Does quantum indeterminism defeat reductionism? (Response to Coel Hellier)

  KM: I’m grateful to Coel Hellier ( @colhellier ) for writing a blogpost in response to one I wrote arguing that if determinism falls, it takes reductionism with it. Rather than expect people to bounce back and forth between these posts, I have pasted Coel’s entire blog and intercalated my responses, in bold, below. For clarity, I have color-coded his excerpts from my original blog in blue: After writing a piece on the role of metaphysics in science, which was a reply to neuroscientist Kevin Mitchell, he pointed me to several of his articles including one on reductionism and determinism. I found this interesting since I hadn’t really thought about the interplay of the two concepts. Mitchell argues that if the world is intrinsically indeterministic (which I think it is), then that defeats reductionism. We likely agree on much of the science, and how the world is, but nevertheless I largely disagree with his article.   Let’s start by clarifying the concepts. Reductionism asserts

Does freedom bubble up from the quantum realm?

I’ve been writing lately (in this article and blogpost , for example) about agency and more specifically about whether neuroscience or basic physics rule out the idea of free will, of organisms like us being able to genuinely make choices based on their own reasons and thus act as causal agents in the world. I’m grateful to Philip Goff for responding to some of these ideas in a recent blogpost and to Philip Ball for continuing the conversation in a post of his own.   I respond to their arguments here and make some more general points along the way. (For convenience, I will refer to the two Philips by their last names, which feels a bit rude, so, sorry, Philips!).    The question that Goff takes up is my claim that fundamental indeterminacy at the quantum level creates some room in which free will can operate . He quotes the following passage, which sums up the argument: “The inherent indeterminacy of physical systems means that any given arrangement of atoms in your brai

A sinister attractor – why males are more likely to be left-handed

It seems an innocent enough question: why are males more frequently left-handed than females? But the answer is far from simple, and it reveals fundamental principles of how our psychological and behavioural traits are encoded in our genomes, how variability in those traits arise, and how development is channelled towards specific outcomes. It turns out that the explanation rests on an underlying difference between males and females that has far-reaching consequences for all kinds of traits, including neurodevelopmental disorders. A recent tweet from Abdel Abdellaoui showed data on rates of left-handedness obtained from the UK Biobank, and asked two questions: why is left-handedness more common in males and why are rates of reported left-handedness increasing over time? I don’t think the answer to the second question is known but I presume it has to do with the declining practice of forcing left-handers to write right-handed. This once common practice reflects a lon