Tallis in Wonderland

Could The Universe Give A Toss?

Raymond Tallis thinks about probability and the frozen world of quantum mechanics.

The other week at the Hay Festival in Wales, I gave a talk ‘Has Physics Killed Philosophy?’, arguing that physicists need philosophers. Afterwards, I had a conversation with a remarkable man, Raja Panjwani, who, in addition to being trained in physics and philosophy, is an international chess champion. We got to talking about one of the most striking and disconcerting features of quantum physics: the replacement of causation by probability. At the sub-atomic level, the last vestige of ‘A causes B’ is replaced by patterns of events whose statistics can be predicted with stunning precision, although – outside of the ‘many worlds’ interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which everything happens in some world or other – no particular quantum event is obliged to occur. However, there is a constraint on the frequency of certain outcomes within a given range of values over large numbers of events, this frequency being what the most famous quantum equations predict.

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