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Hassan Syed

Executive Director (Resources), Twycross Zoo, United Kingdom

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Is Universe design pre-programmed or random?

Is the incomprehension of complexity called chaos or does the true randomness exists in the universe? If we believed in what Laplace said, then we could argue that the whole universe is pre-programmed.

This could be the most compelling logical argument on the existence of intelligence outside the known physical universe.

Topics: chaos universe
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    May 8 2011: I don't think it's an argument for an intelligence or God. Although a clockwork universe did seem like a reasonable enough conclusion for a God in the days of Newton. But then again back in those days it was reasonable for men to wear make up and long curly wigs. If you walk around like that these days, someone will offer to take you to a hotel room. So the idea is were they just interpreting the clockwork as another kind of aesthetic?

    But I think on the macroscopic scale things tend to follow a cause and effect progress. On this scale we only call things random if a phenomnon is too complex for us to elucidate a real cause. Like the roll of dice appears to be random, but that is because it's hard to determine how the dice will land and travel.

    This applies to most molecular and biological systems and so on. But once we go subatomic, randomness does become inherent to the object. With quantum theory particles are calculated as probabilities. It is conceptually baffling and mathematically tedious. In traditional science and logic we are used to thinking of objects as only occupying a single position at a given time, with subatomic particles those traditional notions completely break down.
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      May 9 2011: Budimir (or anyone else who has an informed opinion):

      I've studied a bit of quantum physics - Heisenberg uncertainty principle, Schrodenger equations and the like. Have gone through the math. Applied it to hypothetical applications. Got the expected results. But was never too sure about it's true significance.

      You have reiterated the common viewpoint - that randomness is inherent to sub-atomic phenomena. But I question the truth of this statement. In fact, a discussion here calls this interpretation into question:

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qt-uncertainty

      "The interpretation of these relations has often been debated. Do Heisenberg's relations express restrictions on the experiments we can perform on quantum systems, and, therefore, restrictions on the information we can gather about such systems; ... Or else, are they restrictions of an ontological nature, i.e., do they assert that a quantum system simply does not possess a definite value for its position and momentum at the same time? ... The debate between these different views has been addressed by many authors, but it has never been settled completely."

      In other words, although it has been proven that we can't simultaneously observe a particle's position and momentum, it has not been proven that an underlying deterministic foundation does not exist.

      What do you think?
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        May 10 2011: Yeah that could be the case, but that would mean denying that the particle is a wave and saying that hidden variables make the particle behave like a wave. It seems to me that it's much more simple and rational to just assume that the particle is a wave until we have observation that shows us otherwise.

        There could be a deterministc foundation to quantum physics, but I don't see a reason why we have to assume that there is one.
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        May 10 2011: Just to clear up any confusion. By the last sentence I am asking why there needs to be a deterministic foundation of quantum mechanics if quantum mechanics according to current theory is the foundation of all macroscopic determinism.

        So if macroscopic determinism can be reduced to quantum mechanics. Why reverse the theory and say quantum mechanics can be reduced to non-macroscopic determinism.
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          May 10 2011: Agreed that it is not possible to establish (at least currently) whether there is a deterministic underpinning to the universe. But the answer to this question seems to relate to the original question asked.

          So I just wanted to point out that quantum theory does not seem to prove whether the universe is "pre-programmed or random".
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        May 10 2011: Yeah but we could say that about anything in science, the inductive method never provides absolute proof.

        Even with determinism we thought it was rigid cause and effect sequence but then we discovered quantumm mechanics and we found out that determinism only appears to be deterministic in actuality it is just a highly probable random event. One day we may find out that what seems random in quantum mechanics is somehow determined who knows. But currently we have to work with what we have.
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        May 11 2011: In 100% agreement Tim.
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      May 11 2011: Problem with quantum mechanics is that we are just starting in this domain and our knowledge is fairly limited. Until such time when we have a good understanding on the movement of sub-atomic particals and majority of scientists have agreed to the conclusiveness of that knowledge, we have to go with what we know for sure.
      This is the reason; I think there is enough room to challenge the existence of true randomness.
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        May 11 2011: The majority of the scientists have agreed that quantum mechanics is a pretty sound theory. You and Tim seem to favour determinism but determinism is not any more "reasonable" than quantum theory.

        Quantum theory predicts all the same natural phenomna as classical determinism and it does it very well. So I don't see a reason to assume that some "additional" variables are hidden from observation.
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          May 11 2011: Budimir: You're missing the point of my original posts. The majority of scientists who really address the root principles of quantum mechanics are not in agreement as to whether the randomness merely applies to our ability to observe, or is inherent in the underlying reality.

          The popular press version of quantum mechanics is that it is "based" on randomness.

          If you have any profs with a strong background in this area please do me a favor and bounce these ideas off of them. I'd really like to know how they respond.
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        May 11 2011: I don't think that's the case. And yeah I know a few professors I used to do research and I worked at the chemistry department at a university. Plus I have entire books on quantum theory which are not popular science. I have one purely on quantum theory which I use as a reference and it addresses this very issue and I have a text book from my physical chem course where the last few chapters strictly deal with quantum theory.

        The only reason why you are assuming determinism is the underlying principle is because that's what you've been accostumed to observing your whole life, that all things have a deterministic explanation, that the principles of probability only apply to phenomena where we don't have enough knowledge or information.

        But that doesn't have to be the case for subatomic particles. mathematics is mathematics, we don't govern how it applies to reality we discover how it applies to reality. If subatomic particles can be inherently probabilistic and they can predict macroscopic determinism then the theory is sound. It can't be discarded. It can only be challlenged by further results but not by proposing hidden variables. To me this is like proposing a God like mystical presence to fill in details so the theory adheres to our preconcieved notions of reality.
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          May 11 2011: You might find this interesting:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpretation_of_quantum_mechanics

          Quotes:

          "There exist a number of contending schools of thought, differing over whether quantum mechanics can be understood to be deterministic, which elements of quantum mechanics can be considered "real", and other matters."

          and

          "The Copenhagen interpretation was traditionally the most popular among physicists, next to a purely instrumentalist position that denies any need for explanation (a view expressed in David Mermin's famous quote "shut up and calculate", often misattributed to Richard Feynman.) However, the many-worlds interpretation has been gaining acceptance; a poll mentioned in "The Physics of Immortality" (published in 1994), of 72 "leading cosmologists and other quantum field theorists" found that 58% supported the many-worlds interpretation, including Stephen Hawking and Nobel laureates Murray Gell-Mann and Richard Feynman"

          The "many-worlds interpretation" is deterministic.

          Maybe you've become too accustomed to a probabilistic explanation.
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        May 11 2011: I had a completely different idea in mind because I assumed you were talking about Bohm's interpretation. That's who your original article was making a reference to, this is Bohm's interpretation.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohm_interpretation

        This is what the article you posted was talking about and I didn't see this interpretation as a credibl;e one because it relies on smoke and mirrors to describe the effects of the wavefunction.

        Hassan also made it fairly clear that he believes our knowledge of quantum mechanics is in some way incomplete, it probably is, but there is enough evidence for a credible theory in either interpretation so it's not any more "incomplete" than any classical theory.

        Now if we are discussing Many Worlds, which I neglected until you brought it up, I would say this theory could rightfully compete with the Copenhagen interpretation. I was always open to the idea of challenging the Copenhagen interpretation and we can discuss that if you want.
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          May 11 2011: No Budimir, I'm not really interested right now in going deeper into it.

          My purpose in debating the issue was primarily to test my own belief that the results of quantum physics don't discount the possibility of the totality being deterministic.

          Thanks for helping me.
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        May 11 2011: Just to note, if you scroll down further you will see that even Everett (originator of many worlds interpretation) criticizes the Bohm interpretation.
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        May 11 2011: No problem. Many Worlds is a sound interpretation, Bohm's interpretation is just awkward though.

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