On Quantum-Scale Uncertainty and Determinism

 Mr. Arbiter (@snaysler) 5 years, 8 months ago

This is for anyone who has an interest in philosophy. If you have studied determinism, then you have probably heard that the madness and uncertainty of quantum scale occurrences supposedly makes the argument for determinism invalid. I’m trying to defend determinism with the following argument.

On Quantum-Scale Uncertainty and Determinism

It is my intention to refute the necessary impediments to the theory of Universal (Hard) Determinism. Mainly I choose to refute the proposed uncertainty of events occurring at microscopic, subatomic scales. The general understanding of “uncertainty” within the field of quantum mechanics from my understanding, in layman terms, is most nearly thus: At a subatomic level, things happen randomly of their own probabilistic accord outside the terms of causality. Now I propose the following counterargument.

I begin with a scrutiny of the very notion of “randomness”. To put it simply, randomness does not exist within any field of reason; be it empirical (quantum physics included), or philosophical. “Random” is a conversational term, and not an exact phenomenon. Examples like this have been seen time and time again throughout the history of philosophy. They are ideas created by humans to refine the vernacular so we may describe things more easily. However, under closer examination we find that these terms may have no real meaning. Take for instance the sorites paradox. An unnamed Greek philosopher proposed a clever thought experiment to argue that what we believe things to be, may be actually be false assumptions because of ambiguous definitions which have loopholes that unravel their own realism. The thought experiment is this:

Imagine you have a heap of sand a few feet tall. Without second thought, you would not hesitate to identify all the sand as a “heap” of sand. Now, take a single grain of sand from the heap and place it on the ground away from the heap. At this point, the single grain of sand would be identified by anyone as just a grain of sand. But now, take another grain of sand from the heap and place it with the other grain of sand. Now there are two grains of sand. Clearly one would not identify the two measly grains of sand as a heap. But continue to remove a grain of sand and place it in the second pile one by one, and intuitively you know that eventually there will be a second heap of sand. But how do we define the boundary between being a heap and not being a heap. If there are 100 grains of sand in the second pile, is it a heap? What about once there are 1,000,000 grains of sand? Is it a heap then? Conversely, at what point of removing the grains of sand one by one from the original heap can it no longer be identified thusly? The term “heap” is ambiguous and not strictly defined, therefore there is no such thing as a heap, just as there is no such thing as random.

My apologies for the lengthy digression, but I would like for the above reasoning to be implemented in the scrutiny of randomness. Randomness, again, is a conversational term. It is used to describe occurrences which manifest outside of our scope of knowledge. Everything in science and the world that was once called random has since been explained by the laws of reality. Not only that, but we can now even extrapolate to know how things may turn out, eliminating the randomness of the phenomenon. Take the weather for example. Back in the dark ages they considered the weather to be completely random. In fact, they sometimes even attributed theological explanations to the weather patterns, as attributing supernatural causes to things beyond our scope of knowledge and understanding is and always has been human nature. But now let’s look at the “randomness” of the quantum world. Think of the events occurring at the subatomic level like the weather example. In the dark ages, they may have been able to predict that for every day in their corner of the world there was a 7% chance it would rain. But that is as deep as their understanding would go. They could witness the frequency of the different atmospheric phenomena, such as rain, snow, hail, wind storm, thunder and lightning, and gather probability data for the likelihood of these states occurring in any given time frame, but they don’t really understand the weather any more in depth than that, because their scope of knowledge and understanding is lacking. Same goes for the quantum world. We can witness the frequency of strange quantum-scale phenomena occurring, but we don’t know why it occurs at any given instance. That doesn’t mean we ought to say, “Oh yeah, it’s all random at that scale, no rhyme or reason. It’s all just a coincidence”. We are in the dark ages of quantum mechanics. I believe that if we were capable of digging a bit deeper, we would find that the principle of causality remains untarnished at every scale. We would find new discoveries of even smaller scale interactions than those at the level of subatomic particles. And if we understood these new discoveries, we would finally be able to conclude that it isn’t all just random madness, just like the weather patterns which we can now predict weeks ahead of the present.

In light of this revelation, I propose that Universal Determinism is in fact a valid theory. But I do not allow my avid allegiance to this theory to detract from the quality of my human experience; because akin to the nature of time itself, free will is subjectively an infallible illusion, which must be accepted as real by any sentient being from their own perspective and for their purposes. Plus I am aware of the possibility of “knowing one’s path to have been predetermined” causing people to no longer care about their life and becoming bums because they believe that whatever happens was already going to happen and couldn’t have happened any other way. I am aware of this, and therefore choose to go about my life believing as a human being that I have free will, but knowing as a man of reason that actually, I do not.

Any thoughts? Counterarguments?

September 17, 2012 at 12:06 pm
Zykanthos (4,758)M (@chodebalm) 5 years, 8 months ago ago

If the universe is anything like a computer simulation (which, honestly, it certainly behaves like a computer), then “randomness” can easily be an illusion.

If we wanted to create a computer simulation such as, let’s say, the Sims, and we wanted to give the characters in that simulation the illusion of free will, all we would have to do is output random lines of code which they can pick up on. The Sims would seemingly be free to choose which lines of code they receive, and we in turn feed them more lines of the same code based on their environmental feedback.

I love philosophy and possibilities, but not having any definitive way of knowing for sure, it does us no good to speculate, unless you consider driving yourself to insanity “good”.

Nonetheless, it is mind-boggling to think about.

ConcernedScientist (0) (@concernedscientist) 5 years, 5 months ago ago

There is a way of settling this dispute wiithout idle speculation. I propose that we settle this by actually studying to understand things via an empirical scientific method, rather than “philosophizing”. Agreed? Good. Einstein had some of the same qualms as did you against his firm stand of determinism, (God doesnt play with dice he said) and he wrote a paper detailing his qualms (EPR paradox in reference). He was not correct.
John Bell devised an experiment that would test whether or not there were any variables unaccounted for (“hidden” variable theories), and he found no local (Lorentz invariant, aka satisfies constraint of special relativity) hidden variable thoery that can explain the results found by bell using quantum entanglement.

Causality is also messed with on small small, subatomic levels via quantum fluctuations. (Not referenced but well known, experimentally verified via Hawking radiation)

Sorry but it irks me when one uses the word laymen on this subject. You can’t exactly put quantum mechanics in laymens terms. The shit is hard. It takes a lot of math, and rigorous education. This is more a scientific question, not philosophy, yet i understand it has philosophical implications.

But we shouldn’t need all that, i mean look at the simple double slit experiment. that should show you something really strange is going on at the level of quanta


Rob (75) (@facets) 5 years, 5 months ago ago

@snaysler, Great post! I really enjoyed reading that.

@concernedscientist, Just from scanning those wikipedia articles briefly, it appears that the root of the confusion regarding quantum mechanics lies in the fact that observing and measuring affect the outcome.
Is there any scientific explanation for this yet?
Or is it all still speculation and philosophizing?

Anonymous (60) (@) 5 years, 5 months ago ago

Fun links:


I’ll keep it short. Human language is not equipped to handle the quantum realm. Discoveries so far also haven’t put the issue of free will to rest. However, although seemingly “uncaused events” have cast doubts on determinism, that would not necessarily prove free will.

Kforkonner (59) (@kwelch5528) 5 years, 5 months ago ago

@chodebalm, i sometimes think similar to how you just posted. the idea that we are just a very complex simulation like the game sims! it would be crazy because the idea how we could just think in a yes no (1-0) way. just that we think it in numbers like millions. that way we can’t actually imagen it!

ConcernedScientist (0) (@concernedscientist) 5 years, 5 months ago ago

Good question! The root of the confusion of quantum mechanics is it’s nonintuitive interpretation of reality.
That and, as previously stated, it’s highly technical language and higher level math.

I think two subtle, yet close concepts are at play here. It sounds as though you are describing the observer effect. This is when, like you say, to observe or measure a particle, you interfere with it. This is true, to most extents, when we try to localize an electrons position we shoot a wee bity photon at it, and it “bounces” back to us in a sense. We can use math to figure out where it was, but alas, we have changed its trajectory.

However, there is another, more fundamental concept, called the uncertainty principle. This is basically that even if you were able to magically measure a particle without interacting with it in any way, you would still be limited by the inherent wavy nature of matter, and everything else for that matter. The double slit experiment shows the wave nature of light, electrons, indeed all particles we test it with and even some large molecuoles like buckminsterfullerene.

The EPR paradox for entangled particles proved that it is not just the observer effect, that indeed there is an inherent uncertainty to every pair of conjugate variables.Reality is wavelike, probabilistic and this is empirically validated. It just doesn’t intuit well with us because we are macroscale/ classical objects.

Of course at some point deep down you will reach the axioms, which you can call speculation and philosophizing, if you wish, but I wouldn’t. The fact that using these few assumptions and proceeding logically we can account for almost all the vast array of complexity on the large and small scale, seems to give it some merit.

If you have about an hour, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcmGYe39XG0


Thought you got me dintcha?

ConcernedScientist (0) (@concernedscientist) 5 years, 5 months ago ago

Good interpretation

ConcernedScientist (0) (@concernedscientist) 5 years, 5 months ago ago

Except for mathematical languages, with their subleties, no?

Zykanthos (4,758)M (@chodebalm) 5 years, 5 months ago ago

@kwelch5528, Yeah, honestly…when you realize that reality at its most fundamental is merely a stream of information, it’s easy to support that theory. Fun thing is…we have no way of proving it’s not. :)

Tine (366) (@tine) 5 years, 5 months ago ago


ty for this, i got to learn a few new terms, these are the definition i have found:

Universal Determinism: position that states every event that takes place is caused by some condition beforehand even if you are or are not aware of all conditions or events. If you were to repeat the same moment under the exact same conditions it will still result in the exact same outcome despite availability to go a different path.

1.) Having no specific pattern, purpose, or objective: random movements. See Synonyms at chance.
2.) Mathematics & Statistics Of or relating to a type of circumstance or event that is described by a probability distribution.
3.) Of or relating to an event in which all outcomes are equally likely, as in the testing of a blood sample for the presence of a substance.

(free will is subjectively an infallible illusion,)

i think perhaps we should define free will too, for me, free will does not mean, “you can do whatever you want”, free will means, “your mind is free”, here are some of my thoughts on it,

–(1.) individuals assume free will is inherent, free will is not, free will is understood, an understanding that, nothing can effect you emotionally unless you allow it, consider the implications of this realization

consider what it means about making excuses

consider what (no excuses) means about partaking in destructive actions

now consider what you must do the realize this for yourself

(2.) for me, reality is the accumulation of my knowledge and experience, this forms the perspective and the logic that dictates it, each individual is the same but different, the same due to physical and social realities, where there is only a limited amount of cause / effects conditions an individual can experience; different due to the circumstances of the accumulation, where everyone responds differently due to their unique life-path,

the circumstance variables allows for the handling of reality in a ‘infinite’ number of ways

(3.) once you are free you are not limited to your circumstances in how you respond to reality

(4.) i agree there is an observable pattern within reality, but the free will i am talking about falls outside this pattern, allowing for a random response to reality based on circumstances, making any attempt to mathematically understand challenging, producing only low probability outcomes,

and its not a blindness to chaos that allows this, it is an understanding of it, not of every outcome, but an acceptance of it in general,

you can know the filter i uses, kindness, but you cannot gauge how it will respond, for kindness is chaos in a world without–

i am curious as to your take on what was said from the perspective i presented, do you agree with my definition or at least see what i mean?

my conclusion atm is that i disagree with the philosophy on the grounds that free will is misunderstood, and its real definition counters the predictability of the action, making the outcome chaotic in the sense that the cause / effect cannot be known bc the response to reality is always unknown and is not dependent on pre-determined, knowable circumstances prior to it

Anonymous (60) (@) 5 years, 5 months ago ago

@concernedscientist, see? Even the different possibilities behind “language” can cause some confusion. However, although our current understanding of QM requires mathematics, to this day it still isn’t adequate.

Kforkonner (59) (@kwelch5528) 5 years, 5 months ago ago

yea exactly! to think we literally have no conscience. we just think we do because that is the only way we can grasp all this information! but in reality we have just a trillions of collected data that is sent from our brain to our other body parts controlling us.
Now this is all just an idea and i really hope that it is a fiction theory because to live our everyday life’s thinking this way can have some mental issues. i think its best for the majority of the people to follow their guild lines given to them through religion. that will give them a happy life,

dave (19) (@dkman) 5 years, 5 months ago ago

You made some excellent points, but I’m just pointing out that science and philosophy are not so different, but rather codependents. A lot of physics is just theories, which were philosophized based on experiment, and all philosophies are backed by some sort of observation or experimentation. Philosophy is the creativity that makes physics so wonderful.

load more