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.
Dateline: Monday. The little-known eclectic blogger, Wyrd Smythe, had no idea that his blogging provider, a mysterious global enterprise known as “Word Press” (a possible anagram for “Sword Reps”), had granted him extreme power over the weather. At this time, we cannot report whether this was a deliberate seasonal gift, or if the power somehow escaped the control of its owners. Neither can we report on how many this may affect.
What we do know is this: On Monday, when the unsuspecting blogger clicked the “Let It Snow” checkbox on his settings page, sure enough, a gentle snow fall began on his posts. That was the desired and expected effect. What happened next, however, was a surprise.
It also began to snow outside for the first time this season!
I misspent my younger days in the warm climes of Southern California. In particular, I went to high school and college there. I moved to the Midwest about seven years after college. For many, college was the end of anything resembling much in the way of time to call their own. I have many fond memories of idle times in perfect weather!
People who know me know I have a pretty intense work ethic. They also know I have a pretty intense party ethic. (Truth is: I’m just intense. Period. Work hard; play hard; relax hard.) This past week—my first week into retirement—I’ve been relaxing hard.
And the weather has been just glorious this week. So far, retirement is aces!