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Yes Chad, the multiverse is an existential crisis in physics

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Not that everyone understands why yet.

Union College physicist Chad Orzel defends the claim that “Reductionism is not fundamentalism.” That’s the sort of claim that, if you have to defend yourself or your friends against it, there may be something you are missing. Like the sorts of questions people are starting to ask. He writes,

As to the question of whether multiverses pose a fundamental philosophical problem for physics, I just don’t see it. I find the whole thing a little silly, particularly in its more extravagant forms, but I don’t think it represents any kind of existential crisis. It’s a phase that will shake itself out eventually– the more precisely defined multiverse models will eventually make predictions, and clever observers and experimentalists will figure out something to test those, and everybody will move on. The less precisely defined and the essentially undefinable forms will fade away, or become philosophy.

Even if I’m wrong, though, if the fundamentalist subfield remains forever as murky as pot smoke in a dorm room, that has essentially zero impact on what people in my field, or the many other thriving subfields of physics, do with our lives. There’s a common worldview of sorts, but we’re really not drawing philosophical inspiration from quantum gravity theorists. We’re too busy doing physics for that.

The multiverse does indeed represent an existential crisis. Calling cutting edge physicists’ promotion of the multiverse “fundamentalism” achieves nothing except irrelevant semantic positioning.

As noted earlier,

In 1957 physicist Hugh Everett suggested that the universe constantly splits into different futures each time a subatomic particle goes one way as opposed to the other. In other words, not only is there an infinite number of universes, but they come into existence every time you turn right instead of left. Today, such ideas come thicker, faster. We are told that we are “on the brink of understanding everything,” when our cosmology guarantees that we can understand nothing and there is nothing to understand anyway.

One result is,

If science finds the universe “uncalculable,” surely the meaning of “anti-science” changes. Isn’t “anti-science” a mere unwillingness to waste valuable time and funds on matters into which no one may usefully inquire?

You can have the multiverse but that is what comes with it. That is the reason it is an existential crisis.

Here’s an alternative:

On the road to reality, evidence must matter again. The weight of the evidence must count. And when it does count, if our cosmos is orderly, new approaches will emerge. They may be emerging now.

Intriguingly, a recent article in Scientific American noted, “Some researchers think that the world, at root, does not consist of material things but of relations or of properties, such as mass, charge and spin.” But information, not matter, is fundamentally relational.

There are ways forward,but we must start by taking where we are seriously.

See also: Science Fictions

– O’Leary for News

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Fascinating, Denyse! They always think they're smarter, more acutely insightful about metaphysics than Planck and Bohr. Not to mention St John the Evangelist, with his Prologue! Axel

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