I’ve written here before about chaos theory and how it prevents us from calculating certain physical models effectively. It’s not that these models don’t accurately reflect the physics involved; it’s that any attempt to use actual numbers introduces tiny errors into the process. These cause the result to drift more and more as the calculation extends into the future.
This is why tomorrow’s weather prediction is fairly accurate but a prediction for a year from now is entirely guesswork. (We could make a rough guess based on past seasons.) Yet the Earth itself is a computer — an analog computer — that tells us exactly what the weather is a year from now.
The thing is: it runs in real-time and takes a year to give us an answer!
Tick-Tock, goes the clock…
Last time, in the Determined Thoughts post, I talked about physical determinism, which is the idea that the universe is a machine — like a clock — that is ticking off the minutes of existence. The famous French mathematician, Pierre-Simon Laplace (the “French Newton”), was the first (in 1814) to articulate the idea of causal determinism.
We now know that quantum mechanics makes it impossible to know both the position and motion of particles, so Laplace’s Demon isn’t possible at the sub-atomic level. (It might be possible at the classical or macro level — that’s an open question.) Sometimes the issue of chaos theory is proposed as a counter-argument to determinism, so I thought I’d cover what chaos theory is and how it might apply.
If you want to skip to the punchline, the answer is it doesn’t apply at all.