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Does God Play Dice With the Universe ? – A review April 8, 2008

Posted by dorigo in books, physics, religion, science.

About a month ago I received in my mail box a copy of a small, good-looking book, titled “God Does Play Dice With the Universe“. Author: Shan Gao, in his own words “an independent research scientist, or more accurately, a natural philosopher who aims at understanding the mysterious universe“. Shan is a reader of my site. He had previously contacted me to ask if I would be willing to review his new work.

Despite being a lazy reader and having no experience in reviewing books, I promised him I would: my curiosity won, as it usually does in such circumstances. So, as I unpacked the parcel that the British publisher Abramis had crafted for me, I had mixed feelings: the object I was unwrapping meant something new and potentially stimulating to write about – but it also meant work ahead.

The book turned out to consist in a bit over 100 pages neatly written in a pocket 9″x6” size, cleanly printed
and illustrated, and featuring a starry background on the cover. Does God play dice with the universe ? I admit I started browsing the book with a definite bias – the way I had been contacted, the title of the book, and the very fact that somebody should select me as a reviewer made me lean toward the idea that the author was some sort of a crackpot.

Now, I have to say I have nothing against the “category” in itself. People who try to understand reality and build their own theories have my deep respect; that is, until they become arrogant and presumptuous. Shan had been kind and unassertive in his communication with me, so my bias was not putting me in a bad mood by itself.

However, after a first quick look, I was left wondering about the soundness of my pre-judgement. For one thing, the book contained no formulas at all. I mean none, not even a few. This did not quite fit the crackpot idea I had put together. Secondly, the descriptions of quantum phenomena I came across by random browsing appeared actually rather well put together, even if of course simplified and not rigorous, and I could detect no obvious flaw in their presentation. I have to warn the reader here: I am no theorist, and my studies of quantum mechanics date a century back; however, usually I can still smell a fallacious statement if I read one.

I decided I would really read the damn book. It took me a while despite its light weight, because my reading time is scarce these days, but today I finally got to the last page, and can present some considerations in a less handwaving form than I thought I would at the beginning.

“God Does Play Dice With the Universe” is a book which builds on a few general principles of quantum mechanics and their contrariness to common sense to propose a bold, even cunning explanation of motion at the microscopic level. One which, I must add, is not scientifically justified or proven in any way; but the author’s ultimate goal is philosophical rather than scientific. That, in essence, is the reason why one feels one can accept without question the multitude of unproven hypotheses, which are presented as unquestionable facts, in the discussion of random motion and the concept of a discrete fabric of space-time.

Shan Gao’s goal is to understand the universe in a philosophical way, and indeed the book describes several views of motion from past thinkers ranging from Zeno to Aristotle, from Al-Nazzam to Bergson (“Movement is composed of immobilities“) and Bertrand Russell (“Motion consists merely in the occupation of different places at different times“). And even if one feels nervous to be confronted with divine actions while reading about quantum-mechanical concepts, and the G word appears a bit too often in the text, in the end the author can be appreciated for having put together his own “theory” and a imaginative way of looking at space and time and the way objects move. Rather than trying to summarize his ideas, let me quote an extended passage:

In a word, even if no concrete cause exists, a change can still happen as long as the change is purely random. In order to further understand this conclusion, it is necessary to distinguish two kinds of causes. One is concrete causes that relate to time, and the other is universal causes that are irrelevant to time. The former is our familiar causes appearing in the principle of causality. Such a concrete cause will result in a lawful change at a concrete time. The latter is a new kind of causes, which are similar to Aristotle’s final causes. A universal cause can result in ceaseless random changes. As a consequence, both lawful changes and random changes have their causes.

So, the principle of causality and indeterminism can be unified in a generalized principle of causality. […] To sum up, we find an appealing solution to the long-standing puzzle of indeterminism. The existence of uncaused events is actually logical. So it is comprehensible that God plays dice with the universe.

The last chapter of the book is one I did enjoy, despite -or maybe because of- the lack of physics or pseudo-physics arguments. Here, Shan Gao takes his ideas of motion and confronts them with the philosophical views of Aquinas, Newton, Aristotle, and the concept of a First Mover:

In Newton’s physical world, God has a new position […]. A moving object needs no mover. So there is no need for Aquinas’ First Mover. However, Newton’s First Mover still exists. […] No object has the ability to move itself. Then who moved the first moving object ? How did it start off if no object can move itself ? So, as Newton thought, the universe still needs some original thing that set it all in motion […] Indeed, Newton warned against using his mechanics to view the universe as a mere machine […]: “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.”

He concludes:

According to the new picture of random motion, objects can move by themselves. What is the
position of God in the new universe then? […] So God seems to have no position in the spontaneous universe. If God did exist, He would need to do nothing. In the profound words of the great Chinese sage Lao Tzu, “Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place“. This is the very Tao of the universe.

I liked this finish. After setting the stage with an almost mystical view of the universe, Shan Gao drops the curtain, and there is no God behind it. Or, if there is one, He is certainly not doing much for us.



1. Kea - April 9, 2008

Hmmm. Generalised causality is certainly a productive line of thinking, but the arguments sound too unmathematical for my taste, which means that without sophisticated definitions it can be difficult to distinguish very different points of view. The philosophers I know that study causality don’t shy away from dabbling in category theory. And one could easily disagree with the conclusion, although I would have to read the book to come up with concrete counterarguments. Thanks for the review.

2. Alejandro Rivero - April 9, 2008

Does this reader, “Shan Gao” speaks chinese, actually? The translation of TTC 3 seems unfortunate, or perhaps the choosing is motivated mainly to reflect the TTC posture (roughly, same as the western atomists). Myself, I can not read chinese, but there are some translations in the net available to compare. I would prefer: “Act without interfering thus nothing will be undone” Or “Practice action without striving and all will be in order.” wéi wú wéi, zé wú bú zhì
On the other hand, It is intriguing how the whole structure of TTC3 seems a caricature of the fundamental TTC16. So perhaps already there was some mix of schools of thought.

3. Ty Harris - April 9, 2008


My comment has nothing to do with God playing dice. ( I seem to recall that Einstein once stated that “God does NOT play at dice”- which was his initial reaction to Neils Bohr’s new ideas/ assertions on the notion of quantum states. But as far as I know, the current general consensus is that Einstein was wrong and Bohr was right.)

The implications of quantum physics are weird and hard for the layman ( like me ) to get their minds around sometimes ( schrodinger’s cats and all that.)

Anyhow… my question/comment pertains to CERN and the Higgs Bosun model. Firstly, let me just say that although I find particle physics extremely fascinating, and I am very impressed by research projects like CERN, I really don’t understand very much of it. The implications of this type of research are awesome and interesting, but the details just seem to be beyond me- so I apologize in advance if my question seems to come from a position of ignorance- I admit that it does….

My question is this-

A couple of months ago, I came across an article on the web about Garrett Lisi and his ” Exceptionally Simple Therory of Everything”. I tried to read his paper, but it was- in many respects- a bunch of gibberish to me. I do get the general idea though, and I take it that he apparently managed to accurately describe the relationships between all known forces and particles in the universe by placing the particles on a 248 point structure known as the E8 structure. According to the article, the LHC was supposed to support or invalidate his theory by finding ( or not finding ) particles associated with gravity that would go on the remaining points of the E8. As I understand it, if Lisi is right, then he has basically come up with the Grand Unified Theory which is supposed to be the Holy Grail of Physics.

Today I ran into an article about the Higgs Bosun model and how CERN hopes to validate or invalidate that model of the universe by finding Higgs Bosun particles. I have read a bit about the higgs bosun model ( not that I understand it all by a long-shot ). So now everybody is talking about Higgs Bosuns, but I was surprised to hear no mention of Lisi or gravitons- which I thought was something that CERN was interested in finding.

What I want to know is this- firstly, what do YOU think about Lisi’s theory? From browsing your blog a bit, it’s clear that you know more about this stuff than I ever will. I am certain that I have come to the right place to get a well-informed opinion on Lisi’s theory. Secondly, What do other scientists at CERN think? Are people there generally skeptical, or do they take him seriously? Do you think that CERN will find the particles he has predicted- gravitons- and that his model will turn out to be right, or is he a crackpot? Thirdly, is the Higgs Bosun model compatible at all with Lisi’s model? Or are they competing models. Are they mutually exclusive? Or do they simply describe different aspects of the universe entirely? I have surfed around the web quite a bit to find out if Lisi and Higg’s theories are complimentary or not, and it doesnt seem like anybody has adressed it yet- or at least if they have, the topic isnt listed high on google. Considering how much stir Lisi created on the net a few months ago, I gaurantee that a lot of people are asking the same question that I am asking right now, because we were all waiting for the LHC to confirm or deny his really neat theory. Probably you could do a post on higgs vrs. Lisi and I bet a lot of people would read it.

Thanks in advance for any enlightenment you could shed upon the Lisi vrs. Higgs matter. I would appreciate very much if you could explain it in simple layman’s terms to the greatest extent possible.

By the way, I totally support CERN and your work there. 2.6 billion is chump change compared to what we spend in Iraq every month. ( I’m an American ). Our country has a Gross Domestic Product of something like 12 trillion bucks, so 2.6 billion is basically like the coins we have in the cushions of our couch. Research for it’s own sake has intrinsic value- especially research into the fundamental forces and particles that make up everything we are. How could we be disinterested as a species in such things and be worthy of continued existence? There is more to life than just being alive. It is man’s nature and destiny to learn, to explore, and to understand. If we put aside basic research until all the wars are over and all of human-kinds needs/wants are met- poverty, disease, hunger etc. etc., we’ll never get anywhere- so I say screw all of those small-minded, backwards people who say CERN is a waste of money. It most definitly isn’t.

Here’s a link to the Lisi article:


4. Phil Warnell - April 9, 2008

Hi Tommaso,

Nice review and you can relate to Shan Gao that it will result in at least one purchase. The conclusion however, is not entirely a new idea as it relates to reality. David Bohm in his later years pursued much the same line of reasoning as one can read in “Wholeness and the Implicate Order”. However, as like your author, he was never able to present a mathematical treatment of such a concept. It was to serve as an expansion and extension of his earlier work “the pilot wave interpretation of quantum mechanics”, which was presented as a fully mathematical consistent theory. In as such ideas deal with concepts like Cantor’s cardinalities of set issues as to how the countable infinities relate to the uncountable, I’m not surprised that Shan Gao as like Bohm discover no way to approach this mathematically; since such a technique is still unavailable and remains to be developed (if it is at all possible). I have always found it interesting to speculate that since Gödel proved the axioms lacked the power to capture all mathematics, could this also suggest mathematics being unable to capture all of infinity, as it relates to the random set and how it may not represent disorder yet the order of all orders (as Bohm suspected). This in turn does not require initial action, motivation or intent; only simply it be.



5. forrest noble - April 9, 2008

Interesting. No formulas is good. Develop sound concepts first then develop mathematical models to mirror the concepts, then test them.

Quantum Mechanics has been developed from observations over the past 70 years. It is a predictive system of interactions and events in the quantum realm. This system is presently the best mathematical system out there concerning quantum behavior and has many facets to its whole. The verbal concepts, generally called Quantum Theory, I believe, are the joke of the century 20th century. This does not however detract from the value of the mathematics concerning Quantum Mechanics.

Einstein laughed at the system implying that the statistical system was valuable but that determinism rules. His related quotes were : “seriously I cannot believe in it because the theory is incompatible with the principle that physics is to represent the reality of matter, space and time, without spookish long-distance effects” “I believe The Quantum world does not make use of `telepathic’ means as the current quantum theory alleges. God does not play dice.”

Bell’s Theorem tried to show that “the all” of quantum predictions could not be explained by unseen variables but valid criticisms have been presented to counter his mathematical logic.

My favorite quotations are from Schrödinger who developed many of the founding equations of Quantum Mechanics: When determinism came into question he said: “”Let me say at the outset, that in this discourse, I am opposing not a few special statements of quantum mechanics held today, I am opposing, as it were, the whole of it. I am opposing its basic (mental and verbal) views that have been shaped over the past 25 years when Max Born first put forward his probability interpretations of it, which was accepted by almost everybody.” “If I had known that we were not going to get rid of those damned quantum jumps (as asserted by quantum theory) I never would have involved myself in this quantum business! I do not like it, and I am sorry I ever had anything to do with it”, speaking of both quantum theory and mechanics.

As far as the thread above I would say that since there is no god, he cannot play dice. Like Schrödinger, Einstein, and many other theorists I believe that everything is deterministic. Probabilities are used for normal-curve variations where explanations have not been found as yet. That’s all.

There is a lot wrong in Physics Theory today. The worst offender is quantum theory, next would be the Big Bang Theory, and last would be the concepts of both Special and General Relativity. Only the concepts of chemistry and biology seem to be logically progressing.

The Higg’s boson if “found” would not be the proposed particle, because such a boson as being the source of gravity, I believe, could not exist. The concept of the Higg’s field, according to my related theory, is not too far off as a concept, i.e. that it is the cause and source of gravity.

Mr. Harris above, In regard to Garrett Lisi’s ” Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything”, love the title! Probably would have stolen it if I could have for my own theories. The title now is “A better Theory of Relativity”. Haven’t locked in on it as the final title though.

His theory, although interesting, I believe is built upon false premises.
All the known forces, I believe, can be explained mechanically. Gravity and magnetism are the result of pushing forces of field material, the Strong force, Weak force, Strong interaction, and particle spin are all the result of mechanical connections. To explain these “forces” would require no unification because the only real force in the universe can be seen as a result of the potential energy of stable particle matter to spin.

All matter accordingly would have just a single, fundamental particle as a building block. No Big Bang either!! Like Garret Lisi’s theory, it is an ” Exceptionally Simpler Theory of Everything” — Like “New Inflation” and “Newer Inflation.”


your friend forrest

6. dorigo - April 9, 2008

Hello all,

Kea, yes, I also am a bit skeptical of the “pure thought” approach to understanding the laws of nature. Mathematics, formulas, experimental testing: without these things we would still be in the middle ages. However, I think that until matters such as these grand questions are settled -and it will take a while- there is nothing wrong in building one’s own idea of the inner workings, even if no math is involved.

Alejandro, would you mind explaining what TTC is for ? 😮

Hi Ty, I did read Garrett Lisi’s paper, and there is a lot of information in blogs around the web. I will post here some link later. Ah, and please spell correctly “boson”, particle with an integer value of spin (in units of h-bar). Anyway, Garrett Lisi’s is a very interesting idea, but it is not quite well developed yet to be matter for the CERN experiments to go after.

Cheers all,

7. dorigo - April 9, 2008

Hi Phil,

I disagree with the lucasian view about Godel’s theorem being a limitation in the applicability of scientific reasoning to the complete understanding of physical reality, and I rather look at it as a sobering bound to the dreams of understanding everything from one’s living room by logical inference.

I also think Shan Gao’s book is not bringing an entirely new view to the philosophical problem, but his take has some interesting aspects. If you like the topic you may appreciate his work.


8. dorigo - April 9, 2008

Dear Forrest,

you have to pick your battles. If you move war to half the things you claim to be wrong in the comment above, you will never even come close to making a dent in any.

Why don’t you start by saying what brings you to believe that the Higgs boson is the source of gravity ? Because you read that it “gives mass” to the matter fields ? The Higgs boson is the source, or better the observable consequence, of the mechanism of electroweak symmetry breaking, whereby vector bosons are endowed with mass. Before criticizing a theory be sure you understand it better than its supporters.

Then you should probably attack special relativity by explaining how it is possible that we use those two theories every day to orbit particles in accelerators (if special relativity did not exist we would not need a synchro-cyclotron to accelerate protons: a cyclotron would be enough).

I think you have too thick an agenda ahead. If you want to be taken seriously by mainstream scientists, you need to be a bit humbler. Just my two cents anyway, and I do not judge you. I said it elsewhere: I have respect for people who think deep and try to understand nature, whatever their means and their level of studies. But one thing I cannot waive, and that is humility.


9. Tripitaka - April 9, 2008

That was a most generous response made to Forest’s post. I am interested in what he is smoking and where I can get some!

10. dorigo - April 9, 2008

Lol! Sometimes drugs generated by our own body are more powerful than those one can smoke or administer to oneself…


11. island - April 9, 2008

“Uncertainty”… the biggest copout on causality and first principles that the world has ever seen, because “god” does not play dice, and anyone who actually studies the physics that defnes the anthropic principle, knows this. “god” is just an ***inherent*** thermodynamic function, (an energy conservation law), that preserves the arrow of time, causality, and the second law of thermodynamics indefinitely by periodically enabling the universe to “leap”/bang to higher orders of the same basic structure.

No “First Mover”… No “spontaneous mover”… just a perpetually futile downhill effort toward absolute symmetry that can never be attained.


12. dorigo - April 9, 2008

Worthwhile link to blog post discussing GL’ s paper:


13. forrest noble - April 10, 2008

Thanks Tommaso Dorigo,Tripitaka, island

Appreciate the comments. I have a whole book on it, roughly 200 pages with formulations drawings, pictures, etc.. I will send you any part you may be interested in. Just e-mail me at the address above. I believe this text answers all of your above questions — and any other question that I think that most anybody could imagine regarding Cosmology and Theoretical Physics. Although it is a different theory of Relativity I promise most of it is not too complicated, maybe only 10 pages of equations.

The reason that I think dents will be made is because it is a theory of everything and supposedly answers all questions in a simple way.

As Tripitaka suggested some good stuff has been smoked, I think, to create this text; e-mail me for text, equations, or to answer questions.

your friend forrest

14. Doug - April 11, 2008

Hi Tommaso,

God seems more likely to play billiards than dice at both the celestial and quantum scale.

An ArXiv search for billiards has about 1800 hits with at least 46 alone thus far in 2008.

Two of the more interesting are by VV Kozlov in thermodynamics.

Kozlov also has an book “Dynamical Systems X: general theory of vortices”, previewed at Google books in which he mathematically demonstrates analogies among mechanics, optics and hydrodynamics.

15. forrest noble - April 11, 2008


Interesting info. Many of my own theories (indicated above) involve vortex models influencing both particle matter and gravity, which are aether based (dark matter/ ZPF) . I’ll have to buy Kozlov’s book Dynamical Systems X, general theory of vortices” to see if it contains insights that I may acquire or some commonality of theory. Might even check out his new book as you suggest.

The three or more rail bank shots of billiards are cool. I don’t know much about billiards but shoot a fair game of eight ball. These are my type of deterministic games, theory and otherwise.

your friend forrest

16. forrest noble - April 24, 2008

I said you could e-mail me with any/ all questions, but apparently didn’t post my e-mail address: forrest_forrest@netzero.net

17. forrest noble - April 29, 2008


These are two previous questions you asked.

1) “Why don’t you start by saying what brings you to believe that the Higgs boson is the source of gravity ? Because you read that it “gives mass” to the matter fields ?”

The Higgs boson is a very large theoretical particle that according to my theories does not exist, at least as being the god particle or the source of gravity. Instead I propose a much smaller non-spinning neutral particle that I have calculated to be roughly estimated to be
1.7 x 10 ^ -34 estimated diameter of a single “Pan” in meters. This would be the Higgs of my theory, whereby it would form strings of itself that by forces surrounding black holes would be bent into loops which are the forms that make up fermions. They are the only fundamental particle of which all matter, dark matter, photons, etc. are made from.

As to being the source of gravity — gravity is a pushing force. All matter radiates away dark matter in loose engagements called quanta or photons. As this material is continuously radiated away from matter in a continuous cycle, the result would be a low pressure in the field surrounding all matter. The rushing in of field material around all matter makes this field material, AKA dark matter, a matter centered aether. That’s why Michelson and Morley were unable to detect it, because the direction of its flow would be vertical and its influx speed would also have been too small for Michelson and Morley’s equipment, about 64 ft or less difference between the speed of light up vs. down.

As this dark matter field material flows into all matter it evens out the vector forces within it such as slow moving neutrinos or other vectors which would accordingly push matter together providing it with the characteristic we call mass.

2) “Then you should probably attack special relativity” ?

Special Relativity generally denies the existence of dark matter as an aether or omni-present field entities as an aether in general. Instead the correct Lorenz equations which are the same as Einstein’s except for the aether perspective would be used. Lorenz, although he believed in the aether, did not assert that the aether was mass centered. This assertion, would say that for any field there would be a preferred reference frame which would be controlled by the motions of the dark matter which makes up the omni-present field, which in turn is controlled by the largest matter concentrations within the field.

In the case of a cyclotron here on Earth, such a preferred reference frame would be the Earth, specifically the location of the cyclotron on its surface for the greatest precision.

your friend forrest

18. dorigo - April 29, 2008

Hi Forrest,

how can I take seriously your estimate for the size of a particle, if you do not provide any hint about how you compute it ? Never mind the fact that fundamental particles are supposedly pointlike.

As for dark matter, special relativity was formulated when there was no big bang theory yet, leave alone dark matter. In any case, most cosmologists and particle physicists lend towards the explanation that dark matter is composed of particles, and it has thus nothing to do with an aether.


19. forrest noble - April 29, 2008

Welcome back Tomasso,

I once went to Central America over the week end but the Alps, you one-upped me..

Using the word aether is often not popular, nor is it necessary. The definition which I am using for aether is: “That endless ocean of dark matter particles thought to exist between celestial bodies. Also the atmosphere of particles which is the carrier of the waves of EM radiation. Similar definitions can be found in the dictionary. ” I also use the words aether, field material, and dark matter, pan field, interchangeably to mean the same thing.

(Note: Many aether theories of the time considered the aether made up of elementary particles even before the discovery of atomic particles)

The particle’s diameter was estimated starting with the diameter of
an electron:

—- 10 ^-18 estimated diameter of a single electron in meters
(conventional theory). In the related Pan theory this would be the diameter of an electron’s “primary vortex”. The electron itself would be much smaller, like the diameter of a hydrogen atom compared to the diameter of a proton, roughly 10,000 times smaller in diameter, or 10^-21 meters, the diameter of the actual loop.

The bending moment and the required engaging characteristics of a semi-rigid coiled string of the Pan was the mental model used for this estimate. I have many theoretical pages concerning this model. I estimated a pan’s size based upon these characteristics, that the maximum number of a pan would contain no fewer than 540 pan for a single electron. As this loop spins (like protons, it wobbles between alternating axes) it accordingly would produce a surrounding vortex of field material which has much greater substance than the spinning loop itself. Nearly all of its mass would be determined by its vortex volume or its velocity or both. As its linear motion increases its vortex decreases in volume.

—- 1.7 x 10 ^-34 estimated diameter of a single Pan in meters.

This estimate that I gave above is based upon the median number of estimated pan in the looped coil which would accordingly make up an electron: maximum size (minimum number) 540 pan, median 5,270, maximum10,000 . Granted this would allow a very large tolerance range of possibilities concerning size, but all estimates would still be very small compared to an electron or the proposed Higgs boson.

As far as point particles, there would be no such thing in this theory.

Einstein knew of the Big Bang theory as it was developing and added his cosmological constant to accommodate the perspective of an expanding universe. Again, Lorenz did accommodate a particle based field — which was the basis for both his mathematics and Einstein’s since the mathematics are the same and Lorenz’s transform mathematics was published in 1897 when Einstein was only 18 years old.

My next travels this year will be Mexico City, and probably later Viet Nam.

your friend forrest

20. Marylander 6 - February 6, 2010

Re: #5, etc. Yes, if physicists today put many of their theories out there as the study of philosophy, combined with some humility (ie, understanding that a being or force greater than us put all this in “motion”), then they would be accepted more by the general public.

Some if it is just not science (yet?). I like the approach of this author.

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