Wednesday, January 27, 2016

There's Nothing There - Part 12


The extra 7 dimensions.
If there is a "mind" out there, outside of space and time, outside of our 4 little dimensions, even outside of the 10 or 11 (or 26) dimensions that String Theory requires, even outside the concepts of dimensions at all ...

I just have to stop and think about that for a minute.

... outside of the concept of "existence" as we know it, since "existence" for us is occupying a point in space and time ...

Now I'm thinking about that.

... outside of the need to be created, since being created happens in space and time ...

Oh, my.

... outside of the laws of physics, since those arrived inside the universe, after Big Bang, inside of space and time ...

... not made of energy or matter, since those are part of this universe, arriving in this universe after Big Bang ... 

... then the only word left comes from The Princess Bride.


Indeed, even much of the character of just this universe itself is inconceivable, much less anything outside of it. Most of it we will never see; so much that the part we can see is almost insignificant. Space-time bends and warps and goes away and arrives. Particles are neither here nor there but everywhere and nowhere and pop into and out of existence, empty space seethes with activity, and ...

... it may be that nothing exists but interactions, relationships.

And everything came from nothing.

So we exist in a tiny little sliver of the way the universe actually is, thinking in our naive sweet arrogance that we have a clue about what's outside.

Reminds me of a guy named Antony Flew, a British philosopher at Oxford before his death not too long ago.

He became an atheist when he was 15 years old.

At age 15, he had it all figured out.

What a fine metaphor for us all.

He stopped being an atheist when he was 81. I quoted him in the last blog.

Here's what I'm thinking.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster. Look it up.
If this "mind", this intelligence, this thing that started it all isn't God, then, well, I'm a bit terrified.

If it's just an alien that's playing with us, if we are just some science experiment by a superior being, if we are just a video game being played by some super alien adolescent, then, well, I'm a bit terrified.

There are some theories floating about in science-space about the nature of the universe. Here are just three. There's lots more.

1) The universe is a hologram.

2) It's a computer simulation.

3) We actually do kind of live in The Matrix.

They're not theories, actually. They're hypotheses without evidence.

But, still. What if something, you know, just turns off the hologram generator? Or turns off the computer simulation?

We all just ... go away.

There's nothing here but interactions anyway. Those could just ... evaporate. At the touch of some switch somewhere. Dial up the Higgs. Or the Cosmological Constant. We can't do that. But the "mind" surely can.

So if it's alright with you, I'm gonna go with the Benevolent Creator hypothesis, which, since there's evidence to support it, is actually more of a theory than an hypothesis.

"Evidence?", you say incredulously. "Evidence?", you sneer. Maybe. Or maybe you're just like, evidence? Really?

Sure. Here's the short version. Everything came from nothing in a tiny tiny tiny fraction of a second.

And it all arrived incredibly precisely tuned to produce ... everything else.

And it all seems pretty well set up to produce complex life forms.

Before we knew about Big Bang, when we thought the universe had always been here, which, as it turns out, was pretty foolish considering entropy all by itself (maybe I'll explain that later), we didn't have any questions that needed answering.
Everything pretty well figured out.

We thought we had everything figured out. Lord Kelvin said in 1900 that physics was pretty well finished. We knew how everything worked. The Royal Academy of Science in London was turning down applicants, saying we didn't need any more scientists. We were done.

Then Relativity and Quantum Theory came along, with Big Bang and the obsessive need for observers.

So now we have questions that we didn't have before.

And a Benevolent Creator turns out to be a reasonable answer to all of the questions. Not the only answer, but ... reasonable. Logical. Intelligent. Informed. Norant. Which I think is the opposite of ignorant. I may have made that up. Except of course you can find it on the internet.

Next, all of the questions.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

There's Nothing There - Part 11

Pattern recognition.

That's how we measure intelligence.

The smarter you are, the better you are at recognizing patterns.

Starts early. Like, you're wandering around the jungle (maybe now, maybe 20,000 years ago), and 1) you see some tracks and 2) you hear some noises and 3) you smell something nasty, and you figure out that if you don't get the heck out of there, something large and hungry is going to 1) see your tracks and 2) hear your noises and 3) smell something tasty, and you'll end up pattern recognized into something large and hungry's lunch.

All of life is recognizing patterns and learning what to do depending upon what the pattern is.

Like, she smiles at you, so you think she likes you.

Or, you have something hanging out of your nose.

So you learn to check your nose and everything else before you venture into wherever it is that someone might smile at you.

We all have different patterns we are good at recognizing.

Some are social. Some are mathematical or scientific. Some are literary or artistic. Some are political or economic.

There's a pattern - we're all different in figuring out patterns.

And the world rewards people differently at different times and places for figuring out different patterns.

The point, of course, is that life, the universe and everything are full of patterns. If there were no patterns, we couldn't figure stuff out, and we'd all get eaten by something large and hungry. Except, of course, the large and hungry would have no patterns either.

So there would be nothing in the universe if there were no patterns.

Because the patterns lead us to the laws of physics. Patterns are the clues that we've used to figure out how the universe and everything in it works.

And the laws of physics are what made everything happen.

No laws. Nothing happens.

Here're more questions to ask:

1) Why did the universe do anything?

2) Why is there something rather than nothing?

And the answers are, the universe did stuff because the laws of physics arrived just after the universe did, and there's something rather than nothing (inside the universe, that is) because the laws of physics produced everything.

Energy. Matter. Particles. Elements. Heat. Pressure. Gas clouds. Stars. More complicated elements. Planets. Life. You and me.

Extraordinary, unbelievable, subtle, beautiful, and profound patterns led us to the laws of physics and to the understanding we have of everything.

Patterns - used by intelligence, produced by intelligent beings. Order, structure, complexity, beauty, elegance.

So if the universe is full of patterns (and it is), and if SETI spends all of its time assuming that if they find patterns out there somewhere that are extraordinary, unbelievable, subtle, beautiful, and profound, then they will have found overwhelming evidence of intelligent alien life, then, well.

You can do this part on your own.

OK, I'll help a little.

It means that the universe is not accidental, but is the product of an intelligence so far beyond ours as to be incomprehensible to us.

Let me quote some smart guys:

Richard Dawkins: "When we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable--but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed."

Albert Einstein: The harmony of natural law "reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection."

Alan Sandage: "I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God, to me, … is the explanation of the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing … If God did not exist, science would have to invent Him to explain what it is discovering at its core."

Paul Davies: "I belong to a group of scientists who do not subscribe to a conventional religion but nevertheless deny that the universe is a purposeless accident. Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact. There must, it seems to me, be a deeper level of explanation. Whether one wishes to call that deeper level ‘God’ is a matter of taste and definition." ... "To postulate an infinity of unseen and unseeable universes just to explain the one we do see seems like a case of excess baggage carried to the extreme. It is simpler to postulate one unseen God."

Antony Flew: "… some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature … biologists' investigation of DNA 'has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce [life], that intelligence must have been involved,'"

Fred Hoyle: "Would you not say to yourself, 'some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly miniscule.' Of course, you would! A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology..."

Francis Collins: "At the most fundamental level, it’s a miracle that there’s a universe at all. It’s a miracle that it has order, fine-tuning that allows the possibility of complexity, and laws that follow precise mathematical formulas … an open-minded observer is almost forced to conclude that there must be a “mind” behind all of this."

Roger Penrose: "There is something absolute and God-given about mathematical truth. Not only is the universe 'out there', but mathematical truth has its own mysterious independence and timelessness."

Stephen Hawking (35+ years ago): "It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us."

Simon Conway Morris: "There is, if you like, seeded into the initiation of the universe itself the inevitability of intelligence."

There are many, of course, who disagree. I find them cranky and disagreeable. 

Not stupid. They're pretty smart. 

Just. Cranky. 

And disagreeable.

Friday, January 15, 2016

There's Nothing There - Part 10

There are 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary, and those who don't.

So. Part 10. Base 10. It's all in how the universe defines the terms.

(Isaac Newton)
So. Napoleon and this other French guy Pierre Simon Laplace were having this conversation about this book that Laplace had written about Isaac Newton's new physics. The book said that the universe operated according to laws and always had. 

(Not Isaac Newton.
Looks like him, tho.)
Napoleon said, so, um, there's no room or need for God in this picture, is there? 

And Laplace said, nope. Don't need God. Got laws. The laws make stuff happen. Not God.

And oh, btw. If the laws of physics make EVERYTHING happen, then our brains make NOTHING happen. So there is no free will, either.

But. Of course, that assumed that the laws had always been there in an infinitely old universe.

And, as it happens, that turns out not to be true. 

The universe arrived, and shortly after that, the laws of physics arrived.

So now you have two questions that you didn't have before. 

One. Where did the universe come from?

Two. Where did the laws of physics come from?

And then we learned other, fascinating and disturbing things. Like, the most powerful and definitive law of physics isn't really a "law", it's a bunch of quantum mechanical equations that folks just made up that seem to work all the time and describe matter and energy and they're always right and never wrong and they tell us quite clearly that things don't always happen because some law made them happen. Sometimes things just .... happen. Uncaused. 

In fact, in Quantum Mechanics, nearly everything just ... happens. Uncaused. 

And Quantum Mechanics is all about matter and energy. Everything in the universe that's not nothing, in fact. Although we've already seen that everything is mostly nothing, anyway.

And so free will becomes a possibility once again.

Because if not everything is caused by a law of physics making it happen, then it's entirely possible for us to make decisions that are independent of causes and effects.

And God becomes a reasonable answer to the two questions. Not the only reasonable answer, but still, a pretty good answer.

How? you might ask Is that possible?


Perhaps you've heard of SETI? It's an organization that searches for life elsewhere in the universe. SETI stands for Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.

One way that they do this is by searching the skies for signals that might be from aliens somewhere else in the galaxy. The rest of the galaxies are too far away for us to get signals from their aliens, so we have to focus mostly on our galaxy, most of which is also too far away, but you gotta start somewhere.

How? you might ask Do they know when they get a signal from aliens?


That's a problem. Because aliens won't speak any of our languages, not even our computer languages.

So we wouldn't be able to recognize their language as, well, a language. 

And. The signals will be coming as energy waves of one sort or another.

So we have to assume that the aliens are smart enough to figure all of this out, and they will try to send signals that we could recognize as signals.

Assuming we are smart, too. And that we are here, too. We would be aliens to the aliens.

So they have to send something we would recognize. So we have to look for something we would recognize.

And that would be ... go ahead, guess.

I'll give you a hint.

The laws of physics are the same everywhere in the universe.

Go ahead. Guess.

I'll give you another hint.

The constants of nature are the same everywhere in the universe.

We hope.

Go ahead. Guess.

I'll give you another hint.

A circle here is the same as a circle there.


OK. Time's up.

That means that the aliens could figure out what the value of Pi is. (Pi is the ratio of the circumference of the circle to the diameter.)

It's 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582... and it just keeps on going forever. And it's the same everywhere in the universe.

And the aliens know that, too. So all they have to do is to send it out as data, and all we have to do is recognize it.

It's pattern recognition. Intelligent life both produces and recognizes patterns. The more complicated the pattern, the more likely that it is coming from something intelligent.

That's what we assume. That's how we look for alien life forms. We look for some sort of recognizable pattern that could only be produced by intelligent life. If it's not natural constants, it's city lights or gases that don't occur naturally or the remnants of some sort of massive war (like, radioactivity from bombs) or any number of other things.

Now what in God's name you might ask does any of this have to do with God?

Well. Funny you should ask.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

There's Nothing There - Part 9

So. Here's where we are.

All the scientists before the 1900s thought that the universe had always been here. Forever.

It was full of rules. And the rules made everything happen. The laws of physics and the universe - always here, always making everything happen.

Matter. Always here. Energy. Always here. Stars, planets, galaxies. Always here.

And space - just a big ol' emptiness. Time - a separate thing that they didn't quite understand, and still don't. But, you know. Ticking right along.

Everything was predictable. The laws of physics always did things in the same way, so as soon as we figured out the laws, we could predict what was going to happen.

Everything was pre-determined by the laws of physics. Everything was caused by something else. Cause and effect. That's the way it all worked.

All you had to do was to take things apart to understand how they worked. Then you would know what made them that way. And what they were going to do in the future. Galaxies. Stars. Planets. Living things. Well, dead things that used to be living, usually. Awkward taking living things apart so that they are still, well, living after you've taken them apart.

Pre-determined. Predictable. Logical and reasonable. No weirdness. Weirdness was for religious nuts.

And nothing had a starting point. Certainly not the universe. Starting points were for religious nuts.

And everything comes from something. Always. You always gotta have something to get something else. Anything coming from nothing is for religious nuts.

And then the 20th Century arrived and messed everything up.

It's probably worth saying again that if the universe is like we all thought it was, then there would be 1) no free will and 2) no need for God.

But suddenly the universe had a starting point. Space and time, all wadded up together into Space-Time, began. Then the laws of physics. Began. Space and time and the laws of physics hadn't always been here. Or anywhere.

Then energy. Arrived. And matter. Arrived.

And everything came from nothing. Everything. Nothing.

And then everything that did arrive turned out to be nothing like we thought it was. Space and time were - Space-time. And it could bend and warp and go away and arrive in the first place. Suddenly there were places where there were no places, where all of time could happen in a single instant, where all of the places were in the same place.

And energy and matter. OMG. Particles, which were supposed to be, you know, like, just THERE doing particle things, all nice and predictable and pre-determined, were sometimes like particles and sometimes like energy waves and sometimes there and sometimes everywhere all at the same time and could go from here to there without going anywhere in between and could just pop into existence without any cause and in fact all the matter in the universe just POPPED into existence for no reason or cause whatsoever and EVERYTHING IS SO FRIGGING WEIRD. Which is for religious people.

Worst of all - nothing happens without an observation. There is no reality without an observation. And the damned universe wouldn't even be here with an observation, and is apparently so precisely wired (weird) to produce observers that it would take some sort of weird (wired) magic to set it up the way that it is set up and there's no way out except to conjure ("conjure!?!?") up an infinite number of other universes. Which is supposed to help. But doesn't, because we'll never know if they're there, and even if they are, so what?

And not only did everything come from nothing, but it's still mostly nothing. You could almost say that nothing came from nothing, but the nothing has a really strong appearance of being something. There's really nothing here, but dammit, it looks and acts like a lot of something.

But here's the reality, the coolest thing of all. It seems most likely that although there's nothing really here, that nothing has become something, not because it is something, but because of the interaction between the nothing and the laws of physics, the forces of nature. Which only exist because they can interact with the nothing. 

The tiny bits of particles that aren't really there, and the vast, endless emptiness of space-time.

What's really here, then, is interaction.

Reality is reality because of interaction. Which all starts with observation. Which is an interaction.

Although it is an interaction that has to take place outside of time and space, outside of the 13.8 billion year history of our universe, outside of all of the laws of physics and outside of energy and matter.

So if we're gonna talk about God, that's where it starts.

BTW. If the universe is like this (and it is), then 1) free will and 2) God come back into the picture. Sort of, together.