The Big Bang Is Hard Science. It Is Also a Creation Story.
May 19, 2015 8:13 PM   Subscribe

 
"And then the big mystery, the one that keeps the priests and the physicists up at night: no cosmologist has a clue why there is something rather than nothing."

Rather a dark matter.
posted by clavdivs at 8:27 PM on May 19, 2015 [19 favorites]


It is infinitely probable that there be something rather than nothing.
posted by Gin and Comics at 8:30 PM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Because there are so many more ways to have something rather than nothing?

That's like saying it's more likely that my pockets are filled with coins than that they are empty.

HINT: NOT NECESSARILY TRUE.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:33 PM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Who's this going around saying there's something?
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 8:36 PM on May 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


It is infinitely probable that there be something rather than nothing.

Isn't it also an equally infinite probability of there being nothing rather than something?
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:39 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


And anyway, there's still apparently more nothing than something in the universe. according to our current instruments
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:41 PM on May 19, 2015


Empty space is not nothing. Nothing is not an absence or a null set. It is complete never-was-never-will-be "no thing". No space, no time, no existence, no lack of existence. Nada. Something is anything at all that you can think of, including nothing. There can't "be" nothing. If there's being, there's something.

So why is there that?
posted by haricotvert at 8:54 PM on May 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


The existence of nothing but non-existence is a logical contradiction. Therefore, Kim Kardashian.

QED.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:56 PM on May 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


Yes, it's a myth – along with atoms, &c.
posted by koeselitz at 8:58 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Where does Yeezy fit into all this?
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:04 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nothing is not an absence or a null set.

But what of it? It is a vacuous truth.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 9:14 PM on May 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


So why is there that?

To make you ask questions.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:15 PM on May 19, 2015




I think, therefore I am... I think.
Which doesn't explain the existence of so many non-thinking people.

Still the fact that it is possible to overthink a plate of beans... let alone to simply HAVE a plate of beans, is to me, incontrovertible proof that existence exists.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:23 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


To make you ask questions.

Or just to make you.
posted by haricotvert at 9:23 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Two choices: nonexistence and existence. If there's nothing, then there is no time, no space. Even if the probability of existence is infinitesimal and nonexistence infinitely large, existence is bound to happen, simply by virtue of the fact that the probability is nonzero. All else is null set. Null can continue on "forever" (despite there being no space-time) but inevitably the nonzero probability of existence will occur and then? Everything!
posted by Existential Dread at 9:24 PM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Even if the probability of existence is infinitesimal and nonexistence infinitely large, existence is bound to happen, simply by virtue of the fact that the probability is nonzero. All else is null set.

If there was truly nothing, it seems there would be no probability of anything.
posted by vorpal bunny at 9:32 PM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Exactly. And because there is, in fact, something, the probability of there being something is 100%.
posted by haricotvert at 9:38 PM on May 19, 2015


I like how Terrence McKenna put it, that the Big Bang is "science's one free miracle."
posted by 3urypteris at 9:51 PM on May 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


Even with its explanatory power, Big Bang theory takes its place in a long line of myths

I'll get over it almost instantly, but makes me a little cranky, and seems like a symptom of these dark days, to draw equivalence between scientific theory (even if it's theory that will eventually be proved wrong, because that's what happens with science) and myth or religious belief.

It is the nature of a religious belief that it cannot be proved wrong, and even if it somehow is, believers will continue to believe regardless. Because faith.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:56 PM on May 19, 2015 [23 favorites]


Born with a Bang, a children's picture book about the Big Bang. Because creation stories must be rooted in kids' minds early, and there's plenty of magic and wonder in the true story! We've also preordered Grandmother Fish, about evolution.

I mean my kids can ALSO have my lengthy explanation of the derivations of the Hebrew words in Genesis 1 and likely connections to older ancient near eastern myths. But I feel like picture books about the Big Bang is a good way to start them off.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:01 PM on May 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


A.U.! Not there beyond the sun
Breaking cosmology on the run, can you help me.

A.U. don't tell me there's no space at all

However it stands, Division is long.
posted by clavdivs at 10:25 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


let me tell you a story
posted by philip-random at 10:38 PM on May 19, 2015


Like every other bloody origin story the Big Bang theory only becomes more boring the more we navelgaze about it. It happened, that's why the universe exist, asking why is a pointless question. The role of science is to investigate and explain the universe as is, not ask for reasons. That only leads to religion.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:47 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


It happened, that's why the universe exist, asking why is a pointless question.

That sounds an awful lot like faith to me.
posted by teponaztli at 10:51 PM on May 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


The big bang theory is full of myths. That show sucks.
posted by adept256 at 10:51 PM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. The universe didn't need a God to begin; it was quite capable of launching its existence on its own." --Stephen Hawking
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:53 PM on May 19, 2015 [2 favorites]




The above-the-fold link is kinda underwhelming... the connection it makes between the Big Bang and various creation myths doesn't seem to go much further than 1) they involve separating things; earth and sky being separated in the creation myths is kinda sorta like matter and anti-matter, so I guess an indirect reference to symmetry? And 2) in creation myths various things often begin when they are named, and the Big Bang has a name. (Given to it 14 billion years subsequently rather than at its occurrence, but I guess that's just a detail...)

† He describes things differentiating into matter and anti-matter as happening "at the moment of the Big Bang", but the BICEP2 discussion last year indicated that this would have actually occurred at recombination, half a million years almost after the Big Bang, right? Maybe he's being all meta and like day-age creationism is intentionally referring to half a million years as a "moment".

Several of the other links in the OP are quite interesting, though.
posted by XMLicious at 11:06 PM on May 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Two choices: nonexistence and existence

There's subsistence and absistence too, just as ontological starters...
posted by Segundus at 11:20 PM on May 19, 2015


I mean – the Big Bang is also myth in the sense of not being true. The way most people think of it is not scientifically correct, because most people are not scientists. It's like the atom, a mythical building block of matter which consists of two different kinds of little hard balls glommed together with another smaller type of hard ball orbiting around the center like a moon around a planet. There's certainly no such thing, but that's what people believe in these days. And these myths are not, as far as I can tell, categorically superior to the old myths.
posted by koeselitz at 11:27 PM on May 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


With respect to our community, this discussion belongs in meta.

Along with the question why I keep being logged out? (For the record autocorrect was loved out)
posted by Samuel Farrow at 12:01 AM on May 20, 2015


And these myths are not, as far as I can tell, categorically superior to the old myths.

This is a rhetorically important point and why so many anti-science types can, ultimately, say their sky god is just as good an explanation for the universe and everything as our 14 billion year old explosion.

Which leads us to: The role of science is to investigate and explain the universe as is, not ask for reasons. That only leads to religion.

And that is IMO precisely the problem here (apologies Martin). I would posit that "explaining the universe as it" is necessary but not sufficient. People need reasons for all kinds of things like codes of laws and changing outdated moral norms and recipes for shellfish and why it's a really bad idea to mix plaids with stripes.

Inquiry is inherently valuable, yes, but only inasmuch as inquiry in general provides us with good or better reasons to do or not do X, Y or Z. If the arguably the most important scientific inquiry we can undertake - why does the universe exist? - has no more rhetorical weight than the sky god's book, then that inquiry alone is insufficient because it gives us no reason to have faith in how we conduct all our other inquiries. Thus the Big Bang is becomes a big problem; it becomes ammunition against scientific inquiry itself.

I agree with koeselitz (despite losing this argument other places) that our current faith in the scientific method is not epistemologically privileged nor can it ever be ontologically privileged. But it's by far the most just, equitable and progressive way we've ever developed to engage with the world. So from an ethical standpoint we are obliged to not dismiss the problems our current cosmology presents as some above have rather blithely done.
posted by digitalprimate at 12:03 AM on May 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


tl;dr: people need reasons; I'd rather have science provide them than religion; and the Big Bang is scarily hard for most people to distinguish from religious belief at our current level of understanding.
posted by digitalprimate at 12:09 AM on May 20, 2015


I think Billy Preston summed it all up tightly in this song

alternately
posted by philip-random at 12:12 AM on May 20, 2015


As an ontological nihilist, the illusion of myself finds, or would find if he existed, all the spurious things that appear to be people posting about the question of why there is something rather than nothing faintly ridiculous, since the illusions of you all are skipping over the obvious fact, or rather what would be the obvious fact (if there were any facts) that the reason the question, insofar as it exists, appears so hard to answer is because, despite all the appearances of something, there is in fact only nothing.

Now pseudo-you may be quasi-thinking: hey, there's no evidence for ontological nihilism. But really, when you get down to it, isn't the lack of evidence itself a point in its favor?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:43 AM on May 20, 2015 [22 favorites]


There's a lot of faith here that science is good: this of course is true for lefty Americans. But it wasn't true for Victorian Englishmen (statistics, evolution => racism and imperialism) to give one other obvious example. Bad people can use science too, both for power and to justify their causes.

If we stop seeing science as a moral underpinning, and as a tool we apes can use, do we stop worrying so much about its philosophy? Philosophy/religion is a different domain from science.

Science is a tool anyone is able to pick up and use any time, for good or ill.
posted by alasdair at 1:36 AM on May 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


But it wasn't true for Victorian Englishmen (statistics, evolution => racism and imperialism) to give one other obvious example. Bad people can use science too, both for power and to justify their causes.

Note that the solution to your particular example was more science, proving the old science to be incorrect.
posted by Etrigan at 2:33 AM on May 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Puddle.

Only if there were something would someone be able to speculate as to why there might be something.
posted by idiopath at 3:18 AM on May 20, 2015


There is something because nothing is unstable.
posted by tgyg at 3:32 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Y'all are going to be sorry when you're destroyed on the lathe of heaven.
posted by sonascope at 3:34 AM on May 20, 2015


"I mean – the Big Bang is also myth in the sense of not being true. The way most people think of it is not scientifically correct, because most people are not scientists."

I'm not sure what way most people think of it. Do they just think of it as an explosion into the pre-existing vacuum of infinite space? Maybe so -- and, if so, that's a pretty big misunderstanding. I'm not sure that this writer doesn't think this.

I mean, the apparent red shift of galaxies was a big clue. Within the context of General Relativity and, importantly, that this expansion was isotropic gives us the expanding universe (not an explosion of matter into an existing empty universe) and, yeah, that was a big deal in 1930. Lemaître deserves a lot of credit.

But calling this initial hypothesis about an expanding universe the "Big Bang" is like referring to Darwinian natural selection and speciation when he formulated these ideas as "evolution". Those were early -- very promising -- ideas that needed a lot more evidence and elaboration.

The real important finding was the cosmic microwave background radiation in the sixties. This is basically the light of the Big Bang itself -- that light was, naturally, everywhere in the universe and as the universe has expanded, the wavelength has been lengthened as the space within which the light exists has "stretched", which also means its energy density has fallen equally proportionally. So it's now a long-wavelength, low intensity light that is everywhere.

Such a relic radiation was predicted by the early models of a Big Bang. The attempts to calculate an age of the universe via the apparent redshift of distant galaxies proved to be tricky, but that gave us a range of possibilities within a few orders of magnitude. And when we found the CMB, that roughly corresponds to what we'd expect within that range. So the CMB was predicted and (roughly) agreed with observations and theory. That was a big deal.

But that's still only the end of the first part. Much of the important work happened after this. The CMB isn't, as it happens, isotropic. It's pretty even, but not perfectly even. And that's important because attempts to model the physics of the early universe necessarily had to be all about very high energy particle physics, where we get quantum stuff. And those models predicted that there'd be some small fluctuations of energy density in the very early universe that would be preserved and amplified as the universe expanded. Thus these slight but evident irregularities. That also led toward looking at such modeling of the early universe more carefully. And so the models of the inflationary universe -- which is a very important stage of the first moments of the universe -- came to be elaborated.

The thing is -- this is not some minimal-data, speculative hypothesis. At this point, there's a preponderance of evidence across all sorts of subdisciplines that validate it and fit well within a highly elaborated theory. It's a "theory" in the sense of "scientific theory", which means that it's a fact, not a hypothesis.

It's not a "myth". Not in what "myth" popularly connotes. I don't have a problem with characterizing it as a myth in the sense that you are implying -- like the vast majority of popularly disseminated scientific facts and narratives about nature, they are in the popular imagination more effectively varieties of myth than they are science. This is true of the Big Bang, but it's also true about why water turns to steam when it boils or how planes fly or what fire is. Most people poorly understand these things at best, and most don't understand them at all, they might know them as repeated "facts" but with zero comprehension. So if the Big Bang is a myth, most everything popularly known as "science" is a myth. Which isn't really a useful criteria for discussing mythology.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:37 AM on May 20, 2015 [23 favorites]


Mathematics plays a part in all this. The further science extends our understanding of the cosmos from our immediate experiences, the more it depends on mathematics that does not mesh with those experiences. For most of us, that's the language of a foreign country with the added complication that the people there aren't talking about things we have knowledge of. Even in Finland people talk about food, drink, elk and frostbite, and we all know what those are. Eigenvectors and field theory? Wave equations and complex numbers?

The practical difference between science and faith is that there is always a line of logic and evidence from there to here, and you are invited to inspect it and positively encouraged to pick holes in it. That's not such a difference as may appear - the rabbinical tradition of dispute operates in much the same way - so the empirical aspect of demonstrating 'correctness' is doubly important. (But no scientist worth their salt will ever claim that even a massive body of experimental evidence shows that something is 'correct', just that it's the best cut so far and will take some shifting.) And when you get into singularities, then even empiricism and logic get strained to breaking point: we have no guarantee that all of reality is pervious to our ape brains, no matter how cleverly we augment them. But no religion is anywhere near weird enough to offer a plausible alternate path into that part of the forest.

So for someone like me, who considers science the best effort of humanity to date to practically transcend our biological and social limitations but is not a scientist and is effectively illiterate in most of the interesting maths, then a lot of science is indistinguishable from faith - excepting for the empirical part Supernatural religions are really, really bad at predicting physical events, whereas science routinely says "go here, find this". New Horizons really is speeding towards Pluto. Tiktaalik was patiently waiting for us in the Devonian river sediments of Nunavut. Tunnelling electrons really can help store your Taylor Swift collection on a fingernail-snippet of silicon. You don't need to believe in these things or understand orbital mechanics, phylogenetics or quantum theory for them to be true.

And as for the problem that deep science is too weird for mortals, I think that changes too. We've had a few generations now where quantum physics and relativity have gone from utterly alien concepts to the general public to being part of the furniture, and the "How can a photon be a wave AND a particle? That's impossible! Brain reject! Brain reject!" has moved on to "So it's got bits of both but is neither. Cool." Or so it seems, looking back at the way such things were reported in the 50s through to now.
posted by Devonian at 3:39 AM on May 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


In the modern world, we are instead told a convincing scientific story: Big Bang theory, first proposed in 1927 by the Belgian Roman Catholic priest Georges Lemaître.

Yet Lemaître had much more interesting views on whether his Big Bang theory was a creation story or not than the ones expressed in this article:

“As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being… For the believer, it removes any attempt at familiarity with God… It is consonant with Isaiah speaking of the hidden God, hidden even in the beginning of the universe.”

Maybe I'm feeling extra twitchy tonight, but I'd much rather read an essay exploring Lemaître's lifelong dance between religion and hard science than another "Hey did you know this ancient civilization believed in duality? Other stuff has dualities too!" As if the ancient Sumerian pantheon somehow included Sakharov conditions.
posted by exact_change at 3:40 AM on May 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


How many things are there, though? Does the existence of one thing necessarily lead to an infinity of things? ANSWER ME.
posted by Zerowensboring at 4:23 AM on May 20, 2015


"How can a photon be a wave AND a particle? That's impossible! Brain reject! Brain reject!" has moved on to "So it's got bits of both but is neither. Cool."

To be honest, wave/particle duality is just the tip of the iceberg in quantum mechanics. The reason why it's so important to master the math in QM (and I don't pretend to have done so) is that without the mathematical underpinnings the whole thing is fucking crazypants.
posted by um at 4:28 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here's my problem with cosmology. If you could find a reason behind the Big Bang R(BB), then the reason itself requires a reason R(R(BB)), and that requires a reason R(R(R(BB))), and so on, until you cut things off and decide that something exists with no reason at all. And as far as we can see, that's BB, and all the Rs you can stack on top of it don't matter at all. It's not a myth, it's just the least complicated explanation thus far.
posted by graymouser at 4:38 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


XMLicious: baryogenesis not recombination. Recombination is a lot later on.
posted by edd at 5:30 AM on May 20, 2015




"...these myths are not, as far as I can tell, categorically superior to the old myths."

Perhaps I'm hopelessly naive, but humbly striving for the truth seems plainly superior to faithful acceptance of old tales.
posted by dashDashDot at 5:44 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here's my problem with cosmology.

Here's my problem with religion. They just declare this not to be a problem, and burn you at the stake if you disagree. Cosmology accepts that there may not in fact be infinite time or an infinite universe, or that there may not be a single universe. You don't make those assumptions. You look at the evidence and accept where it goes. The very term "Big Bang" was created as an insulting term by proponents of an unending universe with either unending stars (Static) or stars that grow and die, but overall, the universe goes on (Steady State.) Novae put the end to the former right quick, the discovery what exactly the redshift meant was the first dagger in the back of Steady State, and the Holmdel Horn Antenna pretty much was the last. Everything else has been refinements.

Currently, the Big Bang theory deals with the beginnings of the only universe that really matters to us -- this one. If we find other universes and a reliable way to study them, then Cosmology will expand to include those studies.

But just as biology is currently limited to one solar system, and 99.9(some_more_nines)% limited to this planet, Cosmology is limited to this universe, because that's where the data we have is. Just making shit up ain't data, that's religion.

That's also why the Big Bang theory has limits. Before 10-43 seconds, it's all a BIG wild ass guess what's happening. We're assuming that the four fundamental forces are one, and since the entire universe is so small, quantum mechanics is the dominant regime, not general relativity, but we simply do not know. We have expermential evidence of very high energy regimes, thanks to the TeV and LHC, so we have a really good guess as to what the Universe was like well before it was one 1 second old. How much before is argued. Most agree we're good to 10-6, when protons and neutrons would have formed, many to 10-12, when the electroweak force splits out from the other forces. Some argue further back. With the LHC ramping up in power further, we're seeing higher energy states, which equates to further back in the early universe.

The thing is -- this is not some minimal-data, speculative hypothesis. At this point, there's a preponderance of evidence across all sorts of subdisciplines that validate it and fit well within a highly elaborated theory. It's a "theory" in the sense of "scientific theory", which means that it's a fact, not a hypothesis.

Exactly. The difference between the Big Bang theory and every other creation story mankind has ever built is we keep building more and more sensitive instrument to measure creation and the only thing that holds up is the Big Bang. No Turtles. No Genesis. No Gods, No Snakes, No Mud, No Songs of Illuvitar. The closest any religion anywhere got was fiat lux*, but it sure took a hell of a lot longer than a day to separate the sky from the waters -- we were billions of years away from the nitrogen and oxygen we needed for the sky and waters. Had the hydrogen though. It was a bit....hot, though. Missing an electron, too. **




* Genesis 1:3 -- Dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux (And said God Let there be light and there was light.) Point to the Hebrews for nailing that little bit of Big Bang cosmology millennia before anyone else did, but they missed details like the timescale (by about six orders of magnitude), the CMB, the expansion era, and when you look at having water the next day? Well, yeah, gotta call that a miss. But yes, "Let there be light" is as good a description of the Big Bang as any.

I use the latin rather than the Hebrew because, well, I can sort of fake my way through the Latin, I simply don't know the Hebrew, and "Fiat Fiats" is one of my favorite bad Latin jokes "Let there be Italian cars."

** I have joked to accelerator guys that a tank of hydrogen is merely a bottle of individually wrapped protons. I'm surprised at how many laugh, I'd always thought that was an obvious joke.
posted by eriko at 5:48 AM on May 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


This Stewart Lee bit has a nice reflection on cosmic origins starting around 9:00 or so. The previous nine minutes is good too, but has nothing to do with the Big Bang.
posted by sneebler at 7:06 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a lot of faith here that science is good:

As compared to the faith that philosophy and theology is good. And not just tools used to justify things that people were going to do anyway.

Science is a tool anyone is able to pick up and use any time, for good or ill.

As is philosophy and religion- and the times when scIence is situated in order to support a given religion or philosophy tend to less to unfortunate results.

The difference being that in the case of science, the notion that say, black people were inferior was disproved with further evidence. The philosophy or belief that it is God's will that women and blacks be treated as inferior, will not change based in any evidence.
posted by happyroach at 7:11 AM on May 20, 2015


there is in fact only nothing

previously :P

There is something because nothing is unstable.

also btw here's a great explanation of the higgs field employing sombreros and ping-pong balls at a party + a vat of molten iron!

Mathematics plays a part in all this.

And now for my next trick:* "Category theory is a branch of math that puts processes on an equal footing with things - unlike set theory, where everything is fundamentally a thing..."
posted by kliuless at 7:42 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of the conflict surrounding this subject comes from confusion of uses of the meaning of "why" in the questions "why is there anything" or "why did the Big Bang happen":

1. Some people are meaning "why" in a teleological sense: for what purpose did this happen?

2. Others are are meaning why as in "what is the cause"?

Science can at least attempt to address 2, but 1 is province of religion that science can't and shouldn't try to answer.

I think, though, that digitalprimate is right above, at least in a practical sense. Most people really, fundamentally want an answer to 1 and any answers to 2, however accurate, are unsatisfying by themselves, which is why people hold to their faiths.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:50 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


In my opinion, the absolute worst thing to come out of both science and religion is the (relatively) recent insistence expressed by both camps that the two things are mutually exclusive.

The perfect understanding of the workings of a watch does not preclude the existence of a watchmaker.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:56 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


The reason why it's so important to master the math in QM (and I don't pretend to have done so) is that without the mathematical underpinnings the whole thing is fucking crazypants.

My experience with mathematical underpinnings is that they don't at all preclude things from going crazypants (for most values of crazypants).
posted by weston at 8:00 AM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think Billy Preston summed it all up tightly in this song yt

alternately yt

Not to mention Mr. Preston's landmark 1972 lecture on the irresolvability of existence. yt


and ultimately, his realization that whatever's going on, the answer is out there somewhere ... and beyond words
posted by philip-random at 8:10 AM on May 20, 2015


But it wasn't true for Victorian Englishmen (statistics, evolution => racism and imperialism) to give one other obvious example. Bad people can use science too, both for power and to justify their causes.

Note that the solution to your particular example was more science, proving the old science to be incorrect.


I would be interested to know how science contributed to this.
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:15 AM on May 20, 2015


The perfect understanding of the workings of a watch does not preclude the existence of a watchmaker.
Ben Trismegistus

Isn't this specifically the Intelligent Design line of argument?
posted by Sangermaine at 8:24 AM on May 20, 2015


Isn't this specifically the Intelligent Design line of argument?

Argh. I hate the Creationists for stealing the phrase "Intelligent Design" to mean "Young-Earth-Creationism-but-we're-calling-it-something-else-to-get-around-Supreme-Court-rulings". Without all that baggage, I think "Intelligent Design" could be a reasonable idea. The way I think about it is this: There are all of these provable laws and rules in the Universe that ensure that it operates in a particular way (everything from gravity to math to evolution to whatever). For me, it takes absolutely nothing away from that science to imagine or believe that those laws and rules were put in place or otherwise kicked into motion by some sort of supernatural entity that is beyond our current powers of detection. I believe in such a system because I enjoy doing so, regardless of whether I'm empirically right or wrong. [Full disclosure: my personal belief system is a lot closer to The Force from Star Wars than the old guy with the beard in the Bible, but YMMV.]

Since these two lines of inquiry (essentially "how" vs. "why") don't necessarily need to intersect, I don't have any problem supporting both. So I reject those that say "Science is real, and therefore people of faith are idiots" (and vice versa). Hope that makes sense.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:39 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


1. Some people are meaning "why" in a teleological sense: for what purpose did this happen?

2. Others are are meaning why as in "what is the cause"?


But surely you can see that both these questions are infinite regressions. Whatever answer you arrive at for either of them, the question simulataneously arises: And what is the purpose/cause of that?
posted by haricotvert at 8:56 AM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Without all that baggage, I think "Intelligent Design" could be a reasonable idea.

perhaps we could just go with Vast Active Living Intelligence System -- VALIS for short.
posted by philip-random at 9:09 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


But surely you can see that both these questions are infinite regressions. Whatever answer you arrive at for either of them, the question simulataneously arises: And what is the purpose/cause of that?

According to Krauss and Hawkings there is no infinite regression. The universe creates itself from nothing. It's as simple as that. This is perfectly coherent to them, apparently. No need for any mythology.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:15 AM on May 20, 2015


Hawkings
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:22 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


But surely you can see that both these questions are infinite regressions. Whatever answer you arrive at for either of them, the question simulataneously arises: And what is the purpose/cause of that?
haricotvert

Well, no, I think you're misunderstanding. My point is that these are two different lines of discussion that don't necessarily cross. You can talk about the cause of the Big Bang (and the cause of the cause, and the cause of the cause of the cause...) without talking about the meaning, the teleology. That's what I meant by some people talking about "purpose". Exploring the physical mechanisms does not touch on the moral or existential questions of creation, that's for religion to ponder.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:24 AM on May 20, 2015


And then the big mystery, the one that keeps the priests and the physicists up at night: no cosmologist has a clue why there is something rather than nothing.

That's only because no cosmologist has come to me for advice. I have an excellent grasp of the bleeding obvious and would be quite happy to set them straight.

There is no big mystery at all. The reason why there is something rather than nothing is because "nothing" is a mere conceptual placeholder - a word specifically defined in such a way as to guarantee that it can never refer to an actual state of affairs. It can't even refer to a possible state of affairs, only to the absence of some such state. It's a linguistic convenience, nothing more.

The idea of nothing is itself an actually existent thing; just like every other idea, it's a pattern of activation in a brain somewhere.

The only useful answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing is that the question itself is without substance: it's a set of words that superficially resembles a question but doesn't actually ask one, like "Why is a mouse when it spins?"

The "nothing" that the question proposes as an alternative to the observed state of affairs relies on the existence of that state of affairs to give it meaning, and the act of posing the question instantly renders it moot.

To ask in all sincerity why there is something rather than nothing is to assume that all events necessarily have causes or purposes or both; that is, that relationships such as causality and purpose are essential to how things are, rather than mere conceptual tools we made up to help us model about the totality of what is and was and will be as a collection of conceptually separable pieces.

Lots of people seem to have a deep intellectual attachment to both causality and purpose, so it ought to be possible to offer rigorous definitions for both. However, I have yet to encounter one that doesn't ultimately rely on those weasliest of philosophical weasel words - "in principle" - and I have never seen an argument in support of the idea that every event must have at least one cause and/or at least one purpose that doesn't amount, on close inspection, to question-begging.
posted by flabdablet at 9:34 AM on May 20, 2015


The universe creates itself from nothing. It's as simple as that.

I have never seen a convincing argument for any such view. If you posit an earliest possible time, all that means is that the idea of "before" with respect to that time becomes meaningless, with the consequence that the idea of "creation" does as well.
posted by flabdablet at 9:37 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, positing some single event from which all observable events are "in principle" causally descended does not preclude the existence of other events contemporary with that, any more than the existence of Mitochondrial Eve precludes the existence of other female hominids contemporary with her.
posted by flabdablet at 9:41 AM on May 20, 2015


flabdablet,

You're making a lot of assumptions and implicit philosophical arguments. Not that these aren't good or valid arguments that have been presented and debated by very smart people before, but your "here's the real deal, I'm cutting through the bullshit" presentation isn't very helpful or conducive to discussion (especially your framing of such questions as bullshit spun by poseurs in your linked AskMeFi answer).

For example, your points about the nature of "nothing" were raised by the Kyoto School, specifically the ideas of Nishida Kitarō and his disciple Nishitani Keiji, which are in turn based on older concepts.

The arguments surrounding causality are literally thousands of years old, you didn't invent them, and if you want to declare that causality doesn't exist you'll need to address the arguments for it.

Your ideas aren't correct just because you say them forcefully, and they're certainly not so self-evidently true that you don't need to justify them.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:46 AM on May 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Always willing to entertain arguments against. Know of any convincing ones?
posted by flabdablet at 9:49 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


No one's going to regurgitate the history of philosophical inquiry on this issue for you. If you're really interested, here are some resources from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that give a survey:

The Metaphysics of Causation

Causal Processes

Causation and Manipulability

Probabilistic Causation

Counterfactual Theories of Causation

Wikipedia also has a good general-audience summation.

There are also entries on historical arguments such as medieval thought on causation, and the ideas of Aristotle, Hume, and Kant if you are interested.

The linked Kyoto School entry has a good discussion of the issues surrounding discussion of "nothingness", called generally meontology.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:56 AM on May 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Always willing to entertain arguments against. Know of any convincing ones?

a bit sideways to that, an old wise friend's thoughts come to mind. "I always know somebody doesn't really know what they're talking about when they say, trust me, I know, and expect that to be the end of the discussion."
posted by philip-random at 10:07 AM on May 20, 2015


perhaps we could just go with Vast Active Living Intelligence System -- VALIS for short.
posted by philip-random at 9:09 AM on May 20


God, Philip, why do you have to be such a dick?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:20 AM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


When the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there.
posted by Melismata at 10:38 AM on May 20, 2015


Any theory of causation has to begin with conceptual separation of the totality of all that is, was and will be - being itself, the undifferentiated whole, Heidegger's das sein, which also appears to be the referent of the Kyoto School's "nothingness" - into pieces: Heidegger's das Seiende, the things.

But it's that very totality that's the referent of the word "something" in "why is there something rather than nothing". Were that not so, the question becomes trivially equivalent to "why is this particular thing here and not elsewhere", and loses all its precious Bigness.

Any attempt to take the Big Question seriously, then, must involve taking the properties of that referent seriously. But as soon you do that, all distinctions disappear - including those upon which any meaning of "why" has to rely in order to remain coherent. The question undermines itself: it is therefore not a proper question, and the only thing that remains interesting about it is the question of why people believe it has an answer.

The Kyoto School's "nothingness", if I grasp the idea correctly, is the polar opposite of "nothing": it's that which is experienced in those states of consciousness that simply don't support making distinctions between things, not even the customarily fundamental distinction between observer and observed. What ceases to exist in this kind of "nothingness" is not the universe, only its conceptual separation into parts.
posted by flabdablet at 10:39 AM on May 20, 2015


Well, no, I think you're misunderstanding. My point is that these are two different lines of discussion that don't necessarily cross. .

And my point is that whichever horn of this dilemma you choose to tackle, whichever line you choose to pursue, you wind up with the same problem. Whether you ask the scientific cause or the metaphysical/religious/moral reason or purpose for any phenomenon, including existence as a whole, you are walking in the wrong direction, and you will walk in that direction forever. This does not require a PhD in philosophy to understand. If a phenomenon has a cause, you can ask, "What is the cause of that cause?" If it has a purpose, you can ask, "What is the purpose for that purpose?" And you can do this ad infinitum.

If there is a first cause for the universe, it must itself be acausal. If there is a first meaning for the universe, it must it self be without meaning. But there is nothing that we can know that would or could ever meet either criterion, because the way we understand the world is through causes and meanings. Our perceptual apparatus generates a seemingly causal, meaningful world, which we inhabit. So if there is a satisfactory answer, it must lie upstream of conceptual understanding itself, which is in fact where a multitude of thinkers -- mostly mystics, but not all -- aver that it does, indeed lie. But of course cannot be spoken of. (except 42, of course)

And to address Hawkings and Krauss's contention that the universe "creates itself from nothing" -- well, if that answer satisfies them, they are either fully enlightened beings or they are punting.
posted by haricotvert at 10:43 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


there is nothing that we can know that would or could ever meet either criterion, because the way we understand the world is through causes and meanings. Our perceptual apparatus generates a seemingly causal, meaningful world, which we inhabit.

I don't think our perceptual apparatus does that all by itself. I think it gets a great deal of help from culture, and can be taught to expand its repertoire.

Quantum mechanics rides roughshod over causality at its most fundamental level, and it works. That's a pretty solid clue that causality is not always the best conceptual tool in the box - from which it follows that questions like "what does 'meaning' mean" and "what am I actually looking for when I ask 'why'" and "do I actually require a creation story" are useful things to contemplate.
posted by flabdablet at 10:57 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


anyway, everyone knows that nothing actually exists, despite the temporary illusion of existence, and that the chief reason that we, as language users who appear to exist but don't, insist on the absurd idea that there "is" something rather than nothing "is" that rigorously using language to accurately describe the nonexistence of the world requires torturing grammar half to death in an attempt to avoid all forms of the verb "to be."

Frankly the only real dodge I've found is to talk about existence as a fictional construct; if things existed, this is how they would be, but they don't, so they aren't. It's sort of like O.J. Simpson's If I did it, but recast in terms of cosmogony.

This is, incidentally, why Neoplatonist theurgy is such an important methodology; given that nothing exists, our only path toward genuine existence is to make things exist ourselves, to (somehow) enact the (fictional) script provided to us by what appears to be (but isn't) existence, attempting — ideally through esoteric orgiastic rituals featuring bizarre props and unknown psychedelics — to generate glimmers of reality using the (fictional) materials available to us.

I mean, duh. Everyone knows this.

aaaand I have successfully outcrazied a Philip K. Dick reference. achievement unlocked!

Returning to what passes for sanity for a second, it might be useful for the less-silly conversation going on to think of science as being not a particular methodology or whatever, but instead a diverse range of methodologies made manifest through institutional structures and practices. Using this framework, "science" isn't an abstract set of rules for understanding the world, but instead a set of concrete organizations and regularized practices, set up (I think maybe) in an effort to make objects in the world speak to us, to figure out how things (digital computers, the background radiation left over from the big bang, pieces of dirt from the amazon rainforest) are or can be made active participants in our social construction of reality.

okay please correct me anyone who's actually deeply read Bruno Latour.

If we understand science as a set of research institutions rather than a set of abstract rules, we find ourselves asking different questions. Instead of, like, asking whether or why we can trust Science, we instead find ourselves asking whether, why, or how we can trust articles in Science. These questions about institutional research practices open up lines of inquiry that are somewhat, well, humble compared to the ones opened up by questions about science in the abstract, because instead of getting generalized universal answers to the question of whether or not science can be trusted to accurately describe the world, you get totally contingent answers to questions about whether particular people doing particular things using particular tools at a particular time are fruitfully generating interesting or useful relationships between things and people.

Which I guess comes back around to the vulgar-seeming, but maybe actually really important, observation that scientific research should be paid attention to not because it is necessarily generating truths about the world, but instead because on occasion the things made through it appear to work. Although this point of view would appear to privilege, like, applied sciences and engineering over pure science and mathematics, it ultimately kind of doesn't, but only for contingent, empirical reasons — because research institutions are wrapped up in the production of things that work, and because these research institutions have as part of their methodologies a tendency to privilege "pure" science as a foundation for practice, and moreover because previously useless-seeming lines of inquiry can unexpectedly become really practically useful (I'm thinking mainly of how over the course of the 20th century number theory went from being renowned for its uselessness to being extraordinarily practical), it is important to continue the various rituals involved in the production of math and pure science.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:58 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


everyone knows that nothing actually exists

I don't know that.
posted by flabdablet at 10:59 AM on May 20, 2015


I don't know that.
posted by flabdablet at 10:59 AM on May 20 [+] [!]


well, sure, but that's just because you don't exist.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:03 AM on May 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's not that there's nothing. It's just that there's nothing but me.
posted by Splunge at 11:06 AM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Therefore: CAKE-O-MATIC.
posted by flabdablet at 11:08 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Quantum mechanics rides roughshod over causality at its most fundamental level

That's definitely not the most uncontroversial claim I've seen today.
posted by PMdixon at 11:18 AM on May 20, 2015


The universe creates itself from nothing. It's as simple as that.

I have never seen a convincing argument for any such view.


I assume you mean you're not convinced by the multiverse hypothesis?
(The referenced argument for how the universe could have been created from nothing, simply stated, for those who are curious.)
posted by exact_change at 11:25 AM on May 20, 2015


One thing they have found is that, when quantum theory is applied to space at the smallest possible scale, space itself becomes unstable. Rather than remaining perfectly smooth and continuous, space and time destabilize, churning and frothing into a foam of space-time bubbles.

In other words, little bubbles of space and time can form spontaneously. "If space and time are quantized, they can fluctuate," says Lawrence Krauss at Arizona State University in Tempe. "So you can create virtual space-times just as you can create virtual particles."
Here's the thing: a churning frothy foam of space-time bubbles is something, not nothing.
posted by flabdablet at 11:34 AM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Articles like the above, which attempt to translate quantum mechanics into lay terms, inevitably leave me unsatisfied. They get lost in their own unacknowledged (much less supported) assumptions and wind up spewing gibberish like "frothy bubbles of space-time." I'm sure the math underlying these frothy bubbles is impeccable, but the thing being described is literally inconceivable. Yet this fact deters the author not at all. Instead, he blithely yammers on as if he were describing the emergence of bubbles in a tub after you drop in a bath ball. Did the universe grow from a timeless and spaceless singularity to something the size of a grain of sand -- but with no outside -- very rapidly? How nice for it. I heard it started on the back of a turtle!
posted by haricotvert at 12:24 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


oh yeah well your mom's so unstable that rather than remaining perfectly smooth and continuous, she destabilizes into a churning frothy foam of space-time bubbles.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:27 PM on May 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have joked to accelerator guys that a tank of hydrogen is merely a bottle of individually wrapped protons.

They're really wrapped by pairs. Fun Size hydrogen.
posted by chimaera at 12:39 PM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


You're lucky I don't exist right now.
posted by haricotvert at 12:40 PM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


the thing being described is literally inconceivable.

Unimaginable probably; inconceivable no. There is no need to understand the description of a thing's attributes in order to note that it has attributes, and is therefore something rather than nothing.
posted by flabdablet at 12:41 PM on May 20, 2015


Of course it's mathematically conceivable -- indeed it has been conceived mathematically, which is how we have come to be discussing it. Not sure that's a meaningful distinction.
posted by haricotvert at 12:44 PM on May 20, 2015


In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a Bad Move.

-- Douglas Adams
posted by kcds at 12:52 PM on May 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


Bollocks, all the way down.
posted by Segundus at 1:36 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Big Bang is God's way of getting a do-over.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:39 PM on May 20, 2015


Bollocks, all the way down.

L'Origine du monde is not bollocks.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:43 PM on May 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks, the man of twists and turns! I really enjoyed the first article, and learning about the trope of "speaking the world into being" as it occurs in Sumerian, Egyptian and of course Judeo-Christian myths.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 1:54 PM on May 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't know nothin' 'bout no Kyoto schools 'n' such, but I do know that if causality didn't exist, then we wouldn't have purposive behaviors. They would be totally ineffective. Why reach for a door to open it when it has no causal effect? The problem I see is that the ratiocination regarding the existence of causality that leads to a conclusion that it doesn't exist (and here I mean the counterfactual concept of causality) never results in anyone abandoning purposive behavior, or, if it ever did, that person would not last long.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:06 PM on May 20, 2015


I believe Hume's answer to Mental Wimp's question is "habit," but I've never actually understood how his model of a universe without causation works.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:16 PM on May 20, 2015


asking why is a pointless question

Asking why about things is a basic tenet of science without which it could not exist.

Purpose and intent, however, are illusions biased by human experience.

With respect to the Big Bang, seeking purpose is pointless; asking why is not.
posted by tempestuoso at 2:27 PM on May 20, 2015


"Asking why about things is a basic tenet of science without which it could not exist."

I think I know what you meant, but the opposite is true: abandoning the "why?" question and asking the "how?" question marked the beginning of scientific empiricism.

"Why?" is teleological, it's the default and natural approach of human cognition because the bulk of our explicit reasoning is social -- why did someone do what they do, what are their motivations and goals? And therefore almost all of natural philosophy prior to scientific empiricism was teleological; Aristotle formally constructed his naturalism around teleology and later natural philosophers followed his lead and elaborated this.

But most of nature isn't teleological (outside of animals, like humans, which actually have goals and make plans), and so teleological reasoning about nature proved to be deeply problematic. It led to wrong answers and it led to conundrums.

At some point, some folk of a more practical bent, across a wide range of interests, thought to just put the "why?" questions, the teleology, aside and just describe the "how?" The most important and foundational example of this was Newton and gravity. Newton's mathematical description of gravity doesn't tell us why gravity works the way it works, it just describes, accurately, how it works. And, wow, did that turn out to be a productive approach.

No small amount of the previous discussion is wrangling between why and how because the problem is that the general public doesn't really understand that science isn't teleological, it doesn't answer the why questions, but rather science is empiricism, it just attempts to rigorously describe what it sees. Even scientists have difficulty avoiding teleological language when talking about evolution, which is emphatically and crucially not teleological -- and they otherwise, about other topics, deploy teleological language regularly, because that's how human think (and scientists are humans). It's no wonder that a child asks why the sky is blue and, with children when you attempt to answer such questions, it is usually much more apparent in the following back-and-forth that they want something that is explicitly teleological: what purpose does the blue sky serve? Which is the sort of questions about the natural world that religious belief has typically answered.

And so it's no wonder that people confuse science and religion because, frankly, while it's the case that the two really are distinct when rigorously understood, it's also true that within the wider cultural context science, as a body of facts and ideas disseminated throughout our culture and as portrayed in the popular imagination, ends up functioning somewhat like religion, because, again, what people want is teleology and that's how science is popularly (mis)understood. So people think that the Big Bang is "explaining" the universe in the sense that religion explains the universe, and they think that the unscratched itch represented by "before that?, and before that?, and, wait, why is it like this, anyway?" needs to be answered by science because they mistakenly think that science is attempting to scratch that itch in the first place, when it's not.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:04 PM on May 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


Anselm weeps*
posted by clavdivs at 3:26 PM on May 20, 2015


Big Bang is the best model we have so far, until somebody comes up with something better. Until then I'll just have to take it on faith.
posted by ovvl at 5:28 PM on May 20, 2015


With respect to the Big Bang, seeking purpose is pointless; asking why is not.

What kind of answer would you find satisfactory?
posted by flabdablet at 6:50 PM on May 20, 2015


Very well put, Ivan. I would only emphasize that many scientists also fail to make this crucial distinction, and to the contrary are fully convinced that their empirical means can achieve teleological ends. Indeed, fortified with their empirical rightness, they are often quite petulant and condescending in their teleological wrongness. Worse, in pursuing their teleological claims, they undermine the credibility of empirical science, which has unfortunate real-world consequences.
posted by haricotvert at 7:26 PM on May 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


...learning about the trope of "speaking the world into being"

You might enjoy Bruce Chatwin's book The Songlines, which is about Australian Aboriginal practices around singing the world into being. It's set out as a novel, but is "semi-autobigraphical" or something to that effect.
posted by sneebler at 9:45 AM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Before there was a baby universe there was a mommy universe and a daddy universe. Mommy universe had this big vast empty hole and daddy universe had this big hard throbbing....

..anyways so then a baby universe was born kids!
posted by xarnop at 5:40 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Gin and Comics: The anthropic principle. 100 percent of observers observe that there is something rather than nothing.
posted by BiggerJ at 4:28 AM on May 23, 2015




My point is that these are two different lines of discussion that don't necessarily cross. You can talk about the cause of the Big Bang (and the cause of the cause, and the cause of the cause of the cause...) without talking about the meaning, the teleology. That's what I meant by some people talking about "purpose". Exploring the physical mechanisms does not touch on the moral or existential questions of creation, that's for religion to ponder.

Teleotheism and the Purpose of Life[*] - "Please give this sermon a try. I think it has much in it that will be of interest to a wide range of readers: philosophy, cosmology, evolutionary theory, and science fiction, as well as theology. And nothing in it depends on believing in God at all."
posted by kliuless at 4:22 PM on June 2, 2015


Ivan, you took my intended meaning correctly, i.e. that it is pointless to consider the Big Bang in a teleological sense. I disagree, however, with the implication that "why" is exclusively teleological. When a child asks "why is the sky blue" I would never assume that s/he is expecting an answer about purpose for the blueness. I certainly wouldn't have as a child, but perhaps that is because of my upbringing, which was heavily science-influenced.

Language is imprecise, "how" and "why" have a lot of overlap, and both words can be used qualitatively or quantitatively depending on context. In fact, I would bet a language exists somewhere that fuses those two words completely. "What is the mechanism by which X happens?" seems like an even better way to ask such questions, but that is awfully verbose and pedantic-sounding, and probably off-putting for many people.

Speaking of blue skies, Radiolab did an interesting piece on color a while ago. It turns out that a lot of the bias for the color of the sky (and other things) is learned, i.e. children think the sky is the color blue because they're told it is (which seems relevant somehow).

Flabdablet, with respect to cosmic mysteries like the origins of life, the universe, and everything, the kind of answer I find satisfactory is one that is not an answer at all, but rather a more precise question honed by scientific analysis of experimental results.
posted by tempestuoso at 8:05 PM on June 2, 2015


A New Theory to Explain the Higgs Mass
Experts often compare the finely tuned Higgs mass to a pencil standing on its lead tip, nudged this way and that by powerful forces like air currents and table vibrations that have somehow struck a perfect balance. “It is not a state of impossibility; it is a state of extremely small likelihood,” said Savas Dimopoulos of Stanford. If you came across such a pencil, he said, “you would first move your hand over the pencil to see if there was any string holding it from the ceiling. [Next] you would look at the tip to see if there is chewing gum.”

[...]

The story of the new model begins when the cosmos was an energy-infused dot. The axion mattress was extremely compressed, which made the Higgs mass enormous. As the universe expanded, the springs relaxed, as if their energy were spreading through the springs of the newly created space. As the energy dissipated, so did the Higgs mass. When the mass fell to its present value, it caused a related variable to plunge past zero, switching on the Higgs field, a molasseslike entity that gives mass to the particles that move through it, such as electrons and quarks. Massive quarks in turn interacted with the axion field, creating ridges in the metaphoric hill that its energy had been rolling down. The axion field got stuck. And so did the Higgs mass.
Quantum theorist Christopher Fuchs explains how to solve the paradoxes of quantum mechanics - "Since the wavefunction doesn't belong to the system itself, each observer has her own. My wavefunction doesn't have to align with yours... [Previous] interpretations all have something in common: They treat the wave function as a description of an objective reality shared by multiple observers. QBism [Quantum Bayesianism], on the other hand, treats the wave function as a description of a single observer's subjective knowledge. It resolves all of the quantum paradoxes, but at the not insignificant cost of anything we might call 'reality'. Then again, maybe that's what quantum mechanics has been trying to tell us all along — that a single objective reality is an illusion."
posted by kliuless at 11:42 PM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think he's right, but I think frequentism rather than Bayesianism is the better philosophical lens through which to view the wave function.

Stuff happens. Some of it resembles other stuff. Some of those resemblances are very very close. But every single piece of it is unique.
QBism would say, it’s not that the world is built up from stuff on “the outside” as the Greeks would have had it. Nor is it built up from stuff on “the inside” as the idealists, like George Berkeley and Eddington, would have it. Rather, the stuff of the world is in the character of what each of us encounters every living moment — stuff that is neither inside nor outside, but prior to the very notion of a cut between the two at all.
Full and emphatic agreement.
posted by flabdablet at 6:22 AM on June 10, 2015


To steal once again from my own email signature block and quote Parmenides (who, astoundingly, I've grown to appreciate more and more as time passes):
Reality itself is a thinking thing, and the object of its own thinking.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:25 PM on June 13, 2015


I think that's self-evidently (how else?) true. Where I take issue with most of the people who go about making that fact into a Big Profound Point is that I'm much less sure how much, in the grand scheme of things, it matters.
posted by flabdablet at 1:46 AM on June 14, 2015


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