Ever since, I have not been a huge fan of probability. Although my engineering majors required me to study it in quite a depth, luckily it is not my bread and butter. The conception that is bothersome is the uncertainty of an event. It has been quite a while that I have been thinking about writing on this topic and now finally I got a chance to have a quality discussion with some brilliant friends of mine which is worth penning down. So this is my attempt to argue some of the fundamentals of probabilistic analysis which surprisingly leads to interesting speculations. The argument under scrutiny is: can things be completely and accurately deterministic and make our lives easier (or instead difficult for some)?
Let’s start with a conventional example. A coin toss (my personal favourite). I am arguing that the event of getting a heads is a deterministic event. What I am saying is that the term “probability” of an event is euphemism for our incompetence to gather the appropriate information about an event. Let me elaborate. In the coin-toss example, if I give you the exact amount of force applied to toss the coin and other environmental factors like air resistance, gravity, etc, etc, we can determine with total certainty the outcome of the toss. Hence probability seems like an un-educated guess, well at least from this example, one can state in crude terms that studying probability is the study of the degree of the lack of information about an event and its consequences.
So to some extent it seems convincing to me that the world behaves in deterministic ways. But that’s too narrow an example to support my case. Let’s consider another example where living beings are involved and the cause-effect relation is not so straight forward. Say there are two guys ‘A’ and ‘B’, in a fairly large setting like a college, who start walking towards a classroom. They start at exactly the same distance from the class. Now what is the “probability” of both reaching the class at the same time? If I don’t tell you anything about their speed or their age or any imaginable thing that might even remotely help you to favour one, then you would say that the probability of a person “A” reaching the class before “B” is just as good as the probability of “B” reaching before “A”. Further on if I start to add more information about A and B to this problem, the odds start to vary. For instance, I can add the information about their starting time and the speed with which they are walking. Given an ideal world where they walk at constant speed right from their starting point to the destination, it is a 7th grader’s problem to find out the exact time they will take to reach and hence it becomes a deterministic event. In real world scenarios, obviously things are not that straight forward. One of the guys might get a cramp on the way or an asthma attack or a heat stroke. So you can argue that it is impossible to state something as convoluted as this so deterministically. But remember, my argument is that given the “entire information” about the event, one should be able to determine with exact accuracy the outcome of the event. In this case, the entire information might even include the metabolism of those two people or the stress that their muscles can endure to estimate the cramp or neurons firing in their brain during that interval of time and several other unfathomable reasons that could contribute. If we cannot think of all the reasons that might have an impact, then it is our incompetence. One can argue that this will create enormous data and it is impossible to compute the outcome, but that is not the question here. The hypothesis here assumes that we can store and process the enormous data pertinent to that event, and given all that is necessary, we should be able to completely determine an outcome of an event with absolute certainty.
Now comes the interesting part which is mind-boggling. If the above is indeed true, then the consequences are unimaginable. If we extrapolate this hypothesis, it should be possible to model everything in the universe, even our fate and future. Viewing life as an adaptive system which trains and adapts itself to all (currently infinite) inputs that form the cause of the events in the future, one should be able to determine the consequences with certainty. Again, it will definitely require infinite amount of data to solve each of our life equation because of the enormous dependencies, but the possibility of that is not what I am arguing. In fact, I believe the factors that govern the outcome of an event will always be finite since the chaos (or entropy) in the universe is a definite number at any instance, although in true sense it is ever increasing. Hence, for an event, they will converge eventually.
Our universe started with one consolidated entity. After the big bang, the space started to expand and dependencies on one another started to sprout. Now for us, sure, the dependencies are enormous, but one can trace back the dependency tree right from the starting node to the present. On this basis, it is convincing that there could be just one “master equation” with which the Gods wrote our universe and solutions to which are slowly unrolling as our lives span out. Our life events and choices are feeding the master equation with inputs which governs our fate. And because our current choices (or the inputs to the master equation) are based on our past solutions to the same equation, our acts are never ever random or non-deterministic.
Now let me stretch this a little further and throw in the ace which might break this argument, the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Succinctly, it states that the more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known at that instant, and vice versa. Although it is a quantum phenomenon, the ripples of the uncertainty will eventually spread to macroscopic world too. We can take the same example of coin-toss. Suppose I want the coin to land vertically. Even if I calculate the exact parameters that are required to make the coin land and stand vertically, there will always be a “delta” displacement of the coin’s axis from the vertical because it is impossible to determine the position of the coin with certainty while ensuring that it tosses with a certain momentum. This means there is randomness in the outcome since the coin could be inclined on either sides of the vertical axis, although that deviation would not be even visible on the macroscopic scale, but it will definitely make the coin fall on just one side which cannot be determined according to Heisenberg. But Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and several other laws are a few segments of the whole puzzle. We don’t know the whole thing yet, or referred here as the master equation. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle when viewed with the missing fragments of this equation could make things deterministic. Scientific endeavours are an attempt to find and put the missing pieces together.
Our lives, future and more, everything could have been chalked out already. All our current laws of nature, science, and humanity are our microscopic view of that universal master equation that we are all knitted to. And probably the lack of knowledge about the complete equation leads us to believe in the randomness of the events and hence their probabilities. Another question with which this discussion ends is whether finding that master equation would mean the end of human pursuits in science and nature? Would we then know everything? And whether as humans we have enough competence in figuring it out or not. And whether to figure out the “master equation” is one of the solutions of that equation or not.
Sometimes you happen to witness something so mundane but yet so disturbing that it leaves you with very few words to describe the situation. There is something invigorating about that whole thing that catches our attention and is sometimes worth giving a thought. There was something similar that I happened to witness today or atleast it was peculiar enough to provoke me to write about it. It was a Sunday eve before Diwali and me and my 3 other friends started off for dinner from our hostel while militating against the lonely roads of the college and arguing about the most insignificant things of the world. We were in a rather light mood when we entered the restaurant. We took a table of four, placed our order and amidst our usual derision of each other while waiting for food, we started inspecting our surrounding. On the right side, there was a guy sitting alone on a table for 4 but was later made to sit with another single person on a corner table, a rather rude way adopted by the restaurant to increase their business. On the left, there was a family of 6 who probably came for their weekly Sunday dinner. The close proximity of their table left us no choice but to pry over their discussion. The members of that family and their behavior during that whole time captivated the attention of all four of us, to which we all conformed after the dinner. The family had two small kids, a girl and a boy, probably 4-6 years of age, their young parents, and their grandparents. The grandmother was a thin old lady with wrinkled face, skeletal hands, oily hair and wearing an old saree. The grandfather was a spectacled man who chose to remain silent all throughout the dinner. His appearance suggested that he is a confident man whose commandment in his family has rusted with his age and it was clear that it bothered him. His silence was a choice he made to sustain the changes that he was witnessing in his family. He tried to seem occupied with the menu but that too failed to entertain him for much time. He gazed at us a couple of times (which was probably because we were noticing them too much). The grandmother (his wife) was sitting just opposite to him who seemed to understand the reason for his silence and did not need words to talk to him. Though they were sitting with their son, their daughter-in-law and their two grandchildren but their eyes uttered of solitude. The young father of the two children was a tall suave man with a dominating voice. His proactiveness in asking for the menu and his willingness to inquire about the choice of others suggested that he was the earning member in that family. He had a heavy tone, or maybe in the presence of his senile parents, his wife and two small kids, his voice sounded more domineering. The tone of the daughter-in-law commensurated with her husband’s conduct which cleared our doubt as to why there was not much channelizing of thoughts between the two generations. It was more than apparent that the grandparents came to the city to live with their son’s family thereby giving up their village life. After a couple of minutes, we heard the first conversation between the two ladies. The mother of the small children was defending her style of raising her small kids flaunting that she belongs to an aware and more technologically equipped generation. The grandmother was pressing on the point that they should use ‘daliya’ as it is very good for kids. The father of the 2 children pitched in to say that they use a much better and nutritious food. They added that their children are much better than others who eat a lot of fast food at an early age. This was the last and the only conversation that we heard in which the grandmother cared to speak. It was as if her own upbringing of her son was being challenged with the knowledge that the young lady has acquired over Google. She was not merely suggesting some basic eating habits for her grandchildren but she somehow seemed to have a deeper motive behind her unsolicited advice – she wanted to be a part of the family only later to be deprecated by her son and daughter-in-law. In an attempt to adjust herself while shifting the small child, the grandmother bruised her elbow with the table edge. The wrinkled skin easily succumbed to the strain and bled a little. She wiped that away soon after noticing the lack of concern about her well-being. Again, the grandmother and the grandfather did not need words to empathize with each other’s situation. Their son was busy chatting with his wife while devising new tricks to get the children to eat the food. It was followed by an occasional Hi5’ves with his children as a way to celebrate that his tricks worked. The grandparents had probably got accustomed to those modern gestures since they were hardly perturbed. In a nutshell, their presence or absence would hardly make a difference in the events at that dinner table. The young man had probably spent all his childhood with his parents in the bucolic neighborhood of his village where his parents raised him. His parents got old while he moved to the city. He is modern with a beautiful wife whose charm made his mother look even older. He had a cushy job and held a tone which was condescending enough about the fact that he belonged to a modern society which is way better off than the previous generations. There was a subtle but boisterous exhibition of modernist thinking. He was unaware of the fact that his new life has distanced him from his parents but the strangers like us could easily sense it. The couple’s attitude somehow intimidated their parents who responded with their silence. The grandparents had long accepted their son’s life has long diverged from their own. It would be my incompetence if I could not portray the uncomfortable situation in which those grandparents were. There was something unsaid and yet so obvious about that whole plot which was disturbing all of us. It is hard to captivate the whole essence of that dinner table but the tensed face of the grandfather and helpless gestures by the grandmother were screaming with a hope to claim back their son who has been engulfed by the modern society.
(written in 2008)
You must have stumbled across news and pictures of newly found planets and galaxies. These news are often substantiated by real pictures taken by telescopes like Hubble. So say if some planet is found to be 100 light years away from earth , then what it implies is that the photos received by the telescope are 100 years older than what the planet actually is at this very moment and we don’t really know about the ‘present’ stage of the planet or galaxy. We are looking at the planet what it was 100 years ago. That celestial body may not even exist now whose images we are getting. Interestingly, what we are actually doing is we are looking into the past of that planet.
What actually happens is that the rays of light which have departed, if you may, from that planet and carry the image of the planet will continue to exist and travel in the universe regardless of the source . If we obstruct the path of those rays , we get those images. Same analogy can certainly be applied to Earth also. It is definitely possible that someone is watching our past right now by receiving the rays emitted by Earth many years back . So if the rays of light emmited from our PAST PLANET bend their way back to earth after travelling long distances , then certainly we will be able to receive them today and look at our own past .
To get a feel of this idea, assume there is a mirror in the universe 5000 light years away from Earth . Now say, light rays from Earth start their journey towards the mirror right now. Essentially, these rays of light carry images about our current planet . These rays would take 5,000 years to reach the mirror and same amount of time to reach back to Earth after being reflected . So after 10,000 years from now , our future generations can view the Earth as it is now in which we are living. It is almost like viewing the past of planet earth by receiving those rays . So in a way our past is running parallel to us at the same natural pace . This method can reveal different phases of earth’s life which is still very mysterious to us . Now the only thing that seems to be little annoying in this whole discussion is the MIRROR. How can we find a mirror in the universe to reflect the light back to us and hence make it possible for us to view our past . Well, the solution to this is the phenomenon of Total Internal Reflection . If the light totally reflects back not by a mirror but by total internal reflection , then the only apparent problem is also solved . And also there is insignificant intensity loss in TIR . Also for Total Internal Reflection, the universe is the best place as there are many atmospheres (of planets ) and vacuum and gases of varying densities all around the universe. Lets view this hypothesis from a different angle . Assume a twin of yours is standing at some distance from you and you are looking at him/her and perceive some image. Now look into a mirror this time , kept at half the distance of your twin , you perceive the same image as the one of your twin . So if we can look at the images of some planet 100 light years away from us , which we are completely potential of doing at present , then we can certainly look at images of our own planet as it was 50 light years back , so there is no point of intensity loss also . There is one more interesting inference which can be derived in this thought-experiment , when you are looking into a mirror you are not looking at the ‘present you’ but you are looking at your past, though it is a very recent one, a few nanoseconds or so , but still it is your PAST.
Hypothetically, assume that light travels at the speed of few entometers per second (10 to the power 30th fraction of the usual speed of light). What would have happened then. When you would have stood in front of the mirror in your old age , then what you’ll see would be your childhood . Now with the present speed of light , assume you are standing in front of a large mirror in the universe at a large distance from you. Then if you stand in front of it when you are old , the same will happen , you will see your past , probably childhood or youth , depending on the distance. This is because the increased cellestial distance have outweighed the speed of light . Another way to put this would be that if at any time you look into that mirror , you will see everything that mirror has witnessed a long time back, and your next generations will see you no matter you exist or not at that time.
Hence, by receiving light from Earth reflected from varying distances ,we can witness different phases of earth . And if somehow we get a closer look at our planet in these images, we can possibly witness the era of dinaussors, the early age , life of christ , and the evolution of earth and human beings on it .