Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Alien's Science Project

The popular science author John Gribbin has a new book out called ‘In Search of the Multiverse’. The blurb for it reads:

We once had to abandon the idea of earth being at the centre of the universe. Now, we need to confront an even more profound possibility: the universe itself might just be one universe among many. In Search of the Multiverse takes us on an extraordinary journey, examining the most fundamental questions in science. What are the boundaries of our universe? Can there be different physical laws from the ones we know? Are there in fact other universes? Do we really live in a multiverse?

This book is a search - the ultimate search - exploring the frontiers of reality. Ideas that were once science fiction have now come to dominate modern physics. And, as John Gribbin shows, there is increasing evidence that there really is more to the universe than we can see. Gribbin guides us through the different competing theories (there is more than one multiverse!) revealing what they have in common and what we can come to expect. He gives a brilliant tour of the current state of cosmology.


Of course, as readers of this blog are often reminded, abandoning the idea the earth is the centre of the universe was a pretty good thing, but I digress. Peter Woit at ‘Not Even Wrong’ is not impressed, remarking that:

Gribbin expounds at length the usual string theory anthropic landscape/multiverse ideology, carefully avoiding introducing any mention of the fact that there might be quite a few scientists skeptical about it.

Having conflated the anthropic principle and the many worlds interpretation of Quantum Physics, Gribbin builds up to his most powerful insight, that we are in a baby universe produced by a race of alien beings:

The intelligence required to do the job may be superior to ours, but it is a finite intelligence reasonably similar to our own, not an infinite and incomprehensible God. The most likely reason for such an intelligence to make universes is the same as the reason why people do things like climbing mountains or studying the nature of subatomic particles using accelerators like the LHC – because they can. A civilization that has the technology to make baby universes might find the temptation irresistible, while at the higher levels of universe design, if the superior intelligences are anything at all like us there would be an overwhelming temptation to improve upon the design of their own universes. This provides the best resolution yet to the puzzle Albert Einstein used to raise, that ‘the most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible.’ The Universe is comprehensible to the human mind because it was designed, at least to some extent, by intelligent beings with minds similar to our own. Fred Hoyle put it slightly differently. ‘The Universe,’ he used to say, ‘is a put-up job.’ I believe that he was right. But in order for that ‘put-up job’ to be understood, we need all the elements of this book.

Woit easily refutes this:

Personally, I think there’s an air-tight argument against this: any race of superior beings that produced a universe in which science descended into this level of nonsense would immediately wipe out their creation and start over. Since we’re still here, there can’t be such a race operating out there.

Except if the race of aliens are screwing with us, like a six year old forcing insects to fight in a jar.
In other news Andrei Linde and Vitaly Vanchurin have been trying to calculate a number of possible universes in the multiverse based on quantum fluctuations in the early state of the universe. Their final number for this is that at least 10^10^10^7 universes out there. Unfortunately the human brain is ‘only capable of 10^10^16 configurations’ so calculating the probabilities is going to be a tad difficult.

In even more news theoretical physicists Holger Nielsen, from Denmark, and Masao Ninomiya, from Japan, have concluded that the discovery of the Higgs Boson could be so "abhorrent to nature" that it can "ripple backward through time" and stop the Large Hadron Collider before it could make one. He said that his theories may even provide a ‘model for God’ who ‘rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them’. Now there’s an example of science and religion working in tandem.

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum

7 comments:

Karl said...

Why does it seem like the stuff the modern scientific establishment is starting to produce sounding like a bad science fiction novel?

Tom Gilson said...

"The intelligence required to do the job may be superior to ours, but it is a finite intelligence reasonably similar to our own, not an infinite and incomprehensible God. The most likely reason for such an intelligence to make universes is the same as the reason why people do things like climbing mountains or studying the nature of subatomic particles using accelerators like the LHC – because they can."

Gribbin can imagine other beings whose psychology is like ours, and since he can imagine it, he thinks that's more likely than an incomprehensible God. That's a pretty limited vision.

Not having read the book, and based just on what's quoted in this post, I wonder how much his conclusion can be attributed to a simple and rather boring failure of imagination; or worse, a kind of inter-universal racism that assumes that beings like us are the model for all thinking beings.

Humphrey said...

"Why does it seem like the stuff the modern scientific establishment is starting to produce sounding like a bad science fiction novel?"

Maybe it's because the current scientific establishment spent their whole childhood reading bad science fiction novels.

Mike Flynn said...

My favorite Gribben book was Forecasts, Famines, and Freezes about global cooling. It really convinced me. Later he wrote a book on global warming. Oh, well.

Gribben is a science writer. He'll take whatever hot topic is current and make a book. But it was dishonest not to mention the skepticism of many physicists about string theory.

Modern science seems in the business of imagining all sorts of invisible entities.

Karl said...

Maybe it's because the current scientific establishment spent their whole childhood reading bad science fiction novels.

That would explain quite a few things.

Not having read the book, and based just on what's quoted in this post, I wonder how much his conclusion can be attributed to a simple and rather boring failure of imagination; or worse, a kind of inter-universal racism that assumes that beings like us are the model for all thinking beings.

I think that's called the Anthropomorphic Problem, I remember Micheal Crichton wrote about it once in one of his novels. Think it was Sphere. He said the same thing, scientists don't necessarily have a better imagination then anybody else and will rely on what they think they know and basic human experience even if they are heading off into unknown territory; like investigating the possibility non-human intelligent beings.

Ilíon said...

And is our entirely speculative "Momma Universe" itself a "Baby Universe" created by even more superior (but not in *this* universe) space aliens?

Rinse and repeat.

Ilíon said...

And, from the point-of-view of the superior (but not in *this* universe) space aliens, are we real? That is, would they or would they not think it immoral (and would they be objectivel correct?) to turn off the simulation or process or whatever it is that "created" us. You know, sort of like it's morally meaningless for us to turn off a computer simulation of organisms (or even of people).