Monthly Archives: May 2018

Are Many Worlds and the Multiverse the Same Idea?

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Sean Carroll is a cosmologist and physicist specializing in dark energy and general relativity. He is a research professor in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of TechnologyA post on his blog recently caught my attention: “Are Many Worlds and the Multiverse the Same Idea?

When talking about “parallel worlds” Carroll distinguishes between: a)the “multiverse” of inflationary cosmology; b) the “many worlds” or “branches of the wave function” of quantum mechanics; and c) “parallel branes” of string theory.” While branes represent a distinct idea, Carroll thinks that the multiverse and many worlds ideas might capture the same basic idea. Here’s how he explains the differences between those two ideas:

When cosmologists talk about “the multiverse,” it’s a slightly poetic term. We really just mean different regions of spacetime, far away so that we can’t observe them, but nevertheless still part of what one might reasonably want to call “the universe.” In inflationary cosmology, however, these different regions can be relatively self-contained — “pocket universes,” as Alan Guth calls them. When you combine this with string theory, the emergent local laws of physics in the different pocket universes can be very different; they can have different particles, different forces, even different numbers of dimensions. So there is a good reason to think about them as separate universes, even if they’re all part of the same underlying spacetime.

The situation in quantum mechanics is superficially entirely different. Think of Schrödinger’s Cat. Quantum mechanics describes reality in terms of wave functions, which assign numbers (amplitudes) to all the various possibilities of what we can see when we make an observation. The cat is neither alive nor dead; it is in a superposition of alive + dead. At least, until we observe it. In the simplistic Copenhagen interpretation, at the moment of observation the wave function “collapses” onto one actual possibility. We see either an alive cat or a dead cat; the other possibility has simply ceased to exist. In the Many Worlds or Everett interpretation, both possibilities continue to exist, but “we” (the macroscopic observers) are split into two, one that observes a live cat and one that observes a dead one. There are now two of us, both equally real, never to come back into contact.

Now clearly these ideas differ. Most notably, in the multiverse, the other universes are far away whereas, in quantum mechanics, they’re right here in different possibility spaces. (technically different parts of Hilbert space.) Still, some physicists have been wondering about the connection between the two ideas. And, after reading the recent literature, Carroll has “gone from a confused skeptic to a tentative believer.”

Carroll has changed his mind because of two ideas that fit together to make this crazy-sounding proposal plausible—quantum vacuum decay and horizon complementarity. Roughly quantum vacuum decay implies that “at any point in space you are in a quantum superposition of different vacuum states.” But horizon complementarity means that “you can talk about what’s inside your cosmological horizon, but not what’s outside.” Carroll concludes:

The result is: multiverse-in-a-box. Or at least, multiverse-in-an-horizon. On the one hand, complementarity says that we shouldn’t think about what’s outside our observable universe; every question that it is sensible to ask can be answered in terms of what’s happening inside a single horizon. On the other, quantum mechanics says that a complete description of what’s actually inside our observable universe includes an amplitude for being in various possible states. So we’ve replaced the cosmological multiverse, where different states are located in widely separated regions of spacetime, with a localized multiverse, where the different states are all right here, just in different branches of the wave function.

Carroll admits not knowing if any of this is true, although he is “inclined to think that it has a good chance of actually being true.” As for the implications for physics and for us, I’m in the dark. I’m simply don’t know what to do with the idea of a multiverse and parallel universes. Try as I may, our mysterious reality confounds me.

Summary of Fluid vs. Crystallized Intelligence

Fluid and crystallized intelligence are elements of general intelligence, originally identified by Raymond Cattell.[1] The concepts of fluid and crystallized intelligence were further developed by Cattell’s student John L. Horn. Here are Wikipedia’s definitions:

Fluid intelligence or fluid reasoning is the capacity to reason and solve novel problems, independent of any knowledge from the past.[2] It is the ability to analyze novel problems, identify patterns and relationships that underpin these problems and the extrapolation of these using logic. It is necessary for all logical problem solving. Fluid reasoning includes inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning.

Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use skills, knowledge, and experience. It does not equate to memory, but it does rely on accessing information from long-term memory. Crystallized intelligence is one’s lifetime of intellectual achievement, as demonstrated largely through one’s vocabulary and general knowledge. This improves somewhat with age, as experiences tend to expand one’s knowledge.

So the basic difference is that fluid intelligence involves our current ability to reason and to deal with complex information, while crystallized intelligence involves learning, knowledge, and skills acquired over a lifetime. Research has shown that these two factors of general intelligence peak at different times in life. Fluid intelligence peaks early in life,  typically in the lates teens or early twenties, while crystallized intelligence peaks much later in life, often in one’s sixties or seventies. And recent research, using large online samples, reveals that specific mental capabilities peak at different times. Here are the ages at which various capabilities peak:

  • 18-19: Information-processing speed peaks early, then begins to decline.
  • 25: Short-term memory gets better until around age 25.
  • 30: Memory for faces peaks and then starts to gradually decline.
  • 35: Short-term memory begins to weaken and decline.
  • 40s-50s: Emotional understanding peaks in middle to late adulthood.
  • 60s: Vocabulary abilities continue to increase.

(If interested you can find many graphs about age and various mental capabilities here.)

While I am not an expert on this topic the findings above match my experience. I found that teaching symbolic logic became more difficult to teach as I aged but understanding and synthesizing philosophy became easier as the storehouse of my knowledge increased.

I’m not sure how this all relates to clichés like “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or “old people are set in their ways.” I am a lifelong learner who believes that unlearning old falsehoods is the essence of having a childlike, inquisitive mind. To keep learning we must fight against the mental grooves that accumulate with time. Still, I admit that I was more open-minded—or impressionable if you prefer—when I was younger.

I suppose then that we need to strike a balance between being open to novel ideas and not discarding previous ones that were adopted after careful and conscientious deliberation. As the late Carl Sagan put it best in one of my favorite books, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, “Keeping an open mind is a virtue—but … not so open that your brains fall out.”

Should Men Ask Women for Forgiveness?

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A regular reader of my site recently published “Denied equality for thousands of years, letter asks women for forgiveness” and requested that I reprint and comment on it.

Comments – I agree with the article’s overall sentiments about the evils of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. I also agree that patriarchal notions of gods reflect and sustain male power, and female gods or non-personal gods make about as much—or as little—sense as male gods. (The definitive work on various conceptions of gods of which I’m aware is Hartshorne and Reese’s, Philosophers Speak of God.)

In fact, “the problem of religious language” reveals that any talk about gods is problematic. The problem is that human language could never adequately describe the (supposed) divine essence. Thus Thomas Aquinas, for example, argued that since his god was beyond human language then about this god is, at best, an analogy. For instance, your god may be like your mother or father but isn’t literally your mother or father. (However, as a non-theist I’m uncomfortable talking at all about what I view as imaginary gods.)

One problem with the essay in my view is the penultimate paragraph which could be taken to mean that women should be docile. I understand that women shouldn’t emulate men but they probably have to adopt some so-called male qualities to fight their oppression. After all, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony improved women’s lives by being assertive, not passive.

Finally, I won’t comment on the various theological claims in the essay as I have no expertise in the subject. Here then is the unedited essay in full:

Oh, glorious women! Can you possibly forgive us men for having abused you for thousands of years? How we have envied your loving hearts, your commitment to harmony, your subtle gentleness, your inner beauty, your ability to listen, your not needing to be the centre of attention, your ability to serve in silence and your intuitive emotional intelligence!

We males have so much wished to be like you, but we could not, or refused to. Instead, out of our sense of inferiority, we decided to prove to you that we were superior to you. We males had set out during the last few thousand years to transform the ancient world of perhaps several hundreds of thousand years of pre-historic matriarchal-patriarchal peace into a world of patriarchal warfare.

We seem to have systematically wiped out most of the evidence of the existence and success of that previously harmonious world in our history. We males claimed loudly that it had never existed; it was just a wishful fantasy.

But, for example, archaeological excavations in Israel had unearthed numerous little Asherah figurines, which ancient women used as a symbol for worshipping a single Yahweh God who to them was a union of both the Holy Mother and the Holy Father.

Asherah was the representative of the feminine aspect of God or the consort of El, the masculine aspect of the one Yahweh God. Yet the Old Testament demonised the female Asherah aspect of Yahweh and airbrushed her out of the image of God.

The original Yahweh God who was either perceived as beyond gender, or as the union of both genders, became masculinised into only ‘The Lord’ in the Old Testament. Most Eastern religions also eventually masculinised God.

The New Testament presents Jesus as one who worshipped his Heavenly God as father rather than both as the Mother and the Father. Yet in the belatedly discovered authentic Dead Sea Scrolls there is also Apostle Thomas’ Testament, which quotes Jesus saying that his earthly mother (Mary) only gave him birth but it was his divine mother who gave him life!

What? Is it possible that Jesus worshipped God not only as his Holy Father but also as his Holy Mother? Alas, patriarchal Christians will not have a bar of such perception.

We have kept claiming that there was never a world that seamlessly integrated loving spirituality into day-to-day living in our mundane reality. One in which people’s basic commitment was to the spiritual abundance of unconditional love for a just and peaceful world instead of to creating material scarcity with a ‘need’ to fight over insufficient resources.

We males have done everything in our power to subjugate you, dear Women, to break you into our patriarchal mould, to tame you and force you to submit to our lie that we are superior to you.

Have we added even more insult to injury when we triple airbrushed you from the Holy Trinity? It was not to be a united Mother-Father, the Offspring and the Holy Spirit but only Father, Son and the male Holy Spirit. Most Christian denominations still hold on to this patriarchal terminology in worshipping God to this very day!

Tell me dear Women, how could you have put up with this for thousands of years? How could you allow us males to deny a legitimate place for you even in the sacred Holy Trinity, let alone in the unjust patriarchal mundane world that we have been creating and imposing on you by stick and carrot?

Were you crying out and protesting as we co-opted you into such a world? Was this against your will, or did we succeed in brainwashing you into our macho mentality without much resistance from you?

How many of you now aim to be the pseudo males of the likes of Margaret Thatcher, fierce female rugby players, muscly weight lifters, air-punching aggressive tennis players and kick boxing women?

Does your just endeavour to be recognised as equal to men in society in general also compel you to become physically and mentally as much the macho boy as we males are at our reptilian worst or, is there an alternative? Would it not be better for us all if you females helped us males become less macho, gentler, more nurturing and peace seeking, so that we would lovingly co-operate to mutually serve one another, instead of you too, increasingly adopt our worst divisive macho ambitions?