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You think there's a multiverse? Get real

  1. Jan 16, 2015 #1

    Garth

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    I really appreciated the article in this week's New Scientist You think there's a multiverse? Get real based on Lee Smolin's new book "The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time", which is co-authored with Roberto Mangabeira Unger.

    Lee has changed his tune from the days of his Cosmological Natural Selection hypothesis in which every BH spawns a new universe and a natural selection process fine tunes the physical constants to maximise the number of BHs a particular universe produces, incidentally also fine tuning the universe to be propitious for life, so there is a multitude upon multitude of universes.

    Now he, with the philosopher Unger, embraces scientific realism and as he writes in the article:
    Smolin, rejecting the multiverse as having no predictive power, suggests we need to reject some of the principles (excess baggage) standard cosmology is built on, the scaling up of physical laws from the laboratory or solar system up to the entire universe and the 'Newtonian paradigm' (the predictions of future states from initial conditions under a set of laws).

    I agree with the first and second - laws can evolve in alternative theories such as a suggested variation of G - however I find it hard not to accept the 'eternal' truths of Mathematics - Platonist as I am! I like to think 1+ 1 = 2 whether there is anybody around to think so or not.

    Personally I ask the question, "Whenever we talk about a quantity, Mass, Length, Time etc., both defined here in the laboratory or applied to the distant universe, we have to also ask 'How is that quantity measured and compared with its standard unit.'h

    Garth
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2015
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  3. Jan 16, 2015 #2

    Stephen Tashi

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    Is there any way to decide whether a physical quantity (in a given system of units) must always be a rational number? I don't see that assuming physical quantities can be any real number (as opposed to only a rational number or only from some other dense subset of the real numbers) has any predictive power. However, convenience and mathematical aesthetics lead to using the model of the real numbers (and the complex numbers) in physics. By analogy to that situation, the fact that a multiverse theory is not predictive doesn't rule out the fact that it might be turn out to be a good theory if the mathematics of it can be shown to be convenient.
     
  4. Jan 16, 2015 #3

    Chalnoth

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    These are just the standard, baseless objections that have been answered many times before.

    He seems to be defining the multiverse out of existence by saying, "There's one universe, with changing physical laws," while neglecting to notice that this guarantees that there will be different regions with different physical laws, which in turn is one kind of multiverse that many people discuss.
     
  5. Jan 16, 2015 #4

    Garth

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    The difference being that we might be able to observe these regions with evolved physical laws and 'constants'.

    Garth
     
  6. Jan 16, 2015 #5

    Chalnoth

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    Uhh, no. There is precisely zero difference.

    To within current measurement errors, physical laws have not changed within the observable universe. And many ways that the laws can change would result in changes being phase transitions that happen suddenly rather than gradually, such that you'd never detect a change by looking at tiny variations of the laws within the observable universe.

    The way you detect such different physical laws is basically identical to the multiverse theories: you don't look for the changes themselves, but for other consequences of the theory that predicts the changes that are measurable.
     
  7. Jan 16, 2015 #6

    Chronos

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  8. Jan 16, 2015 #7

    Garth

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    I agree Chronos, and as Smolin's NS article says after talking about the unusual initial conditions of the original GR BB model:
    Until observations demonstrate that such other universes do exist with high statistical significance (95% at least) then for one I am convinced that multiverse theories have taken us out of the realm of science.

    Garth
     
  9. Jan 16, 2015 #8

    Chalnoth

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    Would you reject any theory, then, which happens to include a multiverse as one of its predictions?
     
  10. Jan 16, 2015 #9

    marcus

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    that's not a well-defined question. It's verbal and people fudge around with what they mean by "multiverse".
    Some people are in love with the word "multiverse" and will apply it to any model of the UNIverse where some physical quantity (which might otherwise be taken to be constant) varies.
    The model is what I would call a universe, operating under a set of natural laws, and predictable enough to be tested. But they point to some little "sub-law" that varies and say "look! there are different REGIONS in the universe! Therefore it is a MUUULLLTTEEEVERSE!

    I would go along to a large extent with the essay in NATURE by two of the world's most prominent and respected cosmologists: Joe Silk and George Ellis. They are definite about what they mean should be regarded as outside the bounds of science. They define their terms and give their reasons.
    As I recall the essay was titled something like
    Defend the Integrity of Physics
    Yes, here is a link:
    http://www.nature.com/news/scientific-method-defend-the-integrity-of-physics-1.16535
    Here are some excerpts:
    ==quote==
    Scientific method: Defend the integrity of physics
    16 December 2014
    Attempts to exempt speculative theories of the Universe from experimental verification undermine science, argue George Ellis and Joe Silk.

    This year, debates in physics circles took a worrying turn. Faced with difficulties in applying fundamental theories to the observed Universe, some researchers called for a change in how theoretical physics is done. They began to argue — explicitly — that if a theory is sufficiently elegant and explanatory, it need not be tested experimentally, breaking with centuries of philosophical tradition of defining scientific knowledge as empirical. We disagree. As the philosopher of science Karl Popper argued: a theory must be falsifiable to be scientific.
    Chief among the 'elegance will suffice' advocates are some string theorists. Because string theory is supposedly the 'only game in town' capable of unifying the four fundamental forces, they believe that it must contain a grain of truth even though it relies on extra dimensions that we can never observe. Some cosmologists, too, are seeking to abandon experimental verification of grand hypotheses that invoke imperceptible domains ...

    These unprovable hypotheses are quite different from those that relate directly to the real world and that are testable through observations — such as the standard model of particle physics and the existence of dark matter and dark energy. As we see it, theoretical physics risks becoming a no-man's-land between mathematics, physics and philosophy that does not truly meet the requirements of any.

    The issue of testability has been lurking for a decade. String theory and multiverse theory have been criticized in popular books1, 2, 3 and articles, including some by one of us (G.E.)4. In March, theorist Paul Steinhardt wrote5 in this journal that the theory of inflationary cosmology is no longer scientific because it is so flexible that it can accommodate any observational result. Theorist and philosopher Richard Dawid6 and cosmologist Sean Carroll7 have countered those criticisms with a philosophical case to weaken the testability requirement for fundamental physics.
    ...
    ...

    MANY MULTIVERSES
    The multiverse is motivated by a puzzle: why fundamental constants of nature, such as the finestructure constant that characterizes the strength of electromagnetic interactions between particles and the cosmological constant associated with the acceleration of the expansion of the Universe, have values that lie in the small range that allows life to exist. Multiverse theory claims that there are billions of unobservable sister universes out there in which all possible values of these constants can occur. So somewhere there will be a biofriendly universe like ours, however improbable that is.

    Some physicists consider that the multiverse has no challenger as an explanation of many otherwise bizarre coincidences. The low value of the cosmological constant — known to be 120 factors of 10 smaller than the value predicted by quantum field theory — is difficult to explain, for instance.
    ...
    ...
    [Sean Carroll] argues that inaccessible domains can have a “dramatic effect” in our cosmic back yard, explaining why the cosmological constant is so small in the part we see. But in multiverse theory, that explanation could be given no matter what astronomers observe. All possible combinations of cosmological parameters would exist somewhere, and the theory has many variables that can be tweaked. Other theories, such as unimodular gravity, a modified version of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, can also explain why the cosmological constant is not huge7.

    Some people have devised forms of multiverse theory that are susceptible to tests: physicist Leonard Susskind’s version can be falsified if negative spatial curvature of the Universe is ever demonstrated. But such a finding would prove nothing about the many other versions. Fundamentally, the multiverse explanation relies on string theory, which is as yet unverified, and on speculative mechanisms for realizing different physics in different sister universes. It is not, in our opinion, robust, let alone testable.

    The manyworlds theory of quantum reality posed by physicist Hugh Everett is the ultimate quantum multiverse, where quantum probabilities affect the macroscopic. According to Everett, each of Schrödinger’s famous cats, the dead and the live, poisoned or not in its closed box by random radioactive decays, is real in its own universe. Each time you make a choice, even one as mundane as whether to go left or right, an alternative universe pops out of the quantum vacuum to accommodate the other action.

    Billions of universes — and of galaxies and copies of each of us — accumulate with no possibility of communication between them or of testing their reality. But if a duplicate self exists in every multiverse domain and there are infinitely many, which is the real ‘me’ that I experience now? Is any version of oneself preferred over any other? How could ‘I’ ever know what the ‘true’ nature of real ity is if one self favours the multiverse and another does not?

    In our view, cosmologists should heed mathematician David Hilbert’s warning: although infinity is needed to complete mathematics, it occurs nowhere in the physical Universe.
    ...
    ...
    The consequences of overclaiming the significance of certain theories are profound — the scientific method is at stake (see go.nature.com/hh7mm6). To state that a theory is so good that its existence supplants the need for data and testing in our opinion risks misleading students and the public as to how science should be done and could open the door for pseudoscientists to claim that their ideas meet similar requirements.

    What to do about it? Physicists, philosophers and other scientists should hammer out a new narrative for the scientific method that can deal with the scope of modern physics. In our view, the issue boils down to clarifying one question: what potential observational or experimental evidence is there that would persuade you that the theory is wrong and lead you to abandoning it? If there is none, it is not a scientific theory.

    Such a case must be made in formal philosophical terms. A conference should be convened next year to take the first steps. People from both sides of the testability debate must be involved.

    In the meantime, journal editors and publishers could assign speculative work to other research categories — such as mathematical rather than physical cosmology — according to its potential testability. And the domination of some physics departments and institutes by such activities could be rethought1,2.

    The imprimatur of science should be awarded only to a theory that is testable. Only then can we defend science from attack. ■
    _______________________________________
    George Ellis is professor emeritus of applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Joe Silk is professor of physics at the Paris Institute of Astrophysics, France, and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
    e-mails: george.ellis@uct.ac.za; silk@iap.fr
    ==endquote==
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_F._R._Ellis
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2015
  11. Jan 17, 2015 #10

    Chalnoth

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    It is beyond foolish to disregard an entire class of theories as being "untestable" without any consideration of whether or not they are, in fact, testable.
     
  12. Jan 17, 2015 #11

    Garth

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    That's the point - By saying "To within current measurement errors, physical laws have not changed within the observable universe" you are showing the idea that laws change is testable, and by your assessment falsifiable.

    Now what observations "to within current measurement errors" have demonstrated the existence of other universes or more to the point could possibly falsify the existence of such a universe?

    Of course not - I would just classify and reject that particular prediction as being "outside the bounds of science". (Thank you Marcus)

    I absolutely agree - therefore what are the falsifiable tests for a multiverse?

    Garth
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2015
  13. Jan 17, 2015 #12

    Chalnoth

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    The existence of spontaneous symmetry breaking that impacts low-energy physical laws is evidence of other "universes".

    Spontaneous symmetry breaking is at the heart of the standard model of particle physics, and one of the results of said symmetry breaking is the Higgs boson, which was recently detected.



    Popperian falsifiability has not been a significant restriction of science for a very long time. More recent notions recognize that it is entirely possible for a theory to be unfalsifiable in the strict Popperian sense, while it still being possible for evidence to support the theory.

    This frequently occurs, for example, with theories that have free parameters. To take a simple example, imagine a theory with a parameter that varies from 1-1000. If this parameter is between 1-5, then current experiments can detect it. If, on the other hand, the parameter is between 6-1000, then it cannot be detected. If the parameter is between 500-1000, then there is no possible way to detect evidence for the theory, even in principle. Such a theory is not falsifiable in the strict sense, but it is still possible to collect evidence that supports the theory if this parameter happens to be within the detectable range.

    This is the sort of thing that people deal with with regard to a "multiverse". That the evidence is generally going to be indirect should bother nobody (our physics theories have become so abstract that evidence for them has been quite indirect for a long time now).
     
  14. Jan 17, 2015 #13

    Garth

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    You are confusing yourself.

    If there is an ensemble of different universes in which spontaneous symmetry breaking occurs bestowing different values to physical constants and laws (resulting in the present asymmetric system in this universe) then you can explain particular (anthropic) values of those constants and laws as a selection effect. We are in this universe because we can be in no other.

    So if you are saying, "spontaneous symmetry breaking ... is evidence of other "universes," then the multiverse is an a priori assumption, not a prediction, of the theory.


    If you stand a box worth of pencils on their tips and let go one will end up pointing (more or less) north.

    However, on the other hand, you don't need a box worth, a single pencil thus let go might end up pointing north by chance.

    This universe might be a 'fluke' - how could we tell otherwise with a statistical sample of one?


    Spontaneous symmetry breaking does not require a multiverse let alone provide evidence of one.

    We have not yet developed a quantum gravity theory, there could be some "Beyond the standard theory" model out there that includes an explicit symmetry breaking, one that does not respect the symmetry of the equations that define why the laws and constants of physics are as they are.
    (Stand a single pencil on its point and then blow on it)


    Let me rephrase then, "what are the tests for a multiverse?"

    Garth
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2015
  15. Jan 17, 2015 #14
    In the movie "The Principle" (www.ThePrincipleMovie.com), George Ellis makes the point that the multiverse has way too much explanatory power, yet is undetectable and unverifiable/unfalsifiable. Martin Selbrede states that basically cosmology is at the point where it is either God or the multiverse. If you are in southern California or Spokane, you should go see the movie.
     
  16. Jan 17, 2015 #15

    Nugatory

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    This might be a good note upon which to close the thread.
     
  17. Jan 17, 2015 #16

    Garth

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    Hi John,

    I remember a 1970's paper (in Nature if I recall) by Fred Hoyle in which, after conceding the end of his infinite and eternal Steady State Theory, he is arguing the universe had to be closed ([itex]\Omega[/itex] > 1) so you can have an eternal oscillating universe thus giving enough time for the immensely improbable life to form. To close the universe he needed a lot of unknown mass, which before the Cold DM days, he thought could be in the form of massive neutrinos - as there was so many of them. The only alternative he could think of was 'God did it'. (Note Fred Hoyle was the 1950's and 60's equivalent of Richard Dawkins - known more by the general public for his atheism than for his science.) I remember a conclusion of his paper that said, "Either the neutrino has mass or there is a God", which I thought at least intellectually honest (possibly admitting defeat) if a little unorthodox.


    However as far as the multiverse or God dilemma is concerned Smolin and Unger suggest a third way and propose a 'new paradigm'. (Don't you just love it when people use that word.;))


    Garth
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2015
  18. Jan 17, 2015 #17

    Chalnoth

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    You don't need an ensemble. All you need is a big universe. In such a universe, the symmetry breaking will take on different values in different locations.

    False. The extra "universes" in this case arise from the simplest possible assumptions you can possibly make about the theory. It is necessary to add additional assumptions to get rid of the multiverse.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2015
  19. Jan 17, 2015 #18

    marcus

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    ==quote Garth==
    Smolin and Unger suggest a third way and propose a 'new paradigm'. (Don't you just love it when people use that word.;))
    ==endquote
    Thanks Garth, for this nimble wide-ranging and entertaining discussion! Indeed there must be several "third ways". I mean lines of investigation that don't "give up" but continue to attempt to empirically explain why cosmology is the way it is---how the world comes to be this way. I wonder if Silk and Ellis will get the international community-wide conference they call for!

    I quoted from the Silk Ellis call to "defend the integrity of physics" in post #9. I think "outside the bounds of science" was one of the phrases they used for what they consider dangerous trends:
    disguised failure of explanation--pretended explanation on imaginary grand scale
    retreat to mythology--with the elegance and patness that traditionally accompanies mythology
    relaxing the rules of evidence to include elegant ways of giving up

    Silk and Ellis call for a conference this year! It could be interesting if they get one started organizing, even if it doesn't actually convene in 2015. I think of it as a
    "taking out the rubbish" conference.
    Deciding collectively what the criteria are for empirical/testable. They are suggesting such standards be reflected in the editorial policy of physics journals and in departmental faculty makeup. It's a pleasure to hear senior people so outspoken :w

    ========================
    Anyway there must surely be "third ways" in the making. Smolin et al "evolving laws" idea is impressive but the first order of business seems to me to be a combined quantum theory of geometry and matter (like the recent proposal of Chamseddine Connes & Mukhanov to see if GR and StdMdl can grow from a single algebraic root)
    It makes sense to me that one first gets the laws (for quantum mechanics, geometry, matter) and THEN one begins to conjecture about how they might have evolved. We don't seem to have a fully unified set of laws yet. But maybe it is good what Smolin Cortes and Unger are doing. Wolfgang Wieland, a QG postdoc whose research I like very much, may have started working with Cortes and Smolin. Sorry if this post is a bit vague, basically just wanted to express appreciation.
     
  20. Jan 17, 2015 #19

    ShayanJ

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    Let's look more closely to the idea of multiverse. Is it testable? Is it falsifiable? Is it useful? Is it physics? Is it about "our world"?
    I don't know that much about this theory to talk about it technically and with mathematical rigour and physical precision. But I think I see some issues about it which I want to share.
    Before starting, I want to quote an amusing thing from one of my professors which I think may be of use in my explanations. I had classical mechanics with him and, as you know, there's usually a discussion about motion in accelerated frames in such a course. Now when he wanted talk about the fictitious forces in such a frame, he explained it like this:
    Imagine someone who has lived all of his life in a wagon and knows nothing about the outside world. Any time the wagon accelerates, he sees that all stuff moves toward one of the walls with non-zero acceleration. So he may think that "wow man, interesting, looks like there is a special kind of force, which I give it the name wagon-wall force, that from time to time accelerates these objects toward that particular wall." He then may extend his theory to answer the questions "when the force appears?" or "why only that particular wall exerts this force on objects?" And so he'll probably be OK with his own "physics" because he can explain things.
    Now we're actually in such a condition. We're inside something we can't get out of. All we say is about inside this "wagon". Let's see what's the difference between an "inside-wagon" theory and an "outside-wagon" one.
    All laws of physics we have now(I mean the well established ones of course), are "inside-wagon" theories. They only refer to things inside the wagon and just couldn't care less about what's outside or even whether there is anything outside or not. The important thing about such theories is that...(Not sure how to say it!!!)...is that we can think about them from different perspectives and study them in different experiments. I mean, we can look at them anyway we want and we can be sure there is something in nature telling us whether that perspective makes sense or not. So we understand these theories very well. And we want all our incomplete theories be like this.
    But what about the "outside-wagon" theories like the multiverse? Let's just take it for granted that there can be(or even there already is) evidence for multiverse. But what kind of evidence is it? Surely it can in no way be like the evidence we have for e.g. QED. Because QED is an "inside-wagon" theory. We know from a great number of experimental and theoretical evidences we have that this should be correct. But all other universes, by definition of the multiverse, are just very much disconnected from us so the theory itself is telling us that even if it has any evidence, it should be too little. And now like that guy inside the wagon who can build his own physics without referring to outside, we always can have "inside-wagon" theories that have much more evidence and also include that little evidence of multiverse. So it seems to me any physical "inside-wagon" theory is by definition superior to multiverse.
    Now this argument may seem too hand-wavy to dismiss a whole theory based on it but it actually is not that hand-wavy. I know people may say that "yeah, but that doesn't prove multiverse is wrong!". Yeah I know, but even if actually multiverse is right(which has no meaning for me), how does it make a difference to physics? Let me rephrase the question, how is it different from saying that god created the universe? Its really naive to think that only because a physicist knowing lots of fancy math is saying that, then it is physics. Because there can always be people saying that "yeah guys, we know how this universe is created, its the multiverse, and you guys don't know!...blah blah blah" and all other physicists just ignoring them because they know there should be an "inside-wagon" theory giving the solution and it doesn't matter for how long they they wait for that theory to show up, they just keep working on it because they think it should be an "inside-wagon" theory. Now doesn't this remind you anything? Let me tell you what is it. Its the same gap between people who say god created the universe and no more and people who think science can explain everything and doesn't need god.
    My point is, science tries to talk about this world and "this world" is defined(inescapably) by what we can observe. So I guess we can say science is a fuzzy set. For any statement, there is an evaluation function which tells us how much this statement is part of science. And that function is the amount we can observe things about that statement. Now god is something unobservable by definition and so our function gives zero for it. This means the word "god" should appear in no statement which is intended to be called scientific. This also means science is unable to talk about god. And multiverse, our functions doesn't give zero for this but it seems to it gives a very small value. As I said, by definition, multiverse is much less observable than other theories and so its much less inside physics than other theories. So I would say, the multiverse explanation is just a little more related to science, than is the explanation "god created it".
     
  21. Jan 17, 2015 #20

    Garth

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    Are we taking here about "different regions with different physical laws" in the one universe (Your #3)? The words "Other universes" was yours (#12), but alright let me rephrase:- If there is an ensemble of different regions with different physical laws in which spontaneous symmetry breaking occurs... (the rest follows..)
    But only if the symmetry breaking is "spontaneous" i.e. stochastic. That itself is an a priori assumption.
    Explicit symmetry breaking under some constraint in a Theory of Everything may "get rid of the multiverse".
    Now I haven't (yet) got a testable TOE but then neither have you.

    I had an extended internet debate on the origin of the universe with someone who argued that in the BB the universe sprang out of nothing.
    As there really had been no-thing, no matter, energy or physical laws in existence then there had been no conservation laws to say it couldn't happen.
    A very convincing argument.
    However my response was that my problem wasn't that his argument explained nothing but that it explained everything and anything and therefore it explained nothing.

    I read a similar objection to the multiverse by Paul Steinhardt in an Edge article 'Theories of Anything'.
    I cannot agree more.
    Garth
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2015
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