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Sean Carroll explains why physicists worry about Boltzmann brains

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Carroll is a multiverse cosmologist. As Plus Maths explains it,

Imagine you’re an isolated brain floating lonely through the vast expanse of the Universe with all your thoughts, memories and perceptions just figments of your imagination. That’s a depressing thought, but not a new one. There’d even be a name for you: you’d be a Boltzmann brain.

How do we actually know that we are not Boltzmann brains? Well, we don’t, but we might as well agree that we are not. “[If you are a Boltzmann brain] then all your ideas about history, your memory, the laws of physics and the rules of logic have all just fluctuated into your brain,” explains Carroll. “And therefore you have no right to believe them because other laws, incorrect laws, could also have fluctuated into your brain. So you can’t simultaneously believe that you’re a Boltzmann brain and have any good reason to believe you’re a Boltzmann brain.”

Paradoxically, this paradox lets us off the hook: there is no point in doing science if we’re not happy to agree that we’re not Boltzmann brains and that our observations about the world are real. “I would advocate to try to come up with theories in which we’re not likely to be Boltzmann brains and then we’re on safe ground,” says Carroll.

Readers? If this is what cosmology has come to, what do you recommend?

See also: The multiverse: Where everything turns out to be true, except philosophy and religion

As if the multiverse wasn’t bizarre enough …meet Many Worlds

But who needs reality-based thinking anyway? Not the new cosmologists

Multiverse cosmology: Assuming that evidence still matters, what does it say?

In search of a road to reality

8 Replies to “Sean Carroll explains why physicists worry about Boltzmann brains

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Actually, Boltzmann’s Brain is part of the bigger epistemological failure inherent throughout the Naturalistic worldview.
    Four epistemological failures inherent to the naturalistic worldview that come to mind right off the bat are the predictive failure inherent in the multiverse, (i.e. it predicts everything and therefore predicts nothing), and the undermining of the trustworthiness of mental faculties as elucidated in Boltzmann’s Brain, Plantinga’ Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, and also as elucidated in the materialistic Many Worlds hypothesis of quantum mechanics,, (a theory which holds that there are actually a quisi-infinite number of you generated every time you observe a single photon).
    Moreover, far from underming the trustworthiness of our mental faculties, modern science was born out of the Christian belief that we have minds that are made in the image of God and can therefore understand the universe to its deepest levels.
    The success of modern science itself is remarkable confirmation that those foundational ‘made in the image of God’ beliefs of the Christian founders of modern science are true.

  2. 2
    Jim Smith says:

    It undermines materialism. There is no need to waste time trying to refute any materialist criticism of non-materilaist beliefs because materialism itself is is not a rational philosophy.

    My favorite proof that materialism is not a rational philosophy?
    New Pew survey: 21% of atheists believe in God

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    As to the fact that we have conscious minds which are not reducible to a material basis as is held in Christian Theism, (and are therefore not subject to the many epistemological failures inherent to the Naturalistic worldview), first it should be noted that materialism cannot even get on first base as to explaining the hard problem of consciousness,,,

    ‘But the hard problem of consciousness is so hard that I can’t even imagine what kind of empirical findings would satisfactorily solve it. In fact, I don’t even know what kind of discovery would get us to first base, not to mention a home run.’
    David Barash – Materialist/Atheist Darwinian Psychologist
    – per UD News

    “We have so much confidence in our materialist assumptions (which are assumptions, not facts) that something like free will is denied in principle. Maybe it doesn’t exist, but I don’t really know that. Either way, it doesn’t matter because if free will and consciousness are just an illusion, they are the most seamless illusions ever created. Film maker James Cameron wishes he had special effects that good.”
    Matthew D. Lieberman – neuroscientist – materialist – UCLA professor

    Mind and Cosmos – Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False – Thomas Nagel – an atheist philosopher who is highly respected in regards to his study of ‘the hard problem’
    Excerpt: If materialism cannot accommodate consciousness and other mind-related aspects of reality, then we must abandon a purely materialist understanding of nature in general, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history.

    David Chalmers is semi-famous for getting the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness across to lay people in a very easy to understand manner:

    David Chalmers on Consciousness (Philosophical Zombies and the Hard Problem) – video

    Moreover, on top of the fact that materialism can’t even get on first base as to explaining the hard problem of consciousness, evidence from quantum mechanics has constantly shown us that it is consciousness, not material, that is the ultimate foundational of reality.

    That consciousness is integral to quantum mechanics is fairly obvious to the unbiased observer (no pun intended). I first, much like everybody else, was immediately shocked to learn that the observer could have any effect whatsoever in the double slit experiment:

    Quantum Mechanics – Double Slit and Delayed Choice Experiments – video

    Dr. Quantum – Double Slit Experiment – video

    Double Slit Experiment – Explained By Prof Anton Zeilinger – video

    Quantum Mechanics – Double Slit Experiment. Is anything real? (Prof. Anton Zeilinger) – video

    Prof. Zeilinger makes this rather startling statement in the preceding video:

    “The path taken by the photon is not an element of reality. We are not allowed to talk about the photon passing through this or this slit. Neither are we allowed to say the photon passes through both slits. All this kind of language is not applicable.”
    Anton Zeilinger

    Feynman said this in regards to the double slit experiment with electrons,

    “has in it the heart of quantum mechanics” and “is impos­sible, absolutely impos­sible, to explain in any clas­sical way.”

    Feynman also stated this in regards to quantum mechanics,,,

    “…the “paradox” is only a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality “ought to be.”
    Richard Feynman, in The Feynman Lectures on Physics, vol III, p. 18-9 (1965)

    Dean Radin, who spent years at Princeton testing different aspects of consciousness, recently performed experiments testing the possible role of consciousness in the double slit. His results were, not so surprisingly, very supportive of consciousness’s central role in the experiment:

    Consciousness and the double-slit interference pattern: six experiments – Radin – 2012
    Abstract: A double-slit optical system was used to test the possible role of consciousness in the collapse of the quantum wavefunction. The ratio of the interference pattern’s double-slit spectral power to its single-slit spectral power was predicted to decrease when attention was focused toward the double slit as compared to away from it. Each test session consisted of 40 counterbalanced attention-toward and attention-away epochs, where each epoch lasted between 15 and 30 s(seconds). Data contributed by 137 people in six experiments, involving a total of 250 test sessions, indicate that on average the spectral ratio decreased as predicted (z = -4:36, p = 6·10^-6). Another 250 control sessions conducted without observers present tested hardware, software, and analytical procedures for potential artifacts; none were identified (z = 0:43, p = 0:67). Variables including temperature, vibration, and signal drift were also tested, and no spurious influences were identified. By contrast, factors associated with consciousness, such as meditation experience, electrocortical markers of focused attention, and psychological factors including openness and absorption, significantly correlated in predicted ways with perturbations in the double-slit interference pattern. The results appear to be consistent with a consciousness-related interpretation of the quantum measurement problem.

    Of course, atheists/materialists were/are in complete denial as to the obvious implications of mind in the double slit (invoking infinite parallel universes and such as that to try to get around the obvious implications of ‘Mind’). But personally, not being imprisoned in the materialist’s box, my curiosity was aroused and I’ve been sort of poking around, finding out a little more here and there about quantum mechanics, and how the observer is central to it. One of the first interesting experiments in quantum mechanics I found after the double slit, that highlighted the centrality of the observer to the experiment, was Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries. Here is Wigner commenting on the key experiment that led Wigner to his Nobel Prize winning work on quantum symmetries,,,

    Eugene Wigner
    Excerpt: When I returned to Berlin, the excellent crystallographer Weissenberg asked me to study: why is it that in a crystal the atoms like to sit in a symmetry plane or symmetry axis. After a short time of thinking I understood:,,,, To express this basic experience in a more direct way: the world does not have a privileged center, there is no absolute rest, preferred direction, unique origin of calendar time, even left and right seem to be rather symmetric. The interference of electrons, photons, neutrons has indicated that the state of a particle can be described by a vector possessing a certain number of components. As the observer is replaced by another observer (working elsewhere, looking at a different direction, using another clock, perhaps being left-handed), the state of the very same particle is described by another vector, obtained from the previous vector by multiplying it with a matrix. This matrix transfers from one observer to another.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    Wigner went on to make these rather dramatic comments in regards to his work:

    “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.” Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) from his collection of essays “Symmetries and Reflections – Scientific Essays”; Eugene Wigner laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963.

    “It will remain remarkable, in whatever way our future concepts may develop, that the very study of the external world led to the scientific conclusion that the content of the consciousness is the ultimate universal reality” –
    Eugene Wigner – (Remarks on the Mind-Body Question, Eugene Wigner, in Wheeler and Zurek, p.169) 1961

    Moreover, Wigner was certainly no lightweight in quatum mechanics, but his deep insights continue to foster ‘a second revolution’ in quantum mechanics:

    Eugene Wigner – A Gedanken Pioneer of the Second Quantum Revolution – Anton Zeilinger – Sept. 2014
    It would be fascinating to know Eugene Wigner’s reaction to the fact that the gedanken experiments he discussed (in 1963 and 1970) have not only become reality, but building on his gedanken experiments, new ideas have developed which on the one hand probe the foundations of quantum mechanics even deeper, and which on the other hand also provide the foundations to the new field of quantum information technology. All these experiments pay homage to the great insight Wigner expressed in developing these gedanken experiments and in his analyses of the foundations of quantum mechanics,

    Also of note:

    Von Neumann–Wigner – interpretation
    Excerpt: The von Neumann–Wigner interpretation, also described as “consciousness causes collapse [of the wave function]“, is an interpretation of quantum mechanics in which consciousness is postulated to be necessary for the completion of the process of quantum measurement.
    per wikipedia

    Then after I had learned about Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries, I stumbled across Wheeler’s Delayed choice experiments in which this finding shocked me as to the central importance of the observer’s free will choice in quantum experiments:

    “Thus one decides the photon shall have come by one route or by both routes after it has already done its travel”
    John A. Wheeler

    Alain Aspect speaks on John Wheeler’s Delayed Choice Experiment – video

    Wheeler’s Classic Delayed Choice Experiment:
    Excerpt: Now, for many billions of years the photon is in transit in region 3. Yet we can choose (many billions of years later) which experimental set up to employ – the single wide-focus, or the two narrowly focused instruments. We have chosen whether to know which side of the galaxy the photon passed by (by choosing whether to use the two-telescope set up or not, which are the instruments that would give us the information about which side of the galaxy the photon passed). We have delayed this choice until a time long after the particles “have passed by one side of the galaxy, or the other side of the galaxy, or both sides of the galaxy,” so to speak. Yet, it seems paradoxically that our later choice of whether to obtain this information determines which side of the galaxy the light passed, so to speak, billions of years ago. So it seems that time has nothing to do with effects of quantum mechanics. And, indeed, the original thought experiment was not based on any analysis of how particles evolve and behave over time – it was based on the mathematics. This is what the mathematics predicted for a result, and this is exactly the result obtained in the laboratory.

    Genesis, Quantum Physics and Reality
    Excerpt: Simply put, an experiment on Earth can be made in such a way that it determines if one photon comes along either on the right or the left side or if it comes (as a wave) along both sides of the gravitational lens (of the galaxy) at the same time. However, how could the photons have known billions of years ago that someday there would be an earth with inhabitants on it, making just this experiment? ,,, This is big trouble for the multi-universe theory and for the “hidden-variables” approach.
    – per Greer

    “It begins to look as we ourselves, by our last minute decision, have an influence on what a photon will do when it has already accomplished most of its doing… we have to say that we ourselves have an undeniable part in what we have always called the past. The past is not really the past until is has been registered. Or to put it another way, the past has no meaning or existence unless it exists as a record in the present.”
    – John Wheeler – The Ghost In The Atom – Page 66-68

    Then, a little bit later, I learned that the delayed choice experiment had been extended:

    The Experiment That Debunked Materialism – video – (delayed choice quantum eraser)

    (Double Slit) A Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser – updated 2007
    Excerpt: Upon accessing the information gathered by the Coincidence Circuit, we the observer are shocked to learn that the pattern shown by the positions registered at D0 (Detector Zero) at Time 2 depends entirely on the information gathered later at Time 4 and available to us at the conclusion of the experiment.

    And then I learned the delayed choice experiment was refined yet again:

    “If we attempt to attribute an objective meaning to the quantum state of a single system, curious paradoxes appear: quantum effects mimic not only instantaneous action-at-a-distance but also, as seen here, influence of future actions on past events, even after these events have been irrevocably recorded.”
    Asher Peres, Delayed choice for entanglement swapping. J. Mod. Opt. 47, 139-143 (2000).

    Quantum physics mimics spooky action into the past – April 23, 2012
    Excerpt: The authors experimentally realized a “Gedankenexperiment” called “delayed-choice entanglement swapping”, formulated by Asher Peres in the year 2000. Two pairs of entangled photons are produced, and one photon from each pair is sent to a party called Victor. Of the two remaining photons, one photon is sent to the party Alice and one is sent to the party Bob. Victor can now choose between two kinds of measurements. If he decides to measure his two photons in a way such that they are forced to be in an entangled state, then also Alice’s and Bob’s photon pair becomes entangled. If Victor chooses to measure his particles individually, Alice’s and Bob’s photon pair ends up in a separable state. Modern quantum optics technology allowed the team to delay Victor’s choice and measurement with respect to the measurements which Alice and Bob perform on their photons. “We found that whether Alice’s and Bob’s photons are entangled and show quantum correlations or are separable and show classical correlations can be decided after they have been measured”, explains Xiao-song Ma, lead author of the study.
    According to the famous words of Albert Einstein, the effects of quantum entanglement appear as “spooky action at a distance”. The recent experiment has gone one remarkable step further. “Within a naïve classical world view, quantum mechanics can even mimic an influence of future actions on past events”, says Anton Zeilinger.

    i.e. The preceding experiment clearly shows that the ‘material’ detector recording information in the double slit is secondary to the experiment and that a conscious observer being able to consciously know the ‘which path’ information of a photon with local certainty is of primary importance in the experiment.
    You can see a more complete explanation of the startling results of the experiment at the 9:11 minute mark of the following video:

    Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser Experiment Explained – 2014 video

    And then, after the delayed choice experiments, I learned about something called Leggett’s Inequality. Leggett’s Inequality was, as far as I can tell, a mathematical proof developed by Nobelist Anthony Leggett to prove ‘realism’. Realism is the belief that an objective reality exists independently of a conscious observer looking at it. And, as is usual with challenging the predictions of Quantum Mechanics, his proof was violated by a stunning 80 orders of magnitude, thus once again, in over the top fashion, highlighting the central importance of the conscious observer to Quantum Experiments:

    A team of physicists in Vienna has devised experiments that may answer one of the enduring riddles of science: Do we create the world just by looking at it? – 2008
    Excerpt: In mid-2007 Fedrizzi found that the new realism model was violated by 80 orders of magnitude; the group was even more assured that quantum mechanics was correct.
    Leggett agrees with Zeilinger that realism is wrong in quantum mechanics, but when I asked him whether he now believes in the theory, he answered only “no” before demurring, “I’m in a small minority with that point of view and I wouldn’t stake my life on it.” For Leggett there are still enough loopholes to disbelieve. I asked him what could finally change his mind about quantum mechanics. Without hesitation, he said sending humans into space as detectors to test the theory.,,,

    (to which Anton Zeilinger responded)

    When I mentioned this to Prof. Zeilinger he said, “That will happen someday. There is no doubt in my mind. It is just a question of technology.” Alessandro Fedrizzi had already shown me a prototype of a realism experiment he is hoping to send up in a satellite. It’s a heavy, metallic slab the size of a dinner plate.

    Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger by Richard Conn Henry – Physics Professor – John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the “illusion” of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case, since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism (solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist). (Dr. Henry’s referenced experiment and paper – “An experimental test of non-local realism” by S. Gröblacher et. al., Nature 446, 871, April 2007 – “To be or not to be local” by Alain Aspect, Nature 446, 866, April 2007 (Leggett’s Inequality: Verified to 80 orders of magnitude)

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    As with the delayed choice experiment, the violation of Leggett’s inequalities have been extended. This following experiment verified Leggett’s inequality to a stunning 120 standard deviations level of precision:

    Experimental non-classicality of an indivisible quantum system – Zeilinger 2011
    Excerpt: Page 491: “This represents a violation of (Leggett’s) inequality (3) by more than 120 standard deviations, demonstrating that no joint probability distribution is capable of describing our results.” The violation also excludes any non-contextual hidden-variable model.The result does, however, agree well with quantum mechanical predictions, as we will show now.,,,

    The preceding experiment, and the mathematics behind it, are discussed beginning at the 24:15 minute mark of the following video:

    Quantum Weirdness and God 8-9-2014 by Paul Giem – video

    The following video and paper get the general, and dramatic, point across of what ‘giving up realism’ actually means:

    Quantum Physics – (material reality does not exist until we look at it) – Dr. Quantum video
    Macrorealism Emerging from Quantum Physics – Brukner, Caslav; Kofler, Johannes
    American Physical Society, APS March Meeting, – March 5-9, 2007
    Excerpt: for unrestricted measurement accuracy a violation of macrorealism (i.e., a violation of the Leggett-Garg inequalities) is possible for arbitrary large systems.,,

    But, as if all that was not enough to demonstrate consciousness’s centrality in quantum mechanics, I then learned about something called the ‘Quantum Zeno Effect’,,

    Quantum Zeno Effect
    The quantum Zeno effect is,, an unstable particle, if observed continuously, will never decay.

    The reason why I am very impressed with the Quantum Zeno effect as to establishing consciousness’s primacy in quantum mechanics is, for one thing, that Entropy is, by a wide margin, the most finely tuned of initial conditions of the Big Bang:

    The Physics of the Small and Large: What is the Bridge Between Them? Roger Penrose
    Excerpt: “The time-asymmetry is fundamentally connected to with the Second Law of Thermodynamics: indeed, the extraordinarily special nature (to a greater precision than about 1 in 10^10^123, in terms of phase-space volume) can be identified as the “source” of the Second Law (Entropy).”

    How special was the big bang? – Roger Penrose
    Excerpt: This now tells us how precise the Creator’s aim must have been: namely to an accuracy of one part in 10^10^123.
    (from the Emperor’s New Mind, Penrose, pp 339-345 – 1989)

    For another thing, it is interesting to note just how foundational entropy is in its explanatory power for actions within the space-time of the universe:

    Shining Light on Dark Energy – October 21, 2012
    Excerpt: It (Entropy) explains time; it explains every possible action in the universe;,,
    Even gravity, Vedral argued, can be expressed as a consequence of the law of entropy. ,,,
    The principles of thermodynamics are at their roots all to do with information theory. Information theory is simply an embodiment of how we interact with the universe —,,,

    In fact, entropy is also the primary reason why our physical, temporal, bodies grow old and die,,,

    Aging Process – 85 years in 40 seconds – video

    *3 new mutations every time a cell divides in your body
    * Average cell of 15 year old has up to 6000 mutations
    *Average cell of 60 year old has 40,000 mutations
    Reproductive cells are ‘designed’ so that, early on in development, they are ‘set aside’ and thus they do not accumulate mutations as the rest of the cells of our bodies do. Regardless of this protective barrier against the accumulation of slightly detrimental mutations still we find that,,,
    *60-175 mutations are passed on to each new generation.
    Per John Sanford

    Entropy Explains Aging, Genetic Determinism Explains Longevity, and Undefined Terminology Explains Misunderstanding Both – 2007
    Excerpt: There is a huge body of knowledge supporting the belief that age changes are characterized by increasing entropy, which results in the random loss of molecular fidelity, and accumulates to slowly overwhelm maintenance systems [1–4].,,,

    And yet, to repeat,,,

    Quantum Zeno effect
    Excerpt: The quantum Zeno effect is,,, an unstable particle, if observed continuously, will never decay.
    per wiki

    This is just fascinating! Why in blue blazes should conscious observation put a freeze on entropic decay, unless consciousness was/is more foundational to reality than the 1 in 10^10^120 entropy is?

    Putting all the lines of evidence together the argument for God from consciousness can now be framed like this:

    1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality.
    2. If consciousness is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality.
    3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality.
    4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede all of material reality.

    Four intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality (Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries, Wheeler’s Delayed Choice, Leggett’s Inequalities, Quantum Zeno effect):

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    Related note on ‘interaction free’ measurement:

    The Mental Universe – Richard Conn Henry – Professor of Physics John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: The only reality is mind and observations, but observations are not of things. To see the Universe as it really is, we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things.,,, Physicists shy away from the truth because the truth is so alien to everyday physics. A common way to evade the mental universe is to invoke “decoherence” – the notion that “the physical environment” is sufficient to create reality, independent of the human mind. Yet the idea that any irreversible act of amplification is necessary to collapse the wave function is known to be wrong: in “Renninger-type” experiments, the wave function is collapsed simply by your human mind seeing nothing. The universe is entirely mental,,,, The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.

    Verse and Music:

    Colossians 1:17
    And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

    My Savior My God – Aaron Shust

    Supplemental Notes:

    The Galileo Affair and Life/Consciousness (Jesus) as the true “Center of the Universe”

    Two very different eternities revealed by physics:
    General Relativity, Special Relativity, Heaven and Hell

  7. 7

    Fascinating that Carroll defends against Descartes demon, not by claiming cogito ergo sum, but by thinking about cogito, therefore he is not a Boltzmann brain. Why? Are there topics forbidden to Boltzmann brains? Like how little Carroll resembles a philosopher?

  8. 8
    Mung says:

    “Are there topics forbidden to Boltzmann brains? Like how little Carroll resembles a philosopher?”


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