Universe or Multiverse?

Universe or Multiverse? cover

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Universe or Multiverse?, edited by Bernard Carr. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

The idea that there may be many universes other than the one we occupy has become a popular scientific speculation. This 517 page anthology “address[es] these issues and describe[s] recent developments . . . represent[ing] the full spectrum of views, from enthusiastic support of the multiverse to outright scepticism.”
I have always had an aptitude for math and science. I attended engineering school on scholarship for a year before dropping out to pursue the spiritual path. Although I previously read In Search of the Multiverse by John Gribbin, this book proved to be a quite difficult read since it contains much scientific jargon and mathematical equations I could not follow. Yet it explores the issue with more depth and breadth.
As Martin Redfern wrote in Science, People and Politics, “This book really does lie at the frontier of cosmology, philosophy and possibly even theology. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to consider these ideas in depth.”
Vedic based literature describes the creation of innumerable universes. Therefore, I am open to the idea of many universes and find it compatible with my views. However, current scientific thought on this subject stems from an atheistic desire to explain our existence in this Universe without having to resort to a creator who set it and its laws in motion.
I am also comfortable with the idea of this being the Universe and the spiritual universe comprises an alternate reality interpenetrating the Universe and us. Since this Universe is all we know and will ever know, any talk of what lies beyond it is pure speculation whether it comes from a theological or so-called scientific argument for its existence.
I will present my position by quoting the “active and eminent researchers in the field” that I agree with on certain points.
In his introduction, professor of mathematics and astronomy Bernard Carr says, “physics has revealed a unity about the Universe which makes it clear that everything is connected in a way which would have seemed inconceivable a few decades ago. (11)” Mystics have been aware of this for millennia. Science is finally catching up. He continues:
Despite the growing popularity of the multiverse proposal, it must be admitted that many physicists remain deeply uncomfortable with it. The reason is clear: the idea is highly speculative and, from both a cosmological and a particle physics perspective, the reality of a multiverse is currently untestable. . . .
For these reasons, some physicists do not regard these ideas as coming under the purvey of science at all. Since our confidence in them is based on faith and aesthetic considerations (for example mathematical beauty) rather than experimental data, they regard them as having more in common with religion than science. . . . Indeed, Paul Davies regards the concept of a multiverse as just as metaphysical as that of a Creator who fine-tuned a single universe for our existence. (14)
To the hard-line physicist, the multiverse may not be entirely respectable, but it is a least preferable to invoking a Creator. Indeed anthropically inclined physicists like Susskind and Weinberg are attracted to the multiverse precisely because it seems to dispense with God as the explanation of cosmic design. . . . Indeed, Neil Manson has described the multiverse as ‘the last resort for the desperate atheist.’ . . . On the other hand, science itself cannot deal with such issues, and it seems unlikely that — even in the extended form required to accommodate the multiverse — science will ever prove or disprove the existence of God. (16)
Convictions about God’s existence must surely come from ‘inside’ rather than ‘outside’ and even those eminent physicists who are mystically inclined do not usually base their faith on scientific revelations. (17)
Multiverses may be useful in explanatory terms, but arguments for their existence are ultimately of a philosophical nature. (25)
Many people have promoted the multiverse hypothesis as the atheistic alternative to a theistic explanation of the fine-tuning of the cosmos for the existence of life. (27)
Physicist Frank Wilczek wrote:
Thus, life appears to depend upon delicate coincidences that we have not been able to explain. . . . The happy coincidences between life’s requirements and nature’s choices of parameter values might just be a series of flukes, but one could be forgiven for beginning to suspect that something deeper is at work. That suspicion is the first deep root of anthropic reasoning. (45)
Physicist John F. Donoghue wrote:
Let us be philosophical for a moment. Anthropic arguments and invocations of the multiverse can sometimes border on being non-scientific. You cannot test for the existence of other domains in the Universe outside the one visible to us — nor can you find a direct test of the Anthropic Principle. This leads some physicists to reject anthropic and multiverse ideas as being outside of the body of scientific thought. (241)
Physicist Viatcheslav Mukhanov wrote: “One has to accept that physics does not describe the world ‘out there’ and its purpose is only to bring some order to our perceptions of the world. (269)” I thought the role of science was to describe the world out there or objective reality, and religion’s role was to bring order, make sense, give meaning. It seems some scientists have dismissed God and established a new religion with them as its high priests who know the proper incantations or formulas/equations/theories that make sense of everything even if we mere mortals have no idea what they are talking about.
Brandon Carter of the Observatorie de Paris wrote:
Although their ultimate purpose is to account for (and even predict) events, i.e. things that actually happen, physical (and other) theories are mainly concerned with what I shall refer to as eventualities, meaning things that may or may not actually happen. (286)
In discussions of their different opinions about what is appropriate in cosmological contexts, authors such as Hawking and Vilenkin tend to use the definite article for what they call ‘the’ state of the universe, but the reasoning I am developing here would suggest that such definiteness is unjustifiable, and that the most that is reasonable would be to propose ‘an’ a priori probability operator. (296)
I am in full agreement with Carter when he writes:
This is in conformity with the precept that questions of ontology are of a theological nature that is beyond the scope of ordinary science (whose modest ambition is to account for appearances, and not for ultimate reality, whatever that may mean). (300)
The only eventualities about whose reality we can be sure are the conscious perceptions in our own minds (of which some, namely those occurring in dreams, are evidently uncorrelated with anything outside). . . . It seems reasonable to postulate the validity of Page’s principle, according to which conscious perceptions are the only eventualities that can be considered actually to happen. (304)
This means that if I consciously conceive of Braj, it is as real as anything else that I may consciously perceive.
The set of such perceptions (not just yours and mine, but also those of everyone else) can be described as objective, and it is the only thing in the theory that can be considered to be real. (306)
This is the question of the nature of what I have referred to as a perceptor, whose actual perceptions are the only entities within the model that are considered to be real (which is not to deny the reality, in some theological sense, of other entities beyond the scope of the model). . . .
Is the perceptor unique? The notion that all anthropic observers might just be avatars of a single perceptor will not seem strange to anyone familiar with oriental (Hindu or Buddhist) religious tradition. . . . The obvious Wheelerian epithet for the succinct encapsulation of this idea — namely that we all share the same abstract identity — is solipsism without solipsism. . . .
Nevertheless, in the framework of the occidental (Judaeo-Christian-Islamic) religious tradition, it might seem more natural to suppose that there are many distinct perceptors. (308)
Whether — as in the oriental version of the anthropic interpretation — there is a unique perceptor, or whether — as in the occidental version — the number of perceptors is large (even compared with the number of anthropic observers) — is an issue that belongs to the realm of theology rather than science. (309)
From my Universalist Radha-Krishnaism perspective, we may all be one perceptor in that we are all embodiments of Radha-Krishna or we may be many since we are simultaneously different from Radha-Krishna.
One thereby obtains an interpretation of quantum mechanics that is compatible with Einstein’s desideratum that ‘God does not play dice’, in the sense that uncertainty is no longer involved at an objective global level, but arises only at the subjective level of particular perceptions. It could therefore be said that we play dice, but God does not! (317)
Next, physicist Lee Smolin wrote:
I have felt for many years about how otherwise sensible people, some of whom are among the scientists I most respect and admire, espouse an approach to cosmological problems — the Anthropic Principle (AP) — that is easily seen to be unscientific. By calling it unscientific I mean something very specific, which is that it lacks a property necessary for any scientific hypothesis — that it be falsifiable. (323)
I will discuss this in some detail below, but — put briefly — there is a vast logical difference between taking into account a known fact (e.g. that most of the galaxy is empty space) and arguing from a speculative and unproven premise (e.g. that there is a large ensemble of unseen universes). . . . To the extent that they are causally disjoint, we have no ability to make observations in universes other than our own. (324)
Thus, so long as we prefer a science based on what can be rationally argued from shared evidence, there is an ethical imperative to examine only hypotheses that lead to falsifiable theories.  (326)
It is not surprising that some theologians and scientists take the complexity problem as evidence that our universe was created by a benevolent God. They argue that if the best efforts of science lead to an understanding of the laws of nature within which there is choice, and if the choices that lead to a universe with intelligent life are extremely improbable, the very fact that such an improbable choice was made is evidence for intention. (338)
Mathematician George Ellis wrote:
An important point is that, in order for an ensemble with varied properties to explain fine-tuning, it must be an actually existing ensemble and not a potential or hypothetical one. This is essential for any such anthropic argument. (389)
The implication is that the supposed existence of true multiverses can only be a metaphysical assumption. It cannot be a part of science, because science involves experimental or observational tests to enable correction of wrong theories. However, no such tests are possible here because there is no relevant causal link.
A belief that is justified by faith, unsupported by direct or indirect evidence, should be clearly identified as such, so that one knows precisely what one is being asked to support. I suggest the claim that properly disjoint multiverses exist is a metaphysical one, which by its very nature, can never become a scientific one. (400)
Gardner puts it this way: “There is not the slightest shred of reliable evidence that there is any universe other than the one we are in. No multiverse theory has so far provided a prediction that can be tested. As far as we can tell, universes are not even as plentiful as two blackberries.” The existence of multiverses is neither established nor scientifically establishable. The concept is justified by philosophy rather than science. They have explanatory power, but the philosophical nature of their justification must be appreciated. (407)
Vatican researcher William R. Stoeger, S.J. wrote:
Though there has been much discussion of the Anthropic Principle (AP) over the last 35 years or so, it is still a very tantalizing and controversial subject, on the boundary between scientific cosmology and philosophy. (445)
It is important in this regard to note that there is a general consensus that the acceptability of any appeal to multiverses depends on there being a testable theory which independently predicts their existence. This requirement is crucial and must be kept in mind in evaluating these theories and in contemplating their use in anthropic arguments. (450)
If we have a final theory that still allows some ‘play’ in the laws of nature, then a theological answer in terms of intentional action by a divine agent or Creator is certainly acceptable, as long as we are allowing ourselves to go beyond the natural sciences and admit a theological or metaphysical frame of reference. Science can neither support nor exclude such a conclusion. It cannot even adjudicate the question. (456)
This is why I have no respect for scientists who attack God and religion based on their supposed enlightened scientific understanding. They are simply fundamentalist evangelists for atheism, which is no more provable than theism. I prefer panentheism which works as well or better than the theistic solution to the strong anthropic principle.
Philosopher Robin Collins wrote:
However, in wider-ranging philosophical discussions of the multiverse hypothesis — as found in various books on the topic — the issue arises as to what is the relation between the multiverse hypothesis and much larger philosophical issues, particularly whether reality is ultimately impersonal or personal in nature. In such contexts, the multiverse hypothesis is often presented as the atheistic alternative to a theistic explanation — such as that offered by John Polkinghorne — of the purported fine-tuning of the cosmos for intelligent life. (459)
I take the theistic hypothesis to be the claim that an omnipotent and omniscient being is ultimately responsible for the existence of the Universe. The concept of God I will assume is the standard so-called Anselmian one, according to which God is defined as the greatest possible being, but this is not essential to my argument. It is often claimed that this conception of God is central to all of the world’s theistic religious traditions — Islam, Judaism, Christianity and theistic versions of Hinduism. (459-60)
I will argue not only that theism is compatible with the universe-generator version of the multiverse hypothesis, but also that theists might even have reasons for preferring a multiverse over a single universe. Since within the world’s theistic traditions, God is considered infinite and infinitely creative, it makes sense that creation would reflect these attributes, and hence that physical reality might be much larger than one universe. Further, it makes sense that an infinitely creative God might create these many universes via some sort of universe-generator, since arguably this would be somewhat more elegant and ingenious than just creating them ex nihilo. (460)
Again, we have Hindu descriptions of Vishnu creating innumerable universes in the medium of the causal ocean. Perhaps the ancient seers were on to something the scientists are just catching up with.
Indeed, the fact that the multiverse scenario fits well with an idea of an infinitely creative God, and that so many factors in contemporary cosmology and particle physics conspire together to make an inflationary multiverse scenario viable, should give theists good reason to consider a theistic version of it. (461)
Fine-tuning has been widely claimed to provide evidence of, or at least suggest, some sort of divine design of the Universe. . . . Using what could be called the ‘surprise principle’, it follows that the existence of intelligent-life-permitting values for the constants provides evidence in favour of theism over the non-design, non multiverse hypothesis. (462)
Essentially, the argument is that if God is good — an assumption that is part of classical theism — then it is not surprising that God would create a world with intelligent beings, because the existence of such beings has positive value, at least under the theistic hypothesis. . . . I think that at minimum one has to admit that it is in no way arbitrary or ad hoc to hold that God has the desire to bring about states of goodness and beauty. (463)
In sum, even if an inflationary multiverse-generator exists, it must involve just the right combination of laws, principles and fields for the production of life-permitting universes; if one of the components were missing or different . . . it is unlikely that any life-permitting universes could be produced. . . . Thus, it does not seem that one can completely escape the suggestion of design merely by hypothesizing some sort of multiverse-generator. (466)
Many scientists feel very uncomfortable, if not hostile, to linking science and religion. As many leading historians have pointed out, however, natural theology and religion were closely linked with scientific practice, and indeed provided much of the inspiration for scientific work, until the late nineteenth century.
This unease with a science/religion dialogue extends to an unease with publicly discussing anything metaphysical at all in relation to science, including such topics as the anthropic principle and the multiverse hypothesis. On careful analysis of the overall purpose of doing science, however, I think it becomes clear that scientists should be talking about these issues, and doing so in dialogue with other thinkers, such as philosophers and theologians. (476-77)
I hope this chapter provides some understanding of why a theist might not only be sympathetic to the multiverse hypothesis, but might even see some of the findings of physics and cosmology as supportive of theism. (478)
Astrobiologist Paul Davies wrote:
In this section, I shall argue that, in a certain mathematical sense, the most general multiverse model (e.g. Tegmark’s Level 4 version) are ontologically equivalent to naïve deism, by which I mean the existence of a Cosmic Designer/Selector who judiciously picks a single real universe from an infinite shopping list of possible but unreal universes. Indeed, I suspect the general multiverse explanation is simply naïve deism dressed up in scientific language. Both appeal to an infinite unknown, invisible and unknowable system. . . . If I am right, then the multiverse is scarcely an improvement on naïve deism as an explanation for the physical universe. It is basically just a religious conviction rather than a scientific argument. (495)
Taken to its logical extreme, the multiverse explanation is a convincing argument for the existence of (a rather old-fashioned form of) God! This is certainly ironical, since it was partly to do away with such a God that the multiverse was originally invoked. (496)
My point is that to follow the multiverse theory to its logical extreme means effectively abandoning the notion of a rationally ordered real world altogether, in favour of an infinitely complex charade, where the very notion of ‘explanation’ is meaningless. (497)
Universe or Multiverse? explores these issues in great depth. Although a difficult read, it is well worth it for the serious student of cosmology. Order now from Amazon.com.
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One Response to “Universe or Multiverse?”

  1. Zvonimir Tosic says:

    I think terms universe and multiverse are not excluding each other, because they are both unified inside the comprehension of both inside us. Thus any idea of multiverse is indeed universe again, or ‘combined into one (experience)’. Even our world outside, our streets, cities and homes, are multiverses — all people have different ideas about the same, yet they all individually share the sense of ‘one experience’, or it is ‘a universe’. Multiverses are also our children — born from us but also separated from us and with their own ideas. Yet with them we can share experience — we are inside same ‘experiential universe’.

    Since we can only speculate about the experience of reality other than what we consciously testify (we cannot objectively prove it) we create ‘alternate universes’ and populate them with our expectations. A cluster of such universes may constitute a ‘multiverse’. But that experience, or imagination of ours which can indeed be as real as the experience gathered through our senses here and now, is unified within us.

    The idea of multiple universes from Vedic opus has evolved and came to stage as the society and its beliefs evolved. Beliefs have followed achievements in disciplines of mathematics, physics, providing them with a new vocabulary and a theatre for novel expressions. In Sanskrit terms, jagat, or universe, meant simply ‘world’, or, ‘this experience’. But because we can naturally speculate, imagine, and somehow feel (or perhaps desire out of loneliness?) that there must be something more than this experience, an idea of alternate universes, or multiverses, naturally follows. The problem is also with translators and audience, who see and interpret things in scripture based on their modern knowledge, and they cannot forget all they know today, and translate old terms without spoiling them with their own comprehension.

    But I’d say that feature of our consciousness is more important to understand, than whether the idea of multiverses — as we comprehend them today — really existed millennia ago. It probably didn’t, but we *want* to see traces of it. Because we see ourselves there — we have an ability to project us there.

    As the science and humanities progress on a timeline, and as our comprehension based on commonly shared knowledge of our race expands, we’ll see all new forms of embellishments and additions to our beliefs, we’ll see them in our arts, in all new frontiers discovered in all walks of life.

    We can certainly say they come from our old selves, or in other words, from our forefathers and foremothers, that they had initiated a certain idea. And we’ll be right, of course, and feel them as our own. But even that feature of our consciousness is more important to understand, and can tell us more about ‘who’ or ‘what’ actually experiences, and what ‘experience’ is. Illustratively, we can see a “ghostly image”, or “a pattern of behaviour”, inside the many of our perceptions of reality.

    And we do need science in our society, more than ever, to endlessly try to objectivise the image of reality and its laws we can commonly share without fight. Thus when scientists reject certain a priori conclusions, it’s not because they lack imagination, but because that experience cannot be objectivised, commonly understood, proven and shared, and therefore may lead to a conflict.

    Too many people have died in vain because of a priori accusations, too much damage done to this world, and too dark an image of it has been created inside human imagination without trying to comprehend, honestly and objectively, what this indeed is all about … and share that conclusion with indisputable evidence, and very hard, selfless thinking.

    And that is the test of spiritual maturity too; rejecting selflessly one’s premature idea about the unprovable can save millions, can save the nature, although we may be potentially right in some of the premises. However, even one wrong decimal in the equation of life means an infinity of error. Without a good proof, and without common participation in it through a wholesome experience of it, at that time it is nothing but a (potentially dangerous) dream.