“We view ourselves as separate from the cosmos, and separate from each other. The truth is, we are a continuum. One line of code in an enormously complex computational system.”–Gray Scott
Let’s just hope that code isn’t corrupt. I have my doubts.
A Blog of the Ridiculous and Sublime, by Mark Sackler
“We view ourselves as separate from the cosmos, and separate from each other. The truth is, we are a continuum. One line of code in an enormously complex computational system.”–Gray Scott
Let’s just hope that code isn’t corrupt. I have my doubts.
“I believe we exist in a multiverse of universes.”–Michio Kaku
“I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.”–Woody Allen
Per my usual modus operandi, I revere both those that try to understand the universe, and those that poke fun at them. JBS Haldane famously said that the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine. I’ll try to make some more sense of the whole “multiverse” idea in Millennium Conjecture #6, though I can’t say how soon that will appear in this particular universe. I’m still trying to find my way out of Chinatown.
“Science is more amazing than science fiction.”–Brian Greene
As much fun as it is to speculate about alternate or parallel universes, many have said to me, it is silly to even try if there is no way to prove or disprove their existence. You might as well speculate on how many angels can pirouette on the head of a pin. Because there is no empirical means of proof. Or is there? In the last couple of weeks I have seen not one, but two suggestions that physical evidence may have indeed been found for the existence of alternate planes of reality. And they point to two distinctly different types of alternate universes. The ideas behind them are not new…but growing evidence is beginning to support the possibility–if not the absolute proof–that they are real. The first is in the microwave background radiation–the infant footprint of the early universe if you will. Brilliant and controversial physicist Roger Penrose now asserts that circles in the background radiation–anomalies that should not exist by any known cause within our current universe–are proof of a cyclical universe with repeated big bangs. One might call this a serial, rather than parallel, multiverse. It turns out, though, that this also is possible evidence for the “bubble” multiverse theory discussed by Brian Greene in the video linked below. His most recent book, The Hidden Reality, is a discussion of the current state, in theory and possible practice, of the various multiverse concepts.
A second possible proof, of a different type of multiverse (and let’s not forget that Max Tegmark defines four different levels of multiverse) has also been in the news again recently. It suggest an alternate universe described by M-Theory, where another universe may sit in a higher dimensional space infinitesimally close to us, yet unable to interact in any way. Except one, that is. Gravity. And some astrophysicists interpret otherwise unexplained gravitational influences in the cosmos as possible proof of this theory.
Where do I stand on this? As stated in my post on possibilianism, I prefer possibilities to certainties; it makes existence far more interesting. But I must admit: I am secretly wishing to be able to travel to a parallel universe where that library book I forgot to return in 1989 isn’t 24 years overdue.
http://science.discovery.com/tv-shows/brink/videos/brink-multiple-universes.htm
“All generalizations are false, including this one.” –Mark Twain
Droll? We would expect that from the greatest raconteur of American letters. But perhaps this is far more subtle and profound than a mere semantic joke. Kurt Gödel proved with his incompleteness theorems that every self-consistent mathematical system must include statements that cannot be proven–the mathematical equivalent of “this statement is false.” But Twain takes the classic liar’s paradox and applies it, it would seem, to all of existence itself. There are things in life and in science we just can’t determine, and that is the point of The Millennium Conjectures. I need to ponder explanations for what the cutting edges of physics and cosmology are telling us, whether we can test them right now or not. But don’t misinterpret this. One of my readers suggested that if I believe things that cannot be proven scientifically, then it is no better than philosophy or religion. I don’t know about philosophy, but this is most certainly nothing like religion, and for two good reasons.
I don’t know of any religion that says either of those two things–let me know if you do.
Keep the above in mind as I present further conjectures. Quantum Weirdness 103 will precede the next one, coming soon to a computer near you.
“How is it possible to find meaning in a finite world, given my waist and shirt size?”–Woody Allen
Physically, I am now back in Connecticut. Mentally, I am still on vacation in Dubai. My circadian rhythms? MIA–but probably floating somewhere north of Saturn and west of Alpha Centauri. The time difference is 8 hours and we partied way too late every night for old farts of our pre-digital generation. (We didn’t chose Dubai to vacation, it chose us. More on that some other time; now back to my day job.)
Part Two: The impossibility of non-existance
“Needleman was rarely out of public controversy. He published his famous ‘Non-Existence: What To Do If It Suddenly Strikes You’.”–Woody Allen, ‘Remembering Needleman’ (short story)
If you think imagining infinity is difficult, try imagining nothing. No, I don’t mean blank your mind. I mean imagine nothingness. NO! I don’t mean a vacuum–empty space with no matter and energy. I mean absolutely nothing: no space and no time. I’m betting you can’t do it, even if you think you can; you’re not, even if you think you are. I merely conjectured that the concept of infinity could not exist in a finite universe, but I am firmly asserting that a conscious entity is incapable of imagining absolute nothingness. It’s an oxymoron. By the mere fact of imagining you have to imagine something. And while it might be pure philosophy to suggest it couldn’t be because we are incapable of imagining it, there is strong scientific argument for the “something out of nothing” impossibility of non-existence. From Hawking on down, physicists have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as absolute vacuum, that space is full of quantum foam, seething with instability and particles of energy and matter popping in and out of existence. If matter plus antimatter equals nothing, than by commutation, nothing equals anti-matter plus matter. (Yes, I know. The intelligent design crowd will reject this and tell us that it is all too perfect. God must have done it. Really? So God can exist out of nothing but the universe can’t? When they can tell me where god came from and offer some form of empirical evidence, I will consider their arguments; but they can’t, so I won’t.) Final proof: we do exist. Maybe all other arguments are moot. And anyway I have an out, as the prerequisite for this conjecture is “in an infinite multiverse.” Let’s rest our neurons for the next installment: The Conjecture of the Future.
(As an entertaining aside, here is a YouTube video of Neal Degrasse Tyson rambling on some cosmic questions. It includes his conclusion that intelligent life is inevitable.)
Part One: Inevitable existance
“Everything not forbidden is compulsory.”–
T.H.White, The Once and Future King
The quote above is from fiction; in reality is anything but. It has been echoed by Nobel physics laureate Murray Gell-Mann and effectively, if not literally, by many other scientists. The message of the random, probabilistic nature of the sub-atomic quantum world is clear: given enough matter, energy and 4-dimensional space time, anything that is physically possible will eventually happen. If you roll the dice enough times, you will get every possible result. If you add an infinite multiverse–and remember, the many worlds interpretation of the multiverse is only one of four types of postulated multiverse–then it is conceivable that every possible set of physical laws exists somewhere. To some, this may appear to be just a restatement of the anthropic principle, and they may be right. Others may say that just the mere fact that we do exist makes this a moot point, and perhaps that could be construed as what I am saying. Admittedly we are getting down to semantics and philosophy as much as science.
But to reiterate this conjecture flat out, we exist because it is impossible for us not to. The justification for this statement is hardly original, and the statement itself has at least been alluded to by philosophers since the ancient Greeks. Friedrich Nietzsche expounded it as The Eternal Recurrence. It is the notion that, in a Universe that is infinite in either space or time, everything physically possible must recur ad infinitum. If that is the case, then it follows that it is inevitable that we would exist in the first place and inevitable that we will exist again and again in our current form as well as in every every possible variation. MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark, who as stated in a previous post defined the four levels of “other universes” in the multiverse, has taken this concept to an almost bizarre extreme. He has specifically calculated how far you would have to travel to find another earth with an exact copy of yourself–if and only if our local universe extends infinitely beyond the 13.7 billion light year horizon that we are able to observe. The number makes the Douglas Adams description of the universe as “mind-bogglingly big” appear to be sub-atomically small. It is, in light years, a 1 followed by something like a million billion billion zeroes. I don’t even know how to post that in scientific notation on WordPress. So if our existence is inevitably going to repeat itself in an infinite universe or multiverse, does it not follow that our existence is inevitable in the first place? No, it does not. This does not answer the question as to why there is something in the first place, rather than nothing. In part two of this conjecture I will address this question in both scientific and philosophical terms. And the ultimate answer regarding the impossibility of non-existence will come from the same source as my justification for the conjecture of infinity.
All text in this post ©2012 Mark Sackler
“All generalizations are false, including this one.” –Mark Twain
Droll? We would expect that from the greatest raconteur of American letters. But perhaps this is far more subtle and profound than a mere semantic joke. Kurt Gödel proved with his incompleteness theorems that every self-consistent mathematical system must include statements that cannot be proven–the mathematical equivalent of “this statement is false.” But Twain takes the classic liar’s paradox and applies it, it would seem, to all of existence itself. There are things in life and in science we just can’t determine, and that is the point of The Millennium Conjectures. I need to ponder explanations for what the cutting edges of physics and cosmology are telling us, whether we can test them right now or not. But don’t misinterpret this. One of my readers suggested that if I believe things that cannot be proven scientifically, then it is no better than philosophy or religion. I don’t know about philosophy, but this is most certainly nothing like religion, and for two good reasons.
I don’t know of any religion that says either of those two things–let me know if you do.
Keep the above in mind as I present further conjectures. Quantum Weirdness 103 will precede the next one, coming soon to a computer near you.
Part Three: Human Imagination
“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
― Albert Einstein
It is certainly understandable how somebody as brilliant as Einstein could perceive the rest of us to be infinitely stupid. Jokes about lawyers and politicians aside, I’m not sure about either. I remain an agnostic on untestable scientific conjectures, as well as on religion. But my gut continues to tell me that my conjecture of infinity has merit, so I’ll proffer one final discussion before moving on to the next one.
Nothing is inherently more self-contradictory than infinity. We can imagine it mathematically, but can’t measure it. We can imagine–sort of–infinite time and space. But physicists and philosophers tell us there are a finite number of possible combinations of matter and energy, at least in our observable universe with our laws of physics. But we can imagine things beyond those laws (fantasies like Harry Potter, various science fiction scenarios, and possibly real alternate universes with different laws of physics, to name just a few). So our imagination does not seem to be limited by what is possible or observable in nature. By that it would be reasonable to assume that human creativity and human stupidity are both potentially infinite.**
One of my favorite quotes about the universe is the famous J.B.S. Haldane proposition, “I suppose the universe is not only queerer (sic) then we imagine, it is queerer than we can imagine.” This would seem to be a contradiction of the notion that human imagination is infinite. David Deutsch says as much in The Beginning of Infinity, and he says so specifically in regard to this quote. His point is that human imagination and creativity are potentially infinite and that Haldane is, therefore, wrong. But where infinity is concerned, even Deutsch contradicts himself. For as he points out elsewhere in the book, there are mutually exclusive infinities and there are also larger and smaller infinities. Consider the set of all even integers and the set of all odd integers. They are mutually exclusive yet both infinite. Now consider the set of all even integers and the set of all integers. They are both infinite, yet the latter is twice as large as the former. The point is: there might be both an infinity of things we can imagine, and an infinity of things we can’t imagine. Deutsch himself indirectly alludes to this in his earlier book, The Fabric of Reality.
There is no question that the Haldane quote was true at least in the early part of the 20th century when he first espoused it. The universe certainly turned out to be stranger than anyone could imagine at that time. But the universe continues to surprise us, no matter what we imagine. And if our imagination is only potentially infinite we cannot imagine, at any one time, everything that exists or the larger infinity that might exist. To me, this is what makes the combination of human imagination with empirical knowledge so exciting. No matter what we can test or what we can imagine, there are still surprises out there to delight and confound us. But in my final analysis–the one that needs explanations and not just measurement–Einstein was absolutely right in another of his famous quotes:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Up next (after a few digressions and ridiculous timeouts): The conjecture of inevitability
**By potentially unlimited here, I mean no theoretical limit. To be actually infinite, humanity would have to exist forever.
Part Two: The Possibility of Infinite Space
“The universe is a big place, perhaps the biggest.”– Kurt Vonnegut
Douglas Adams called the universe “mind-bogglingly big.” But “mind-bogglingly big” pales next to infinitely big. And while the question of space being infinite may be somewhat easier to get around than time, it is certainly no bargain.
The first problem is that Vonnegut is dead-on right. Our universe is only possibly the biggest place. It used to be that “universe” meant everything. But then the concept of “multi-verse,” with countless alternate or parallel universes, began to creep into astrophysics and cosmology. To make matters worse, there is not just one potential level of parallel universe proposed, but four.* So far. Physicist and author Paul Davies argues that the concepts, while fascinating to contemplate, amount to philosophy–or even religious faith–if you can’t test them. David Deutsch, among others, disagrees and deduces that the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is the only one that makes sense, in terms of scientific explanation. I’ll have more background on the various arguments surrounding interpretations of quantum mechanics–particularly The Copenhagen Interpretation vs. all others–in future posts.
Getting back to the question of infinity of our universe and/or the multiverse, there is indeed some scientific investigation aimed at determining the potential infinity of our own visible universe. It involves the topology of its three-dimensional space and whether it is flat or curved. I can’t go into details, as it involves rather advanced calculations from observations of the Cosmic Background Radiation–the earliest remnants of the Big Bang we are able to detect with current technology. But the weight of the existing evidence seems to be pointing towards a flat topology that could be infinite. Add that to the possibility of countless alternate universes of various kinds, and I will assume for our purposes that space is at least potentially infinite. [For a discussion of actual vs. potential infinity, see the Wikipedia article]. In the final installment on this conjecture, I will address one dimension of existence that I feel without doubt is potentially infinite: human imagination. For an extended, if somewhat dramatic discussion of the possibility of an infinite universe, watch the video linked at the bottom of this article.
*As classified by MIT cosmologist, Max Tegmark
Text of this post ©2012 Mark Sackler.
I'm not the most interesting man in the world, but I might have the most cluttered mind.