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French book features CQT's Valerio Scarani on randomness

13 October 2010

An elegant coffee table book about quantum physics recently published in France features a contribution from CQT's Valerio Scarani. Described by the publisher as "a plunge into the intimacies of quantum physics", Le plus grand des hasards - Surprises quantiques, presents essays from 65 scientists set among black and white photographs.

The book's editors initiated the project by asking well-known scientists to contribute and to nominate other potential authors. The end collection reflects the writers' diverse styles, mixing humour, memories, insights and fairy tales. Valerio offers this translation into English of his essay on randomness.

Other contributors to the French-language book range from eminent quantum scientists Alain Aspect, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, William D. Phillips and Anton Zeilinger to up-and-coming PhD students. A full list of contributors is available from the website of the publisher, Belin, here . The book is available to buy direct from the publisher and on www.amazon.fr.

Le plus grand des hasards - Surprises quantiques
Jean-François Dars, Anne Papillaut
Published by Belin
ISBN 978-2-7011-5605-7
Available 09/09/2010
224 pages

Book Cover

Translation by Valerio Scarani of his essay "Plaidoyer pour le vrai hasard" from the book Le plus grand des hasards (The biggest of chances)

Advocating for the recognition of true randomness

Valerio Scarani

Don’t be taken in by the title of the book you have in your hands: true randomness is ignored or rejected by most scientists, by most physicists, and even by a good number of physicists who work in quantum physics.

Don’t let yourself be carried away by rhetorical disputes about evolution. The randomness invoked there is a mechanistic concursus causarum, be it the big meteorite that killed the dinosaurs or the chemical process that triggers a mutation. Fighters from opposing camps paint a deterministic chain of events, then quarrel about whether it has been determined. The vertigo of true randomness passes unnoticed in the heat of the battle.

Don’t let yourself be calmed by those who suffered through conventional physics lectures. In the university rooms, they had to shout “probabilities” and “uncertainties” but there was no panic: everything was under control, attributed to the imprecision of devices and the lack of imagination of theorists. They have not understood that true randomness reveals itself precisely in devices that work well and in the most perfect theories.

Don’t let yourself be led astray by conservatives disguised as radicals. They claim the heritage of Ockham and Bacon, they make fun of astrology and horoscopes, but they multiply the universes in order to save determinism. Is my destiny then written in the conjunction between Venus in this universe and Capricorn in another?

Don’t trust me either. I have recognized the signs of true randomness at its first breezes, but don’t ask me which certainties will be blown away by the tornado.

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