We can predict the future .
..physics says so — well — some parts of physics anyway..
— funny how we can do that? — pick and choose.
Random vs Determined vs Chaos
I’ll tell you a story..
A long time ago in a galaxy close away — when we first looked to the sky — as early human cultures — we saw gods — and spirits that looked down.
These guys ran the show.
And this happened for literally tens of thousands of years as we evolved.
We went on our jolly way — we invented gods for this, and spirits for that. It was our way to give Agency to Chaos — being our first attempts of understanding who we are.
This world is unpredictable and random.
We were not in control of anything
— the sky people decided
— at the mercy of predatory animals..and weather — lightning! — disease!
This was a crazy and chaotic place — purely random — our only explanation — it was all governed by a greater meaning or agency — the sky people.
We then saw patterns and got it.
Wait a second..
we can actually describe what’s happening — we can repeat things and get the same result — there are rules.. that we can find — we developed numbers and maths to explain and record what we saw.
We got good at this — we got great at this — I mean we walked on the moon because of three letters we put together..
f = m a
(Newton’s Second Law — there was probably a few others as well..to be fair)
Our world became totally Deterministic.
— right? — we just had to figure out how it all fit together. Little bit more maths and we’re there.
We can model a rock — as it’s being thrown, and tell where it will land — exactly — before the actual landing event has occurred — this is crazy!
We can actually already predict the future.
This was really the birth of science — The Deterministic Universe.
No longer is it up to the sky people — we can figure this stuff out — if we get really good at maths.
So we started.
Two people were revolutionary to the Deterministic Universe movement
— Sir Isaac Newton, and Einstein;
Newton showed us how things worked on this world — Einstein showed us what happened outside this world.
Each with their own sets of explanations they created to demonstrate what’s happening.
So — between Newton and Einstein — we had this stuff pretty much locked down. This is what we refer to as Classical Physics.
But there was a problem..
We understood everything …buuuuuttttttt…
There was a tiny black box
It was named a Quantum — or Quanta — Latin quantus, meaning “how great” — and by early twentieth century, became the accepted word for a single bit of information in the Universe.
— The smallest possible thing.
So — to rewind, and explain the context of where we are..
You have a cup of water — a cup full of tiny molecules of water.
A single one of those water molecules is made up of 3 blobs — stuck together — two Hydrogen atoms and an Oxygen one.
If we pull them apart — and take a look at one of those Hydrogen atoms by itself — it has a centre-point — called a Nucleus — with a single Proton inside, and one orbiting Electron spinning around the outside of the Nucleus.
Inside that Proton — there are three Quarks.
We call these Fundamental Particles
— and they make absolutely no sense.
They behave in ways we can only explain as impossible — they do not obey the laws of physics we built.
They have their own physics.
This is Particle Physics
— Or Quantum Mechanics
So — in the Standard Model, there are twelve Elementary Particles or Fundamental Particles — and a bucket load of theorised ones.
Particles we know about in everyday life are Photons (Light) — and Electrons (Electricity) etc.
— Side note..
This is what the Large Hadron Collider is doing — smashing Protons and Neutrons together — and seeing what new things come out — while also trying to understand the ones we can see.
Quarks are some of these Elementary Particles that exist inside Protons and Neutrons.
— And so to connect it all back — the single Proton inside the Nucleus of the Hydrogen atom in that Water Molecule from above.. is made up of these Quarks.
So that’s it — that’s as small as we get.
Anyway.. where were we?
The Deterministic Universe should be completely explainable — with a big enough computer, we could model every atom and molecule in the Universe and what they’re all doing, and precisely predict the state of the Universe — at any point in the future — ah.. except for that thing..
So, we opened the Quanta-box and looked in..
— what the hell is going on.
This isn’t right
We quickly saw — nothing is Deterministic at a Quantum level.
— Everything is Random.
We can’t measure where things are, or where they are going — or how fast they are going — or anything about them really. These particles are just popping in and out of existence — here and there — and then reappearing in two places at the same time.. with no rhyme or reason?
This black box breaks everything we thought we knew about the world.
— If the most fundamental part of the make up of the Universe is Random — everything that is built on it — must be Random as well — the Universe can’t be Deterministic then — right?
— Were we wrong this whole time? This drove Einstein bonkers.
Ah gosh darn it.
Enter Chaos Theory
So if the world is not Random, and it’s not Deterministic — what is it?
— Individually Random — but Statistically Deterministic.
Flipping a coin seems random on a single flip — however — over a hundred flips, you see a statistically determinate model emerge — producing a likely probability of each outcome — pretty basic — 50/50 chance with this one — but the model will show the same results.
Same goes with dice — bit more complex now — you roll two dice.. the result appears random. But it’s actually Chaotic. Over a thousand rolls the result becomes Probabilistically Deterministic — but just not on an individual level.
In a Deterministic Universe — I can even freeze time at the moment the dice leave the hand — and look at the way it was thrown, and the air, and how it will hit the felt, and I could compute — ahead of time — what it will do — and what numbers will be face-up (in the same way we can predict a rock being thrown — but with more maths).
In a Chaotic Universe however — all we know is that the most probable outcome is a six — but it could be anything. There are too many variables to realistically figure it out in a Deterministic way (as above) — so it appears Random — all we can do is predict the eventual distribution of outcomes.
This is also what we refer to as ‘The Butterfly Effect’ — a small change in one of these variables — completely changes the output.
This is Chaos.
If we get a Quark — and measure it a trillion times — we’ll get a whole bunch of totally different results. If we then plot those results on a graph — we’ll see a distribution curve emerge — there will be a tightly grouped sets of results together. This gives us a probability of the likely measurement — just as in the model of the two dice above.
We can’t know the specific — but we can predict the probable.
There are no solid answers in this place — it is fuzzy.
2 + 2 does not equal 4
— it equals 9, then the letter ‘R’, then the word ‘babblefish’, then 6–84, and ‘purple’ — all at the same time — and then backwards.
— But if you were to run that same calculation a billion times, the distribution curve would show the vast amount of results grouping around the number 4, more than the others. You would be able to predict what the result is — but you can’t know for certain.
That’s about the crux of Chaos Theory — it’s basically a way to try and unify Classical Physics and Quantum Physics — so that it all makes sense…
— or as much sense as it could make.
By no means do I claim to be an expert on anything, or know anything about writing, journalism, maths, physics, science, computers etc. apart from binge-watching some docuseries on Netflix.
Originally published December 6, 2018.