“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Monday, May 9, 2011

Meillassoux and Probability

Which pattern of stars is more random? Wrong. It's the one on the left

(1) The appearance of stability is a function of randomness. That's quite different from what Meillassoux argues, which is that the stability of the universe makes it appear as if it could not have arisen by chance. This physicist agrees with me. Random patterns are the ones that seem regular. Clumping is a feature of true randomness.

(2) Meillassoux seems to take at face value the idea that randomness = instability, just like those he is refuting. He decides to eject the idea of randomness, because it implies some order, some law—he is trying to prove that there is no reason why things happen.

This is only the case with mechanistic systems, such as dice (Meillassoux's example) and billiard balls (Hume). Quantum entanglement is truly random. What does this mean? It means for instance that in certain highly repeatable conditions the likelihood of a photon being polarized in a certain direction is totally uncertain before a “measurement” takes place. This is why quantum phenomena are incredibly good at generating random numbers.

Totally uncertain means that no matter how much information you have, you won't be able to predict the state of the photon. This is patently not the case with dice and billiard balls.

One explanation for this total uncertainty is that a photon is in two or three different orientations simultaneously. This violates what Meillassoux takes to be the fundamental law (the one law he chooses not to violate), the law of noncontradiction. Remember my post about the tiny tuning fork? With the naked eye it was seen to vibrate and not vibrate simultaneously.

What does this mean? It means that you sure can apply “probabilistic reasoning” to the universe, and that far from being “meaningless” (After Finitude 100), this is how incredibly basic things seem to operate.

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