(Part 6 of Ten)
(continued from Part 5 of Ten)
[Note: A Greek philosopher, Andronicus of Rhodes, c. 70 B.C.E, coined the word “Metaphysics.” It literally means “after the Physics“ (written by Aristotle). It originally served as the title of Aristotle’s 13 treatises newly edited and arranged by Andronicus after those on physics and natural sciences written by Aristotle. Latin scholars misinterpreted the meaning of the word as “the science of what is beyond the physical.” That misinterpretation continues to this day. Although this article is titled, Metaphysics 101, it clearly maintains the distinction between physics and “the science of what is beyond the physical.”]
Closely related to Metaphysics, Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that examines the extent, limitations, and validity of knowledge: i.e., it is the study of how our brains process sensations, both naturally and with the exquisite enhancement of our senses provided by technology.
And here we have a major thread that runs through the history of philosophy from antiquity to the present: the denial that our senses are reliable sources for the brain to perceive reality. Immanuel Kant, plunged philosophy into the Dark Ages of Philosophy when he repackaged Platonic philosophy with a twist. He reinstated the senses as tools of cognition but limited them to the material world only (“phenomena”) and coined the word “noumena” (from the Greek, nous) as “the world beyond physics.” Like Plato, he posited that the noumenal world is unknowable; unlike Plato, he did not argue that the noumenal world actually exists but only that it might exist!
I have a fantasy inspired by philosophers who—like Plato and Kant—tell us that the ‘real’ world cannot be revealed to us by the senses. My fantasy begins in Plato’s ‘ideal’ or Kant’s ‘noumenal’ world, or more precisely, in this natural world (or universe) but with one major difference: In my fantasy, human beings are abstractions without senses. The fantasy continues with some sort of cosmic event, e.g., the earth enters a ‘Goldilocks Zone’ that suddenly provides the abstract human beings with senses. For the first time they are thrilled by the reality we take for granted. Plato’s shadows suddenly disappear in a blaze of sunlight, and humans—no longer abstractions, but flesh and blood—are overwhelmed by the excitement of color and sound and the feel of Aristotle’s earth, water, air, and fire. For the first time, they experience time and space. For the first time the tsunami of information roars into their minds in a knowable world.
In the middle of the 20th century Ayn Rand, an admirer of Aristotle, jolted the status quo of (Western) philosophy after centuries of Platonic/Kantian domination. She named her philosophy Objectivism and articulately described it in the form of a novel titled Atlas Shrugged. Not nearly as recognized as Plato and major Neo-Platonists, she seems to have had her philosophy publicized either too late or too soon to relegate Plato, Kant and their successors to the dustbin of philosophy. Instead, abstract universes have crept into the discipline of science.
In 1927, the year of my birth, Georges Lemaitre proposed what became the Big Bang theory. Hubble elevated the theory of ‘island universes’ to billions of galaxies. Einstein had proved that space and time are not absolute. Despite the somewhat rattling discovery of a fourth dimension and the prospect of a universe that came out of ‘nothing,’ classic science remained intact, and still does.
At about that same time, the microcosmic world was found to differ radically from the macrocosmic world. This startling discovery should not be confused with the speculation of subatomic unknowable worlds. On the contrary, the classic macrocosmic domain and the modern domain of Quantum Physics, each in its own way, remains well within the parameters of valid and provable scientific disciplines.
Although Quantum Physics began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, its prominence has grown exponentially beginning in the middle of the twentieth century and is firmly established as a branch of science.
However, at about the beginning of this century and rapidly accelerating since the 60s there have been several cosmological theories that resemble flights of imagination rather than plausible hypotheses in the fledgling branch of (modern) cosmology. Admittedly, my skepticism stems from the fact that none of those theories can ever be proved even inferentially as the existence of dark matter is clearly inferred by the force of gravity.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I don’t resist new ideas. In fact, my imagination is on steroids. But I temper imagination with logic, especially in contemplation of science. There is nothing—not even a hint—that infers an alternative universe, a parallel universe, or that multiple universes exist. Yet, string theory posits that there are 10500 potential constructs for alternate universes (and ten or possibly eleven dimensions instead of only the four with which we are familiar).
Popular buzz posits universes with radically different physical laws. The buzz includes a parallel universe that is separated from our observable universe by just a millimeter or two. The suggestions made about other universes are widely open-ended and are so popular that they are practically presented and accepted as facts even though there can never be proof that even one universe other than this one exists.
There is a powerful attitudinal cliché that condemns the word “never.” Those of us who use that word and other words like “always” and “absolutely” are accused of being “narrow-minded.” But the fact is that “Dark Energy” is accelerating the inflation of the universe to almost the speed of light. Here, please note that there is a fundamental difference between the accelerating speed of the universe’s rate of inflation and the speed of light within the universe.
Cosmic dynamics are such that light is like a dog chasing its tail, i.e., the light emitted by objects can’t keep up with the increasing distance between them that is created by the expanding universe. This means that eventually the light from the earliest objects in our universe (e.g., quasars) eventually will no longer reach us. How then, would light emitted from other universes (if they were to exist) ever reach our universe even if they could travel through whatever it would be that exists between universes?
A parallel universe is any of a hypothetical collection of undetectable universes that are like our known universe but have branched off from our universe due to a quantum-level event. As for the imagined parallel universe separated from our universe by just a millimeter or two, proof of its existence is obviously as forever inaccessible as that of alleged universes in a multiverse.
Our universe is not a “Parallel Universe Hologram,” neither are you, nor am I. We are not a strip of cosmic film. The cosmic film is something like those Hollywood films that are edited for variations in the storyline, e.g., in one version the hero dies at the end of the film, in another he lives. In one version of the film she catches the train, in another she’s ten seconds too late. The notion that we are abstractions is a convoluted inversion of Plato’s shadows where we are the shadows.
One argument for the existence of a multiverse is made by comparing it to a deck of cards. There is a finite number of all possible orders in which 52 cards may be shuffled. After that number is reached, duplicate card orders are inevitable. String theorists justify the notion of duplicate universes and individuals by the reduction (!) of possible universes to the finite number, 10500. All manner of speculations are included in this theory, including alternate universes wherein an individual makes a choice, his counterpart makes the opposite choice—and so on. I don’t know where determinism vs. free will fits in with that scenario or how synchronous timing would work for individuals in alternate universes. Open-ended theories have their glitches. They also have their loopholes.
Are there duplicate individuals who (as in a relay race) live for centuries because their lifetimes and deaths are so timed that they ‘live’ for centuries while others die within seconds after their one life? (Well, two lives.) And what is time anyway? Oh, excuse me, it seems that I’m crawling into Plato’s cave again!
In one more effort to avoid a philocosmological IED blowing up in my face and for the sake of argument, I waive my rarely used right to skepticism and (for the moment) I assume that there is an infinite multiverse and even accept the theory’s numerous implicit contradictions as absolutely true, but I still maintain that theories without the possibility of proof don’t—as Rick puts it in the film Casablana—“amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
I suspect that a considerable deal of modern cosmology is motivated by an insatiable appetite to diminish humanity, as if numbers have anything to do with the stature of humanity in the first place! On balance, cosmology has not diminished the human species; it has elevated it.
(to be continued in Part 7 of Ten)