Philosophical Fragments Botches the Multiverse

by Max Andrews

Philosophical Fragments is a blog with Patheos and there was a guest post (don’t hold it against he actual blog owner, it’s a guest) named Mark Goldblatt (I’m not certain that’s the author but notice his employer and notice what he’s writing on… I’m just saying…) titled “Bad Epistemology.” Let me begin by telling you what I really think… I think this post is full of bad science, bad philosophy, bad semantics, quibbling over spilled milk, and botches the multiverse is an embarrassingly bad way. Aaaand, yes, there are some good things and I won’t forget to highlight them either.

If you want to argue against the multiverse [or quantum issues], fine, but do so in an informed and more educated manner than this.

Goldblatt begins his epic rant by discussing contemporary science’s search and desire to discover the truth about the cosmos and the origin of life. Quoting Neil deGrasse Tyson from the reinstatement of Cosmos:

“If you take the universe all the way back to the Big Bang, well, the entire universe was really small. So now you take the shotgun wedding – quantum physics and general relativity. In that shotgun wedding, if you follow through with all the predictions quantum physics gives you, it allows multiple bubbles to form – one of which is our universe. These are sorts of fluctuations in the quantum foam. Quantum physics fluctuates all the time. But now the fluctuations are not just particles coming into and out of existence, which happens all the time. It’s whole universes coming into and out of existence.”

Here’s GoldBlatt’s response:

You hardly know where to begin in addressing the errors in this passage. But let’s start with the idea of the “universe.” By definition, the universe is the totality of what was, what is, and what can be. It is, as the philosophers say, co-extensive with being. Whatever is possible, whatever is not a contradiction in terms, belongs to the universe. You and I are part of the universe. George Washington is part of the universe, despite the fact that he’s no longer with us. Even unicorns are part of the universe – although, as far as we know, they don’t actually exist. Real beings. Imaginary beings. Present beings. Past beings. If it’s an actual or potential being, if you can sensibly conjugate the verb “to be” in its vicinity, it’s part of the universe. Why? Because the whole purpose of a concept like “universe” is to encompass everything under one umbrella term—i.e., every thing. — You don’t have to fill up chalkboards with arcane mathematical formulae to know that there are no other universes; you just have to observe the prefix uni and to understand language. If there are other dimensions, or other modes of existence, past, present or future, they are – again, by definition – part of this universe, our universe. They are part of the world in its entirety, which is another way of saying they are part of the totality of what was, what is, and what can be.

BAH! STAHP! JUST STAHP! Whenever a cosmologists refers to the term universe in light of multiverse discussions they refer to it as a single sub-system composed of its own initial conditions, constants, laws of nature, etc., which are causally distinct from other sub-systems. An example of this would be referential to what we understand to be our observable region/system (the Hubble volume, almost 100 billion light years in diameter, or a Friedmann-Robertson-Walker [FRW] system). This would also include any system that is very small and may have or will collapse.[1] The aggregate of these sub-systems would compose a multiverse.

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A multiverse is the landscape of all space and time and may consist of many universes or a set of universes. The semantic domain for multiverse encompasses four different descriptions of reality.

The multiverse is not monolithic but it is modeled after the contemporary understanding of an inflationary model of the beginning of this universe.  Max Tegmark has championed the most prominent versions of the multiverse.[1]  Tegmark has made a four-way distinction.

Tegmark’s first version of the multiverse is called the level one multiverse.  The level one is, for the most part, more space beyond the observable universe.  So, theoretically, if we were to go to the “edge” of the universe there would be more space.  Having this model as a version of the multiverse may be misleading because there is still only one volume, landscape, or system involved.  A generic prediction of cosmological inflation is an infinite space, which contains Hubble volumes (what we see in our universe) realizing in all conditions—including an identical copy of each of us about 10^10^29 meters away.[2]

The level two multiverse is typically associated with other bubble universes spawning from a cosmic landscape and slow-roll inflation.  This version predicts that different regions of space can exhibit different laws of physics (physical constants, dimensionality, particle content, etc.) corresponding to different localities and a landscape of possibilities.[3]  Imagine the multiverse has a bathtub filled with tiny bubbles.  Each bubble in this larger system (the bathtub) is a single universe.  Or, imagine a pot of boiling water.  The bubbles arise from the bottom of the pot analogous to the way inflationary cosmology works.  These other domains (or bubble universes) are nearly infinitely far away in the sense that we could never get there even if we traveled faster than the speed of light (due to the constant stretching of space and creation of more volume).[4]  It may, however, not be the case that there is an infinite set of universes.  Andrei Linde and Vitaly Vanchurin have argued that the way slow-roll inflation works it could only produce a finite number of universes.  Hence, they propose that there are approximately 10^10^10^7 universes.[5]

The level three multiverse is particular to certain interpretations of quantum mechanics such as Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds Interpretation.  It is a mathematically simple model in support of unitary physics.  Everything that can happen in the particle realm actually does happen.  Observers would only view their level one multiverse, but the process of decoherence—which mimics wave function collapse while preserving unitary physics—prevents them from seeing the level three parallel copies of themselves.[6]

The fourth level is the all-encompassing version where mathematical existence is equivalent to physical existence.  Mathematical structures are physically real and the entire human language we use to describe it is merely a useful approximation for describing our subjective perceptions.  Other mathematical structures give different fundamental equations of physics for every region of reality.[7]  This would be Plato’s ideal reality.

Let’s continue with the math:

You don’t want to go down that road, however, because you wind up knee deep in the problem of actual infinity. To be infinite, by definition, is to be unfinishable. Lots of things are potentially infinite – a line, for example, can potentially be extended infinitely in both directions. But you can never reach infinity. You can never make the potential actual. You never quite get to a point, as you’re extending the line, when you can kick back, have a beer, and say, “Okay, now at last the line is infinite.” You can’t finish what is, by definition, unfinishable.

And then here’s the section of dismissing Cantor or Zermelo or any of those people that actually thought something like this could… oh never mind, that’s too silly…

(Around now is when some guy in the balcony who took differential calculus as an undergrad will usually shout down that infinity is used routinely by mathematicians…so why can’t something be actually infinite? It’s true that infinity is a handy mathematical concept, but it is used as an ideal limit, a value that can be approached but never reached. Sound familiar? Calculus Guy will usually be followed to the mike by Set Theory Guy, who’ll assert that the German mathematician Georg Cantor “proved” that sets with an infinite number of members exist. There are many flaws with Cantor’s work – too many to detail here – but suffice it to say that Cantor never spoke of an infinite set consisting of real objects like marbles or melons or moon orbits; rather, his infinite sets were always populated by abstractions – like the set of natural numbers, or the set of all sets. Indeed, Cantor himself acknowledged the distinction between, on the one hand, “reality” and “quantity,” and, on the other hand, “number” and “set.”)

I’m not even a calculus student nor an undergrad so he must really hate what I’m about to say… My credentials are horrible. My PhD in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh is going to have me teaching at some beauty school… (Sorry, too far.)

When we think of infinity we usually think of the usual two categorical distinctions:  a potential infinite and an actual infinite.  A potential infinite suggests that infinity is only an idea or a concept but doesn’t actually exist in the Platonic sense or in the physical sense. In any set, one may always be added.  An actual infinite is the notion that there exists such a set, Platonic or physical, which isinfinite.  A potential infinity may be symbolized by a lemniscate:  ∞.  An actual infinite can be depicted by the aleph-null or aleph-nought:  ℵ0 (The Hebrew letter aleph with a subscript zero).

First, let’s have a brief refresher on set theory. A set is any collection of things or numbers that belong to a well-defined category.  In a set notation, this would be written as {2, 3, 5, 7, 11} being the first five prime numbers, which is a finite set of things.  Let’s simply signify this set as S.  There is a proper subset (SS) of S.  There are members in S that are not in SS, but no member of SS that is not in S.  The set of first three primes in a proper SS of the above S is {2, 3, 5}.  A dense set is a set where there is always room for one more in between another two elements.  Where there is an infinite set is with a set of cardinality, or natural numbers, it’s simply called a power set or an infinite set.  A series is an ordered set of numbers.  A finite series has a finite fixed number of terms.  An infinite series has an infinite number of terms.  A series with m terms, or the sum of the firs m terms of an infinite series, can be written as Sm or ∑a.

Georg Cantor developed the idea of what real numbers “are” by use of notions that do not directly refer to geometry.  In 1874-75 Cantor developed a theory of different sizes of infinities (with the infinitude of natural numbers as the smallest infinity).  The first notion of these sets is a 1:1 correspondence where two sets have the same cardinality (same number of elements).  (Remember, a cardinal number is the ‘number’ of elements in some set or a simply being mathematical entities in Plato’s world.)  This way, no elements of either set fail to take part in the correspondence.  In infinite sets there is a novel feature introduced by Galileo Galilei in 1638 that suggests an infinite set has the same cardinality as some of its proper subsets (recall proper refers to other than the whole set).  Consider the case of the set ℕ of natural numbers:

ℕ = {0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, …}

Remove 0 and there’s the new set ℕ-0 and there’s still the same cardinality as ℕ because we can set up the 1:1 correspondence in which the element r in ℕ is made to correspond with the element r+1 in ℕ-0.  Also, consider the cardinality of set ℤ of all the integers is again of the same cardinality.

ℤ = {0, 1, -1, 2, -1, 3, -3, 4, -4, …}

This could be simplified to ℕ if we pair off the elements.  Again, the cardinality of ℕ and ℤ are the same.

Moving on to the axiom of choice.  The axion of choice states that if we have a set A, all of whose members are non-empty sets, then there exists a set which contains exactly one element from each of the sets belonging to A.  Roger Penrose admits this is quite obvious but advises caution with this.  The trouble, according to Penrose, it that this axiom is a pure ‘existence’ assertion without any hint of a rule whereby the set B might be specified.  Consider the Banach-Tarski theorem, which says that the ordinary unit sphere in Euclidean three-space can be cut into five pieces with the propert that, simply by Euclidean motions (i.e. rotations), these pieces can be reassembled to make two complete unit spheres.

Continuing on past that detour… Any natural number is ≤ any infinite cardinal number (umm… usually smaller!).  Let’s suppose thatb ≤ a, with a being infinite then the cardinality of the union B is simply the greater of the two, namely, a, and the cardinality of the product A×B is also a.  Okay, admittedly, we aren’t near infinities yet; so, let’s keep going.

So far we can see that the number of rational numbers is the same as the number of natural numbers.  Enter Cantor stage right.  Let’s now use ℵ0 for the cardinality of the natural numbers ℕ which is the same as the cardinality of the integers in ℤ.  The infinite number in ℵ0 is the smallest of the infinite cardinals.  Now, what is the cardinality of ρ of the rational numbers? Choosing the lowest terms for each rational, the 1:1 correspondence between the set of rationals with a subset of the set ℕ×ℕ.  Thus, ρ is ≤ the cardinality of ℕ×ℕ. But the cardinality of ℕ×ℕ is equal to the cardinality of ℕ, namely ℵ0. Thus, ρ≤ℵ0.  But the integers are contained in the rationals, so ℵ0≤ρ.  Hence, ρ=ℵ0.

After Cantor clarified this aspect of set theory he went on to demonstrate that there are infinities larger than ℵ0 and the cardinality of a set of real numbers is such an infinity (to be discussed in a future post).[2]

Now that we’ve discussed the naïveté of infinity (or to be charitable let’s say he didn’t have the space for it) let’s move on to his next point about infinity:

Now think about time as a line going backwards. To say that an infinite amount of time has passed during which quantum foam has existed is to say that we’ve gotten to that point of infinity. Here we are, and past time is now infinite. We’ve finished the unfinishable. That’s what logicians call a contradiction in terms. If you’re forced to suppose the existence of a contradiction in terms – if, in other words, you’re forced to suppose that a thing is what it cannot be – you know you’ve gone wrong. It’s back to the drawing board.

Okay, I never bought these past infinite arguments in the sense that “if the past is infinite then such and such should have already happened”, etc. Look, the author does have a point here. These issue of having a temporal beginning in a temporally infinite timeline is nonsensical. However, to the chagrin of many, a finite past isn’t the historical point of contest or debate in Christendom [or theism]–it’s the radical contingency of creation.

Thomas Aquinas argues that nothing can be eternal except God.  Things are necessary, according as it is necessary for God to will them, since the necessity of the effect depends on the necessity of the cause.  It is not necessary that God should will anything except himself.  It is not therefore necessary for God to will that the world should always exist; but the world exists forasmuch as God wills it to exist, since the being of the world depends on the will of God, as its cause.[3]

Thomas asks the related question as to whether there is only one world.  The first objection he offers to the existence of only one world is that God’s power is not limited to the creation of one world and is infinite.  Thus, God has produced many worlds.[4]  Thomas responds on the contrary that God created only one world, for “the world was made by him” (Jn. 1.10).  Creation must be arranged in one order and to a final telos.  This world has unity, which entails that it was designed.  Thomas adds that

[The] very order of things created by God shows the unity of the world.  For this world is called on by the unity of order, whereby some things are ordered to others.  But whatever things come from God, have relation to order to each other, and to God himself, as shown above.[2]  Hence it must be that all things should belong to one world.  Therefore those only can assert that many worlds exist who do not acknowledge any ordaining wisdom, but rather believe in chance, as Democritus, who said that this world, besides an infinite number of other worlds, was made from a causal concourse of atoms.[5]

It is important to contextualize what Thomas means.  The early atomists believed in an eternal universe, which was composed of only matter.  Democritus championed atomist cosmology, which was primarily adopted from Parmenides and his doctrine of eternal indestructible matter.[6]  They also advocated an infinite geocentric universe with a flat earth, which rested in the air.[5]  On the other side of the earth was the Antichthon or Counter-earth.  Since the earth was believed to be flat the Antichthon was never seen.[7]  In whatever way the atoms originally moved at some point of time collisions between atoms occurred and aggregated to form larger massive objects.  This then created the Anaxagorian vortex, which led to the beginning of a world in the process of formation.  Thus, because of the infinite and eternal nature of the universe, innumerable worlds arise from the collisions among the infinite atoms moving.[8]

Thomas is reacting to the early atomist cosmology by rejecting their doctrine of random and purposeless events and to an eternal universe (not ex nihilo).  His focus is far removed from spacetime singularities and the creation of other universes as discussed in the modal realist sense. These other worlds exist by pure chance and had no telos.  There does not seem to be anything in Thomas to indicate that if God had created numerable worlds by a directed process with a telos that he would reject the notion of a plurality of worlds.

To be fair to Goldblatt, I’m taking his point and running very fast and far from it. My point in discussing Thomas is that Thomas isn’t concerning with the problems of an infinite past–he’s concerned with contingency. A perk of discussing this point is that Thomas seems quite comfortable with the idea of many worlds (gasp). If you don’t like this idea or discussion then see my coauthored paper with Dave Beck, “God and the Multiverse” in Philosophia Christi in this summer [2014] issue.

If you have groaned your way off this post yet then here’s some more:

But there’s an even more serious problem with Tyson’s statement: He’s implicitly rejecting the law of causality. He insists that whole universes – perhaps an infinite number of whole universes? – come into and out of existence all the time due to fluctuations in the quantum foam. But what causes the fluctuations? Tyson implies nothing does; the process just “happens all the time.” Here, he’s echoing Stephen Hawking, the world’s most famous living scientist, who in 2012 stated, “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.” Weaving together the latest insights from string theory, gravitational theory and quantum theory, Hawking concluded, “The universe can and will create itself from nothing.”

Well, no.

If there’s nothing – to note only the most howling flaw in Hawking’s logic – if there’s literally no thing, then there’s no universe to create itself. (Hawking’s “nothing” is a more brutally illogical formulation than Tyson’s pre-existing “quantum foam.”) But even allowing that a miniscule speck of something, or some thing, ends up big-banging into the universe, you still have to account for that change from speck to world. A speck is what it is, and it will remain what it is, absent a causal force acting upon it; so says the law of causality. (The law of causality can be thought of as the law of conservation of identity.) Blaming the Big Bang on a quantum fluctuation gets you nowhere because you still need a cause for the fluctuation. The mathematical quirks of theoretical physics do not constitute exceptions to the laws of thought.

There are no exceptions, none whatsoever, to the laws of thought, including the law of causality. Nothing – literally, no thing – is exempted. No matter how distant. No matter how exotic. No matter how teensy-weensy. Not even the alleged topsy-turviness of quantum physics lets you wriggle free of them, despite what many contemporary scientists seem to think

Yes, yes… there’s a huge equivocation on nothing being something rather than a negation of some thing. Good job, Goldblatt nailed this one. But let’s look at these fluctuations and spontaneous happenings.

Since we don’t have the best ability to observer such phenomena of universe “popping” into existence let’s look at particles.

The law of alpha particle decay in the half-life of a uranium atom is purely probabilistic.  The probability remains constant over time and is the same in every uranium atom; and there is no difference at all between two uranium atoms one of which decays and the other doesn’t in the next minute.[11]  It is the case that introducing a laser into the atomic nucleus of 232U, which alters the stability of the atom and accelerates the alpha and beta decay, can alter the rate of decay.[36]  However, the fact remains that when the decay occurs is determined by the quantum world of probability (depending on one’s interpretation of quantum mechanics.)  If one were to attempt to express such alpha decay as [(x) (Px ⊃ Qx)], for every alpha particle, if an alpha particle of uranium obtains then that the alpha particle will decay is true but cannot be causally or temporally indexed.[12]

Or, let’s look at this phenomena in a different light. (Oh, so many lame jokes could be made…)

I’m sure several of you have heard of quantum tunneling.  Vic Stenger is constantly appealing to it in order to explain the origin of the early universe.  In a false vacuum quantum fluctuations can occur which allows decay.  In a false vacuum the vacuum energy barrier (the Higgs field) doesn’t have enough energy to traverse the field. (Think of a ball sitting on top of a sombrero making an indentation on the top).  Even though it cannot traverse the field it can traverse it via tunneling.

The law of alpha particle decay in the half-life of a uranium atom is purely probabilistic.  The probability remains constant over time and is the same in every uranium atom, and there is no difference at all between two uranium atoms one of which decays and the other doesn’t in the next minute.  As previously noted, it is the case that introducing a laser into the atomic nucleus of 232U, which alters the stability of the atom and accelerates the alpha and beta decay, can alter the rate of decay. However, the fact remains that when the decay occurs is determined by the quantum world of probability.  This alpha particle decay is explained by quantum tunneling.  This explanation was first purported by George Gammow, RW Gurnery, and EU Condon in 1928.

Tunneling is also used in a lot of electronics. Have you ever heard of the electron microscope?  This was developed in the 1980s by Gerd Binnig and Henrich Roherer. The microscope measures the rate at which electrons tunnel from the surface of a material.  Quantum tunneling is well established and ought not to be dismissed as easily as some might be doing.

Does any of this beat causality? No. Godlblatt is right but, probably due to space, couldn’t expound upon it. There’s a lot more then “Oh, universes everywhere! No causes!” It doesn’t take much of an education to say that when one experience A in circumstances B then B is a condition for A in some form depending on what A and B are. Call me bias or illogical, but I think it might be a causal relationship ;-)

Shall we continue?

As I mentioned earlier, scientists, even brilliant ones like Tyson and Hawking, are often bad epistemologists. They tend to climb out on limbs and want to saw off the branches they’re sitting on. There is indeed a raging debate among scientists about whether causality holds in the quantum realm. So let me settle it for them: Yes, it holds. I say this with total confidence because their debate isn’t really about causality but about predictability – whether a complete mathematical description, if it were possible, of the conditions of a subatomic particle would allow an observer to predict the future state of that particle. The answer may well be no; there may be no possible mathematics to make such a prediction. But the fact that you’ve hit a mathematical dead end doesn’t mean that the change occurs uncaused; there is still some causal force behind it.

Bravo! I have nothing bad to say about this. Let’s keep going…

Mathematics describes forces but is not itself a force. If I drop a baseball down an elevator shaft, mathematical formulae can tell me where it will be and predict, with great accuracy, how it will behave at a given moment; but mathematical formulae are not causing the baseball to descend. Gravity is doing that. We may not know, and may never know, the exact nature of the force that governs the behavior of subatomic particles – call it the Quantum Fairy if you like – but there is a force operating on those particles, causing those probability equations to work out. There’s a force beyond the law of averages – which, again, is a mathematical description, not a causal agent – ensuring that order emerges out of apparent randomness. You can take that to the bank.

The irony is that scientists are more than happy to reason this way in other contexts. For example, they speculate that “dark matter” must exist to account for the state of the visible universe, and then go looking for it, because they know there must be a cause for every observable effect. Yet utter the word “quantum” and all bets are off. Ancient priests ridiculed the quest to find causal connections, invoking divine will as the solution to all mysteries – the so-called “God of the Gaps”; modern scientists echo them now with the “Quantum of the Gaps.” Can’t come up with a cause for subatomic behavior? No worries, that’s just quantum strangeness for you.

Goldblatt just made some structural realists throw their heads through their computer screen. Yes, there are problems with causal relations between numbers and concrete objects. I imagine the author is using a figure of speech about dark matter and looking for it… it’s almost like a bad science joke. (Dark matter doesn’t interact with electromagnetism so, hence, “dark”…) As a Christian I don’t like this “quantum of the gaps” charge. I’m okay with accusing atheists of punting to nonsensical ideas like acausal origins without an explanation of acausality or simple brute fact existence. However, I don’t think the charge of “quantum of the gaps” is warranted.

I’m getting tired and I imagine you, the reader, are too. My rants against rants are, possibly, just as annoying. BUT… we must finish!

Except causality is science. It is the sine qua non of science. Having shimmied out on the limb of theoretical physics, scientists want to saw off the branch of causality that got them there. But the quantum realm isn’t a logic-free zone. “One cannot get around the assumption of reality,” Einstein wrote to Erwin Schrodinger in 1950, and reality is “independent of what is experimentally established.” Subatomic particles may be paradoxical little devils, fiendishly hard to pin down, but nothing about them rewrites the laws of thought. They are what they are, and they stay what they are, unless they are caused to change. If your equations force you to abandon your axioms, you’re screwed. It’s time to climb back down the tree and start over.

Which returns us, at last, to the reason we’re having this conversation in the first place: the Big Bang theory. On the one hand, scientists like Tyson and Hawking love the Big Bang theory because it provides an elegantly straightforward explanation for the existence of the universe, and because it seems borne out by more and more sophisticated experimental data. On the other hand, scientists like Tyson and Hawking hate the Big Bang theory because it points squarely to the first line of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So desperate are they to avoid the slightest taint of religious sentiment that they’re willing to embrace literal absurdities – an actual infinitude, or an uncaused effect – to avoid the slippery slope back to the First Cause or Unmoved Mover favored by medieval theologians.

My message to Tyson and Hawking, therefore, is one of comity rather than enmity: C’mon in, boys. The water’s fine.

The first paragraph, awesome. Good job. Material causality must be affirmed. Many ignorant people confuse causality with probability distributions (see my alpha particle discussion) or different causes. One of the biggest debates in the philosophy of science is whether or not efficient causation occurs in science. That’s much more interesting then material causation. Let’s not be daft (Tyson, Hawking, and people who stand on such large platforms that lack philosophical rigor…).

Maybe Mark Goldblatt has good points but lack rigor. I don’t know if that’s due to space or what but if you’re going to tackle a giant you either need a huge club or a slingshot with good aim. This was just a bunch of sticks being thrown at the giants. What got me interested in this was this quibble over the universe:multiverse issue. No more quibbling over that. It’s over. No one shall quibble again!

For the sake of all things good and plentiful… no one should ever botch the multiverse by misrepresenting it or ignorantly critique it. (This comment doesn’t necessarily apply to Goldblatt.)

[1] Unless otherwise noted, universe will not include other branches of the wavefunction in unitary quantum physics, i.e. different histories of the universe usually associated with Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds Interpretation or different classical worlds which are in superposition. Rüdiger Vaas, “Multiverse Scenarios in Cosmology: Classification, Cause, Challenge, Controversy, and Criticism.” arXiv:1001.0726v1 (Jan. 2010): 2.

[2] The majority of information and content is taken from Roger Penrose’s The Road to Reality.

[3] ST 1.46.1.

[4] ST 1.47.3.

[5] ST 1.11.3; 21.1.

[6] ST 1.47.3.

[7] Frederick Copleston,  A History of Philosophy vol. 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 51.

[8] John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy (Cleveland, OH: Meridian Books, 1965), 79, 111, 339.

[9] Ibid., 297.

[10] Copleston, 73-74.

[11] Alex Rosenberg, Philosophy of Science (New York: Routeledge, 2012), 92.

[12] A.V. Simakin and G.A. Shafeev, “Accelerated Alpha-Decay of 232U Isotope Achieved by Exposure of its Aqueous Solution with Gold Nanoparticles to Laser Radiation,” http://arxiv.org/pdf/1112.6276.pdf1-2 (accessed March 6, 2012), 1-2.

 


One Comment to “Philosophical Fragments Botches the Multiverse”

  1. Thanks for writing this critique. I’m a PhD student in chemistry and I was rather appalled at this article. The scientific misunderstandings are perhaps to be expected from a non-specialist, but combined with the hubristic, even condescending tone of the piece, they were particularly irritating. It is regrettably difficult to get scientists to engage in philosophy. Many of them view philosophers as presuming to settle empirical questions through reasoning from first principals alone.

    Unfortunately, the author of this article reinforces this bias when, in the most egregious example, he seems to think that he has the final word on quantum mechanics simply by appealing to his ‘laws of thought.’ In doing so, he writes a check for quantum forces that may not exist, in a way that begs the question for his metaphysical assumptions, as I believe you pointed out. His conclusion that if your results don’t jibe with your axioms then throw out the results, is simply antithetical to the spirit of scientific discovery. Moreover, history is full of discoveries that violated seemingly unassailable positions at the time (action at a distance vis a vis gravity is one example).

    My quantum chem professor once told me that if anyone claims to truly understand quantum mechanics, that person is lying or mistaken. Possibly a humorous exaggeration, but keep in mind he was referring to specialists in the field! Quite frankly, I doubt that Goldblatt really understands the current controversies in quantum physics on a very substantial level, which makes his armchair quarterbacking all the more frustrating. He smugly asserts that there is some undiscovered physical force acting on particles to regulate their probabilistic behavior (“You can take that to the bank”). In the same article admonishing scientists for their lack of philosophical sophistication, he’s going to turn around and encroach on the magesterium of science with this kind of naivete. This is highly counterproductive to the goal of getting scientists and philosophers to see that there is some real rich opportunity for collaboration between the two disciplines. Too many in both camps think that their discipline is the only one needed to answer all the big questions.

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