Friday, September 03, 2010

Of the nature and State of Man, with respect to the Universe

Say first of God above, or man below,
What can we reason, but from what we know?

-Alexander Pope-

Of course those of the Age of Reason had no idea of the size of the universe and the English language has no word to describe just how much bigger the visible universe is in comparison. Indeed they did know that it wasn't as the ancients thought: our floating planet covered by a rotating bowl with lights affixed, above which gods lived -- a bowl so close that it was possible for bronze age people to reach it by building a tower. Intimations they had, that a universe vast enough to include other suns, other worlds, could not have been designed to be a place for humans; a place for humans to dominate; a place designed for no other purpose.
Ask for what end the heavenly bodies shine,
Earth for whose use? Pride answers, 'Tis for mine

The Anthropic Principle suggests otherwise. As Steven Hawking says, it simply states that the suitability of Earth for life on Earth is self explanatory: any form of intelligent life that evolves anywhere will automatically find that it lives somewhere suitable for it. If existence wasn't created for us, that's one less ineffable mystery that needs to be dressed up in godlike robes.

Indeed, 16th century astronomer Jerome Wolf wrote to Tycho Brahe that the "infinite size and depth of the Universe" ( if only he knew how close to infinite it is) was the greatest danger to Christianity. Fortunately for that enterprise, most today still haven't grasped that size and what it says about the irrelevance of Human values and indeed the importance of anything to do with us.

What we've come to know about the nature of reality; about what the meaning of is is, has presented us with a landscape more vast and more inaccessible to the public grasp than is the 14 billion light year fraction of what is that we can see. There are whole dimensions that we can't see and can't come close to comprehending and what we can see and comprehend is little more than the shadows in Plato's cave. That everything in this infinite universe can be attached to a two dimensional membrane floating in 11 dimensional space/time requires more than fasting, chanting, meditation and drugs to become apparent keeps reality well out of the reach of all of us. Certain conclusions about it however, are hard to avoid without avoiding the entire question of just why is is. To my admittedly limited mind, questions of creation, of entities involved with creation, entities beyond the properties of matter and energy and dimension and in what places they exist, are absurd. Isn't it absurd to discuss the number of angels that can dance on a pinhead without being able to ascribe any characteristics or properties necessary to their existence? And of course we cannot without dragging them into a place of scrutiny, which is impossible.

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatum

Said old William, hundreds of years before the Enlightenment; don't create entities if you don't have to, yet we're still doing it. We're still creating creators, plugging the ever narrowing gaps in our ability to explain nature with gods and demons and angels and disembodied spirits, although it's long since become obvious that we don't need gods of gravity or electricity or of the nuclear forces. We don't need gods to determine why and when it will rain or to give purpose to earthquakes and storms or to make it very important to the cosmos that we worship a certain god and avoid another or refrain from sleeping with the wrong people or obtain knowledge reserved for the gods.

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is Man

What we see as energy and matter and time are properties of other phenomena, not results of conscious or unconscious entities that create and control them. We don't need to create them to explain what is otherwise explained by what we can demonstrate and we can demonstrate that random fluctuations of that fabric which manifests itself in all things can more easily do what the old consciousness needed to create entities to create.

Stephen Hawking's soon to be released book claims that existence explains itself, that there is no need to invoke entities for which existence contains no place and allows no properties to explain the spontaneous origin or virtual particles or indeed that tiny part of an infinite thing called existence. If indeed, current theory is correct, there are such an infinite number of conditions that can be called universes, inaccessible from one another, all our religions become absurd. In such isness, the creation of ever more universes is an inevitable result of the nature of is. No nebulous incorporeal entities need apply.
And in spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear: whatever is, is right

M-Theory is hard to grasp. OK, it's damned near impossible, but as theories do, it predicts outcomes otherwise not predictable. Hawking has come to embrace it as it makes the singularities embedded in classical theories nugatory. It makes it unnecessary to postulate something existing before time that caused time to start, for instance. It makes it unneccesary to postulate the entire idea of anything before time.
"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going,"
Hawking writes in the introduction. Indeed, it's no longer necessary to explain the tides, the winds, the orbits of bodies in space, lightening or the nearly infinite number of gaps in our knowledge in which gods once found refuge.

If there are no more gaps for our gods to hide in, no more firmaments to divide heaven and earth, what then will become of them? Perhaps we'll find him in the one place we have never looked. In ourselves. If universes can be self-creating by virtue of physical law, cannot we be self creating in terms of what we wish to be?

History says no, Glenn Beck thinks it leads to death camps, theologians trip over their tongues trying to show how even if there isn't a God or any place for him or anything he could do if he could -- there is a God. Personally I prefer the freedom of knowing nothing matters for very long; nothing a hundred billion years of time won't wash away. I prefer to think that only the free can be moral, only the mortal can be compassionate and only in our transience can we find glory.


Peter G Kinnon said...

Hawkins’ book actually proves nothing. There is no more hard evidence for Hawkins' own wild fantasies than the rather silly notion of a god. The latter idea being merely a legacy of the many superstitious myths passed down from primitive peoples.
Firstly let me point out an irritating and very common popular misperception . Stephen Hawkins is NOT a scientist.
He is a theoretical physicist and in common with others of his kind (Brian Greene and Lee Smolin, for instance) must properly be viewed as a science fiction writer who mostly uses the simple language of mathematics for his works.
You see, science is an evidence-based domain.
And there is not the slightest shred of hard evidence for, say, the eleven spatial dimensions at present favoured by string theorists. Or of the "branes" beloved of Hawkins. I am not knocking these people. The world needs dreamers. Science fiction, whether written in mathematics or natural language, is a playground of the imagination from which important ideas that correspond to the real world sometimes emerge. But until any ideas are backed up by evidence they are certainly not part of science.
But to address the main topic, Hawkins' latest natural language interpretation, “The Grand Design”. We at last see him starting to break away from the quasi-religious mindset, strangely so common among theoretical physicists. Unfortunately he then launches back into the SF realm of "M" theory. Not only is this completely devoid of evidence, it, like the Everett model of parallel universes, is extraordinarily extravagant.
This contrasts with the evolutionary model of our observed universe which is described in my book "Unusual Perspectives". Although certainly allowing of the speculation of a multiplicity of universes, UP offers much greater parsimony, and, for its primary theme, a solid evidential basis.
My present work "The Goldilocks Effect" is a rather more straightforward treatment of this evolutionary model and will be soon ready for publication. Meanwhile, "Unusual Perspectives" is available in its entirety for free download from the eponymous website.

Capt. Fogg said...

I'm surprised you've read it since it hasn't been released yet. Yes, I know he's not a scientist, nor was Newton or Einstein.

I agree that M-theory isn't exactly ready for prime time and may well go the way of the ether or phlogiston, but that's Ed Whitten's baby, not Hawking's. It's interesting to a layman like me because it seems to deal with troublesome singularities, but yes, I know -- convenience isn't an argument else I'd have to argue for the divine.

My interest in this matter however isn't pegged to that theory, nor am I one to defend it. I'm nowhere near up to the task. I'm not going to sneer at anyone who doesn't think there are 11 dimensions the way people who don't think there's a God are sneered at.

My position is that there is no need to invoke the supernatural to explain the natural and that although we really don't understand existence or its origin if there is one, there's less and less need to postulate and less and less room for anything one could honestly call God. I'm not talking about proof, only a growing preponderance of evidence for other explanations that demands respect rather than derision for science from mythology based alternate cosmologies.

I look forward to reading your book

Baltazar said...

One thing to say for 'the Earth is flat if you sail off the edge you get eaten by fire breathing dragons' its easy to understand.

Capt. Fogg said...

Well, of course you will and it will be Obama's fault if you do.