Laplace's Demon. By finishing the work began by Sir Isaac Newton in mathematics, and further

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1 Joshua Baker Philosophy 123 Professor Slinker Laplace's Demon By finishing the work began by Sir Isaac Newton in mathematics, and further applying it to physics and astronomy, French physicist and mathematician Marquis Pierre Simon de Laplace ( ) became known as the father of modern astronomy. His is well known for creating equations and mathematical rules are found in advanced calculus books, and his work is often utilized used by astronomers and in other fields dealing with the laws of physics. But while many may be familiar with his mathematical proofs and rules, not many may be familiar with the single quote Laplace gave that ignited a philosophical spark still burning today, or its influence on theories of quantum logic. "We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at any given moment knew all of the forces that animate nature and the mutual positions of the beings that compose it, if this intellect were vast enough to submit the data to analysis, could condense into a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and that of the lightest atom; for such an intellect nothing could be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes. With this quote, Laplace introduces the concept of an all knowing being, intelligent enough to analyze and calculate all future events. The idea has roots in philosophical determinism, the idea that everything (all future events) are already

2 determined and that the actions we take have no consequence, as they are already determined, and we have no actual choice or chance to change them. It is noteworthy that people some may automatically start to think that the idea of such a being is referring to god, but it is important to focus on the scientific elements and ignore any personal religious ideas to understand the point Laplace was attempting to make with his hypothesis. Determinists would point out that it is important to note that this is a concept is not only compatible with determinism, but seems to be tied to determinism by necessity. Determinism is separate from views one may hold about ideas of fate and predictability, determinism states that all events are predetermined, and that there is no existence of free will. Laplace s idea of an all knowing intellect able to mathematically calculate future events intrigued both scientists and philosophers belonging to the determinism camp. It is important to note that the idea Laplace speaks of is not predict, as that would be closer to idea of clairvoyance. And Laplace s intellect would discover future events through the use of mathematical and scientific means: calculating the position and motion of everything in the universe, and then using physics to determine all future occurring events. Some may define the intellect as god and introduce religious elements in to the mix. While Laplace never referred to this hypothetical being by any specific name or designation, later generations would refer to Laplace s hypothetical intellect as Laplace's demon. It has been suggested that Laplace may not have liked the negative connotations associated with calling the intellect a demon: Laplace was known to have hoped to have

3 humanity someday reach a greater scientific understanding of the world, although he recognized the problem with attempting to instantly calculate all the necessary information. Although views and theories about quantum mechanics are wide spread and debatable, some find that the laws of quantum mechanics leave open the possibility that humans could one day create an artificial Laplace's demon. This has been refered to as a Laplace computer. The idea of a quantum computer being built someday in the future, and containing the massive amount of calculating power necessary to mathematically calculate the position and motion of everything in the universe, and being able interpret that information to determine the future is an idea that some scientists in the field of quantum mechanics believe possible, though some question if there can ever be enough power to do these calculations even if it were. The ideas of Laplace's demon and determinism lost some support amongst the scientific community in the late 1800 s. Around this time, mathematical equations were discovered that began to trouble scientists and mathematicians. These would lead to the development of theories of Chaos and Fractals. In a past lesson, the date of which I do not recall, Professor Slinker touched on the idea of a quantum computer capable of calculating the future (Laplace computer). He used an example of a member of the class being told they would leave work at exactly 10:35. He further tacked on the determinism ideal that even though he had been informed he would leave work at 10:35, he would have no choice in the matter to change this

4 information, and would leave at 10:35. This is easy enough, since the concept of Laplace's demon supports determinism, and the two can be easily linked. I felt unsure about the concepts of Laplace's demon (or a Laplace computer) and determinism, so I attempted to explore the idea of why the class member in the example could not leave their work at 10:36, just because they were to they would leave at 10:35. I came up with another example, which bears a slightly darker example of the same context: I am told by someone possessing a Laplace computer that when I take my dog for a walk tonight, I will be mugged and shot at 6:30. What the darker context of this second example provided me was that I could not conceive it. Making the stipulations that I believed this person has a Laplace computer and that I am not suicidal or otherwise mentally unstable, it would be inconceivable to me that I, or anyone else, would still take the dog on his evening walk at that time. This is the same concept as the leaving work example, but is presented in such a way that I am forced to strongly examine human behavior as a factor. However, I mush confess that I do not find the concept of a Laplace computer completely dismissible simply from this. I believe it may be possible that quantum mechanics could be used to predict future events, assuming that enough processing power could ever be utilized. While I have not completely decided my personal beliefs in the area of free will versus determinism, I am open a partial-determinism, semi-anthropic alternative: it is possible we may be in a determinate universe, but as soon as we gain the power to know the future, we possess the ability to diverge that path and take an alternative action.

5 Regardless, we may never know the full possibilities of Laplace s ideas, for even if they prove true, as it may never be possible to fully put them to use. Only time will tell, and far beyond my lifetime if humans will ever be able to create a machine powerful enough to function as a Laplace computer.

6 Works cited: Travels in Four Dimensions, The Enigmas of Space and Time. Robin Le Poidevin. Oxford University Press: 2003 Appearance and Reality: An Introduction To The Philosophy of Physics. Peter Kosso. Oxford University Press: 2005 Carl Hoefer. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Everything 2. The Everything Development Company. Larry D. Bradley. Chaos and Fractals: Pierre-Simon Laplace Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc: 22 April Laplace's demon Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc: 21 April 2007

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