What Einstein meant when he said “God does not play dice ...” Vasant Natarajan We analyze Einstein’s views on God and religion, and his views on Quantum Mechanics. One of Albert Einstein’s most famous statements is “God does not play dice with the universe”. The common interpretation of this statement contains two myths (or perhaps misunderstandings) that I wish to correct in this article. The first is that his use of the word ‘God’ implies that he was a religious person who believed in the existence of God. Nothing could be further from the truth; indeed, Einstein can be described more accurately as an outright atheist. Although his early upbringing was in a highly religious Jewish environment, he soon realized that many of the things described in the Old Testament were not consistent with physical laws. His great contributions to physics came from his belief in precise mathematical laws that govern the natural world. This rational approach is antithetical to the common religious notion of a supernatural God with powers that can overcome natural laws. We can go as far as saying that, deep down, every person (and certainly every practising scientist) must have this rational streak. You cannot do good science if you do not believe in fundamental immutable laws that govern Nature. Tomorrow, if your computer breaks down, you know it is because some part of the system failed. You call a technician hoping he/she will find out what is wrong and fix it; you certainly don’t pray to a God or go to a temple to get it fixed (though you might pray to God that the technician comes quickly!). It is interesting that we are born with this rational bent of mind; in fact, our very survival in the natural world depends on forming a rational picture of what we see, with no room for supernatural or magical events. Experiments have
Vasant Natarajan is at the Department of Physics, Indian Institute of Science. His research interests are in high-resolution laser spectroscopy, optical frequency measurement, and use of laser-cooled atoms to search for timereversal violation in the laws of physics. He serves on the Editorial board of Resonance and contributes regularly to the journal. He considers himself an Ekalavya-type shishya to his guru Einstein. A picture of Einstein hangs above his chair.
This article first appeared in ‘Backstage’ – a newsletter published to mark the theatre festival ‘Moitree’ organized by Mukhosh, a Bangalore-based Bengali theatre group.
Keywords Einstein, Quantum Mechanics, Randomness.
RESONANCE July 2008
Human infants will get perturbed by magical events that do not conform to their rational model of the world.
shown that human infants below the age of one, well before they are even able to talk, will get perturbed by magical events that do not conform to their rational model of the world (not falling when you go over the edge of a bed, for example). It is only later that we become mature enough to be able to enjoy magic shows by consciously suspending our rational belief during the magician’s performance. So what did Einstein really mean by the word ‘God’ in his statement? Einstein of course believed in mathematical laws of nature, so his idea of a God was at best someone who formulated the laws and then left the universe alone to evolve according to these laws. He saw the hand of God in the precise nature of physical laws, in their mathematical beauty and elegance, and in their simplicity. To him, the very fact that there were natural laws that the human mind could discover was evidence of a God, not a God who superseded these laws but one who created them. Thus his use of the word God is to be interpreted as the existence of natural laws of great mathematical beauty, whatever form they might take. Which brings us to the second part of Einstein’s statement, the part about not playing dice. This relates to Einstein’s reaction to the part of Nature...
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