William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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The Global Warming Non-Expert Expert

Psychiatrists testing a cat's reaction to the news that Global Warming will cause an increase in mice.

Psychiatrists testing a cat’s reaction to the news that Global Warming will cause an increase in mice.

Reporteritis is the disease, or rather psychiatric condition, common among journalists, brought on by exposure to important people and events. The exposure causes the journalist to feel that he too is as important and as knowledgeable as the people on whom he is reporting.

It is a terrible, wracking malady, awful to see. Meet the Press’s ex David Gregory is perhaps the most prominent sufferer and awareness-raising poster boy for the disease. (The poor fellow has been observed at restaurants haranguing staff “Do you know who I am?” He may have reached the fatal stages.)

Journalists, opinion-page editors, and reporters are only the public face of the condition. It strikes, perhaps even more mercilessly, the bien pensant, too. The closer a person believes he is, or desires to be, part of the “in” crowd, the more susceptible he is. (When it infests non-reporters, the disease is called the same name.)

Take global warming as an example. For decades, climatologists have told us that temperature would be high, yet temperatures were always low. This discrepancy infallibly (as in infallibly) indicates that the climatologists have done something, we know not what, wrong.

Now a climatologist dedicated to the belief that temperatures are rising will, it is true, seek to evade the evidence of actual observations, by inventing for himself all sorts of besides-the-point explanations, such as the warming he promised is on “hiatus”. He will refuse to see that he originally promised a lack of “hiatus”, and was therefore at fault.

But this is excuse-finding, the standard reaction of people who cannot admit error, a common human failing. Most climatologists will eventually come to see their error (as long as their careers do not hinge on perpetuating that error).

No, what is of interest are the civilians who latch onto global warming with even stronger conviction than climatologists. First a clarification: Global Warming is ambiguous, and easy to equivocate. To a physicist it means warming caused by mankind, a strictly scientific matter. But to most others, it means why the government should take over.

So that when a non-climatologist hears “global warming” and expresses warm interest or visceral hatred for it, it is not the banal science of cloud-model parameterizations he has in mind, but how the government will benignly and beneficently, or brutishly and blindly, intrude on citizens’ lives. The science to these people is largely besides the point, and is anyway too difficult to master.

Still there is no disease. That only comes when the equivocation occurs, when people think they know as much science as climatologists because they desire or despise government excess. Thus there are a minority of folks who loathe massive state control who claim global warming is a “hoax”. Yet these folks, small in number and without power, forget that hoaxes are not easy to perpetuate and that sincere self-deception is far better explanation of scientific error than organized malfeasance.

The real trouble comes from those in power. Take psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton who wrote an article for the far-left New York Times entitled “The Climate Swerve”. Now, nowhere in his resume does Lifton show any background in physics, and though like anybody he might have picked some up along the way, he has nowhere indicated that he has a systematic understanding of the subject.

Yet his ignorance does not stop him from writing, “Of great importance is the growing recognition that the danger encompasses the entire earth and its inhabitants. We are all vulnerable.” And “Oil and coal company executives focus on the maximum use of their product in order to serve the interests of shareholders, rather than the humane, universal ethics we require to protect the earth.” And much more along the same lines.

The reason I say Lifton, who is not intellectually challenged, might suffer from reporteritis is that he feels he is part of climate science merely because he has written about it. The equivocation is there. But he must be as aware of the trivial criterion of scientific success and failure as anybody. That climate models have failed consistently can only mean they are faulty, and therefore their implied threat of doom is improbable at best.

Still, there is sits, his glasses slumped on his nose and he lectures us sadly on why aren’t “doing something.”

Since the disease is contagious, Lifton is only one of many, those who “believe” in global warming, not because they understand the science, but because they desire its “solution.”

Philosophic Issues in Cosmology VII: Is there a Multiverse?–Guest Post by Bob Kurland

A meeting of the multiverse organizers.

A meeting of the multiverse organizers.

Bob Kurland is a retired, cranky, old physicist, and convert to Catholicism. He shows that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith.

Read Part VI. *Quotations, unless otherwise specified, are from Issues in the Philosophy of Cosmology, George F.R. Ellis.

It’s hard to build models of inflation that don’t lead to a multiverse. It’s not impossible, so I think there’s still certainly research that needs to be done. But most models of inflation do lead to a multiverse, and evidence for inflation will be pushing us in the direction of taking [the idea of a] multiverse seriously. —Alan Guth

“Well, there is the hypothesis…that all possible universes exist, and we find ourselves, not surprisingly, in one that contains life. But that is a cop-out, which dispenses with the attempt to explain anything. And without the hypothesis of multiple universes, the observation that if life hadn’t come into existence we wouldn’t be here has no significance. One doesn’t show that something doesn’t require explanation by pointing out that it is a condition of one’s existence. If I ask for an explanation of the fact that the air pressure in the transcontinental jet is close to that at sea level, it is no answer to point out that if it weren’t, I’d be dead. —Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos.

The notion of an ensemble of many possible universes (small u), not causally connected, “a multiverse”, has been used to counter the unlikeliness of all the anthropic coincidences. To quote Ellis*:

If there is a large enough ensemble of numerous universes with varying properties, it may be claimed that it becomes virtually certain that some of them will just happen to get things right, so that life can exist; and this can help explain the fine-tuned nature of many parameters whose value values are otherwise unconstrained by physics…However there are a number of problems with this concept. Besides, this proposal is observationally and experimentally untestable, thus its scientific status is debatable.

One problem (other than the untestable aspect) is that the probabilistic character of the multiverse is never specified by authors who invoke it:

These three elements (the possibility space [the population description], the measure [the quantities that describe the particular universe], and the distribution function [for the measure]) ,must all be clearly defined in order to give a proper specification of a multiverse…This is almost never done.

What is also not usually specified are the possible types of universes contained in a multiverse. Which of the types below should be included?

  • “Weak Variation: only the values of the constants of physics are allowed to vary?…
  • Moderate Variation: different symmetry groups, or numbers of dimensions…
  • Strong Variation: different numbers and kinds of forces, universes without quantum theory or in which relativity is untrue (e.g. there is an aether), some in which string theory is a good theory for quantum gravity and others where it is not, some with quite different bases for the laws of physics (e.g. no variational principles).
  • Extreme Variation: universes where physics is not well described by mathematics, with different logic; universes ruled by local deities; allowing magic… Without even mathematics or logic?

Which is claimed to be the properties of the multiverse, and why? We can express our dilemma here through the paradoxical question: Are the laws of logic necessary in all possible universes?”

Although the existence of multiverses cannot be justified by measurements, do they offer good explanations for the anthropic coincidences? Ellis answers:

It has been suggested that they (multiverses) explain the parameters of physics and of cosmology and in particular the very problematic values of the cosmological constant (lambda, the constant for negative pressure). The argument goes as follows: assume a multiverse exists; observers can only exist in one of the highly improbable biophilic outliers where the value of the cosmological constant is very small…If the multiverse has many varied locations with differing properties that may indeed help us understand the Anthropic issue: some regions will allow life to exist, others will not. This does provide a useful modicum of explanatory power. However it is far from conclusive.

Firstly, it is unclear why the multiverse should have the restricted kinds of variations of the cosmological constant assumed in (these) analyses…If we assume ‘all that can happen, happens’ the variations will not be of that restricted kind; those analyses will not apply.

Secondly, ultimate issues remain. Why does the unique larger whole (the multiverse) have the properties it does? Why this multiverse rather than any other one? (emphasis added)

I will add to Ellis’s comment that even though one universe in a multiverse has an appropriate value for a particular constant (say, lambda), it will not necessarily be the case that other parameters will be appropriate. There still has to be a conjunction of values for all the laws and constants, which requires either a Theory of Everything to give that (something to wonder about in itself) , or more amazing coincidences.

Ellis further argues that probability-based arguments cannot demonstrate the existence of a multiverse:

Probability arguments cannot be used to prove the existence of a multiverse, for they are only applicable if a multiverse (that is to say, a population of multiverses) exists. Furthermore probability arguments can never prove anything for certain, as it is not possible to violate any probability predictions, and this is a fortiori so when there is only one case to consider, so that no statistical observations are possible. (emphasis in the original). All one can say on the basis of probability arguments is that some specific state is very improbable. But this does not prove it is impossible; indeed if is stated to have a low probability, that is precisely a statement that it is possible…probability arguments…(are) equivalent to the claim that the universe is generic rather than special, but whether this is so or not is precisely the issue under debate.

The issue of whether a multiverse can contain an infinite number of universes (thus justifying the claim that “whatever can happen will happen”) is addressed by Ellis as part of the question whether an infinite number can be considered as real (rather than as a mathematical construct) in his analysis of the philosophic/ metaphysical questions involved in cosmology, and will be discussed in the last post of this summary.

In conclusion, Ellis argues that Multiverses are a philosophical rather than scientific proposal.

The idea of a multiverse provides a possible route for the explanation of fine-tuning. But it is not uniquely defined, is not scientifically testable … and in the end simply postpones the ultimate metaphysical questions.

These philosophic issues will be discussed in the final post of this series.

See Dr Kurland’s original post, linked above, for a further discussion of Inflation.

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Not Made Of Parts

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

That God, accepting He exists based on the previous proofs, is not a composite object won’t be especially difficult to believe. Except for those who, strangely, believe God is a created (or maybe “evolved”) being. If He was, it begs the question how. And that would immediately bring us back to how anything changes, which must involve the existence of a necessary Being, which is to say, God Himself. Reminder: it simply makes no sense to say things “just happen” or happen “by chance” or “randomly.” There must be a First Cause.

Chapter 18: That in God there is no composition

1 FROM the foregoing we are able to conclude that there is no composition in God. For in every composite thing there must needs be act and potentiality: since several things cannot become one simply, unless there be something actual there and something else potential. Because those things that are actually, are not united except as an assemblage or group, which are not one simply.i In these moreover the very parts that are gathered together are as a potentiality in relation to the union: for they are actually united after being potentially unitable. But in God there is no potentiality.ii[1] Therefore in Him there is no composition.

2 Again. Every composite is subsequent to its components. Therefore the first being, namely God,[2] has no component parts.

3 Further. Every composite is potentially dissoluble, so far as its composite nature is concerned, although in some there is something else incompatible with dissolution. Now that which is dissoluble is in potentiality to not-being. But this cannot be said of God, since of His very essence He is necessarily. Therefore there is no composition in Him.iii

4 Moreover. Every composition requires a compounder: for if there be composition, it results from several things: and things that are several in themselves would not combine together unless they were united by a compounder. If then God were composite, He would have a compounder: for He could not compound Himself, since no thing is its own cause, for it would precede itself, which is impossible. Now the compounder is the efficient cause of the composite. Therefore God would have an efficient cause: and thus He would not be the first cause, which was proved above.[3]iv

5 Again. In any genus the more simple a thing is the more excellent it is; such, in the genus hot, is fire which has no admixture of cold. Therefore that which obtains the summit of nobility among beings, must be in the summit of simplicity. Now that which obtains the summit of nobility in things is what we call God, since He is the first cause, because the cause is more excellent than its effect. Therefore there can be no composition in Him.v

6 Moreover. In every composite thing the good does not belong to this or that part but to the whole, and I speak of good in reference to that goodness which is proper to, and is the perfection of, the whole: thus the parts are imperfect in relation to the whole: thus the parts of a man are not a man, nor have the parts of the number six the perfection of six, nor do the parts of a line attain to the perfection of the measure found in the whole line.vi Therefore if God is composite, His proper perfection and goodness are found in the whole of God but not in any of His parts.vii And thus the good that is proper to Him will not be purely in Him; and consequently He will not be the first and supreme good.viii

7 Further. Before every multitude it is necessary to find unity. Now in every composite there is multitude. Therefore that which is before all things, namely God, must needs be devoid of all composition.ix


iIf A is joined to B, there is A+B not AB, or rather, there is not an indivisible (new) C. If something is composite, it is in potential to being busted apart, to being A and B again.

iiDon’t forget that St Thomas earlier proved that in God there is no potentiality. Maybe it’s not obvious, but from this we deduce that God is not a “life-force”, or evolved being, made of parts. God is not an anthropomorphic being, is not made of pasta or DNA or anything material, even though he can be painted that way. God is Being itself, and Being itself is not be decomposable. Being itself cannot be painted or pictured.

iiiWe have already proved that God, as First Mover or Unchanging Changer, must necessarily exist, or nothing could ever move or change. This why St Thomas says, “since of His very essence He is necessarily.”

ivI find this very pretty. Everything that changes has a cause for the change. A composite is caused to be composite from its parts (somehow). And we’re right back at the beginning. Of course, we must never forget, not everything changes. God does not, because God is not in potentiality.

vThis extra, unneeded argument will probably sound phony, or at least fishy, to modern ears. And anyway, it doesn’t reach syllogistic proof because of the (as yet unproved) premise that the more excellent something is, the simpler it is. Simpler? To moderns, simpler is equated with stupider or that which is less useful. But to St Thomas, it is associated with elegance, beauty, sublimity. This is why he says “the cause is more excellent than its effect.” After all, without the cause, there is no effect.

viAnd here is similar language. A jigsaw puzzle can still be beautiful even though it’s missing a piece, but it hasn’t reached it’s potential perfection, or rather completeness. It may also come as a surprise to some atheists to learn that the parts of a man are not a man. But a man can have missing parts and still be a man, though an imperfect instantiation of one. A few cells which live as a man, though small, is also a man (after all, what are you but a large collection of cells?). That some objects, or people, exist as imperfections does not do away with perfection.

viiIn other words, if God is put together from pieces, those individual pieces are not the perfection—only the whole is. or could be Just like the jigsaw puzzle.

viiiThe good will not be purely in him, because the good would be in the whole which is made of pieces. The good would be in pieces too, as it were. Now this follows: “consequently He will not be the first and supreme good”. This is not a complete argument that God is the first and supreme good. St Thomas is anticipating that claim, which is anyway familiar even to us moderns (that God is Good). Thus, this also is not, at this point, another proof that God is not composite.

ixOkay, fine, But what about the Trinity? God the Father, Jesus-slash-God, God the Holy Ghost? How could God be three in one? How could a non-composite God be a man? Short answer: nobody knows. Not how. But we can know that. And we can only know things like this through faith, through revelation. Because of this, St Thomas does not concentrate on these matters, taking as his subject on those propositions which can be proved via the senses in absence of ordinary revelation.

We still haven’t close to describing God’s essence. We know he’s outside of time (eternal), not in potentiality, and not made of stuff. But that’s it so far. There is much more to come. How much? An infinite amount!

Update Perhaps this is the best ever explanation of the Trinity.

[1] Ch. xvi.
[2] Ch. xiii.
[3] Ch. xiii.

How Do You Care For The Environment? #BecauseICare


If you can’t see it, it reads: “When I drive, I only use 100% organic fuel. #BecauseICare”

How about you? What do you do for the environment?

Update You’re not doing enough. Man to live on melting iceberg for one year to urge climate change action (Video)

Still a tad busy here at WMBriggs.com-land.

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