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Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Many universes, no God, Hawking says
Tom Smith

I continue to find the idea that there are very many universes special pleading, but maybe I will read his new book if it's not too expensive.  I certainly don't think it should count in favor of the idea that if there are many universes, the idea that there is a God becomes less compelling.  The consequences for theology of your physics should be irrelevant to your physics, I should think.  Saying, there must be many universes, because if there aren't, that suggests the universe was created!, just isn't a statement that should cut any ice in a debate among physicists and cosmologists.

Before you take the opposite view, please consider that in a multiverse with an infinite number of universes, there is sure to be one in which you wipe the sleep from your eyes, turn up the hot water and see, there through the steam, that you are in the shower with Hillary Clinton. In one universe she may be in her pants suit, but in another, very much not. Or, if you (don't) prefer, Rush Limbaugh. That is what we are talking about.  This is not just some abstruse theoretical debate.  I like to think this cannot be the case out of some principle of ethical prohibitedness, sort of the converse of John Leslie's idea of ethical requiredness, which I gather from him is a Spinozan idea.  I bet you had no idea cosmology could have such moral urgency.

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Tom Smith


If there were this vast (perhpas infinite) number of universes displaying every sort of alternative structure, then wouldn't some of them have a God (or some panolply of gods)?

If that is the case, how does he know we aren't in one of the God universes?

Posted by: km | Sep 2, 2010 11:35:00 AM

I think there would have to be universes in which Hillary Clinton is God(dess).

Posted by: jte | Sep 2, 2010 2:30:30 PM

Hawkings says that a God who is the laws of science is an impersonal God. I don't think that follows unless you believe that's all God is. And even if that is God's nature we understand so little of nature that it seems quiet arrogant to assume that such a God is merely some physics equation platered on a chalkboard.

Frankly, as an outside observer, so much of advanced physics these days strikes me as mathematical masturbation. Whatever happened to experimentation? How on earth (literally) can we suppose we understand what happened during the big bang?

Posted by: Steve | Sep 2, 2010 4:31:41 PM

I agree with you that we can and should clearly separate physics from theology, but your continual blithe dismissal of the idea of many universes is less defensible. I don't deny that the idea of parallel universes sounds like bizarre speculation. It's just that the implications of quantum mechanics are so profoundly unsettling that positing an infinity of universes may well be the *least* disturbing way of coming to terms with them.

Quantum mechanics--the validity of which has been backed up by a huge body of experimental data, I should point out--asserts that collections of particles are normally in entangled superpositions of states. That is, they are simultaneously in many different states, with different probabilities attached to each state. At some point, a "measurement" can occur, which causes this superposition to "collapse" down to a single state, of the kind we're all familiar with in everyday life. Unfortunately, quantum mechanics itself offers absolutely no explanation as to when or how this collapse happens. I know of only three explanations that have any kind of following:

1) Some kind of physical effect--possibly related to scale or complexity--causes collapse to occur spontaneously at the macroscopic level, which is the level at which we ultimately measure things. Thus by the time we see an experimental result, the set of things that have become entangled together is large enough to have triggered quantum collapse.

For most people this is probably the most subjectively appealing explanation. The only problem with it is that there's absolutely no scientific evidence for any such effect, nor any plausible theory as to how or why it might work.

2) There's something special about sentient, conscious beings that allows them to conduct "measurements" that collapse superpositions of quantum states down to classical ones. This explanation appeals to spiritual or mystical types, but suffers from the same problems as the previous one, and more besides. What, exactly is sentience or consciousness, what are its physical properties, and what do those properties have to do with collapses of quantum states in particles dancing about in laboratories?

3) Quantum superpositions don't collapse when measured--they expand to incorporate the measurer. We only see one state in the superposition when we measure things because we, ourselves, become entangled with what we measure, in a quantum sense. That is, we "split" into a superposition of states--much like Schrodinger's cat, which splits into a superposition of "living" and "dead", depending on whether its food was poisoned or not--and each of our states detects only the corresponding state of the quantum system we're measuring.

This explanation is by far the most scientifically elegant, since it requires no otherwise unexplained effects or phenomena (no "special pleading", to use your term). However, it also implies that the entire universe is a gigantic superposition of an infinity of parallel universes, corresponding to the product of the superpositions of all particles capable of being in multiple quantum states.

So which do you choose, Tom?

Posted by: Dan Simon | Sep 3, 2010 12:02:40 PM

Does the toppling of American missiles really compensate for having no hands?

Posted by: JMS | Sep 3, 2010 12:29:48 PM

Dan -- I choose 1, but as you suggest I have no evidence. But isn't this sort of the position that Robert Laughlin takes or suggests?
I don't find an gigantic superposition of an infinity of parallel universes elegant, but maybe that's just me.

Posted by: Tom Smith | Sep 3, 2010 5:37:20 PM

The existence of a single universe no more proves the existence of God than the existence of a multiverse proves otherwise. This logic would be rubbish if it were logic, but this rubbish is rhetoric, the art of ruling the minds of men by those that cannot rule their own.

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