Predicting the Future

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby quintopia » Thu Dec 06, 2007 11:39 pm UTC

Nath wrote:Well, the law of excluded middle kind of follows from how you define your logical rules. It isn't determined by your physical theory. However, you do make the valid point that there are several caveats to any claim that reality is fundamentally non-deterministic. As I said, the question has not been settled. It's just that there's no reason to assume that things are deterministic.


True, but it may be that logic rules as they are traditionally defined are not "sensible" for quantum physics. For instance, Bell's Theorem follows depends on using the Law of the Excluded Middle.

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Anpheus » Sun Dec 09, 2007 2:28 am UTC

The Mighty Thesaurus wrote:Are we doomed to repeat this conversation over and over? Damn you, determinism!

All this has happened before, all this will happen again. The toasters and the gods be damned.

*laugh*

On a more serious note, no, the universe is not, strictly speaking, reversible. It is easier to predict the future than determine the past using present information. This is because multiple sets of particle collisions could lead to this exact, current state, but at least classically speaking, there can only be one result from then on. This is interesting because we have to accept the idea in classical physics that the past is more information rich than the future. (Though the second law of thermodynamics implies this, most don't realize it until it's actually said.)
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Dec 09, 2007 8:02 pm UTC

Anpheus wrote:This is because multiple sets of particle collisions could lead to this exact, current state, but at least classically speaking, there can only be one result from then on.

This is only true if you know of some classical law of mechanics that isn't reversible that I don't know about. (An example of being reversible is, if a projectile hits the ground at some specified position and velocity, you can follow the laws backwards to find out where it was launched from.)
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Anpheus » Sun Dec 09, 2007 8:20 pm UTC

I think you're oversimplifying. If you follow the laws of physics backward from say, a collision that formed a new particle, is it possible to know for certain the momentum of the two input particles from the momentum of the first? No. You can say, "If particle A had that momentum, then particle B must have had that momentum." AFAIK, the only rule is you have to conserve it.

And I was referring to classical mechanics with thermodynamics, isn't the whole point of thermodynamics that things are just chaotic enough, and leaking just enough energy through various means, that no process is truly reversible?
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Dec 09, 2007 8:59 pm UTC

Anpheus wrote:I think you're oversimplifying. If you follow the laws of physics backward from say, a collision that formed a new particle, is it possible to know for certain the momentum of the two input particles from the momentum of the first? No. You can say, "If particle A had that momentum, then particle B must have had that momentum." AFAIK, the only rule is you have to conserve it.

Yeah, but the key word was "classically". If a nucleus undergoes alpha decay, you can't say which direction the alpha particle will go off in any better than you can say from which directions the particles collided in your example.

And I was referring to classical mechanics with thermodynamics, isn't the whole point of thermodynamics that things are just chaotic enough, and leaking just enough energy through various means, that no process is truly reversible?

Thermodynamics is statistical. It really isn't the case that a previous lower-entropy state is impossible in a closed system. Just that it's so incredibly unlikely as to not merit consideration.

Take a simple example: You have a completely isolated, partitioned box, with gas on one side of the partition and vacuum on the other. Then you remove the partition. Yes, now with twice the space to inhabit, the gas will most likely pretty much fill the entire box from now on. But there is a vanishingly small probability that it will go back to being all on one side. At any given time, the atoms are pretty much going to look randomly distributed throughout the entire box. But there is a tiny probability that a particular distribution of a trillion points throughout the box will, in fact, have all of them turn up on one half. Sure, this probability is 2-1 trillion, but that's still not zero.
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Anpheus » Mon Dec 10, 2007 12:59 am UTC

At least in some model universes, cellular automatons, the game of life, and other things, it's easier to predict the future (the rules are laid out in a way easiest to understand going forward, and in reverse tend to be ambiguous) than it is to determine a previous state from any amount of current knowledge.

Is this not the case then in classical physics, if even quantum physics?

I mean, even taking the case of two particles bouncing into each other and flying off, something I understand quantum theory models better than classical theory, even if you could observe the position and velocity of each particle to arbitrary precision after the impact, you would have no idea what they were before the impact, correct? They could have come in with any set of vectors that is equivalent to the old set, correct?
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Nath » Mon Dec 10, 2007 1:41 am UTC

Anpheus wrote:At least in some model universes, cellular automatons, the game of life, and other things, it's easier to predict the future (the rules are laid out in a way easiest to understand going forward, and in reverse tend to be ambiguous) than it is to determine a previous state from any amount of current knowledge.

Is this not the case then in classical physics, if even quantum physics?

I mean, even taking the case of two particles bouncing into each other and flying off, something I understand quantum theory models better than classical theory, even if you could observe the position and velocity of each particle to arbitrary precision after the impact, you would have no idea what they were before the impact, correct? They could have come in with any set of vectors that is equivalent to the old set, correct?

Classically? I'm pretty sure you can tell where the particles were before impact.

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Anpheus » Mon Dec 10, 2007 4:08 am UTC

Are you sure? If you play Pool/Billiards, there are distinct equations which determine where each ball will go. If you knock two balls into each other, there is only one possible outcome. However, that outcome can be reached by an infinite number of possible input parameters. You can vary the initial positions and momentums in an infinite number of ways, and still arrive at the same outcome, with the exact same positions and velocities.
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Nath » Mon Dec 10, 2007 7:08 am UTC

Anpheus wrote:Are you sure? If you play Pool/Billiards, there are distinct equations which determine where each ball will go. If you knock two balls into each other, there is only one possible outcome. However, that outcome can be reached by an infinite number of possible input parameters. You can vary the initial positions and momentums in an infinite number of ways, and still arrive at the same outcome, with the exact same positions and velocities.

It's been a while since high school physics, but I'm pretty sure that's not true. Look at the equations for elastic collision (available in the Wikipedia article on momentum). Given the final velocities and the masses, you can solve for the initial velocities.

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Maurog » Mon Dec 10, 2007 11:53 am UTC

The final velocities are zero.
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Nath » Mon Dec 10, 2007 12:30 pm UTC

Maurog wrote:The final velocities are zero.

Perfectly elastic bodies, colliding in isolation? No.

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Maurog » Mon Dec 10, 2007 6:07 pm UTC

Uh, I will agree that predicting future and past is possible for perfectly elastic bodies colliding in isolation, on the condition that we stop bringing them into the discussion until someone produces any, or at least proves they exist.
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby daydalus » Mon Dec 10, 2007 7:03 pm UTC

At least in some model universes, cellular automatons, the game of life, and other things, it's easier to predict the future (the rules are laid out in a way easiest to understand going forward, and in reverse tend to be ambiguous) than it is to determine a previous state from any amount of current knowledge.


However, the future state of cellular automata must be determined by brute force - aka you must iterate through each state sequentially until you determine the outcome. There are no "Newtonian laws" (that we know of) to apply simple formulas and determine the final state in the Game of Life. That's not to say they don't exist - in fact I think it would be a huge discovery if we could deduce some laws or even a "calculus" of cellular automata that describes the patterns in the language of formulae.

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Anpheus » Tue Dec 11, 2007 12:03 am UTC

You would be mistaken to believe there are no shortcuts in the game of life. There's some nifty high-speed calculation engine out there that understands where an object is repeating itself and uses stored patterns of interactions, causes and effects to speed up the step speed. I've calculated trillions of steps in only a minute before, and this was a pattern that grew without bound.
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Nath » Tue Dec 11, 2007 12:49 am UTC

Maurog wrote:Uh, I will agree that predicting future and past is possible for perfectly elastic bodies colliding in isolation, on the condition that we stop bringing them into the discussion until someone produces any, or at least proves they exist.

I see your point, but here's why they were brought into this discussion:

We were trying to figure out whether classical physics laws allow you to predict the past given a detailed description of the present. Someone claimed that colliding billiards balls are a counterexample. I claimed that in the ideal case, they are not a counterexample. After all, billiard balls are elastic enough that they are the canonical example of a mostly elastic collision.

This seems perfectly reasonable to me. The debate is not about whether we can actually predict the past; the debate is whether various formulae (which we now know to be oversimplifications) allow us to predict the past in the simplified models that they assume. Someone claimed that a certain formula couldn't, and I claimed that it could. I don't see the problem with discussing ideal physical bodies in isolation in a debate concerning formulae about ideal physical bodies in isolation.

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Anpheus » Tue Dec 11, 2007 12:55 am UTC

Regrettably, I am using classical physics with the thermodynamics, which means every collision is going to be slightly inelastic.

I guess using billiards balls given their other purpose in modeling collisions was an error on my part.
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Nath » Tue Dec 11, 2007 1:31 am UTC

Anpheus wrote:Regrettably, I am using classical physics with the thermodynamics, which means every collision is going to be slightly inelastic.

I guess using billiards balls given their other purpose in modeling collisions was an error on my part.

Ah. Yes, things are less clear cut when you treat the balls as inelastic. For instance, if you have two adjacent, inelastic billiards balls at rest, you don't know whether they collided and reached that level of internal energy, or just started out that way. So I think you're right, unless there's something I'm forgetting to consider something about the internal state of the billiards balls.

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Dec 11, 2007 5:00 am UTC

Anpheus wrote:Regrettably, I am using classical physics with the thermodynamics, which means every collision is going to be slightly inelastic.

But thermodynamics wouldn't be what you used if you actually knew the position and velocity of every single particle involved. Thermodynamics is statistical. The energy lost from inelastic collisions becomes heat on the large scale, yes. But it is just the continued motion of individual tiny particles on the small scale.

I don't know why it would be theoretically more difficult to calculate how the air molecules around a pair of billiard balls were behaving in the past than it would be to predict what exactly they'll do after we send the balls rushing into each other.
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Anpheus » Tue Dec 11, 2007 5:01 am UTC

I was under the potentially mistaken impression that it was, but... don't all particles lose miniscule amounts of energy almost unpredictably through black body radiation?
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby quintopia » Thu Dec 13, 2007 1:56 am UTC

That everything "glows"? Well, considering that that lost energy is conserved as light, it really means nothing. . .you should even be able to determine when and where the photons were released by backtracking if it's possible, yes?

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Anpheus » Thu Dec 13, 2007 8:23 pm UTC

Hm, thanks for the food for thought. I'll have to think on this for a bit.
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby zenten » Wed May 14, 2008 6:16 pm UTC

quintopia wrote:That everything "glows"? Well, considering that that lost energy is conserved as light, it really means nothing. . .you should even be able to determine when and where the photons were released by backtracking if it's possible, yes?


Mind you, you can't actually know what path those photons took.

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Kachi » Wed May 14, 2008 10:41 pm UTC

While I think that determinism explains the reality of our world-- that is, there is only one possible result for the present given the variables from the past-- theoretically I don't think it would be possible for any sort of entity to predict the future. I say this because I can't fathom how a single entity can simultaneously analyze all the data in the universe including itself.

It may be an unpopular idea, but it seems to me that any existing theories of physics that suggest the contrary are more likely an indication of our own limitations. On the other hand, I guess the notion that all events are a reaction to an antecedent is as much as human-crafted concept as that of a finite universe.

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby zenten » Thu May 15, 2008 3:27 pm UTC

Kachi wrote:While I think that determinism explains the reality of our world-- that is, there is only one possible result for the present given the variables from the past-- theoretically I don't think it would be possible for any sort of entity to predict the future. I say this because I can't fathom how a single entity can simultaneously analyze all the data in the universe including itself.

It may be an unpopular idea, but it seems to me that any existing theories of physics that suggest the contrary are more likely an indication of our own limitations. On the other hand, I guess the notion that all events are a reaction to an antecedent is as much as human-crafted concept as that of a finite universe.


What's the difference if you can't know what those variables are?

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Anpheus » Thu May 15, 2008 5:55 pm UTC

I thought about this once, and you don't need hand-wavy explanations like Penrose positing the human brain uses quantum mechanical effects to create truly random, unique personalities, as opposed to the brain being just a mish-mash of neurons. All you need is some basic math.

The neurons in the brain use molecule-sized activators. In order to predict someone's future mental state, you'd have to (a.) scan their entire brain in its entirety, likely their entire body, to the molecule, and (b.) do so infinitely fast in order to obtain an exact state image. Then you'd (c.) have to continue to scan, with infinite speed, everything that's in the 'future light cone' of the person to exactly the same precision.

So you need an infinitely fast infinitely accurate device. Then when you add Heisenberg uncertainty principle, suddenly your scanning has actually altered the future state of everything you're observing (and because of the scope of your observation, can you truly determine whether or not you've altered the person's actions through altering the futures of every single one of their particles minutely?)

I mean, determinism or not, the world is so vastly complex, and so difficult to observe reliably, and then when you add to that Heisenberg's uncertainty principle that without knowing the initial velocity and position perfectly, you cannot know the result of any interaction with that particle without sacrificing the precision of one or the other...

Reaching for indeterminism to save the idea of a 'self' that cannot be predicted or copied is unnecessary, it's already impossible.
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Kachi » Thu May 15, 2008 8:19 pm UTC

What's the difference if you can't know what those variables are?


Could you elaborate on your question?

Taking a shot at addressing what I presume you're asking--

What is the practical application of determinism if we can never know the future with it?

Personally it has a more philosophical implication for me. In practical usage, I guess there is little difference. Anyway, if determinism is correct, and humans are not exempt, then we are the best that we can possibly be. For some, that's an upsetting idea, because aside from that illusion of freedom and choice that we so desperately cling to, where's the accountability? How can we blame someone for their misdeed if it's the only thing they could have done given the variables? In good conscious, we can't. It's not their fault that they are the way they are.

Obviously a society can't function wholly on this premise. We have to hold people responsible for their actions, generally with imposed consequences. In that way there is little difference. What is different though, is that we can absolve ourselves of feelings of resentment towards ourselves and others. Try not to make mistakes, but forgive yourself when you do. Hold others responsible for their mistakes, but absolve them of blame. It's a change in the way you think of things. It may not change the way we do things much, but our problems are not in our actions as much as they're in our minds.

Otherwise I would argue that even if we can't know the variables, we can still deduce patterns and trends-- more so than we can for random or unexplained phenomenon, whether it's physics or human behavior. We may not be able to "solve for x" but we can still extract correlary data with important implications. I guess according to determinism, it's not only plausible we do this, but inevitable.

Nevermind that even if it is an inevitability that we will find determinism true and be able to know the future, it won't necessarily do us any good or solve any of our problems. It may only serve to demonstrate how hopeless our species is.

I'm not sure if that addresses your question in any way :lol:

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Anpheus » Fri May 16, 2008 6:15 am UTC

So? If self is an illusion, and I was predetermined to be writing this post, does it really matter? Maybe some things are worth it just for the metaphor they provide. Maybe life really is something special for its rarity and uniqueness. It doesn't matter that I was always going to write this post, or that we were always going to have this discussion, but it does matter that we have it at all. We are still exchanging information, we're pondering our existence. We're asking questions, even if we were going to ask them anyway.

I think it's silly to predicate the meaning of life on something so silly as "to be everything you possibly can be" or "to be the best person possible." Maybe life is worth living because it's so fragile and, in many ways, beautiful?
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Mettra » Fri May 16, 2008 4:50 pm UTC

Sarcio wrote:personally...
yes, the universe is deterministic.

deterministic being a fancy term for 'only one thing can happen at a time.'

which is true. I can't roll a single die and get both a two and a six.

so if i knew every vector, every constant, every degree, every minute force, and every position/velocity of every subatomic particle, i could conclude the results of everything, and predict the future.

practically...no. no you can't.


The problem is, even in PRINCIPLE, you can't possibly know all of that. Or even some of it. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is the most limiting limitation we have in all of physics. You can't have perfect information about even a SINGLE object. The best you can do is to make use of quantum mechanics - a framework we have set up for making probabilistic predictions about systems.

Also your definition of deterministic is not a universal definition. Many different fields use a very specific meaning of deterministic. In game theory, the word is used to describe the absence of randomness in a game - in chess there is no randomness, there are no dice rolls, there are no spur-of-the-moment rule changes so the game is called deterministic. This is the definition most physicists would probably use. The universe is definitely not deterministic. You can, in fact, roll a superposition of both a two and a six with a single die.

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Kachi » Fri May 16, 2008 10:58 pm UTC

So? If self is an illusion, and I was predetermined to be writing this post, does it really matter?


That depends what you mean by "does it matter"? Matter to what? If you're questioning whether there are any practical implications, then I'd say yes-- the ones I described before. It matters to me, for example, if a person has any actual control over their own actions or if their actions are entirely ruled by physics. If it's the former, then I feel justified to blame them for all, or at least some, of their actions. If the latter, I have no reason to. They are simply exhibiting a physical stimulus-response. I may then in turn respond to their stimulus-response by altering their stimulus to gain a more desirable response from them. Everything is stimulus-response. There is no need to attribute values of badness or goodness to the person themselves, though arguably there isn't one either way.

Based on the assumption that this is a deterministic universe:

I am a determinist because I had to be. I see all things as an inevitability because the physical variables have yielded that result. I take this into consideration when I employ my decision-making process, because I have to. This conversation, as you pointed out, had to happen exactly this way. To me, knowing, or thinking, that this is a deterministic universe grants a level of serenity, and contributes to sound judgment, that I would not be able to benefit from otherwise in some ways. In others, it does not. When that is the case, I act in the way I see best, knowing that that is the only thing I can do. Primarily, I forgive people of their mistakes (even if I don't show it) and I look for ways to alter their stimuli to get better responses in the future-- because I have to. This is the way the universe has made me, you might say.

I think it's silly to predicate the meaning of life on something so silly as "to be everything you possibly can be" or "to be the best person possible."


Well that's not at all what I was saying. What I was saying is that according to determinism, at least as I see it, you already are the best person you can possibly be. Everyone is. The universe is perfect, in a highly mathematical sense. All things are exactly as they should be, just as 2+2 should equal 4. That's the universe.

As for the value of living, that's determined by our ability to be happy, I think-- to be able to attribute values of goodness to things. We have the ability to say that life is good, and the biological imperative to choose a course that leads to happiness (based on the quality of our decision-making abilities), or perhaps more (or equally) accurately, the absence of things that we assign negative values to... namely: fear, anger, and sorrow.

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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby TheStranger » Sat May 17, 2008 2:33 am UTC

I cannot help but wonder: If we had a machine that could predict the future then how would the existence of that machine factor into it's own predictions?
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Re: Predicting the Future

Postby Kachi » Sat May 17, 2008 4:28 am UTC

I think that was brought up. It's difficult to fathom but not impossible, because a machine that understands the relationship of all of the universe's variables can alter the variable of its own response to provide a response that would have to be true. So probably, it could only offer impractically ambiguous responses. I mean, it knows how you will react to its response, by definition. It can't possibly offer a response that you could change by knowing the answer.


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