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John Prytz (John Prytz)
Quantum Physics: Probability vs. Certainty

It is absolutely impossible to read any popular account on quantum physics without running into the words “probability” or “uncertainty” if not in each and every paragraph, then at least on each and every page. Quantum physics and probability fit together like a left hand and a left handed glove! But it’s all bovine fertiliser since the concept of probability is a human concept that has no real application in Mother Nature’s realm.

It is claimed that quantum physics is based not on certainty (i.e. – causality) but on probability, and therefore Mother Nature places the cosmos ultimately under wraps, under a restriction that there just are some secrets that are Hers and Hers alone to know, and not for us mere mortals. However, truth be known, Mother Nature is just as restrictive at times even when probability doesn’t enter into the equation. Therefore, quantum physics isn’t some be-all-and-end-all of failing to come to terms with cosmic certainties. In any event, the concept of probability is a human concept, and quantum physics predates human concepts. Quantum physics maybe full of probabilities to us mortals, but not to Mother Nature.

Probability and quantum physics: the issue here is not whether quantum physics works – it’s been proven 100% accurate down to the 12th decimal place and then some. It is ultimately responsible for over 1/3rd of the global economy in technological gizmos and applications. The issue is rather does quantum physics play the game and operate under fixed and final rules of causality or does it play by its own on-a-whim ‘rules’ which aren’t really rules since they are meant to be broken.

Either causality operates or it doesn’t. If it does, then quantum physics does not, cannot, strut its stuff willy-nilly without any cause-and-effect in operation. If causality doesn’t operate then certainty doesn’t operate at any level since the certainty we associate with the macro is built on the uncertainty of the micro.

Quantum uncertainty, or the opposite side of the coin, probability, is usually made explicit by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which basically states that through no fault of your own or your instrumentation, it is literally impossible to know various contrasting properties about a fundamental particle. The more you pin down and know about one property, the fuzzier another property becomes, and vice versa. You can never know both properties absolutely to a 100% certainty. In fact you can never know either property to the 100% certainty level. That’s because the very act of observing or of measuring changes the properties that you are trying to observe or measure. Mother Nature has forced or placed this not-to-be-negotiated and no-correspondence-will-be-entered-into restriction on you, the observer, or on your sidekick, your measuring gizmo. So there! Or is it really so? The key is that you, the observer, or your measuring doohickey device, is in the bloody way. You can’t know the precise state of affairs of the system you are interested in if you are part of that system. You are not part of the solution; you are the problem!

Probability is nothing more than a statement that you, the human you, don’t know something for absolute certain. That’s it. Once you find out for certain, it’s no longer probability but certainty. If you can’t find out, and the very act of observing or measuring can alter the properties of what you are trying to observe or measure (and that’s really what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is all about), what transpires or eventuates if there is no observation or measurement?

In every definition or explanation I’ve ever seen about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle it is either implied or explicitly stated that an observer and/or measurement is being attempted or considered.

Probability remains probability if you can’t ever know in practice or even in theory. However, one can postulate that an omniscient (all-knowing) deity must know all things not only in practice but in theory too. No person who believes in an all-knowing God could put any stock in quantum physics as operating in the realm of probability; ditto the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. However, I really don’t need to go down that pathway since I state with certainty that there is no God, all-knowing or otherwise.

Even if you don’t know, but it is possible to know in theory, well that too results in at least theoretical certainty.

But what if it is not possible to know, even in theory, a.k.a. the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle? Well, that too, doesn’t of necessity rule in probability and rule out certainty.

As another example of so-called quantum probability, take radioactive decay which is alleged to be lacking is causality – it happens for no reason at all. As far as an observer is concerned, a radioactive atom, or its nucleus, will decay, but exactly when and under what conditions is unpredictable, maybe in 10 seconds, maybe not for a billion years. It’s all probability.

This is an example of Mother Nature hiding skeletons in Her closet. The observer is thwarted in coming to terms with radioactive decay other than through, or by computing, probabilities. Therefore, quantum physics is probability. But that’s only if you accept the lack of causality premise. I totally reject that and suggest that radioactive decay does have a cause – we just don’t know what it is. Thanks to Mother Nature’s closet, we are restricted or prevented with absolutes or limitations to our vision of reality. There are lots of examples of skeletons in Mother Nature’s closet that don’t involve probability (see below), so why should radioactive decay be an exception to the rule?

If a human observer is present, she might say based on computing probabilities, that the radioactive atomic nucleus has a 50-50 chance of going poof in one hour. But, if there is no human observer, the radioactive nucleus will go poof (absolutely certain) – eventually. There’s no probability involved because there are no artificial time units involved – time units are a human concept or invention not part of Mother Nature’s vocabulary. So probability in quantum physics is observer dependent (or dependent on there being an observer) – no observer, no probability, just certainty.

Mother Nature has imposed lots of other absolutes or limitations on us. Jump into a Black Hole and you’re not coming out again, even if you were born on Krypton. No probability here.

You cannot travel at the speed of light – period! No probability here.

If you are inside a closed room (no windows) you have no way of telling if you are on Earth and in Earth’s 1-G gravity field or in space being accelerated at 1-G. No probability here.

Akin to the above, you have no sense of motion while you are sitting comfortably on your sofa. Yet, the Earth is spinning on its axis; the Earth is orbiting around the Sun; the Sun is orbiting around the Milky Way Galaxy; and the Milky Way Galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy are on a collision course (relax, not to intersect for another five billion years). Equally, if you were in a spaceship with no windows (no fair peeking outside), and that spaceship were travelling at a constant rate of speed, you wouldn’t feel it and thus you wouldn’t be aware that you we travelling at a rapid rate of knots. No probability here.

Mother Nature doesn’t require you to be hatched; She does require you to die. No probability here.

You are on a train stopped at the railway station. On your left is another train also stopped at the railway station. That other train starts moving to your rear, or, are you moving forward leaving the other train behind. Which is it? It’s soon going to be obvious, but just for a few seconds, you didn’t know. If all that existed were just the two trains and you with no other frames of reference, you’d never know if the other train was moving, or if your train was moving, or both. No probability here.

You cannot observe any part of the Universe that resides over the horizon that marks the observable boundary that contains the observable Universe (just like you can not observe a ship that has sailed over the horizon of the spherical Earth). No probability here.

When you look out into the night sky at the distant stars and galaxies, you are looking back in time, since it takes time for the light of those objects to reach us. But you cannot observe the cosmos further back than 300,000 years post that Big Bang event. That’s because the cosmos was still too thick with stuff to allow viewing. It’s akin to the fact that you cannot view the centre of the Sun because there’s too much sun-stuff in the way. In fact it takes extremely lengthy amounts of time for a photon to struggle its way from the centre to the surface of the Sun. So, 300,000 years is the limit, which is why it’s nonsense for cosmologists to dictate with absolute certainty what the structure and substance of the Universe was like prior to that time, especially that nonsense that a nanosecond after the Big Bang the Universe was just the size of a pinhead – they are just guesstimating and bad guesstimating at that. No probability here.

You cannot change the past. No probability here.

You cannot build a perpetual motion machine. Many have tried; all have failed. No patent office will grant you a patent for one. They know better. No probability here.

Finally, without our modern technology, the ‘Naked Ape’ could not detect gamma rays, or X-rays, or radio waves, or microwaves, cosmic rays, neutrinos, and a host of other bits and pieces that are part and parcel of the Universe. No probability here.

So you see that Mother Nature has imposed all manner of absolute obstacles in our way of looking up her skirt and uncovering her ‘private’ nature as it were. That doesn’t mean the anatomy doesn’t exist, only we’re not allowed to peek and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it. So, her anatomy is uncertain or probably is this, or that or the next thing but only to us, the wannabe observer.

Finally, consider and reconsider the quantum mantra: Anything that isn’t forbidden is compulsory; anything that can happen will happen. Does that sound like a probability statement to you?

In summary and in conclusion, references to quantum physics are full of the word “probability”. They are also filled with terms linking probability to someone like me or to someone like you – an observer. Remove or eliminate the observer and you remove or eliminate the probability in quantum probability.