Sunday, 29 November 2015

Does Probability Govern Our Universe? Why Einstein is Wrong

by Henry Ling


Albert Einstein: wrong on this one?
“God does not play dice” said Albert Einstein, which seems to be suggesting that the world is not governed by probability; the supposed ruler of the universe does not simply play dice with the world’s future. 

However, is there a strong argument to convey that in fact the world around us is really a probabilistic mind game? I would argue that probability is the ruling figure of our existence, be it at a quantum level the state of electrons in our very atoms or be it in the macro world by the probability of getting to work on time.

Before I continue, I must of course discuss what probability really is. Probability is, in essence, the likelihood of an event taking place. Winning the lottery is a difficult task as you need to select 1 number out of a possible 13,983,816 different numbers, and therefore we say that it is of low probability, whereas the probability that it rains on a given day in England is much greater. 

The most famous expression of probability is through the coin toss. It is equally likely that you will get a head as you will a tail when you flip it in the air. If you measures the Tails and Heads, then eventually it will get to a near 50:50 ratio. However, this is where slight alterations may change these odds: the way in which someone tosses the coin, the side which the coin starts on, the wind speed, the weight of the metal on each side - all have an effect on the outcome of the toss. Getting an exact 50:50 ratio is, therefore, next to impossible; however, there is still a system of probabilities at work here.

I would argue that the world is just a plethora of probabilities and that humans are set on a certain path from birth. Being able to understand and utilise probability is a necessary skill today - especially when we take the leap to the quantum world, where probabilities are all we really know about what is truly happening within the world of atoms that underpins our very existence. The state of particles and decay processes rely on probabilities as does a lot of computer software which we take for granted each day. Probabilities are also very useful tools when looking at the financial market and financial forecasting. If you are looking at investing money in the stock market, you want to play with probabilities to seek to find the company which is currently low but has the highest probability of increasing in the future. It is also useful if you wish to earn a quick buck against your friends in one a poker night; if you look at the cards that have been played and compare them to the moves that people have made during the night, you can predict the probability of your opponent having the winning hand. Pretty useful isn’t it?

However, despite my belief that everything in this world can be quantified by its likelihood of occurrence and that God is indeed playing dice with the universe, one must not neglect that these are only probabilities and that they are not certainties. In the poker game, even with the odds on your side, you may still lose; the stock market may hit a financial snag and the coin may always come up with heads. If you live your life by abiding by these probabilities, you will end up in a state of severe loneliness and depression. If you don’t leave the house because there is a chance you might die, then you will never leave the house. Sometimes you need to take risks against the probabilities. God’s dice may roll in your favour and you get that perfect partner you’ve always dreamed of - or they might go against you, and leave you crying on the sidewalk.

This discussion although interesting does not answer the question of whether the universe is governed by probability. Despite Einstein’s clear brilliance, I would dispute his claim that “God does not play dice”. 


Everything in this world has a probability of an occurrence, be it infinitesimally small or very large. Saying that everything is set and some things are arbitrarily possible or impossible does not make logical sense, and to suggest that things in the world aren’t down to chance seems odd.  My reasoning suggests that it is scientifically feasible that humans have the potential to move straight through walls; however, the likelihood is extremely low. The probability is so low that no one has ever witnessed it, but that doesn’t make it impossible. 

Something I saw recently led me to believe that anything could happen. Theoretical physics has proven that is possible for the last note at the end of an album by the progressive rock band Gazpacho to cause the collapse of the universe we know. This is due to the fact that the error correction software in a CD player leads to the generation of a random number, and, if this number has the same magnitude as the number of particles in the universe, then this could skew space-time and collapse the universe. This sounds extremely crazy and is incredibly hard to comprehend, but science has shown that it is possible. One may argue that there is also a possibility that the science is wrong but I don’t see why that changes the fact that it could occur.

So I wish to conclude by saying that, in my humble opinion, the world in which we live is a massive game of chance. Probabilities are what make the universe tick. Mathematics is, therefore, the fundamental force which drives the whole universe in its actions. Probability tends to govern humans in their actions as well, even if they don’t realise it. The actions we choose tend to be due to an assessment of the situations we have; we try to look for the option which gives us the highest probability of success.


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