I’ve spent the last few months exploring an unorthodox explanation of cosmological fine-tuning, which I discuss in this article and this talk. Part of my motivation was dissatisfaction with the two more conventional alternatives: God and the multiverse hypothesis. And part of the my dissatisfaction with the multiverse hypothesis was rooted in Roger White’s intriguing article arguing that the multiverse hypothesis doesn’t even explain the fine-tuning. As I said in a couple of recent talks on fine-tuning, it wasn’t that I was happy with the theory I’d come up with; to paraphrase Churchill, the view I was considering seemed to me to be the worst explanation of fine-tuning apart from all the others.
However, I think I’ve just changed my mind on the White article. White’s essential point is that what we want explained is why this universe is fine-tuned, whilst the postulation of a multiverse only explains why a universe is fine-tuned (I’m sure many will right now be screaming “But what about the Anthropic Principle/selection effect????”…see my discussion in the talk from 17:50-24:50.). However, at a recent talk I gave on this topic at Rutgers University, a discussion with Eddie Chen made me appreciate that this distinction collapses if the laws of nature are not contingent, that is to say, if our universe had to have the laws it has (and I’m independently attracted to philosophical views in which this is the case). If our universe had to have the laws of nature it in fact has, then it had to be fine-tuned, so long as it exists. This doesn’t mean that the fine-tuning puzzle goes away; it just turns into a different question. The question is not “Why is our universe fine-tuned?” but “Why does our fine-tuned universe exist rather any of the many very similar universes that aren’t fine-tuned?” Crucially, the multiverse theory can explain this: If there is a high enough number of universes, then there is likely to be one which, like ours, is fine-tuned.
So I’m now back to thinking probably some form of the multiverse hypothesis, perhaps the quantum mechanical version, is the best explanation of the fine-tuning. But I don’t regret exploring my “middle way” hypothesis. It’s philosophically important to explore new theories and explanations, and to try things out. After all, philosophers are supposed to question everything. It’s a shame that our intellectual climate makes this difficult. We pride ourselves on being liberal and free thinking, but it was hard to talk about this stuff. I could feel myself been categorised as “religious” or “new age” just for trying out a view.
Of course, we shouldn’t get lost in flights of fancy, but we should examine the arguments without prejudice. This was the enlightenment aim, but somewhere along the way that aim was replaced by dogmatic adherence to an ideological view of what science is “supposed to look like”. I look forward to the day when the enlightenment ideal of rigorous objectivity overcomes, once and for all, such ideologies.
Rigorous objectivity is quite an ideal, nevertheless, objectivity will never become the prevailing paradigm as long as there is censorship. Censorship comes in two forms:
1.) Not allowing someone else’s voice to be heard.
2.) Not acknowledging that voice when it does speak.
No offense, but I think you just took a little detour to find what people mean when they say “anthropic principle”. Can’t hurt to roam around a little and clarify terms though ;).
I enjoyed your blog post about cosmopsychism! Especially the size-of-the-universe argument was unknown to me, it makes me wonder: what significance could that have on sentience? Maybe you are a bit too fast to back-pedal, but anyway there is enough to do on all fronts 😉
I don’t think you are as alone with your sentiment as you think you are and hope you keep up the thinking-outside-the-box.
I don’t think it’s the anthropic principle: I discuss White’s response to the anthropic principle in the section of the talk I refer to in this post. It’s just that White’s argument doesn’t work if the laws of nature are necessary. I’m not sure what you mean by the ‘size-of-the-universe’ argument, but glad you got something out of the post 🙂
“for every observer who observes a smooth, orderly universe as big as ours, there are 10 to the power of 10123 who observe a smooth, orderly universe that is just 10 times smaller.”
It seems a little strange to me asking “why am I not a Boltzmann brain?”, whereas it seems more sane to ask “Why is the Universe is so big?” 😉
Regarding the anthropic principle:
I watched that part of the talk, and I didn’t really agree with your second situation where the monkey writes down his sentence (we didn’t actually see the monkey writing, we only find ourselves wondering why he did).
““Why is our universe fine-tuned?” but “Why does our fine-tuned universe exist rather any of the many very similar universes that aren’t fine-tuned?””
I am making an implicit jump from the first to the second question, which obviously spares me a lot of details and insights which one gets by making a distinction.
I think I cannot follow your argument of contingency, or better, I cannot think/imagine/understand a situation where contingency isn’t given.
In conclusion, I’ll have to read up at some point 😡
Surely, White’s argument would have ruled out the whole category of inflationary explanations, if endorsed. But, even rejecting it, doesn’t Penrose’s objections and the Boltzmann brains problem remain intact? I’m curious why do you prefer the multiverse explanation on philosophical grounds, given that the problem of evil you referred to in the original Aeon essay as an argument against theism is much weaker than those (and not a problem at all for some flavours of theism, namely deism, the simulation hypothesis and various gnostic traditions).
White’s argument rules out justifying multiverse hypotheses on the basis of fine-tuning, but it doesn’t rule out justifying them on other grounds. The inflationary multiverse hypothesis faces Boltzmann brain worries, but it’s not clear to me that every multiverse hypothesis faces these worries, e.g. I don’t think the quantum version faces these worries. Why do you think the problem of evil is weaker than Boltzmann brain worry? I’m inclined to completely reject classical theism on this basis, although I agree other forms of theism do better.
Well, the quantum version (if, as I understand it, you’re referring to the Everett Interpretation) introduces its own set of problems, like how exactly, in a strictly materialistic framework, all the splitting universes from non-personal quantum measurements seem to express non identical consciousnesses (i.e., why from my exact copy, down to the quantum level, is not emerging my exact experience? How can they be qualitatively differentiated?). Should be noted that Everett himself was convinced of quantum immortality.
As for the problem of evil, I would argue it is weaker simply because it is a subjective, extremely ill defined problem. There is the traditional Augustine’s argument of evil being non ontological, but simply the absence of good, so basically the conditio-sine-qua-non for the existence of a world different from God. It’s a consistent view, good as any other.
But I personally would argue that, in a theistic framework, the problem of evil could easily be reformulated as evidence from evil. For example, you could argue that the inescapable tension between a meaning-searching being and the meaninglessness of the world (which is what Sartre’s characterized as “being condemned to be free”) is an irreducible evil, unlikely to emerge from the evolutionary process (which would have favored psychological adaptation to meaninglessness, i.e. philosophical zombies), and thus pointing to a teleological inclination to generate evil. It’s not like I’m arguing in favor of a specific theistic interpretation, but I think that, confronted with any kind of fine-tuning, metaphysics including teleology are generally less problematic than inflationary ones.
It seems to me that the crux of the matter is this: is it valid to make probabilistic Bayesian inferences when trying to figure out how the reality we inhabit fundamentally works?
As far as I can tell this is the sort of thing that incites a lot of disagreement and is very much tangled up in other deep issues like the relationship between logically possible and metaphysically possible worlds and the question you raised of whether the fundamental laws are necessary or contingent.
If logical possibility entails metaphysical possibility and the fundamental laws are contingent then it seems like Bayesian inferences about how reality works are surely valid. If those assumptions don’t hold then it seems murkier. Bayes might still work but I can see how people would disagree (or have their doubts).
But at any rate, in my view the bottom line is this: if probabilistic Bayesian inferences about how reality works are indeed valid, then there simply is no alternative to strongly preferring theories of reality under which our circumstances are relatively common over theories of reality under which our circumstances are extremely rare.
It depends how extremely rare of course. But in order to believe that we’re in a multiverse where habitable universes are one in a trillion, we’d have to be awfully sure that we’re not, for example, in an equally large multiverse where there was a good reason why habitable universes are the norm. After all you’d expect there’d be far more habitable universes to be found in places like that. (And of course the real numbers involved in fine-tuning discussions are much larger than one in a trillion.)
I think the only ways to avoid this conclusion (if you were so inclined) would be
A) Start with extremely strong prior belief that habitable universes are rare (I don’t think we have that which is why we’re considering this question in the first place)
B) Discover some extremely strong evidence that habitable universes are rare (this is pretty much just a version of A)
Or C) Deny that Bayesian reasoning works
I’m not sure what reason one would have to think that Bayesian inferences don’t work when considering how reality works. It’s certainly a difficulty for the multiverse theorist having an account according to which our universe is not too uncommon (among universes with observers), but the theist would argue that the fine-tuning raises the probability that the laws were designed, which I think is a different consideration.
Interesting, thanks. Yes I’m inclined to trust it. But I’ve heard some people say it rubs their intuition wrong to apply probabilistic reasoning to a big claim (say, theism) before they’re confident it’s metaphysically possible. They say stuff like “It could be that things just don’t work that way, in which case it wouldn’t matter what the distribution of likely worlds is under that theory.”
Actually thought that might be what you were going for when you mentioned necessity. Now I think you must have been going for something more subtle that I’m missing (and that led you to change your mind). I don’t think I follow what other connection there would be between the issue of necessity and the ability of multiverse theory to explain fine-tuning…
In my head the essential Bayesian argument runs like this: fine-tuning suggests that under naturalism, habitable universes would be extremely unusual and thus presumably extremely rare. Under teleology, habitable universes would be the norm. The naturalist can posit the existence of extremely many universes, relying on the power of large numbers to guarantee the existence of at least one that’s habitable…
But what’s to stop the teleologist from making the same move? If it’s easy to believe that there are extremely many universes, then the teleologist can posit the existence of extremely many universes all of which are intentionally habitable — essentially countering multiverse naturalism with multiverse teleology. And then we’re back to where we started, i.e. if we consider the distribution of all instances of habitable universes, we’d still be stuck with the conclusion that nearly all of them occur under teleology and far fewer occur under naturalism. The issue of necessity doesn’t seem to affect this argument.
At the end of the day it seems that both naturalism and teleology have serious problems. Just can’t follow how necessity plus the multiverse can stop fine-tuning from being one of naturalism’s serious problems.
An interesting change of heart!
Whilst I am not very up to date on multiverse theory, it seems to me that if there are independent grounds for inferring cosmopsychism, then agentive cosmospyschism may still be a more parsimonious explanation for fine-tuning than the multiverse.
After all, subjectivity and purposive behaviour are closely aligned and if there is already a cosmic subject at hand, it does not seem that great a step to infer that it acts purposively William James’ evolutionary argument for the causal efficacy of consciousness adds further weight to the attribution of purposiveness to subjectivity (at the human scale at least, from which inferences about the universe could be made).
Of course, this is far away from the world-view of contemporary science, but I think it could be rationally accommodated within a Whiteheadian cosmological perspective of “law as habit”.
Admittedly, foresight on the scale of billions of years does seem so incredulous that I can see why the multiverse could be the preferred view even for a cosmopsychist.
Folks, I get that the members of academia make their livings writing about what other academics of the past have stated, and then argue about it or come up with a different or unique spin on what has already been written. It seems that our current paradigm is bankrupt of anyone who is capable of coming up with an original idea. Sorry folks, this is not philosophy. What the bankrupt thinkers of our current paradigm are practicing is called philosophology, which is a regurgitation of the archaic thinking of the dark ages, all of which is being perpetuated by the exclusive, closed community of the Church of Reason called academia.
Lee, it’s worse even. Imagine the better approach being told and not being understood. The matrix has been treated one way, explaning everything in hindsight and a touch of solution into future. A purposefull, rational matrix and so future only functions when it is compatable with the understanding that not only history is inviting us to suggest this matrix but anything alike a matrix unavoidably must include future to begin with. As soon as one “enjoys” both sides of practising matrix like living one becomes a baby (no conscience of history), an athëist (who is more concerned with handling his reality)
or even one eyed in the land of blindfolded others. If interested; it is in the comments on Aeon’s history (hundreds though and I’m not pursuing any more more than 50 years in the going and in principle to develop by many of us once understanding the basic mistakes like our numerical system being poisened with zero taken as a number which it is not!!!
I think scientists are looking in the wrong directions about fine tuning. Does it not make sense that since all these fine tuning are relative to one another, then all scientists need to do is to locate the original standard from which all derive their properties. Probably, it is the speed of light. If the speed of light is a different number, would not all the other numbers change accordingly? If this is the case, then all scientists need to do is to determine the cause that all these fine-tuning properties depend on the speed of light.
Maybe the universe is involved in a process that is similar to evolution. Universes evolve.
Cool idea. Problem is that physicists believe the constants have remained the same since the first second after the big bang.
I had a similar thought, but rather than an evolving universe, the constants facilitate an evolving consciousness.
Gord, I didn’t involvenature’s constants. At the time it were my last remarks since all the forgone one’s were not commented in any serious way. My matrix suggestion has grown out of remarkable simple facts. The only particles are electrons and protons. The rest radiation(results) only caused by electrons since protons do not radiate. Since under circumstances an electron can be expelled out of a proton (proton-proton cycle), one has to conclude that electrons are everywhere and involved in all processes. Since they are all exactly similar, one needs just one program installed that is all encompassing and there you got the matrix in less than five sentences.
Now you know what I meant with “not understanding” as it was difficult or so??????
I had a similar thought, but rather than an evolving universe, the constants facilitate an evolving consciousness.
Or, the past has been rewritten to make it seem so.
If the universe is constantly expanding in all directions at both planck points of location and time and is the cause of all our movements, then this explains quite a lot of mysteries, including consciousness, as we experience the glimpse sensations that we are outside the experiences of our physical world of our neural inputs. This force is constant and perhaps the idea of the big bang is not quite right. The ancients believed in the Akashic Records, which in modern quantum field theory is interpreted as one universal wave.
This is similar to the Hindu idea. The Theologian Paul Tillich used the phrase that God was the “Ground of all Being” Love is energy God is Love. Localized energy is protons, particles. Sentient energy with will and personality expressing itself is creation guiding all for purpose. Ancient theologians held God Eternal – creator of time is outside of time, outside of created cosmos. Einstein said God does not play dice, but God could nudge the dice to fall His way. Old foundation principle: God is the hidden God, hides himself – leaves no “proof” evidence. Which requires God to leave hints pointing away from himself.
Everything is movement. We know everything moves. There is this constant movement of motions. Inside rocks, the atoms are moving, vibrating in a confined space. Our sun is moving through our galaxy with all the other stars, planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and dust. Our galaxy is moving as does all the other billions of galaxies.
Movement creates action. Action is the result to what movement does. So, all these laws seem to be constant as they are all dancing with each others in a fixed, holding hands motions.
The so-called string landscape which predicts some 10^500 different universes, most of which are not tuned for size or life, suggests that sheer randomness could account that all sizable universes will be pretty much just like ours. http://vixra.org/pdf/1101.0044v1.pdf
But don’t we need a reason to think that all these possibilities are actually instantiated? Eternal inflation/many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics can potentially give us grounds for thinking this, but, as I discuss above, there are problems with the former.
I am trying to follow all the insights we have here on this posting. We look at all these fine tuning , (23 is the latest number), and since we thrive on giving meaning and reasoning, we jump to certain conclusions. I find questions are more important than the answers. Is it possible, without relying on multiworlds and divine creator, that all these fine tuning are all related and fixed to one another to a certain first cause. There is no example of this first cause.
Yes, self-improvement via self-discovery should be our driving force! What if, through my self-discovery I perceive that the universe expanding force causes all my motions, thoughts, and actions? That is, every motion and every force has this one cause of the universe expanding at every planck point. This is one self-discovery!
What if consciousness/awareness doesn’t need a finely tuned universe to exist at all? Lets assume the values in another universe preclude the formation of solid matter and it’s iteration of stars produce a different set of gaseous elements only; consciousness/awareness may well still randomly form in non corporeal entities.
It may be that our “finely tuned” universe forces consciousness/awareness to evolve through the rather inefficient and long road it has done thus far?
It’s an interesting point. As a panpsycast, I do think consciousness could exist without chemical complexity. Still, I think there is much more value in the forms of consciousness that requires chemical complexity: in having organisms that can fall in love and write poetry.
I think allowing multiverses to explain improbable events in one universe is an absolutely terrible idea; it completely trivializes probability all together.
Imagine if we were playing poker 10 times in a row, and every time I got a Royal Flush in the first hand. A reasonable person would conclude I cheated and it is a fix. However, if I was a multiverser could say:
“If there is a high enough number of universes, then there is likely to be one which, like ours, which Royal Flushes get dealt out 10 times in a row by pure chance without the deck needing to be stacked.”
If you wouldn’t accept that excuse to avoid the evidence that I stacked the deck, why would you accept it to avoid a designer that stacked the values of the constants?
In conclusion, my issue with multiverse explanations for fine-tuning is there is no reason to stop at fine-tuning; ANY apparent “fix” could be explained with the same logic. Therefore, this should raise high suspicions that a multiverse, even if it exists, is not a good explanation for fine-tuning.
There is another idea to explain fine tuning. That at evey planck point in space and at every planck point in time, the universe is expanding at the speed of light in all directions creating interference which we see as matter. However, this TOE, theory of everything, is the foundation in which all other forces, quantum properties, and laws are derived from.
I think the difference is that we could have only existed in a fine-tuned universe, whereas we could have had a hand that was not a Royal Flush. But I accept it’s tricky to know what bearing that consideration has.
I keep wondering if there is some inherent in QM suggested by quantum Darwinism that leads to the fine tuning which may be the direction you are heading. Something along the lines that universe can only exist if it can support consciousness.
The multiverse theory might explain fine tuning, but it doesn’t explain the Born rule.
“Everettian quantum theory is essentially useless, as a scientific theory, unless it can explain the data that confirm the validity of Copenhagen quantum theory within its domain – unless, for example, it can explain why we should expect to observe the Born rule to have been very well confirmed statistically. Evidently, Everettians cannot give an explanation that says that all observers in the multiverse will observe confirmation of the Born rule, or that very probably all observers will observe confirmation of the Born rule. On the contrary, many observers in an Everettian multiverse will definitely observe convincing disconfirmation of the Born rule. Nor can one look at Everettian quantum theory and conclude that any given observer in the multiverse will probably observe confirmation: the theory has no notion of standard probability available to even make sense of any such claim. And if the theory doesn’t explain the data, the data don’t support the theory.”
Click to access 0905.0624.pdf
This seems to me a much greater problem than any in “agentive cosmopsychism” or panentheism. They at least do not contradict what we observe in QM.
Thanks, I need to think about these challenges to Everrett in more detail.
> [T]his distinction collapses if the laws of nature are not contingent, that is to say, if our universe had to have the laws it has (and I’m independently attracted to philosophical views in which this is the case).
A particularly compelling view of the laws of nature as not contingent is David Pearce’s Zero Ontology. I wonder if you’ve encountered it? It’s about explaining physical facts (net zero energy, net electric charge of zero, etc.), mathematical puzzles (how the empty set can be used to reconstruct all of mathematics), and phenomenal facts (the CIELAB color space seems to have a Euclidean geometry where each phenomenal color has an opposite that ‘cancels it out’), with a single underlying universal principle. And that is, the principle of “no information”. Quantum mechanics and qualia could be entailed by “there being absolutely no information” in the multiverse. Curious to hear what you think.
Thanks for the tip!
This is just a version of information process systems. Which comes first, information, or matter? Seems that both could be opposite sides of the same coin, as can not have one without the other. Fine tuning could be from another force in which all other matter, information, and laws of nature are derived from. Also, what is interesting is the recent discoveries that the neural patterns are 3D geometrical shapes which could explain the resonance certain sounds have as being in harmony with the listeners.
Where did you get that about neural patterns being 3D geometric shapes?
Not disputing at all. Just curious about it because it aligns with some other ideas of interest.
Here’s a list: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIc0-PjbOkA (David Wilcock)
This stuff looks pretty sketchy to me.
Are there any actual papers published or some research with a published methodology?
Why is it so embarrassing to be seen as ‘religious’? Unless it a professional problem–security of tenure etc. I’m religious. It’s a valid platform philosophically from which I see and interpret the world. Have you read Rupert Spira’s “The Nature of Consciousness”? If not, you ought to (dare I say). And what about Bernardo Kastrup’s work. Both these gentlemen you fail to mention (conspicuously) in “Galileo’s Error” (a good piece of work btw).
Phillip – Discussing the concept of how a universal consciousness would or could be “logical” (that is; have an order to its qualia that matches the logical processing of our brains) – I have found an automatic, natural ordering that happens due to the intrinsic nature of cause and effect. Cause and effect will order things automatically. I would like to send you my 3 page covering of this topic but I do not have your email. Would you provide it to me so I can send this to you and get your feedback?
I don’t see how a multiverse hypothesis can explain fine-tuning unless we add a *lot of information* to our hypothesis — thereby diminishing its prior probability. (Not so for cosmopsychism.) It isn’t enough to have infinitely many universes (they could all be cubes), or infinitely many different universes (they could all be mindless geometries), or all conceivable universes (for that entails a contradiction: it is conceivable that there is nothing and that there is something). So far, I’ve never seen a multiverse hypothesis that explains fine-tuning without presupposing it. I’m open to new light.
I agree there’s a worry there. But if we’re thinking of the many worlds, we’d just have to have a probabilistic process in early stages of the universe which set the relevant constants, with equal probability attaching to a fairly wide range of constants, with the fine-tuned ones not singled out especially. Given it’s the many world interpretation, each of these physically possible states of affairs will be actually instantiated in some branch of possibility space.
We are bewildered with fine tuning because we are missing the first cause. Fine tuning is all about all the forces, all the movements of particles and objects. What if all the particles and objects are frozen? This one universal force moves them and if there is no universal force, then all the particles and objects remain frozen. The fine tuning forces are all from this one movement. If this universal force is of a different amount of force, then all the particles and objects will have a different level of movement, but still will have life and the appearance of fine tuning. I guess the best analogy is a box with objects inside. The objects are all static, not moving. Shake the box, and the shaking then moves all the objects inside the box. A different shaking force will still move the objects, but at different speeds. Life will still go on.
I came here from the Aeon article. Great stuff, and forgive me if the following comes off as pedantic—it is unintentional if so. However, I can’t help but lament the fact that nearly every reference I seem to encounter to the theistic rationale makes moral attributions and personifications to the supposed deity, making what is a nearly ubiquitous conflation between a deity (an ineffable higher power), proper, and a namby-pamby papa in the sky. The concept of an impersonal, ineffable higher power which lies outside of human comprehension never gets a fair shot; instead, we are left with a quaint reduction of the theistic explanation down to a moralistic, religious entity in the heavens who must, for some reason or other, be accountable to us apes for a justification of good and evil. This simplification obviously throws the theistic approach out the window, of course, and all we are left with is the multiverse theory. In my opinion, the multiverse theory is quite viable indeed, but such a simple dichotomy needn’t be made. From a philosophical perspective, it seems to me it would be fairer to present the theistic approach free of religious framing: Why utilize the problem of evil—a moral question—as a means to dismiss the theistic approach right off the bat? Why would a higher power need to be held to trial for the existence of evil? Why would a higher power need to be “good” to begin with?
Of course, one can very well argue that if a higher power is entirely ineffable, there’s not much use discussing it at all. Still, I think the endless commingling of the unadulterated philosophical theistic concept with the anthropomorphic god of human monotheism only serves to pollute the conversation.
I’m currently working on a book exploring middle ground between atheism and the omni-God, so perhaps that will be of interest
I look forward to reading that. Thank you for your reply.
James, thereis an other approach and it has a physical reasoning behind it. Consider that electrons are omnipresent (even in the proton of which it can be expelled). That brings the possibility that only one program is needed to have everything evolve. Off course this program has been tested and thought over before it started (the many worlds). The point is\becomes; how does one cope with this program that is not being told and does not show any future. The answer(s) are to take the maximal accountability for yourself and to become as little a “usefull idiot” as possible. Which is the optimal w2ay of living anyway. One doesn’t need all the talking, philosophy and whatever to come to terms. A men
Hi Phil refer to an article by you I recently read in Aeon. Referring to Newton’s gravitational equation, you said that physics only tells us about the relationship between force and mass, but doesn’t tell us what they actually are.
We all have been struck by objects of considerable mass and have thus been subjected to considerable force. This is how we know what force and mass are.
I like mystery. Can you please tell me what else there is to know.
haha, nice thought! I’d say that such experiences convey to use what mass *does* but not what it *is*
By their deeds shall ye know them. Seriously is their anything more to mass other than what it does?
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