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September 03, 2022


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"...Such beliefs should maybe not be called unscientific but rather ascientific as Tim Palmer (whom we'll meet later) aptly remarked: science says nothing about them.

One such belief is the origin of our universe. Not only can we not currently explain it, but also it is questionable whether we will ever be able to explain it. It may be one of the ways that science is fundamentally limited. At least that's what I currently believe.

The idea that the universe itself is conscious, I have found to my surprise, is difficult to rule out entirely (chapter 8)..."


I disagree, in the strongest possible terms. Not so much with what is literally said here, but with what is actually and very clearly implied.

This, in my humble (or maybe not so humble!) view, is a clear example of a scientist "philosophizing", aka rambling away incoherently. (Reminds me of 271Days's Max Planck quotes.) That it is a physicist doing it might have us listen more carefully, but it most certainly doesn't mean that we swallow it, or that we consider such incoherent ramblings remotely "scienfitic".

In fact, this takes us back to that old chestnut, the soft-atheism hard-atheism business. The Bible as literal description of reality it is possible to clearly debunk, and therefore the Biblical God (or at any rate a *literalist* Biblical God) admits of hard atheism. The more abstract God that many present-day Christians believe in --- and more so the more sophisticated deistic and quasi-desitic God-ideas that verge on deism --- do *not* admit of direct debunking, and therfore do not admit of hard atheism. Nevertheless, in as much as they are claims that are unevidenced, therefore they do admit of soft atheism.

What Sabine Hossenfelder refers to as "unscientific" basically points to the former, that is to say God claims that do admit of hard atheism. And what she refers to as "ascientific" basically points to the latter, that is to say God claims that do not admit of hard atheism, but do in fact admit of soft atheism.

Sure, it is difficult to rule out completely the idea that the universe is conscious. It is equally difficult to rule out completely that there's a teapot orbiting Mars. It is equally difficult to rule out that I have the invisible unicorn Shadowfax living in my garage. It is equally difficult to rule out the universe is not a simulation. It is equally difficult to rule out that the universe isn't in itself conscious but that it has been created by a conscious and intelligent being, a Deist God, that after creation has left us to our own devices. And it is equally difficult to rule out that there is truly a monstrous Yahweh that has created the universe and who goes around rampaging through his Creation his monstrosities to perform; only, since the Christ's time, he's chosen to stay put and and not reveal Himself to us --- and who, although he's created the universe only a few thousands years ago, nevertheless has, in his inscrutable wisdom that we cannot understand and must not quesion, camouflaged his tracks and left a whole host of false clues that point ot a much older universe.

It's not just difficult, it's actually impossible to prove any of these things. It is also impossible to prove that fairies do not exist. It is also impossible to prove that leprechauns do not exist, or goblins, or the Loch Ness monster, or Bigfoot.

But where the eff is the effing evidence for any of this? No evidence, no belief, is the reasonable man's motto. Otherwise we'll be reduced to going around "not ruling out completely" the existence of a conscious universe, and of planet-orbiting teapots, and invisible unicorns in my garage, and Deist Gods, and fairies and goblins and the rest of it. Every time we hear a footstep we'd have to look around fearfully for a crazy man about to stab us, every time it rains we'd run indoors to protect ourselves from poisonous drops of water raining down, every time we see a cell phone we'd run and hide to protect ourselves from its toxic "radiation", and whatever other random nonsenical ideas take our fancy. That is the route to wilffully continuing to inhabit the demon-haunted world --- to use Carl Sagan's metaphor --- that science and reason and rationality have delivered us from.

I'm reacting here only to the portion I've quoted. I do realize that it could be that I've taken those few sentences I've quoted out of context, since I haven't actually read her book. It could be she's merely discussing the route of soft atheism, or maybe she's merely talking about how we don't have 100% certainties in science, ever. It could be that she doesn't actually mean that as literally a view on whether or not the universe might be conscious. In which case I'll be happy to retract my criticism, absolutely.

But taken by themselves those sentences do convey, by implication, exactly the kind of meaning that woo-peddlers of the Deepak Chopra variety tend to latch on to. No sane rational man will go around imagining that the universe might in fact be conscious. (Equally, though, no sane rational man will refuse to acknowledge it if the evidence one day shows that that might be so. Nor would the sane rational man have any difficulty in speculating, while clearly recongizing the speculation to be nothing more than speculation; and nor in researching the idea further if he wanted to. But to incorporate that sort of thing as a possible descriptor of reality, that is incompatible with a rational scientific worldview. No matter if it is a scientist that espouses such a view.)

Have just read this blog on 'Existential Physics' and look forward to reading some more extracts - or perhaps buy the book.

I like what Hossenfelder says about 'respecting the physical laws of the universe and how physicists needs to “. . . step forward and explain what physics says about the human condition, [or] others will jump at the opportunity and abuse our cryptic terminology for the promotion of pseudoscience.” And also that she aims to point out that regarding quantum entanglement and vacuum energy, as being the go to explanations of alternative healers, spiritual media, and snake oil sellers.

She talks of outdated ideas such as old explanations that, “. . . consciousness requires something more than the interaction of many particles, some sort of magic fairy dust . . .” She also adds that to her surprise it is difficult to rule out entirely that the universe is conscious. This will make for interesting reading as she will be discussing “ . . . whether consciousness needs something besides particles . . .”

There is prevalent assumption to confuse being conscious with self-conscious. I often feel that the term for consciousness gets limited to meaning being self-conscious. Matter does react (even rocks change and 'evolve') according to their environment. Perhaps particles have a potentiality, perhaps a momentum toward eventually, life, mind and finally consciousness but to confer some sort of awareness or consciousness of them, is a bit of a stretch.

Also, I quite like the fact that regarding the universe she says: - “One such belief is the origin of our universe. Not only can we not currently explain it, but also it is questionable whether we will ever be able to explain it.” This is honest (a hallmark of science). I can appreciate the limitations of our human abilities, perhaps it is a characteristic of the human mind that it egotistically believes every question will eventually bow before it.

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