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Monday, May 22, 2006

Probability

This weekend, while doing something completely unrelated, something sank in: a way of looking at science I hadn't seen before. I had been aware of it at a logical level, but I didn't really grasp it until now.

Science is not, nor could it be, a search for ultimate truth. Truth doesn't exist, all that exists is an infinite number of parallel, but separate, relative perspectives. That which we percieve as "truth" is nothing more than a commonality, a golden thread, that ties those perspectives together and allows each of us to exist in the same space-time with a practically similar conceptualisation of the world around us.

That's old news. This is the new bit.

While I've seen science as a method by which we eliminate the impossible, this was in contrast with my belief in the concept of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) which basically says that in an infinite universe, all things can, and will, happen.

According to IDIC, nothing is impossible. So how can science be a process of eliminating impossible things if none exist? Here is the crux of my cognitive dissonance.

Then it occurred to me that perhaps I was using too strict a definition for the word 'impossible'. I've always taken it to mean that if something is impossible, it cannot ever, under any circumstances, in this or any other place or time, happen.

Perhaps it's more a case of the probability of something being infanitessimally small... quasistatic.

Let me put it this way: if you draw a line between two points, that line is composed of an infinite number of points, each of zero size. If you were to choose one at random, each point's chances of being chosen would be 1/infinity = 0. However, the chances of a point being chosen is 1/1 = 1. One point will definitely be chosen, even if its chances of being chosen were zero.

So, in an infinite universe, everything will happen at least once, even if it is impossible - by force of sheer probability. And that's the key word: probability.

Science's job is to examine the observable universe and determine the probabilities of things happening. If something has a sufficiently high probability of happening (like an apple falling to the ground, as opposed to flying sideways and spontaneously turning into a salmon) it can be used to determine a "law", like gravity. Those laws aren't absolute, but they're pretty darn close to it.

The probability of an apple flying sideways and turning into a salmon is pretty low... I'd say zero. That's what science would tell us. But, at some point, somewhere in the universe, at least once, an apple will fly sideways and turn into a salmon. It's a probable certainty.