Randomness in Quantum Physics and Beyond

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Does randomness truly exist in nature? Randomness is one of nature’s big questions and, as such, can be a rather complex topic. Recently, scientists and other thinkers gathered to discuss randomness at a conference in Barcelona, titled “Randomness in Quantum Physics and Beyond.” Organized by the Institute of Photonic Sciences and supported by the John Templeton Foundation, the conference encouraged participants to consider and discuss randomness with the goal of establishing bridges and commonalities between disciplines.

The concept of randomness interests a wide range of fields, from philosophy and mathematics to computer science and physics. Albert Einstein’s insight into the jittery motion of microscopic particles supported the reality of atoms and molecules when he subjected them to the statistical analysis of random collisions. Physicists explore what can and cannot be concluded about randomness in nature from quantum physics, while philosophers often debate such issues as whether randomness is the same as chance, or whether randomness actually exists.

Other issues discussed included whether unpredictable events are always as unpredictable as they first seem, and whether producing genuinely random events is a feasible process. In the field of quantum mechanics, the notion of indeterminism—the possibility that the future emerges out of a range of possibilities—was explored. Conference participants heard from 21 noted speakers, and abstracts of each session can be found online.