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Book Reviews
Mind, Quantum and Free Will
By: Peter Ells - O-Books, $31.95

Description: The mind-body problem is the ultimate intractable enigma. How can we - being complex physical systems - have multicoloured experiences, and make conscious choices?

This book proposes that all fundamental constituents of the universe are agents, which perceive one another, and freely act according to their percepts.

Contemporary science can be explained in entirely mentalistic terms. This is consistent with many interpretations of quantum mechanics, such as GRW and Roger Penrose’s OR theory.

Verdict: In what is an extremely deeply generated, thoughtful and wholly encompassing new book, Mind, Quantum, and Free Will: The Birth of Physics in the Sensuous Cosmos by author Peter Ells may well be a deep, meaningful read, but at its core, the book should also expand your mind and generalized thinking on a, some might say, controversial subject matter.

My own thoughts on this subject matter, and of which many are also reflected within Ells new book, is that our belief in free will is based on the intuition of the freedom inherent in the essential nature of the mind, pure Consciousness.

Ergo, we are free to exercise that freedom in the service of the love and peace inherent in consciousness, or the fear and desire inherent in the separate self.

That said, the actual concept of free will is hard to define, but crucial to both individual and social life. For centuries people have wondered how freedom is possible in a world ruled by physical determinism; however, reflections on free will have been confined to philosophy until half a century ago, when the topic was also addressed by neuroscience.

Indeed, the first relevant, and now well-known, strand of research on the brain correlates of free will was that pioneered by Libet et al. (1983), which focused on the allegedly unconscious intentions taking place in decisions regarded as free and voluntary.

Libet’s interpretation of the so-called readiness potential (RP) seems to favor a sort of deflation of freedom (Soon et al., 2008). However, recent studies seem to point to a different interpretation of the RP, namely that the apparent build-up of the brain activity preceding subjectively spontaneous voluntary movements (SVM) may reflect the ebb and flow of the background neuronal noise, which is triggered by many factors (Schurger et al., 2016).

Free will can be defined by three conditions (Walter, 2001). The first one is the “ability to do otherwise.” This is an intuitive concept: to be free, one has to have at least two alternatives or courses of action between which to choose. If one has an involuntary spasm of the mouth, for example, one is not in the position to choose whether to twist one’s mouth or not.

The second condition is the “control over one’s choices.” The person who acts must be the same who decides what to do. To be granted free will, one must be the author of one’s choices, without the interference of people and of mechanisms outside of one’s reach. This is what we call agency, that is, being and feeling like the “owner” of one’s decisions and actions.

The third condition is the “responsiveness to reasons”: a decision can’t be free if it is the effect of a random choice, but it must be rationally motivated. If I roll a dice to decide whom to marry, my choice cannot be said to be free, even though I will freely choose to say “I do”. On the contrary, if I choose to marry a specific person for their ideas and my deep love for them, then my decision will be free.

Thus defined, free will is a kind of freedom that we are willing to attribute to all human beings as a default condition. Of course there are exceptions: people suffering from mental illness and people under psychotropic substances (Levy, 2013).

In conclusion, and with all that said, Ells’ new book is written in a way that, perhaps at times, is both challenging and yet refreshingly scholarly. Meaning that there will be many times, over many pages, during many chapters that you find yourself wholeheartedly agreeing one minute to a statement made and then profusely denying the existence of what then follows. Which is the way every book like this should be written.

About the Author - Peter Ells has given presentations on consciousness at international conferences vindicating, as compatible with science, our qualitative experiences and freedom. He lives in Oxford and has an MA in Philosophy.

Official Book Purchase Link