The Multiverse and Causal Abstract Objects

by Max Andrews

When considered in the range possible explanans for the origin of information in the universe/multiverse the options must meet the conditions of causal efficacy and specificity. The first condition states that origin of information must be causal. Information does not arbitrarily pop in and out of existence but requires a source. The second condition states that the origin must sufficiently explain the specificity in information and must provide more than mere Shannon information.

Consider a computer as an example for information relay (a phenomenal entity). The computer is and can be used as a channel, it can be a receiver, and it can be a source of information. However, to say that the information in the computer no longer needs an explanation for its origin would suffer the problem of information displacement. What begs the question is from where did the information in the computer come? The answer would inevitably become a software engineer or a programmer. Undirected material processes have not demonstrated the capacity to generate significant amounts of specified information. Information can be changed via materialistic means. The computer can change the initial coding from the programmer and introduce noise on the sending and receiving ends.

Typically, empiricists will attempt to distance themselves from committing to the existence of abstract objects such as numbers. However, Max Tegmark has a strict commitment to a metaphysical ontology of the Platonic ilk. Physicists are more likely to affirm the existence of abstract objects because the language of physics serves for the communication of reports and predictions and hence cannot be taken as a mere calculus in some cases. Those physicists who are suspect of the abstract as semantics in reference to real numbers as space-time coordinates or as values, functions, limits, etc.[1] The question present concerning the existence of abstract entities is not whether or not they exist. That’s completely irrelevant to the argument and has a fair place at the table of possibilia. One must not rule out a possible explanation due to ontological insight eliminating options a priori.


The task in evaluating the plausibility of abstract entities as the best explanation for the origin of information is whether it meets the aforementioned conditions of causal efficacy and specificity. With regards to the causal efficacy of abstract entities, what experience could be used as a referent? Certainly, there is meaning behind the phrases, “There are seven cows in the field” or “The apple is red” since these merely commit to the existence of abstract universals. However, what meaning is there in statements like, “Seven caused eight,” “Three causes or conditions triangles,” or “Green caused blue?” What is more is not an abstract-to-abstract causation but the abstract-to-phenomenal causation. Such statements would be logically equivalent to “Red causes the color of the apple” or “Geometry causes cubes.” This answers the question of whether abstract objects can specify information. The ability to specify must meet the antecedent condition of causal capacity since the role of causation is analogous to the role of the channel. Information does not originate in the source and arrive at the receiver (physical reality) without a channel. Thus, abstract objects are not sufficient explanations for the origin of information.

[1] See Rudolf Carnap, “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology” in Philosophy of Mathematics. Eds. Paul Benacerraf and Hilary Putnam (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1964), 233-43.

7 Responses to “The Multiverse and Causal Abstract Objects”

  1. Max, you know that silly question ‘If a tree falls in the forest …?’ Don’t the conditions of causal efficacy and specificity also both presuppose intelligence?

    Is it sound to argue that causal efficacy presupposes intelligence because a causal origin of information provides evidence of order (and thus also design), while specificity cannot be recognized as such without intelligence (for example, I think of light from distance stars as mere light, until intelligence is applied, the red-shift recognized, and specificity derived).

    • Hi Mark ~

      A valid inference to intelligent causation depends on the probability of a natural cause being extremely small. Individually falling trees do have a high degree of specificity, but they fall in a large set of possible similar events. Thus, that such an event would occur is not improbable on the assumption of natural causes. And thus the inference to direct intelligent causation is not valid.

  2. Hello Max,

    This is a good topic. If the multiverse is adduced as an explanation of cosmic fine-tuning, then we need a clear understanding of how that “explanation” is supposed to work.

    The point of the multiverse is to reassert nature as the infinite pool of probabilistic resources, in the form of Shannon information, from which we can expect to draw any particular complex specified information as a infinitesimal subset.

    But among my problems is anything that can explain anything actually explains nothing.

  3. Carrier’s argument “Ex Nihilo Onus Merdae Fit” shows: In a state of “nothing,” only that which is logically necessary will exist, such as the Law of Non-Contradiction, etc (he asserts that Ontological arguments fail to prove God’s logical/metaphysical necessity). He also states within “nothing” there exist “potentials.” For example, a potential universe exists within “nothing.” Next, he claims that since there is not a single thing to prevent a potential universe from coming into being, it will come into being uncaused and ex nihilo. Thus, given a state of “nothing,” anything that can exist will begin to exist, including an infinite multiverse. And from this infinite multiverse, ours must be present, no Divine causation required.

    • This is an equivocation of nothing. Nothing is the absent of something– not-anything. If there is potential there is something to have potential (metaphysically). It seems Carrier not only equivocates but rests the universe as a metaphysically necessary entity. That’s quite the leap.

    • To suggest “there is nothing to stop a universe from just popping into being” is a profoundly gross misconception. The question is not “is there something to stop something from appearing uncaused?” But rather, “what is a sufficient cause?” “Nothing” cannot be a sufficient cause for something. Even the creation on matter out of energy requires certain physical conditions to be met (which are not met with nothing)

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