Quantum Coin Tossing

coinflip

Let me ask the following very simple question. Suppose that I toss a pair of identical coins at the same time, then what is the probability of them both coming up heads? There is no catch here, both coins are fair. There are three possible outcomes, both tails, one head and one tail, and both heads. Assuming that it is completely random so that all outcomes are equally likely, then we could argue that each possibility has a one in three chance of occurring, so that the answer to the question is that the probability is 1/3.

Of course, this is wrong! A fair coin has a probability of 1/2 of showing heads and, by independence, standard probability theory says that we should multiply these together for each coin to get the correct answer of {\frac12\times\frac12=\frac14}, which can be verified by experiment. Alternatively, we can note that the outcome of one tail and one head, in reality, consists of two equally likely possibilities. Either the first coin can be a head and the second a tail, or vice-versa. So, there are actually four equally likely possible outcomes, only one of which has both coins showing heads, again giving a probability of 1/4. Continue reading “Quantum Coin Tossing”