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Posted by aogThursday, 07 May 2009 at 17:01 TrackBack Ping URL

What I thought of when I read that cosmology was in crisis again (via Brothers Judd) was how Anthropogenic Global Warming is “settled science”, but Newton’s Theory of Gravitation is not.

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Peter Burnet Friday, 08 May 2009 at 09:55

Somewhat OT, I’ve just finished struggling through this, which frankly blew me away. I had no idea so many physicists and cosmologists were straddling the line between profundity and madness. AOG, why did we waste so much time arguing about Darwin when biology doesn’t even make an appearance until four billion years after creation?

The last chapter outlines pros and cons for the current theories about creation and the laws of the universe( random & accidental, one unified theory, the multiverse, self-causing, matrix, divine creation and one or two others I forget now). He admits there is a widespread antipathy to the divine or supernatural option more on visceral and ideologial grounds than out of scientific rigour. But, AOG, a question: Do you think the multiverse theory is scientifically sound or do you see it more as a philosophical legerdemain to avoid the implications of the strong anthropic principle.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 08 May 2009 at 10:53

I don’t know, I wasn’t the one who kept bringing up Darwin. And it’s closer to 8 billion years before terrestial biology shows up according to current cosmological timelines.

Technically, the multiverse theory isn’t scientifically sound, because it’s not capable of being proved or disproved. I will admit that I have visceral dislike for the theory because it eliminates moral agency. If everything that can happen will happen, it means that you will make all possible decisions, which is really not making any decision. I.e., there are other realities where I am a hard core New Dealer and Mr. Eagar is a rapid free market and we argue about that on his weblog. If so, where is our ability to choose? On the other hand, it solves the free will problem by writing it out of the structure of reality.

I am not sure the widespread antipathy to divine / supernatural explanations is contrary to scientific rigor. After all, what is supernatural but a label for “not scientific”? If scientific rigor means be strict about being scientific, then such antipathy is required. You may, as OJ does, object to Science as a whole on that basis, but I think that objecting to science trying to be scientific is silly1.

I do think that a lot of layman who think they know about cosmology and the “Big Bang” don’t have any clue as to how ad hoc so much of that is. The people who do know sound like they’re sure but that’s just academic posturing. If you look closely, however, you can see that most of the community is quite aware of that. It’s one of the reasons that so much effort was poured in to String Theory, because it held the hope of removing all that ad hocness. A sign of desperation, not strength.

I do think the multiverse theory is legerdemain, but not so much to avoid implications of the Anthropic Principle. That’s just a happy coicidence. Avoiding having to explain what it means for a quantum wave function to collapse, that’s the real goal. You can see that if you trace the history of the concept back to its source. It’s one of the things that is very attractive to me about Penrose’s view.


1 It’s just like the Archbishop of Canterbury objecting to the invasion of Iraq on moral grounds, using the UN as the source of that morality without mention of Jesus Christ. That may be reasonable position to take, but it’s hardly a Christian one. I utterly despise people who use theologies and ideologies as marketing labels without meaning. Gah! Sorry, pet peeve.

Peter Burnet Friday, 08 May 2009 at 12:31

Thanks very much. I didn’t understand the “antipathy” comment to mean simply insisting on the prior authority of scientific discovery over religious accounts. More an a priori rejection of explanations of the unknown.

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 08 May 2009 at 14:02

But those aren’t explanations of the unknown. They’re just labels that mean “unkownable”.

daniel duffy Friday, 08 May 2009 at 14:06

I’d like to recommend Martin Rees’ “Six Numbers”, and the Anthropic Principle and the fine tuning of our universe’s physical characteristics it describes. Rees basically says that there are three responses to the statistically unlikely nature of the fine tuning and the incredible sensitivity of these values to the chance of matter or life forming:

A. Shrug of the shoulders, its trivial (implied by the weak anthropic principle) B. Evidence of a Cosmic Design (implied by the strong anthropic principle) C. There is an infinite number of parallel universes only a tiny fraction of which have, purely by chance, been created with the right physical constants to allow matter to form and life to develop. We just happen to be lucky enough to be in one that does (Many World theorem).

Parallel universes, Option #3, by definition can never be observed or visited and will forever remain non-falsifiable and therfore meaningless under the strict rules of Logical positivism as defined by Popper. As such, it is an explanation equivalent to “evidence for divine design”. If a “parallel” universe could be visited or observed, it wouldn’t be a separate universe at all but a different region of the same space-time. From the point of view of being non-falsifiable, “God” and “parallel universes” are equally valid explanations (even Schermer admitted as much in “Why We Believe”).

Furthermore, multiple universes cannot in themselves provide an explanation for the fine tuning of the forces (those “Six Numbers” rees talks about) that make life in this universe possible. When the universe splits with each “quantum decision” made by an elementary particle both new universes are virtually identical to each other except for this single quantum difference that caused the split, all other attributes would be the same. As such, they would share the same physical laws, constants, etc. The quantum multiplication of universes would not result in changes in physical properties.

Lastly, the many worlds hypothesis is is not “elegant”, as most successful physical theories are. Its a crude blunderbuss approach requiring a near infinity of universes to explain a few basic forces and characteristics, epistemological over kill. God is a much simpler explanation. Oddly enough, in this case, Occam’s Razor works in God’s favor.

Going back to Option #1, The Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP) basicly says “We are here because we are here.” It’s a tautology which solves nothing and provides no answers. If I am facing a firing squad and all 21 guns misfire (against astronomical odds) I have every right to wonder why. My amazement at being alive would be justified. To not wonder at my good fortune would show a lack of curiosity bordering on the bovine. Which violates at least the spirit of scientific inquirery.

By default,that leaves us with Option #2, God did it. In fact, the only way to deny Option #2 is by relying on the UN-scientific options: the non-falsifiability of parallel universes or the tautology of weak explanation.

daniel duffy Friday, 08 May 2009 at 14:09

Furthermore, a purely random universe would be easier to believe in if it weren’t so mathematically unlikely. The three laws of thermodynamics (“you can’t win, wou can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game”) almost ensure that a random universe is practically impossible. Long ago the universe should have achieved a state of high entropy (disorder) defined either by lack of structure (gaseous clouds of hydrogen instead of ordered galaxies)or by its gravitational state (a black hole being the highest entropy state for a gravitational system).

A simple example: disolve a sugar cube in a glass of water. It goes from low entropy state to a high entropy state. Eventually, given enough time, the random movements of the sugar cube molecules will purely by chance reassemble themselves into some sort of ordered state (not necessarily the original sugar cube). But statistically, the amount of time needed for this to occur is billions of times longer than the estimated age of the universe. Whether it is the random typing of monkeys eventually producing the works of Shakespeare, throwing a deck of cards in the air and expecting them to land in well ordered suites, or the development of the universe as it now appears — there simpley has not been enough time since the big bang for any of these to have happened.

A “Master Architect” is easier to believe in. This does not, of course prove that a “Master Architect” exists, that by definition will always require an act of faith. The amount of fine tuning needed by the physical forces present at the “big bang” to ensure that our universe started out in an extremely low entropy state (well ordered) is too much for this simple mind of mine to comprehend. As is the fine tuning required of the basic forces and particles of which make up the universe. A incredibly small change, say in the mass of a proton or the charge on an electron, would make the formation of matter impossible. The universe appears to be rigged to ensure that matter and life eventually arise. If the big bang was the ultimate roll of the dice, it appears as if Someone loaded the dice.

I don’t buy the weak anthropomorphic principle. It basically says “I think, therefore the universe is”. Basically, its is science’s way of shruging its shoulders at the whole question. Besides, a single star with a single life bearing planet is all that is neded to create intelligent life. Why then do we see an entire universe capable of supporting life and intelligence?

Bret Friday, 08 May 2009 at 14:51

daniel duffy wrote: “Furthermore, a purely random universe would be easier to believe in if it weren’t so mathematically unlikely.

I’m working on a post about this.

A space with infinite dimensions is really, really big and eternity is a really, really long time.

An event that is extraordinarily unlikely to occur at a given moment in a given spot is certain to happen somewhere at some point in time.

Hey Skipper Saturday, 09 May 2009 at 00:46

statistically unlikely nature of the fine tuning and the incredible sensitivity of these values to the chance of matter or life forming:

Despite the fact that many people who should know better continually make it, this is a preposterous statement.

Since we have only one data point on which to go, it is absolutely impossible to say how statistically likely the finely tuned constants are. We can say with certainty that the constants, by our standards are extremely precise, but precision and likelihood are completely unrelated.

For all we know, the universe’s characteristics are set by the roll of a die where every face has the same constants.

Or the die has an immense number of unique faces, but has been rolled a uncountable number of times in succession.

Since there is no way for us to prefer one of those statements over the other, then the words “statistically unlikely” implicitly take as proven that which cannot be demonstrated.

Just so with an appeal to a Master Architect. It assumes what is yet to be shown, and the assumption explains nothing.

Peter Burnet Saturday, 09 May 2009 at 05:54

Skipper:

Perhaps statistically isn’t the right word, but isn’t the problem the cumulative nature of it all? I would understand your point if we were dealing with the fellow who is dealt thirteen spades and concludes that must have been orchestrated, but isn’t the analogy more Hoyle’s wind sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a 747 piecemeal?

Daniel:

You go, guy, but I’m not sure Occam helps you much here. No matter how fantastic and unwieldy the multiverse theory is, I don’t see how how choosing a “simple” supernatural explanation (simple being a decidedly relative term on this issue) over a complex material one fits within the axiom. Actually, Dawkins did the reverse in one throwaway sentence in The God Delusion where he sniffed that the multiverse theory is a “perfectly plausible” answer to the designed-for-life argument. Gotta love the Brits.

Anyway, whatever you believe and whatever the answer, it appears that cosmology and theology now agree on one thing; the concept of infinity is one merciless slavedriver.

Annoying Old Guy Saturday, 09 May 2009 at 07:59

I will indirectly support Skipper by noting that Rees left off one significant possiblity — that life is so extremely adaptive that

  • most sets of physical constants will support some form of life, even if it bears very little resemblance to our form
  • life will adapt so well that the Universe will appear to be tuned for it

In which case you’re not trying to hit one number on a billion number roulette wheel, but just trying to get red.

On the other hand, Mr. Duffy does touch on the “initial state” problem, which in some ways is more puzzling than the fine tuned constants.

I don’t buy the weak anthropomorphic principle. It basically says “I think, therefore the universe is”. Basically, its is science’s way of shruging its shoulders at the whole question. Besides, a single star with a single life bearing planet is all that is neded to create intelligent life. Why then do we see an entire universe capable of supporting life and intelligence?

No, it says “I think therefore the Universe must be such that I can”. It addresses the selection effect problem Skipper brings up. As for needing only a single star and planet, how do you know that the rest of the Universe isn’t an unavoidable consequence of initial conditions that can give rise to that single star and planet? If nothing else, the Universe has to be big enough to last long enough for intelligent life to evolve on that planet, something that requires a size much larger than that solar system.

Hey Skipper Saturday, 09 May 2009 at 15:55

Perhaps statistically isn’t the right word, but isn’t the problem the cumulative nature of it all?

The probability assumption still underlies your question. Since we have exactly one data point to work with, for all we know, the problem would be if the universe did not turn out this way. (I’ll risk a metaphor: the statistical likelihood of a river assuming a specific path is extremely low, so low that no two rivers are the same. The problem is not with their shape — that is what rivers do. Now, if there was to be a river straight as an arrow; well, that would be a problem. Maybe our universe is the way it is because that is what universes irrevocably do.)

Yes, it is astonishing that all the universe’s constants line up just right so the universe attains sufficient size, in the right amount of time, with stars surviving long enough but not too long, for life to exist in at least one place.

But with only one data point to go on, whether this is a problem that needs explaining, or is in any way improbable, is to conclude from incredulity.

Hoyle’s metaphor is really Paley’s design argument more colorfully stated. Intuitively appealing, but wrong.

++++

Somewhat OT, I can’t help but remark on OJ’s tag line:

One of the things that Darwinists fundamentally misconstrue is that just because you don’t believe in the validity of a theory doesn’t mean you reject the facts it’s trying to describe. You can accept that life forms have evolved and that stones don’t fall upwards while scoffing at the fables scientists use to explain the phenomena.

So, he accepts evolution is true, but dislikes speculative just-so stories?

Whodathunk.

Peter Burnet Sunday, 10 May 2009 at 05:37

whether this is a problem that needs explaining, or is in any way improbable, is to conclude from incredulity.

Perhaps, but arguments from incredulity are pretty much all a layperson in a free and democratic society faced with the inscrutability of modern theoretical science has in his quiver to respond to arguments from authority.

I’ve just wrestled with my second book on theoreticl physics/cosmology in a month and it pretty much defeated me. Not only is the language inaccessable, I had absolultely no sense of whether all the laws and theories (and there are many) were consistent or whether they were based on observations or theoretical math, or even what the significance of the difference might be. But relax, Skipper, I don’t think that physics is going to prove or even point to design any time soon. It just seems to be proving that behind every “ultimate” mystery lie a half-dozen others.

Hey Skipper Sunday, 10 May 2009 at 13:21

Peter:

My point about concluding from incredulity was actually directed at cosmologists themselves, although I didn’t make that very clear.

Those that hypothesize a multiverse are incredulous about the specificity of constants, and derive from that incredulity extreme improbability, which they solve with multiplicity.

To me, the step from specificity to improbability is a jaw dropping non sequitur.

Annoying Old Guy Sunday, 10 May 2009 at 16:05

Skipper;

The multiverse didn’t come out of an effort to avoid the fine tuning problem but (as I noted previously) to avoid explaining quantum wave function collapse. That it can “explain” the fine tuning as well is just a happy coincidence.

Hey Skipper Sunday, 10 May 2009 at 19:45

AOG:

At the risk of relying too heavily in Wikipedia, multiverse theory has several sources, one of which is quantum wave function collapse.

This is what I am referring to:
Level II: Universes with different physical constants
In the chaotic inflation theory, a variant of the cosmic inflation theory, the multiverse as a whole is stretching and will continue doing so forever, but some regions of space stop stretching and form distinct bubbles, like gas pockets in a loaf of rising bread. There exists an infinite number of such bubbles which are embryonic level I universes of infinite size. Different bubbles may experience different spontaneous symmetry breaking resulting in different properties such as different physical constants.
daniel duffy Tuesday, 12 May 2009 at 08:18

“That it can “explain” the fine tuning as well is just a happy coincidence.”

It does neither. Let me repeat:

Furthermore, multiple universes cannot in themselves provide an explanation for the fine tuning of the forces (those “Six Numbers” Rees talks about) that make life in this universe possible. When the universe splits with each “quantum decision” made by an elementary particle both new universes are virtually identical to each other except for this single quantum difference that caused the split, all other attributes would be the same. As such, they would share the SAME physical laws, constants, etc. The quantum multiplication of universes would NOT result in changes in physical properties.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 12 May 2009 at 10:29

Not if the splitting happens before symmetry breaking, the point at which some of the physical constants are set. Not all cosmological scenarios have all physical constants set at the instant of creation.

Harry Eagar Tuesday, 12 May 2009 at 17:06

Peter, if Lubos Motl is right, you were wasting your time with Smolin. I haven’t read him. My physics adviser (not a particle physicist, rocket scientist) recommends Brian Greene.

For a strict materialist, the Universe is an axiom. The question cannot be answered because it should not be asked.

A milder form would be to say that, this isn’t ‘science,’ it is the framing of scientific hypotheses too early in the investigation process.

I have a homelier example that, if I had time, could be developed into a book: Consider the family trees constructed of fossil primates.

When there were just 2 (us and Neandertal), the tree was a stick. It became harder and harder to make the tree coherent as more branches were ‘discovered,’ until it was realized that some of the branches belonged to a different bush and didn’t have to be fitted into the puzzle. (The exclusion of Zinjanthropus from the direct line of descent, for example.)

Speculation is fun and occupies time that could be better spent gardening, but just because it is about topics that would be of interest to the scientifically minded, that doesn’t make it science. Yet.

So how do I, as a strict materialist, get around Guy’s conundrum of the collapse of the Schroedinger wave function? Well, if science is what can be observably examined, then I simply dismiss the correlation of particles beyond some (very small) distance. It is all very well to extend the logic of particle interactions to say that, in principle, two particles simultaneously created could separate themselves by the radius of the universe,and when one is collapsed, the other knows what to collapse to.

But in the real universe (what, as Skipper says, universes do), particles do not separate themselves by the radius of the universe before either one has its wave function collapsed (so far as we can observe).

We might very much like to observe things, but that doesn’t mean we have to.

It makes a difference whether a particle is obliged to collapse its function, no?

Daniel Duffy Wednesday, 13 May 2009 at 07:26

“Not all cosmological scenarios have all physical constants set at the instant of creation.”

Now how are any of these scenarios in any way scientific, in the sense of being testable or falsifiable in the Popperian sense? Short answer: they aren’t scientific anymore than medieval speculation concerning how many angels can dance on the head of a pin was scientific.

The entire concept of parallel universes is by definition unscientific. By definition, a parallel universe can never be visited or observed. Nor can its existence be indirectly inferrred. If it could, then it wouldn’t be parallel at all but a part of our space time and connected to it. It would also have to possess the same physical constants and characteristics of our universe. parallel universes are as imaginary as fairies and unicorns, and as scientific as God.

There are only three ways to respond to the fine tuning of the universe, none of which are scientific:

1. Dumbly accept it as a brute fact and therebye display a lack of curiosity that borders on the bovine. Such a passive acceptance would violate the spirti if not the law of scientific inquirey.

2. Assume these values were set deliberately by a Creator (not necessarily God, we could be the product of a high energy particle experiment performed long ago in another universe’s lab) to allow for the existence of life.

3. Assume (which is all you can do because there is no way to test or falsify this proposal) that we are one of many parallel universes, only a tiny minority of which have the right values for life.

None of these are scientific. Nada. Zilch. Zero. The first doesn’t even attempt to provide an answer. The third is an answer that violates Occam’s Razor. The simplest answer remains number 2, “God did it”.

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 13 May 2009 at 08:51

Another option already mentioned, which you haven’t addressed.

daniel duffy Wednesday, 13 May 2009 at 09:35

Again, you’ll have to show how the proposal that different physical constants would allow for the development of other, exotically different forms of life is scientific (testable or falsifiable in the Popperian sense).

Hey Skipper Wednesday, 13 May 2009 at 10:16

Dan:

There is no practical difference between accepting finally tuned physical constants as a brute fact, or deciding that some creator made them a brute fact.

However, there is a problem you are ignoring. In asserting that such a precisely balanced universe cannot come into existence on its own, you solve the problem with a Being capable of making such a universe who, in turn, somehow came into existence. That is not the simplest answer: it multiplies entities without reducing the problem that needed explaining in the first place. Worse, the regress requires something even more “improbable” than the starting point.

Of course, you could say the Creator always existed. In that event, though, you are better off saying the Universe has always existed. Neither response answers the question, but at least the latter does so with less clobber.

As for the many parallel universe thing, it may well address the collapsing wave function problem; I’ll defer to AOG’s expertise on that.

However, to invoke that as an explanation for perceived improbability is just wrong.

There is a fourth way to address the fine tuning of the universe, though: that it is, at the moment, completely impossible to approach analytically.

That makes the most honest answer “dunno”. Nothing bovine about facing brute facts.

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 13 May 2009 at 20:51

Why would that have to be scientific? None of you other options are, by your own claim.

cjm Thursday, 14 May 2009 at 23:55

i want to know how many universes can fit on the head of a pin?

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