The Demon of Laplace
Today I finally found my Supertheory of Super-Everything and its continuation in something I did not write. Strangely, considering the theory is about order in its purest form (apparently called determinism), I stumbled upon it in an article about chaos in EOS magazine, my monthly nerdporn.
I read such articles on a regular basis because I find the grey zone between perceived reality and mathematics fascinating. All these articles on chaos are pretty much the same though, bringing up the butterfly effect and countless other anecdotes without getting down and dirty about it.
But this article had the following paragraph (in Dutch):
Faith in complete predictability peaked early 19th century. French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace was the main exponent. “Laplace’s Demon” was named after him: An intelligent, supernatural creature that knows the past and future of the universe down to the smallest detail, and knows no uncertainty.
Laplace said this creature could exist, at least in theory. If it knows every particle of matter and the forces working in on it, it could predict the future, from the movement of constellations down to the smallest atom, until the end of days. Radical determinism was born.
The creature wasn’t just named a “demon” on a whim, because a completely deterministic would leave no place for human free will. Every thing would be set in stone.
This is almost word for word what I stated mid-2009. My “creature” was a computer and I even theorized such a machine in the continuation. I was pretty sure someone before me had figured this out already but to see my ideas written down so literally, shocked me. I mentally high-fived myself a few times, seeing how every detail was there and not just from some twit on the street, but a mathematician whose name appears in the press, 200 years later.
You can see how the last sentence in the paragraph unsettled me, though. Not because free will is an illusion (I got over that part) but because the sentence is formed conditionally. Things “aren’t” set in stone, they “would” be. If the theory was true, which it wasn’t?
I was tempted to stop reading, but this reflex triggered a few alarms. Usually when I have an emotional response to a new theory, scientific or other, it’s because I fear I’ll have to let my ideas go and substitute new ones. And that fear is usually grounded, but if you attach an emotional value to your theories or ideas, you’ll be less inclined to face the truth as it is, and then you might as well be lying to yourself.
Something I avoid at all cost, even at cost of my Supertheory.
Sure enough, the article proceeded to blow all that hot air into a balloon, to pop it with innocent smile. Ouch, man.
The chaos theory has been my nemesis from the start. Not only because in my young years, I was swimming through idiots who thought they had it all figured out because they heard about this butterfly flapping its wings, but because I happen to be a determinist. And again, as I predicted in my writing, I stuck with that theory because it suited me just fine, but sooner or later I would probably be faced with some thing or other that simply wouldn’t fit in.
The butterfly theory is an easy one to crack: The demon, my supercomputer, is a theoretical entity. The future can not be accurately predicted because the factors can’t be perfectly measured or calculated (although weather computers do an amazing job, considering all the butterflies around), but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible in theory. The universe is complicated, but not infinitely so!
If this, then that: If you know, you can predict.
The fact that it’s theoretically possible made it pretty obvious to me, that everything is set in stone.
But then, the article proceeded to bring up a brand new flavor of chaos, one that all the others failed to mention. The one above is called “mathematical” or “deterministic” chaos, and the article seems to agree that it’s basically a non-issue. But on a small side note, they continue on about “real” or “pure” chaos, which just might bring my whole Supertheory, my little god, to his knees with a mere few words.
It turns out, there are events in quantum physics that cannot possibly be predicted. They have no set outcome. They are in fact, so random, that they can be two things at once, and only adhere to one single state when observed. I haven’t figured out exactly what “observed” really means but bear with it.
The example of a decaying radioactive biotope is brought up. Nobody can possibly predict when it will decay, only a time span can be given. Its decay is random to the core and adds an element of actual, pure, black, frightening chaos to the universe.
However, I have an answer to that.
And who else would be there to back me up on this but Señor Shrödinger, my buffer between my comfortable little world of verbal theories and the infinite world of quantum science and its mathematical vastness.
You all know Shrödinger and his cat, of course, but actually you don’t. It’s like with the butterfly. Lemme ‘splain.
A radioactive particle is connected to a Geiger counter. When the atom decays and releases radiation, the Geiger counter activates a flask of explosive acid. This explosion is goes off inside a box, where this otherwise pacifistic scientist put his cat. Since no one can see the cat and the atom is supposedly in a “superposition” of both decayed and gone, and actually still there, the trigger mechanism would be also, and the cat would be both alive and dead and if it survives the experiment, should remember both dying and not dying.
He concludes with the following:
It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a "blurred model" for representing reality. In itself, it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.
Poetic as it might be, fuck me if I can make any sense of it.
The point of the experiment is, that there is a limit where quantum mechanics can influence Newtonian mechanics as you and I see the world, and Shrödinger looks for that limit using a cat, which might or might not count as the observer in this setup.
It is later suggested on the Wiki page that measuring the particle with the Geiger counter is about where the “observer” limit is, and the cat is either alive or dead, period.
My point is:
Since the cat isn’t actually both alive and dead, the “indecisiveness” of quantum mechanics doesn’t have a real effect on reality. So quantum particles and their strings might behave erratic and chaotic all they want, if they don’t actually influence the Newtonian universe, it doesn’t matter.
But what if chaos bleeds through? Even the slightest influence would cause a butterfly effect and over the course of enough time, significantly change the outcome of the universe as we know it, effectively making it unpredictable both in theory and practice. And I can kiss my Supertheory goodbye.
So far I don’t have a definitive answer (but hey neither did Einstein) and I don’t feel too inclined to continue searching. Not because I am satisfied with my theory (because if it’s wrong, I’m not) but because the word “Quantum” marks the edge of my knowledge with a fault line the size of yo’ momma’s butt crack. From there on, everything looks and feels like the image to the right: Someone could be making this shit up in my face and I would never know the difference. I just don’t understand any of it and the aforementioned butt crack is so wide (heh heh) that it would be impossible to scale (even though I scaled your momma last nightokay I’m done) without a few decades of education.
The point of these theories for me, is to add to the enjoyment of life. I concluded this after realizing that the point of life itself is to enjoy it like the miraculous gift that it is, upon working out this very Supertheory.
What a beautiful circle, no? Theorize for enjoyment because the theory is enjoyment for its own sake.
I might find more things to add later, my Supertheory has proven itself quite resilient. It’s probably wrong, but that’s okay. It’s correct in my little universe, which happens to be the Newtonian physics-based reality itself. Big enough for the both of us! And like the universe, it is still expanding.