Wednesday, 25 June 2008

ON CHANCE AND PROBABILITY...

There is no reality like empirical reality.

Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, clearly demonstrates that the proton's future can be predicted only in terms of probabilities. Even though quantum events are, in a statistical sense invariable, their future is intimately bound up with their relationship to human consciousness. Now all but forgotten, something of this relationship has haunted modern science ever since Ernest Rutherford in 1903, together with Soddy, determined that under actual conditions such as occur in radioactive decay, every substance has a characteristic half-life which, on the basis of calculations made, is precisely the time it takes for half a given quantity of nuclear material to disintegrate. We may not know when any one particle will disintegrate, over a given time, but we know a determinate number of them inevitably will.

But what Rutherford really contrived was the replacement of physical determinism by statistical probabilities. For while observation has shown that the period of decay is precisely that predicted by theory, by any measurement we can make, the process itself is random. We may talk of a principle, but it is a curious reflection upon the lawfulness of this principle that the disintegration of radioactive atoms is governed only by the laws of chance. Nor can it be said that the theory of quantum indeterminacy deserves serious refutation. And yet, it is a distinctly discomforting thought that the very concept of reality should be extracted from statistical projection alone.

Which brings me to the next point:


Take the toss of a coin! If you throw a fifty-pence piece into the air, say, a hundred times, the expected ratio would be fifty-fifty - head or tail - give or take a few. The pattern is so obvious it barely needs arguing. But in empirical terms, this makes no sense at all. Certainly not so far as the concurrence or frequency of either head or tail is concerned. As a test of resolve and persistency as much as anything else, you’ll find that it rarely, if ever, exceeds five or six replications in a row. So naturally, the question arises what about the subsequent throw. Since the mechanics of each throw are determined only by themselves, the mathematical chances of either head or tail coming up will continue to be exactly fifty-fifty - indubitably and ad infinitum! Or will it? Once again it seems that reality is hiding at least part of the truth. Though I don't think anyone can accuse me of giving the plot away if I reveal that, in a predictable reversal, the likelihood of head coming up for a sixth or seventh time, is inversely proportional to the already accumulated tally. In other words, nobody would place his money on "heads," if heads has come up six times in a row. It requires no great insight to see that. Somehow, the sheer logical force of this necessity must prevail. And don’t try betting against it. For even though what exactly happens here remains a matter of some controversy, what is clear is that reality makes little pretence of objectivity. The result reflects the priorities of those who are in the know, rather than those of the statistician. And if reality is an illusion that can only exist in the mind, then nothing is so coercive as the cast of man’s mind.

Forget Hamlet - think of Alice in Wonderland.

The actual possibility for the same thing to be and not to be, introduces complexities which may well set up the idea of conceptual conflict. But no one would deny - in a related analogy - that whenever a stationary electrical charge is set into motion or accelerated, that it will generate an electromagnetic field. Conversely, of course, such a field may be expressive of electromagnetic motion, particularly as seen for instance from the stationary observer’s point of view. The trouble is that the field has to be explained from one set of rules if viewed from the perspective of the fixed observer, but from quite another when considered by an observer who happens to be in motion with it. More significantly, a gulf of experience separates them: the field does and does not exist!

However, so say so is to draw attention to the fact that while reality may be a matter of statistical calculation, chance is admitted as part of its structure. And although, for my own part, I am opposed to anything in the nature of Providence, in view of the conditions just described, probability emerges as the projection of a synchronized manifestation - the manifestation of an anthropic concept rather than mathematical causality. And not merely because it is the vehicle of recognized ideas and perceptions, but precisely because it provides exactly the properties necessary to constitute the great determining principle of reality, if not by virtue of causality, at least as the result of what might be described as logical necessity.

The purely statistical laws of chance, in other words, not only have a very special bearing on the essential nature of reality, but actually furnish the physical determinism which the laws of causality have failed to provide. What it emphatically does not mean is that we have found any universal system of measuring reality. What it does mean is that humans have long colluded in a concept of reality that fits the expectations of the human mind. And our demonstrating them a posteriori as a necessary consequence of the anthropic principle, means that we are not studying facts, but a mathematical model that describes and codifies our perception of facts, not events, but their synchronization by human comprehension.

Dreamy


6 comments:

Jonathan said...

But isn't there a difference between the impossibility of our comprehending facts and events, except through the filters of our human knowledge systems (which I can accept), and the question of whether or not there is an objective reality independent of our knowledge making processes.

I think our relationship with reality is symbiotic and co-operative - because we ourselves are constituents of that reality and finite creatures of determining power, but not dominant. Science wanted, humbly, to presume there was a reality only separate from us; which we could know as if we were not an influencing part of it, as if we were able to abstract ourselves from it, see it for what it is. But another mistake, I think, recoiling from that one, can be to surge to the other extreme, to deny any objectivity set over against us, just because of our intimate involvement in knowledge construction. The paradoxical middle ground may be dull, but is usually right, I find.

We both do, and do not, fashion our reality, or that there are limits to our power, even though grandeur in it.

Richard Havers said...

Dreamy, I love your posts but they might be a tad easier to read if the line length was reduced slightly. It's a long spread to read with ease on screen. Maybe it's just me....cos I'm an old fart!

Having said that my relationship with reality is filtered through a need, an absolute, to try and stay young in thought, word and deed. I'm no fan of the 'middle ground' it's what gives us grey.

Bob said...

'God does not throw dice'. Although I don't believe in God, I do believe that everything is deterministic. IMHO everything that we attribute to chance (the future of a proton, which particle will decay next) is in reality predictable, we just do not have the detailed knowledge and the understanding at this point in time to do that. In certain instances we never will because of the limited possibilities of our own brains (speaking mostly for myself).

The probability of a quarter showing heads seven times in a row is 0,007185 which is admittedly very small. The probability of the quarter showing head after it showed head six times in a row is still 50% however, no matter how much you think that things should get back to normal or how many complicated sentences you throw at it.

Just my two cents. I like reading your posts.

Bob

Selena Dreamy said...

“...the question of whether or not there is an objective reality independent of our knowledge making processes.”

Neither relativity nor quantum theory distinguishes the agent from the action. But intrinsically, like other aspects of the phenomenal world, the universe is meaningless. Nothing is of itself. There are no imperishable, let alone everlasting, standards of cosmic existence and, for this little matter called “the thing in itself”, no possibilities of arriving at any unification with respect to the one-sided and the universal point of view.

Think about it, Jonathan. And thank you again, I always value your contributions.

Selena Dreamy said...

“I love your posts but they might be a tad easier to read if the line length was reduced slightly.”

I totally agree, Richard. That’s why I’ve been experimenting with different fonts. But how to shorted the line? Methinks I find it easer to furnish evidence that the Theory of Everything can never, even in principle, be adduced in proof of itself.

(as a matter of fact, I think I will)

D.

Selena Dreamy said...

that we attribute to chance (the future of a proton, which particle will decay next) is in reality predictable, we just do not have the detailed knowledge and the understanding at this point in time to do that.

With respect, Bob, but this is not a view accepted by the scientific establishment.
Observation of the microcosm cannot - on principle - furnish exact data. This is a difficulty which does not arise out of any vagueness in reality's meaning, but precisely because the atom is inherently unknowable.


The probability of a quarter showing heads seven times in a row is 0,007185 which is admittedly very small. The probability of the quarter showing head after it showed head six times in a row is still 50% however....

....which superbly illustrates the bizarre contradictions as yet unresolved in the theory of knowledge.