Book review

The Multiverse Hides The Problem It Was Supposed To Solve, And Calls It Solved

Let’s end the review of Sabine Hossenfelder’s book. We did some already: Emergence, Entropy, and Many Worlds. With this post, we’ll have covered the most interesting topics.

Old Hoss, and many like her, find it pleasing to think the universe is purposeless, that everything means nothing, that humans have no preferred role, and so their existence is ultimately empty.

What strange beliefs! Do the attitudes underlying them lead their holders to other errors in thought? Should we trust anything they say? Is this a permanent condition?

Funny how people who make “anthropic” arguments like these below never realize they can be turned around:

We quite literally don’t matter: most of the matter in the universe—about 85 percent—is dark matter, not the stuff we are made of, and in any case, whatever we achieve, it’ll be wiped out by entropy increase eventually.

Some find comfort in this insignificance; others find it disturbing. They’d rather humans play a preferred role. Certainly our own existence must mean something, they insist.

Now I am a tall strapping man, and Old Hoss is a diminutive woman. So, in just the same we are nothing next to the larger mass of dark matter, Old Hoss is nothing next to me: I am more important. The realization that size matters may account for why everybody is getting so fat: they want to matter more—by accumulating matter.

That’s the bad. Now the good. Let’s see where Old Hoss gets it right.

It turns out that in the current models, or theories, favored by physicists there are a handful of “constants”, numbers which cannot be derived but which have to be measured. One of these is called the fine structure constant, which says something about electron charge and the electromagnetic field.

Physicists would like to be able to derive these theory-dependent measures from first principles, but they can’t. And maybe some of them aren’t theory-dependent, and are really part of The Way Things Are.

If that’s so, then there has to be a reason the measures take the values they do. There has to be a cause of them. What is it?

The most interesting answer being forbidden as “ascientific” (Old Hoss’s word), physicists seek for others. One answer is to suppose a multiverse of universes were created, one for each possible value and combination of the “constants”—which aren’t then constant, but let that pass.

How many combinations is this? Well, if you allow any value in the continuum, there is an uncountable infinity of universes, a number unimaginably larger than a countable infinity of them. This situation immediately falls under the same Overseer objection we gave for Many Worlds, because there has to be a cause to separate and control and create all the possibilities. And this is so even if the distribution of universes is “random”—which only means unknown.

Some physicists—not Old Hoss—think they can get around this fatality by positing a “probability distribution” over “not-so-constants'” values.

If [physicists] then try to calculate the probability for some observation [of “constants’s” value] in our universe, that merely rephrases whatever they postulated, so one doesn’t learn anything from it—garbage in, garbage out. But it creates a new problem, namely that now they have to explain what the probability is that someone observes something in the multiverse in the first place.

This is right. Can simulations find the right answer? Only if the programmers know them in advance. Simulations are models, and all models only say what they are told to say.

We already knew, of course, that not all values of the cosmological constant are compatible with out observations, because this constant determines how fast the universe expands, and if it expands too fast, galaxies are ripped apart. It is certainly nice to see how this happens in a computer simulation, but elaborations about dolphins in the multiverse don’t bring further insights; they just add an arbitrary, unobservable probability distribution over unobservable universes.


She tarnishes this triumph later by demonstrating an incomplete knowledge of probability. Her ideas seems to match those of David Deutsch, whom we’ll meet later. Both don’t hold truck with subjective Bayes, which is good because in it arguments often become circular, but both think probability can only apply to observed frequencies, which is false. There is a Third Way, which is logical probability, also called objective probability (or objective Bayes, though that has ambiguities). We’ll return to this another day.

Old Hoss skirts around the Dog The Didn’t Bark, only hinting distantly at the problem. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why indeed! She teases Lawrence Krauss, who wrote A Universe from Nothing, and then proceeded to call quantum fluctuations “nothing”.

But she never tackles The Question herself, thinking it ascientific. What’s amusing is that many have given the question considerable thought, and their answers conclude the opposite of the Great Bluff that all things are merely particles bumping into each other, that we are insignificant, and that the universe is purposeless.

Wonder why she didn’t explore those.

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15 replies »

  1. most of the matter in the universe—about 85 percent—is dark matter

    Genesis 1:4 … God separated the light [matter] from the dark [matter]. …

  2. The multiverse, the infinite kind, has a basic contradiction. Namely, everything that is possible, must have happened.

    Why is this a contradiction? Because there must be an infinite number of intelligences with unlimited power and knowledge. So there isn’t just one God, but an infinite number of them.

    Hail, Zeus!

  3. The multiverse idea tries to explain why we can’t derive the constants of universe from first principles.

    But there’s not really much reason to think we could in the first place, except that a lot of physicists seemed to think it was possible.

  4. Dark matter is an epicycle. Epicycles cannot be observed, but can be inferred from their effects: to wit, retrograde motions, Problems arose when the mathematici [the old word for ‘astronomers’] forgot that and regarded retrograde motion as a direct observation of epicyclical motion.

    Likewise, Dark Matter cannot be observed, but must be inferred from its effects; in this case, the velocity of rim stars in the galaxy. If they move only under gravitational forces, the outer stars would lag farther and farther behind the core stars. They do not; therefore, DM.

    But logically, therefore gravity unlike the cheese does not stand alone. The scientific revolutionaries [who were not nearly so revolutionary as they liked to think] did know that after inducing a propter quid (P) from a passle of quia, (Q) and before deducing new Qs from the P, there stands the ‘work of the intellect.’ One must demonstrate that there are no other Ps that might account for the same Qs.

  5. “…in any case, whatever we achieve, it’ll be wiped out by entropy increase eventually.”

    How can such a belief be congruent with (and surely Old Hoss is a true follower of the cult) “evolution.”

    Isn’t the theory of evolution exactly the opposite of her belief that any intelligently designed achievements will be wiped out by entropy?

    Just as humans use our intelligence to manipulate information to design, manufacture, and produce innovative arrangements of matter, intelligence has also used information to create all forms of life on Earth.

    Haven’t evolutionist hand-wavers posited some silly matter/energy magic process to bluff their way out of the entropy dilemma? Their belief that information and intelligence arise from dumb particles using energy to arrange themselves in intricate formations that then spring to life is a complete rejection of entropy.

    And yet she reverts to a belief in entropy when it’s convenient to pooh-pooh those who use our God-given intelligence to observe that “humans play a preferred role.”

    How convenient….

  6. I suggest everyone read what Isaac Asimov considered his favorite story. It’s called the “Last Question.” Here is one place on the internet where it is available as a pdf. It’s a 20 minute read.

    When I read it several years ago, my first thought was that given enough time, a God like intelligence was bound to happen in our universe. Why should there be a limit to the level of intelligence that is possible given enough time?

    Then when the multiverse was proposed, the only logical conclusion is that this would happened not just once but an infinite number of times. After all everything physically possible will happen if given enough time and opportunity. Not just once but an infinite number of times. I will leave it to Briggs to tell us why probability will not let that happen but I assume he will not be able.

    But this is a contradiction as there is no evidence of such intelligences let alone an infinite number of them.

    So if we are left to probability and logic alone, is the only possible conclusion is that there are only a finite number of universes of finite length (maybe just one) and that there is just one intelligence of infinite power and might? After all, what created all that we can see?

    Unrelated questions: can a post be edited? I do not see this option. Also, how does one respond to another post? I don’t see this option either.

  7. Who cares what an intellectually handicapped species thinks abut the
    universe when they can’t even figure out how to combat gender dystopia?
    Welcome to earth planet of the slaves.

  8. Physics rule zero: Everything except energy and time adds up to nothing.

    If spacetime is hyperbolic (and all the tests so far show it so to be), that implies an entire anti-universe, equal and opposite to our own, wholly separate from our own since just after the moment of creation (the singular origin point of existence). This anti-universe would have negative time and energy, thus making the universes add up to nothing, but individually full of a great deal of something.

  9. @JerryR said, Why is this a contradiction? Because there must be an infinite number of intelligences with unlimited power and knowledge. So there isn’t just one God, but an infinite number of them.

    Hail, Zeus!”

    Only if one insists that all things happen in (observable) time. Just as Genesis starts with the idea of a God that pre-existed creation, if one does not insist on limiting everything to our understanding of space-time, the “contradiction” doesn’t exist at all.

    I suppose it would be possible there exist a multiplicity of many-worlds, one set of instances for every creator, but that suffers the same weakness as just a single many-world — they would have no interaction with each other so, like Hawkings said, it’s trivially true. Sure, but what’s the point if it doesn’t help in understanding the universe we can perceive?

  10. I have recently concluded that the universe exists because nothing cannot exist. Imagine a box filled with nothing… cool, except that it has boundaries and so is not nothing.

    Why this one? magic constants etc? because the limiting criterion for continuation is internal consistency.

  11. I don’t think we lack data…in fact the more data we accumulate the more possibilities there are.

    We laugh at the superstitions of the past due to the lack of science to give another explanation on an occurrence.

    Maybe we are locked into a way of learning and thinking that can never give a solution to a problem…maybe it’s time to stop total indoctrination of the young mind into a way of thinking and allow more freedom in imagining a different way at looking at a problem?

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