The Role of Probability in Science.

Until the particles are observed, then they randomly have a definite nature according to the roll of some metaphysical dice.

According to this view, probability is fundamental to reality. It is not a method of dealing with uncertainty. It is treated as some kind of supernatural force. One which determines what state something should be in when observed.

Why? Because it is rather hard to escape the fact that if you observe a particle, it has definite values for any measurable property you care to observe. But quantum mechanics asserts that before the act of observation, such definite states do not exist.

So how then does observation create these definite values for all of these states? A rational person would conclude that the particle always had definite values for all of these properties. They might concede that the act of observation might cause those values to be different, but they will not claim that these values do not exist before the act of observation.

When physicists assert that probabilities determine these values, they are simply declaring defeat. They are renouncing causality and science and are in effect saying “Well, magic!”

No, they do not want to study the nature of particles and go to the trouble of figuring out how they interact. They do not want to figure out how to determine their states at a given moment. After all, they do not believe that we can know such things. So, why bother coming up with a causal, scientific mechanism?

They have a problem. Claiming to be scientists and openly admitting that they are talking about magic is a step too far for them. So, they have to couch things in something that sounds scientific. Or at least a little bit less like magic.

The pioneers of quantum mechanics, such as Bohr and Heisenberg were very high on math. (pun intended!)

They believed that describing mathematical appearances was the entire point and end goal of physics. So it is that they settled on using probabilities. The particle does not do this because it is in its nature to do this and not some other contradictory thing. You cannot study an electron and learn how it will behave. Because that assumes an objective reality physicists deny to the quantum world. No, you can only study math and estimate what might happen.

Bohr, one of the founders of quantum mechanics shows up around here almost as often as Plato …

This might have started as a means to estimate particle behaviour without having to concede any causal mechanism. But it quickly developed into metaphysical nonsense. No, they asserted, it is not simply that probability helps estimate particle behaviour, it governs particle behaviour. There are no causal mechanisms. Only this magic force described by probability equations!

This is not a proper use of the concept of probability. It is not using probability to deal with uncertainty. It is using probability to attack the need to learn about nature and identify causal mechanisms. In fact, it is a renunciation of science in favour of magic and “we cannot know”. It is anti-reason and extreme scepticism.

But it is, unfortunately, entirely consistent with the “We cannot know the real world” philosophy of modern physics.

Let me make a prediction: If you abandon reality, then there is a good chance that you will never find it. And that you will consider reality a flux of dice rolls.

That is not a game I wish to play. If we want to understand reality, then we have to reject this approach. We have to do our best to understand the nature of reality and its causal mechanisms. And use probability when we face practical difficulties or gaps in our knowledge. Not as a means to evade knowledge.

I would rather bet on our ability to learn how nature works and to identify its causal mechanisms. But maybe that is just me…

Leave a comment