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Rule or law for absurdity

  1. Jul 27, 2005 #1
    I have been listening to a teacher that frequently uses examples of probability. He made the comment in one session that in science, it was determined that anything greater than 1050 is considered absurd, but that he could not remember what ‘law’ or person that relates to this. Does anyone know of such thing? I have been searching for days now and haven’t found anything.

    Last edited: Jul 27, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 27, 2005 #2


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    He must have said it some context. As a bald statement by itself, it is meaningless.
  4. Jul 27, 2005 #3
    The study started out with a string of 347 black and white beads, supposedly put on the string in random order, which equated to a well known quote. The odds of this happening in any one instance was quoted as being Prandom chance = 2-347 = 2.8669 x 10-104 and then was followed by (quoted here word for word):

    That's a big number; that's probably a bigger number than any of us in this room -- me included --​
    have any capacity to imagine. It's a very large number. You see any number with more than ten with​
    fifty zeros after it is defined in physics as absurd. As you start getting into these proababilities​
    that are ver, very rare, there is a point in mathematics where you need ot have a cut off. In​
    science they've decided that that 1050 is, I forget who'e law it is, is defined as​
    absurd. By the time you get that large you really are out there. It is highly unlikely -- so​
    unlikely -- they say it doesn't happen.​

    To date, I have been able to authenticate this teacher's quotes -- except this one. If indeed this is a "law" or accepted stance, I have yet to be able to find proof of it. Is there any such cut off? Or should I be inquiring in the physics' thread?

    Thanks for your reply,

  5. Jul 27, 2005 #4


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    My humble guess is what he was getting at is not 10^50 being a very large number, but rather that 1/10^50 being a very small number, although you have to put it into context. To communicate that 1/10^50 is very small, he was saying that 10^50 is really large.

    So, whomever might have said 1/10^50 is a rather insignificant number? And more importantly, why?

    In a physics sense, I wouldn't know because I am not a pysicist; e.g. maybe it is the lower bound of measurable phenomena: quantum scale, Planck scale, "string" scale, etc., although prudence dictates that I shouldn't bet on your prof's having meant any of these concepts.

    In a probabilistic sense, though, it is a tiny probability and I can understand that an event with a probability of 1/10^50 is very unlikely to occur. Maybe the Big Bang itself was one of those events. It has not repeated itself in so many billions of years, so its probability must be very, very small. On the other hand, its probability is not zero, since as far as we can tell, it did happen at least once. From a practical point of view, though, how much would you bet on another Big Bang happening in 6 months? In a year? In 10,000 years? In 10 million years? In a billion years? Personally, I wouldn't bet anything on any of these events. So for all practical purposes that matter in my daily life, the probability of any of these events is very, very, very (very!) insignificant. And perhaps that's the sense that your prof was trying to convey to you.

    {Added later:}A Yahoo search on "Planck scale" returned this link:
    So, it appears that if my life depended on it, I would guess that your teacher could have meant "Planck length," or "Planck time," or both, because 10-50 meters (one 1050th of a meter) is far less than the Planck length and likewise 10-50 seconds (one 1050th of a second) is far shorter than the Planck time. In a very physical sense, 10-50 meters or seconds is outside of our deterministic ("mechanical") universe.

    As for Max Planck, the famous physicist who founded these concepts, along with a whole new theory of physics which was (and continues to be) "totally" revolutionary, see this link. {End add}
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2005
  6. Jul 28, 2005 #5
    You bring up a reason which is claimed to be the necessity for this "cutoff": opponents of a given theory often claim "But the odds are not zero", no matter how miniscule those odds may be.

    Zero? No. But does that mean that any such odds > 0 could indeed happen? Not necessarily. By the definition of Planck time, in order for an unlikely event (determined as such by its probablility) to occur, it must have a sufficient amount of time to go through each and every attempt. If it does not have suffient time (meaning each occurance would need a period of time smaller than 10-50 seconds), then it is a moot point that the odds are not zero. I hope I am stating this correctly so that it makes sense. If it weren't so late in the day, maybe I could have actually thought up such a scenario with appropriate figures.

    As for you question of how much I would bet there will be another "big bang" in any given amount of time? In the context of science books: I would say it can't happen again as it never happened to begin with. "First there was nothing, and then it exploded...". The big bang does not account for the sun having all but one-tenth of 1% of the mass of our solar system, yet 99.5% of the rotational momentum of the system is in the planets. And this is but one of many such problems with the "big bang" model.

    Sorry; just kind of a pet-peeve of mine. :wink:

    I greatly appreciate the information you provided. I can't say for certain that this is what was being referred to, but it certainly is applicable.

    Last edited: Jul 28, 2005
  7. Jul 28, 2005 #6


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    As a non-physicist, all I can say is that the Big Bang model is the most complete model of "birth" that physics can offer at this time. I am sure it has its problems, pitfalls and paradoxes, but, hey, which physical theory doesn't or didn't? As far as I am aware, there is no single alternative theory that is as consistent within itself and can explain observed phenomena (e.g. cosmic microwave background) as good or better.
  8. Sep 20, 2008 #7
    Using 2^347 for the probability of a specific bead sequence in this example will not result in the correct solution. This formula will yield the number of "truely unique" sequences. As an example, for the sequence with 345 white beads followed by 2 black beads, the formula above assumes that B1 preceeding B2 is different from B2 preceeding B1. They most certainly *are* unique sequences, but in the context of the example, B1 and B2 could be in either order and the "necklace" would be identical.

    The solution for calculating the number of unique strings that can be generated from a fixed number of elements of a fixed number of types turns out to be somewhat complex (at least for a poser such as myself). There is no way to describe this problem in a straight-forward polynomial expression for the number of sequences as a function of the number of elements. This was presented as a mathematical puzzle by Henry Ernest Dudeney in one of his well known puzzle books. A solution is given in “The Colossal Book of Mathematics” By Martin
    Gardner, pp. 15-21 (W. W. Norton & Company, 2001). It requires the use of Euler’s phi function in a recursive formula to tabulate the prime factors as follows:

    1/2n [ϕ(d_1 )∙a^(n/d_1 )+ ϕ(d_2 )∙a^(n/d_2 ) ⋯ +n∙a^((n+1)/2) ]
    (Formula for an odd number of elements)

    1/2n [ϕ(d_1 )∙a^(n/d_1 )+ ϕ(d_2 )∙a^(n/d_2 ) ⋯ + n/(2 ) ∙(1+a)∙ a^(n/2) ]
    (Formula for an even number of elements)

    n = total number of elements = 347 (beads)
    a = number of different types of elements = 2 (black or white)
    d = the divisors of n = 1, and 347 (347 is a prime #)
    ϕ = Euler’s phi function for each divisor = 1, and 346

    Using the formula above, the actual number of unique sequences is 4.14X10^101.
    Still an absurdly large number, but nevertheless significantly smaller than 2^347).

    As information... this example is used by a wonderful Bible teacher as a "lead in" to demonstrating the impossibility of human hemoglobin "accidentally" evolving by random chance. Calculating that probability is the same problem, use the formula above with n=141 (amino acids) and a=20 (there are 20 standard amino acids). The number of unique sequences of 141 amino acid strings is 7.1X10^139. How big is that number? If our universe is assumed to be a sphere, 180 billion light years in diameter, and an electron is assumed to be a sphere 2.82X10-13cm, the number of electrons that can "fit" inside our universe is a "mere" 2.04X 10^124.

    4.54 billion years isn't nearly enough time for human hemoglobin to have evolved. Never fear though! We are sure to begin hearing of "recent new discoveries" that demonstrate the age of earth is actually "much older than previously thought"!!! How convenient that will be for the intellectually blessed!

    Rick Stones
  9. Sep 20, 2008 #8


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    There is no such law. Since your teacher is not here to defend himself, I will postulate that he was joking.
  10. Sep 20, 2008 #9


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    Re the comments about the ideas behind the Big Bang - there would seem to be very little dissension in the scientific community about the validity of that idea: quibbling about theoretical issues in science does not mean the underlying ideas have been discarded.
    I have seen such claims made by young earth creationists (and other science-deniers) to begin an argument against some or all of the following:
    1. The Big Bang and development of the universe
    2. Evolution (there hasn't been enough time for it to work)
    3. The fact that the solar system revolves around the sun, which itself is traveling through the universe

    I hope your teacher is not about to travel down the road of rubbish.
  11. Sep 20, 2008 #10
    Oh man a pet peave of mine here too! Please call it the Theory of Evolution, because evolution is uncontested.
  12. Sep 20, 2008 #11
    It has always seemed curious to me that the people who profess to bear the weight of upholding science purity, are the very ones who insist on aggressive censorship of ideas that do not align with their own. Especially on these interesting, philisophical topics that could benefit most from an open honest exchange of ideas. It is pure politically-motivated arrogance and elitism at its worst. It is anti-science. Stop and consider what you are doing, and why you are doing it.
  13. Sep 21, 2008 #12


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    I have never seen any scientist insist on aggressive censorship of ideas and do not see it here. I have seen scientists asking for evidence and refusing to consider ideas for which there is no evidence. Please try going back and reading these posts carefully. I see no suggestion of censorship.
  14. Sep 21, 2008 #13


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    I'm assuming you refer to comments about ID, YEC, and things related.
    Perhaps you need to review the ideas of science: explanations are based on physical, non-supernatural, explanations. A theory in science can be described as an idea that been investigated and found to be supported by experiment and data . Ideas in science are based on the idea of being falsifiable: some things simply don't face the test of data, investigation, and advancements in other disciplines.

    Why don't ID/Creationism, the notion of a young (about 6000 years old) earth, a Biblical flood, qualify for consideration in science? Because there is absolutely no natural evidence (data) for them: they are not falsifiable, and they are based on a false dichotomy ("since science hasn't answered question X, it is obvious that my god is responsible). Straw men are set up to deride ideas ("Evolution is responsible for Stalin, Mao, and Hitler" [all false assertions, if the implication is that they based their actions on ideas of evolution]).
    No, the reason ID/Creationism (they are truly the same thing), notions of a young earth, etc., are not dismissed because the world doesn't want to see competing ideas: they are, and should be, dismissed because there is no "there" there.
  15. Sep 21, 2008 #14
    The number of hydrogen atoms in the observable universe has been estimated as being around 1080.
  16. Sep 21, 2008 #15
    I'm a little confused about what you said statdad. I bet I'm going to be shown wrong, but I believe a theory is "ok" if there isn't evidence against it.

    For example, if you say God exists, I don't think many people will disagree. If you say God exists, is good/reasonable, and if you don't put this water on you while this guy says some words (baptism), then you will go to Hell or some place other than where God sends the best ones. Then people get skeptical, "so I do everything God wants besides put this water on, I get screwed?"

    Then you say, well not only that, but if you got baptised by that other church, then you also go to hell. Only our church can do a true baptism.

    At that point, it's pretty unreasonable. I think most "scientists" have an objection to this type of contradiction.

    Science is really all about Faith. Mathematicians in particular, believe in our axioms. You can negate them and develope different mathematics. We are aware of this, we don't care! Our faith does not waiver (until you think too hard about the continuum hypothesis!)..

    If you challenge our faith, we get happy, it validates it for us. If you challenge a very religious persons's faith, they go nuts! That's why religious people are wierd :) (or are we wierd for getting happy?)..

    Anyways,.. this is all coming from a Christian; just one with an open mind :) (or is it closed because it is not open to the idea of an absolute right church?)..
  17. Sep 21, 2008 #16


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    I'm not sure to which point of my post you found a mis-statement, but that is the problem with proof-reading one's own words. I most certainly meant to to say - imply, vehemently suggest - that data/evidence against a concept is what is used to rule it out.

    In turn, I'm not sure what you mean by this sentence:
    "Science is really all about Faith"

    If you mean faith in the scientific method, because it has been shown to work , then I agree. But if you mean faith in the sense of religious faith, then I disagree. My wife's faith tells her that the communion wafers become the body of her Lord, despite any evidence or proof of such. That type of faith is not part of the scientific method.

    I agree with your discussion of how some "religous" people can be self-contradictory, and I have a very telling example. Both of my boys are adopted, as infants, from Korea. When we were awaiting our first boy, one of my students - a self-described "fervent Christian Reformed" follower, struck up a conversation with me. It went like this.
    Her: So, are you and your wife still going to adopt a child from Korea?
    Me: Yes, why do you ask?
    Her: Curious. I've been thinking a lot about this, and talking with my pastor. He decided, and I agree, that if you are intent on violating God's word and mixing races, all we can do is pray for your eternal souls.
    Me: Oh really? Why don't you have your pastor call me so he can voice his concerns in person?

    The guy never did (wonder why?) but to me, nothing shines such a strong light on personal hypocrisy as the positions indicated above.
  18. Sep 21, 2008 #17
    I disagree - on several points.

    The message posted by "statdad" serves no useful purpose other than to discourage meaningful discussion. It attempts to open and then quickly close the conversation with a scornful dismissal of any alternate point of view, essentially categorizing anyone daring to harbor such views as unsophisticated or superstitious - back-water hayseeds, frightened into an obsolete belief system by some whacked-out “fire-and-brimstone” preacher in the back of a dark revival tent (dare I say, "clinging to their guns and their religion"). I think his precise description of any alternate view was "rubbish". This is, in fact, the most distastful brand of censureship imaginable, because it isn't even honest.

    Second, you claim that scientists dismiss alternate viewpoints because of a lack of evidence? My firend, if the topic of conversation is the origin of the universe or the origin of man, you can close your eyes and simply pick a side of the argument to be on and you will be supported equally by the exact same amount of "evidence". The most significant difference I've observed regarding people on either side of this argument, is the amount of time and energy evolutionsits spend attempting to convince themselves and others that this is not the case. There has never been, nor will there ever be, "evidence". Not that the Darwinists haven't attempted to manufacture some. Here are a few examples of the "evidence". The following examples are known, deliberate fraud - some, as shocking as it seems, can still be found in the book they attempt to pass off as a "science text" in your child's public school:

    • Heidelberg Man, 1907 – Built from a jawbone.
    • Nebraska Man, 1922 – Henry Osborn: from just one tooth. Later discovered to be an extinct pig.
    • Piltdown Man, 1912 – Charles Dawson: from jawbone of modern ape In 1953 it was proven to be a deliberate fraud; filed, treated with iron salts.
    • Peking Man, 1921 – Evidence disappeared; outright fraud.
    • Neanderthal Man – Found in a cave in the Neander Valley near Duüsseldorf. Int’l Congress of Zoology in 1958 showed that it was of an old man suffering from arthritis.
    • Java Man, 1922 – 1891 skull cap; 50 ft. femur (thigh) bone. Concealed evidence; teeth were of an orangutan.
  19. Sep 21, 2008 #18


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    Perhaps you should spend some time studying biology and evolution before proclaiming it a fraud. Speak with practicing biologists, read the published research; evolution itself happens to be a fact, regardless of how much displeasure it brings to people. The theory portion of the name simply refers to the body of science that goes into explaining how it functions. Is everything known? No. Are there disagreements about some points? Yes - but neither of those contradicts the science. It is not the case that this is taken on faith, it is the case that the geologic record, the scientific record, and observation all support it. The statement " There has never been, nor will there ever be, "evidence". " is, literally, an untruth.

    I'm not exactly sure what a "Darwinist" might be; there doesn't seem to be any such creature in existence except in the language directed against people who understand and study evolution.

    Second, this comment, in reference to me:
    "It attempts to open and then quickly close the conversation with a scornful dismissal of any alternate point of view, essentially categorizing anyone daring to harbor such views as unsophisticated or superstitious - back-water hayseeds, frightened into an obsolete belief system by some whacked-out “fire-and-brimstone” preacher in the back of a dark revival tent (dare I say, "clinging to their guns and their religion"). I think his precise description of any alternate view was "rubbish". This is, in fact, the most distastful brand of censureship imaginable, because it isn't even honest."

    I'm not sure where the reference to hayseeds can be seen in my words, but if you see it fine. My point, if you look at my post, is this: science deals with one form of investigation, and none of ID, creationism, belief in a young earth, or any other appeal to the supernatural, is the same. They are not based on data, they are not based on science, they do nothing to further the scientific understanding of the world or universe (and, before you say something about this being "statdad's view of science", I would suggest you spend time studying about science) and so does not deserve to be included in any science course, etc.
    Saying something should not be covered because it is not relevant to the course of study is not censorship, it is common sense.
    There are places for the discussion of ID, creationism, etc - places of worship and courses in philosophy and religion, areas with their own high levels of scholarship (that is stated sincerely) Edit here: My statement is sincere; I am not trying to say that some thing known as "sincere scholarship" should be considered.
    Please don't accuse me, or others, of practicing censorship when that is not the case.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2008
  20. Sep 21, 2008 #19
    That's pretty ballsy of your student. Even if I believed what he does, I wouldn't actually say it!

    What I meant by faith is that there are certain things we cannot prove, we (scientists) just go on "faith" and build everything from it.

    In particular I'm talking about (insert your pick of axioms here). We just "observed the world" and made some decisions as to what is true, then built everything from there..

    Instead of saying the integers are well ordered and the axiom of choice is really cool, religious people say, God exists and does things in strange and mysterious ways.

    Here I'm using my bias to say that well ordering principle is as obvious as God existing is, and axiom of choice is as retarded as God doing things in strange and mysterious ways :)

    Nothing is wrong with either way, and in fact, both are really good for humanity! (and really bad at the same time!)
  21. Sep 21, 2008 #20


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    It is this: "Here I'm using my bias to say that well ordering principle is as obvious as God existing" where I would beg off. Ordering of number systems comes out as a product of how our mathematical descriptions of reality are formed, and much of the use of mathematics in applications flows from them ordering were dropped we couldn't proceed with much of the mathematics.
    However, the assumption of a creator is one that is outside the realm of science; nothing is lost without the assumption, nothing is added (I am not referring to personal peace, inner strength, or any philosophical things here) with the assumption - no real explanatory power, as saying "My God did that" is not an explanation at all.
    I have no problem with folks keeping their religion in their courses, as long as they don't try to force it into science classes. (Would they, I wonder, allow me and others the liberty to teach areas of science with which they disagree in their places of worship?)

    Thanks for the comment about my student. I must admit, I was shocked: I know I am older than she, but even so I can't believe that lessons of common decency about what should and and should not be said could have gone away in the years from my childhood to hers.
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