Comments about the book "The Challenge of Chance" by Klaas Landsman ea

This document contains comments about the book: "The Challenge of Chance" by Klaas Landsman ea
This book is available as an e-book. To download the book select:
In the last paragraph I explain my own opinion.





page 1

The collapse of cohesion is one of the features that characterize chance.
This sentence is not clear. The concept of chance is based on the fact how often a certain identical event happens.
By sheer accident, or so it seems, something breaks the typical regularity of the natural world, like a comet disrupting the solar system.
A comet colliding with the sun is a natural event. Nothing special. Simple statistics, i.e. counting the number of events that this happens over a period of 10 years, will tell how often you can expect this to happen in one year.
The 13 occurences of the commet Hally between 1066 and 1986 (observed by me) shows the fact how regular (cyclic) the trajectory of this comet is.
At a human scale, we find examples like unexpectedly bumping into an old friend, or losing a loved one in an accident.
From a physical point of view, all these events are physical possible.
Such (seemingly) random phenomena appear arbitrary; they disrupt our lives and frustrate our human need for logic and meaning.
From a physical point of view all events have a cause, and all events can result in other events.
The ensuing feelings of uncertainty and apprehensiveness, in turn, trigger us to search for explanations that will help restore order and normal patterns of cause and effect
Suppose you have a car accident. You want to know, who is the passenger in the other car. You open the door, and it is your neighbour. Is that strange?
To investigate you have to perform statistics and count how often this happens. The result is that in 1 of 1000000 accidents the two parties involved are neighbours.
At the same time you can perform a different experiment: How far away from home were you, when this experiment happened. The result could be that in 99 of one 100 cases with two parties they were less than 2 km away from home.
The only thing that this learns that if you have an accident with your neighbour and you are 50 km away from home that this happens very rarely.
What is important that these facts are established by means of experiments
Either way, we find the experience of chance hard to deal with.
Identical experiences and events are part of ordinary life.
All these represent physical changes. Of these many are identical and can be counted.
Humans constantly try to understand random phenomena and prefer explanations that (re)install meaning.

page 3

1. Contents of This Book: Addressing the Challenge

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page 5

Medical research has to bridge another chasm, namely from biology and genetics to the feelings of loss when a handicapped child is born ‘by chance’ to healthy parents.
The issue is that apparent healthy parents can get a handicapped child. The cause is in the chromosomes of the parents. In some case the chance that such parents get an apparent healthy child is 50%. For more detail see this link:
Brunner shows in his study that random genetic mutations that originate at the molecular level can subsequently have either causal or probabilistic conse- quences for genes, individuals, species, ecosystems, and eventually even for the planet.
The issue is that the genetic mutation could have happend in many previous generations ago. For the next generations the issue is if the mutated gene is inherited or not. The consequences depend very much about the severity of the disease.
The example of genetics also raises the question whether random events are beneficial or harmful: on the one hand, random errors of replication during the formation of germ cells can cause birth defects that result in a miscarriage or severe problems for the child and parents. On the other hand, such mutations drive evolution at the level of the species, typically enabling it to improve.
The simple issue is if genetic modifications are beneficial or harmful. The answer is: Yes.

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2. A Transdisciplinary Perspective on Chance

page 7

Secondly, throughout history including contemporary science, chance has been used both as an explanation and as the hallmark of an absence of explanation.
Chance, without any clarification, can never be the cause of any physical explanation, except when each outcome of an experiment has the same chance. Chance in these cases has the same meaning as luck.
But would there have been a communist Russian Revolution without Lenin, or a Holocaust without Hitler?
This question does not make sense. If people in general are discontend any type of trouble can happen.
If not, the actual occurrence of these momentous events in history was eventually caused by the random events of the births of these particular individuals.
Also this remark does not make sense. During history many remarkable people are born. Many of these people were 'famous' because of previous inventions or discoveries.
Similarly, parents with a severely handicapped or stillborn child may feel that their misfortune has no explanation, while their doctor may say it was caused by a random genetic defect.
The idea of misfortune is something of 100 years ago. I doubt if there are parents that there are no explanations, anyway to explain that something is caused by a genetic defect is too simple, even that the cause is genetical. The point is that any disease that has a genetical base is more difficult to cure and mostly (?) does not exist. What you expect today that the doctor in more detail explains what is (physical) involved and what the options are. See:
In quantum physics it could be claimed that radio-active atoms decay because of random events, or it could be said that this decay cannot be explained.
Radio-active decay is the emission of an x-ray. The average time between each emission can be calculated based on observations of a sequence of events. The actual cause of each emission cannot be observed, and is a random event.

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Reflection 1. - The difference between statistics and chance.

Both concepts statistics and chance are important, but have their own applications.
Generally speaking statistics have to do with physics and chance with mathematics.
Statistics has to do with collecting data and the interpratation of these results. A typical case is a questionary when you calculate the numbers of all possible answers. A different example is the measurement and calculation of all positif tests of each day for the Netherlands.
Chance starts when the statiscal results are known. Chance starts when you throw 600 times with a dice and the results are: 100 times 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. In that case you know that the chance (p) of throwing each number is the same and equal to 1 out of 6.
The same you can do with a roulette and estabish that the chance of throwing each number (including zero) is 1 out of 37. That means p = 1/37
When you know these numbers you enter in the field of probability theory. See:
Using probability theory you can calcute the chance that certain events happen. For example the chance of throwing two identical numbers in a row is p. The chance of three times is p^2 etc.
The chance for each card, in a card game, is identical i.e. 1 out of 40. In the game of bridge an ace has 4 points, a king 3 points, the queen 2 points and a jack 1 point. In case you have 30 points, you have what is called a strong have. In principle you can use probabity theory to calculate the chance of having 30 points in your hand. In reality you have to use a computer program which simulates each hand, in order to calculate the chance. This means how limited probability theory is.

Reflection 2. - Events. Random versus non-Random.

In the book often the concept of randomness is introduced. When you do a search in the above text 5 times the word Random is used. Always in the physical sense, as part of something happening, ie. an event, in the real world or an experiment.
Every event, every change has a cause and be the cause of other events, even at atomic scales. The main problem is that atomic scale the interactions between protons, neutrons, electrons and photons can not be established by individual measurements. Often they can only be assumed.
When throwing dices the chance (p) of each number is the same and the outcome of a induvidual throw is a random event. The word random in that case does not say much.
In the Netherlands in between 1899 and 1974 there were coal mines in operation in the province of Limburg. Starting from roughly 1960 there was Natural Gas winning in the province of Groningen. As a result there were eartquakes.
The question to answer is: were they random?
FRom the view point of the whole of Netherland:

Reflection 1. - General

The book "Foundation of Quantum Theory" (book 1) is a very impressif book. In some sense you can compare it with the book "Newton's Principia" (book 2) for the common Reader by S. Chandrasekbar. Both books are a mixture of readable text and methematics. Mathematics in the form of theorems to slowly quide you to a conclusion.
For the common Reader to read the text is a joy and adds knowledge to your mind. The mathematics is the cherry on the pudding.
However there is a great difference between the two books. Book 1 is about quantum mechanics and book 2 about classical mechanics. This is my interpretation. Book 2 is the opinion of one man: Isaac Newton. This makes the whole book very concise, balanced. The object of the book is also straight forward: The movement of the planets around the Sun. Book 1 is a mixture of the meaning of many people, each of which is often not clear and consistent.
See Page 7
In the discussed section the opinions of Einstein versus Bell and Bohr versus Everett are compared in some sense to reach some unification. The problem is there is no clear underlying subject which is discussed. It would have been much simpler if all these people discussed the same experiment and try to explain the outcome. Unfortunate that is not the case.
A typical case is Everett and the Many Worlds view. The problem the whole many worlds view is not clear and cannot be demonstrated. As a consequence one cannot claim that Bohr is wrong.

Reflection 2. - Free Will

In 6.3 Philosophical intermezzo: Free will in the Free Will Theorem the concept Free Will is discussed. In fact the concept is divided in two parts Free and Will as if they can be discussed separately. This is wrong. They are both part of the human brain or mind. In fact all people have a "Free Will" in principle. This becomes clear if you ask a person to select one ball out of a bag which are all numbered. He or she can select any ball he or she likes freely.
However that does mean that we can always do what ever we like, Infact there are many rules which control or guide our behaviour. For example if we drive a car, we have to follow the rules. If you are in a yail, your freedom is very limited.
What is important that in order to explain "Free will" the concepts determinism and indeterminism don't have to be used.

Reflection 3. - Deterministic World & Laws of Nature

A Deterministic World implies that the total evolution of the world can be described by laws. To be more specific by the laws of nature. There are two main problems involved.
  1. We don't know what these laws of nature are.
  2. We don't know what the actual state of the universe is at present, at all levels of detail.
The claim that the world is either deterministic or indeterministic or both does not make sense.
The only thing that makes sense is the claim that certain physical phenomena can be described (within a certain accuracy) by physical laws. A typical example is Newton's law. This law can be used to describe to decribe the movements of planets (within a certain accuracy) if they are spherical. In principle they can be used to describe the movement of any object. The problem is that than you have to know the shape and its internal structure and that is impossible.

Reflection 4. - Complications related to measurement issues.

In order to understand the universe or the details of any process, measurements are necessary, to know what has happened in the past, to unravel the laws that describe its behavior and to predict the future.
The problem of any measurement is that the measurement will disturb what you want to measure. This problem exists specific if you want to measure what happens at elementary particle level (atoms) and even smaller (quarks). What you measure, for example at elementary level, is only an average position. This measurement inturn will influence the direction of the particle measured, which will make it difficult to measure its speed.
However and that is important the fact that you cannot measure something does not mean that at any moment a specific atom, electron or photon does not have a specific position. With position I mean the center of the atom, electron or photon. The point I try to make is that incase you cannot measure something, does not mean that 'below the surface' there is not a deeper reality, which can be described (measured) if better tools were available.

The same can be said about the uncertainty principle which says something about the incapability of humans to perform accurate measurements but does not say anything about the underlying reality. There exists no uncertainty in the movement of electrons around its nucleus.

Related to quantum mechanics (elementary particle physics) there exist the opinion that a measurement here can have (instantaneous) influence of the state of something overthere. This is specific the case when entanglement is involved. In that case it is important to agree upon that entanglement (correlation) can only be established when 'the same experiment' is performed many times. Only when you have performed the experiement 1000 times you can claim that the particles are correlated, meaning that the state of one particle is A the state of the other particle is non_A. And vice versa.
The reason why instantaneous action can not be involved is because this would invalidate the rule that any measurement is a process which follows the common accepted laws of physics. One of these laws is that any physical influence propagates below the speed of light. The problem is that if we assume that there are measurements which influence others at a distance this would invalidate all measurements and all results related to the LHC. Maybe not all but than maybe some. If that is the case than which one? IMO none.

Reflection 5. - Schrödinger's Cat.

As part of the Schrödinger's Cat (Thought) experiment a cat is put in a box. Immediate when this is done, without doing anything else, you can ask the question: what is the (physical) state of the cat. The most logical answer will be: alive. This can easily be tested by opening the box. However accordingly to quantum mechanics the state of the cat is both alive and dead (simultaneous).
Next you switch a lever which is connected to the box and you ask the same question: What is the state of the cat. Again the most logical answer is: alive. According to quantum mechanics the state of the cat is both alive and dead (before you look in the box). Next you look inside the box and you see that the cat is dead. How come? The cat was healthy. This raises also an other question: Is quantum mechanics correct? Was the cat in the box alive and dead simultaneous.
If you want to answer you must know much more detail what happens inside the box when you change the position of the lever. In fact you must study the hidden parameters involved. Inside in the box there is a radio active element which decays in for example an alpha particle. Important is the half life of this decay process. To get some idea if you start with 120 atoms of a radioactive element and the half life is 1 minute then after 1 minute only 60 atoms will be left implying that on average after each second 1 alpha particle will be released. In the next minute that will be each 2 seconds, 4 seconds etc. This alpha particle will release a poison inside the box and the cat will be dead. To find the half-life you have to perform many experiments. You could also use this list: The importance of all this the more you know the better you can predict that if you look after 1 minute the cat is dead. This reasoning is based on two laws: that the amount of radioactive material used should be large and that the half-time should be small.
Does this mean that quantum theory is right. Yes if the two mentioned laws are subject of quantum mechanics.
Does that mean that Einstein is right. Yes insofar the hidden variables approach he supported means that you need the details of the processes involved to explain the outcome of a certain experiment.
Does this mean that in the schrödinger's cat experiment there is superposition involved? No. Based on the results of the experiment the answer is clearly no.

Reflection 6. - Quantum Mechanics versus Mathematics.

Is it possible to describe the quantum mechanical world by means of mathematics?
  1. First of all there exists no quantum world nor a mathematical world. There only exists one world or one universe which we can study at different levels of detail. The further away we observe, the longer ago happened what we observe and the less accurate.
  2. Generally speaking we can only perform mathematics at microscopic level (individual particles) in some specific cases, but in general the answer is no. It is very difficult to perform methmatics (make accurate prdeictions) based on individual experimenst.
    • What we can use the periodic table which gives the number of protons, neutrons and electronic in each atom. The rules are mathematical and there are no empty places (any more)
    • What also follows very strict rules is the behaviour of the electrons in shells and the ionization energy. See:
    • A different story is the
    • At quantum mechanical level the most interesting case is the Double-slit experiments (with waterwaves) and photons. See
      What is important that the double slit experiment says something about the behavior of photons related to a single or a double slit (that photons can interfere) but can not be used to explain anything else.
      The last sentence of the document reads:
      Physicist David Deutsch argues in his book The Fabric of Reality that the double-slit experiment is evidence for the many-worlds interpretation.
      This is a typical a case where you want to explain something that is not clear (the results of the double-slit experiment) by something else (The many-worlds interpretation) which is also not clear.
  3. IMO most experiments at elementary particle level (specific the results of collisions or reactions) can not be described by mathematics. The best we can do is to draw a Feynmann diagram, which describe more or less which particles collide and what are the fragments, but the details are hidden.


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Created: 13 December 2021

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