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Origin of Probabilities and their Application to the Multiverse

Origin of Probabilities and their Application to the Multiverse

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Andreas Albrecht and Daniel Phillips at the University of California makes the case that quantum fluctuations actaully are responsible for the probability of all actions, with far-reaching implications for theories of the Universe.
Andreas Albrecht and Daniel Phillips at the University of California makes the case that quantum fluctuations actaully are responsible for the probability of all actions, with far-reaching implications for theories of the Universe.

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09/04/2013

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Origin of probabilities and their application to the multiverse
Andreas Albrecht and Daniel Phillips
University of California at Davis; Department of Physics One Shields Avenue; Davis, CA 95616 
We argue using simple models that all successful practical uses of probabilities originate in quan-tum fluctuations in the microscopic physical world around us, often propagated to macroscopicscales. Thus we claim there is no physically verified fully classical theory of probability. We com-ment on the general implications of this view, and specifically question the application of classicalprobability theory to cosmology in cases where key questions are known to have no quantum answer.
We use the concept of probability extensively in sci-ence, and very broadly in everyday life. Many probabilis-tic tools used to “quantify our ignorance” seem intuitiveeven to non-scientists. For example, if we consider thevalue of one bit we know nothing about, we areinclined toassign probabilities to each value. Furthermore, it seemsnatural to give it a “50-50” chance of being 0 or 1. Thiseveryday intuition is often believed to have deep theoret-ical justification based in “classical probability theory”(developed in famous works such as[1]).Here we argue that the success of such intuition is fun-damentally rooted in specific physical properties of theworld around us. In our view the things we call “classicalprobabilities” can be seen as originating in the quantumprobabilities that govern the microscopic world, suitablypropagated by physical processes so as to be relevant onclassical scales. From this perspective the validity of as-signing equal probabilities to the two states of an un-known bit can be quantified by understanding the par-ticular physical processes that connect quantum fluctu-ations in the microscopic world to that particular bit.The fact that we have simple beliefs about how to assignprobabilities that do not directly refer to complicatedprocesses of physical propagation is simply a reflection of the intuition we have built up by living in a world wherethese processes behave in a particular way. In this articlewe spell out and advocate this second point of view.Our position has implications for how we use proba-bilities in general, but here we emphasize applications tocosmology which originally motivated our interest in thistopic. Specifically, we question a number of applicationsof probabilities to cosmology which are popular today.We start by outlining, using a toy model, the nature of the problem in certain cosmology theories which seem toexplicitly require the use of classical probabilities. Nextwe give illustrations to support our view that the physi-cal world around us has the necessary properties to givea quantum origin to all probabilities as they are usuallyused. We use a simple billiard ball model to argue thateveryday gases and liquids are excellent amplifiers of thequantum fluctuations of their microscopic components,and then apply these results to a simple neuroscience-based model of the uncertainty of a coin flip. We thusargue that the uncertainty in the outcome of a coin flipmay be fully attributable to the quantum fluctuations of the physical systems involved. We then analyze anotherapplication of probabilities (betting on digits of 
π
) andargue that in that case too the probabilities have a quan-tum origin, despite appearances otherwise. We end byassessing the implications of our position.It is commonplace in cosmologyto contemplate a “mul-tiverse” (often in the context of “eternal inflation”[2]) inwhich many equivalent copies of a given observer appearin the theory. As pointed out by Page[3], even if oneknew the full wavefunction for such a theory it would beimpossible to make predictions about future observationsusing probabilities derived from that wavefunction. Theproblem arises because multiverse theories are expectedto contain many copies of the observer (sometimes saidto be in different “pocket universes”) that are identicalin terms of all current data, but which differ in details of their environments that affect outcomes of future exper-iments (e.g. experiments measuring neutrino masses orcosmological perturbations). Because in these theories itis impossible to construct appropriate projection opera-tors to describe measurements where one does not knowwhich part of the Hilbert space (i.e. which copy of usand our environment) is being measured, the outcomesof future measurements are ill-posed quantum questionswhich cannot be answered within the theory.We illustrate this problem with a very simple ex-ample. Consider a system comprised of two two-state subsystems called “
A
” and “
B
”. The whole sys-tem is spanned by the four basis states constructedas products of basis states of the two subsystems:
|
1
A
|
1
B
,
|
1
A
|
2
B
,
|
2
A
|
1
B
,
|
2
A
|
2
B
. For the wholesystem in state
|
ψ
, the probability assigned to measure-ment outcome “
i
” can be expressed as
ψ
|
ˆ
i
|
ψ
for asuitably chosen projection operatorˆ
i
. One can readilyconstruct projection operators corresponding to measur-ing system “
A
” in the “1” state (regardless of the stateof the “
B
” subsystem) (ˆ
A
1
|
1
A
|
1
BB
1
|
A
1
|
+
|
1
A
|
2
BB
2
|
A
1
|
), and a similar operatorˆ
B
1
can beconstructed for measuring only subsystem “
B
”. Opera-tors such asˆ
12
|
1
A
|
2
BB
2
|
A
1
|
represent measure-
 
2ments of 
both 
subsystems in particular states.The problem arises because there is no projection op-erator that gives the probability of outcome “1” whenthe subsystem to be measured (“
A
” or “
B
”) is undeter-mined. That is an ill-posed question in the quantum the-ory. As Page emphasizes, this is the kind of question oneneeds to address in order to make predictions in the mul-tiverse, where our lack of knowledge about which pocketuniverse we occupy corresponds to “
A
” vs. “
B
” not be-ing determined in the toy model. Such ill-posed quantumquestions exist in laboratory situations but there are suf-ficiently many well-posed problems that we tend not tobe concerned. Also, in the laboratory it is often possibleto modify the setup so there is a measurable “label” thatdoes identify “
A
” vs.
B
”, thus resolving the problem.But such a resolution is believed not to be possible inmany cosmological cases. (There is also an interestingrelationship between this issue and the (anti)symmetricwavefunctions required for identical particles [4].)A natural response to this issue is to appeal to classicalideas about probabilities to “fill in the gap”. In particu-lar, if one could assign classical probabilities
p
A
and
p
B
for the measurement to be made on the respective sub-systems, then one could answer the question posed above(the probability of the outcome “1” with the subsystemto be measured undetermined) by giving:
 p
1
=
p
A
ψ
|
ˆ
A
1
|
ψ
+
p
B
ψ
|
ˆ
B
1
|
ψ
.
(1)Note that the values of 
p
A
and
p
B
are
not 
determinedfrom
|
ψ
, and instead provide additional informationspecially introduced so one can write Eqn.1. Al-though
p
1
can be written as the expectation value of ˆ
1
=
p
A
ˆ
A
1
+
p
B
ˆ
B
1
, the operatorˆ
1
is not a projec-tion operator (ˆ
1
ˆ
1
=ˆ
1
), thus confirming that
p
1
isnot a probability with a fully quantum origin.Authors who apply expressions like Eqn.1to cosmol-ogy[5] do not claim this gives a quantum probability. In-stead they appeal to classical notions of probability alongthe lines we have discussed at the start of this paper.Surely one successfully introduces classical probabilitiessuch as
p
A
and
p
B
all the time in everyday situations toquantify our ignorance, so why should the same approachnot be used in the cosmological case?Our view is that the two cases are completely different.We believe that in every situation where we use “classi-cal” probabilities successfully these probabilities could inprinciple be derived from a wavefunction describing thefull physical situation. In this context classical probabili-ties are just ways to estimate quantum probabilities whencalculating them directly is inconvenient. Our extensiveexperience using classical probabilities in this way (re-ally quantifying our
quantum 
ignorance) cannot be usedto justify the use of classical probabilities in situationswhere quantum probabilities have been clearly shown tobe ill-defined and uncomputable. Translating the formalframework from one situation to the other is not an ex-trapolation but the creation of a brand new conceptualframework that needs to be justified on its own.We are only challengingthe ad hoc introduction of clas-sical probabilities such as
p
A
and
p
B
. We are not criticiz-ing the use of standard ideas from probability theory tomanipulate and interpret probabilities that have a physi-cal origin[6] . Of course we never know the wavefunctioncompletely (and thus often write states as density matri-ces). Our claim is that probabilities are only proven andreliable tools if they have clear values determined fromthe quantum state, despite our uncertainties about it.We next use some simple calculations to argue thatit is realistic to expect all probabilities we normally useto have a quantum origin. Consider a gas of idealizedbilliards with radius
r
, mean free path
l
,average speed ¯
v
and mass
m
. If two of these billiards approach each otherwith impact parameter
b
, the uncertainties in the trans-verse momentum (
δp
) and position (
δx
) contribute toan uncertainty in the impact parameter given by:
b
=
δx
+
δp
m
t
=
√ 
2
a
+¯
h
2
alm
¯
v
(2)where the second equality is achieved using ∆
t
=
l/
¯
v
andassuming a minimum uncertainty wavepacket of width
a
in each of the two transverse directions. The value of ∆
b
is minimized by
a
=
 
¯
hl/
(2
m
¯
v
)
 
l
 
λ
dB
/
2. We willshow that ∆
b
is significant even when minimized.The local nature of subsequent collisions creates a dis-tribution of entangled localized states reflecting the rangeof possible collision points implied by ∆
b
. We estimatethe width of this distribution as it fans out toward thenext collision by classically propagating collisions thatoccur at either side of the range ∆
b
. (Neglecting ad-ditional quantum effects increases the robustness of ourargument.) The geometry of the collision amplifies un-certainties in a manner familiar from many chaotic pro-cesses [7]. The quantity
b
n
= ∆
b
1 +2
lr
n
(3)gives the uncertainty in
b
after
n
collisions.Setting ∆
b
n
=
r
and solving for
n
determines
n
Q
, thenumber of collisions after which the quantum spread isso large that there is significant quantum uncertainty asto which billiard takes part in the next collision:
n
Q
=
log
br
log
1 +
2
lr
.
(4)For TableIwe evaluated Eqn.4with different input pa- rameters chosen to represent various physical situations.TableIshows that water and air are so dominated byquantum fluctuations that
n
q
<
1, indicating the break-down of Eqn.4, but all the more strongly supporting our
 
3
r
(m)
l
(m)
m
(kg)
¯
v
(m/s)
λ
dB
(m)
b
(m)
n
Q
Nitrogen at STP (Air) 1
.
6
×
10
10
3
.
4
×
10
07
4
.
7
26
360 6
.
2
×
10
12
2
.
9
×
10
9
0
.
2Water at body temp 3
.
0
×
10
10
5
.
4
×
10
10
3
.
0
×
10
26
460 7
.
6
×
10
12
1
.
3
×
10
10
0
.
6Billiards game 0
.
029 1 0
.
16 1 6
.
6
×
10
34
4
.
6
×
10
17
8Bumper car ride 1 2 150 0
.
5 1
.
4
×
10
36
3
.
4
×
10
18
25TABLE I. The number of collisions, (
n
Q
from Eqn.4) before quantum uncertainty dominates, evaluated for different physicalsystems that can be roughly modeled as a “gasof billiards with different dimensions, masses and speeds. Values
n
Q
<
1indicate that quantum fluctuations are so dominant that Eqn.4breaks down. All randomness (i.e. “thermal fluctuations”) inthese quantum dominated systems is fundamentally quantum in nature.
view that
all 
randomness in these system is fundamen-tally quantum. This result strongly indicates that if onewere able to fully model the molecules in these macro-scopic systems one would find that the intrinsic quantumuncertainties of the molecules, amplified by processes of the sort we just described, would be fully sufficient to ac-count for all the fluctuations. One would not be requiredto “quantify our ignorance” using the kind of purely clas-sical probability arguments mentioned at the start of thisarticle to fully understand the system. For example, theBoltzmann distribution for one of these systems in a ther-mal state should really be derivable as feature dynam-ically achieved by the wavefunction without appeal toformal arguments about equipartition etc. .This argument that the randomness in collections of molecules in the world around has a fully quantum originlies at the core of our case. We expect that all practicalapplications of probabilities can be traced to this intrinsicrandomness in the physical world. As an illustration, wenext trace the randomness of a coin flip to Brownianmotion of polypeptides in the human nervous system.Randomness in a coin flip comes from a lack of cor-relation between the starting and ending coin positions.The signal triggering the flip travels along human neu-rons which have an intrinsic temporal uncertainty of 
δt
n
1
ms
[8]. It has been argued that fluctuations in thenumber of open neuron ion channels can account for theobserved values of 
δt
n
[8]. These molecular fluctuationsare due to random Brownian motion of the polypeptidesin their surrounding fluid. Based on our assessment thatthe probabilities for fluctuations in water are fundamen-tally quantum, we argue that the value of 
δt
n
realized ina given situation is also fundamentally quantum. Quan-tum fluctuations in the water drive the motion of thepolypeptides, resulting in different numbers of ion chan-nels being open or closed at a given moment, in a giveninstance realized from the many quantum possibilities.Consider a coin flipped and caught at about the sameheight, by a hand moving at speed
v
h
in the directionof the toss and with a flip imparting an additional speed
v
to the coin. A neurological uncertainty in the time of flip,
δt
n
, results in a change in flight time
δt
=
δt
n
×
v
h
/
(
v
h
+
v
). A similar catch time uncertainty resultsin a total flight time uncertainty
δt
t
=
√ 
2
δt
. A coinflipped upward by an impact at its edge has a rotationfrequency
= 4
v
/
(
πd
) where
d
is the coin diameter.The resulting uncertainty in the number of spins is
δN 
=
fδt
t
. Using
v
h
=
v
= 5
m/s
and
d
= 0
.
01
m
(and
δt
n
=1
ms
) gives
δN 
= 0
.
5, enough to make the outcome of thecoin toss completely dependent on the time uncertaintyin the neurological signal which we have argued is fullyquantum.No doubt we have neglected significant factors in mod-eling the coin flip. The point here is that even with all oursimplifications, we have a plausibility argument that theoutcome of a coin flip is truly a quantum measurement(really, a Schr¨odinger cat) and that the 50–50 outcome of a coin toss may in principle be derived from the quantumphysics of a realistic coin toss with no reference to clas-sical notions of how we must “quantify our ignorance”.Estimates such as this one illustrate how the quantumnature of fluctuations in the gasses and fluids around uscan lead to a fundamental quantum basis for probabilitieswe care about in the macroscopic world.The view that all practical applications of probabili-ties are based on quantum probabilities in the physicalworld seems a challenging proposition to verify. As wehave illustrated with the coin flip, the path from micro-scopic quantum fluctuations to macroscopic phenomenais a complicated one to track. And there are endlesscases one might want to check (rolling dice, choosing arandom card etc.), most of them also too complicated towork through conclusively. So arguing our position on acase-by-case basis is certainly an impractical task.On the other hand, our ideas are very easy to falsify.All one needs is one illustration of a case where classicalnotions of probability are useful in a situation that isclearly isolated from the quantum probabilities in thephysical world. One idea for such a counterexample wasproposed by Sean Carroll[9]. One could place bets on,say, the millionth digit of 
π
. Since the digits of 
π
areknown to be uniformly distributed[10], one should beable to use this apparently purely classical notion to winbets with someone who believes otherwise. While on theface of it this appears to be an ideal counterexample,further scrutiny reveals an essential quantum role.To make such a bet a fair one the digit in questionmust be knowable (to resolve the bet), but also must be

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