Brains in Space!
January 16, 2008 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Are We All Really Just Disembodied Brains Floating in Empty Space? Recent mathematical results in the field of cosmology related to the Boltzmann's Brain Problem may point toward a peculiarly arbitrary universe in which, as improbable as it sounds, it's more likely than not.

Meanwhile, these findings may also suggest confirmation of Nietzsche's theory of "Eternal Recurrence," despite what this guy might think.
posted by saulgoodman (104 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'd say most of us are just brainless bodies getting in my damn way.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:42 PM on January 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


I'm the only real brain, the rest of you are just figments.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 12:48 PM on January 16, 2008


Doesn't the fact that data and energy are very similar negate this theory? After all, wouldn't it take just as much energy for a simulated world that all our brains would agree on as it would for a real one? And even still, would there be any difference? (If the answer is no, then this isn't science).
posted by Citizen Premier at 12:49 PM on January 16, 2008


I don't actually know if data and energy are similar. I'm just thinking of spooky action at a distance, whereby energy can be transfered but data is still limited to the laws of physics.
posted by Citizen Premier at 12:50 PM on January 16, 2008


I'd say most of us are just brainless bodies getting in my damn way.

as a zombie, then, you must be starving!

Doesn't the fact that data and energy are very similar negate this theory? After all, wouldn't it take just as much energy for a simulated world that all our brains would agree on as it would for a real one? And even still, would there be any difference? (If the answer is no, then this isn't science).

i'm gonna go out on a limb here and offer that the MIT cosmologists who did the math could probably answer those questions better than i could.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:53 PM on January 16, 2008


Astro Zombies are solar powered. It's other zombies that eat brains.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:54 PM on January 16, 2008


Oh thanks for the reminder that I need to read Huw Price's book!
posted by vacapinta at 12:59 PM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I can't tell if I'm not smart enough to understand the concepts or if the author of that article was not smart enough to explain it.
posted by empath at 1:01 PM on January 16, 2008


What if you're a Boltzmann brain in a simulated universe?

I'm a Boltzmann Brain, and so is my wife.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 1:01 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is not my beautiful house!
This is not my beautiful wife!
posted by Meatbomb at 1:02 PM on January 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is ...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:04 PM on January 16, 2008


Does this mean I don't have to got to work this morning?
posted by pompomtom at 1:05 PM on January 16, 2008


I can't tell if I'm not smart enough to understand the concepts or if the author of that article was not smart enough to explain it.

It's the author.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:05 PM on January 16, 2008


In 2006, Dr. Page calculated that the dark energy would have to decay in about 20 billion years in order to prevent it from being overrun by Boltzmann brains.

So does this exist from data, or are scientists just kind of, not leaving the inside of their heads?
posted by geoff. at 1:06 PM on January 16, 2008


I guess I should say, how do we know we aren't doing the scientific equivalent of Aquinas scholasticism? It seems like they are taking things as a given and constructing absurd, albeit rational conclusions.
posted by geoff. at 1:08 PM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I can't tell if I'm not smart enough to understand the concepts or if the author of that article was not smart enough to explain it.

I think I know what you mean. Some of the key points in the article were left a little fuzzy--maybe the author meant to avoid making overly-declarative statements and sacrificed some precision in the process? I was able to follow the general ideas, but felt a little at sea about what solid conclusions (if any) could be taken away in the end.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:09 PM on January 16, 2008


If they're right, they're not leaving the inside of their heads.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:10 PM on January 16, 2008


Have you ever... really... looked... at your hands?

*waves hands*
posted by boo_radley at 1:11 PM on January 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Paging Philip J. Fry.

But seriously, out of our subjective perception of an objective reality of energy and matter comes our interpretation of being and meaning - the real world intersects physics and philosophy. At least that’s what Dave my mechanic says.
Dave also mentioned that William James Sidis in “The Animate and the Inanimate” postulated that the second law of thermodynamics is reversed in some regions of space and that there could be as many ‘dark’ galaxies as there are light ones so the universe may be constantly fading and renewing itself (sort of like a Klein bottle) and what Dr. Linde said in the creation of new parts of the universe in new bubbles. Ergo our mirror consciousness could be working in opposition to our own.

But screw Dave, I have to go with Conan: let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is an illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and I am content.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:12 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


smedleyman: well, you could always be a real hallucinating brain floating in empty space.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:14 PM on January 16, 2008


Actually I understand it better after reading the second link. The NY Times article is a mess.
posted by empath at 1:17 PM on January 16, 2008


I so wish I was high right now.
posted by klangklangston at 1:19 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


This sounds like a version of Creationists claim that the eye is too complex to evolve stochastically. That it would be cheaper, or more likely, that it was created top down. It seems in this world the big bang or whatever stochastic process drives it is the top-down Aristotelean godhead and that it is far more likely we don't exist?

In any case I think this article was badly written, does anyone have a more scientific, journal article what this might have been sourced from? I feel like it skims over things and is leading to my misunderstanding of what is apparently an interesting topic.
posted by geoff. at 1:19 PM on January 16, 2008


Might be answering my own question:

In a box filled with uniformly-distributed air molecules, random motions will occasionally (although very rarely) bring them all to one side of the box. It is a traditional undergraduate physics problem to calculate how often this is likely to happen in a typical classroom-sized box; reasurringly, the air is likely to be nice and uniform for a period much much much longer than the age of the observable universe.

See I always assumed that the small probabilities involved were the same as saying it won't happen. It is the same as saying it is impossible, that just because it is mathematically valid, what we can take away from it is that Brownian motion will never result in air all of a sudden moving to one side of the room. Because once in several universes is the same as saying never. Isn't that what the probabilities on these disembodied brains tell us? That the very fact we don't observe them show they aren't as common as they should be? That they don't exist?
posted by geoff. at 1:23 PM on January 16, 2008


Read the weblog entry. Avoid the NY Times article. The latter will actually make you dumber.
posted by vacapinta at 1:25 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Have you ever... really... looked... at your hands?

They call them fingers, but have you ever seen them fing? Oh, there they go.
posted by never used baby shoes at 1:25 PM on January 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Given an infinite universe and infinite time, even the extremely improbable becomes inevitable.
posted by empath at 1:29 PM on January 16, 2008


I remember when this was covered in a confusing and slightly annoying article in New Scientist. I guess this idea has been floating around for a while.

Floating...

In space...

Like a disembodied brain...
posted by Artw at 1:29 PM on January 16, 2008


LOLSOLIPSISTZ!!111!
posted by Mister_A at 1:31 PM on January 16, 2008


The graphics make that article.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:33 PM on January 16, 2008


Ah, I found a recent Sinks in the Landscape, Boltzmann Brains, and the Cosmological Constant Problem that seems to explain it much better. Also the weblog was much, much better than the NYTimes article. It was like he just got a bag of weed and started writing about a science paper he barely understood. Not cool Times, it degrades science to turn it into mysticism. Remember equations may look scary, but use them if you can't explain it without them.
posted by geoff. at 1:34 PM on January 16, 2008


Dude, ya ever think how ya think? Wow.
posted by Mister_A at 1:35 PM on January 16, 2008


I refute it thus!
posted by malaprohibita at 1:36 PM on January 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


damn hippies over at the NYTimes...
posted by saulgoodman at 1:36 PM on January 16, 2008


"We are all aware that the senses can be deceived, the eyes fooled. But how can we be sure our senses are not being deceived at any particular time, or even all the time? Might I just be a brain in a tank somewhere, tricked all my life into believing in the events of this world by some insane computer? And does my life gain or lose meaning based on my reaction to such solipsism?"

-- Project Pyrrho, Specimen 46, Vat 7
TERMINATION OF SPECIMEN ADVISED
posted by aihal at 1:37 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I so wish I was high right now.

You're not? Whoa, dude. Stop freaking me out.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:38 PM on January 16, 2008


more on the skeptical brains in a vat arguments here.

this i think differs from the conventional brain in a vat arguments in that it doesn't require a vat, or a god-like deceiver. the brain just deceives itself, making for a nice closed loop. maybe there are other brains floating in space, too, and they're all deceiving each other, too...

either way, yeah, this takes me back to lazy, smoky university days...
posted by saulgoodman at 1:43 PM on January 16, 2008


Wow, that was fascinating! I had never heard of Boltzmann brains as such, but probably received the knowledge third-hand as I hazily recall speculations on the reality of reality that included similar concepts. Also, Sean Carroll is a really bright guy. Thanks!
posted by Mister_A at 1:51 PM on January 16, 2008


the brain just deceives itself, making for a nice closed loop. maybe there are other brains floating in space, too, and they're all deceiving each other, too...

Isn't this essentially what the Buddha said?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:52 PM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is highly interesting. Thanks. Now I have some reading here for a while.
posted by koeselitz at 1:53 PM on January 16, 2008


"You could be a brain in a jar, etc...."

Plus!

"The theory of truth that draws tattoos on itself in blue pen and then when you ask why anyone would draw a picture on their forearm of a tree, with sausages, with the words 'sausage tree' beneath it, it gets mad and says, 'You don't understand my truth!'"
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:58 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


What's interesting is if this were the basis of a cultish religion that attracted insane, homophobic, action movie stars, you'd discount it in a heartbeat.
posted by Dave Faris at 1:58 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Given an infinite number of infinite universe and infinite time, even the extremely improbable becomes inevitable.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:58 PM on January 16, 2008


(Dang, I forgot the ending.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:00 PM on January 16, 2008


I think I'm a squid floating in the sea...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:00 PM on January 16, 2008


Please go float by the bell curve of indeterminate space-time, so that I may protect you.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:01 PM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


"This bizarre picture is the outcome of a recent series of calculations that take some of the bedrock theories and discoveries of modern cosmology to the limit.."

Sounds more like someone forgot to carry the one.

*a housecat floats into frame*

How'd you get out of your box, Shoedinger? That does it. No more catnip for you!

"..there has been a growing stream of debate and dueling papers, replete with references to such esoteric subjects as reincarnation, multiple universes and even the death of spacetime, as cosmologists try to square the predictions of their cherished theories with their convictions that we and the universe are real..."

The gas pipe! The Gas Pipe! THE GAS PIPE! tHe GaS pIpE!
posted by ZachsMind at 2:09 PM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


geoff.: I guess I should say, how do we know we aren't doing the scientific equivalent of Aquinas scholasticism?

Because if we were doing the scientific equivalent of Aquinas scholasticism, we would've already cured cancer, HIV, the avian flu, injustice, and sadness.
posted by koeselitz at 2:13 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


What's interesting is if this were the basis of a cultish religion that attracted insane, homophobic, action movie stars, you'd discount it in a heartbeat.

But at least with this, there's a chance (however slim) that we can check the math.

Not so with Lord Xenu. Tom Cruise hates math.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:17 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


That is just too much for this floating brain.
posted by hubs at 2:22 PM on January 16, 2008


" may also suggest confirmation of Nietzsche's theory of "Eternal Recurrence"

Oh man I hope not, because that would mean i would have to sit through the Ice Capades again. (Woody Allen)
posted by post punk at 2:24 PM on January 16, 2008


Well, the thing of it is, a self-decieving brain won’t form a closed loop. It would likely run down.
But consciousness - however discrete or united, or vast or small - need never be ‘decieved’ in the sense that it is feeding itself a false apprehension of reality because reality itself is deceptive.
That is to say, eternally inconsistient.
And, really, that’s great, isn’t it? Because the problem for consciousness isn’t self-deception, it’s lack of variety. (Hell, we already have invented a great deal that doesn’t exist purely through an observational interpretation of reality -fiction, et.al).
Given a long enough (straight linear) time, consciousness could evolve such that it could apprehend everything it sees and predict everything it will see eliminating variation.

So if we can make sense of the entire history of the universe - given the perspective of it here, at some point, most of the universe will be history and (given entropy) not a whole lot will be going on.
What then would be the point of consciousness?
(I suppose all philosophical questions boil down to whether or not to commit suicide - but that doesn’t evade the inevitability of consciousness).

So, if there isn’t a history per se - such that time (as we percieve it) can run backwards or forwards in different places in the universe (again, Klein bottle) there would be infinite variation while preserving equilibrium. Fluctuations would be more common, because there would be less resistance to them.

Deception, even self-deception, isn’t the problem really. That begs the question that we don’t have all the data - or ‘real’ data - from the universe. Becomes turtles all the way down really, except with brains or a closed self-decieving brain.

So the problem is what to make of consciousness to keep it entertained/informed. Either the brain is infinitely creative or it’s sensory apparatus is limited.
Well, ultimately any consciousness of any reasonable intellect will refine and augment it’s sensory apparatus (as we have - e.g. the Hubble) as well as predict and develop other methods of sensing (e.g. gamma waves, neutrinos, etc etc).
So sensory deprivation isn’t going to last.
And why wouldn’t the imagination be subject to the same entropic forces without new sensory input?
And a brain not thinking isn’t really a brain.

So the problem is external - not a static ‘what is the universe/what was the universe/ what will be the universe’ but a dynamic ‘what is happening now, then, and in the future in the universe?’ and so, thankfully, eternally unsolvable.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:24 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is any of it experimentally testable?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:27 PM on January 16, 2008


Here's the contradiction: If they are correct, there are no recent mathematical results in the field of cosmology upon which to base these conclusions. No empirical evidence. So how did they arrive at being correct? And if, just by chance, they are correct, even "they" do not exist--I have made this all up in my disembodied brain. And if that is so, would there be any distinction between "correct" and "incorrect"?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:28 PM on January 16, 2008


more on the skeptical brains in a vat arguments here.

I prefer being a Brain in a Jacuzzi
posted by mmrtnt at 2:34 PM on January 16, 2008


This would freak me out except for that time with Lise and the maple syrup in Québec City. That was too good; I couldn't have made that up.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:35 PM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


geoff.: I guess I should say, how do we know we aren't doing the scientific equivalent of Aquinas scholasticism?

Because if we were doing the scientific equivalent of Aquinas scholasticism, we would've already cured cancer, HIV, the avian flu, injustice, and sadness.
posted by koeselitz


So our best, perhaps only guarantee that the universe is real is that it is so hard on us? And if there were ever to be, at any moment in time, a completely happy being, its would be the Boltzmann brain, and the universe as we know it would instantly dissolve back into the tepid chaos it emerged from? Rather bracing.

I suffer, therefore I am.
posted by jamjam at 2:36 PM on January 16, 2008


“When you break an egg and scramble it you are doing cosmology,” said Sean Carroll, a cosmologist at the California Institute of Technology.

Cool, I'm adding that to my resume! And may I add that my dad was an excellent cosmologist.

Thanks for the post; I don't hate the NYT article as much as many of you seem to, but the blog post was much better. Food for thought. Mmm, delicious thought!
posted by languagehat at 2:37 PM on January 16, 2008


Science : There is no spoon.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:40 PM on January 16, 2008


Funny, Nietzsche was the first thing I thought of when I read the article, and I came in here to talk about it an lo and behold, [more inside] has got it covered...

Cheers, saulgoodman. Thanks for the links.
posted by nzero at 2:48 PM on January 16, 2008


Sounds like this will finally lead to the development of the improbability drive.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:07 PM on January 16, 2008


My mind is simulating a universe in which plates of beans are overthought.
posted by zippy at 3:16 PM on January 16, 2008


So, the "have you ever really looked at your hands" thing, is that a quote from somewhere specific? I mean, I know it's a general stoner reference, and I've seen it around, but where is it from?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:30 PM on January 16, 2008


> The Second Law tells us that the universe is winding down to a state of maximum uselessness.

Okay, that part I understand and agree with.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:34 PM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


The idea that the brains we're all apparently using to type this stuff are somehow not Boltzmann brains strikes me as completely fucking retarded.
posted by flabdablet at 3:38 PM on January 16, 2008


So, the "have you ever really looked at your hands" thing, is that a quote from somewhere specific?

Anecdotally, I recall seeing it said by Zonker Harris in Doonesbury in the mid-70s.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:44 PM on January 16, 2008


The article at the other end of the "this guy" link is terrible. His analysis is filled with (willful?) misunderstandings of the writings of Nietzsche. I feel much dumber for having read that crap.
posted by nzero at 3:44 PM on January 16, 2008


All these brains-in-space had better chip in and start in on the fucking dishes around here, or there are going to be brains-in-space eating off the floor.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:46 PM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


weapons-grade pandemonium And if, just by chance, they are correct, even "they" do not exist--I have made this all up in my disembodied brain. And if that is so, would there be any distinction between "correct" and "incorrect"?

As far as I can tell, this theory makes no testable predictions and therefore cannot be proven or disproven. So, as with free will and determinism, one option clearly leads to a happier life and a more general acceptance in society as a sane and responsible person, but in the end, IMO, you can choose whichever you prefer and proceed as if that were true.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:48 PM on January 16, 2008


I read the NYT article and was a little confused. Thanks for the other resources.

How does this compare to the ancestor simulation theory?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 3:49 PM on January 16, 2008


You know all that stuff Lovecraft wrote about where trying to study it or have anything to do with it turns out to be a really bad idea? Sometimes I think cosmology will turn out to be like that.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:02 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


“My mind is simulating a universe in which plates of beans are overthought.”

If the beans have meaning, then the whole plate of them are worthless.

The beans are everything that are on the plate.
What is the on the plate (in fact) is the existence of discrete states of beans.
A thought is a logical picture of a plate.
A thought is a proposition with beans.
A proposition is a plate-function of elementary beans.
The general form beans take is the general form of being on a plate, which is: .
Where (or of what bean) one cannot overthink a plate of beans, brains must remain silent.

(Actually,Wittgenstein swiped that from me.)
posted by Smedleyman at 4:03 PM on January 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Are We All Really Just Disembodied Brains Floating in Empty Space?

Nice theory, Dr. Hfuhruhurr.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:06 PM on January 16, 2008


"I don't think there's a girl floating in a jar anywhere who's as happy as I am." -- Anne Uumellmahaye
posted by kirkaracha at 4:07 PM on January 16, 2008


"have you ever really looked at your hands" thing

Not so sure about the "hands" part, but the "fing" part is from Otto Mann, the schoolbus driver on the Simpsons

http://francesfarmersrevenge.com/stuff/simpsons/index.htm

It's from the episode where Homer smokes medicinal marijuana.
posted by mmrtnt at 4:13 PM on January 16, 2008


you yourself reading this article are more likely to be some momentary fluctuation in a field of matter and energy out in space than a person with a real past born through billions of years of evolution in an orderly star-spangled cosmos. Your memories and the world you think you see around you are illusions.
If the world I think I see around me is an illusion, then what we have here is that illusionary scientists have made an illusionary hypothesis based on illusionary physical laws about an illusionary universe.

Any likeness of this hypothesis to reality is, by definition, merely coincidental.
posted by Flunkie at 4:19 PM on January 16, 2008


As far as I can tell, this theory makes no testable predictions and therefore cannot be proven or disproven. So, as with free will and determinism, one option clearly leads to a happier life and a more general acceptance in society as a sane and responsible person, but in the end, IMO, you can choose whichever you prefer and proceed as if that were true.
Or you can't.
posted by Flunkie at 4:21 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


It just annoys me when otherwise respectable thinkers start talking about the probability of givens as if they are somehow not 1.

First the facts. Then the hypotheses. Tamp 'em down good.
posted by flabdablet at 4:28 PM on January 16, 2008


In another couple hundred years, there will be enough processing power to dump the contents of all of our brains -- organic neural networks, really -- into computer-simulated neural networks, making the "brain" itself (and objective reality) obsolete and unnecessary. I really see it as inevitable. ...assuming we survive that long as a species.
posted by LordSludge at 4:48 PM on January 16, 2008


Actually I think Boltzmann brains are very much like Schroedinger's cat.

Why?

Well, the presence of too many Boltzmann brains in a theory is usually when cosmologists say "ew yuck guess this one doesn't work". It's supposed to be an absurd conclusion, and if your theory produces them, it's sick, and you better come up with a new one.

Same story with the cat-- Schroedinger thought it was absurd to imagine a halfdead/halfalive cat, and took this as a sign that quantum mechanics was sick. It turned out of course that pleny of microscopic things *are* in superpositions-- so now we use the cat as a way to point out that things aren't always as they seem.

But Boltzmann brains? well, still, "ew yuck". You don't want them in your theory.
posted by nat at 5:38 PM on January 16, 2008


I would like to take this opportunity to expose your floating brains to Puzzling Evidence's now ancient take on quantum mechanics, courtesy of the SubGenius Foundation. Trust me. It is oddly appropo at these proceedings.

"You can escape velocity but not the need for veracity." - Dr. Howl
posted by ZachsMind at 6:19 PM on January 16, 2008


'randy lay there like a slug. it was his only defense.'
posted by CitizenD at 6:22 PM on January 16, 2008


Very interesting - thanks.

So, the "have you ever really looked at your hands" thing, is that a quote from somewhere specific? I mean, I know it's a general stoner reference, and I've seen it around, but where is it from?

Plato, I believe. Though it came around again in some of Nietzsche's work.
posted by Urban Hermit at 6:40 PM on January 16, 2008


No no no, it's from the Scottish play, I'm certain of it.
posted by ook at 6:44 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow. Either I was much dumber this morning or the other article is waaaaay better written.

Maybe the NY Times guy was trying to show what a high entropic, chaotic mess would look like if it was a NY Times article.
posted by OrangeDrink at 6:49 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd offer my Quatloos, but I'm tapped out.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:52 PM on January 16, 2008


That blog post was neat - thanks! I love science posts that make me feel a little bit dumb. Builds character, I say.
posted by Quietgal at 7:15 PM on January 16, 2008


I am a disembodied penis, floating in a high-entropy vaginaverse, gleefully anticipating the next statistical fluctuation.
posted by Horken Bazooka at 7:23 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


The article at the other end of the "this guy" link is terrible. His analysis is filled with (willful?) misunderstandings of the writings of Nietzsche. I feel much dumber for having read that crap.

yeah. I felt the same way. that's why I like the idea of a bunch of cosmologists somehow banding together to debunk his central thesis (that 'eternal recurrence' is pseudo-scientific gobbledy-gook, although it well might be).
posted by saulgoodman at 8:25 PM on January 16, 2008


So, the "have you ever really looked at your hands" thing, is that a quote from somewhere specific? I mean, I know it's a general stoner reference, and I've seen it around, but where is it from?

Dr. Johnny Fever, WKRP in Cincinnati: "Ever really get into your hand, man? I mean, all those lines, it's like a tiny expressway! Your thumb is an off ramp!"

Unless Papa Bell can produce empirical evidence of Zonker's declaration of same in a lower entropy universe, I hereby declare myself the Official Metafilter Brain In A Fat for the evening, and I will now retire to the laboratory with another of these fine Alley Kat Lagers to contemplate the eternal recurrence of my own dumb ass, which should save me the headache of trying to understand theoretical physics for at least one more evening.
posted by gompa at 8:33 PM on January 16, 2008


Brain In A Fat

I'm sure that slip's somehow Freudian, but I can't figure out exactly how. Shoulda spelled it with a ph- maybe . . .

posted by gompa at 8:36 PM on January 16, 2008


"I am a disembodied penis, floating in a high-entropy vaginaverse, gleefully anticipating the next statistical fluctuation."

And here I always thought being just a dick in space was kinda unrewarding.
posted by klangklangston at 8:45 PM on January 16, 2008


"Brain in a fat" is the sort of Freudian slip that indicates the writer is a closet German speaker.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:43 PM on January 16, 2008


I'm not a cosmologist or physicist. So, correct me if I'm wrong, but here's how I read the article:

Time may be infinite.
The (mega)universe may be infinite.
The energy in the (mega)universe may be infinite.

Given an infinitely long span of time, with an infinite universe and an infinite amount of energy, everything possible exists infinitely. (Or will, at some point, exist if it does not already.)

Disembodied brains are simpler, and therefore more probable, than brains encumbered with fleshy bodies on little rocks floating around stars. Therefore, there are probably already a whole lot more disembodied brains than there are beings like us, and that balance will likely stay the same or increase in the brain's favour.

Yes?

Also, if a nipple is simpler than a human body, there is probabably a universe of pure nipple somewhere? And coffee cups? And cats? And uber-complex space creatures?

Actually, a universe of infinite coffee might not be so bad right now.
posted by generichuman at 2:50 AM on January 17, 2008


I wish a mefite with a background in cosmology would favor us with a bit of explanation here. If I'm understanding the blog post correctly (which is dubious) the upshot of Boltzmann's theory is that the universe as we know it is highly improbable, but possible. (This doesn't strike me as a terribly astounding revelation, on the face of it.)

I also can't seem to dig up anything which is layman-oriented about Susskind's 2002 paper on Boltzmann brains, which the NYT article is about (or would be, if that guy didn't fail so badly at science writing). Here's the paper itself, though, and some listserv discussion about it which is mostly over my head. And of course this is clearly related.
posted by whir at 3:09 AM on January 17, 2008


Brain In A Fat
I'm sure that slip's somehow Freudian, but I can't figure out exactly how. Shoulda spelled it with a ph- maybe . . .


The word vat is actually a Southern English dialect variant of earlier fat (compare German Fass). The same thing happened in vixen (cf. Füchsin) and vane (earlier fane, cf. Fahne); in that dialect all initial sibilants are voiced (thus vollow for follow, zee for see, and so on), but only those three forms made it into the standard language.

Not that this has anything to do with brains, but I thought it was interesting enough to share.
posted by languagehat at 6:05 AM on January 17, 2008


Can someone confirm (or not) that the Boltzmann brain thing is essentially the same thing as we are all living in a simulation argument (The Matrix)... giving infinity a floating brain thinking it is in a universe is more likely to arise than an actual universe and given the possibility of producing an nfinite number of simulations of the universe (by some civilisation in the far future with infinite or just a hell of a lot of computing power), we are more likely to be living in a simulation that the actual universe.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:44 AM on January 17, 2008


more like languageFAT
posted by klangklangston at 8:02 AM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can someone confirm (or not) that the Boltzmann brain thing is essentially the same thing as we are all living in a simulation argument (The Matrix)... giving infinity a floating brain thinking it is in a universe is more likely to arise than an actual universe and given the possibility of producing an nfinite number of simulations of the universe (by some civilisation in the far future with infinite or just a hell of a lot of computing power), we are more likely to be living in a simulation that the actual universe.

I think it's kind of like that. The key take home point I think is that the math actually seems to support the idea.

One key difference is that the idea isn't that there's not a real universe. Just that that universe is statistically more likely to be as simple as possible, perhaps even consisting of only one or more complex brains that consciously apprehend what they believe to be a much more complicated universe (which, in reality, is mostly empty space) than it is to consist of both complex brains that can apprehend a complicated universe and an actual complicated universe, if that's clear as mud.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:13 AM on January 17, 2008


let's get down to the nuts and bolts here. if i'm gonna be reincarnated as a naked brain floating in space, what will sex be like?
posted by bruce at 8:43 AM on January 17, 2008


Sounds like this will finally lead to the development of the improbability drive.

Probably won't work.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:26 AM on January 17, 2008


if i'm gonna be reincarnated as a naked brain floating in space, what will sex be like?

i'd guess a little lonely, but not all bad.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:34 AM on January 17, 2008


“One key difference is that the idea isn't that there's not a real universe.”

There isn’t, by the physical laws we’re aware of, a real universe anyway. Nothing we conciously experience is experienced as it is happening. The photons from the stars we see are ancient. Even on the close scale - sound waves travel far slower than light waves, there’s not a perceivable difference when we’re talking to someone but that’s the fault of perception, innit?
If our senses were more finely tuned everything (on Earth) would look like a badly dubbed kung fu movie.
Even within our bodies, it takes time for our nervous system to route sensation and that’s an interpretive approximation anyway.
Our conceptualizations (math, physics, etc.) are based on those in the first place, so they’re even further removed from reality.

But really....so?
posted by Smedleyman at 1:48 PM on January 17, 2008


Nothing we conciously experience is experienced as it is happening. The photons from the stars we see are ancient. Even on the close scale - sound waves travel far slower than light waves, there’s not a perceivable difference when we’re talking to someone but that’s the fault of perception, innit?

right on all points. with one minor refinement: we don't really ever even get to see the ancient stars, just our sensory representations of ancient stars. it's not even meaningful to talk about "seeing them as they actually are," because appearances in the customary sense are exclusively a function of human biology. nothing is visible without someone or thing who sees things. we have our perceptual representations of what the ancient stars are, and we can study those representations for clues about what they actually are (if anything). but what ancient stars really are (if anything) always remains a deeper mystery.

and then, like you said, so?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:42 AM on January 18, 2008


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