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Common Information

Newton’s surprising success at developing the laws of motion, as well as the development and refinement of other physical laws, led to the idea of scientific determinism. The first expression of this principle was in the beginning of the nineteenth century by Laplace, a French scientist. Laplace argued that if one knew the position and velocity of all the particles in the universe at a given time, the laws of physics would be able to predict the future state of the universe.

Scientific determinism held sway over a great many scientists until the early twentieth century, when the quantum mechanics revolution occurred. Quantum mechanics introduced the world to the idea of the uncertainty principle, which stated that it was impossible to accurately measure both the position and the velocity of a particle at one time. Because Laplace’s omniscience could never occur, even in theory, the principle of scientific determinism was thrown into doubt. However, quantum mechanics does allow for a reduced form of scientific determinism. Even though physicists are unable to know precisely where a particle is and what its velocity is, they can determine certain probabilities about its position and velocity. These probabilities are called wave functions. By use of a formula known as the Schrodinger equation, a scientist with the wave function of a particle at a given time can calculate the particle’s future wave function. These calculations can give the particle’s position or velocity, but not both. Thus, the physicist is in possession of exactly half of the information needed to satisfy Laplace’s view of determinism. Unfortunately, under modern physics theories, that is far as any researcher can go in predicting the future.


Common Information Question: 1/4

The passage suggests that if scientific determinism were true:


scientists would, in theory, be able to predict the future


all the particles in the universe would have a measurable position and velocity


the theory of quantum mechanics would be false


Schrodinger’s equation could be used to calculate any particle’s Position


the quantum mechanics revolution would not have occurred

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Option(A) is correct

The end of the first paragraph states that "if one knew the position and velocity of all the particles in the universe at a given time, the laws of physics would be able to predict the future state of the universe." Thus, if scientific determinism were true, scientists in theory could predict the future.

The passage says choice B is not true because of the uncertainty principle, but it does not imply that this fact would be true if determinism were also true.

Choice C is not necessarily true; if scientific determinism were true, it would mean scientists could predict the future in theory, even if practically there were no way to do it.

Choice D is not correct because the equations have nothing to do with determinism.

Choice E is also not necessarily true for reasons similar to those discussed for choice C.

(1) Comment(s)

Anand Gupta

"A" does not seems to be right as "predict the future" as in question and "predict the future of universe" may have different meanings. 4