Spooky action exercises the demon.

Posted: July 20, 2006 in Theo/Philo


1773 saw Pierre-Simon Laplace produce what is known imaginatively asLaplace’s thought experiment (LTE):‘An intellect which at any given moment knew all the forces that animate nature and the mutual positions of the beings that comprise it, if this intellect were vast enough to submit its data to analysis, could condense into a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and that of the lightest atom: for such an intellect nothing could be uncertain; and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.’

Laplace’s motivation is shown in a conversation he had with Napoleon regarding a publication:

Napoleon: M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.
Laplace: Your Highness, I have no need of that hypothesis.

LTE is based on 3 core assumptions:

1. Direction -A process can not go in 2 different directions at the same time.

2. Process –A system can have all its properties deduced at any and all points in time.

3. Locality-The whole systems behaviour is entirely due to interaction of its parts i.e. atom to atom locally.

These 3 core assumptions are only valid if there is an underlying fourth assumption, that the universe is metaphysically closed, that is, only what is measurable has existence. This final assumption cannot be proved; it remains an article of faith.Why should I care about LTE you may cry?
Laplace’s thought experiment represents determinism, that ancient of ideas, which describes free will (agency) as an illusion. Typically if we think of determinism at all, we think of it in terms of Pavlov’s dribbling dog with a ringing in his ears, or B.F.Skinner’s soulless behaviour modification.

LTE implies total determination from the singularity of the big bang at time=0 onwards. That means we can dispense with God as Napoleon was informed, we are here, not because of chance or design but because the physics calls for it.LTE infers determinism from the bottom up which means the smallest particles and there interactions, for that we need to enter the quantum world.Quantum mechanics replaces determinism with probability.

Looking at assumption 1 Direction:The double slit experiment demonstrates that some things can be in more than one place at a time, which means we cannot determine an outcome. We have a plate with two vertical slits a photon is fired at the slits and a detector is placed behind the plate in the path of the oncoming photon. The detector shows a classic interference pattern. As Feynman said, ‘each photon not only goes through both slits, but simultaneously takes every possible trajectory en route to the target, not just in theory, but in fact.‘

Regarding Assumption 2 –a process that can be known; there are epistemological limits on knowledge at a quantum level, when there are observers particles/waves behave differently to when not being observed. Schrödinger’s famed Feline demonstrates this.

Looking at assumption 3 -Locality we have theorem of Mr John Stewart Bell here– it shows that at a quantum level two events though separate and unconnected can affect each other therefore there is a loss of locality.Finally LTE doesn’t appear to have house room for emergence; Wiki defines that as: For ‘a phenomenon to be termed emergent it should generally be unpredictable from a lower level description. At the very lowest level, the phenomenon usually does not exist at all’ There are examples of emergence everywhere. From Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin’s ‘A different Universe’: ‘Life is especially fun to talk about from a physical perspective because it is the most extreme case of the emergence of law. In fact, the entire idea of emergence was invented by biologists to explain some aspects of living things—the rodlike shapes of some bacteria, for example, or the tendency of bunnies to run away from foxes—are stable and reproducible, while the microscopic laws of chemistry from which they descend are random and probabilistic.’Thanks to Lawrence Gage over at ‘Real Physics’ &

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