Cosmology Goes Off the Reservation
If science were ever restricted to observation, experimental demonstration, and evidence, some cosmologists left that reservation far behind long ago. Being smart does not preclude going nutty.
Disembodied brains: If the multiverse exists, there should be more disembodied intelligences than human brains, says creator of PreposterousUniverse.com, Sean Carroll of Caltech. New Scientist says that in a multiverse, “Boltzmann brains” are just as likely to pop into existence from quantum fluctuations as other entities. Since most brains look human, maybe the multiverse is wrong. The multiverse might be rescued, though, by Everett’s old “many-worlds hypothesis” that postulates new universes splitting off endlessly to fulfill every possible outcome of quantum events. “Maybe Hitler won the second world war in a different universe,” Carroll speculates. What do other cosmologists think of this reasoning? Seth Lloyd: “I believe they fail the Monty Python test: Stop that! That’s too silly!” Scott Aaronson of MIT: “It sounds like something a bunch of college sophomores would discuss while high. It doesn’t sound like a real scientific problem.”
Keeping time in the right direction: The “thermodynamic arrow of time” is a frequent topic in cosmology and philosophy. Theoretically the laws of physics would allow time to flow backward, but we never observe that. The same Sean Carroll mentioned above is one of the latest who, since Boltzmann, using his own human brain, tried to preserve the symmetry of time by postulating other parts of reality where time would flow backward. Presumably, in such locales, persons would proceed from old age to birth. A new paper on arXiv mentioned by PhysOrg tries to rationalize the one-way arrow of time by the way memories work. “The reason we can’t remember future events is because we have faulty memories,” the article says. This seems to be begging the question of why memories need be faulty in only one time direction. Perhaps insight could be gained with palindrome games. Even more quizzical is whether meanings would be inverted by going backward. Consider reverse poetry that conveys opposite meanings depending on whether it is read forward or backward.
The dark arts: A sober-looking group of cosmologists at Max Planck Institute is worrying over the results of their divination: computer models of the early universe. They are trying to bring their models into conformity with the observations of mature galaxies near the beginning. Along with the mystical spider eyes and bat wings of computer code, they pitch in dark matter, a “strange substance” required to keep galaxies together. Next, they “want to expand their computer simulations even further” in order “to get a step closer to the mystery of dark energy.” But do these strange substances even exist?
Phantom quest: A press release from HZDR says that one dark matter candidate—the U Boson—can be crossed off the list, thanks to negative results by the HADES experiment. (The U Boson is sometimes paradoxically dubbed the “dark photon“). But how can cosmologists postulate 95% of reality by observing just 5% of it? “Although Dark Energy and Dark Matter appear to constitute over 95 percent of the universe, nobody knows of which particles they are made up,” the article begins. Dark matter is not even needed, physicist Mordehai Milgrom told New Scientist. Just abandon the notion, and use his Modified Newtonian Mechanics (MOND) instead.
If you can’t lick the zanies, join them: In their headline on The Conversation, Luke Barnes and Geraint Lewis ask the question readers are surely asking at this point: “Have cosmologists lost their minds in the multiverse?” Hoping for a breath of sanity, the reader waits in vain for a scientific rejection of this trendy speculation that is unobservable even in principle (thus unscientific in principle). The hope dies right near the beginning in the childish lingo: “The multiverse theory is that our universe is but one of a vast, variegated ensemble of other universes. We don’t know how many pieces there are to the multiverse but estimates suggest there many [sic] be squillions of them.” Bouncing off the BICEP2 claims (currently under scrutiny), they agree that other universes are unobservable in principle, but then say this: “In some versions of inflation, the process that causes our universe to inflate is expected to produce huge numbers of other universes. Evidence for inflation isn’t exactly direct evidence for the multiverse, but it’s a start.” But what if the BICEP2 evidence gets debunked this fall? (5/12/14) Will that falsify the multiverse idea? Not likely, given their unfeigned faith in the unobservable. Then, in a weird leap of logic, they consider our existence in a life-friendly world as evidence for a multiverse. Why? Because if it is so unlikely in one universe, maybe it is less unlikely in “squillions” of them:
The multiverse can handle this. The probability of observing a particular type of universe depends on that universe first creating observers. We are not just passive observers, setting up our equipment and taking measurements of the universe at our leisure. We are products of this universe.
While universes with observers may be highly unusual in the entire multiverse, they will obviously be the norm for observed universes. And so, the life-permitting nature of our universe can be counted as a successful prediction of the multiverse. (Prediction in the logical, rather than chronological sense.)
They even use the absence of Boltzmann brains as evidence for the multiverse! “At the moment, there are too many ifs and maybes in this story,” they admit in the end. They admit that the BICEP2 results do not necessarily support inflation, and that inflation does not necessarily support a multiverse. They admit that “theories struggle to predict anything, so clearly there is much much more to be done.” But they don’t need evidence, predictions, or any other hallmarks of science to keep materialistic hope alive: “But positing the multiverse is not, as claimed by some, the end of science. It may be the start of the biggest scientific adventure of all.”
The situation in cosmology is analogous to the reputation of conservatives in the media. If conservatives were guilty of one tenth the scandals in the current progressive liberal administration in the US, the media would have tarred and feathered them to the point where they could not function and would be driven out of office, with no further hope of employment even as ditch diggers. Similarly, if advocates of creation or intelligent design committed one hundredth the fallacies of the naturalistic cosmologists, the outcry would be deafening: These anti-science fools would take us back to the Dark Ages! They know nothing! They are destroying that noble ideal of science! We can’t let them influence the children! Away with them!
But no, both groups of perpetrators get a pass, because they’re all united around a common goal: ridding the world of Romans 1.