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.


Steve said...

On the page here that you cite it says:

"The early multiverse can perhaps be thought of as a massively parallel quantum computer which explored all of possibility-space until it was able to generate a living body, which became the habitation of an observing, sentient being. At that moment the multiverse collapsed into the actuality of that one alternative environment, complete with its history. This theory is known as the Participatory Anthropic Principle and was first put forward by the physicist John A.Wheeler in 1983."

I know the above aren't your words, but I assume you are agreeing with the point that they make.

I don't understand why we should elevate "observing sentient being" to having a special status. What do the words "observing", "sentient" and "being" mean? Are these definitions introducing new types of objects that were not originally present in the specification of the universe? If so, why? If not, then surely these objects should have the same behaviours as everything else, although (presumably) more complicated in their details?

In short, I don't see where this new propensity of some types of matter (i.e. the so-called "observing sentient being") for observing and collapsing multiverses comes from, unless you invoke it from outside as a special new type of behaviour that you hadn't originally thought of.

island said...

I don't understand why we should elevate "observing sentient being" to having a special status.

'Rock crushing sentient being' would be a more practical reason for our special status.

Ray Lightning said...

Wrong. It was not the observation by a material being that caused the big-bang.

It was the state of complete consciousness (when every single particle of matter in the universe became aware of each other, and of their common unity) that spawned the universe.

Dr Wheeler was borrowing a few ideas from the "omega point" conceptualized by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. But this concept has been in existence since time immemorial in ancient India. The philosophy of Advaita of the saint Shankaracharya expressed this idea the most clearly.

Fundamentally, it says everything in universe is "equal to" (not part of) the underlying mathematical reality (called as "Brahman").

The simple phrase "Aham Brahmasmi" (I am Brahman) is the most important prayer of Hinduism. This (and several such phrases) has been written down in ancient philosophical texts known as Upanishads, which are atleast 3000 years old.