Printer Friendly

Taking no chances.

The trend of physics over the last 80 years has been to introduce randomness and uncertainty into more and more processes that classical physics considered well determined. Now comes an instance of the reverse. Vladimir Vulovic and Richard E. Prange of the University of Maryland in College Park propose that a process commonly thought to be random is in fact well determined by its initial conditions. Their example is the flipping of a coin.

Coin flipping has been considered the epitome of a random and chancy process, used as an example by students of games of chance since Blaise Pascal. Expressing surprise that it has taken three centuries to figure the contrary, Vulkovic and Prange argue that coin flipping obeys Mewton's laws, and that each flip depends on the impulse given the coin by the thumb and the height above the floor from which the coin starts. Any randomness, they say, is not in the flipping itself, but in imprecise knowledge of the starting conditions. If you could know the impulse given by the thumb in a particular case, or had a well-calibrated mechanical flipper, you could predict how the coin would fall (ignoring effects of the air and assuming a perfectly flat floor). The same considerations should apply to the fall of dice or the spin of a roulette wheel, they propose.

The mathematical source of this odd result comes from an extension of the work of Pascal and Pierre de Fermat, which is that many equations may have completely determined solutions (as in this case) and yet give "unpredictable" and truly random results. This happens, according to Vulovic and Prange, "because predictions of the future depend with excruciating sensitivity on the starting data. . . . However, even if precise predictions are not in practice possible, the equations can predict probabilities of various outcomes."
COPYRIGHT 1985 Science Service, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:predicting supposedly random behavior such as coin flipping
Author:Thomsen, Dietrick E.
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 6, 1985
Words:303
Previous Article:Superconducting silicon.
Next Article:Optical fiber sensors: just around the corner.
Topics:


Related Articles
Trails of the wandering albatross.
Development of reasoning about random events.
10 activists or terrorists? Judge weighs arguments.
Legislators jump on predicted surplus.
If not now, when?
Improvement seen in Oregon's small-business growth.
Incumbent Hall, newcomer McCown capture LCC seats.
ARABS-ISRAEL - May 20 - Israel Vows To Increase Gaza Raids On Hamas.
Egg shell game: chicks' sex isn't just a matter of chance.
"Intelligent design," Natural Design, and the problem of meaning in the natural world.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters