Saturday, October 16, 2004

Physics, Probability, Philosophy, and Politics in a Polytechnic

I'm sitting at the Lifestyle Library reading New Scientist (25 Sep 2004 issue) and I come across this article "In the Lap of Gods", talking about quantum physics and randomness.

What a great time to revive various ruminations I've been having for the past months, where seemingly unrelated ideas slowly began to fit together. But it's far from done; I sometimes feel like I'm trying to fit together a massive jigsaw puzzle, with too many missing pieces, blindfolded, and on horseback.

Maybe verbalising some of these thoughts would help.

Since most of these ideas are still only vaguely connected, I shall not try too hard to highlight the connections. Just bear in mind that all these are somehow connected, at least in my mind.

First we have physics, specifically quantum physics or quantum mechanics. Manifested in the famous double-slit experiment, where sub-atomic particles like electrons or photons individually exhibit seemingly random and completely unpredictable behaviour, while a whole bunch of them taken together would exhibit statistically predictable behaviour (such as forming a wave pattern).

Maybe the quantum world is too small to grasp, so let's look at something closer to real life. If you toss a fair coin, you cannot predict if it's heads next or tails; it's random. But because we know it's a fair coin, probability and statistics tell us that if we toss it enough times, the coin would land heads half the time, and tails the other half (assuming that the coin never lands on its side). Individually unpredictable, statistically predictable.

Then in philosophy and religion, the notion of determinism, where everything that will happen is basically already determined, versus free will, which we certainly seem to have. God has determined everything past, present, and future as opposed to humans having real free will. Or, for the atheistically-inclined with a materialistic worldview - mechanistic determinism versus free will.

In politics, the notion of social engineering with the use of propaganda, policies, and campaigns, and their effect on individual choice. We scoff when the government encourages Singaporeans to have more babies, but I have a distinct feeling that the birthrate will increase a notch, at least for a few years. Yet having a baby is a profoundly personal decision (okay there are times when it's an accident). Or the push for more entrepreneurship. Very funny, I thought, only a few years back. Now it seems like it's working to some extent. Or is it a case of selective perception/memory?

Life here at Ngee Ann Polytechnic is just a microcosm of Singapore politics. They have this mockably laughable "Canteen Tray Return System" where they expect us to believe that "it's hip to return your trays", but hey, a trickle of trays are actually getting returned in the canteens, mine included. Or they orchestrate a more impressive open house, and guess what? more students actually enrol.

Someone tell me to stop blogging.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmm interesting .... seems like god do exsists and he wrote the laws of the universe

2:36 PM  
Blogger zhi yang said...

Stop blogging.

No. I'm just kidding.

Keep blogging.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Preetam said...

I think even if God did exist, I doubt she would bother to set a plan to everything. The logistics would be mind boggling.

Like how we all these computer games now with AI and “Fuzziness” built in to make the game unpredictable and more interesting.

Wasn’t it some scientist, I think was Bohr who replied “God not only play dice but he also hides them someplace where you can’t see them” to Einstein’s famous quote “God does not play dice”.

6:54 PM  
Blogger calm one said...

Anonymous:
Yeah one of the arguments for the existence of God is the laws of the universe. So far I haven't seen any good refutations of that.

Preetam:
Logistics wouldn't be a problem for a omnipotent/omniscient God, which most of the monotheistic religions believe in.

I *think* it was Hawking who said that (can't remember). But the Einstein comment triggered many others. The one I like (can't remember who again) goes something like "God doesn't just play dice, he plays with loaded dice."

Scientists can be pretty cool.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Hammy Goonan said...

I try not to concern myself with issues of free choice/fate or god. These are not questions I can answer.

However I do believe that all things are related and spend too much of my time trying to relate quite unrelated things. Perhaps your micro vs meta is an interesting addition to some of my ponderings.

However don’t you think that much on a small scale is replicated on a large scale – scientifically you could look at fractals.

1:58 PM  
Blogger calm one said...

Subcomadante Hamilton:
I'm not yet sure how fractals fit in, since I don't see much tension in their "self-similarity". But it's certainly something to think about, this recursiveness of fractals and other areas of mathematics and computing, particularly in AI. Maybe in another post =)

3:58 PM  
Blogger Zen|th said...

I agree. That Canteen Tray Return System, together with pictures of all the happy people returning trays, is crap. Hahaha.

12:17 AM  
Blogger calm one said...

They have the happy principal returning the tray (maybe you don't recognise him).

10:59 AM  

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