Help! Quantum Mechanics, Randomness and Causality

I really want to know what I can rely on. I want to know if my brain is fully caused - or has a possibility of QM caused randomness. I'm told that I can feel safe that it is fully caused - but I'm suspicious that QM may play a role and therefore randomness may be a possibility.

I suppose just like the notion of free will.... what we believe to be true, doesn't actually change anything in reality... which is comforting....

But what are the implications of either being fully caused or having some randomness from quantum mechanics?

I like the idea of being fully caused, because I makes sense and it feels good when I think about it, because I like to feel safe and stable and predictable.

When I think about quantum caused randomness, I feel slightly worried, because it brings in factors that might give us less ability to predict what is going to happen next....

Can anyone give me some reassurance about this – or am I destined to not know until someone works out what the hell is going on with quantum physics???

Perhaps someone could help me understand better how the quantum might effect our brain function if it was able to cause randomness – as that would be useful for me to be clear on either possibility – fully caused OR fully caused with some randomness?

Alice :)

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Comment by Alice on February 26, 2011 at 4:53am

Hi Glen,


Yes I suppose at some point we’ve got to accept what we know and go and brush our teeth and get into bed and generally carry on with life…


But it’s fun debating it sometimes too.  I’m enjoying having my naturalistic ideas reinforced in here.  A great change to my regular social interactions.


Cool Banana’s is an Australian saying I believe… along with She’s apples – meaning everything is going very well.


I’m happy that I can now relax again about QM randomness stuffing up my nice fully caused world.  I’ll sit back and relax tonight in my bed, knowing that a fully caused world is what I’m in, and QM can wait a while before it upsets my world again.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on February 25, 2011 at 11:35pm

Alice, I too am skeptical of the perceived randomness of quantum mechanics. Upon learning of quantum randomness I thought scientist lacked the wherewithal to see the causal interactions.

But how do we know? It is a guess. Likewise questions regarding ultimate causes are unknowable. It can be fun or it can be disturbing to contemplate these questions. But if we are honest about it we have to concede that there are limitations to human underatanding.

Cool bananas. Where did you get that?

Comment by Alice on February 25, 2011 at 7:35pm

Michael – I am very attracted by your statement of facts.  This is what I have accepted as the truth of it.  I too am very sceptical of the perceived randomness of QM.  And this would always I think be my fall back position in any discussion or argument.  But as always, I am open to new understanding as QM as science moves forward with new inquiry – however unlikely it is that this would happen in my lifetime or ever change our causal understanding of the world.

Comment by Alice on February 25, 2011 at 7:24pm

John.......and also we will have to wait until we have evolved out of our strong emotional instincts also to overcome our fear, surprise, anticipation or curiosity…

Comment by Alice on February 25, 2011 at 7:23pm



I see what you mean about a causal.  I had a flash as I was sitting early.  It suddenly occurred to me that it didn’t really matter what had happened that lead to this moment, whether it was cause or not – the facts remained, that I found myself in that moment where I was.


In other words, what is the point of knowing that everything is fully caused, when we only are dealing with any given moment – and the fact that we don’t have free will only encourages me to think that past and future are quite non valuable.


This doesn’t so much change the way that I go about my life.  But it does give me a new perspective, that helps to cut out useless dwellings such as guilt about a past behaviour.  It leads me more and more back to this question of enlightenment.


As Spinoza puts it:  If we recognize that everything happens from necessity, we can achieve an intuitive understanding of nature as a whole.  We can come to realise with crystal clarity that everything is related, even that everything is One.  The goal is to comprehend everything that exists in an all-embracing perception.  [All time and space as One.]  Only then will we achieve true happiness and contentment.


I agree that there are many causal factors – so many in fact that it’s impossible for us to comprehend them all – thus we are not God’s AND we can’t accurately predict the whether.


I am perhaps un-naturally anxious to have a reliable truth.  I’m sure over time I’ll forget I even had this anxiety and so everything will be fine again, and in not very long I’ll be getting worried over something else – like my kids hitting each other……  like the Matrix – just have the cookie and you’ll feel much better….


Going to the extreme is unreasonable – as we will never be able to know all that will be, because we will never know all the factors – and also we will have to wait until we have evolved out of ou

Comment by Alice on February 25, 2011 at 7:06pm
Billy, cool bananas - looking forward to getting the book... :)
Comment by MCT on February 25, 2011 at 6:08pm
Causality is universal and necessary for cognition. There was no beginning. Nothing is random. Nothing arises ex nihilo. The future will be determined, but is not yet. It is wrong to equate complexity and randomness. Choice is a complex causal determination. The uncertainty and 'randomness' of QM is a demonstration of the limits of our perception, not a proper description of how entities interact.
Comment by John Camilli on February 25, 2011 at 5:14pm
Alice, after reading your original post again, I have to say I think you're rooting for the wrong team. I understand wanting something reliable that you can know - I have studied epistemology and physics for over a decade now in search of the same thing. But if humans truly are predictable (and I lamentably suspect that we are), then it means you don't have choice. And if we become adept enough to predict our own futures, we will be effectively omniscient, which I think would be the worst curse of existence since we could no longer have surprise, anticipation or curiosity. The flip side is that we could no longer have fear, disappointment or dissatisfaction, but I think ultimately we would not want to trade those in for the ennui of omniscience.
Comment by John Camilli on February 25, 2011 at 4:43am

Nothing to stress over? Oh, I beg to differ, sir! Frankly, I like your analogy, and I agree it is an apt comparison to human thought and action, but the problem is that it means there is no such thing as responsibility or morality. I also liked the Dennet video post, but even he does not resolve the critical issue of choice. He brushes over it by doing the same thing that all proponents of choice do: he simply says we can choose, but HOW can we choose if everything is causal. Even if we accept quantum indeterminacy within the brain, the brain is not in control of the indeterminate outcome, so it cannot be said to be choosing the results. If our brains are able to create randomness that's fine, but randomness is just as much out of our control as caused results.


Continuing with the weather analogy, we may not know exactly what the day is going to be like, but it certainly is only going to be exactly one way, and its way is determined by the moment before, and the moment before, ad infinitum. It is not determined by our forecasting, which I would say is analogous to our mental expectation of what our own thoughts and actions are going to be from day to day. There's enough repetition that we can make pretty good guesses, but sometimes we are still surprised. Similarly, we are sometimes surprised by our own actions, while most of the time we seem to be ahead of them, which we interpret as causing them.

Comment by BilllG_SD on February 25, 2011 at 1:16am


Here's something to ponder,

When thinking about causality, it helps to think of the "weather".  Clear causality can be demonstrated from minute to minute measurements of temperature, pressure, wind, and humidity.  There is a direct casual relationship here. As a result, short-term, accurate forecasts can be made & refined. However, longer term forecasts are less accurate because we cannot predict or control the rates of change of these factors, nor the influence of other factors such as a volcanic eruptions or sub-Saharan sand storm.  Sometimes the weather seems random, even though we know it is causal.  It's nothing to stress over ;-)






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