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Jeans, Sir James - The Mysterious Universe - Atoms and dice



Type of Spiritual Experience


Paul Dirac

When an observation is made on any atomic system … in a given state, the result will not in general be determinate, i.e. if the experiment is repeated several times under identical conditions, several different results may be obtained.  If the experiment is repeated a large number of times, it will be found that each particular result will be obtained a definite fraction of the total number of times, so one can say there is a definite probability of its being obtained any time the experiment is performed.  This probability the theory enables one to calculate.  In special cases the probability may be unity and then the result of the experiment is then quite determinate

A description of the experience

The Mysterious Universe – Sir James Jeans

Although we are still far from any positive knowledge, it seems possible that there may be some factor for which we have so far found no better name than fate, operating in nature to neutralise the cast iron inevitability of the old law of causation.  The future may not be as unalterably determined by the past as we used to think; in part at least it may rest on the knees of whatever gods there be.

Many other considerations point in the same direction.  For instance, Professor Heisenberg has shown that the concepts of the modern quantum theory involve what he calls a ‘principle of indeterminacy’.  We have long thought of the workings of nature as exemplifying the acme of precision.  Our man made machines are, we know, imperfect and inaccurate, but we have cherished a belief that the innermost workings of the atom would exemplify absolute accuracy and precision.  Yet Heisenberg now makes it appear that nature abhors accuracy and precision above all things.


For aught we know, or for aught that the new science can say to the contrary, the gods which play the part of fate to our brains may be our own minds.  Through these atoms our minds may perchance affect the motions of our bodies and so the state of the world around us.  Today science can no longer shut the door on this possibility; she no longer has any unanswerable arguments to bring against our innate conviction of free will.  On the other hand, she gives no hint as to what absence of determinism or causation may mean.  If we, and nature in general, do not respond in a unique way to external stimuli, what determines the course of events?  If anything at all, we are thrown back on determinism and causation; if nothing at all, how can anything ever occur?

The source of the experience

Jeans, Sir James

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