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New York Times Science Section on Boltzmann Brains

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This NYT article came out just this past January 18th. It’s worth reading the whole thing which is much longer than the choice quotes below the fold. I hadn’t been aware there was greatly increased support for the Boltzmann Brain due to the discovery of dark energy.

Big Brain Theory: Have Cosmologists Lost Theirs?


It could be the weirdest and most embarrassing prediction in the history of cosmology, if not science.

The basic problem is that across the eons of time, the standard theories suggest, the universe can recur over and over again in an endless cycle of big bangs, but it’s hard for nature to make a whole universe. It’s much easier to make fragments of one, like planets, yourself maybe in a spacesuit or even — in the most absurd and troubling example — a naked brain floating in space. Nature tends to do what is easiest, from the standpoint of energy and probability. And so these fragments — in particular the brains — would appear far more frequently than real full-fledged universes, or than us. Or they might be us.

Cosmologists also refer to them as “freaky observers,” in contrast to regular or “ordered” observers of the cosmos like ourselves. Cosmologists are desperate to eliminate these freaks from their theories, but so far they can’t even agree on how or even on whether they are making any progress.

“It is part of a much bigger set of questions about how to think about probabilities in an infinite universe in which everything that can occur, does occur, infinitely many times,” said Leonard Susskind of Stanford, a co-author of a paper in 2002 that helped set off the debate. Or as Andrei Linde, another Stanford theorist given to colorful language, loosely characterized the possibility of a replica of your own brain forming out in space sometime, “How do you compute the probability to be reincarnated to the probability of being born?”

10 Replies to “New York Times Science Section on Boltzmann Brains

  1. 1
    Apollos says:

    I’m pretty comfortable with giving up on the notion that ‘quantum fluctuations’ are responsible for the spontaneous generation of ordered complexity, be it big bangs or brains.

    Once we stop trying to explain the origin of the universe in terms of material causes, the Boltzmann brain “problem” just sort of goes away.

  2. 2
    ellijacket says:

    My small, insignificant brain, marvels at the lack of wisdom that such intelligence produces.

    I want to scream sometimes, “Wake up! There’s a person behind the curtain.”

    So there should be lot’s of brains floating around out there. I wish there were a few good ones down here.

  3. 3
    Borne says:

    I would call these guys bird brains but I wouldn’t want to insult birds.

    I can just see them sitting in front of their computers, ready to prove that monkeys typing away do not produce anything like Shakespeare. They sit there imagining a brain-sensitive spot out there in space…and then type up the quoted article.

    Or rather, one can imagine a brainless spot like umm… the NYT. 🙂

  4. 4
    DaveScot says:

    I quote stuff from accomplished theoretical physicists at Stanford like Leonard Susskind and Andrei Linde.

    Leonard Susskind (born 1940[1]) is the Felix Bloch professor of theoretical physics at Stanford University in the field of string theory and quantum field theory. Susskind is widely regarded as one of the fathers of string theory for his early contributions to the String Theory model of particle physics.[3]

    Andrei Dmitriyevich Linde (b. March 2, 1948 in Moscow, USSR) is a Soviet theoretical physicist and professor of Physics at Stanford University. Dr. Linde is best known for his work on the concept of the inflationary universe. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from Moscow State University. In 1975, Linde was awarded a Ph.D. from the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow. Among the various awards he’s received for his work on inflation, in 2002 he was awarded the Dirac Medal, along with Alan Guth of MIT and Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University.

    Meanwhile the stoned college students at AtBC quote themselves in a devastating rebuttal. Thanks for all the laughs, CBEBs.


    But hey, go ahead and blame the ID crowd’s relentless pursuit of the best theoretical physcists in the world forcing them to take cover in batshit crazy ideas like an infinite number of pocket universes each with their own set of rules and order drawn at random. What great fun it is to imagine which one we might be living in, eh? It’s all like make one up that suits your fancy and proclaim: Yeah, that’s the one I live in. That’s the ticket. Personally I’m picking one with a designer in it and just for kicks one that has 72 virgins waiting for me on the other side. No make that 720 virgins. Why short myself? 😆

  5. 5
    Domoman says:

    Silly scientists trying to suggest the universe is actually infinite in terms of its existence.

    Philosophically it has problems: if we’re at today, and the universe is eternal that means there has been an unending amount of days prior to today. That means to get to today an unending amount of days must be passed before getting to today. Good luck with that one!

    And according to scientists that William Lane Craig speaks of:

    “With respect to the alternative of Eternal Inflation, it was suggested by some theorists during the 1980s that perhaps the inflationary expansion of the universe was not confined to a brief period early in the history of the universe but is eternal in the past, each inflating region being the product of a prior inflating region. Although such models were hotly debated, something of a watershed appears to have been reached in 2003, when three leading cosmologists, Arvin Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin, were able to prove that any universe which has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary.”

    He also states this: “the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem is independent of any physical description of that moment [the moment prior to Planck time]. Their theorem implies that even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called “multiverse” composed of many universes, the multiverse must have an absolute beginning.”

    Why do evolutionists still insist on an infinite universe then? And think about it: if the universe was infinite in the past, doesn’t that mean we are just in a lucky state of the universe in which a bunch of random things are not happening? Are we just lucky enough not only to exist, but to not have floating brains, flying spaghetti monsters, and tasty brownies all around us?

    Man, I like brownies, but I don’t want them floating all around me! Silly scientists. Give me my brownies!

  6. 6
    jjcassidy says:

    I abhor such shoddy treatment of infinity and probability.

    In a way, it makes sense that anything that can happen finite times has a probability that approaches zero over time or “trials”. Thus in order to have any definite probability, you have to have infinite occurrences of it.

    But this is a Zeno-like paradox: Imagine occurrences of a event mapped by counting numbers. There is a first event numbered by 1, the probability of any infinite series of events having a first event is then effectively 0. Forget the second occurrence, third occurrence.

  7. 7
    DaveScot says:


    You can pick a universe where the arrow of time runs backwards. You can “remember” who won the election next month but you can’t remember why you cared. Fun stuff.

  8. 8
    ellijacket says:

    I think they should call it ‘Boltzmann’s Anus’ because that’s where they pulled this crap out of.

    …imagine a universe with infinite self-aware anuses…….

  9. 9
    bFast says:

    ellijacket, “imagine a universe with infinite self-aware anuses”

    I’m investig in toilet paper, man!

  10. 10
    Apollos says:

    [Off Topic] Scientists: Earth May Exist in Giant Cosmic Bubble

    If the notion of dark energy sounds improbable, get ready for an even more outlandish suggestion.

    Earth may be trapped in an abnormal bubble of space-time that is particularly devoid of matter.

    Scientists say this condition could account for the apparent acceleration of the universe’s expansion, for which dark energy currently is the leading explanation.

    There is some skepticism partially based on this being a violation of the Copernican principle.

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