Oliver Burkeman’s long read pitches philosophical readers against the more scientifically minded ones
I read the online version of Oliver Burkeman’s long read that raises the question of whether free will is an illusion, and shortly afterwards read the same article again in print (The clockwork universe, Journal, 27 April). I was surprised when I realised that the brief reference to quantum physics online was missing in the printed version. Was it simply a matter of space, or was it left out because it made the whole argument too complicated? Either way, its omission was unfortunate.
Most physicists would not regard the events in our universe as deterministic, or clockwork if you insist; they are in fact considered probabilistic and would leave Laplace’s demon scratching its head when attempting to make any long-term predictions. Quantum theory is fundamental to our understanding of reality, and those “tiny fluctuations” that the article mentions are an essential part of our reality. They allow the stars to shine, for instance. The argument for determinism implies a first mover, the unmoved mover, as Thomas Aquinas put it. Perhaps the quantum universe injects a multiplicity of unmoved movers, all that is needed to disrupt a predictable, in theory at least, deterministic universe and restore the possibility of free will.