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Elsevier handbook re: Cosmic Natural Selection

  1. Feb 14, 2006 #1


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    Elsevier is a major science publisher and they do, among other things, handbooks. An Elsevier handbook is scheduled to come out this year (2006) on Philosophy of Physics.
    Probably some good stuff about foundations of physics and what the success of quantum mechanics and general relativity tell us about nature, and the method of empirical science: what makes theories predictive and testable, and so on.

    It could be a useful handbook, and pertinent to current debates as well.

    Anyway the physicist George F. R. Ellis has contributed a chapter on philosophical questions in COSMOLOGY. Actually Ellis is in the Math/Applied Math department of his university. But he has collaborated with Stephen Hawking and has published 30-some physics papers---many in Cosmology---so I think he may be regarded as a physicist rather than a mathematician, to the extent that one makes the distinction.

    some of his writings can be found here

    I think it is significant that Elsevier editors chose Ellis to do their handbook chapter on Cosmology, and I think it is significant that in his essay Ellis DISCUSSES THE COSMOLOGICAL NATURAL SELECTION HYPOTHESIS.

    So I am linking to Ellis essay here in case anyone wants to comment on or challenge that and say CNS does or does not call for discussion. Here is Ellis preprint:

    Issues in the Philosophy of Cosmology
    George F. R. Ellis
    To appear in the Handbook in Philosophy of Physics, Ed J Butterfield and J Earman (Elsevier, 2006)

    "After a survey of the present state of cosmological theory and observations, this article discusses a series of major themes underlying the relation of philosophy to cosmology. These are:
    A: The uniqueness of the universe;
    B: The large scale of the universe in space and time;
    C: The unbound energies in the early universe;
    D: Explaining the universe -- the question of origins;
    E: The universe as the background for existence;
    F: The explicit philosophical basis;
    G: The Anthropic question: fine tuning for life;
    H: The possible existence of multiverses;
    I: The natures of existence.

    Each of these themes is explored and related to a series of Theses that set out the major issues confronting cosmology in relation to philosophy."
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2006
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  3. Feb 14, 2006 #2


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    Ellis discussion of CNS is on pages 41 and 46 of his survey of Cosmology's philosophical issues.

    those interested can download Ellis article and scroll to those pages. He has some very favorable and perceptive things to say. However one can have different takes on CNS and see the hypothesis differently from Ellis.

    I will get around later to exerpting what Ellis says, but first I want to make one point about WHAT IS THE CENTRAL TESTABLE ASSERTION WHICH CNS MAKES.

    this can be found on page 29 of Lee Smolin's most recent CNS paper
    Scientific Alternatives to the Anthropic Principle.
    See the bulleted statement of the CNS hypothesis in section labeled “5.2 Natural Selection”. It is the italicized statement labeled script S, at the bottom of page 29.

    The basic idea of CNS is that our universe is selected for black hole abundance somewhat the way gazelles are naturally selected for speed and for whatever else leads to reproductive success amongst gazelles.

    Never mind the MECHANISM. When Darwin identified the operation of natural selection amongst marine iguanas and finch birds he didn't know any gene theory or any DNA. There are interesting mechanisms for CNS that one can speculate about. BUT THE TESTABLE ASSERTION of CNS is something very simple.

    It says look at the 30-some dimensionless numbers that are inputs to the standard models of particle physics and cosmology. It says YOU CAN'T FIND A WAY TO MAKE A SMALL CHANGE IN THE PARAMETERS THAT WILL INCREASE BLACK HOLE ABUNDANCE.

    That is the gist of Statement S, on page 29. Here is your chance to be famous. You can refute CNS. All you need to do, to falsify CNS, is to find a way that if the parameters were changed a little it would lead to more black holes in our universe.

    One way to paraphrase that Statement S, of the CNS hypothesis, is that you cannot show us a continuous deformation of the parameters—a path in parameter space starting at the observed values—with monotone increase in BH abundance along that path.

    WHAT THIS MEANS is that CNS is a mature falsifiable theory as it stands. It can be disproved. In the paper I cited, Smolin discusses a number of ways to implement falsification of Statement S, by astronomical observations.

    A lot of conjectural support for CNS has been accumulating, especially last year. There were a bunch of papers in Loop Gravity and Loop Cosmology that pointed out similarities between the quantum bounce regimes at classical Big Bang and Black Hole singularities. But in a sense that is NON-ESSENTIAL ELABORATION of the idea, a bit like Mendelian genetics. It is good to have some ideas about a possible mechanism, but don't get totally hypnotized by the possible mechanisms.

    The main CNS question says: Is or is not the universe optimized for BH abundance----are the standard model parameters at a local optimum or aren't they?

    It is quite possible that they are not! But so far no physical argument based on astronomical observation has shown this.

    Regretably, although Ellis article is excellent, he does not make the point that CNS is already testable and indeed is being tested (as neutron star and black hole data accumulate). He makes it seem as if CNS is a juvenile theory needed more work before it can be checked. Well, there is obviously room for lots more elaboration (people are still elaborating on Darwin's theory after some 150 years) but the main idea is already falsifiable.

    That said, I am going to put some Ellis quotes.
  4. Feb 14, 2006 #3


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    From pages 41 and 46 of
    Issues in the Philosophy of Cosmology
    George F. R. Ellis
    To appear in the Handbook in Philosophy of Physics, Ed J Butterfield and J Earman (Elsevier, 2006)

    quote from page 41
    "Option 5: Cosmological Natural Selection. If a process of re-expansion after collapse to a black hole were properly established, it opens the way to the concept not merely of evolution of the Universe in the sense that its structure and contents develop in time, but in the sense that the Darwinian selection of expanding universe regions could take place, as proposed by Smolin [205]. The idea is that there could be collapse to black holes followed by re-expansion, but with an alteration of the constants of physics through each transition, so that each time there is an expansion phase, the action of physics is a bit different. The crucial point then is that some values of the constants will lead to production of more black holes, while some will result in less. This allows for evolutionary selection favouring the expanding universe regions that produce more black holes (because of the favourable values of physical constants operative in those regions), for they will have more “daughter” expanding universe regions. Thus one can envisage natural selection favouring those physical constants that produce the maximum number of black holes. The problem here is twofold. First, the supposed ‘bounce’ mechanism has never been fully explicated. Second, it is not clear — assuming this proposed process can be explicated in detail - that the physics which maximizes black hole production is necessarily also the physics that favours the existence of life. If this argument could be made water-tight, this would become probably the most powerful of the multiverse proposals."

    quote from page 46

    "9.2.8 Physical or biological paradigms—Adaptive Evolution?

    Given that the multiverse idea must in the end be justified philosophically rather than by scientific testing, is there a philosophically preferable version of the idea? One can suggest there is: greater explanatory power is potentially available by introducing the major constructive principle of biology into cosmology, namely adaptive evolution, which is the most powerful process known that can produce ordered structure where none pre-existed. This is realized in principle in Lee Smolin’s idea (Sec.9.1.6) of Darwinian adaptation when collapse to black holes is followed by re-expansion, but with an alteration of the constants of physics each time, so as to allow for evolutionary selection towards those regions that produce the maximum number of black holes. The idea needs development, but is very intriguing:

    Thesis H4: The underlying physics paradigm of cosmology could be extended to include biological insights. The dominant paradigm in cosmology is that of theoretical physics. It may be that it will attain deeper explanatory power by embracing biological insights, and specifically that of Darwinian evolution. The Smolin proposal for evolution of populations of expanding universe domains [205] is an example of this kind of thinking.

    The result is different in important ways from standard cosmological theory precisely because it embodies in one theory three of the major ideas of this century, namely (i) Darwinian evolution of populations through competitive selection, (ii) the evolution of the universe in the sense of major changes in its structure associated with its expansion, and (iii) quantum theory, underlying the only partly explicated mechanism supposed to cause reexpansion out of collapse into a black hole. There is a great contrast with the theoretical physics paradigm of dynamics governed simply by variational principles shaped by symmetry considerations. It seems worth pursuing as a very different route to the understanding of the creation of structure. [37]"

    Footnote 37 is cf Susskind’s recent book, Chapter 13.

    I have bolded two key sentences in the Ellis quotes, for skimmers who just want the gist.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2006
  5. Feb 14, 2006 #4


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    handbook also has Algebraic Quantum Field Theory (Halvorson)

    this soon-to-be-published Handbook of Philosophy of Physics (edited by Butterfield and Earman) looks like it might be something of a big deal.

    It not only has George F. R. Ellis on cosmology, it also has this:
    Algebraic Quantum Field Theory
    Hans Halvorson, Michael Mueger
    202 pages; to appear in Handbook of the Philosophy of Physics (North Holland)

    "Algebraic quantum field theory provides a general, mathematically precise description of the structure of quantum field theories, and then draws out consequences of this structure by means of various mathematical tools -- the theory of operator algebras, category theory, etc.. Given the rigor and generality of AQFT, it is a particularly apt tool for studying the foundations of QFT. This paper is a survey of AQFT, with an orientation towards foundational topics. In addition to covering the basics of the theory, we discuss issues related to nonlocality, the particle concept, the field concept, and inequivalent representations. We also provide a detailed account of the analysis of superselection rules by S. Doplicher, R. Haag, and J. E. Roberts (DHR); and we give an alternative proof of Doplicher and Roberts' reconstruction of fields and gauge group from the category of physical representations of the observable algebra. The latter is based on unpublished ideas due to Roberts and the abstract duality theorem for symmetric tensor *-categories, a self-contained proof of which is given in the appendix."

    Halvorson gives the publisher as "North Holland", while Ellis says "Elsevier", but it is the same book: Butterfield and Earman (2006).


    BTW I notice that George F. R. Ellis is a religious man. A Quaker. See this video talk:
    that is OK with me. It does not compromise his integrity as a scientist. He handles it.
    I am personally not religious, I think, but I accept that Ellis keeps his Cosmology clear of his Quakerism and is a very good cosmologist and a lucid thinker. So I am glad that Butterfield and Earman got him to do the Cosmology chapter in their handbook.

    Also as the co-author with Hawking of the celebrated 1973 classic book The Large Scale Structure of Space Time I guess Ellis name will help sales of the handbook.

    here is Ellis homepage with list of publications honors and appointments

    He was awarded and accepted the Templeton Prize in 2004, which tempers my enthusiasm for him some because I think Templeton foundation is subtly subverting scientific standards and undermining the separation between science and religion. But a fair number of very good people have accepted the Templeton Prize so I have to reserve judgement. Mustn't be hasty. Lee Smolin and Frank Wilczek are on the advisory board of a Templeton-funded research foundation called Foundational Questions "FQ(x)" or something like that.

    I see that Ellis was born around 1940. Here are a few bio details
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2006
  6. Feb 15, 2006 #5
    Thanks for the video Marcus, it was quite revealing!

    I found it to be a little anti-science and misguided. First he states that science is incapable of answering questions about the origin of the universe, (which is true) and that it is a metaphysical question. He then goes on to state that science has created a great number of environmental problems, and is capable of great destruction.(but then that’s a doubled edged sword) He then incorrectly states that science can’t answer questions about ethics and morality, (well Darwinian evolution and psychology have quite a lot to say about morality and ethics) and this is where I think his religious persuasion creates some fallacious arguments. But like you said, it hasn’t compromised his integrity as a scientist, although if he thinks the deepest questions of cosmology are an area for metaphysics, well then it he may be beginning to blur the lines between science and religion.

    BTW, interesting paper, I’ll have to read it when I get a chance. Too much reading on my plate lately..
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