first cause

Agreeing On Nothing

Dear Russell & Friends,

Good morning.  I’ve missed you and thought often of you as I fire up the Charity Miles app.  Our RussellandPascal team has 6 members now with a total of 169 miles.  If my math is correct, that is over $41 donated to various charities that move us.  If my musing is correct, that is new money that we had perhaps intended to give but had not acted on.  Please join our team if you are able.  We would like to see half the blog followers join in the next one year and our goal for mileage is >10,000 (time to goal uncertain).

Russell and I had breakfast a week ago and after two hours we agreed upon nothing.  Don’t despair.  The reason I led with the Charity Miles collaboration is to remind you of how much we do agree on.  And, one cup of coffee in, it is quite possible that my insistence we agree upon nothing is a double entendre.  We talked about this book that I lent to Russell over Christmas break – –

the information

I loved the book and further thought that it might help me to understand my friend.  It did.  Here is another book that I’m reading with an extended quote below.

schaeffer

Love is not an easy thing; it is not just an emotional urge, but an attempt to move over and sit in the other person’s place and see how his problems look to him.  Love is a genuine concern for the individual.  As Jesus Christ reminds us, we are to love that individual “as ourselves.”  This is the place to begin.  Therefore, to be engaged in personal “witness” as a duty or because our Christian circle exerts a social pressure on us, is to miss the whole point.  The reason to do it is that the person before us is an image-bearer of God, and he is an individual who is unique in the world.  This kind of communication is not cheap.  To understand and speak to sincere but utterly confused twentieth-century people is costly.  It is tiring; it will open you to temptations and pressures.  Genuine love, in the last analysis, means a willingness to be entirely exposed to the person to whom we are talking.   —  Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

How did these two books relate?  Gleick, in The Information, helped me to love my friend Russell.  I read the book with fascination and took notes in the cover.  I think I took notes – – Russell still has the book.  I read it around the same time that Russell introduced me to Sean Carroll and Howie and began to think – – why don’t I think this way?  It is quite a beautiful way to think.

Information theory then has become an area of interest for me and obsession for Russell (I’ll ask him to correct me if I overstate; I frequently do for effect).  Information theory found its way into our taco breakfast last week and helped us to agree on nothing.  Please accept a brief paraphrase.

R:  Even in the outer boundary of the known universe there is information.

P:  I don’t see it.  Quantum fluctuation maybe . . .

R:  But, that is information.

P:  I’m tracking – – I just didn’t consider that useful information.  So you’ll accept the noise and not just the signal?

R:  Yes.

P:  Remember how we’ve had a hard time agreeing about the definition of nothing?  How I insist that the Universe can’t naturally be made from nothing?

R:  Yes, but that has never bothered me.

P:  You know it bothers me?

R:  I do.

P:  So would you accept the complete lack of information as nothing?

R:  I would.

There are not many readers of this blog who will recognize the milestone that this represents in Russell’s and my communication.  We have gone to great lengths to understand each other, deconstruct straw men and yes – – to love each other.  As Schaeffer says, it has not been easy.  But this agreement, on nothing, meant the world to me.

Where will it lead?  Do I jump directly to an apologetic based on ex nihilo nilo fit?  Absolutely not.  I finish the post and prepare to run a 10K trail with two of my sons, thankful that I’ll log 6.2 more miles for water.  On that run I’ll thank my God for my friend and thank him for the love that lets us to talk to not past each other.

Pascal – – 1:16

Two Way Street – – my heart for believers

The_two_bridges

 

Dear Russell & Friends,

We’re less than a week away from the first anniversary of our writing adventure.  We shall reclaim Friday the 13th for something useful.  As confessed before, I find myself reflective – – almost in a New Year’s Eve-y kind of mood.  Why are we here?  Does it matter?  Recent comments have reminded me.  We are here to form friendships that can ask hard questions in the dining room.  I used to think the family room, but Mrs. Pascal won’t routinely let me eat in there.  Something else has struck me as I better read and understand my friend CC (Russell’s wife).  My call is forming to the skeptical – – I honestly find so many to be so likeable and interesting.  My call is also forming to revise the hearts of people like me who ignored, reviled, or discounted them for so long.  I actually do love the church – – not a building, but a community of Christ followers.  And because I love the church, I am willing to humbly criticize it – – realizing that the first to be criticized is me.

What did I need to hear?  Avoiding the skeptic and painting her with a thin haired brush is too pious by half. She does care about justice and mercy because she was made in the image of God – – whether she has acknowledged that God or not.  She does things that are:  true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  Think on those things.

What did I need to hear?  Is there anything in my life or theology that is attractive or worthy of imitation?  Has it become about social acceptability and one-off platitudes for me?  Should I defend a broken American church or work to reform her?  I’m landing more on the side of the latter.  Love reforms.  Love criticizes his own heart, his own family, his own motives.

What did I need to hear?  Will I tolerate the continued scandal of the evangelical mind, or join the heritage of the Jesuits and engage my mind, culture, and tribe of humanity?

What did I need to hear?  The health and wealth gospel that I was raised with was a false gospel.  Joel Osteen is a false prophet.  The authentic gospel (discovered in my twenties) changed my whole life.  The authentic gospel saved the greatest wrath for the pharisee, not the sinner.  I have been both.  Remember the mercy you were given Pascal – – how dare you not offer it freely to another?

I am grateful for our friends and readers who follow Christ.  You may be the silent majority.  I hope that reading here will change the inclination of your heart just as writing here has done for me.  If we take Jesus seriously, how can we not weep for the pain caused in his name?  How can we not stand for something different in our generation?  St. Augustine saw the Visigoths sack Rome in 410 AD and died with the Vandals at the gate in North Africa.  He stood in a time of transition and was called to speak truth to his generation – – remember that he wrote to the church.  Now we stand in the post-modern, pre-future chasm.  Can’t we just call it the present?  What will we do?  We will care about our generation and reclaim the authentic gospel that deeply cares about people and profoundly transforms lives.  If we present an authentic gospel, it can rise or fall on its own merits.  I will no longer defend or tolerate the false.

 

Blessings,

Pascal

–1:16

photo credit:  © Frank Schulenburg / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via wikimedia commons

The Slippery Slope

Slippery Slope Jonathan Billinger

Dear Russell,

We’ve talked several times since your last series of posts that explain your difficulties with the Hebrew & Christian scriptures.  You know that I’ve wrestled with this in large part because you are wrestling with it.  Several of your points have affected my thinking.  I’m not going to quote you but rather address the questions that your writing has raised for me.  Other readers will have different questions.  If we can help them, we will.

What is the effect of my upbringing in scripture and how can I compare that to what others have experienced?

My parents were older when they had me.  They were both 36.  By today’s standards that’s not that unusual.  40-odd years ago, however, it shaded to the right of the bell curve mean.  There are both benefits and challenges to having older parents.  One benefit – – by the time I was four, both parents had both feet firmly planted in middle age.  They, like me, were different people at 40 than they were at 20 – – mostly better for it.  One challenge – – they were not fit and active.  That, of course, can often be mitigated.

Mom was a new Christian – – about 10 years into her walk.  Dad was raised in the faith.  I still have my mother in the flickering light of dementia.  Dad died from cancer about five years ago.  I’m writing to his sister now to find out more about him as a younger man.  She is so gracious in her replies.  We actually use papers, envelopes, and stamps.  Mom adopted a charismatic faith in the 1970’s – – listening to Derek Prince, Oral Roberts, and Kenneth Hagen.  Dad was raised a Baptist.  My aunt is still strong in faith and I’m eager to find out more about how they were raised.

Why this mini family history?  It has occupied my thoughts and journal more of late.  Where did I come from?  Why am I the way I am?  Surely my parents contributed both the DNA and the environment that so strongly influenced me.  What was the scripture in my house?  I saw different things from Mom and Dad.  Dad read the Bible stories to me and had a regular quiet time.  Mom devoured the scripture for herself and encouraged me to read each day as soon as I could.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

We are different ages when we realize the humanity of our parents, different ages when we learn to forgive them, still different when we gaze into the mirror and see their flaws and glory.  How did the scripture survive when they inevitably fell off their pedestals?  How will it survive in my children when I stumble off mine?  So much had to do with the content of the message.  For better or worse, the message of the Christian scripture is that man is broken and needs forgiveness.  That was a concept that took early in my life and insulated me from the inevitable disappointment of human frailty.  It has helped me to be gracious to others and to receive the grace that I need.

I try to read 20 books each year outside of my profession.  In many ways, I’m remediatiating a broad education as my work tends to be more technical.  I’m on pace this year to meet and even exceed the goal.  My stagnancy in updating the list is not disinterest.  I’m close to finishing two 1200 page + tomes.  One is A Suitable Boy by  Vikram Seth.  The other is Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer.  I think about what we write here as I learn by reading.  In A Suitable Boy, I just finished a chapter relevant to this discussion.  What if I was raised with different scriptures?

The first book is the story book that my father used – – I began reading the scripture on my own in primary school, probably at the age of 8 or 9.  The entire Christian bible (hebrew scriptures old testament + new testament) is about 1000 pages depending on font and pagination.

Taylor's Bible Story Book Shia Children's Book children's ramayana

 The next two would be used by Muslim or Hindu parents to teach their children.  A Suitable Boy is set in post-partition India in the time before the first general election.  I have many Indian American colleagues in my field, often first or second generation, and the culture of India fascinates me.  I didn’t realize until reading this book that there even was a partition.  Pakistan and India became independent of British colonial rule on consecutive days in August 1947, forming independent nations.  Why split the subcontinent?  What is Pakistan’s capital since the 1960s?  Islamabad.  Pakistan and India were partitioned to separate Muslims and Hindus.  Muslims stayed in or moved to Pakistan and vice versa.  Minorities of both faiths remain in each nation, but minorities they are.  There are proportionally more Muslims in India than Hindus in Pakistan.

In chapter 15 of the book, I was introduced to both Hindu and Muslim traditions, prophets, and gods who were unfamiliar to me.  What if my first children’s book had been book two or three above instead of book 1?  I would then view the world through that lens.  Is it fungible?  Can you ever erase the indelible imprint of your childhood?  Can you ever examine it as an adult with tools of metacognition and logic?  I think you can. So many of my skeptical friends (yes Russell – – the list has grown) or friends of other faith have.

Can you choose to keep your childhood faith and make it your own or must it always be rejected?  I offer that it must always be examined and that doubt is not sin.  Every believer and every skeptic must understand why she believes or doesn’t and she must construct the answer in a language that resonates with her own personality, intellect, and experience.  She can’t borrow too heavily from me, John Piper, Russell, or Sam Harris.  Her belief or disbelief must be her own.  And if disbelief is the choice – – a choice that you know I respect – – a positive construction must follow.  Must?  Of course not.  The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.  Should.

Slippery slope?  I don’t mind them.  A good trail run to me often involves a muddy face or bloody knee.  The Bible is precious to me.  As I’ll explain in the next post, however, I’m not off put by learning of concordant creation or flood accounts.  I’m also not offended by scientific evidence that proves the world is old or that a flood was local.  I’ll explain why.

Why are my children’s stories more reasonable than the others?  I can only answer that as an adult – – with gentleness and respect.  But, I’m not able to now – – I’m just too ignorant.  Learn with me.

Pascal

–1:16

photo:  by Jonathan Billinger, CC license

Philosophy is Dead – What Hawking Meant

Hi Pascal,

We’ve gone back and forth about what Hawking meant by “Philosophy is dead.” I’ve asked myself several times why it matters. Neither of us are holding up Hawking as a representative of our view. You don’t need Hawking for faith. I don’t need Hawking for my position because science only has experts, not “authorities” (contrary to the depiction in the movie “God’s Not Dead“). We’re all trying to figure out the mystery of existence. Scientists describe laws, they don’t prescribe them. For doubting scripture (my position) I don’t see that an individual scientist’s opinion is relevant. However, Hawking doesn’t seem to disagree with my position, so it really doesn’t impact me one way or another.

Since you’ve brought him up several times I’m curious about what you’re arguing against by disagreeing with Hawking and why it matters to you, or what point you’re trying to make. I think I understand you, but I’d like clarification. I offered an explanation of what I think he meant and why in a previous post. I haven’t heard your assessment of his words, so I’m not completely sure how it differs from my own (other than you disagree). I find it odd that we would come to different conclusions about this, so I think there’s still an issue with what I think Hawking meant by “philosophy” and what I think you mean by it. Or maybe my understanding is incorrect? Let’s dive in and talk it through. 🙂

What I think you mean by philosophy

Here are your comments in-line for simplicity. I don’t know if they’re in order. You can find them in context in Confessions and Small(er)(er?) bites.

Science was never a philosophy.  It was and is a method seeking explanation.  Philosophy seeks meaning. …

I can and will accept the arguments of science for the questions that science answers.  That includes age of the universe and earth.  That includes evolutionary biology writ large.  But I disagree with Hawking that philosophy is not necessary. …

We do need philosophy – – love of wisdom – – and we act like, live like, we do. …

He had time to think, a collaborator to think with, and I believe that he said what he meant.  Provocative?  Yes.  Philosophy is dead.  So, I don’t feel unsteady in disagreeing with him.

From these quotes it sounds like you’re saying something like the following:

  1. Philosophy is the branch of understanding that seeks meaning (“why” questions).
  2. Science is not a philosophy and doesn’t seek meaning, only explanation (“what” and “how”, not “why”).
  3. Science is incapable of weighing in on certain questions related to meaning or God.
  4. Hawking meant “the love of wisdom”, or the need for meaning, is dead.
  5. The need for wisdom and meaning is still very relevant today.

I’m probably missing something about your position, but this is my best first-guess. Please correct my errors in your position.

My original assessment of Hawking’s meaning

Here are my comments about what Hawking meant (from Love, Gray holes, Supernatural Ladybugs, and Scripture):

As we discussed at breakfast, I think Hawking (who recently said “There are no black holes” and meant they are actually slightly gray) is being slightly misunderstood when he says “Philosophy is dead” (the statement is made at 1:12 into the video, but listen to more for context). Due to Hawking’s disabilities is hard to have a back and forth dialogue with him and he didn’t expound much, but from his other resources and similar comments from other astrophysicists, I have an idea of his meaning. His view seems to be that philosophers who do not touch empirical tests and are unfamiliar with science are a dying breed. Most topics that used to be in philosophy have now branched out into various disciplines of science. Science is progressing where philosophy has not been (recently), and now science is able to contribute to philosophy much more than sitting-on-a-couch thinking. His statement is not meant to say that there is no benefit in philosophy or that it is “not necessary”, as Hawking is well aware that his own field of cosmology started as primarily a philosophy, and is largely involved in philosophy today. What he’s trying to accomplish with that “jaw-dropping” statement (like “there are no black holes”) is to get people to realize that the philosophy of the future will be tied inextricably with observation and scientific testing, not isolated from it.

You said you disagreed with this and that Hawking said what he meant, “Philosophy is dead.” However, I didn’t see what specifically you disagreed with. Do you think there might be a difference between my claims about what Hawking meant by “philosophy” and your meaning of “philosophy” (which may be something like “that which seeks meaning/wisdom/etc.”)?

Further resources

I alluded to some other sources I’d seen from astrophysicist presentations that lead me to form my understanding of how they viewed the topic long before I heard about Hawking’s controversial quote. Here are some of those sources. There were several others but I didn’t take the time to find them:

The reaction

If someone believes that philosophy is about meaning and wisdom then I can completely see how such a statement from Hawking would confuse them and make them want to correct him. Some may even seek to press the issue in order to discredit Hawking – believing he is akin to the scientific/atheist Pope (not that you see him that way, but some believers do).

When I heard Hawking’s claim that philosophy is dead, it was not very surprising. It did not offend me or seem at all unreasonable given the context in which I view philosophy and science. I can see why people would puzzle over his claim. However, I don’t know of anyone currently alive who is more brilliant than this man, so I hope few people think he meant the love of wisdom or the need for meaning is dead. He is full of wisdom and one of the main driving forces in his life is the discovery of the meaning to the universe. He doesn’t see meaning as something that his field of cosmology can’t address.

How physicists view philosophy vs science

I agree with how I think Hawking and most physicists’ view of philosophy and science…

For many, science is a philosophy, so it is ultimately about meaning (even if not always directly). It’s a subset of philosophy (or similar enough to one) that seeks explanation. But even those who view it as separate from philosophy usually assert it can answer questions about meaning. Laws are descriptions of reality. Theories are explanations that often include meanings and answers to “why” questions. Philosophy is the love of wisdom. Science deals with knowledge and has had many definitions over time, including “the philosophy of nature” (e.g. things that can be experienced and tested). There is an incredible amount of overlap between science and philosophy because in my more inclusive view of science, science is a philosophy. To my mind, and probably to most physicists, the main distinction has less to do with “why” questions of explanation vs meaning (they both seek both of those). The main difference is “testability”. Philosophy seeks understanding. The sub-branch of philosophy (or the related field) that uses tests to validate or falsify those on-the-couch hypotheses is called science.

The problem I think Hawking and most other physicists have with philosophy is only that it is inferior to science in coming up with answers that are more likely true. This is to be expected and it is why his statement made sense to me. Would you more fully trust an idea that you could not test, or one that you could test and verify or falsify? Insofar-as a philosophical idea is subject to experimentation, it is somewhat scientific in nature. Philosophy was the only game in town for millennia, since there was no formal method of hypothesis generation, testing, the use of only natural explanations to explain natural phenomena, etc. When the scientific method was initially formed, the process of “the search for wisdom” gained a powerful new tool, and more and more things that were strictly a philosophy started being tested. New tests were devised, and with each success, new and better hypotheses were formed. Science began surging forward and has been ever since, while philosophy has been mostly stagnant since science became formal three hundred years ago. The reason is not that philosophy is bad, it’s just that as a philosophical subject comes up with things that can be tested, it moves into a science. Philosophy has been steadily shrinking over the past several hundred years as more and more things that could once only be thought about on the couch (a-priori vs a posteriori reasoning), slowly started becoming testable. Again, this is what happened to the field of cosmology since the 1960s. It, like many many other subjects, went from being primarily a philosophy to being primarily a science.

Is philosophy dead?

So is philosophy dead? In some sense, I can see why he would choose to represent it that way. Of course we still need critical thinking, discrete math, and truth tables, but most college students can get that part of philosophy in their philosophy section of their specific science courses. The once non-testable areas of philosophy are almost entirely testable now, thanks to clever advances in technology and other tools that open up new ways to test things. The areas of philosophy that still remain untestable have made little progress compared with science, so they are fruitless in many areas. If you can think of a philosophy that has made progress, it’s probably due to specific things that have been tested within that philosophy (even though the larger branch of philosophy in consideration may not have moved to a science yet).

I’m not prepared to say “philosophy is dead” because most interpretations of that phrase would not match my meaning. Philosophy is excellent at coming up with and framing questions that science can then investigate. It’s also has great applicability to the creation, governance and management of the art of science. It provides a set of checks and balances that keep science in line by establishing its proper domain. To further complicate the issue, my inclusive view of science encompasses much of philosophy. Thought experiments are deeply engrained in philosophy and they are scientific experiments that are subject to tests using logic. So what philosophy uses to come up with the applicable domain of science, is itself a science in my view.

Is philosophy dead? It depends on what a person means, but I can sympathize with a physicist who might see it that way, given the very minor overall applicability of non-scientific thought to his/her field of hard numbers and raw data.

Are wisdom and meaning worthless?

Do we still need wisdom and a search for meaning? Absolutely, and I sincerely believe Hawking and most other physicists would agree. But given this context of what they mean by philosophy, I hope it’s clear that wisdom and meaning are not what is meant when they speak of philosophy in general being trumped by the specific philosophical sciences that offer testing.

More on the overlap and questions science can’t answer (yet?)

Here’s the question as I see it. Can it be tested in some way? Then think of it as a science (it has the potential to make progress via observation and testing – we can know something about it – so it isn’t fruitless). Can it not be tested? Then it is a philosophy that is currently not a science, so it is unlikely to yield much progress until tests can be devised (at which point it will become a science no longer be dead). Much of the thinking done in a scientific fields is philosophical. And much of the thinking done in the few domains that are still primary philosophical are scientific (because some testing can be done, but not enough to classify the whole domain as a science). As I mentioned, there is a lot of overlap. The point, though, is that even a science is interested in meaning an answers to the “why” questions (though it typically doesn’t presuppose a purpose as the ultimate cause, so it may frame it as “how” but it’s still after meaning), because it is ultimately a philosophy (it just may not address the “meaning” questions directly much of the time).

When you say there are questions science cannot answer, that is like saying there are questions for which we do not currently have a means to evaluate whether or not they are true (i.e. we cannot test them). I agree. There are many big questions (most do involve meaning) that we do not have a good way to validate or falsify yet. Philosophy is alive in well when thinking about these questions. But will it make progress. Can we come to a knowledge (science) of some answer without an ability to validate or falsify our on-the-couch conclusions? I doubt it. I have hope that as we think about them philosophically, and as our knowledge and tools improve, we will begin to be able to test more and more of them in small pieces until a potentially accurate picture snaps into view. We can get into Non-Overlapping Magisteria another day, but I think at least some of the questions that we are putting out of the domain of science are not unaddressable by science. In particular, science is great at falsification, even for domains in which it cannot provide positive evidence.

Finally, in Small(er)(er?) bites you said:

Either you or Linuxgal could probably understand Hawking’s technical works.

Thank you for the compliment, but please don’t mistake me for a competent physicist or mathematician. I have a lot to learn, about that and many other subjects, but I love the journey.

I hope this clarifies my position on science vs philosophy. 🙂

Have a great day, friend.

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

Romans 1:18-20

 

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  Romans 1:18-20 (ESV)

I consider Romans 1:16 to be the fulcrum of the first chapter of a letter that encapsulates Christian theology.  That said, I constantly reference the life of Christ in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) as I read Paul.  Paul’s words would mean much less to me if I didn’t have a chance to meet Jesus.  I suppose that all philosophy, civil or religious, is trying to both define and answer a question.  Is there a problem?  What is the problem?  Is there a solution?  What is the solution?  Although there must be people who say there is no problem, I have not yet met them.  My skeptical friends argue, sometimes rightly so, that the religious are the problem – – words say love, actions say bigotry.  My religious friends will decry the godless atheists (ironic, no?) and militant gay agendists.  Surely the kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven if only the abortionists and gays would go away.  No.

Is there a problem?  Yes.  What is the problem?  According to this passage of Romans, the problem is that God is angry at our actions that suppress the truth.  Is he angry at us or our actions?  Without semantic gymnastics, I am uncomfortable separating the two.  I remember angry mother, father, teacher or friend and find a difficult time in recognizing if it was me or my actions that received the wrath.  So – – the text says that I am not godly and not righteous – – and that by my unrighteousness I suppress the truth.

How do I suppress the truth?  Pause here to recognize the difficult assertion that there is capital “t” Truth.  Consider that in respect to what Russell has recently written about the solutions of science.

I suppress the truth by not acknowledging God.  How can I know anything about God?  There are two threads in Romans 1 and in fact in Christian thought – – words (scripture) and creation.  Russell and I know scripture well and we’ll open the discussion about reliability here.  Are these the words of God given to man?  Billions of people feel that way about very different words in different religions.  Let us only agree now that words have power for humans.  I would place spoken and written language in the top 10 accomplishments of evolution and technology.  Pascal – – why did you locate creation and evolution in the same paragraph?  Keep reading.

I believe (true or false belief I acknowledge) that God created this universe.  I also believe that truth with a capital “t” is truth.  Can I have it both ways – – specially pleading for God’s truth and science’s truth?  Not if I want to be consistent.  I desperately want to be consistent – – and I ask that from you.  So, in my philosophy, truth is truth.  If God is the author of truth, then science is not the Devil’s Workshop.

How old do you think the earth and universe is Pascal?  Is that not the shibboleth of the authentic Christian?  Do you find your answer here or here?  Who made it?  How?

For question 1, I answer with the truth of science and start with Google.  For question 2, I answer with philosophy and start with Genesis.  For question 3, I honestly go to both – – more on that later.  According to Romans 1, what can be known about God by pre-scientific man?  His invisible attributes:  eternal power and divine nature.  Thats not a lot to go on.  But somehow I get it.  I’ve seen stars away from city lights.  I’ve hiked a 14,000 foot peak.  I’ve felt so small at the edge of the ocean.  Either I am a happy accident, or I was a part of created plan.  How insecure of me to desire the latter.  How human of me to have desires at all.  Welcome to my wish fulfillment Dr. Freud.  More about my Daddy issues soon.

Pascal

–1:16

 

iMultiverse

The 5th grader noticed one of his apps had auto-updated on his quantum iPhone 72, so he opened it.

He watched as multiple fluctuations began to appear and disappear randomly in all shapes and sizes — sometimes bumping into each other and merging, sometimes exploding. He zoomed into one of the isolated bubbles and saw nothing but emptiness. In another bubble he saw white hot plasma. Time sped up and he watched it cool and dissipate into nothing as the bubble disappeared. Many more bubbles began to form. One expanded and collapsed again, causing part of the bubble to grow back out the other side. Some bubbles expanded so quickly some of the simulated energy cooled to form superheated matter, which eventually cooled further and began to clump together. He zoomed into one in time to see countless clumps collapse into beautiful stars which exploded into heavy elements that coalesced into planets. Eventually a chemical on some of the planets replicated, and in time, living things emerged. The small life forms evolved and some became intelligent and self-reflective like him. One of them wrote a speculative blog post about him and his app. He smiled, intrigued. His bus arrived at school. “Time to go”, someone said. With a small grin still on his face, he thought, “I’ll play it again on the ride home”. As he popped the bubble, trillions of virtual creatures ceased to exist. He closed iMultiverse and walked to class.

In another reality, fingers moved, and the bubble the fifth grader was in left the screen. The creature was excited to see that some of the bubbles on her app had developed life forms that could create virtual worlds of their own. However, the creature was heartbroken at the mindless loss of life. Did they not realize the simulation was real to those inside each bubble?! She suddenly froze, captured by a thought. Am I in a simulation, too?

Somewhere else, a smile formed.

Author’s comments…
What did the smile belonged to? Perhaps another simulator in an infinite regression of simulators? An uncreated creator with the special ability to create events in an existence that has no events? Nothingness itself? A random fluctuation in the first uncreated eternal nothing? An entity with a mind in an original uncreated eternal universe? Something else?

One point of this post is to illustrate that the cause for our universe could be eternal, or there could be no meaning to asking about a first cause if time/events once did not exist, or any number of things could exist outside it and causally before it. This story is one example of many potential a-priori realities in which a creator does not have to be all-knowing, all-good, etc. The events in any reality outside the universe we live in are not necessarily subject to our laws of causality (which, incidentally, may not even be laws in our universe). All we can have confidence in is the things that exist at scales we can measure in the known universe. We can know nothing of what might exist outside our universe.

Questions

  1. Is it justifiable to be absolutely certain about the cause of the Big Bang (assuming such a cause is even meaningful or required)?
  2. Are “an eternity of nothing” or “an all-knowing, all-loving God” the only options? Is that a false dichotomy?

We welcome your thoughts.

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

P.S. Here is the app’s skeleton code for my fellow geeks


defaultStateOfRelationalExistence = nil; // set the initial state to nothing, 0, void

while appOpen { // keep running this loop until the app closes

   function universeGenerator() {
      return (totalFluctuation + totalOscillation + totalInstability + totalExcitation + totalOpposition + totalForce + totalCharge + totalPotential); // etc; basically the sum of all values for all relationships between all real and potential forces in the default state of the default environment
   }

   function checkStatusOfUniverse(previousStatusOfUniverse) {
      return previousStatusOfUniverse * defaultStateOfRelationalExistence;
   }

   function continueUniverse(relationalExistence) {
      while (relationalExistence) { // keep repeating the loop until the value of relationships exactly equals 0
         refreshScreen(relationalExistence); // displays interesting patterns to the iPhone screen
         relationalExistence = checkStatusOfUniverse(relationalExistence);
         continueUniverse(universeGenerator()); // if a new instability exists at any reference point, recursively call continueUniverse

         if (relationalExistencePoppedByUser) relationalExistence = nil; // if the user pops a bubble, remove all its relationships
      }
   }

   do {
      defaultStateOfRelationalExistence = universeGenerator();
   } while (!defaultStateOfRelationalExistence); // keep repeating the loop until at least one relationship emerges in the default environment

   continueUniverse(defaultStateOfRelationalExistence);
}