Firstly it's important to say that I am no expert in quantum mechanics. I know very little about the subject and yet have some interest in it to the point of wanting to open a discussion on the question with some underlining arguments. I think that like all questions of science, all developments of science, quantum mechanics has a legitimate interest for the workers' movement. We can see on these boards that interest in questions scientific has produced lively and interesting discussions and I for one defend the usefulness of scientific development for proletarian discussion and theoretical deepening. I think that the closeness of marxism to science has been expressed most clearly in the way that the world-changing radical works of the scientists Darwin and Wallace tie in with the appearance of the proletariat as a historic force and the works of Marx and Engels among others.
But does quantum mechanics pose a problem for marxism? Does the very nature of the phenomenon theoretically undermine the possibility of a communist future given the basic baffling uncertainty and plethora of possibilities that it seems to indicate? What I know about quantum mechanics is probably what most people who are half-interested in the subject have already read: that the movement of the particles appear to contradict physics in the main; that it appears as a wave and as a particle and when observed it stops being the former and becomes the latter and its position can't be certain but predicted by probability; that these particles appear where they shouldn't appear and that they appear (fluctuate) from seemingly empty space. Current scientific models say that a particle like an electron (they become more "exotic" than these) has no precise position and yet, apparently, if you raise a finger one side of the universe, it affects every single particle right to the other side. Whatever the work of the recent BICEP2 reveals, whether it is validated or not, there seems to be an understanding within science that sub-atomic fluctuations somehow related to quantum waves were responsible for the accretion of matter (and ultimately us) at the time of the Big Bang. And I would say that the Big Bang is a validated scientific fact on a par with the fact of the Earth going around the Sun.
A few years ago, I talked with some ICC members about this question in general and got a mixed response. One comrade thought that this development undermined marxism and another that it confirmed it. The only published comment I've seen on this in the ICC press is one short piece in the International Review that thought quantum mechanics could act as a confirmation of marxism - a view that I tend to agree with as I try to explain below.
When I left school and went into work there was plenty of the latter. I wasn't earning a great deal but became an inveterate gambler. I would go to dog tracks around London six nights a week and play chemmy on Sundays. Mostly I was bootless early in the week. I bet on anything but the game that I liked the most, the most exciting and fun, was dice. It's called craps in the US, where the game was invented by Negroes in Mississippi in the 19th century. Craps itself was based on the age-old dice game called Hazard in Europe. There's evidence that Hazard had an Arab origin but similar dice games (using two dice) go back to Thebes, 3,600 years ago, and relics have been found among most civilisations: China, India, Aztec, American Indians, Celts and Saxons. The common thread to all these dice games is to bet on, or back, combinations in front of other combinations while other combinations remain neutral. These combinations - and their odds and neutrality - can then change from one throw of the dice to the next. The object is to make a "pass" and go on to the next one. The pure odds for making a pass (against crapping out) appears to be evens but is actually 1.0268 to 1. I used to try to make three passes on the turn which gave me odds of about 30 to 1, but ten passes would give odds of over 1000 to 1 and I've seen it done many times. Over one thousand to one is not bad odds for 10 x 1. 0268 chances. As the run of successful passes increases, one increases the odds in your favour against the possibilities. For example, you can toss a coin a thousand times and if it comes up heads 999 times it is still a 1 to 1 chance to come up heads on the thousandth throw.
I started my dice at the bottom playing against a wall in a block of flats at Finsbury Park and progressed to an exclusive spieler in Dalston frequented by some serious gangsters and their friends. Dalston was mostly white then but there were some black guys playing. There wasn't much trouble at the club apart from one shooting and a particularly nasty mugging. No alcohol was served but soft drinks and the finest salmon and pickle sandwiches. Games of Kalooki were played at card tables around the room but the action centred around the crowded billiard table as the dice hit the green baize. There's just twelve numbers, twelve points on the scale in two dice, but the permutations and combinations are almost endless, the possibilities legion. If this is the case with just twelve numbers, twelve points on a scale, then what are the possibilities for sub-atomic particles whose numbers are countless and therefore provide an endless number of theoretical possibilities.
There's an idea among some scientists that study quantum mechanics that anything is possible given the number of possibilities inherent in the numbers. That is, that in an infinite universe (or multiverse or multiverses) anything that is likely to happen will, with time, happen - you just need to wait long enough. My argument against these interpretations by some physicists has consequences for the idea of a "multiverse". It doesn't rule out such a concept but gives it a different context. If a multiverse exists - if - then its development will not be identical to the development of human life but will tend to develop in a similar fashion. Let me explain. Bubbles of universes, which make up the multiverse, will develop from their own Big Bangs from singularities that has similar sub-atomic components to our own universe. They will originate from a similar sub-atomic soup. To be very specific here and look at planets within the multiverse (or our universe): if a planet has developed in the right conditions, atmosphere, water, sunlight, etc., for the evolution of life towards conscious beings, then it's more than likely, in my opinion, that the beings on those planets, will be in a situation that we have existed in, are existing in or, theoretically, could exist in. It is possible that there is a planet somewhere where, I don't know, bits of wood with a brains run their world. It's possible but it's not likely and it's more likely that any planet that has evolved life would be becoming a class society, is a class society or has gone beyond, one way or another, class society. To think that "anything that can happen will happen", like the Monkey/Typewriter argument, is absolutely baseless.
Some theorists, taking this idea to its conclusion, say that the spontaneous aggregation of matter from sub-atomic particles will eventually create disembodied, self-aware brains, the so-called Boltzman brains. This is exactly the same logic that is used in the Monkey/Typewriter thesis so let's look at this in some detail:
The argument goes that given enough time hitting a typewriter a monkey will eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare. Not in my opinion it won't, not if you mean time as we know it Jim.
If you sat down all the monkeys in the world at specially constructed keyboards; robust key pads, no upper and lower case, no punctuation, no space-bar, and they typed, roughly until the Sun burnt out, it is extremely doubtful that they would type eight consecutive words of Shakespeare. You only need to know your primary school times-tables to work that out. If you add the number of languages in the world - about 700 plus - and the characters thereof, the calculation becomes much more complex and unlikely.
But, quantum mechanics tells us that an orang-outang could sashay into this room, knock me off my seat, sit down and type out Titus Andronicus (a dark tale describing the decomposition of Roman imperialism) in Spanish. That is a possibility. Quantum mechanics also tells us that the entire contents of the room I am sitting in could break down into its sub-atomic particles, fly over the moon and come back down and reassemble themselves (maybe with some bizarre ribald variations). That is more likely to happen than any monkey writing Shakespeare or anything else.
The whole argument breaks down before it starts anyway because a typewriter has to be manufactured, transported and paper provided. And the output can only be measured by the human agency of thought and language. No monkey is going to make a typewriter, no monkey is going to develop a written language. The real Monkey/Typewriter argument is one against marxism and science. It represents some of the crassest thinking of the bourgeoisie: "The Descent of Man"? - a monkey typing at random could produce that - similar for Shakespeare and of course it also applies to the works of Marx and Engels and the workers' movement generally. It is a completely reactionary idea and it's not really a surprise that it turns up once again, put forward by some scientists in the realms of quantum mechanics.
When first being told about the developments of quantum mechanics Einstein said in disbelief that "God doesn't play dice". But I believe that Einstein's "cosmological constant" - a kind of anti-gravity, an energy possessed by a vacuum -, a concept he later abandoned, is a sort of description of "dark matter" and the quantum fluctuations that must exist therein. Large numbers, possibilities, cease to be random and unpredictable where anything can happen, or that anything that can happen will eventually happen, but are, in our understanding of them and their nature, biased towards distinct possibilities. Quantity becomes quality. Numbers of possibilities tend to order in distinct patterns of probabilities that the human brain recognises. The first feature of the earliest human art is patterns and they persist throughout humanities' descent.
I know even less about "Chaos theory" than I do about quantum mechanics. The famous example is a butterfly flapping its wings in South America and a tree falling down in Canada - or something like that. In itself this is no stranger than the spin of one sub-atomic particle on one side of the universe affecting the resonance of another on the other side. But from what I understand of it Chaos theory is that it implies order that affects both the sub-atomic world and the world of thought and development of humanity in the production of distinct patterns of probabilities.
In my opinion the world of quantum mechanics doesn't contradict marxism but reinforces it, while the explanation of some physicists regarding the "Boltzman brain" and the Monkey/Typewriter theses do and represents the reactionary nature of some scientific thought and the ignorance of the bourgeoisie generally.
Quantum mechanics doesn't contradict marxism but I think reinforces it. Some of the explanations by some physicists do though - as I've tried to set out above. There's no predetermination to humanities' descent, no Royal Road to the development of our present (or next) species. But there has been progress, undeniable progress to the point where, we can see what's gone before and brought us to the present and what is necessary, in general, to go beyond our present predicament. Large numbers and the collectivity of humanity have taken us forward particularly where these numbers have coalesced into self-organisation and more or less clearer expressions of minorities among them that have generalised. It's an essence that started out in the sub-atomic world.