leon_m_lederman's picture
Director emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
Does God play dice?

Like mathematics whose symbols can represent physical properties when applied to some scientific problem, God is a convenient symbol for nature, for the way the world works. Einstein's reaction of utter incredibility to the quantum theory from its development in the late 20's until his death in 1955, was echoed by colleagues who had participated in the early creation of the quantum revolution, which Richard Feynman had termed the most radical theory ever.

Well does she?

The simplest example of what sure looks like God playing dice happens when you walk past a store window on a sunny day. Of course you are not just admiring your posture and checking your attire, you are probably watching the guy undressing the manikin, but that is another story.

So how do you see yourself, albeit dimly, while the manikin abuser sees you very clearly? Everyone knows that light is a stream of photons, here from the sun, some striking your nose, then reflected in all directions. We focus on two photons heading for the window. We'll need thousands to get a good picture but two will do for a start. One penetrates the window and impacts the eye of the manikin dresser. The second is reflected from the store window and hits your eye, a fine picture of a good looking pedestrian! What determines what the photons will do? The photons are identical...trust me. Philosophers of science assure us that identical experiments give identical results.

Not so!

The only rational conclusion would seem to be that she plays dice at each impact of the photon. Using a die with 10 faces, good enough for managing this bit of the world, numbers one to nine determine that the photon goes through, a ten and the photon is reflected. Its random...a matter of probability.

Dress this concept up in shiny mathematics and we have quantum science which underlies physics, most of chemistry and molecular biology. It now accounts for 43.7% of our GNP. (this is consistent with 87.1% of all numbers being made up.)

So what was wrong with Einstein and his friends? Probabilistic nature which is applicable to the world of atoms and smaller, has implications which are bizarre, spooky, wierd. Granting that it works, Einstein could not accept it and hoped for a deeper explanation. Today, many really smart physicists are are seeking a kinder, gentler formulation but 99.3% of working physicists go along with the notion that she is one hell-of-a crap shooter.

LEON M. LEDERMAN , the director emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, has received the Wolf Prize in Physics (1982), and the Nobel Prize in Physics (1988). In 1993 he was awarded the Enrico Fermi Prize by President Clinton. He is the author of several books, including (with David Schramm) From Quarks to the Cosmos : Tools of Discovery, and (with Dick Teresi) The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?