Laplace's demon

Laplace's demon

In the history of science, Laplace's demon is a hypothetical "demon" envisioned in 1814 by Pierre-Simon Laplace such that if it knew the precise location and momentum of every atom in the universe then it could use Newton's laws to reveal the entire course of cosmic events, past and future.

Original quote

Laplace strongly believed in causal determinism, which is expressed in the following quotation from the introduction to the "Essai":

This intellect is often referred to as "Laplace's demon". Note, however, that the description of the hypothetical intellect described above by Laplace as a demon does not come from Laplace, but from later biographers: Laplace saw himself as a scientist; and while hoping that humanity would progress to a better scientific understanding of the world, he recognized that, if and when such an understanding were eventually completed, a tremendous calculating power would still be needed to compute it all in a single instant. While Laplace saw foremost "practical" problems for mankind to reach this ultimate stage of knowledge and computation, later interpretations of quantum mechanics, which were adopted by philosophers defending the existence of free will, also leave the "theoretical" possibility of such an "intellect" contested.

Arguments against Laplace's demon

John Polkinghorne argues strongly as a physicist that nature is "cloud-like" rather than "clock-like" and points out that, apart from any other problems, uncertainty about the exact position of an electron on the other side of the universe would be sufficient to invalidate a calculation about the position of an O2 molecule in air after 50 collisions with its neighbours (i.e. in about 0.1 ns), even if they were solely influenced by Newton's laws. [ see, e.g., John Polkinghorne "Quarks, Chaos and Christianity" pp. 65–66]

According to chemical engineer Robert Ulanowicz, in his 1986 book "Growth and Development", Laplace's demon met its end with early 19th century developments of the concepts of irreversibility, entropy, and the second law of thermodynamics. In other words, Laplace's demon was based on the premise of reversibility and classical mechanics; thermodynamics, i.e. real processes, however, are, under current theory, thought to be irreversible.

Albert E. Smith, on the subject of the demon, notes that Biblical writers put this spirit (or, as they call it, God) as being not within the universe - as to be limited by it, but the universe as being within God [ [ Smith, A. E. - Does God Play at Dice ] ] "This latter quotation is an expression of the apostle Paul's "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

Recent views

There has recently been proposed a limit on the computational power of the universe, i.e. the ability of Laplace's Demon to process an infinite amount of information. The limit is based on the maximum entropy of the universe, the speed of light, and the minimum amount of time taken to move information across the Planck length, and the figure was shown to be about 10120 bits [ [] Article published by APS] . Accordingly, anything that requires more than this amount of data cannot be computed in the amount of time that has lapsed so far in the universe. (An actual theory of everything might find an exception to this limit, of course.Fact|date=September 2008)

Laplace's demon in popular culture

*In Adam Fawer's "Improbable: A Novel", the main character becomes a personification of Laplace's demon.
*A character using the name Laplace no Ma (literally Laplace's Demon) is featured in the second series of the Rozen Maiden anime series.
*"Laplace No Ma" (Laplace's Demon) is a 1993 Videogame for the SNES.
*The Masoukishin Cybuster from the Super Robot Wars metaseries possesses the 'Laplace's Demon Computer' which gives it the ability to predict the future as well as editing/altering events in the timeline itself. A similar (though less powerful) device is used by another giant robot, the Unicorn Gundam.
*The character Sion Eltnam Atlasia, from TYPE-MOON's PC game "Melty Blood" and all members of her family are possessed by the demon of Laplace.
*While never referred to as such, the Mainframe Entertainment superhero Action Man possesses a super power that could be considered a limited form of Laplace's Demon.
*That individuals can have conscious or unconscious access to knowledge similar to that available to Laplace's demon can be used to provide an explanation, of a sort, for prescience in works of science fiction and fantasy. For example, in Frank Herbert's "Dune", certain highly trained people are capable of prescience. The ability of these people, prescients, is limited by their knowledge and focus (in the Dune franchise, this focus is aided by the use of drugs). Prescients see time as a nexus of causality, and as such, recognize the presumed fallacy of free willFact|date=April 2008. Powerful prescients with greater focus and knowledge can see further into the future, and the presence or attention of other prescients increases the amount of focus required for to predict the actions of the other prescientFact|date=April 2008. Presumably a certain amount of recursion due to the other prescients and their knowledge results in this demand for extra focus on the part of those making a prediction.


ee also

*Maxwell's demon

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