April 21, 2010

Two Choices, Neither Science

Justin Katz

Robert Chase restates a recurrent theme in a recent consideration of science fiction and religion:

... Starting with Fred Hoyle, himself the author of such science-fiction novels as The Black Cloud, scientists have realized the universe is exquisitely fine-tuned to produce life. If protons were just 0.2 percent more massive, they would be unstable and decay into simpler particles. If gravity were a bit stronger, stars would burn up before life had a chance to evolve. If the strong force, which binds nuclei together, were a touch more powerful, there would be no hydrogen and therefore no stars, no water, and no us. All these coincidences seem to indicate the presence of an Intelligent Designer.

Hoyle certainly became convinced that they did. Moreover, a number of physicists have proposed that our universe is but one of a multitude, and with enough universes the odds tip in favor of having one with the right set of laws and constants to produce us. There is a long tradition of science-fiction stories dealing with alternate worlds and parallel dimensions—Keith Laumer's Worlds of the Imperium, for instance, and Roger Zelazny's Amber series—and it is likely that this sort of theorizing will spur the production of more. Yet the whole enterprise has an air of desperation about it. We are asked to believe in the existence of myriad universes for which we have no direct evidence and that must always be unobservable because the alternative, God, is emotionally disagreeable to the theorists. The multiverse may even be true, but until it can be shown to be a necessary result of established physical laws, or somehow submitted to proof, it will never be science.

As it happens, C.S. Lewis's Narnia series pulled the two themes, which Chase presents as opposing, together. As described in The Magician's Nephew, which followed The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in composition but preceded it in the plot, Narnia and Earth existed in different dimensions reachable through a sort of portal dimension. And yet, Lewis concluded the series with the affirmation of Christianity overarching all dimensions.

That's more or less my conclusion when it comes to reality. Rather than parallel dimensions, though, I believe that all possible moments exist as spaces on a cosmic game board, as it were, connected into a great mesh. The continuity that we perceive occurs as our souls move from one moment to the next according to certain rules defined more or less in accordance with our sanity. Within the infinite number of possible sequences, God defines the True path that tells the story of reality from start to finish.

And, yes, a science fiction-ish novel on this topic is among the dozens of story lines that I've stored away to write someday... perhaps in another life. Of course, in some other dimension, I've already written it.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

This is call ed the 'anthropic principle'... In alternate universes, be they in parallel, before, or after ours, there isn't anyone to observe that they do not exist.

That we exist is not so much evidence of a greater intelligence as it is an endorsement of the concept that this particular instance of the universe is supportive of life.

Who knows, maybe there are other universes in parallel where symmetry never broke, and the entire universe is a 13 billion light-year wide smooth gray ball. Others may have never escaped their own gravity and re-collapsed into a state that can re-expand under new rules. Perhaps most disturbing is an alternate universe where everything is almost the same, except Stuart is governor. :-)

Posted by: mangeek at April 21, 2010 3:49 PM

Of course there are alternate universes. How else to explain Tea Partiers?

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at April 21, 2010 4:07 PM

OTL-c'mon-this really makes sense.I mean,taking the Big Bang Theory as what happened-who brought the combustible gases and who brought the match?Not UPS.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 21, 2010 4:42 PM

I am comfortable enough not knowing the origin or meaning of the universe that I have no need to take on faith anyone's claim to knowing. I'd rather admit that we don't know but we are using the scientific method to find out as best we can.

My problem with "intelligent design" is that the argument is a negative one: "Everything is so perfectly organized to permit life and the world as we know it, that the only acceptable explanation is that it was designed by God". It is entirely possible that everything is organized as it is due to chance, and there is nothing in the "intelligent design" line of argument to prove it impossible. In fact, in many aspects of human experience, for example economics, we have seen overwhelming evidence that self-organizing, spontaneous societies produce much better results than central planning by any elite authority. I find it ironic that "intelligent design" posits a Central Planner in the face of that observation.

Posted by: BobN at April 21, 2010 6:52 PM

One trouble with the "big bang theory" of creation is the existence of conscience. How does one chemically explain a conscience? So far as can be determined, only humans have a conscience. Hounds have "the look", but it is a fraud.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at April 21, 2010 7:24 PM

My post above also makes me wonder how you chemically explain "loyalty". Hounds do have that, but all dogs go to heaven. Spell dog backwards.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at April 21, 2010 7:27 PM

Warrington's been in the cooking sherry. LOL.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 21, 2010 8:07 PM

Warrington, 'conscience' has value. As with most things derived from billions of years of natural selection, at some point, the value of the individual or group that had it allowed them to survive when others perished. Perhaps the pre-humans who realized that they didn't have to -do- the thing that would be harmful to the tribe had a better run than those who shot first and asked questions later.

Also, is conscience part of 'nature', as you posit, or is it just a result of living in an ordered society? I wonder what the 'conscience' of a person raised solo by an unfeeling, invincible machine would be.

As for the questions about the origin of the universe... Even Steven Hawking agrees that there's room for God. There's literally no way to 'emulate' the universe from within the universe, outside of that is the domain of chance or God. Any self-respecting open-minded scientist is bound to abide by that.

Posted by: mangeek at April 21, 2010 8:39 PM

"Warrington's been in the cooking sherry. LOL"

Thank you, but it is the Harvey's Shooting Sherry.

As to conscience by natural selection, I am not so sure about that. I as I understand it, subject to redaction, only humans have been shown to have a conscience. If it were "natural selection", one would think it would show up among dolphins, whales, even cows if the basis were living in an ordered society. Granted there are people, such as serial murderers, who seem not to have a conscience (or perhaps a selective conscience). But, they are usually considered deranged. The argument of a "developed" conscience might hold some water in that different societies recognize shame for different reasons. But, that does not alter the fact that there is a conscience.

As to whether a human brought up outside of an ordered society. Don't know, but there have been a few studies of feral children. I wonder if there was any testing for conscience.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at April 21, 2010 10:28 PM

Conscience, like all other aspects of "mind" has arisen as the result of evolutionary selection pressures within the context of the extraordinarily complex social interactions that are so very characteristic of our species.

To return to the original topic, however,The "fine tuning" of the observed physical constants that critically permit the existence of biology have been discussed by many, a particularly exhaustive treatment having been presented by Barrow & Tipler in "The Cosmological Anthropic Principle"

In chapter 11 of my book "Unusual Perspectives" this kind of analysis is extended "downstream" to provide, within the context of the unique properties and timely abundancies of the chemical elements, very compelling evidence of further "fine tuning" that not only allows, but essentially makes inevitable, the observed exponential development of technology for which our particular species has been the vehicle.

Several ways to account for this indisputable "fine tuning" have been proposed.

1. Creationists have seized upon the evidence to support the idea of a deity or "higher intelligence". I suspect that anthropocentrism alone promotes this kind of interpretation. Adding any kind of "higher intelligence", of course, makes for a very extravagant hypothesis. But it is not disprovable.

2. The existence of a multiplicity of universes, perhaps infinite, each with a different set of physical properties. So one of them had to get lucky, right? This is favoured by many of those theoretical physicists who choose not to just stick their heads in the sand to avoid the implications of interpretation 1. Again, it can be neither proved or disproved but is even more extravagant.

3. The "anthropic cosmological principle", the non-superstitious version of which seems to boil down to "we're here, because we're here, because we're here...
By virtue of its tautologous nature it is not disprovable.

4. The Everett "many worlds" model, inspired by the "Schrodinger's cat" kind of dilemma that arises from quantum mechanics. This essentially can be viewed as continual bifurcations of our universe such that, in the instance of the cat, in one of the resulting universes is is dead and in the other, alive. The bifurcations, of course, result in a multiplicity of "parallel universes. Again, very extravagant but probably not disprovable

5. A far more economical model, derived from consideration of the gross evolutionary patterns that we observe in biology and, more recently, technology, is presented in "Unusual Perspectives" the electronic edition of which is available for free download from the eponymous website.

“Unusual Perspectives” contains a fuller discussion of these and related topics The latest edition is available in electronic format for free download from the eponymous website.

Posted by: Peter G Kinnon at April 22, 2010 4:48 AM

"Conscience, like all other aspects of "mind" has arisen as the result of evolutionary selection pressures within the context of the extraordinarily complex social interactions that are so very characteristic of our species."

Sorry, Peter. The existence of human conciousness and the human conscience is what makes me 99% and not 100% atheist. To say that they are a product of evolution doesn't cut it; they are too complex and too unique to be explained that way.

On a different subject, from the moment I heard it described, the illustration of Schrodinger's cat struck me as annoying, mushy and dissatisfying. The cat is either alive or dead; the atom is in one state or another and/or in one location or another. The fact that we don't happen to know the specific fact doesn't change that. To come up with an illustration to only say, we don't know this or that fact, seems completely pointless.

If, in fact, Schrodinger's cat is simply a reflection of the weaknesses of some aspects of the field of quantum physics, then it is those aspects of quantum physics which are annoying and pointless.

Posted by: Monique at April 22, 2010 8:12 AM

Schrodinger's cat basically comes down to this: without evidence, we cannot know for certain. Not seeing the dead or alive cat does not make it either alive or dead. It means we don't know if it is alive or dead. The same can be applied to God, the multiverse - any concept for which we cannot produce empircal evidence. Without evidence, we have a set of beliefs. I happen to believe in a higher power - God, if you will apply a name to that power. I do not have proof other than my own belief and my subjective interactions with this being. So I say the cat's alive. Another person says the cat's dead. Until we open the box (i.e., end physical life and either cease consciousness or pass to the next life ), neither of us can prove it one way or another. One reality exists - either there is or is not a God. Not having evidence does not mean that both concepts are simultaneously true, but rather that we cannot prove one or the other to be true.

Posted by: Tabetha at April 22, 2010 12:02 PM

Monique, I would say that the problem with quantum physics isn't that it's a bad model, but that most of our our minds are ill-equipped to handle the kind of thinking required to cogitate in more than three dimensions. We're -very good- at contemplating 3D space, forward-moving time, and deterministic locations of particles because that's all we've needed to get by in nature. Quantum physics, string theory, and more than four dimensions are things that our brains just can't get around, not bad explanations for observable truths.

"it is those aspects of quantum physics which are annoying and pointless."

Well I guess we won't be building quantum computers here in Rhode Island. Your attitude was also applied to things like 'germ theory' and 'the heliocentric solar system' in times past. Just because it's annoying or not easily understood doesn't mean it's not important to understand. Even from a practical standpoint, there's going to be a lot of money made in building and developing quantum computers some day.

Posted by: mangeek at April 22, 2010 12:26 PM

Sheesh!!Quantum physics-I have never been able to do long division.Needless to say I will withold serious commment here.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 22, 2010 1:29 PM

"or not easily understood"

It's not a matter of not understanding, Mangeek. A theory or model whose thesis is "we don't know" seems unnecessary and, therefore, annoying. The atom IS in one state or another; the cat IS dead or alive.

If, as you say, they are on the path to building quantum computers or if quantum physics is a tool to recognizing or defining potential multiverses, that's terrific and not at all annoying.

Posted by: Monique at April 22, 2010 8:10 PM

A couple of points, Monique.

1. in your first response you confuse conscience (the subject under discussion) with consciousness.
Quite different entities. The former is a small sub-set of the latter.
A quite radical view of the nature of consciousness, a subject which has evoked much confusion in the past is presented in my book, Unusual Perspectives.
By avoiding the trap of anthropocentrism we can objectivel view the phenomenon as simply the navigational facility of the complex society of cells that we commonly perceive as a an individual. It has evolved to handle the unusually complicated interactions of humans with others and the environment. To enable this demanding navigational function the society of cells endows the entity with a limited degree of agency.

2. You are quite wrong about the strange phenomena which seem to arise arise from quantum mechanics.

The situation is not that (to stick to the common example) that the cat is either alive or dead but we have no way of telling which. That would be no big deal!

QM actually says that the cat is BOTH alive and dead AT THE SAME TIME. Einstein, although the originator of QM, could not handle this concept and, together with Podolsky and Rosen, proposed an experiment to disprove it (not using a cat!).
Unfortunately the experiment (and variations on it, backfired and the validity of this very odd outcome of QM has been demonstrated. (See Bell's inequality and the experiments of Alan Aspect")

I am just explaining how it seems to be here, by the way, not trying to defend it. Richard Feynman himself declared "No-one understands Quantum Mechanics". I'll go with that!!!

The Everett many worlds scenario is not my own preferred scenario.

Mine is that presented in Unusual Perspectives, and is much less extravagant.

Posted by: Peter G Kinnon at April 23, 2010 4:14 AM


Posted by: 中国語翻訳 at June 11, 2011 10:15 PM

I¡¦ve read some just right stuff here. Certainly value bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how so much effort you put to make this sort of excellent informative web site.

Posted by: Rory Hemmings at October 6, 2011 8:33 AM

If you are newbie in registering a domain then you are certainly a Domainbie

Posted by: Hollis Urtiaga at January 4, 2013 3:56 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.