Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Does probability come from quantum physics?

Date:
February 5, 2013
Source:
University of California - Davis
Summary:
Ever since Erwin Schrodinger put his unfortunate cat in a box, his fellow physicists have been using quantum theory to explain and understand the nature of waves and particles. But a new article makes the case that these quantum fluctuations actually are responsible for the probability of all actions, with far-reaching implications for theories of the universe.

Ever since Austrian scientist Erwin Schrodinger put his unfortunate cat in a box, his fellow physicists have been using something called quantum theory to explain and understand the nature of waves and particles.
Credit: © pterwort / Fotolia

Ever since Austrian scientist Erwin Schrodinger put his unfortunate cat in a box, his fellow physicists have been using something called quantum theory to explain and understand the nature of waves and particles.

But a new paper by physics professor Andreas Albrecht and graduate student Dan Phillips at the University of California, Davis, makes the case that these quantum fluctuations actually are responsible for the probability of all actions, with far-reaching implications for theories of the universe.

Quantum theory is a branch of theoretical physics that strives to understand and predict the properties and behavior of atoms and particles. Without it, we would not be able to build transistors and computers, for example. One aspect of the theory is that the precise properties of a particle are not determined until you observe them and "collapse the wave function" in physics parlance.

Schrodinger's famous thought experiment extends this idea to our scale. A cat is trapped in a box with a vial of poison that is released when a radioactive atom randomly decays. You cannot tell if the cat is alive or dead without opening the box. Schrodinger argued that until you open the box and look inside, the cat is neither alive nor dead but in an indeterminate state.

For many people, that is a tough concept to accept. But Albrecht says that, as a theoretical physicist, he concluded some years ago that this is how probability works at all scales, although until recently, he did not see it as something with a crucial impact on research. That changed with a 2009 paper by Don Page at the University of Alberta, Canada.

"I realized that how we think about quantum fluctuations and probability affects how we think about our theories of the universe," said Albrecht, a theoretical cosmologist.

One of the consequences of quantum fluctuations is that every collapsing wave function spits out different realities: one where the cat lives and one where it dies, for example. Reality as we experience it picks its way through this near-infinity of possible alternatives. Multiple universes could be embedded in a vast "multiverse" like so many pockets on a pool table.

There are basically two ways theorists have tried to approach the problem of adapting quantum physics to the "real world," Albrecht said: You can accept it and the reality of many worlds or multiple universes, or you can assume that there is something wrong or missing from the theory.

Albrecht falls firmly in the first camp.

"Our theories of cosmology say that quantum physics works across the universe," he said. For example, quantum fluctuations in the early universe explain why galaxies form as they did -- a prediction that can be confirmed with direct observations.

The problem with multiple universes, Albrecht said, is that it if there are a huge number of different pocket universes, it becomes very hard to get simple answers to questions from quantum physics, such as the mass of a neutrino, an electrically neutral subatomic particle.

"Don Page showed that the quantum rules of probability simply cannot answer key questions in a large multiverse where we are not sure in which pocket universe we actually reside," Albrecht said.

One answer to this problem has been to add a new ingredient to the theory: a set of numbers that tells us the probability that we are in each pocket universe. This information can be combined with the quantum theory, and you can get your math (and your calculation of the mass of a neutrino) back on track.

Not so fast, say Albrecht and Phillips. While the probabilities assigned to each pocket universe may seem like just more of the usual thing, they are in fact a radical departure from everyday uses of probabilities because, unlike any other application of probability, these have already been shown to have no basis in the quantum theory.

"If all probability is really quantum theory, then it can't be done," Albrecht said. "Pocket universes are much, much more of a departure from current theory than people had assumed."

The paper is currently posted on the ArXiv.org preprint server and submitted for publication and has already stimulated considerable discussion, Albrecht said.

"It forces us to think about the different kinds of probability, which often get confused, and perhaps can help draw a line between them," he said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Andreas Albrecht, Daniel Phillips. Origin of probabilities and their application to the multiverse. arxiv.org, submitted on 5 Dec 2012 [link]

Cite This Page:

University of California - Davis. "Does probability come from quantum physics?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130205151450.htm>.
University of California - Davis. (2013, February 5). Does probability come from quantum physics?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130205151450.htm
University of California - Davis. "Does probability come from quantum physics?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130205151450.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 26, 2014) — Qantas and Virgin say passengers can use their smartphones and tablets throughout flights after a regulator relaxed a ban on electronic devices during take-off and landing. As Hayley Platt reports the move comes as the two domestic rivals are expected to post annual net losses later this week. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 26, 2014) — Huge waves generated by Hurricane Marie hit the Southern California coast. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chinese Researchers Might Be Creating Supersonic Submarine

Chinese Researchers Might Be Creating Supersonic Submarine

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) — Chinese researchers have expanded on Cold War-era tech and are closer to building a submarine that could reach the speed of sound. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakingviews: India Coal Strained by Supreme Court Ruling

Breakingviews: India Coal Strained by Supreme Court Ruling

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 26, 2014) — An acute coal shortage is likely to be aggravated as India's supreme court declared government coal allocations illegal, says Breakingviews' Peter Thal Larsen. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins