Causes and Effects
by Bud Sparhawk
"The future," the mathematician intoned, "is both unknown and unknowable," which seemed an interesting contention at the time, somewhere near the end of the meal, when all were pleasantly sated and ready for one of their usual debates. "There are, after all, a huge number of variables involved in any outcome."
The group, a military engineer, two mathematicians, a physicist, and a philosopher had met at this beir stuben every month to share a pleasant meal, frothy beer, and conversation. Their political member had demurred, begging other pressing issues, as usual.
"An interesting conceit," the engineer replied. "But flawed. Any future event must have a cause and, since there are only a few relevant factors involved, we can certainly predict what will happen." He sat back with a self-satisfied look.
"Of course, that only applies on the macro scale,' the philosopher said. " Our physicist here can probably think of a dozen reasons that wouldn't apply on the quantum level."
The physicist threw back his head and chuckled. "He also forgot that chaos theory says that seemingly unrelated factors can cascade into any given event. The number of past events need not be large at all."
"Besides, the number of factors has to be both finite and countable," the other mathematician countered. "There can't be an infinite number of variables."
"Naturally," the engineer interrupted, "once one knows all the variables and their relationships, you can predict with near certainty what will happen. That is why we've prevailed over our enemies."
"Isn't there some theory that disproves the wisdom of such certainty?" the philosopher suggested.
The engineer looked suspiciously at him. "I hope you aren't denying the inevitability of our country's destiny."
As the philosopher blanched, the first mathematician cleared her throat. "Mathematically speaking we're talking about near certainty, which makes it a probabilistic exercise. Look here." She scribbled five lines emanating from a single point on the tabletop and tapped on the centerline she. "Let's assume that, for any discrete event, there is a pencil of outcomes that differ only by their probability of occurrence. This line," she indicated the center one, "represents the most probable outcome. These other lines are lower probability outcomes that could stem from the same event." She drew another point with six more lines, one of which connected it to the original point. "See here, now let's suppose that the original event is not on the centerline--the most probable line--of this second point, making this event one sixth of the probability of the first outcome's probability."
The physicist touched the centerline of the first point. "Then this line might represent the six of us leaving. Would the other lines be the probability of us doing so, but in a different order?"
"That's too limited a view," she replied. "Think instead that the first event might be invitations to different groups." She then touched the second point, "now only this connecting line contains our group. See, on these other lines I could replace you, or any of the others, with someone else."
"Like our political maven not being here tonight." A ripple of amusement went through the group: He never made the meetings.
"Nonsense," the engineer argued. "Since that line came from our original dinner, that would collapse the probabilities to this group alone. I can't see how it could be anything else."
The mathematician smiled. "But from a mathematical perspective, they are all possible and, if multiple alternate universes concepts apply to this exercise, we theoretically could very well exist in a sea of equally possible universes, universes without counting, universes that branch to multiply infinitely."
"And in all our glorious vision will prevail," the engineer declared as he slammed the table.