God does not play dice—alone

Albert Einstein contributed some of the most groundbreaking concepts to modern physics. Most people cannot begin to understand how far he pushed the boundaries of human knowledge, but even fewer realized how hard he fell towards the end of his career.

Although Einstein’s relativity models accurately predicted phenomenon in the huge depths of space, they directly conflicted with another model, quantum mechanics, which accurately predicted phenomenon at the unimaginably small sub-atomic level. Because neither model set overshadowed the other, modern day physicists have had to accept, for the time being, that these two different sets of universal laws could exist in their separate domains.

Einstein tried for the rest of his life to form one unified set of laws, but he never did. We remember him today as the archetypical genius, but we forget that there was a time in this man’s life when he faded out of the public limelight, when he could not produce the amazing work so long ago that revolutionized the field of physics.

What is it that makes such successful people fall? Many of us may never reach the success that Einstein had, but we, even as students, want to know how our lives work. Though our personal successes may not be as important as understanding the natural laws that govern reality, we’re only human. We want a peace of mind.

Are our entire lives already predetermined, or is everything that happens a result of some random probability we call free will?

Free will is the idea most of us like to believe in. The idea that we have the power to direct our destinies gives us hope. If a person chooses to study hard from the beginning of first grade all the way to graduate school, they will likely live a life with less suffering than someone who dropped out of middle school. The problem is, even if a person worked hard all their life in school, they could always choose to make a mistake later on. They might choose to become an alcoholic, cheat on their spouse, or drive carelessly one day and kill themselves and their entire family.

So does that mean that everyone who fails in life chooses to do so? Yes, if we assume that we can always choose to be successful. That is not always the case.

There are situations in life that can disadvantage a person’s range of possibilities in life, but the prevailing attitude is that one can only try harder.

It may be that down to the last neuron in our brain, down to the last atom in our environment, we are hardwired and destined for either success or failure. This struggle between the predictable and the unpredictable was the same one that Einstein faced. His models of relativity, like many before his, suggested that there was always an exact cause for every effect, but quantum mechanics suggested that there was only a likely probability something would happen.

In a letter to a prominent quantum mechanics researcher, Einstein wrote, “Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing…I, at any rate, am convinced that He (God) does not throw dice.”

The struggle between choice and destiny is nothing new, we can only try our best to ignore it and work hard. If God does indeed play dice, maybe we can also throw in our own dice to even the odds.