Why Physics Ends the Free Will Debate

Theoretical Physicist, Author, and Science Educator

Michio Kaku is a futurist, popularizer of science, and theoretical physicist, as well as a bestselling author and the host of two radio programs. He is the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory. He holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics and a joint appointment at City College of New York and the Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. He is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Kaku launched his Big Think blog, "Dr. Kaku's Universe," in March 2010.

  • Transcript


Big Think: Newtonian Determinism says that the universe is a clock, a gigantic clock that’s wound up in the beginning of time and has been ticking ever since according to Newton’s laws of motion. So what you’re going to eat 10 years from now on January 1st has already been fixed. It’s already known using Newton’s laws of motion. Einstein believed in that. Einstein was a determinist.

Does that mean that a murderer, this horrible mass murderer isn’t really guilty of his works because he was already preordained billions of years ago? Einstein said well yeah, in some sense that’s true that even mass murderers were predetermined, but he said, they should still be placed in jail.

Heisenberg then comes along and proposes the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and says: ”Nonsense. There is uncertainty. You don’t know where the electron is. It could be here, here or many places simultaneously.” This of course Einstein hated because he said God doesn’t play dice with the universe. Well hey, get used to it. Einstein was wrong. God does play dice. Every time we look at an electron it moves. There is uncertainty with regards to the position of the electron.

So what does that mean for free will? It means in some sense we do have some kind of free will. No one can determine your future events given your past history. There is always the wildcard. There is always the possibility of uncertainty in whatever we do.

So when I look at myself in a mirror I say to myself what I'm looking at is not really me. It looks like me, but it’s not really me at all. It’s not me today now. It’s me a billionth of a second ago because it takes a billionth of a second for light to go from me to the mirror and back.

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd