|Einstein, for all his influence on quantum theory, did not like it, referring disparagingly to the strange behaviour of particles as "spooky action." Quantum physics is a conundrum, on one hand generating real world technologies—nuclear power, transistors, global positioning systems—yet at the same time it remains full of mysteries. In the dual slit experiment a given particle may seem to be in two places at once, in the case of entanglement two particles may seem to be actually communicating with one another, and over vast distances at that.
We can maybe be forgiven for drawing parallels to the 17th century scientist and philosopher, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, who believed that the universe is made up of small particles called monads that are charged with free will. It is important to be careful with the term "free will." I don't think Leibniz meant that particles are sentient, but rather that they are aware of one another's behaviour, and together create a harmonic whole. Says Leibniz:
...it must be said that there is nothing in things except simple substances, and, in them, nothing but perception and appetite. Moreover, matter and motion are not so much substances or things as they are the phenomena of percipient beings, the reality of which is located in the harmony of each percipient with itself (with respect to different times) and with other percipients. (quoted from the Oxford Companion to Philosophy)
As Siobhan Roberts reported in Toronto's Globe and Mail (March 19, 2005),two mathematicians from Princeton recently claimed to have proven that fundamental particles have free will. This claim was disputed by Hans Halvorson, a Princeton philosopher:
In fact, what it seems is that [they] proved indeterminism -- that the future is not fixed by the past. There are good arguments that free will and indeterminism don't have a lot to do with one another."
Dr. Conway and Dr. Kochen rebut.
Kochen: There is no essential difference [between free will and determinism]. We're not talking about free will as a moral decision, about good and evil, or whether or not you should divorce your wife. If the experimenter's choice is to be called 'free will,' I don't see why one may not use 'free will' for the same property of the particle.
It seems as if these guys are playing a little fast and loose with the language. The existential wilderness of weird tiny particles should not open the door for us to start imposing mushy human narratives on everything.
Conway: The world is a wonderful, willful place. Where does free will come from? Well, we're made of particles. So probably, somehow, our own free will is derived from that of the particles we're made of....
Philosopher Mary Midgley takes scientist Richard Dawkins to task for his use of metaphor in her essay Gene-juggling:
Every metaphor suggests a model; indeed, a model is itself a metaphor, but one which has been carefully pruned. Certain branches of it are safe; others are not, and it is the first business of somebody who proposes a new model to make this distinction clear. Once this is done, the unusable parts of the original metaphor must be sharply avoided; it is no longer legitimate to use them simply as stylistic devices."