MinutePhysics creator talks free will with UW-Madison students

YouTube personality Henry Reich explores the possibility of free will from a theoretical physicist's perspective.

Image By: Chris Gao

Do we have control over our actions? The Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics attempted to answer this question when they welcomed Henry Reich, creator of YouTube channel MinutePhysics, for a lecture on the “Physics of Free Will” Thursday.

Reich studied mathematics and physics at Grinnell College, then earned a masters in theoretical physics at the Perimeter Scholars International program, located in Waterloo, Ontario. His channel, which has over 2.6 million subscribers, features videos that take a few minutes to explain abstract concepts from parallel universes to why it is dark at night.

Reich used the lecture to explore the relationships between topics such as neuroscience, computer science and physics. After asking the audience to define free will, he partially gave his definition.

“Free will has to do with responsibility for your actions,” Reich said. “Which is why we care about free will, because, for example, the justice system relies on being able to hold people culpable.”

He followed by describing neuroscience’s link to free will.

“The brain makes decisions,” Reich said. “There is a lot of research that shows your unconscious brain makes decisions for you before your conscious brain does.”

Reich explored the question of whether humans are in control of only their conscious brain, with no free will or their entire brain and will?

“I think I am my entire brain and body,” Reich answered.

He followed with similar examples using the fields of computer science and physics arguing for free will and against the deterministic view of the universe. The talk concluded with a discussion on free will.

AHA President, Sam Erickson, organized the event. He said he had many reasons to choose Reich as tonight’s speaker.

“Henry is obviously a very well known speaker, and I hope everyone in that room enjoyed that talk,” Erickson said. “[These talks] also increase scientific literacy on our campus, which is a really integral part of any university.”

He also noted more than 183 people were in attendance.

AHA holds discussions on controversial topics every Thursday at 7 p.m. in 224 Ingraham Hall. They are also hosting the Free Thought Festival on March 13, 14 and 15 with 10 speakers on “science and politics, separation of church and state, and a wide range of issues,” according to Erickson.

Correction: A previous version of this article said the Perimeter Institute was with the University of Waterloo. It is rather just located in the city, without an affiliation to the university. 

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