Probability - Relation To Randomness

Relation To Randomness

In a deterministic universe, based on Newtonian concepts, there would be no probability if all conditions are known, (Laplace's demon). In the case of a roulette wheel, if the force of the hand and the period of that force are known, the number on which the ball will stop would be a certainty. Of course, this also assumes knowledge of inertia and friction of the wheel, weight, smoothness and roundness of the ball, variations in hand speed during the turning and so forth. A probabilistic description can thus be more useful than Newtonian mechanics for analyzing the pattern of outcomes of repeated rolls of roulette wheel. Physicists face the same situation in kinetic theory of gases, where the system, while deterministic in principle, is so complex (with the number of molecules typically the order of magnitude of Avogadro constant 6.02·1023) that only statistical description of its properties is feasible.

Probability theory is required to describe quantum phenomena. A revolutionary discovery of early 20th century physics was the random character of all physical processes that occur at sub-atomic scales and are governed by the laws of quantum mechanics. The objective wave function evolves deterministically but, according to the Copenhagen interpretation, it deals with probabilities of observing, the outcome being explained by a wave function collapse when an observation is made. However, the loss of determinism for the sake of instrumentalism did not meet with universal approval. Albert Einstein famously remarked in a letter to Max Born: "I am convinced that God does not play dice". Like Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, who discovered the wave function, believed quantum mechanics is a statistical approximation of an underlying deterministic reality. In modern interpretations, quantum decoherence accounts for subjectively probabilistic behavior.

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