Thursday, October 27, 2005

Minds and Brains

Juan Galiz-Menendez at A Critical Vision ponders reductionism and says:
No account or "theory" of mind/brain relations that is false to the rich, technicolor phenomenology of being a conscious agent -- a freedom in the world -- will be persuasive in the long run.
Any future metaphysics must unite what physics tells us about the world with what we already know about ourselves. A real theory of everything would have to encompass the "self" and "freedom" as well as quarks and quanta.

Monoverse, Polyverse, Omniverse

Steve Luttrell wandered through and left three great comments to three different posts. One is a book recommendation, which I hope to get and review sometime. Another is an astute question about "observers," which is way over my head.

His third comment asks: "Are these the only two alternative possibilities? Do you really need a multiverse to overwhelm the small probability of life within each separate monoverse?" Then he apologizes for asking questions instead of providing answers.

I don't have answers either, but I have something that makes it a little easier to ask questions: a glossary. Here it is:

  • Monoverse: a reality where time has a beginning and is linear and physical constants are the same throughout space. By definition, there is only one monoverse.
  • Polyverse: a reality where time is linear but space may be discontinuous, with different physical constants in different regions. These different regions "bubble" off into separate monoverses. The number of bubbles may be finite or countably infinite.
  • Cycloverse: a reality were time is linear but space keeps collapsing and exploding again with new physical constants in each cycle. There is a countably infinite number of such cycles.
  • Omniverse: a reality where time branches into separate timelines at every quantum possibility. David Deutsch writes about this option in The Fabric of Reality. There is an uncountable infinity of timelines in an omniverse.
It should be impossible to directly detect what kind of a universe we live in, but the so-called "anthropic principle" provides some indirect evidence that is worth considering. Martin Rees explains the odds against having the physical constants that we do in Just Six Numbers. In my opinion, we can rule out a purely materialistic monoverse on statistical grounds.

A cycloverse or polyverse should randomly produce a space-time with the right physical constants for biological life. The "weak anthropic principle" would then be sufficient to explain why the universe seems to be "fine tuned" for our existence. If it weren't just right, we wouldn't be here to notice.

If the weak anthropic principle is sufficient to explain the observable evidence, then there is no reason to look to God or the omniverse for answers. But does the weak anthropic principle do the job?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Participatory Anthropic Principle

Science studies space, time, matter, and energy. Does it have a place for truth, love, beauty, or justice? Each of these depends upon “consciousness,” an “emergent property” of the material world. If intelligence here on Earth is just a statistical fluke in an otherwise lifeless universe, then categories like “beauty” or “justice” have no intrinsic meaning. In that kind of a universe, “meaning” is what humans impose on their surroundings, not something they discover within them.

Modern methodogical materialism takes the position that intelligence here on Earth is, in fact, just a statistical fluke. Our understanding of the laws of physics makes it possible, in theory, to spell out a chain of events from some kind of initial quantum fluctuation through a warm, wet pond somewhere in Earth’s pre-history to the first anthropoid who ever grunted, “I think, therefore I am!” The materialist believes that because such a sequence can be imagined, no other explanations are required.

But is this sound reasoning? If I take the latest Hollywood thriller, I can show you a single chain of events from the opening credits through the 90 mile-per-hour car chase on the wrong lane of a crowded freeway to the multi-billion dollar jackpot at the end. Is a mere unbroken sequence of events enough to prove the materialism?

John Wheeler (the physicist who coined the term “black hole”) proposed a “participatory anthropic principle” which makes the quantum concept of an “observation” even more basic than the physical realities of space, time, matter, and energy. In Wheeler’s model, an “observation” by a material being billions of years after the Big Bang that “caused” space, time, matter, and energy to exist in the first place.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Occam's Razor

The debate (if it can be called that) about Intelligent Design is raging through cyberspace, but I can't find many people who are willing to look past this discussion to the next one. Buried deep within today's controversy is a bigger one that nobody wants to deal with. It is the clash between one invisible God and many invisible universes.

If today's materialists were willing to examine the evidence, they would have to admit that there are "gaps" in the materialistic explanation of what we see. These gaps include the following:
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why is the universe as orderly as it is, instead of a chaotic fog of particles?
  • Why do the fundamental physical constants make carbon-based life possible?
  • How did the first self-replicating molecule take shape?
If we could find a satisfactory answer for each of those questions, materialism as we know it today might be intellectually satisfying. As it is, however, today's materialists must skip over the really big questions to get to the ones they have answers for.

The most satisfying materialistic answer that I have found is in the notion of a "multiverse." This theory proposes that there are countless alternate and/or parallel universes that we cannot detect, and that the sheer number of such universes overwhelms the improbability of life in a materialist monoverse.

But the notion of countless invisible universes forces us to take a good hard look at Occam's Razor, the rule of thumb that leads us to choose the simpler of any two competing theories. One should not "multiply the essences" needlessly, William of Ockham insisted, and so should choose the theory with less moving parts, so to speak.

But which theory is simpler: a materialistic multiverse, with countless invisible universes, or a theistic monoverse, with one invisible God?

A Theory of Everything

When I was young, I wanted to discover the "Unified Field Theory." That was the Holy Grail of physics back in the day: a single set of equations that would link the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity. Nowadays the physicist use a different phrase to describe their quest: they're looking for a "Theory of Everything.."

Or are they?

A real "theory of everything" would link what we know about time, space, matter, and energy to what we feel about truth, beauty, justice, and love.

The twentieth century offered "reductionism," which claims that "beauty" is the neurochemical response of several hundred billion specialized cells to certain stimuli; that "love" is just one gene's way of making a copy itself; "justice" is the set of mechanisms that the dominant class imposes on the oppressed; and "truth" is whatever can be tested in the lab.

Einstein said it best: "It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure. How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?"

This blog is dedicated to the proposition that Einstein was right about this, as he was about so many other things...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Cogito Ergo Blog


Do they exist? Do I?
If so, why?