Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I Think, Therefore I Am a Quantum Fluctuation

The dominant theory among astrophysicists assumes that every property of the observable universe is, at root, the result of a random, quantum fluctuation. According to this view, the ultimate quantum fluctuation (from our perspective, anyway) has been the Big Bang, which gave birth to the universe as we know it.

Recently scientists have been pushing this theory to its logical limits. The results, according to an article in this week's New York Times science page, are quite startling:

1. An infinite number of universes can (and will) be created. This is referred to as the "megaverse" theory. These universes may not have the same physical laws as ours, though. In fact, we cannot know what laws they obey, since we cannot observe them from inside our universe.

This leads to the obvious question: how would you prove this megaverse theory to be correct? Scientists are supposed to be all about experimental proof, but you cannot even begin to design an experiment that would prove or disprove the existence of an infinite number of unobservable universes.

2. In a megaverse where an infinite number of quantum fluctuations can occur, the odds are infinitely great that eventually another version of Chris Falter will appear, complete with a corny sense of humor and chess aspirations that outstrip his ability. And another version of you, dear reader, will also appear. Astrophysicists have thus been trading emails, journal letters, and articles that discuss whether this should be considered reincarnation.

3. It is easier for a random fluctuation to produce a smaller, simpler object than a larger, more complex object, much as shaking a box of Scrabble letters is more likely to produce a word than a complete sentence. As a result, in a megaverse of infinitely many quantum fluctuations, it is infinitely more probable that a disembodied brain with your memories, thinking ability, and observations will appear, rather than a brain connected to a body. The disembodied brain (referred to as a "Boltzmann brain" for reasons too arcane to discuss here) may possess the illusion of being connected to a body (and a society and a planet, and so forth), but it is nevertheless disembodied. Given that the disembodied brain is infinitely more probable to exist than an embodied brain, you who are reading this blog post (and I who am writing it) are, to a near mathematical certainty, just disembodied brains experiencing the illusion of conventional life on a planet called Earth.

So physicists are having quite a fun discussion here: starting with a theory of origins that cannot possibly be proven empirically, they end up talking about reincarnation and life as a chimera.

Now let us suppose that someone with an alternate view enters the discussion. She or he states that the odds of random events creating DNA-based life in our universe are infinitesimally small. Therefore, this universe, the only one we can explore empirically, shows evidence of design. And maybe we should think about the origin of that design, as in maybe we are created with a purpose to fulfill.

The discussion stops. The physicists band together, and in unanimous voice, they banish the stupid non-scientist. "You can't talk about intelligent design in science! You are trying to turn this into a religious discussion, and there is no room in science to discuss religion!"

And then the Boltzmann brains return to their discussion of unobservable universes and reincarnation.

Does anyone else find this ironic?

1 comment:

Ben said...

Great blog Dad!