Friday, June 4, 2010

Origin of the Universe!

Alright, this is a favorite review of mine, courtesy of William Lane Craig. Note that you're going to need to create an account or something to see this full review. If you're interested in cosmology or apologetics (or both), I consider it worth it.

It's a review of Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes by Alex Vilenkin.

There's a lot of interesting ideas going on there: Vilenkin speculating that we live in an infinite multiverse, Vilenkin embracing the Many Worlds Interpretation for whatever reason... of course, what turns Craig's head is the following:

It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning" (p. 176).

Given that everyone who knows about WLC knows that the Kalam Cosmological Argument is one of his favorite arguments, you can see why Craig's writing such a review of this book. No matter what else Vilenkin may say, that's a feather in Craig's cap.

Now, there's two other things I want to point out. One today, one tomorrow. First this quote by Vilenkin, while talking about the ramifications of multiverses, in his view.

In the worldview that has emerged from eternal inflation, our Earth and our civilization are anything but unique. Instead, countless identical civilizations are scattered in the infinite expanse of the cosmos. With humankind reduced to absolute cosmic insignificance, our descent from the center of the universe is now complete (p. 117).

There are a lot of ways to pick apart this view. One, of course, being: Since when is being infinite in number a downgrade of importance? This is back to the "if God existed, the universe would be smaller / bigger!" argument, always one of the weakest around. No point spending time on it.

But, there's another problem. If we're going to play the multiverse game, well.. let's play. And Paul Davies has something interesting to say about the board:

These are murky waters, but they get even murkier when we scrutinise what is meant by the words "exist" and "real". In the Tegmark multiverse of all possible worlds, some worlds will have intelligent civilisations with computers powerful enough to create authentic-looking virtual worlds. Like in the movie The Matrix, it may be almost impossible for an observer to know which is the real world and which is a simulation. And if the simulation is good enough, is there any fundamental difference between the two anyway?

It gets worse. Mathematicians have proved that a universal computing machine can create an artificial world that is itself capable of simulating its own world, and so on ad infinitum. In other words, simulations nest inside simulations inside simulations ... Because fake worlds can outnumber real ones without restriction, the "real" multiverse would inevitably spawn a vastly greater number of virtual multiverses. Indeed, there would be a limitless tower of virtual multiverses, leaving the "real" one swamped in a sea of fakes.

So the bottom line is this. Once we go far enough down the multiverse route, all bets are off. Reality goes into the melting pot, and there is no reason to believe we are living in anything but a Matrix-style simulation. Science is then reduced to a charade, because the simulators of our world - whoever or whatever they are - can create any pseudo-laws they please, and keep changing them.

In other words, Vilenkin - at least by this interview - hasn't quite dropped us at rock bottom yet after all. Turns out there's still one more infinite drop we can be placed in, at least given his views and metaphysics: Downward. Not spatially, but in a simulation sense. Our fall isn't 'complete' unless we're in a simulation (of a simulation, of a simulation, of a...)

Of course, Vilenkin can walk through that door if he so wishes - Davies would say his theory practically demands it. But as Davies points out, the price to pay for that is a reductio of his position, in the form of dashing science once and for all. It turns out we haven't been studying 'nature' all this time after all. Nature's the next floor up on the elevator, so to speak. Chances are we're studying someone's computer simulation - and we're all Intelligent Design advocates now!

Amusingly, if Vilenkin (or others) would even try to refute this, they'd suddenly be changing their tune. Something along the lines of, "Sure, we're insignificant - but not THAT insignificant!"

What I'd really like to know is: Where would the Copernican Principle place us, given the prospect of simulation and Vilenkin's multiverses? Again, the answer's bound to be interesting.

Anyway, quite a lot can be said about what Vilenkin is discussing. (Such as, what are the prospects of 'reason' in the universe as pictured by Vilenkin?) But I'm picking up two themes. One is the multiverse/ID aspect. The other.. well, tomorrow, hopefully.


Crude said...

Oops. Accidentally hit 'Reject' instead of 'Accept'.

TPB informs me that the Common Sense Atheists have commentary on Vilenkin, particularly Craig's endorsement of them - mostly it amounts to pointing out how while Vilenkin thinks debate over whether there was a cosmic beginning is over (Basically, 'There was. Get used to it.'), he's still no fan of theism.

Sure, but Craig points that out in this review of his book, and also touches on some pretty shoddy reasoning on that front. (In short, Vilenkin basically says "Okay, but introducing God makes things weird.") And honestly, I'm not too interested in the thoughts of the latest gaggle of internet atheists. It's on the same level for me as when people start fighting out atheist v theist arguments in a youtube's comment section.

IlĂ­on said...

In the worldview that has emerged from eternal inflation, our Earth and our civilization are anything but unique. Instead, countless identical civilizations are scattered in the infinite expanse of the cosmos. With humankind reduced to absolute cosmic insignificance, our descent from the center of the universe is now complete (p. 117).

1) As been pointed out multiple times over the past several decades (and just as frequently ignored by those whom I call scientistes), when the ancients placed the earth at “the center of the universe,” they did not consider that the most favorable place, but the least. To properly understand their view, they saw the earth as being at the bottom, or lowest point, of the universe (and in the “shit rolls downhill” sense of “lowest point”).

2) Vilenkin’s argument is the same as if I were to argue: “There are six billions of other human beings in the world, not one of whom is unique in any regard … therefore no human being is significant or has worth.”

It does not follow.

In fact, his argument is even wore that that one. For, valuation is done only by persons, and in his risible argument, the valuation and loss of same is done by “the universe” of mindless matter.

This mindset can be seen as one more example and expression of the desire to be God. In this case it comes out as “If I cannot be The One, then no one else can matter!