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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The limits of predictability : indeterminism and undecidability in classical and quantum physics Korolev, Alexandre V.


This thesis is a collection of three case studies, investigating various sources of indeterminism and undecidability as they bear upon in principle unpredictability of the behaviour of mechanistic systems in both classical and quantum physics. I begin by examining the sources of indeterminism and acausality in classical physics. Here I discuss the physical significance of an often overlooked and yet important Lipschitz condition, the violation of which underlies the existence of anomalous non-trivial solutions in the Norton-type indeterministic systems. I argue that the singularity arising from the violation of the Lipschitz condition in the systems considered appears to be so fragile as to be easily destroyed by slightly relaxing certain (infinite) idealizations required by these models. In particular, I show that the idealization of an absolutely nondeformable, or infinitely rigid, dome appears to be an essential assumption for anomalous motion to begin; any slightest elastic deformations of the dome due to finite rigidity of the dome destroy the shape of the dome required for indeterminism to obtain. I also consider several modifications of the original Norton's example and show that indeterminism in these cases, too, critically depends on the nature of certain idealizations pertaining to elastic properties of the bodies in these models. As a result, I argue that indeterminism of the Norton-type Lipschitz-indeterministic systems should rather be viewed as an artefact of certain (infinite) idealizations essential for the models, depriving the examples of much of their intended metaphysical import, as, for example, in Norton's antifundamentalist programme. Second, I examine the predictive computational limitations of a classical Laplace's demon. I demonstrate that in situations of self-fulfilling prognoses the class of undecidable propositions about certain future events, in general, is not empty; any Laplace's demon having all the information about the world now will be unable to predict all the future. In order to answer certain questions about the future it needs to resort occasionally to, or to consult with, a demon of a higher order in the computational hierarchy whose computational powers are beyond that of any Turing machine. In computer science such power is attributed to a theoretical device called an Oracle--a device capable of looking through an infinite domain in a finite time. I also discuss the distinction between ontological and epistemological views of determinism, and how adopting Wheeler-Landauer view of physical laws can entangle these aspects on a more fundamental level. Thirdly, I examine a recent proposal from the area of quantum computation purporting to utilize peculiarities of quantum reality to perform hypercomputation. While the current view is that quantum algorithms (such as Shor's) lead to re-description of the complexity space for computational problems, recently it has been argued (by Kieu) that certain novel quantum adiabatic algorithms may even require reconsideration of the whole notion of computability, by being able to break the Turing limit and "compute the non-computable". If implemented, such algorithms could serve as a physical realization of an Oracle needed for a Laplacian demon to accomplish its job. I critically review this latter proposal by exposing the weaknesses of Kieu's quantum adiabatic demon, pointing out its failure to deliver the purported hypercomputation. Regardless of whether the class of hypercomputers is non-empty, Kieu's proposed algorithm is not a member of this distinguished club, and a quantum computer powered Laplace's demon can do no more than its ordinary classical counterpart.

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