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Laplace's Demon

88 cm W x 135 cm H x 15 cm D / 11 kg (34.5" W x 53" H x 6" D / 24 lb)


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Laplace’s Demon examines the conflicting propositions of determinism, randomness, and divine intervention. Which universe do we live in: causal, chancy, or arbitrated? Things around us seem deterministic, at least some of them. A ball rolls down a slope in a predictable manner. And it does it here and there, and it does it now and later in the same way, given the same conditions. To let randomness enter our world, which is to say to allow a non-deterministic transgression, one needs to explain the relationship between what is caused and what is not caused. Down there, in the realms of space at the Plank length, the subatomic world goes against our intuitions. Above it is the world of atoms, the world of matter. One layer up is the world of chemistry. Another layer up emerges the biology, from unicellular to complex and to pluricellular, and from vegetal to intelligence and to consciousness. Move up again and find the psychological and the sociological layers, with abstract thinking, grace, and humour. But beauty starts in the laws of nature. An electron can't tell a lie. But again, it doesn't know prestige or reverence either.
The “demon” is an athlete of knowledge reaching out in an acrobatic vault for the roulette, as the symbol of randomness, through the dark subatomic world background. The roulette is at the end of a temporal sequence of matter arising from vacuum1, accompanied by the probability waves and other entities.








But why such participative desire? I'm following the impulse here to share some of the developments of our understanding of how the Universe works. Although the inquisitive mind who reached my page for the artistic appeal can find excellent scientific literature and programs out there, I want to open the discussion myself with few remarks.
While immersing myself into learning about the limits of our scientific understanding of the objective reality I came to realise in the past decade that the meadow of intellectual conundrums, enigmas, mysteries and even dramas encountered in the search for ultimate truth, which is the project of science, offers all the feelings that one can possibly seek when not satisfied with the general understanding of the things around him/her. Learning about them it's perplexing, astonishing, disconcerting, puzzling, unsettling and, at times, demoralizing. But the best part is that one can even get to try to solve them. It's a highly specialised field, indeed, and it's ambitious. Nevertheless, a mystery does not hold there for veneration, but for exploration. And there is a plethora of them, some being a couple of millenia old, intermingling between science, philosophy, and spirituality. That's the bare source of my enthusiasm.

The story behind my work presented here begins with Pierre-Simon Laplace2 who, looking into the work of his predecessor, Isaac Newton3, at the beginning of the 19th century, realized that the chapter of celestial mechanics sustained a startling problem of equilibrium. The equations seemed to suggest that the planets of the Solar System were on the course of leaving their orbits. The instability problem was known by the father of the Law of the Universal Gravitation4, which for corrections relied on periodic divine intervention. Not exactly a mechanistic solution, despite that the very laws of motion and universal gravitation of Newton imposed the deterministic5 vocabulary into the scientific discourse. Laplace, however, understanding very well what determinism means to the world, argued that all events must follow the universal rule of "cause-and-effect". Therefore, having known the state of all the particles in the universe at a particular instant, and knowing all the laws of nature, he taught, a "vast intelligence"6 shall be able to predict the state of the universe... a second later, an hour later, or after an eternity. Moreover, calculating the states of the universe backward in time it was to him just matter of applying the equation. The point here being that from the beginning until the end of Time no random occurrence happens, no un-caused causal event can penetrate the system.

Laplace did not propose a better solution to the equations, it was only after 100 years when a better approximation of Gravity was put forward by Einstein, compounding time and space in a new sort of material called "the fabric of space-time"7. Even without the math on hand, though, in his wisdom Laplace was convinced that by virtue of determinism the past and future states of the universe are entailed. The year was 1814. This troubling statement implied the jittering realisation that free will8 is merely an illusion. Without free will there is no guilt, no sin, and hence no admonition.

Later, with the development of the science of quantum mechanics9, however, the guilt-free universe was about to be shaken. Firstly, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle10 proposed the idea that one cannot know the state of a particle with infinite precision. The universe was un-knowable. Secondly, the Schrödinger’s probability wave function made things fuzzier and probabilistic, leading to an interpretation called "superposition"11. Again, a description of an un-knowable (before observation) universe.
Then quantum entanglement12 showed that locality13 is not a reliable attribute either, because one event at one end of the universe could influence the behaviour of its pair at the other end of the universe with no one knowing it. A concept hard to swallow for Einstein. Furthermore, spontaneity was also proven as inexistent.
There is much more, and the list is fascinatingly populated with questions like "why all electrons look the same?", "why time flows one way?", "why the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in describing the nature?".

Formulations like these seem to deny the idea of perfect knowledge. And modern physics produces new theories and conjectures that surpass by far the technological capability. In the case of gravity waves it took more than 100 years to confirm their existence. A great success. Others are not conceivably testable.
In the light of such convoluted enunciations the randomness may have a chance(!) after all. Admittedly, such statement requires a big gap to cover scientifically. Artistically, however, it deserves exploration.

But mastering so many fields of the natural science is absolutely meritorious. All the concepts mentioned here are to admire the depths of our understandings. And while we may not be able to know the state of the universe with infinite precision, does our lack of knowledge does make room for randomness, or for non-deterministic, intentional intervention? I suspend my thoughts in front of this dilemma but... I let my affect to guide me. Free will must be saved.

1 Vacuum: the concept has been used in science and philosophy to indicate a medium in which objects exist; it indicates the absence of a being, the nothingness, the empty space, the void, the luminiferous aether, aether - each of these names purports more or less different properties; the best definition of vacuum is probably that of a volume (of space) from which it was removed everything that it can be removed. The energy of empty space is greater than zero; experiments like the Casimir effect have been tested successfully. Virtual particles arrive from vacuum into the real world, even though for a very short time.
2 Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace (1749–1827): French scholar and polymath, Laplace believed that all the events in the Universe are produced by agents of causality, and that one can determine the state of a system if one knows the prior state of the system and the rules that governs them. Applying Newtonian's law of gravitation to the entire solar system he observed that its complexity made mathematical solutions impossible to draw. Even though too complicated, yet he thought of it as a deterministic construct. Moreover, despite the discord between his equations and the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn, Laplace asserted that the planetary motion is invariable. His confidence came, perhaps, from later advancement of mathematics and science, and from his unshaken belief in determinism.
3 Isaac Newton (1642–1726): English physicist, mathematician, and astronomer; a key figure in the scientific revolution with many scientific contributions in optics, mechanics and gravity.
4 The Law of Universal Gravitation: was first published in 1687 by Isaac Newton, the theory states that objects attract each other with a force determined by a relation between their masses, the distance between them, and a universal constant.
5 Determinism: the idea of a causal flow of events in the universe is reinforced by the mechanical laws of Isaac Newton published in the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687. Besides the law of universal attraction, Newton proposed a set of equations describing the principles of motion with constant velocity and with constant acceleration. Therefore, by knowing the initial state of a system, one could make predictions about its state at a later time.
6 Vast intelligence: the term that Pierre-Simon Laplace used to describe the concept of an intelligent entity that has the ability to know the state of all the particles of the Universe; with this data, and knowing all the laws that govern in nature, he/she then can compute the future as well as the past. This entity was later known as “Laplace’s Demon.”
7 The fabric of space-time: Einstein's theory of General Relativity describes gravity as a dynamic influence exerted by two massive objects on each-other in what he called the “fabric of space-time”, and in which the motion of the objects follows the slopes created in this material by their own masses; the trajectories of the two objects result from the continuous deformation of this “fabric of space-time”. Time becomes a function of gravitational magnitude and rate of motion, thus a player, and not a fixed background.
8 Free will: free will is "the canonical designator for a significant kind of control over one’s actions." (by Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). The term "significant" acknowledges a deterministic factor in our control over our actions, implying, at minimum, that determinism cannot be ruled out. To the limit, some argue, our control is null despite our impression of ownership over our decisions.
9 Quantum mechanics: QM is the discipline that explores the behaviours and the properties of the subatomic elements; the term “quantum” indicates that the energy of these elements comes in discrete amounts; it is one of the most successful theories allowing for impressive technological advancement. In the effort to unify gravity with the other fundamental forces, electro-magnetic included, one remarkable approach is to quantify gravity itself; the framework for such approach is called "Quantum Loop Gravity". It is not unconceivable, however, that a new way of thinking would be necessary to solve this problem. As of our current understanding, the gravity and the fundamental forces are not of contradictory natures, they are of totally different natures that have no common ground to begin talking.
10 Uncertainty principle: put forward in 1927 by Werner Heisenberg, the principle puts a limit on the precision with which the product of a particle’s position and its momentum is to be known; the more one learns about one of the two parameters, the greater the error of the other parameter. The very act of observation influences the object's behaviour; ultimately, a photon must bounce off by it in order to give information. The observer becomes part of the environment. This may be an indication that the finesse of our technical investigation is now comparable to the Universe's structural make.
11 Superposition: the superposition is a property of the Schrödinger equation which assembles the notion of "wave" with that of "probability". In quantum mechanics, the Copenhagen interpretation says that a particle occupies not a single point in space, but a region of space, and not one single point at the time, but all of them at once. Its spread-out but indivisible energy collapses into a point when an interaction occurs. Now, historically, an interaction was taught of an act of observation made by a conscious being. A vocabulary inaccuracy, rather, from which was derived that the Universe only exists for the conscious being to see it. This line of thinking was discarded, eventually.
Further notes: a) As an alternative to the Copenhagen interpretation, the Everettian multi-verse proposition suggests that whenever two options are available, the Universe splits in two parallel Universes; the two options then become certainties in each Universe. b) Given the wavy characteristic of all that is, the superposition seems justifiable - a wave needs something of a "body" nature, rather than a "pointy" consistency. The ancient Greek atomists then must've start on a delusory footing when stated that the smallest constituent of the universe is particle-like.
12 Quantum entanglement: this is the property of two paired particles to remain in instantaneous correspondence with each-other at any distance (larger systems can be entangled too). Einstein rejected this interpretation on the account of “hidden variables”, and called it “spooky action at the distance”. John S Bell proposed a test in 1935 to verify this, and eventually the results invalidated Einstein’s approach. It is worth mentioning an idea proposed in 2019 by Sean Carroll—that “locality” shall be defined in terms of interactions, rather than distance. Hence two objects are called in each-other's proximity if they interact instantaneously; the space between them is irrelevant.
13 Locality: this paradigm tributary to our macro-world experience means that for an object to have an influence on another object it has to touch it; the only exception known for a while were the magnets. Then the subatomic world revealed that there is no real "touching". However, the objects have to be next to each-other to transmit energy. Except for the entangled particles.

Final note: The above foundational concepts in QM&G successfully predict how they operate, but they are not presented with a describing mechanism in the same fashion in which I know that the car goes right when I turn the steering wheel right, but I don't know what gears, pivots, or pulleys are under the hood.


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