Friday, April 10, 2009

Across the Multiverse

Seed Magazine, IMHO the best popular science magazine in print today, explores the promise of the multiverse theory as a new way for thoughtful people to talk past one another.

The garden-variety understanding of the concept emerged out of the past two decades as an answer to the "fine tuning" argument, which holds that a universe with us in it is too improbable to have happened by accident (i.e., there must have been a designer).

Not so fast, say naturalists, If there is a problem with the odds, simply increase the number of universes. The theory follows that ours is just one tiny bubble in a great froth of universes coming into and going out of existence all the time, each with its own unique set of constants---some hospitable to life as we know it, others not so much. We happen to inhabit the sort that makes things like us. We know this is true because here we are.

But with science leaving very few places these days in which for The Designer to hide, whether it's in supposedly irreducible structures at the cellular level, or within the great fog of quantum weirdness, the plastic properties of the multiverse proposition are beginning to attract some favorable attention from theologians.

And so the God meme stumbles its way across the path of least resistance.

Here at last is a free range of the imagination where The One Who Is Greater Than That Which Can Be Conceived may finally flourish into, well, whatever we want. When it comes to the possibility of a multiverse, one feature of particular interest to professional and amateur theologians alike is a lack of falsifiability. There is no limit the extent to which brains can generate a never-ending froth of multiverse scenarios all their own. In fact it comes quite naturally to us, as neuroscientists are coming to see in their study of how we make what we call decisions. It turns out that the task of our massive prefrontal cortex in regulating behavior is not to simply issue orders from Central Command, but to imagine all of the possible outcomes at once and select for the ones we deem best suited to our advantage.

We are all multiverse theorists.

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