What Einstein meant by ‘God does not play dice’

Einstein developed a deep aversion to the dogma of organized religion that would last for his lifetime, an aversion that extended to all forms of authoritarianism, including any kind of dogmatic atheism.

Author: Jim Baggott

Source: Aeon

Link:https://www.alternet.org/what-einstein-meant-god-does-not-play-dice?src=newsletter1098152

Emphasis: Mine

‘The theory produces a good deal but hardly brings us closer to the secret of the Old One,’ wrote Albert Einstein in December 1926. ‘I am at all events convinced that He does not play dice.’

Einstein was responding to a letter from the German physicist Max Born. The heart of the new theory of quantum mechanics, Born had argued, beats randomly and uncertainly, as though suffering from arrhythmia. Whereas physics before the quantum had always been about doing this and getting that, the new quantum mechanics appeared to say that when we do this, we get that only with a certain probability. And in some circumstances we might get the other.

Einstein was having none of it, and his insistence that God does not play dice with the Universe has echoed down the decades, as familiar and yet as elusive in its meaning as E = mc2. What did Einstein mean by it? And how did Einstein conceive of God?

Hermann and Pauline Einstein were nonobservant Ashkenazi Jews. Despite his parents’ secularism, the nine-year-old Albert discovered and embraced Judaism with some considerable passion, and for a time he was a dutiful, observant Jew. Following Jewish custom, his parents would invite a poor scholar to share a meal with them each week, and from the impoverished medical student Max Talmud (later Talmey) the young and impressionable Einstein learned about mathematics and science. He consumed all 21 volumes of Aaron Bernstein’s joyful Popular Books on Natural Science (1880). Talmud then steered him in the direction of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781), from which he migrated to the philosophy of David Hume. From Hume, it was a relatively short step to the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach, whose stridently empiricist, seeing-is-believing brand of philosophy demanded a complete rejection of metaphysics, including notions of absolute space and time, and the existence of atoms.

But this intellectual journey had mercilessly exposed the conflict between science and scripture. The now 12-year-old Einstein rebelled. He developed a deep aversion to the dogma of organised religion that would last for his lifetime, an aversion that extended to all forms of authoritarianism, including any kind of dogmatic atheism.

This youthful, heavy diet of empiricist philosophy would serve Einstein well some 14 years later. Mach’s rejection of absolute space and time helped to shape Einstein’s special theory of relativity (including the iconic equation E = mc2), which he formulated in 1905 while working as a ‘technical expert, third class’ at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. Ten years later, Einstein would complete the transformation of our understanding of space and time with the formulation of his general theory of relativity, in which the force of gravity is replaced by curved spacetime. But as he grew older (and wiser), he came to reject Mach’s aggressive empiricism, and once declared that ‘Mach was as good at mechanics as he was wretched at philosophy.’

Over time, Einstein evolved a much more realist position. He preferred to accept the content of a scientific theory realistically, as a contingently ‘true’ representation of an objective physical reality. And, although he wanted no part of religion, the belief in God that he had carried with him from his brief flirtation with Judaism became the foundation on which he constructed his philosophy. When asked about the basis for his realist stance, he explained: ‘I have no better expression than the term “religious” for this trust in the rational character of reality and in its being accessible, at least to some extent, to human reason.’

But Einstein’s was a God of philosophy, not religion. When asked many years later whether he believed in God, he replied: ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.’ Baruch Spinoza, a contemporary of Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, had conceived of God as identical with nature. For this, he was considered a dangerous heretic, and was excommunicated from the Jewish community in Amsterdam.

Einstein’s God is infinitely superior but impersonal and intangible, subtle but not malicious. He is also firmly determinist. As far as Einstein was concerned, God’s ‘lawful harmony’ is established throughout the cosmos by strict adherence to the physical principles of cause and effect. Thus, there is no room in Einstein’s philosophy for free will: ‘Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control … we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player.’

The special and general theories of relativity provided a radical new way of conceiving of space and time and their active interactions with matter and energy. These theories are entirely consistent with the ‘lawful harmony’ established by Einstein’s God. But the new theory of quantum mechanics, which Einstein had also helped to found in 1905, was telling a different story. Quantum mechanics is about interactions involving matter and radiation, at the scale of atoms and molecules, set against a passive background of space and time.

Earlier in 1926, the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger had radically transformed the theory by formulating it in terms of rather obscure ‘wavefunctions’. Schrödinger himself preferred to interpret these realistically, as descriptive of ‘matter waves’. But a consensus was growing, strongly promoted by the Danish physicist Niels Bohr and the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, that the new quantum representation shouldn’t be taken too literally.

In essence, Bohr and Heisenberg argued that science had finally caught up with the conceptual problems involved in the description of reality that philosophers had been warning of for centuries. Bohr is quoted as saying: ‘There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.’ This vaguely positivist statement was echoed by Heisenberg: ‘[W]e have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.’ Their broadly antirealist ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ – denying that the wavefunction represents the real physical state of a quantum system – quickly became the dominant way of thinking about quantum mechanics. More recent variations of such antirealist interpretations suggest that the wavefunction is simply a way of ‘coding’ our experience, or our subjective beliefs derived from our experience of the physics, allowing us to use what we’ve learned in the past to predict the future.

But this was utterly inconsistent with Einstein’s philosophy. Einstein could not accept an interpretation in which the principal object of the representation – the wavefunction – is not ‘real’. He could not accept that his God would allow the ‘lawful harmony’ to unravel so completely at the atomic scale, bringing lawless indeterminism and uncertainty, with effects that can’t be entirely and unambiguously predicted from their causes.

The stage was thus set for one of the most remarkable debates in the entire history of science, as Bohr and Einstein went head-to-head on the interpretation of quantum mechanics. It was a clash of two philosophies, two conflicting sets of metaphysical preconceptions about the nature of reality and what we might expect from a scientific representation of this. The debate began in 1927, and although the protagonists are no longer with us, the debate is still very much alive.

And unresolved.

I don’t think Einstein would have been particularly surprised by this. In February 1954, just 14 months before he died, he wrote in a letter to the American physicist David Bohm: ‘If God created the world, his primary concern was certainly not to make its understanding easy for us.’

Jim Baggott

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.


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Another misguided believer claims that science is based on faith

Source: Whyevolutionistrue

Author: Jerry Coyne

Emphasis Mine

I guess it was too much for me to hope that my 2013 Slate essay, “No faith in science,would once and for all dispel the claim that science is just like religion in depending on faith. My point was simple: what “faith” means in science is “confidence based on experience,” while the same term in religion means “belief without enough evidence to convince most rational people.” It’s the same word, but with two different meanings. Yet religious people mix up those meanings regularly—and, I expect, deliberately. I wish they’d read my goddam essay.

So someone’s done it again: Matt Emerson, a Catholic whose blog says, “I teach theology and direct the advancement office at Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, CA.” He’s also written the book Why Faith? A Journey of Discovery, to be published by Paulist Press this May; it apparently aims to help people maintain and understand faith.

At any rate, Emerson published a short essay in the March 3 Wall Street Journal—”At its heart, science is faith-based too“—that, as usual, conflates the meaning of “faith” as applied to science (but we scientists avoid that word!) versus as applied to religion. Rather than go into detail, I’d recommend you read my Slate piece, and Emerson should have, too!  Here’s a bit of his conflation:

The scientists who made the gravitational-wave discovery, [Italian physicist Carl Rovelli] wrote, were pursuing a “dream based on faith in reason: that the logical deductions of Einstein and his mathematics would be reliable.”

Mr. Rovelli was not referring to religious faith. And scientists generally deem even faith scrubbed of theological meaning to be something unrelated to their endeavors. Yet the relationship between faith and science is far closer than many assume….

Wrong. Scientists don’t have “faith in reason.” As I noted in Slate:

What about faith in reason? Wrong again. Reason—the habit of being critical, logical, and of learning from experience—is not an a priori assumption but a tool that’s been shown to work. It’s what produced antibiotics, computers, and our ability to sequence DNA. We don’t have faith in reason; we use reason because, unlike revelation, it produces results and understanding. Even discussing why we should use reason employs reason!

Here’s an old canard from Emerson and physicist/accommodationist Paul Davies:

Arizona State University physicist Paul Davies has noted that the work of science depends upon beliefs—that the hidden architecture of the universe, all the constants and laws of nature that sustain the scientific enterprise, will hold. As he wrote in his book “The Mind ofGod: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World”: “Just because the sun has risen every day of your life, there is no guarantee that it will therefore rise tomorrow. The belief that it will—that there are indeed dependable regularities of nature—is an act of faith, but one which is indispensable to the progress of science.”

Well, we can’t be 100% certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, but I dealt with this in Slate as well:

You have faith (i.e., confidence) that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has, and there’s no evidence that the Earth has stopped rotating or the sun has burnt out.

I’d bet $100,000 that the sun will rise tomorrow (i.e., day will break, for it might be cloudy!), but I wouldn’t bet $5 that Jesus was resurrected bodily. The dependable regularities of nature are, unlike the tenets of theology, not acts of faith, but observations that we accept as holding widely, because they always have. This is simply confidence based on experience!

Why do people like Emerson mix up these uses of faith? It’s obvious: accommodationism—and also a mushbrained attempt to do down science by saying, “See, you’re just like us!” (Implication: “See, you’re just as bad as we are!”):

Recognizing the existence of this kind of faith is an important step in bridging the artificial divide between science and religion, a divide that is taken for granted in schools, the media and in the culture. People often assume that science is the realm of certainty and verifiability, while religion is the place of reasonless belief. But the work of Messrs. Davies and Rovelli and others, including Pope John Paul II in his 1998 encyclical “Fides et Ratio,” demonstrates that religion and science sit within a similar intellectual framework.

ORLY? How, exactly, do the “findings” of religion resemble those of science? After all, Emerson may believe that Jesus was not only part of God, but also God’s son, was crucified and resurrected, and that we’ll find salvation through accepting that. But if you’re a Muslim, you could be killed for professing such blasphemy, and Jews, of course, don’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah. There are millions of conflicting “truths” in religion, but although there are some disputes in science, there’s general agreement that, say, DNA is a double helix, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and that a benzene molecule has six carbon atoms. Theology can offer us NO truths so well established.

But Emerson claims it can, and his claim is laughable:

But just as faith is indispensable to science, so is reason essential to religion. Many find themselves relating to God in a way analogous to the scientists searching for gravitational waves. These seekers of religious truth are persuaded by preliminary evidence and compelled by the testimony of those who have previously studied the matter; they are striving for a personal encounter with the realities so often talked about, yet so mysterious.

In such a context, it isn’t blind belief that fuels the search, any more than scientists blindly pursued the implications of Einstein’s theory. Rather, it’s a belief informed by credible reasons, nurtured by patient trust, open to revision. When I profess my belief in God, for example, I rely upon not only the help of the Holy Spirit. I also rely upon the Einsteins of theology, thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas, whose use of reason to express and synthesize theological truths remains one of the great achievements in Western civilization. Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica” is a LIGO for the Christian faith.

Open to revision? Only if science disproves religion’s claims, and even in that case 40% of Americans still reject evolution in favor of the fairy tales of Genesis. And what, exactly, are the “theological truths” of Aquinas and his coreligionists? Can we please just have a list of five or six? Please?

And here’s the kicker—and Emerson’s conclusion:

To be sure, religion and science are different. But many religious believers, like scientists, continue to search for confirmation, continue to fine-tune their lives and expand their knowledge to experience a reality that is elusive, but which, when met, changes life forever. And if the combination of faith and reason can deliver the sound of two black holes colliding over a billion light years away, confirming a theory first expressed in 1915—what is so unthinkable about the possibility that this same combination could yield the insight that God became man?

There’s a difference between searching for confirmation and searching for truth; religion does the former, science the latter. If Emerson can give us evidence—and not just from the Bible—that “God became man”, then I might take his truth claims seriously. Absent that, we need accept his verities no more than we accept those of Scientology, Mormonism, or, for that matter, Beowulf.

It’s a travesty that the Wall Street Journal publishes tripe like this. Are they that desperate for copy? I doubt that they’d even entertain a piece like the one you just read here.

https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/another-misguided-believer-claims-that-science-is-based-on-faith/

Einstein 1, Old Testament nil

A sad day for flat-earthers…

“Nearly half a century in the planning, armed with 13 new technologies and four of the most perfect spheres ever created, NASA’s $750 million Gravity Probe B (GP-B)’s troubled mission is finally over.

After 16 months of in-orbit data gathering and almost five years of data analysis, GP-B has mapped the space-time vortex that Einstein predicted would be created by the Earth’s movement in space. That prediction, which required instruments of exquisite sensitivity, has been confirmed to “… a geodetic precession of 6.600 plus or minus 0.017 arcseconds and a frame dragging effect of 0.039 plus or minus 0.007 arcseconds,” according to Stanford University physicist Francis Everitt, principal investigator of the Gravity Probe B mission.

The figures are not as precise as those gathered by other experiments, including laser rangefinding of mirrors left on the Moon by Apollo mission astronauts, although they do provide independent corroboration through entirely novel means and close loopholes of uncertainty that left some of the other results still open to question.  (N.B.: these mirrors were not in Arizona!) 

“This is an epic result,” said Clifford Will of Washington University in St. Louis, chair of the National Research Council panel set up by NASA to monitor GP-B. “One day,” he said, “this will be written up in textbooks as one of the classic experiments in the history of physics.” However, a NASA review panel had recommended in 2008 that the data analysis be abandoned due to operational problems, leaving the researchers dependent on private funding.

The most subtle effect being detected, frame dragging, is the way that the gravitational distortion of space and time caused by an object changes when that object moves. GP-B detected this through a set of four gyroscopes, which remained spinning in one direction no matter how they are moved. However, if space-time was distorted around them, they remained true to that direction – but the direction relative to the rest of the universe changes.

That effect is very small and easy to mask by external noise. Thus, the GP-B gyroscopes are by a very large factor the most precise ever made. Each is based on a ball around an inch and a half across, made from fused quartz and within forty atoms of precisely spherical. The balls are coated in a very thin layer of superconducting niobium, which generates a small magnetic field when it rotates.

That field is precisely aligned with the direction of spin of the balls; it was measured on the satellite by SQUIDs — Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices — that introduced no drag on the rotation. The balls span at 10,000 RPM in extreme vacuum, kept much freer of gas than the space surrounding the satellite in its 400 mile-high orbit, and would have lost less than one percent of their rotational speed in a thousand years.

All this was kept within a superconducting shield that blocked the Earth’s magnetic field. The satellite itself monitored the position of one of the balls to within a nanometre, and constantly adjusted its position with microthrusters as it orbited around the planet to prevent any of the balls touching the rest of the apparatus. It also monitored the position of a microwave-emitting star 329 light years away, IM Pegasi, whose position was precisely measured by radiotelescope from Earth and used as a reference against which the gyroscopes’ alignment can be measured.

Such lavish use of superconductivity needed huge amounts of cooling, to around two degrees above absolute zero. The spacecraft started with 400 kg of liquid helium, which both provided the cooling and, as it slowly boiled off, was used to power the microthrusters that maintained alignment.

GP-B launched in 2004 during the one-second launch window necessary to hit the precise orbit required, and at first checked out well.

However, interference from solar flares made the data much noisier than expected, and other unexpected effects reduced the amount and quality of information returned. For example, the gyroscopes exhibited unexpectedly complex rotational behaviour called Polhode motion that had to be modelled after the data had been collected, and retrospectively allowed for.

Perhaps most dangerously, electrostatic forces and magnetic interactions within the spacecraft put twisting forces on the gyroscopes that couldn’t be distinguished from those caused by the relativistic effects being sought, threatening the entire mission. The controllers deliberately misaligned the satellite for a few days, which changed the direction of the internal errors but left the external forces unchanged; by using this to measure the errors, they could apply a correction factor to all data collected and recover all of the external measurements.

Nonetheless, the increased chance of error caused by such a concatenation of factors helped lead to NASA’s decision to halt work on the data in 2008, due to doubts that the results would be sufficiently rigorous. The Saudi Royal Family contributed most of the $3.2 million funding that let the investigators finish the job.”

Emphasis mine.

see: http://www.zdnet.co.uk/blogs/mixed-signals-10000051/epic-gp-b-nasa-probe-proves-einstein-right-10022363/