William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Philosophic Issues in Cosmology VI: Anthropic Coincidences—Guest Post by Bob Kurland

Something (which can be observed) rather than nothing (which cannot).

Something (which can be observed) rather than nothing (which cannot).

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 V.

Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient “coincidences” and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. —Paul Davies.

The argument (the Anthropic Principle) can be used to explain why the conditions happen to be just right for the existence of (intelligent) life on the earth at the present time. For if they were not just right, then we should not have found ourselves to be here now, but somewhere else, at some other appropriate time. —Roger Penrose.

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.

A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question. —Fred Hoyle

10,000 dials & monkeys

The presence of organic life in the universe (namely us) requires a series of unlikely happenings and restricted values for physical laws and constants. This “fine-tuning” (as it’s been called) has been likened to a room full of 10,000 dials, each of which has to be set to a precise setting in order to achieve action; 10,000 monkeys are let into the room and each adjusts a dial and, lo, action occurs. The set of coincidences was termed “The Anthropic Principle” by Brandon Carter in 1973, when he introduced it in a conference to oppose the “Copernican Principle”, that man has no special place in the universe.

Anthropic Principle

There is a concise summary of the Anthropic Principle by Robert Koons in his philosophy lectures, giving various interpretations, with arguments for and against each. A good collection of articles with different (and opposing views) of the Anthropic Principle is given in God and Design (ed. Neil Manson). There are many versions of the Anthropic Principle ranging from the Weak Anthropic Principle, WAP, which tautologically observes that if the universe weren’t fit for us to be here we would wouldn’t be here discussing the principle, through the Strong Anthropic Principle, SAP, that the universe has been fine-tuned for intelligent life (us), on up to the Completely Ridiculous Anthropic Principle (by Martin Gardner—you complete the acronym).

Can unlikelihood be quantified?

In assessing the improbable nature of the anthropic coincidences, some authors assign a specific probability to the value of some particular physical constant. Such assignment is not always justified, because probability considerations are ill defined, in the usual sense of evidential probability. For example, theoretical calculations have shown that if the strong nuclear force were 2% higher or 2% lower, then the elements as we know them would not have been formed. This does not mean that the probability of having the strong nuclear force at an anthropic value is 4%. In order to give a probability for this range, the population distribution of the parameters for the strong nuclear force would have to be known. Moreover, there is a difficulty in using probability in an after-the-fact, rather than a predictive sense. The way to use probabilities in assessing the anthropic coincidences is via Bayesian probability techniques, with well-defined prior assumptions, and to use the resulting Bayesian probability as a measure of belief.

Ellis’s interpretation

Ellis, in his presentation of the anthropic coincidences, focuses on the special nature of physical laws that allow for the presence of life, rather than on their improbability:

One of the most profound issues in cosmology is the Anthropic question…why does the Universe has the very special nature required in order that life can exist? The point is that a great deal of “fine tuning” is required in order that life be possible. There are many relationships embedded in physical laws that are not explained by physics, but are required for life to be possible; in particular various fundamental constants are highly constrained in their values if life as we know it is to exist…What requires explanation is why the laws of physics are such as to allow this complex functionality (life) to work..We can conceive of universes where the laws of physics (and so of chemistry) were different than in ours. Almost any change in these laws will prevent life as we know it from functioning.

Ellis posits as a first requirement for the laws of physics “the kind of regularities that can underlie the existence of life”: laws that are not based on symmetry and variational principles are unlikely to produce the kind of complexity that would be required for life. He also sets up general conditions that allow for organic life and cosmological boundary/initial conditions. In this respect he cites the following as necessary:

  • “Quantization that stabilizes matter and allows chemistry to exist through the Pauli exclusion principle;
  • The number D of large spatial dimensions must be just 3 for complexity to exist.
  • The seeds in the early universe for fluctuations (quantum fluctuations) that will later grow into galaxies must be of the right size that structures form without collapsing into black holes…
  • The size of the universe and its age must be large enough…we need a sufficiently old universe for second generation stars to come into existence and then for planets to have a stable life for long enough that evolution could lead to the emergence of intelligent life. Thus the universe must be at about 15 billion years old for life to exist.
  • There must be non-interference with local systems. The concept of locality is fundamental, allowing local systems to function effectively independently of the detailed structure of the rest of the Universe. We need the universe and the galaxies in it to be largely empty, and gravitational waves and tidal forces to be weak enough, so that local systems can function in a largely isolated way.
  • The existence of the arrow of time, and of laws like the second law of thermodynamics, are probably necessary for evolution and for consciousness. This depends on boundary conditions at the beginning and end of the Universe.
  • Presumably the emergence of a classical era out of a quantum state is required. The very early universe would be a domain where quantum physics would dominate leading to complete uncertainty and an inability to predict the consequence of any initial situation; we need this to evolve to a state where classical physics leads to the properties of regularity and predictability that allow order to emerge.
  • The fact that the night sky is dark…is a consequence of the expansion of the universe together with the photon (light particle) to baryon (mass particle) ratio. This feature is a necessary condition for the existence of life: the biosphere on Earth functions by disposing of waste energy to the heat sink of the dark night sky. Thus one way of explaining why the sky is observed to be dark at night is that if this were not so, we would not be here to observe it.
  • Physical conditions on planets must be a in a quasi-equilibrium state for long enough to allow the delicate balances that enable our existence, through the very slow process of evolution, to be fulfilled.” (see the Theology of Water.)

There are a number of other constraints, limited values for forces—gravity, electromagnetic, weak nuclear, strong nuclear—and fundamental constants, including that for particle masses and number of particles that are needed for life to evolve. In summary, Ellis puts the Anthropic Principle as the following:

Life is possible because both the laws of physics and the boundary conditions for the universe have a very special nature. only particular laws of physics, and particular initial conditions in the Universe, allow the existence of intelligent life of the kind we know. No evolutionary process whatever is possible for any kind of life if these laws and conditions do not have this restricted form.

Robert Koons summarizes some general objections to invoking the Anthropic Principle for carbon-based life “well isn’t that special” (as the Church Lady might say):

  1. The problem of “old evidence”;
  2. Laws of nature don’t need to be explained;
  3. We had to be here in any event (see Penrose’s quote above);
  4. Exotic life might exist;
  5. The Copernican Principle–rejection of anthropocentricity is fundamental to science;
  6. We’re only one among many universes (see below).

Then:

  1. Objection 1 can be countered by the argument that such evidence is used frequently in science when direct experiments can’t be done. Witness the General Relativity explanation of the advance in the perihelion of Mercury.
  2. Objection 2 would do away with all interpretations of theory, quantum mechanics, and the philosophy of science.
  3. Objection 3 is countered as in Thomas Nagel’s quote above; as information seeking life form we need explanations.
  4. Objection 4 is invalid: we’re talking about conditions for carbon-based life; science-fiction can explore and has explored conditions for exotic life.
  5. Objection 5: the Anthropic Principle was introduced to rebut the Copernican Principle.
  6. Objection 6: the multiverse proposition is not itself proven.

The philosophic/metaphysical context for these Anthropic conditions that Ellis sets forth will be given in the final post. It should be noted that one interpretation of anthropic coincidences is the theory that infinitely many universes with potentially different physical laws and constants exist and so it is not unlikely that in all these one universe with appropriate conditions for life would be present.

The analogy is like that of having a lottery ticket with the numbers 1 1 1 1 1 be the winner. That combination of numbers looks improbable, but since there are a whole host of numbers from 00000 to 99999, it is no less probable than any other number. This brings up the notion of a multiverse, which will be discussed in the next post.

29 Comments

  1. I’m not too thrilled about the concept of “chance” and “improbability” when discussing the anthropic principle. In order to say our universe is “improbable” you have to specify exact premises from which the probability is deduced.

    But if we could do that, then (I’m guessing) we could say why this universe and not another.

  2. Bob,

    The presence of organic life in the universe (namely us) requires a series of unlikely happenings and restricted values for physical laws and constants. This “fine-tuning” (as it’s been called) has been likened to a room full of 10,000 dials, each of which has to be set to a precise setting in order to achieve action; 10,000 monkeys are let into the room and each adjusts a dial and, lo, action occurs.

    Reminds me of an argument I heard years back about how the Earth’s mean distance from the Sun, its axial tilt, and the Moon’s effect on plate tectonics all being seemingly too perfect for life to have arisen by mere coincidence. It’s one of those “gotcha” arguments that falls right flat on its face when one considers how many stars are in the Milky Way (300 billion). Or how many galaxies there are in the universe (on the order of 100 billion is the minimum estimate).

    Who is to say that this is the only universe? Ah, I see that this is covered below ….

    Objection 6: the multiverse proposition is not itself proven.

    Neither is it disproven. Arguments from ignorance are fallacious. IMO, the best empirical answer to the question of whether the universe is purposefully designed is, “I don’t know”.

    Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient “coincidences” and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. —Paul Davies.

    It’s very much worth reading the rest of that article:

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/jun/26/spaceexploration.comment

    This excerpt is where he really gets to the marrow of the matter:

    Just as classical Christianity presents God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, so physicists envisage their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships. Furthermore, Christians believe the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case. Correspondingly, physicists declare that the universe is governed by eternal laws, but the laws remain impervious to events in the universe.

    I think this entire line of reasoning is now outdated and simplistic. We will never fully explain the world by appealing to something outside it that must simply be accepted on faith, be it an unexplained God or an unexplained set of mathematical laws. Can we do better? Yes, but only by relinquishing the traditional idea of physical laws as fixed, perfect relationships. I propose instead that the laws are more like computer software: programs being run on the great cosmic computer. They emerge with the universe at the big bang and are inherent in it, not stamped on it from without like a maker’s mark.

    Just the sort of open-minded, imaginative, out-of-the-box, skeptical thinking that warms the cockles of my wee agnostic heart. For some more thoughts along the lines of human intelligence being an emergent property of the universe, check out Henry P. Stapp, a dead-serious research physicist retired from LBL: http://www.henrystapp.org/

  3. Briggs, instead of “probable”…”chance”…how about, as Ellis uses the adjective, “special”. However, I think there is a sense, not mathematically or logically exact, in which if you think of all the possible universes, of all the possible values for physical constants and parameters, then this universe is “improbable”. To say it isn’t you would need a TOE, Theory of Everything in which all these constants, laws, principles, dimensionalities, were specified a priori and there would be a distribution function for the constants. And then you would have to ask whence this TOE?

  4. Brandon, I am saying, as is Ellis, that the existence of multiverses is a metaphysical proposition, not a scientific one. The essence of science is 1) that propositions / theories mesh (insofar as possible with the general framework of science) and 2) that they can be verified or, more importantly, falsified. By definition, other universes are non-interactive with this one, so criterion 2 can not be satisfied. You’re right–there maybe multiverses, but their existence has to argued on philosophic, not scientific grounds… What I call mathematical metaphysics.
    Having looked at your link, I’ll only say it’s like the curate’s spoiled egg. Parts are good, for example the comment “But appealing to a host of unseen universes and a set of unexplained meta-laws is scarcely any better [than an unseen designer]”.
    But other parts are, again, mathematical metaphysics–quoting Rees that the cosmological principle is not really valid, i.e we live in a special region of space-time. Boltzmann made the same hypothesis in trying to justify The Second Law. Sure it MIGHT be true, but why is it a better, more economical hypothesis than a creating God. That’s what Davies doesn’t explain.

  5. Sander van der Wal

    August 18, 2014 at 9:33 am

    The problem lies with the Anthropic principle. Humans are currently the only creatures humans know of that think themselves special. But all the criteria that favor a universe for humans, also favor a universe for all other mammals, all birds (formerly known as dinosaurs), all reptiles, all insects, all plants, fungi, bacteria, viruses and whatnot.

    One can even argue that the universe is better fit for bacteria as for humans because bacteria are able to live in more diverse places than humans can. And if we are ever going to find life on other planets, it’s more likely to be bacteria than humans.

  6. Sander, you’re quite correct. The term “anthropic” is misleading…blame Brandon Carter for that. All that should be implied is that the universe is set-up for carbon-based life.

  7. Sander, a further thought…given evolutionary principles (which I believe in, albeit not necessarily the Darwinian model for them), wouldn’t it be necessary that bacteria precede mammals and man, and that there be many more bacteria than men? And should numbers be the criteria of excellence of a species?

  8. I think this entire line of reasoning is now outdated and simplistic. We will never fully explain the world by appealing to something outside it that must simply be accepted on faith, be it an unexplained God or an unexplained set of mathematical laws.

    Accepted on faith? No, it is rationally demonstrated, and demonstrated as requiring no explanation beyond itself. Davies is simply illustrating his misunderstanding.

    I propose instead that the laws are more like computer software: programs being run on the great cosmic computer. They emerge with the universe at the big bang and are inherent in it, not stamped on it from without like a maker’s mark.

    Setting aside the fact that the laws being inherent in the stuff having the ring of hylemorphism, how does this analogy of hardware and software, apart from undermining what he just proposed that the laws are inherent in things themselves, have any legs? In what ways are these laws like software? And in what ways are they unlike software? And upon what great cosmic computer is this software run? Moreover, the appearance out of nothing of both the hardware and the software still doesn’t get around the problem of something occurring without any explanation.

    Davies does recognize some lingering problems in the current naturalistic metaphysic but his thought is somewhat muddled.

  9. Bob, the Carbo-biotic Principle, then?

  10. Sander van der Wal

    August 18, 2014 at 11:11 am

    @Bob Kurland

    Evolution with more complicated forms generally evolving from simpler ones seems more reasonable to me.

    Even “set up for carbon based life” is a very strong principle, imho. We know of no other places with life because of the ridiculous distances between planets in our own solar system. The stars are even further away. When you look at the distribution of galaxies it becomes even weirder, there are just a few places where there are some galaxies, but most of the universe is just empty space. For some reason people are just ignoring that, probably because the Antropic principle was invented before the large scale structure of the universe was known.

    Then there’s that accellerating exansion. Why would anybody design a universe that would become more hostile to life over time, or think that such a universe was actually designed for life? It isn’t. At a few places during a short time it might be friendly enough fir life to exist, but most of the time at most of the places it is as hostile as you can get.

  11. Quoting Brandon Carter

    I have occasionally regretted choosing the term “anthropic” for the a priori probability principle in question, since, from the outset [4, 1], it was always intended for application, not just to humanity and related anthropoids, but also to conceivable – as yet undiscovered – extraterrestrials. Nevertheless, the term “anthropic” is fully justified with reference to the relative probability measure of the particular kind to be considered here, since it will be specifically calibrated with respect to the only case we know about directly so far, namely our anthropic selves.

    Reference: http://luth2.obspm.fr/~luthier/carter/trav/Finitude.pdf

  12. RE: “Evolution with more complicated forms generally evolving from simpler ones seems more reasonable to me.”
    Sander van der Wal ; 18 August 2014 at 11:11 am

    THAT seems [philosophically] straightforward…however…consider the genetic features in humans vs. other apes–46 vs. 48 chromosomes (put another way, 23 vs. 24 pairs inherited from each parent); the human genome has one that is clearly a fusion of two found in the apes–i.e., a fusion of two from a common ancestor. Is that changed “design” simpler (due to fewer), or, more complex (due to a more unique & complex fused pair)??

    For a short reference see:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dK3O6KYPmEw

  13. Ye Olde Statisician

    August 18, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Neither is [the multiverse] disproven. Arguments from ignorance are fallacious.

    Indeed. So why posit multiverse-of-the-gaps in the first place? [And why confuse “multiverse” with “multiple ‘universes'”?]
    Besides, the multiverse hypothesis simply reinforces the anthropic principle:

    “[T]he Higgs puzzle may be explained anthropically rather than by supersymmetry. If we live in a multiverse , it is possible that, in different places in the multiverse, the Higgs field has different strengths. In most places it might have its natural strength. But in rare places it may happen to have the much smaller value that it has where we are. And–it can be argued convincingly–only in those rare places can there be life. We see a strangely small value of the Higgs field, because we are living in a highly atypical part of the multiverse, namely a part where the Higgs field has a value that allows life to exist.”
    –Stephen M. Barr, 2008
    http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2008/09/on-the-edge-of-discovery

    +++++

    When you look at the distribution of galaxies it becomes even weirder, there are just a few places where there are some galaxies, but most of the universe is just empty space. For some reason people are just ignoring that, probably because the Antropic principle was invented before the large scale structure of the universe was known.

    1) If the total mass of the universe were much smaller or much larger than it is, the universe would have long ago spread out into virtual nothingness or collapsed back into the ur-block. The amount of universe-stuff is like little bear’s porridge.
    2) This allows the amount of time for Gen2 stars to spread elements far and wide from which various stuff can be built up.
    3) Consequently, for life to exist even on one single planet, the universe must be as large and old and full of stuff as it is. The uncounted galaxies and empty spaces are just what you might expect. How many dandelion seeds must be scattered to make a single dandelion? How many sperm to make a single child? Is it any wonder that you might need a universe to make a world?
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2009/02/28/3586/

  14. Ye Olde Statisician

    August 18, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    PS:
    A passing comment why the fine-tuning argument and similar arguments from probability carry no weight with Aristotelians:
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/the-ugliness-of-a-finely-tuned-universe/

  15. Gary…good-o, but not terribly euphonious.

  16. Sander,. ”
    “Why would anybody design a universe that would become more hostile to life over time, or think that such a universe was actually designed for life? It isn’t. At a few places during a short time it might be friendly enough fir life to exist, but most of the time at most of the places it is as hostile as you can get.”
    Is all this relevant? If only one spot in the universe is set up for intelligent life, does that mean it’s unimportant? Why does the Universe itself have to be fecund? Recall, one of Ellis’s anthropic principles was “The concept of locality is fundamental, allowing local systems to function effectively independently of the detailed structure of the rest of the Universe. ” That implies to me that what you term undesirable is actually a desirable characteristic.

  17. dover_beach,

    Accepted on faith?

    Hebrews 11:

    1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
    3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
    6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

    In this sense, my faith takes the form of hope. That’s as much of the above as I can swallow whole without collapsing into total cognitive dissonance.

    No, it is rationally demonstrated, and demonstrated as requiring no explanation beyond itself.

    I promise you that further explanations are absolutely required until you reach perfect knowledge. You won’t get there in this lifetime, and you’re not likely to make much progress if you stop looking for further explanations — including alternative ones.

    Davies is simply illustrating his misunderstanding.

    There is a difference between skepticism and lack of understanding, and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. You have no more idea what he understands with respect to your beliefs than I do. He very likely does not understand your particular beliefs in the same way that I’m very unlikely to understand a Muslim or Hindu’s beliefs — there are simply too many putatively rational explanations for God(s) to be able to learn and comprehend in one lifetime — with each major tradition claiming sole authority and correct representation of reality — and so many other things in the universe wanting our attention.

    He appears to have made his choices differently from you, same as you have apparently made your own. I deem both choices reasonable so far as neither of you claim to know for absolute surety the other is wrong without compelling, independently verifiable evidence in support of the assertion.

    The major extant religions do not do this. In particular, the Abrahamic traditions — with which I am most familiar — make a point of telling us that Deity’s existence and purposes must be personally and individually accepted absent of conclusive empirical evidence. Which is acceptable to me in the sense that such a Being might actually exist. What I object to are the assertions that such an Entity must exist, and that any individual person’s particular conceptions of the same are most correct above all others.

    By the same token, when prominent scientists and/or hard atheists invoke parsimony or point to theories of cosmology, geology and/or biology as overwhelming arguments against the existence of God(s), I want to gouge out my eyes with an icepick to save me from being able to read further. The strength I see in Davies’ article is that he calls out the very same cocksurety among outspoken atheist scientists — whom I hold in great disdain when they imply that their empirical observations rule out any possibility of Supreme Being(s). In short, I’m not at all a fan of closed-minded hubristic claims that the issue has been settled by science or theology.

    Setting aside the fact that the laws being inherent in the stuff having the ring of hylemorphism, how does this analogy of hardware and software, apart from undermining what he just proposed that the laws are inherent in things themselves, have any legs? In what ways are these laws like software?

    Hylemorphism: setting aside that you set it aside, so what that Davies’ argument rings of it?

    As for the rest of your question, I can only speak of my own general and quite limited understanding of physics, cosmology and quantum mechanics combined with my rather better understanding of computer hardware and software. (I will likely bungle some of the physics … any challenges or corrections are welcomed.)

    Software is nothing more than a set of directives which change the state of the hardware that contains it. The earliest computers were electromechanical and many of those were analog, meaning that an infinite number of states were possible. Modern IC-based computers are digital — they store information and process it as a finite collection of binary on/off states.

    Prior to quantum mechanical theory, the universe was generally seen as an analog system which followed certain rules, ergo Newton’s Laws are expressed as functions whose variables can take an infinite number of values. Even from antiquity it was supposed that matter was composed of indivisible components. But on the macro scale Newtonian physics reasonably approximates Earthbound observed phenomena. That began to change in the early 19th century when Dalton and Thompson took up the ancient Greeks’ supposition that matter was composed of indivisible atoms. Near the end of the century, Faraday, Kirchhoff, Boltzmann and Hertzand took things further by looking at electromagnetic radiation as possibly discrete and by 1900 Planck upset the entire apple cart by tying it all together with his quantum theory of physics. Then came his good and close friend Einstein who started asking questions about space and time.

    It is my understanding that at the very least, matter, energy and time are all quantized — they are digital — and they all apparently follow predictable, ordered rules — just like software.

    Plank himself said there was no reason to suppose that physical laws had always been the same, or would always be the same. I much admire him generally, but that quote is one of his standouts. Yet, at present it seems that most stuff in the universe does not just happen willy-nilly. (Human behavior is one major exception.)

    And in what ways are they unlike software?

    We can’t read the source code; we can only reverse engineer the rules by observation — which rules look an awful lot like cellular automata to me.

    And upon what great cosmic computer is this software run?

    I’m afraid my answer is facile in its ignorance: the universe is the computer — one great giant finite state machine. This is no more acceptable an answer to me than to say God is the Prime Mover. I see both views as nothing more than simple metaphors to describe poorly understood abstractions which our presently limited intelligences vainly struggle to comprehend.

    Moreover, the appearance out of nothing of both the hardware and the software still doesn’t get around the problem of something occurring without any explanation.

    Of course not. But just because something cannot be explained does not mean that it hasn’t happened — true explanations require true understanding. Reality simply is, and it exists regardless of what any of us think of it. I find it supremely arrogant and ultimately foolhardy when anyone pretends to have the market cornered on how the universe got here, what exactly makes it work, and whether or not there is some universally willful intent behind why we’re even pondering such questions. Skeptical curiosity is what drives discovery of error and increases knowledge — often thereby opening up an entirely new set of questions about the unknown and/or misunderstood. Standing pat on satisfying answers tends toward stasis and prolongs ignorance. For me, willful ignorance of this type is the very worst sort.

    That’s exactly the thing I see that Davies is complaining about with respect to many of his colleagues. I applaud him for doing so.

  18. YOS,

    Why posit multiverse-of-the-gaps in the first place?

    Why not? It’s as equally valid a hypothesis as the God of the Gaps. The only thing I’m sure of is that collective humanity is mostly wrong about what we think we know about anything along these lines.

    And why confuse “multiverse” with “multiple ‘universes’”?

    The confusion stems from a potential ambiguity introduced by Bob in his original essay:

    6. We’re only one among many universes (see below).

    Objection 6: the multiverse proposition is not itself proven.

    He uses them here equivalently. Are you sure you’re not thinking of the Many Worlds interpretation of QM as I have often done in the past?

    Besides, the multiverse hypothesis simply reinforces the anthropic principle …

    I tend to agree, but I don’t understand why you raise this as an objection to my points above. I do note that Barr’s argument is built on a premise which he explicitly characterizes as a possibility:

    If we live in a multiverse , it is possible that, in different places in the multiverse, the Higgs field has different strengths.

    There is nothing in the full essay to suggest his is the only plausible explanation. And indeed there are a number of competing hypotheses generally lumped under the category of the anthropic principle. This is not at all problematic for me as I’m not inseparably wed to any particular one of them — I’m simply not fluent enough in the underlying theory to have strongly informed leanings.

    Barr goes on to say:

    If the LHC turns up no evidence in favor of supersymmetry or of other conventional explanations of the Higgs puzzle, it would strongly suggest that our anthropic explanation is correct. I still think that supersymmetry will probably be found at the LHC.

    The prediction in his second sentence has not proven correct even though the Higgs was found by LHC in 2012. According to the first sentence, his anthropic hypotheses have thus gained some weight. His recent (2013) paper, Grand Unification without Higgs Bosons appears to address the argument directly: http://tinyurl.com/k6ka639

    This paper is dedicated to the memory of Julius Wess. While Julius was a mathematical physicist, he truly had an amazing physical intuition and understanding for experimental developments. He was very much interested in seeing how his ideas could be applied to particle physics. It turns out that several of his mathematical constructions can be used to build elegant extensions of the standard model of particle physics. The most well known example is that of supersymmetry which is one of the most popular framework to address the fine tuning problem of the Higgs boson’s mass in the standard model. This article will be dealing with another potential extension of the standard model, without a Higgs boson this time, using techniques developed in the 1960’s by Callan, Coleman, Wess and Zumino who understood that gauge symmetries could be implemented in a non-linear way.

    I skip a bunch of math that is quite beyond my ability to comprehend, and end with his own conclusions:

    In conclusion, we have discussed how a model for the electroweak interactions without a Higgs could be embedded into a grand unified theory. The requirement of a non-trivial fixed point in the SU (2) sector of the weak interactions together with the requirement of the numerical unification of the gauge couplings leads to a prediction for the value of the SU(2) gauge coupling in the fixed point regime. The fixed point regime must be in the TeV region to solve the unitarity problem in the elastic scattering of W bosons. We find that the unification scale is at about 10^14 GeV. Viable grand unified theories must thus conserve baryon number. We have discussed how to build such a model without using Higgs bosons.

    Which is basically Greek to me. My takeaway is this: he’s got a plausible model which now wants empirical confirmation. I do not find anything else in the paper which argues for the possibility of a mulitiverse or that the Higgs field varies within it. Perhaps this paper is a step toward further elucidation of that hypothesis.

  19. Sander van der Wal

    August 19, 2014 at 2:30 am

    @Bob Kurland

    Evolution is the result of genes that interact in all kinds of ways and the environment in which the gene carrying species live. Formulated like this, I see no problem in genes merging regarding evolution.

    Regarding the size of the inhabitable spot where we live compared to the size of the universe itself, and its future, I consider calling the universe hospitable, or fit, for life a bit over the top. It is a small-universe kind of outlook. Pointless.

  20. Bob,

    The essence of science is 1) that propositions / theories mesh (insofar as possible with the general framework of science) and 2) that they can be verified or, more importantly, falsified.

    I’m in agreement with you this far.

    I am saying, as is Ellis, that the existence of multiverses is a metaphysical proposition, not a scientific one … By definition, other universes are non-interactive with this one, so criterion 2 can not be satisfied.

    A perfectly valid argument. It also implies that any metaphysical proposition is, by definition, not empirically knowable in the traditional scientific sense of being independently verifiable. This leads me to ask, rhetorically: Is the God of Abraham knowable empirically? Or put another way, known through personal experience?

    All indications are that the answer to those questions is: yes, absolutely. Were it not so, there would be little basis for those who claim confident belief — to the point of sure knowledge in some cases — that such a God exists. The caveat in this line of reasoning is that such knowledge is not independently verifiable by others — i.e., it has to be gained through some personal experience which cannot be explained any other way.

    I’ve not had any such experience, so I tend to doubt those who say they have. And not for the first time: there are many who claim such sure knowledge who ascribe significantly different properties, intents and purposes to the God(s) of their faith.

    A shorter, slightly different answer: definitions are often badly wrong. We may not yet know how to interact with any other universe than our own because we simply don’t know enough about our own to be able to ask. In this line of reasoning, “metaphysics” becomes the bucket for “stuff we just don’t understand yet.” I’m perfectly willing to chunk all sorts of “science” into that bucket, and with extreme prejudice if it pretends to be The Answer without being falsifiable.

    Having looked at your link, I’ll only say it’s like the curate’s spoiled egg.

    Note that I came up with said link searching for the quote you attributed to Daives, which appears to be its source. How did you come across it?

    Parts are good, for example the comment “But appealing to a host of unseen universes and a set of unexplained meta-laws is scarcely any better [than an unseen designer]“. But other parts are, again, mathematical metaphysics–quoting Rees that the cosmological principle is not really valid, i.e we live in a special region of space-time. Boltzmann made the same hypothesis in trying to justify The Second Law. Sure it MIGHT be true, but why is it a better, more economical hypothesis than a creating God. That’s what Davies doesn’t explain.

    My own subjective opinion is that it is NOT a more economical hypothesis than positing a God. He doesn’t explain why one is necessarily better than the other because — the way I read him — it wasn’t his intent to do so as evidenced by this:

    We will never fully explain the world by appealing to something outside it that must simply be accepted on faith, be it an unexplained God or an unexplained set of mathematical laws.

    Or as you quoted, “scarcely any better [than an unseen designer]”. He’s got the slightest bit of a lean, one which I think I fairly understand based on things he’s written elsewhere. I’ve not found that he comes right out and claims agnosticism, but as an agnostic myself I don’t classify his writings on anywhere near the same atheist leanings as we see in the polemics of Richard Dawkins and his sycophants.

    Though I find his approach refreshing, I’m not a Davies apologist by any means; I haven’t read much by him. I do think he’d not be much at odds with your concept of mathematical metaphysics — the Curate’s Egg may not be as bad off as you initially perceived.

  21. This kind of discussions is infinite regression at its finest.
    There is of course nothing wrong with infinite regressions.
    On the contrary – as I understand this being philosophy (so not science), an infinite regression offers the opportunity to discuss without ever reaching any significant or relevant answer.

    Of course when doing science, one looks for answers in a finite time so that the questions about “fine tuning” are better left to those who think they have infinite time for them 😉
    I will just take an example – may one ask “Why have the fundamental constants h,c, G and Lambda (with reservations) the value they have ?”

    Yes one can. The question is correctly formed and contains no pathologies.
    It goes very differently with answers.
    There is actually a great number but only one which is valid : “If they were different, we would not observe the Univers we see .”
    It takes time to understand that this answer is powerful enough and that there is nothing more to add beyond it.
    Some people would demand or imply that there could/should exist some equations where these constants are unknowns and solving for them we find the numerical values equal to what we observe.

    This is not necessary but not impossible either.
    Let’s assume that these equations exist. But the day we discover them, we notice that there are coefficients like in every equation. These may be very “natural” like 1 or 7 but they may also be more “complex” like exp(2.i).
    Obviously we could immediately ask why the coefficients are what they are and … it will be just a second step in an infinity of future steps.
    .
    In reality what we have to explain and understand the Universe are only our observations. These observations give rise to mathematically formulated theories whose biggest virtue is to compare computed values to observed values.
    QM is the most successful theory ever over a very large field of observable phenomena.
    And QM would immediately and irreversibly fail if h had not the value it has and we would have already observed this failure a million of times. Yet we don’t.

    The most relevant comment in this thread was for me :
    In order to say our universe is “improbable” you have to specify exact premises from which the probability is deduced.

    So there is indeed no “fine tuning” and no “probability distribution” of h.
    h has one unique very accurate value and it is the one we measure and the one which makes QM work. h simply can NOT have another value in the Universe we observe.
    As for Universes that we can not observe by definition, they can be safely considered as non existent from where follows necessarily that h may only have a unique value and any further “why” questions only lead to infinite regressions.
    Of course additional knowledge and understanding can be obtained in each step but none will give a final answer about the why this particular value of h.

    That’s why I am not really interested about what happens in infinite time because it is inaccessible to us.
    So despite being a non believer in any formal religion, I would have no problem with a postulate setting something Godlike at infinity (or 0) and this something “makes” the Universe obey QM from where the value of h trivially follows.
    Accepting or not accepting this kind of postulate just makes no difference for anything.

  22. Ye Olde Statisician

    August 19, 2014 at 11:31 am

    something “makes” the Universe obey QM

    This is why Newton suggested periodic interventions by God to keep the solar system stable. But that stems from bad metaphysics. The Moderns did not see the real as being from an interior principle. Instead, matter was extrinsic and its properties had to be imposed from without. This is why Richard Dawkins and William Paley are “sisters under the skin.” And leads ultimately to things like the mind-body “problem” and the fine-tuning argument.
    TomVonk’s concerns were anticipated by Thomists:

    as an Aristotelian, I reject any form of possibility other than “compatibility with the nature of the actual world.” –Roderick Long

    I’ve been bothered for a while that “fine tuning” arguments, since without assuming that nature is essentially chaos in need of order, there is simply nothing for God to tune up. Nature taken in this way is essentially chaotic, disordered, and unintelligible, and all that is chaotic, disordered and unintelligible is ugly.
    Again, the essential disorder of the universe which is “tuned up” in fine tuning arguments is either purely logical, or it really belongs to nature. Taken the first way, there is no real fine tuning of the universe; taken in the second way it presupposes a sense of nature that no one has ever experienced.
    –James Chastek,
    http://thomism.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/the-ugliness-of-a-finely-tuned-universe/

    For the ancients and medievals, the real emerged from interior principles. Hence, “their theories of the world were all kinetic and concerned with becoming and the problems attendant on it.” Modern notions of existence (otoh) are “centered on the ‘given’ or ‘just there.’ Hence, we are reduced to saying that the value of ‘h’ just IS!

  23. Brandon, thanks for your extended comments…much food for thought.
    I got the quote from Davies in an article on the anthropic principle in the reference cited. Given his opinions stated in other works *(which I’ve read) that support a creating intelligence, I didn’t bother to pursue the source. I understand his conjecture about the universe being a computer–that’s Wheeler’s “It from Bit” conjecture, that the universe is information, created by observation. I was surprised to read his opinion in the article that we shouldn’t appeal to a Creating Intelligence; maybe he’s had a deconversion experience like Stephen Hawking (once a church-going Anglican).
    Now to reply to your comment about empirical justification for belief. I contend that science is special in its empiricism, because I believe, along with Fr. Stanley Jaki and Lord Kelvin, that a scientific proposition requires quantitative verification (see the quote at the beginning of the fifth in this series). Now belief in God is not necessarily empirically justified, although one can point to evidence from feelings and thoughts within oneself (which are not empirical justifications, because you can’t show those to another, like you could a red rose, even though you can describe them.) In the Sunday series Briggs is posting on Aquinas’s demonstration that there is a God, Aquinas proceeds from an empirical base, suppositions or premises that are presumed to be self-evident, through a logical chain to the conclusion that a First Cause (which we designate as God) exists. Although Aquinas’s assumptions may be empirically justified (possible not for everyone), it is not a scientific demonstration. It seems to me that the assumptions on which the claims for a multiverse are founded are less justified than those Aquinas uses, which is why I don’t give them any credit.
    *[“The Goldilocks Enigma–Why is the Universe just Right for Life?” ” God and the New Physics”, and an article he wrote for “Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature” (one of the series from the Vatican Observatory and CTNS on Divine Intervention)

  24. YOS, generally you’re quite intelligible and I agree with you almost all the time. But I confess I don’t understand your comment at all. And I disagreed entirely with Chastek’s comments about fine tuning when he made them some time ago.
    Could you please explain, in a “Thomism for Dummies” style, what exactly you meant?

  25. Ye Olde Statisician

    August 19, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    @Bob: in the perennial philosophy, so I understand, the powers of a thing (οὐσία, “substance”) such as a man or a sodium atom proceed from the thing’s nature or essence, that is: from principles within the thing (“principle” — that which is first-of-all). Hence, what a sodium atom can and cannot do stems from its form: the number and arrangement its parts and their motions (cf. first mover). A different number or arrangement would be a different οὐσία.
    It is not some “improbable” feature of the world that is significant. It is the very lawfulness, indeed the very existence of the world. We don’t know that something is “improbable.” All we know is that we do not know. It could very well be determined (de-term-ined, that is: directed to an end, a term, a telos).
    Thomas argued:

    Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship.
    — Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Physics, II.8, lecture 14, no. 268

    IOW, things had natures that moved toward an end, and their properties were “emergent” (as we say today). When Thomas mentioned in passing the possible origin of new species, he ascribed them to the powers that nature itself received in the beginning rather than to direct intervention by God.

    However, the Modern revolution discarded for programmatic reasons the whole idea of natures (essences) and of internal principles. Hence, there were no οὐσία and no essential natures. This meant there were only accidental forms, and the focus was henceforward entirely on these. This was because of the new insistence on the metrical and controllable in the Baconian paradigm. Accidents were generally metrical, so the focus shifted from “essential human nature” to accidents like skin color, gender, and so forth.
    Unfortunately, it also meant that matter was “dead” and its acts had to be imposed from without. Hence, Newton’s call upon God and theokinetics to keep the solar system from eventually flying apart; but more radically: the notion of natural laws laid down by a Lawmaker to replace the inner principles of nature itself. Paley’s watchmaker, the ID argument, the fine-tuning argument are all consequences of this metaphysical belief in dead matter that must be corralled.
    As the Newtonian/Cartesian Lawmaker was eventually discarded, we were left with “natural laws” hanging unsupported in the air and we began to drop more and more things into a bucket labelled “It Just IS!” much to the distress of the late William of Ockham. Chastek’s complaint was that the fine-tuning argument presupposed that nature is chaotic, rather than inherently orderly as ordained by God. (This is the same reason Feser gives for rejecting the premises of ID.)

    Now, my background is in mathematics, and every mathematician is probably a bit of a Platonist at times, but I hope this is a fair representation. Perhaps one of the pros from Dover might drop by and straighten things out.

    Hope this helps.

  26. Bob,

    My thanks in return for your extended responses. I find that I have no particularly novel objections or rebuttals, but that I as well have some food for thought. Thanks for your considered exchange of ideas. Regards.

  27. Thank you YOS for the “Thomism for Dummies” explanation. I understand it, but I will put it as extra-scientific. For example, to explain by invoking a teleological principle is forbidden in a scientific context, even though it would make much sense in much of biology. With respect to “Natural laws just hanging in the air”, that’s one of the deficiencies that the anthropic principle might remove. And with regard to “Chastek’s complaint was that the fine-tuning argument presupposed that nature is chaotic, rather than inherently orderly as ordained by God. (This is the same reason Feser gives for rejecting the premises of ID.)”, science by no means presupposes that nature is chaotic, but that we invent the natural laws by means of which we attempt to describe nature in a quantitatively verifiable way (i.e we don’t discover the natural laws, we propose them in accordance with the rules of the game, which indeed assumes an intrinsic order). My inference from the quote is that neither Chastek nor Feser really understand what science is all about.

  28. Ye Olde Statisician

    August 20, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    I understand it, but I will put it as extra-scientific.

    Of course, it is extra-scientific. It it were merely scientific, it would suffer from the same deficiencies as the “dead matter” people.

    Think of it as “meta-scientific,” dealing in the general principles that science must take for granted in the first place. You can’t deal with the axioms of a science using the methods of that same science.

    to explain by invoking a teleological principle is forbidden in a scientific context

    Since there can be no efficient cause without a telos, this pulls the rug out from under efficient causes and leaves the way open for the barbarian hordes of Humeans and their “correlations.”

    science by no means presupposes that nature is chaotic

    Science is notorious for not knowing its own suppositions.

    we invent the natural laws by means of which we attempt to describe nature in a quantitatively verifiable way

    An interesting essay that touches on both the instrumentalist metaphysic and on “meta-science” is here:
    http://www.isnature.org/Files/Augros_2009-Bigger_Physics.htm#_ftnref6

  29. YOS,
    “Science is notorious for not knowing its own presuppositions”
    If you modify that as follows
    “Scientists are notorious for not knowing the presuppositions of science”
    I would agree with you.

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