Weird Science - Douglas Adams For The Win!

When Isaac Newton first published his laws of motion, he ushered in a new era in science where - in principle - every event could be exactly predicted if you knew the forces at work in the system accurately enough. in Newton's "clockwork universe" true randomness did not exist, since the unpredictability of an event was just a statement of your ignorance, with careful enough measurement everything from the roll of a die to the spin of a roulette wheel could be known to any degree of accuracy. Even relativity only refined, rather that displaced, Newton's deterministic new world.

That prevailing view of the universe was thrown, literally, into chaos with the advent of quantum physics, where counter-intuitive results were commonplace, effects could appear to happen before causes (or even without causes) and true randomness abounded. In an effort to return to the saner world of "classical mechanics" many physicists sought to again ascribe the apparent randomness of quantum systems to ignorance, they declared that "hidden variables" currently unknown to science had secretly determined the results. Even Einstein, whose 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect had helped found the new physics was moved to say categorically that "God does not play dice!"

But who was right? In an effort to determine this, in 1964 the physicist John Bell performed a thought experiment whereby pairs of entangled particles (ones where a particular property of the pair is known but each particle's individual contribution is not) are measured simultaneously while a great distance apart from each other. In the classical view either the results would have been determined well in advance of the measurements, in which case they should correlate perfectly, or they are separately determined by the act of measurement, in which case they should not correlate at all. Bell showed with mathematical rigour that in one particular experiment any hidden variable theory should produce a correlation of < 0.5. This became known as the Bell Inequality. At the time there was no practical way to test Bell's hypothesis, and the earliest attempts in 1972 were inconclusive, but by the 1980s the technology had matured to the point that physicists could be very confident that Bell's Inequality had been violated, at its core the quantum universe really was truly and utterly random.

But how random? Consider the quantum equivalent of a coin-toss, one that is completely fair and - as we have discovered - completely random; clearly it is equally likely to end up in only one of two states, the quantum equivalent of "heads" or "tails". We could represent each result with either a 1 or a 0, so the amount of randomness of our quantum coin is said to be "1 bit". But quantum systems are not bound to act like coins, perhaps they are more like dice or roulette wheels, perhaps a quantum system is a random as a lottery draw with literally millions of possible outcomes. It was to answer this question that a team led by S. Pironio of the Laboratoire d’Information Quantique in Brussels set up and ran their own "Bell experiment" and measured with 99% confidence just how random quantum systems are.

So how many bits of outright randomness are created by each quantum interaction? If the title didn't give it away, the answer is...

42! (Nature)

Way to go, Douglas!

(Image: Suat Eman /
     Posted By: Dumbfounded - Fri Apr 16, 2010
     Category: Ambiguity, Uncertainty and Deliberate Obscurity | Philosophy | Science | Experiments

Sorry for the rather nerdy post, but it was a result that deserved a bit of explaining. 😊
Posted by Dumbfounded on 04/16/10 at 06:39 PM
Dumbfounded, you're definitely not. We need more Quantum Effects posts around here. :D
Posted by Freddie Freelance on 04/16/10 at 08:38 PM
What?! There was some doubt?
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 04/16/10 at 11:08 PM
Of course Douglas was right on the money, but I'm still waiting for the study's confirmation from the dolphins 😊
Posted by Nethie on 04/17/10 at 03:11 PM
Crap, now the mice have no further use for the earth as they're question has been answered.

Posted by Virgil on 04/17/10 at 10:02 PM
"In base 13 arithametic, you get 42 (4*13+2=54). I'd guess this was deliberate, but does anyone have confirmation of this?"

Douglas Adams himself answered this on the old usenet group, "The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought '42 will do.' I typed it out. End of story."
Posted by Dumbfounded on 04/19/10 at 08:32 AM
"Sorry to have to point out that 42 seems to be simply the (presumably random) length of the bit string."

Actually Pironio et al measured 3016 entanglement events over the course of a month, from which they determined there to be a CHSH violation (Clauser–Horn–Shimony–Holt, a variant of the Bell formula) of 2.414, which they expressed as entropy as equivalent to the introduction of at least 42 bits of true randomness into the output.

Of course the real result is their method of determining the randomness rather than the amount of randomness they detected but hey, if it keeps the philosophers happy?
Posted by Dumbfounded on 04/19/10 at 08:56 AM
important rule of thumb-
if you can't say something intellegent, then keep quiet and don't embarrass yourself.
so therefore i have nothing to say. :coolsmile:
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 04/20/10 at 07:52 PM
If a coin comes up heads 9 times in a row, next time bet heads. There's a statistically significant chance that it is not a fair coin. 😉
Posted by Dumbfounded on 04/21/10 at 04:58 AM
The answer to life etc. is not 42 (fourty-two).
It is a monumental tribute to D.A.s' wit that it hits you in this "you cannot unsee it" way.

'for two', ala Triialian and Arthur as a pair.

Note this does not violate his description of inspiration while viewing his garden as he posted on usenet.
So-oh-oh simple.
Posted by chooseutopia on 07/22/12 at 05:54 PM
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