Forum behaviour and disappearing threads

stunet's picture
stunet started the topic in Tuesday, 21 Jul 2015 at 3:14pm

You may have noticed a few threads have dropped from view the last day or so. It's a regrettable result of the bolshie behaviour that's been happening. Spirited debate is great, pisstaking even better, but there's a line that shouldn't be crossed, in sincerity, jest, or even in irony. No private matters made public, no references or allusions to other people's partners or family members. Those are the specifics.

More generally, let's heed the advice of the whispering sage and take the fucken pressure down.

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops Tuesday, 17 Dec 2019 at 5:05pm

rooftop, I think you misunderstand what I mean by nothing. Nothing = not anything. So you can't have an infinite number of nothings - if you did, then they would be things, not no-things. If that makes sense. You can either have something (anything) or nothing, The two are mutually exclusive.
As for finetuning, saying "well, we're here, so of course the universe is the way that it is" dodges the question rather than answering it. The fact remains that the fundamental physical constants (e.g. the cosmological constant, the fundamental unit of charge, Planck's constant, the fine structure constant, the initial entropy value, etc) each have to lie within incredibly small ranges, and their ratios also have to lie within incredibly small ranges. Take the cosmological constant as one example - if it differed by one part in 10-to-the-power-of-121 life would not be possible (the universe would either have quickly collapsed into a "big crunch" after the big bang, or expanded so quickly that stars couldn't accrete depending on whether it was bigger or smaller). And the odds multiply. The values of these constants aren't supplied by the laws of physics - in a sense they act like modifiers of the laws. There's no reason within physics that they couldn't be other than they are.
You'd need a mind-boggling number of alternate universes to arrive by chance at one that is life permitting (this wikipedia article goes through an interesting thought experiment that illustrates the absurdity of the numbers involved And needing to postulate that many universes to explain why a single one (ours) permits life would seem to violate Occam's razor, and doesn't really seem (to me) preferable to abandoning naturalism - those additional universes being an unobservable, untestable hypothesis.
The owl analogy you use isn't really applicable either. Natural selection is a well understood mechanism. There is no such mechanism that gives us the fundamental constants as they are.
So to me at least, it would seem that chance isn't the best explanation. The other options would be that it is strictly necessary (in the metaphysical sense) for the universe to exist just as it does - and the lack of any underlying physics determining that the constants be as they are seems to undermine that - or that there was some transcendent cause.

AndyM, I hope you can see by what I write that I do in fact ponder this stuff. Pondering it made me flip my world view upside down in my early twenties. It'd be nice if you'd play the ball not the man.

Sorry for the rambling post,
hope it interests someone.

rooftop's picture
rooftop's picture
rooftop Wednesday, 18 Dec 2019 at 12:49am

No need to apologise, Pops, it interested me.

You make some good points there, and I won't argue with you on the fact that multiples of nothing are still nothing. I wasn't suggesting they were, I guess I was simply trying to make the broader point that the "why something?" question has always struck me as illogical and ultimately unanswerable.

The Occam's razor point is a fair one, except that under a deistic model, the principle itself would also be the product of a universal creator, and so would be rather self-referencing, no?

I agree that we don't (and probably can't) know about possible other universes that may have different physics settings, and so it may seem to be sophistry to invoke them in some sort of cosmological darwinism. But as a thought experiment I think it has philosophical merit, even though it will always lack scientific validation. Another point to consider is that the fine-tuning of the physics parameters is a matter of quantity, and what we are really concerned with here is the quality, the very existence of the universe. Citing the precision of those settings seems to echo the older apologists who would invoke the scale and complexity of the world as justifications of its intelligent design.

Another thing I've been pondering lately is that everything in the universe seems to be defined in relation to something else. Nothing escapes relativity of some sort. Thinking of the entire universe as an entity then, is difficult because there is nothing to compare it with. As the sum of all "somethings" it cannot even be compared to "nothing". Every time we talk about "nothing", such as the number zero, or "nothing in the bank", we are talking about it in relation to the idea that there could be something there. There is a visible void, or an empty vessel, or the thing itself is elsewhere. But a true nothingness is a complete lack of existence, something which never was, and never will be, which I would call an entirely different class of thing.

Oh, and a transcendent cause for the universe? I totally agree - what else could it be?

The question, I guess, is whether he is rewarding Brazilians for their piety by giving them world titles....

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops Wednesday, 18 Dec 2019 at 10:07am

Good points there rooftop, I can see you've also thought a lot about this kind of stuff. I'd agree that the "why something" question is unanswerable - unless there was an ultimate cause with will & agency that wanted there to be something rather than nothing. The alternative would seem to be either absurdism or nihilism. The textbook natural theology answer would be that that cause is the "ultimate being" who is by nature perfectly loving etc, and that love is magnified/perfected when directed outwardly, providing motivation for it/him/her to create things external to it/him/herself.

To deny Occam's razor on the basis of the existence of a creator would be both to beg the question and to commit the genetic fallacy, no?

I think fine-tuning (teleological) argument and the "why something" question (argument from contingency &/or kalam cosmological argument - how did the universe begin to exist) are independant. And I wouldn't invoke complexity as an argument for creation/design - I think it's compatible with either a created or "accidental" universe. Having majored in maths and physics at uni, I've seen how complexity can emerge out of simplicity given the right conditions. But I still think the probability version of the teleological argument is powerful. Add it to the kalam cosmological argument, the argument from contingency, the argument from objective morality, etc you end up with what I find a pretty strong (though not absolutely compelling) case.

And your dead read r.e. everything seemingly being defined in relation to something else. Even the vacuum isn't nothing - it's space permeated by physical fields etc - and those fields are defined by their charges/values relative to some standard metric.

You're almost right with your definition of nothing there too. But I'd argue that once you qualify it as "something that never was, never will be... a different class of thing", you're turning it into some thing again, not nothing. It's simply a lack of existence.

If He's gifting world titles based on piety, I've got it all wrong...

rooftop's picture
rooftop's picture
rooftop Wednesday, 18 Dec 2019 at 4:50pm

Great thoughts again. Your maths and physics training clearly gives you a perspective I lack, having only had more of a pop science education in those areas i.e. I understand most of the concepts, but don't ask me to do the maths!

I don't actually think we're disagreeing on nothingness there, we're probably just shooting past each other a little.

What we need is a couple of hours together and a cold beer. We'll have this whole universe thing figured out in no time.

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops Wednesday, 18 Dec 2019 at 5:06pm

Yeah I'm pretty sure we're saying the same thing re nothingness, I'm just being a bit of a prick about precision of language.

And you're probably right there... Who was it that said life's much clearer viewed through the bottom of a glass?
Either that or we'd have a decent ol' time getting more and more perplexed by it all.
What coast are you on (if you don't mind me asking)?

rooftop's picture
rooftop's picture
rooftop Wednesday, 18 Dec 2019 at 6:40pm


Just occurred to me though - how can you discount the possibility of other universes with different physics while at the same time using the improbability of our finely tuned universe as evidence of design?

What I mean is, if you say the chances of the universe turning out the way it is are one in a trillion, my question is one in a trillion what? Surely hypothetical universes? In order to estimate the probability wouldn't that necessitate a data set that includes the hypothetical?

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops Thursday, 19 Dec 2019 at 8:47am

Long way to go for a beer then.

Yep, your talking hypothetical or "possible" worlds. They need not be actual. If it helps, look up Bayesian statistics (as opposed to frequentian).

Another way to look at it is to not even think about probabilities and just look at the stupendously narrow ranges the constants need to exist in to allow even the formation of stars & galaxies, let alone life.