Acting in the World: A Physical Model of Free Choice

Volume 19
Issue 2
Kathryn Blackmond Laskey
As science reaches further into the cognitive domain, questions once thought
firmly outside the realm of science are becoming subjects of scientific inquiry.
One of the foremost challenges is the relationship of our thoughts and intentions
to the world we study and manipulate. Once thought intractable, this problem
seems newly open to scientific discovery. Neurological correlates of many
cognitive functions are being discovered, yielding advances in medicine and
education. The growth of artificial intelligence raises the possibility that
intelligent behavior can be understood scientifically, formalized, and engineered
into intelligent devices. Yet the problem of free will eludes our grasp. We have the
distinct sense that we make choices, and those choices have effects. The world is
different from what it would have been had we chosen otherwise. But could we
really have chosen otherwise, or are the choices we make determined by the
electrochemistry of our brains? This paper examines a proposed theory of a
physical basis for efficacious free choice, and asks whether it can be
operationalized as a concrete, falsifiable model. The hypothesized mechanism
involves automatic generation by the brain of templates for action, which are held
in place by rapidly repeated quantum self-measurement events. A computer
simulation of this model could support investigation of whether, using
biologically plausible parameter settings, the hypothesized mechanism can
produce macroscopic behavioral effects. Ultimately, such investigations could
lead to empirical tests of the theory.

Keywords: Free will, quantum Zeno effect, neural networks, structural theory
ofcausation, synchronous neural oscillations