sense whichever way you look, and I know I am stretching the theories now, but let's assume that quantum interpretations do have impacts on human behavior:

I use 'free' to mean an element of an action that is independent of all causes. But whether our actions are probabilistic or deterministic, neither are truly ‘free’, they are merely statistical probabilities, not arising out of free choice, but out of causal events. This is true whichever quantum interpretation you go with, it simply means your choice is either fixed or a probability.

The only answer I can come up with is this:

There are many causes to your actions, maybe some deterministic, some probabilistic, but there is an element that arises independently from anything before it, like the Big Bang, and only you have control over it arising. It cannot arise spontaneously, that is not freewill either, that is just chaos. It must arise out of a will. It has a 'cause' in the sense that a thought triggers a set of particles or atoms inside your brain to do something, and it leads to (the conditions for) the spontaneous creation of a particle or a spontaneous action, which has just come into existence without a prior physical cause, and begins to affect the things around you. It just appears, like the Big Bang. Some of its characteristics might be determined when it comes into being.

That would be my only explanation. Didn't Hawkings write that atoms can just pop into existence and out again? What about energy conservation? Could this atom (or set of atoms, or set of atom-activities) pop into existence through an intangible, non-physical force? I know this sounds like telekinesis magic, but quantum entanglement is pretty weird too. I've run out of options. I would like to know if this idea is theoretically possible. Physics or philosophically.

  • 1
    Actions can not be statistical probabilities, and one can equally say that "probabilistic causes" are not truly causes. If actions are subject to statistical probabilities only then they are, in the end, "truly free". If all the "causes" can do is determine probabilities of the result, but not the result itself, the final choice is "uncaused" or "free", as in electron "choosing" between two slits. Energy conservation is moot as either choice is consistent with it. Probabilities leave outcomes undetermined and wide open to "free choice".
    – Conifold
    Apr 25, 2020 at 22:29
  • There are many causes to your actions, maybe some deterministic, some probabilistic... It cannot arise spontaneously, that is not freewill either, that is just chaos. This is my feelings on the matter, but you propose that the way around it is some mystical substance called mind or thought or will that can get around this. I propose that whatever this mystical substance is that you speak of, that it is bound by the same logic above. Either this will you speak of exists in a place that is governed by laws, like physics, and deterministic, or it is governed by chaos.
    – TKoL
    Aug 4, 2021 at 13:58

6 Answers 6


If the 'element' you speak of 'arises independently from anything before it', it cannot simultaneously 'arise out of a will'. You actually specify a cause; the 'thought [which] triggers a set of particles or atoms inside your brain'.

When you state, "It just appears, like the Big Bang. Some of its characteristics might be determined when it comes into being", it is important to remember that we have no reason to think that the big bang was uncaused, and that any characteristics which "come into being" after such an event are either caused or somehow random, in which case you remain without the kind of agency that free will requires.

I stand to be corrected, but I don't imagine that if Hawking wrote that "atoms can just pop into existence and out again", that he necessarily subscribed to the idea that such events were uncaused. It would seem more reasonable to presume - given our understanding of physics to date - that the causes for now remain unobservable to us.


https://www.ams.org/notices/200902/rtx090200226p.pdf goes to "The Strong Free Will Theorem" which addresses the very subject of your question rather nicely.

  • From reading the summary here, it seems their result has to do with a loophole in Bell's inequality sometimes called "super-determinism", which I mentioned in the "violation of freedom" section of this answer I wrote up summarizing Bell's inquality. The summary seems to to say that if you say the experimenters at different locations are "free" in a sense that rules out super-determinism, with an axiom saying their choices are statistically independent of one another,
    – Hypnosifl
    Apr 25, 2020 at 20:55
  • (cont.) then the behaviors of the particles at each location must also be free in the same sense (statistically independent of one another, not explainable by their common past). So I don't think their reasons for calling it "free will" had to do with specifically wanting to rule out the idea that choices were simply random (which would itself imply statistical independence), but just to say that particles and experimenters' choices must be "free" in the same sense, which could just mean both are random.
    – Hypnosifl
    Apr 25, 2020 at 20:55
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    Unfortunately, the Conway-Kochen theorem does not address the subject in its title at all, it is a typical no go result packaged into sensational buzzwords, see Is Conway-Kochen's “free will” theorem about quantum measurements an argument for panpsychism?
    – Conifold
    Apr 25, 2020 at 22:22

Anything is theoretically possible. The question that makes sense is "can we show that this is the case ?"

With this in mind, we can can subdivide this question in sub problems:

  • what exactly is a "will" ?

  • how does it command to seemingly chaotic quantum phenomenons?

  • why does it do such only through a brain, what is more only through one specific brain?

  • when/how/why does it get associated with this specific brain ?

  • where did it get such a fine grained knowledge of physics and neural biology, that it can purposefully create specific thoughts in a brain by popping atoms in existence ?

  • how would come, although our will has this fine grained, instinctual knowledge of our brain, that we as individual don't have it ?

  • For your last two points, I don’t think these are necessary. It’s like the fact that a dog’s brain does calculus when it’s figuring out when to jump to catch a frisbee. The dog doesn’t actually have any knowledge of calculus, it’s performing this calculation in a different manner. I don’t think knowledge is necessarily part of the mechanism of will-brain interaction, all it needs is a certain capability to make the neural events happen.
    – Era
    Jul 19, 2020 at 19:25
  • The two points are still valid in my opinion. We have a very fine knowledge of how animals learn to move by training. So fine that we can apply it to robots to teach them how to reach and grab things like babies learn to, by trial and error. We have absolutely no idea of how an immaterial mind would gain a similar practical knowledge of quantum mechanics.
    – armand
    Jul 20, 2020 at 6:04
  • As for the second point, animals who know how to move just happen to, well, know how to move. Yet, our soul would know how to pop matter into existence and interfere with chemical process, but we wouldn't ?
    – armand
    Jul 20, 2020 at 6:36
  • I’m not saying that these points are invalid, just not necessary. My point is that the quantum stuff is just a mechanism, it doesn’t necessarily require any conscious understanding to use. It could be what is often called procedural knowledge or tacit knowledge. I’m also not sure about the distinction between the self and the “soul” here.
    – Era
    Jul 22, 2020 at 1:55

It cannot arise spontaneously, that is not freewill either, that is just chaos. It must arise out of a will. It has a 'cause' in the sense that a thought triggers a set of particles or atoms inside your brain to do something, and it leads to (the conditions for) the spontaneous creation of a particle or a spontaneous action, which has just come into existence without a prior physical cause, and begins to affect the things around you.

In this situation, the particles or atoms inside your brain doing something is a cause of the spontaneous creation of the particle; it's setting up the conditions. You're not going to get an un-caused cause out of this. (And such un-caused cause would just be chaos, as you say.)

The prior physical cause, in this situation, would be the thought (or, at least, the physics “implementing” the thought). As a rule of thumb, you're not going to get free will out of some exotic physics. (What happens when we understand that physics? You'll need new exotic physics.)

There are two kinds of "particles popping out of nowhere" I can think of, off the top of my head:

  • Virtual particles, where a matter / antimatter pair spontaneously forms, then annihilates. Energy is conserved, because there's no net energy change from such an event. (This is responsible for Hawking radiation and the Casimir effect.)
  • Pair production, where a high density region of (non-mass, non-kinetic) potential energy forms some matter, but that matter has enough energy to not immediately cease to be.

Neither of them meet your stated requirements; virtual particle formation is unpredictable (not, technically speaking, what a physicist would call chaotic, but it's what you're calling chaos), and pair production requires energies significantly higher than (are known to) exist in our brains.

TL;DR: No.


Your text suggests that the world is a mix of probabilistic and deterministic behaviors, but that is like saying that nature is made of objects and things. Each behavior belong to a specific domain. And that could shed some light for your answer.

A mathematical formula like v=x/t expresses a fact with 100% of probability (=determinism). The only problem is that such formula is valid only in the universe of our experience; it is false in the structural (let's call it "real") nature. The macroscopic world, the world of our interpretation, is deterministic. The real nature (the scale of qm phenomena) seems to be probabilistic. Most of mathematics is FALSE in such realm. The more we focus our lens on such nature, the more we end up observing ourselves. As the standard rule, it seems that the object is always defined by the subject, meaning that the world is so because of our subjective features.

That, on one hand, is a strong argument against determinism. On the other hand, we would need to know if there's only one future (which would make a deterministic nature) or there are multiple (that would be a probabilistic nature). But that is impossible. Or at least, we have come to know that the only way to express the future is in a probabilistic manner.

Anyway, the problem of free will is an arbitrary mix of ideas. But also in such case, the free will option seems to prevail: If our decisions are determined by few qm events, then we have free will. If our decisions are determined by massive qm events, then, there is no free will. But ask yourself, how qm-massive an event should be in order to be considered deterministic? You will probably conclude, as I did, that v=x/y carries not a probability of 100%, which is true (do the experience without excluding the results that raise from exceptional situations! The more precise you are with the measurement of the speed of a body, the more you will get convinced that the speed is a probability in a range[1]). Determinism is in consequence just an ideal.

So, you don't need of spontaneous particles creation to address the problem; that's why it is not necessary to enter in such precise issue to answer the question, since the result will be the same: if you consider qm, determinism is just an ideal mechanism that reason uses to create an interpretation of nature. As soon as qm is considered, determinism comes to be a feature introduced by the epistemic mechanism of the observer.

[1] Stating that the speed of a body is 15.329 km/h implies a probabilistic reification: depending on the rounding method introduced by the measuring device, the speed is most probably in the range 15.3285000...<speed<15.3294999... (there's no possible device that measures physical values with absolute precision, meaning that the speed is far from being exactly 15.329000000...)


Free will has nothing to do with physics. Free will is our ability to make decisions.

Decisions are not physical events, they cannot be caused, but they do cause voluntary muscle actions. Basically decisions are just information, knowledge about what the decider is about to do.

Decision-making is a mental process, not a physical one. It cannot be described in terms of physics, the laws of physics don't apply.

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    Stop selling your opinion and own definitions as gospel. On StackExchange, you have to validate your answers with references if there is the slightest hint of disputability.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Aug 4, 2021 at 10:57
  • @PhilipKlöcking, philosophy is all about opinions backed by argument. This answer leaves a lot of room for debate, but there is nothing wrong with it at a meta level. Aug 5, 2021 at 0:31
  • Philip: Only my definition of free will is an opinion. The rest is just a selection of truisms that should be obvious to anyone with half a brain. You are free to claim otherwise, but then you should back it up with extraordinary evidence. Claiming that these facts are mere opinions is not debating, does not make them debatable. Please, stop downvoting my answers for no good reason. If you are unhappy with them, provide corrections. Aug 5, 2021 at 8:06
  • @DavidGudeman Even if that was partly true, it does not change the fact that there is no argument here. It is a couple of statements backed by....nothing. And StackExchange is not some forum for exchanging ideas or opinions between whoever call themselves 'philosophers'. Experts answering your questions is the credo. And there is absolutely no expertise on the philosophy on free will exhibited here, just plain individual opinion without backup in argument or sources.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Aug 5, 2021 at 17:05
  • The reason I downvote answers is never the content or the person who posted it, it is always due to the fact that it is a bad and/or opinionated answer which is a bad fit for StackExchange and its model, ie due to the form of how it is answered. This has nothing to do with what I think to be true or false or any alternative claims. You claim to know facts while there are books written on that topic discussing that as a question up to this day, by actual professional philosophers. The attitude of just knowing it and don't having to bother knowing any actual philosophy is problematic.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Aug 5, 2021 at 17:10

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