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Is the multiverse cosmology or metaphysics?

  1. Jun 10, 2012 #1

    Ken G

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    There have been a few threads of late on the multiverse concept in cosmology, and whether it can be viewed as a viable, albeit currently underconstrained cosmological theory that is leading us to demonstrably correct discoveries about our universe, or if it is essentially a fairly arbitrary metaphysical conviction that is masquerading as science. I'd like to advance the latter thesis, and central to my argument is the Popperian stance that if, as Feynman said, science should be a way to keep us from fooling ourselves, then we need theories that make "risky" predictions-- predictions that, were we to be skeptical of the theory, we would expect to fail. A theory that only makes predictions that no one can expect to fail, even if they discount the theory, is more like a technique for performing rationalizations than it is a technique for making predictions.

    To allow proponents to attack that thesis, I will offer an analogy. I hold that if my thesis is flawed, then its flaws should be identifiable with flaws in this analogy.

    Let's say you see five cards in front of you, and you are told the rules of a new game, called phyzbin, a game that you have never played before. You pick up the hand, and see you have 2, 4, 9, jack, queen. You know this is an extremely special hand in phyzbin, called a phyzlaw, because the rules of phyzbin select this hand to be the best possible-- there is a significant selection effect that has occured here, sometimes expressed that this hand is "finely tuned" in regard to the rules of phyzbin. We need to attribute a source to this selection, we cannot accept it was "just chance" because the odds are too low. But there are many ways to attribute that selection, including:

    1) I was selected from a huge set of people playing the game (the people are analogous to the multiverse). There is something special about me, among all those people, such that I get the phyzlaw. Perhaps it is a requirement for me to be who I am, my existence is predicated on being the one who has such a hand. In anthropic thinking, we might say that only the phyzlaw is consistent with me being intelligent. Whatever is the mechanism, the key point is that I have been selected, and that resolves the "fine tuning problem." Instead of asking what is special about the hand, we ask what is special about me such that the hand appears more generic. The other hands must really exist, such that my hand can be selected from them all, because the selection applies after the hands are dealt, it is a selection on me, not on the hands. This seems like a very close analogy to multiverse thinking, and it is certainly one possible "explanation" of the fine tuning. But it is hardly the only possibility.

    2a) The rules of phyzbin were selected after ony one hand was dealt, such that a phyzlaw would be that hand. Of course we know that any hand is incredibly unlikely if you deal from 52 cards, so the specialness of the hand only appears if we add some additional constraint that sorts all the hypothetical hands into "generic" and "special" classes. The rules of phyzbin produce that sorting, but if the rules are themselves selected, such that the hand is made to be special by those rules, then we again have no fine tuning problem. The question now shifts from what is special about the hand, to what is special about the rules such that the hand could be viewed as generic. I would argue that this view is analogous to a view of physics that says laws are not fundamental to the universe, they are what we infer in our efforts to understand the universe. Hence, the laws come from us, so it is perfectly natural that the laws share our own special attributes. If there is something about us that says we must have hands like 2-4-9-j-q, then the "rules of the game" that we infer will naturally make a phyzlaw seem like a generic hand, and "poof" goes the fine tuning problem.

    2b) The deck contains only 2s, 4s, 9s, js, and qs, so we are simply making a wrong assumption about the possible hands when we conclude a phyzlaw is a special hand. This is similar to #2a, but distinguishes the rules of the game from the elements that make up the game, a distinction we can make if we like but might not need to.

    3) The deal was rigged to give us a phyzlaw, perhaps because someone in power wanted us to win. This is a preferred choice of religious people.

    Now, as scientists we can probably dispense with #3, not because we know it's wrong, but because it's not in the scientific toolkit. And #2b is a kind of variation on the theme of #2a, so I see the fundamental distinction as being between #1 and #2a, and even then, only once we have established that the "fine tuning problem" really is an issue that science needs to tackle, on grounds that tackling it will help us make "risky" predictions. I would argue two points that undercut the idea that the multiverse is not just metaphysics:
    i) There is no scientific way to distinguish between #1 and #2, the distinction is about how we interpret science, and is therefore essentially metaphysical.
    ii) Even if we choose a mainstream interpretation that adjudicates for #1 over #2, it is still essentially an issue of pedagogy, because it does not help us use our perspective to make "risky" predictions that could satisfy a skeptic. What's more, being skeptical is a crucial part of science, because it is exactly that element that, as Feynman put it, helps us "avoid fooling ourselves, given that we are the easiest people to fool."
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2012
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  3. Jun 10, 2012 #2

    marcus

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    You might be interested by some Pirsa video talks you get if you google
    "pirsa challenges"
    If you google that you get http://pirsa.org/C11008
    which is a menu of Perimeter Institute Recorded Seminar Archive (pirsa) videos of talks given at the 2011 conference on Challenges for Early Universe Cosmology.

    The first talk on the list is by Neil Turok, the director of Perimeter, who was the main organizer of the conference. It is an overview of what he thinks is wrong with Eternal Inflation. The next talk on the list is by Alan Guth.

    A lot of the discussion at that conference revolved around issues of "fine-tuning" and unlikelihood that the mechanisms imagined would actually get it right, get what we see.

    I can't say that this directly connects with the most important issues you raise in your post like the responsibilities implicit in carrying on the scientific tradition, and how do we address the curious question of "why these laws, instead of others?"

    But the videos (at least Turok's) do address the excuses that people give for the "multiverse" idea based on a widespread fixed idea of "eternal inflation". Several sides of the controversy are presented. So it might be of interest. And you may very likely be aware of the conference and have watched some talks already!
     
  4. Jun 10, 2012 #3

    Ken G

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    Those do sound like very interesting videos indeed, thank you I have not yet seen them. And for the moderators: I meant this thread to be in "cosmology", so if you think that is a more appropriate place for it, please move it whereever you feel it belongs.
     
  5. Jun 10, 2012 #4

    marcus

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    Here's what I find most ridiculous about MV talk, and also incidentally most common.

    People put blinders on themselves and decide that inflation can only have occurred in a certain way:
    1. initiated by a random fluctuation in a field that is everywhere and so subject to being re-ignited by another random fluctuation anywhere, in multiple locations, or

    2. inflation is always occurring everywhere except in isolated patches where a random fluctuation (analogous to a particle decay process) causes it to stop and degenerate into slow expansion with more mundane matter fields present.

    "Random fluctuation" is the key deus ex machina for people who think along those lines. And it always leads them to imagine a MV.

    I find it ridiculous because of the blinders. Inflation may very well have occurred, yet not have been triggered by a random fluctuation.
     
  6. Jun 10, 2012 #5

    marcus

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    I'm glad the videos interest you! I really only found Turok's talk memorable, though I disagree with him strongly on some points. Disagree but have to acknowledge his stature and general excellence.

    It makes sense to me to consider your thread as primarily cosmology. The MV contoversy is about the most active widespread clamor in cosmology at present, I think. But it does not matter which forum (Astrophysics or Cosmology) you have the thread. People will find it, I think, equally well, and contribute to it if they wish to.
     
  7. Jun 10, 2012 #6

    Chronos

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    Multiverse strikes me as the rationalist version of creationism. Even if you accept the multiverse hypothesis, it fails to explain anything. I trust we already knew we do not live in a universe with laws that preclude our existence, so claiming there are billions of such universes without a shred of evidence seems utterly pointless.
     
  8. Jun 10, 2012 #7

    phinds

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    Well said. I agree.
     
  9. Jun 10, 2012 #8

    Ken G

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    Yes, we tend to ascribe randomness to everything we cannot explain. As such, the argument could be made, if the observations warrant it, that "eternal inflation" involving random fluctuations is our best interpretation of inflationary models. But interpretations are already more metaphysical than scientific, because even processes that seem random, and may be interpreted as random, could actually have some underlying rhyme or reason that we simply have not been able to figure out. That doesn't make randomness a bad model, it makes it a bad way to assert that we have scientific knowledge of the existence of the multiverse.
     
  10. Jun 10, 2012 #9

    Ken G

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    That's pretty stinging, but I worry about that too. It's probably not quite fair, because the standards of logic applied by creationists are vastly below those applied by multiversers! But there can be some similarities too.
    This is a challenge that I haven't really seen the multiverse camp meet. It speaks to exactly what is an "explanation" in science, so anyone who would like to take the opposite tack, that the multiverse idea does "explain", must first give a concise interpretation of what they think constitutes a scientific explanation. I think that's the place where we will meet Popper (and the importance of falsifiability)-- there are a wide variety of standards to put any "explanation" to, and I feel we must do better than simply mean "a story that we use to achieve cognitive resonance that is consistent with any observations we might actually have", because that limited definition is also met by virtually every creation myth, in the time that the creation myth was widely held. What makes something a scientific explanation, and not a generally accepted myth?
    This speaks to the dubiousness of "anthropic explanations." I hope someone will accept the challenge of presenting the case that this is an unfair critique of those types of "explanations," again by starting with their criteria for what a scientific explanation is.
     
  11. Jun 10, 2012 #10
    It's not so much the "multiverse concept" but rather certain specific multiverse scenarios. It's not obvious how you could disprove "multiverses in general" but it's easy to disprove/support *specific multiverse scenarios*.

    As a trivial example, if you have a multiverse scenario that requires all skies to be green, it's wrong because the sky is blue. You can also do this deductively. It may be (and it turns out to be the case) that certain physical theories that we think are true for other reasons, create multiverses.

    That's not how theoreticians think. We can establish that *either* there is fine tuning *or* there are multiple deals. Once you've narrowed the possibilities to two, then you can figure out the consequences of those two.

    At that point your analogy breaks down for the early universe. There are indeed ways of distinguishing between multiverse scenarios. CMB radiation. It's also possible to deal with the problem from the theory end. For example, it is possible that someone will come up with a compelling theory whose consequence is multiple universes.

    It's more relevant for quantum mechanics, where people have come up with different "interpretations", which as far as anyone has been able to figure out, are mathematical identical. There is *one* experiment that has been proposed that would confirm the multi-world interpretation of quantum mechanics (quantum suicide), which I'll do on my 150th birthday.

    The other thing is that QM has this interesting quirk. Even if you don't accept the MWI as being literal, because it is mathematically equivalent to every other interpretation, it turns out to be much easier to do calculations. For example, in order to calculate the behavior of the electron, what you can do is to assume that there are an infinite number of electrons each in its own universe and then sum up the results. You can also do this with factoring algorithms. One way of thinking about quantum computing is to assume that there is a separate calculation in a parallel universe, and then you sum of the results in the end.

    Whether they are *really* parallel universes is a metaphysical question (as far as we can tell, but I'll find out on my 150th birthday). However, if you think of this as a "calculation trick" then it's definitely physics and not meta-physics.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2012
  12. Jun 11, 2012 #11
    I think the problem is talking about "multiverse" as a "camp." You have to restrict yourself to *specific multiverse scenarios* at which point you are in the realm of the testable. For example, *eternal inflation* is certainly a testable and falsifiable theory, since it predicts the curvature of the universe, and it also makes predictions for the scalar potential of particles at GUT energies.

    One thing about "multiverse" thinking is that it follows from one of the outcomes of HEP. The current thinking about HEP is that physical constants are the result of what the vacuum energy is, and that number could be anything.

    Also, anthropic claims also are falsifiable. For example, if you claim as Weinberg does that the fine structure constant may be what it is for anthropic reasons, this can be disproved by showing that that you can change the fine structure constant and still come up with intelligent life. One thing that is interesting is that it's not *obvious* that changing the fine structure constant *would* result in no intelligent life, and the statement that it is non-trivial. Even if it is true, then you run into the interesting question of "how much" you have to change FSC to get no life.

    It would be *very* interesting for example, if it turns out that the "anthropic tolerance" for some physical constant is some order of magnitude higher than the current observational value.

    For example pick, some constant X that isn't well known. Say Boltzmann's constant or the value of G. Come up with some "anthropic criteria". If this criteria constrains the value of the constant beyond what can be observed, then it's physics. Whether it's a "calculation trick" or something rule is another issue, and not a new one.
     
  13. Jun 11, 2012 #12
    Also relevant as far as trying to falsify an anthropic constraint is this paper

    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1987PhRvL..59.2607W

    It shows how you can demonstrate that the anthropic principle *doesn't* hold. In particular, it argues that there are no strong anthropic constraints on the cosmological constant.
     
  14. Jun 11, 2012 #13

    Ken G

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    Really? Example please, of a specific multiverse scenario that is easy to support. Please note that "support" does not mean "find data consistent with", but rather, "find data that satisfies a risky prediction made by that theory." Also, please note it is not at all "risky" to suggest a theory that is actually a thousand theories, one of which can fit any of a thousand observational outcomes. That is not called "risk", it is called "rigging the dice."
    Sure, but so what? Here's a thoery I just thought of-- the universe is an ocean filled with algae. Now let's consider the ramifications of this theory-- the sky should be green. Hey, I just came up with a theory that I can falsify, I must be doing science! No, it's not science if I already know the sky is not green, I am doing science if I can take a theory that is consistent with everything already known, which then makes risky predictions. This is the Popper criterion, and this is the standard that the multiverse does not seem to be living up to. You certainly have not provided any evidence that it is, not with this effort anyway.
    So the creation of the multiverse is the risky prediction of the theories you have in mind? That won't cut it, the risky prediction must be amenable to testing.

    Correction, that's not how Adler thought, or Marx or Freud. They were theoreticians too. But it is how theoreticians should think, if they are paying any attention to Popper.
    That's why I framed the more clear-cut analogy above, to clarify this kind of issue. If you could frame your argument in the context of that analogy, I think it would be clearer what claims you are actually making, this seems too vague.
    But that's just the problem-- to escape trap (i), you fall right into trap (ii). I'm not surprised you can distinguish between multiverse scenarios, but that by itself is no kind of evidence for the multiverse. That is the "rigged dice" situation in a nutshell-- just being able to pick a theory after the fact is rationalization! A good theory predicts before the fact of the observational outcome, and if it is only chosen after the fact, then it must predict some new fact, in advance of that observation. What multiverse scenario is currently doing that? This doesn't make it wrong, but it raises a red flag that we really have no idea it is right. It fails Feynman's standard of helping us not fool ourselves.
    Quantum suicide is basically a joke, I doubt even Tegmark takes it seriously. You won't test it on your 150th birthday, because you won't have one, but I'll agree that it is a "risky" prediction that you will. The problem is, it doesn't count as falsifiable, for you'd have to be dead to falsify it, and I'm sure you see the paradox there. What's worse, if quantum suicide is really true, you have an absolutely dismal few thousand years ahead of you, I wouldn't wish that on a monster (remember, quantum suicide claims you won't die, but it makes no claims you won't be infirm, in pain, immobilized, semi-conscious, or any of the other certain miseries awaiting a >150 year old person). Anyone who is >150 years old is welcome to believe in the multiverse-- so long as the rest of us can be skeptical of it.
    I'm not asking if a multiverse picture makes it easier to do calculations, I'm asking if it delivers on its claims to be scientific evidence for the existence of the multiverse. Image charges make calculations easier too.
    Or I can find the amplitude of a two-slit experiment by summing the amplitudes of each slit. So what? There is no reason to claim this means there is a universe where the particle goes through one slit, and a universe where it goes through another. Why are you even summing the results in the end if you are calling them different universes? Sounds like the same universe to me.
    Again, if eternal-inflation cosmologists want to frame the multiverse as their favorite computational trick, who is going to object? They are free to motivate the calculations any way they want, it's a free world. That begs the question of this thread.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2012
  15. Jun 11, 2012 #14
    Easy to support is harder. Easy to refute is much easier. But cosmological natural selection. If in fact pulsar masses were were Smolin calcuated them to be, that would be impressive.

    Yes. You are.



    Eyes roll..... You are doing it again. Telling scientists what is and isn't science.

    The problem with your approach is that you end up talking philosophy and not talking about data. So far in this conversation we haven't been talking much about data. We haven't been talking much about theoretical predictions. We've been talking too much philosophy and too little physics.

    The thing about physics is that it's non-trivial to go from model -> prediction. A lot of science involves taking a model and figuring out the predictions from it.

    And if I'm a theoretician that thinks that Popper is wrong about certain things, and do things in a way that's different from the way that Popper thinks I should do them, are you going to have my Ph.D. revoked?

    This is actually the big problem that I have with your posts. If you want to do cosmology your way, that's fine. But when you start saying that people that do cosmology differently are "pseudo-scientists" or "incompetent" then those are fighting words.

    Right, and there are interpretations of QM in which this does not happen. The trouble with these interpretation is that you end up having to exchange information back and forth, whereas "sum over all universes" you don't.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2012
  16. Jun 11, 2012 #15

    Ken G

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    What I am actually doing is laying out a challenge: to demonstrate that the multiverse concept passes Popper's standard for a good scientific theory in the making. So far, nothing you've said has met that standard, which is what I am pointing out. You are arguing why you don't think it needs to. So then, you do not think that it does meet Popper's standard?

    The absence of physics is entirely the point.
    So, you don't think the multiverse meets Popper's standard but you think the jury is still out on whether or not it ever will?
    No, I just want to know if you can argue that the multiverse actually does meet the Popper standard. I am concluding you do not think it does. Does anyone think that cosmological multiverse models meet Popper's standard (falsifiability by virtue of making predictions we would not expect to be true if we were skeptical of that theory), or shall we take it as established that they do not?
     
  17. Jun 11, 2012 #16
    I notice how everyone eschews coming to concur on what it is to explain something and what is a scientific explanation, which is an invitation from the owner of this thread, Ken G.

    #1 Ken G
    This seems like a very close analogy to multiverse thinking, and it is certainly one possible "explanation" of the fine tuning.

    #6 Chronos
    Even if you accept the multiverse hypothesis, it fails to explain anything.

    #7 phinds
    Well said. I agree.

    #8 Ken G
    Yes, we tend to ascribe randomness to everything we cannot explain.

    #9 Ken G
    This is a challenge that I haven't really seen the multiverse camp meet. It speaks to exactly what is an "explanation" in science, so anyone who would like to take the opposite tack, that the multiverse idea does "explain", must first give a concise interpretation of what they think constitutes a scientific explanation. I think that's the place where we will meet Popper (and the importance of falsifiability)-- there are a wide variety of standards to put any "explanation" to, and I feel we must do better than simply mean "a story that we use to achieve cognitive resonance that is consistent with any observations we might actually have", because that limited definition is also met by virtually every creation myth, in the time that the creation myth was widely held. What makes something a scientific explanation, and not a generally accepted myth?
    This speaks to the dubiousness of "anthropic explanations." I hope someone will accept the challenge of presenting the case that this is an unfair critique of those types of, "explanations" again by starting with their criteria for what a scientific explanation is.
    Even if you accept the multiverse hypothesis, it fails to explain anything. This is a challenge that I haven't really seen the multiverse camp meet. It speaks to exactly what is an "explanation" in science, so anyone who would like to take the opposite tack, that the multiverse idea does "explain", must first give a concise interpretation of what they think constitutes a scientific explanation.

    #11 twofish-quant
    I think the problem is talking about "multiverse" as a "camp."


    =================


    That is sadly what I always observe with scientists that they prefer to not come to concurrence on the terms they are using, but they discuss endlessly among themselves, and their readers are psychologically convinced that they are talking scientifically on scientific explanations.

    But when people like myself look for a concurred on concept of what is an explanation and specifically what is a scientific explanation, there is none.



    So, physicists-cosmologists like Hawking and Stenger and Krauss and others, they of the universe from nothing "explanation" of the universe, will you people please first agree among yourselves what is an explanation and specifically what is a scientific explanation?

    Or even just people who are scientifically savant and expound on the ideas of Hawking and company. please do concur on what is a scientific explanation.

    Wanted: a generally accepted glossary of scientific cosmology with the entry among other entries of what is a scientific explanation.



    Yrreg
     
  18. Jun 11, 2012 #17

    Chronos

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    Language is clearly the weak link in science. Words are inherently squishy which is why 'mathematics is the language of science' - or at least a better alternative. But even mathematics is vulnerable to unwarranted assumptions and necessarily presumes all relevant variables have been properly considered. This is the source of many disagreements in the science community. My position is mathematically valid results are not necessarily physically meaningful. Were this not true, observational evidence would be unnecessary.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2012
  19. Jun 11, 2012 #18
    Since there is no physical evidence at all and none is expected to arise, I say that it is metaphysics and not physical science.
     
  20. Jun 11, 2012 #19
    I don't think that the "multiverse concept" as you describe it *is* a good scientific theory. Whether it meets Popper's standards is irrelevant. It doesn't meet mine. So it's not necessary to discuss my disagree with Popper.

    This is what happens when you argue about ten things at once. I don't like Popper's philosophy. The fact that I don't like Popper's philosophy is largely irrelevant to my thoughts on "multiverse theories."

    The "multiverse concept" as *you* have presented it is not a well posed hypothesis. It's too vague and because of it's vagueness, it's rather untestable. Now I have seem papers that talk about multiverses that are interesting. Either the present specific scenarios which are either testable (i.e. eternal inflation) or potentially testable or they point out some non-obvious facts (i.e. that dimensionality is critical for forming stable gravitational objects).

    The trouble with this discussion is that it's too abstract. The "multiverse concept" is something of a strawman.
    .
    Which multiverse?

    The jury is still out with eternal inflation. Smolin's cosmological natural selection made one specific and interesting prediction that failed. The many-world interpretation of QM is mathematically identical to Copenhagen, but I'll know whether it's true eventually, so I'm not in a hurry.

    The multiverse as *you have defined it* (or rather failed to define it) is not a proper scientific hypothesis because it's too vague. Now if you want to discuss a *particular multiverse scenario* then that's different. For example, eternal inflation *does* make a risky prediction (i.e. lambda=1 and the CMB will be gaussian to arbitrarily small scales).

    Which model?

    Smolin's CNS obviously did. He calculated an upper bound for pulsar masses.

    Quantum suicide also does. The prediction that I will be immortal and that when I zap myself with gamma rays on my 150th birthday I won't die, is a risky one.
     
  21. Jun 11, 2012 #20
    That's because a lot of this consider it to be navel gazing and irrelevant in most situations. It's also because we may not come to an agreement.

    We aren't talking science. We are talking philosophy. Since we aren't talking science, I'm rapidly losing interest in this discussion. One difference between science arguments and philosophy arguments is that science arguments tend to come to a conclusions, whereas we can argue forever about philosophy and never agree.

    I was trying to turn this into a discussion about science (partly to illustrate what a science argument looks like) but I seemed to have failed.

    It's like asking for a definition of what constitutes a good joke. I can show you examples of good jokes. I can show you examples of things that aren't funny. If you ask me for a *definition* of a good joke, then this isn't going to work.

    Also it's like asking a bird to explain how he flies. He probably couldn't tell you, because he probably has never thought deeply about the question.

    I think that Krauss is pretty awful. One thing about Krauss is that the popular talks that he gives look *nothing* like his professional work. There's a Jekyll-Hyde aspect, because he writes excellent professional papers, but then he gives talks on youtube that are loony and misleading.

    I'm practical. I wake in a morning. The car doesn't start. I try a few things and conclude that the fuel injector is broken. That's a "scientific explanation." If you use the same sort of reasoning to figure out the big bang, that's doing "science."

    Now I can also conclude that my fuel injector is broken because God hates me. That's not a scientific explanation. It' may be true that God hates me, but it doesn't explain why God would punish me by breaking the fuel injector rather than the alternator or making me trip over the rug.

    Also, if I invite a Muslim, a Jew, a Southern Baptist, a Mormon, and an atheist, and we pop the hood of the car, we can agree that yes, the fuel injector is broken. If we start getting into philosophy about why the fuel injector is broken, we'll never fix the car.

    Same for the big bang. I ask why deuterium abundances are what they are, and I can come up with a "mechanical answer." If I argue that "God did it" that may be true, but it doesn't explain why God chose to create a universe with a higher concentration of deuterium. Yes, God loves me, but He can love me equally well with different concentrations of deuterium.

    See above.

    Also it's really important, because there are lots of scientists that give popular talks that I think are actively ***misleading***. Krauss is one that I have particular problems with, since mixing science and non-science is bad enough. Getting his science *wrong* while doing it is worse.

    One problem is that people with science backgrounds like me who are really careful about not mixing their professional and personal views, don't make as interesting viral videos. I happen to be a Buddhist, but I try to separate that from my "science hat" so I'm not going to make virial youtube videos about how science proves Buddhism (it doesn't).

    If you have some specific questions, feel free to ask.
     
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