P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 170
5th March 2012
I. 'Of Metaphors, Metaphysics, and Math: A Mythology of Mechanisms'
by James A. Coffman and Donald C. Mikulecky
II. 'The Anthropic Principle and the Multiverse' by Wolfgang Osterhage
III. 'Quantum Mechanics, Determinism, and Free Will' by Christopher
The articles in this issue of Philosophy Pathways address the
question of the place of the human subject within the current
objective scientific world image. How are we to understand our
subjective existence in relation to the concept of an external and
inanimate material world governed by immutable laws? Is the
description I have just given even true, or is it just an ideology we
have come unquestioningly to accept?
James Coffman is a Biologist working at the Mountain Desert Island
Biological Laboratory in Maine, USA. He is currently co-authoring a
book with Donald Mikulecky of Virginia Commonwealth University, which
describes how Homo Sapiens 'lost touch with reality while transforming
the world'. Published here is a draft chapter, where the authors argue
that the Baconian, mechanistic view of science as as an instrument
which enables human beings to subdue nature is a mere metaphor whose
credentials have become increasingly dubious.
Wolfgang Osterhage has a PhD in Nuclear Physics and is a qualified
engineer in nuclear technology. More recently, he has worked as a
business consultant and has written articles for Philosophy for
Business. In his contribution, he raises the question whether the
Anthropic principle -- according to which the very existence of
conscious beings who are able to engage in science is no mere
accident but somehow necessary -- is undermined by the many worlds
interpretation of quantum mechanics which holds that 'our' universe
is just one amongst countless millions of alternate universes that
together constitute the 'multiverse'.
Christopher Freire is an undergraduate at Florida State University.
His article looks at quantum mechanics from the point of view of the
free will problem. Is it correct to say, as has often been claimed,
that the indeterminist universe described by quantum mechanics allows
room for human free will which a determinist universe does not? Freire
elegantly shows that the truth of quantum mechanics is consistent with
a determinist view of a universe as having only one possible future.
Heisenberg's uncertainty principle only proves that we can never know
which of the possible futures will be the case.
I. 'OF METAPHORS, METAPHYSICS AND MATH: A MYTHOLOGY OF MECHANISMS' BY
JAMES A. COFFMAN AND DONALD C. MIKULECKY
In this essay we examine the historical trajectory of thought that
led to the ascendancy of Reductionism: the widely held Western belief
that causality can be adequately understood in terms of mechanisms
elucidated by taking things apart. In doing so we consider how we use
language to encode, interpret and communicate our perceptions. Our
central concern is the problem of knowledge: how it relates to our
world, and how it shapes our values.
Human beings are social creatures, and our unique consciousness is
socially developed. Underpinning this development is mythology, as
explored at length by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers in their
television series The Power of Myth (Campbell 1991). Myths are
well-known and often literally-interpreted stories that
metaphorically describe human experience, establishing a framework
for enculturation. The psychological development through which we
each become cognizant of ourselves as mortal beings separate from the
world, and of how we are supposed to deal with that uncomfortable fact
of existence, is entrained linguistically via mythological narrative.
In other words, we learn to think about ourselves and our
relationship with the world through the stories we are told when we
are growing up. Those cognitions are reinforced throughout our lives
by the stories we tell ourselves and each other, stories that
metaphorically resonate with those of our childhood.
In their book Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
(2003) discuss the fundamental centrality of metaphor -- the use of
one thing to describe another, completely different thing -- as a
linguistic device for communicating experience and expressing
self-awareness. It is hard to imagine how we could think or
communicate about anything without using metaphors. To see this
consider what you just read: to 'imagine' anything is to form an
'image'. But not a literal image; it is an analogue: we
metaphorically 'see' things in our mind's 'eye'. But what we are
describing here is completely different from literally seeing with
our actual eyes.
If you are finding this difficult to 'grasp', you might say that it
is 'beyond me', 'over my head', 'too deep' or 'hard to fathom'.
At some point in your life you may have had your 'heart broken'.
A hunch is a 'gut feeling'.
And so on. You get 'the picture'.
Metaphorical language is one of the two fundamental ways we encode
our models of reality, and the primary way that we both conceive and
communicate complex perceptions. In fact, many words with meanings
that we take to be literal began as metaphors. For example, the word
'understand' originally meant to stand in the midst of (with 'under'
having once had a 'broader' meaning than it does now), and its
synonym 'comprehend' originally meant to completely catch hold of
(com-, from complete, and -prehend, from the Latin prehendere, as in
Most of our metaphor-based cognitions are not even conscious. When we
make a decision, we may think we are consciously thinking things
through, but more often than not what we are doing is rationalizing
(that is, reflectively selecting bits and pieces of knowledge to
support an argument for) a decision that we have already arrived at
subconsciously. These subconscious decisions are rooted in the
mythologies informing 'common sense' and the moral 'compass' through
which we interpret experience.
Lakoff has written about how this guides our decision-making process
in politics -- and more importantly, how it is exploited by savvy
politicians and their backers (not to mention preachers and other
influential public speakers). The idea, called 'framing', is that a
specific, value-laden interpretation of an otherwise neutral
perception is subconsciously constructed or 'framed' by
metaphorically evocative language. The cognitive frames that each of
us is endowed with are constructed during (and via) our psychological
development. Indeed, conscious comprehension of anything requires the
development of an appropriate cognitive frame, which depends on our
upbringing -- our level of education, and what stories we were told
(or have paid attention to). This explains why otherwise intelligent
people will often deny scientific facts (such as evolution), and can
be induced to vote against their best interests. It also explains why
advertising is so effective (and lucrative).
Given that consciousness as we know it developed in concert with
language and is intimately linked to the invention of metaphor, it is
worth considering how, in the course of human evolution, this unique
human faculty came to be. A theory that bears serious consideration
is that of the late psychologist Julian Jaynes. In his book The
Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind,
Jaynes proposed that metaphor-based cognition emerged quite recently
in human evolution -- only ~3,000 years ago, about the time that
Homer's Odyssey was written. Prior to that, as late even as the
events recorded in the Iliad, human beings were un(self)consciously
motivated, either by habit (in routine circumstances), or (in novel
or stressful situations requiring decisions) by verbal commands
generated in the right hemisphere of the brain that were received in
the auditory center of the left hemisphere, and thus literally heard
as voices, which were interpreted as coming from an external
authority, i.e., a god. This 'bicameral mind' of ancestral humans,
with its authoritarian auditory hallucinations, was similar to that
of modern-day schizophrenics, and in this light the latter can be
interpreted as an evolutionary atavism. The major difference between
then and now was that hallucinogenic authorization was then the
cultural norm, and hence not considered to be insane.
According to Jaynes, the historical breakdown of the bicameral mind,
and the concomitant emergence of the metaphor-based consciousness
that took its place, was catalyzed by the collapse of ancient
civilizations -- whose hierarchical socio-cultural structures had
developed around (and reflexively reinforced) the bicameral mind --
in the face of anthropogenic ecological crises, which caused
widespread famine and hence cultural conflict attendant on mixing of
displaced populations attending to different 'gods'. The breakdown is
chronicled in ancient texts, including those of the Old Testament,
which document the progressive silencing of the 'divine' voices and
refinement, through writing, of metaphorical narrative as a new
device for modeling experience and articulating a code of morality.
Thus the Judeo-Christian myth of the fall from grace, precipitated by
Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, is for Jaynes
a metaphor for the emergence of metaphor-based (self)-consciousness,
which resulted in a loss of innocence. Consciousness underpins
conscience, or at least our value-laden sense of personal
responsibility. But how the latter developed clearly varied between
cultures. Native American scholar Vine Deloria Jr. (2003) has pointed
out that in the Protestant mythology adopted by Western Europeans, the
fall affected not just humanity, but all of nature. In this myth
humans are left with the thankless task of having to overcome and
manage a debased (and shameful) nature. Eco-philosopher Freya Mathews
(2003) argues that the cognitive strategy that develops to this end is
repression, which is facilitated by Cartesian dualism (which we take
The Native Americans (and other aboriginal or 'pagan' cultures)
developed a different myth, in which human beings are viewed as part
of (indeed owe their existence to) nature, which is celebrated. Thus,
our current dysfunctional relationship with the natural world can be
seen to extend from religious metaphors that repressively inform
Although it remains controversial and in some ways problematic,
Jaynes's theory deserves a fair reading given the undeniable
connection between metaphorical language and human consciousness. But
for present purposes it serves only as backdrop for three postulates:
first, that human experience is communicated, and reality thus
modeled, through metaphorical narrative; second, that this was not
always true, because humanity, like everything else, evolved from
precursors lacking in contemporary attributes; and third, that what
is considered normal in one cultural context might well be considered
'insane' in another, perhaps more evolved context.
The other way we humans consciously model reality is using formal
logic, as epitomized by math (Lakoff and Nunez 2000). Math is itself
a language, but it is unique in its affordance of a precise way to
quantitatively represent and encode abstract ideas describing the
physical dimensions and properties of the world, and to subject those
ideas to rigorous tests for logical consistency. It is a formal means
of constructing chains of entailment. Math thus counterbalances with
crisp precision the vagueness of metaphorical language (which unlike
math is just as effective, through fiction and rhetoric, at creating
fantasy or reinforcing delusion as it is at modeling reality). Some
might even say that math (or more generally, formal logic) provides
the universal test of truth: the one means we have of determining,
with absolute certainty, whether imagined ideas about reality are
true or false.
While this may or may not be true, it is true that some truths are
axiomatic (true by definition, e.g., 1+1=2), which allows other less
obvious truths to be proved mathematically. But Kurt Godel proved
mathematically that some truths cannot be proved mathematically. That
is, a formal system (such as math, or more generally language) cannot
be both consistent (meaning it can't be used to prove that the same
statement is both true and false) and complete (able to prove all its
postulates and theorems). So, either some truths lay forever beyond
our grasp to know with certainty, or math (and for that matter
language) is not the only route to knowing truth.
Be that as it may, math certainly appears, by virtue of the wonders
of engineering that it uniquely enables, to be the most powerful
means we have at our disposal for elucidating universal truths, and
its use has gotten us to where we are. In the following we will
briefly trace the historical trajectory of that development, through
some of its major figures, in order to set the stage for our
argument, developed elsewhere (Coffman and Mikulecky, manuscript in
preparation), that the Western way of knowing and hence shaping
reality -- the way of Science, upon which our Global Economy is
founded -- is seriously misleading.
Plato and Aristotle
The ascendancy of Western science began in Greece. Thanks to the
curatorial scholarship of medieval Christian theologians during the
'dark ages' following the fall of Rome, which made possible the
revival of classical culture during the European Renaissance, we in
the Western world inherited our secular intellect from the ancient
Greek philosophers, and in particular, from two towering figures:
Plato and his student Aristotle. Through the metaphorically grounded
metaphysics articulated in their extensive writings, both played a
major role in creating the world as we know it.
Plato (428-348 BC) was centrally concerned with the nature of
reality. The metaphysical dualism that polarizes philosophy to this
day echoes Plato's conception that the concrete world of matter and
the abstract world of ideas constitute two separate realities. For
Plato truth was itself an idea, as were all the general attributes
that allow us to categorize objects. The objects themselves were then
imperfect manifestations of what became later known as 'Platonic
ideals'. For example, a line in the sand (or anywhere else) is an
imperfect manifestation of the idea of (i.e., the ideal) Line. The
famous metaphor offered in The Republic (one of many used by Plato to
dialogically articulate his philosophy) was that of the Cave. On the
walls of the Cave in which we are chained (metaphorically
representing the dependency of experience on our senses) we see
shadows of objects, cast from behind us by the light outside. The
shadows are what we interpret as reality. But the shadows are not the
real objects, they are just images projected on our senses. The
Reality that they represent is that of the eternal, changeless forms
-- which include those that are elucidated mathematically -- that lie
outside of our Cave of perception. We can refer to this as the
Platonic principle of Ideal Forms.
With Plato we thus see a metaphysical rift between an 'external'
world and the 'internal' world, a schism that vexes human
consciousness to this day. The Platonic formulation of this duality,
as articulated in the metaphor of the Cave, is the inverse of its
modern formulation, in that the external 'real' world for Plato is
composed of ideal forms whereas the internal world of experience is
that of particular objects. Since for Plato ideal forms are more real
than perceived objects, in his work we find an early expression of
metaphysical idealism or rationalism.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) was also concerned with understanding and
explaining the natural world, and like Plato he sought to elucidate
universal principles by which the workings of the world can be
rationalized. But unlike Plato, Aristotle believed that such
principles can be found by studying their particular instantiations,
as opposed to their ideal forms. He thus championed 'inductive'
reasoning from observation of nature, in addition (and in contrast)
to the 'deductive' reasoning from axiomatic first principles and
formal logic (as in math) championed by his mentor. For Aristotle the
world of the senses was real and instructive, and in his work we find
the foundations of metaphysical realism or empiricism, the basis for
Among other things, Aristotle sought to articulate rational accounts
of observed phenomena -- that is, he wanted to logically explain the
causes of things. Aristotle recognized four distinct causal
categories: material, efficient, formal, and final. Material cause is
simply the substance of which something is made. Efficient cause is
the action that that makes it happen. Formal cause is the set of
circumstances that entrain its occurrence. And final cause is its
purpose, the need that it fulfills. This is classically illustrated
by a house: the material cause is the bricks, mortar, and other
materials that are used in building; the efficient cause is the labor
that goes in to putting those materials together; the formal cause is
the design ('blueprint') that is being executed; and the final cause
is the need for shelter. According to Aristotle all four categories
are required to adequately explain any given phenomenon in nature. We
can refer to this as the Aristotelian principle of Causation.
The mental abstraction of general 'principles', such as Ideal Forms
and Causation, from specific things in the actual world -- a
dichotomy, created by metaphorical and mathematical encoding in human
language, that forces the perennially vexatious questions about the
nature of reality to which we shall turn in moment -- was thus
seminally expressed in the works of two of the principal architects
of Western thought, Plato and Aristotle.
To begin to see how this linguistic way of knowing transformed the
world we now turn to three influential thinkers of the European
Renaissance and Enlightenment.
Bacon, Descartes and Newton
Francis Bacon (1561-1628) sought to systematize all knowledge. Toward
that end he devised a 'rulebook' for natural philosophy that
ultimately became known as the Scientific Method. For Bacon, the
stated purpose of natural philosophy was to increase knowledge, and
thus power. Knowledge of causes does that, because if you know the
cause of something, you can devise ways to either make it happen,
prevent it from happening, or shape it to your own ends. Of the four
Aristotelian causal categories, Bacon considered only three --
material, efficient, and formal -- to be relevant to this purpose,
because together they suffice to reveal how things work. For Bacon,
final cause, the need that something fulfills -- the reason why it
occurs -- is strictly a human concern and has no place in natural
philosophy, because philosophy is not suited to gleaning God's
purposes. That is the job of theology. And to this day, final cause,
and indeed the question why, is generally not considered to be a
legitimate concern of science.
Bacon did not invent the Scientific Method. Others, notably Alhazen,
da Vinci, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, probably deserve more
credit than he for that. But he played a major role in codifying the
scientific approach to knowledge production, emphasizing the central
role of empirical verification through experimental testing. Although
he rejected Aristotelian final cause, he embraced Aristotelian
empiricism with its inductive reasoning. He also recognized that,
when it is left unchecked, knowledge is biased by subjectively
irrational beliefs and prejudices, which he referred to as Idols. His
approach sought to systematically eliminate the influence of Idols, in
order to obtain a more impartial or 'objective' view of the world.
And in doing so, through his influence as a scholar, statesman and
writer, he contributed significantly to the ongoing human
objectification of reality. For Bacon, practical knowledge of the
natural world, gained through study of its particulars, was valuable
because of the power it granted: the power to control, to bend the
world toward one's own will. One might say that the purpose (final
cause) of Bacon's system of knowledge was to serve the selfish need
we each have to control events. Toward that end, knowledge is most
easily gained by manipulating and dissecting the world, which
requires that we treat its inhabitants -- including other creatures,
and even other human beings -- as objects.
Of course, bending the world toward one's own purposes is nothing
new; nor is it by any stretch a uniquely human activity. It is a fact
of life: all organisms do it, many of them violently. But only humans
do it consciously and hence rationally. By removing final cause from
consideration, Bacon's system of practical knowledge -- part of the
foundation of the modern scientific industry -- further
differentiated subject and object, a process that had begun with the
development of human consciousness by way of metaphorical language
and which became increasingly defined through metaphysical discourse.
Through the metaphysics of Bacon, human beings became a bit less
inclined to view the world and its inhabitants sympathetically as
subjects in their own right, i.e. agents with ends of their own, and
more inclined to view them as mere objects to be studied and
manipulated for human-centric purposes. By rejecting final cause,
Bacon contributed to the further development of ex post facto
rationalization as a cognitive approach to dealing with the world,
making it a bit easier to take without asking permission. Science
became a means to dominate Nature, 'to conquer and subdue her, to
shake her to her foundations'. In other words, science enabled rape
of the earth.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650), a contemporary of Bacon whose rationalism
(recalling Plato) complemented Bacon's empiricism (recalling
Aristotle), further codified the schism between subjective self and
objective other by declaring that mind (also known as soul, spirit,
or in Greek, psyche) and matter (the body, or Greek soma) are
fundamentally different things that just happen to come together
within a human being. Non-human animals are supposedly not so
fortunate, being but soulless bodies (without mind). The material
body is solid and spatially extensive, whereas the immaterial mind is
neither. But if the mind is not made of matter, how do we know it
exists? Descartes answers confidently: cogito ergo sum -- I think,
therefore I am. For Descartes this mental 'I' that obviously exists
is not the body, it is the soul. Although it remains anyone's guess
as to why body and soul must be different things, this infectious
notion, which was first articulated and discussed at length by
ancient Greek philosophers and according to Jaynes emerged
concomitantly with the development of metaphor as a linguistic device
between the time of the Iliad and Odyssey (allowing 'I' to be
objectively conceived for the first time), thus became cemented into
Western consciousness as Cartesian dualism.
It is instructive to view this metaphysical development in
socio-political context. The Roman Catholic Inquisition was alive and
well in Descartes' time, and in 1633 tried Galileo for heresy.
Descartes was no fool. His separation of body and soul allowed him to
placate the church with the assurance that science is only concerned
with the body. So the church retained authority on the soul. This had
much the same effect as Bacon's consignment of final cause to theology.
And thus was born a cognitive collusion between science and religion
that has been instrumental in shaping our reality, for reasons that
will become more apparent in the discussion that follows.
But dualism is not all that Descartes left us: for in cleanly
separating mind from matter he helped advance the emerging
reductionist notion that the living body -- and the material world in
general -- is a machine. Ironically (given their divergent
metaphysical positions) this too fits Bacon's agenda like a glove,
meshing so well that one might be forgiven for wondering whether that
fact alone can be taken as evidence for the veracity of this schizoid
approach to being in the world.
Isaac Newton (1643-1727) sealed the deal with his masterpiece
Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica: the mathematical
principles of natural philosophy. Newton's three laws of motion,
precisely articulated using the new calculus that Newton himself
invented, allowed anyone with the requisite information and
mathematical skill to predict the exact trajectories of interacting
particles. The first law states that the inertia of a particle -- its
mass times its velocity -- does not change unless the particle is
acted on by an external force. The second law states that force
equals mass times acceleration: F = ma, where acceleration 'a' is the
temporal derivative of velocity, i.e., its rate of change with time.
The third law states that for every action there is an equal,
opposite, and co-linear reaction. Since anything that happens in the
material world involves interaction between particular entities,
Newton's laws of motion appeared to enable one to predict the future
given sufficient knowledge of the present.
Newton was a devout if unorthodox believer; indeed, much of his life
was devoted to the study of theology. He wrote Principia with the
fervent belief that he was gaining insight into how God works. So it
is ironic that his work gave a big boost to the secular humanism that
had emerged in the Renaissance and gained momentum with the
Enlightenment. Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827), the French
mathematician whose monumental contributions rivaled and extended
Newton's own, set the tone in his famous quip to Napoleon: when the
emperor asked him why he had not mentioned God in his masterpiece on
Celestial Mechanics, Laplace replied 'Sire, I had no need for that
hypothesis.' God was no longer required to explain the day to day
workings of nature, only its primordial inception.
Newton's deterministic laws and calculus, along with that developed
independently by his contemporary Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), fit
beautifully with the empiricist agenda of Bacon and the dualistic
metaphysic of Descartes. And so was born the 'scientific' notion that
any material occurrence can be fully attributed to a mechanistic
cause. The universe, in this myth, is a machine, nothing more than
clockwork: everything is mechanically predetermined, so free will is
an illusion. All that is needed to predict what will happen forever
into the future is knowledge of the positions and momentums of all
particles -- knowledge equivalent to that held by an omniscient
being, such as Newton's God, or Laplace's Demon.
With their combined metaphors, metaphysics, and math, Bacon,
Descartes, and Newton succeeded in fully 'externalizing' the idea of
causality. From this perspective it appears that the cause of
something can be discovered by dissecting that thing into its
component parts and figuring out how those parts interact with one
another -- it is simply a matter of lawful action and reaction. In
this view subjective agency is merely a bothersome bias, a nuisance
that gets in the way of progress toward ever increasing knowledge.
Gaining knowledge requires only that the world be parsed into
subjective self and objective other. And since subjective self is
usually reserved for 'me and those like me', it requires only a short
step of ex post facto rationalization to move from 'knowledge is
power' to 'might makes right'.
To be sure, numerous discoveries since the time of Newton and Laplace
have placed thorns in the side of determinism and its methodological
handmaiden reductionism: the second law of thermodynamics, quantum
mechanics, and chaos theory all suggest that the world is
fundamentally un-clocklike. But within the Baconian-Cartesian
framework, such indeterminacy can always be rationalized as mere
epistemological uncertainty, i.e., lack of sufficient knowledge:
either we have not acquired enough empirical data, or our mental
model is simply not large enough.
Lest we be misconstrued, the point of this discussion is not to be
anti-science. On the contrary -- we need science, now more than ever.
But science cannot succeed in its ostensive purpose of producing
realistic knowledge without acknowledging and taking into account its
cognitive limitations and metaphysical (metaphorically-based)
assumptions. Otherwise it breeds hubris, which as anyone versed in
Greek mythology or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein knows, leads to
ruination. The point is that science, being a cognitive discourse, is
as metaphorically bound as any other cognitive discourse.
Science is often thought of as being antagonistic to religion,
because it undermines literal interpretations of religious metaphors.
But as noted above, science and religion are really in cahoots: a
deal, negotiated by the metaphysical pronouncements of Bacon and
Descartes, that works to religion's advantage. Within the
Baconian-Cartesian framework that still holds sway, science cannot
possibly 'win' the ultimate existential argument, because mechanisms
by definition require an external cause. The concepts of final cause
and subjective mind, ceded to theology some 400 years ago, are
essential for explanatory closure in the real world. If they are not
brought in to our discourse on nature then any attempt to explain
reality leads to infinite causal regress, which can be truncated only
by invoking the supernatural.
And yet the belabored mythology of mechanisms lives on (Haken,
Karlqvist and Svedin 1993). Remarkably, the scientific discipline
that embraces it most tenaciously is (as anyone with an intuitive
feel for life itself knows) the one for which it is least
appropriate: biology. As a result, science has misconceived life, and
continues to do so (Rosen 1985, 1991, 2000).
Campbell, J. with Moyers, B. (1991) The Power of Myth. Anchor, New
Deloria, Vine Jr. (2003) God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, 30th
Anniversary Edition. Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado.
Haken, H., Karlqvist, A, and Svedin, U (1993) The Machine as Metaphor
and Tool, Springer-Verlag, New York, NY.
Jaynes, J. (1976) The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the
Bicameral Mind. Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Lakoff, G. and Johnson, B. B. (2003) Metaphors We Live By. University
of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
Lakoff, G. and Nunez, R. E. (2000) Where Mathematics Comes From: How
the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being. Basic Books, New
Mathews, F. (2003) For Love of Matter: A Contemporary Panpsychism,
SUNY Press, Albany, NY.
Rosen, R. (1985) Anticipatory Systems: Philosophical, Mathematical &
Methodological Foundations. Pergamon Press, New York, NY.
Rosen, R. (1991) Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the
Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life. Columbia University Press,
New York, NY.
Rosen, R. (2000) Essays on Life Itself. Columbia University Press,
New York, NY.
(c) James A. Coffman and Donald C. Mikulecky 2012
E-mail: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
II. 'THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE AND THE MULTIVERSE' BY WOLFGANG OSTERHAGE
In recent discussions two rather vague concepts have taken the stage:
the Anthropic Principle and the notion of the multiverse. Both have
initially arisen from deficiencies in scientific theories trying to
explain the world in a concise all encompassing physical theory,
variously known under such acronyms as TOE (Theory Of Everything) or
GUT (Grand Unifying Theory), the first trying to incorporate the four
known natural forces or interactions: gravitation, electromagnetism,
weak and strong force.
Whereas the advent of the Anthropic Principle can be traced back both
to the breakdown of classical logic in the wake of quantum mechanics
and the adherence to Copernican reasoning (the abandonment of
anything central to human positioning in nature), the idea of the
multiverse has been employed to reject the Anthropic Principle and to
substantiate certain cosmological models otherwise lacking sufficient
observable evidence to prove their theoretical foundations.
This paper first summarizes the reasoning behind the Anthropic
Principle, the arguments brought forward for its rejection, than
outlines the cosmological considerations for the invention of the
multiverse, to finally contemplate the philosophical implications
under the assumption of the existence of the multiverse in its
various types of occurrence. It will be shown that even the
assumption of a multiverse will finally lead back to some sort of
2. Origin of the idea of the multiverse
The concept of the multiverse can be traced back to two scientific
sources: quantum mechanical considerations to explain the
superposition of many possible quantum states, and, derived thereof,
the adaptation of the resulting worldview to the cosmological scale,
thereby imposing a similar logic and at the same time trying to
explain loopholes in the cosmological standard model.
The multiverse framework has further been put forward to ward off
implications of the Anthropic Principle, which claims that
observations we make are more or less strongly bound to our existence
proper. Before we attend to the scientific argument itself we shall
have a look at the Anthropic Principle itself.
2.1 The Anthropic Principle and arguments against it
There are a number of physical constants and observations outside of
randomness, which lead to the suggestion that man still occupies a
special place in the universe (neutron-proton mass difference, C-12
energy levels -- all designed to enable life and intelligent life in
the world). The most important discussion points can be summarized
under 'fine adjustment', necessary to facilitate life at all. Several
answers to that may be suggested:
-- Since we are there and observe all this, the parameters just have
to be like that; otherwise we would not exist to marvel about them.
-- Life is after all extremely improbable and something special.
-- The Universe has been created in such a way as to facilitate life.
-- All nonsense
Against this background the Anthropic Principle has been brought
forward. In fact there are three versions:
The Weak Anthropic Principle:
'The physical universe, which we observe, has a structure,
which permits the existence of observers.'
The Strong Anthropic Principle:
'The Universe concerning the laws that govern it and its
special structure has to be such that it will generate an
And finally the Final Anthropic Principle:
'There must come into existence and evolve and exist
forever intelligent, information managing life in the
Now there are a number of counter arguments to these. The first
denies fine adjustment as being necessary for the existence of life,
since life could be imagined on a basis different than carbon. Thus,
if the universe would have a different make-up a different type of
life would come into existence. However, this is highly speculative.
There is no empirical basis for a different chemistry of life.
Another objection says: fine tuning will happen in any way. The
rationale behind this: there is an infinity of cosmoses within a
multiverse, which contains all possible laws, constants, boundary and
initial conditions. Thus our cosmos has to exist with necessity, and
there is nothing to be surprised about or to explain. This is the
argument we will try to pursue in the following, even though the
multiverse scenario is speculative and possibly non-verifiable, the
idea thus being purely metaphysical.
2.1 Cosmological considerations
The first suggestion concerning the existence of a multiverse came
from quantum physicists struggling with the problems of decoherence
and measurement. When measuring a quantity the wave function
describing the object collapses into a discrete state, and all
possible other states initially superimposed upon each other suddenly
vanish. Proponents of the multiverse, however, argue that this is only
happening within the limited horizon of a single universe, whereas in
reality all possible states continue to exist within the context of a
multiverse, consisting of an infinite number of universes. So,
everything that could happen in fact really happens indeed.
Later these ideas have been taken up by cosmologists to help
understand the anisotropic structure of our universe, its initial
state, missing dark matter etc. Within this context several types of
a multiverse are thinkable: a cyclic one, in which big bang is
followed by big crunch followed by another big bang and so on.
Another version comprises indeed the existence of an infinite number
of universes in parallel. Part of the theory has been picked up by
the proponents of the string theory trying to unify all forces of
nature in a multidimensional manifold.
3. Philosophical implications
If we assume, that our universe exists an infinite number of times,
then every person should also exists infinitely often (I will not
delve into the problem of consciousness).
Proceeding along this line, this means, that every possible decision
node, which is bound to appear during the lifetime of a person (or
any other living being for that matter), which may then lead to all
possible variations of the path of life, will in fact be resolved
through all possible options. For example: yesterday someone decided
to take the direction to the left at a crossroad. Today the same
person cannot undo that decision. But in the multiverse his homologue
goes to the right at the same moment and opens up a new branch of his
path of life, which from then on will proceed completely differently
with respect to the one which was up to then identical with the first
person's one. In a multiverse all possible options in life will be run
through eventually -- and this for an infinite number of times.
The multiverse is a thought construct, which has a certain
philosophical appeal. While this author is writing these lines he in
fact does it infinitely often at the same time but also at different
times. But his consciousness belongs only to him. Or does it, because
ones consciousness appears infinitely often as well? Now we are full
circle: phenomenologically it is irrelevant, if someone exists only
once or infinitely often and in congruence. The multiverse is no
instrument to confute the Anthropic Principle.
As it is man describes the world, which he observes with his senses
in two directions: contemplating the higher dimensions of the cosmos
he employs relativity. Looking downward to the microcosmos he is
served by quantum mechanics. Both theories are as of today not
compatible. It looks as if this discrepancy can only be explained by
a new anthropocentric position. Otherwise it would appear that either
man serves as an interface between quantum theory and relativity
purely by chance or the cosmic blueprint has been tailor made just
for mankind. The present day description of the cosmos thus is just a
human product -- embedded into the physiological boundaries of the
capabilities of man's brain.
Somewhere at a random position in cosmic dimensions the physics of
the universe seems to split itself up: and just at that position man
appears! -- It is probably rather such that there, where man appears,
he is just capable to describe the world of the very large and the
very small with those building blocks at his proper disposal: our
image of the cosmos is a product of spiritual anthropocentrism. To
bridge the gap he invents the multiverse.
4. Scientific Rejection
There are seven major, but highly questionable arguments in favour of
a multiverse theory, but rejected by most scientists:
(1) Space has no limit, but we can only observe it up to a certain
horizon, because of the finite speed of light. However, there is no
reason to extrapolate, that there exist different types of physics
(2) Certain field theories predict the multiplication of universes.
However, the existence of such fields has never been verified by
(3) Local variations of the cosmic background radiation suggest the
production of bubble universes at an early stage. However, the type
of inflation depends strongly on assumptions about the variables
(4) Physics is the same in all possible universes, only the natural
constants vary. This would render the Anthropic Principle useless and
explain the amount of dark matter in our universe. However, this does
not follow directly from the multiverse theory itself.
(5) Argument (4) enhanced by probability considerations. It still
does not explain our existence, since probabilities do not make sense
in a multiverse (everything will happen).
(6) String theoretical considerations (the string theory tries to
unify all known forces in nature). String theory has not passed
observational and experimental test yet.
(7) All possible variations of physical and mathematical laws exist
somewhere one way or another. Our universe is just such a chance
construct. Within our limits we will never have a chance to observe
any of the other constructs.
The concept of the multiverse is a highly speculative one. It neither
refutes the Anthropic Principle nor is it universally accepted in
scientific circles. However: never say never! Science history is full
of examples, predicting impossibilities. Even during the nineteenth
century, people were dismissing the idea of speculating on the
substance of fixed stars. The argument was that man would never be in
a position to verify this. Spectral analysis has proven the opposite.
Even in the first half of the twentieth century teachers were telling
their pupils that there would never be a rocket capable of escaping
the earth's gravity, since the amount of propellant necessary would
be too heavy for lift off. We all know what happened later. Thus the
observability of the multiverse or subsets thereof seems to be
impossible in view of our current means. But those may be enhanced in
ways that we cannot predict. However, this does not mean that it will
definitely happen either. The future may even lead to the negative
conclusion: that it really was just an idea with no correspondence to
(c) Wolfgang Osterhage 2012
III. 'QUANTUM MECHANICS, DETERMINISM, AND FREE WILL' BY CHRISTOPHER
Quantum mechanics is the study of subatomic particles. Upon the
discovery that quantum particles operate on a probabilistic, almost
random framework rather than according to rigid deterministic
physical laws, many philosophers began to propose that this allows
for an indeterministic world and the existence of free will. I will
argue against this by establishing that quantum mechanics does not
provide any argument for indeterminism or for the existence of
freewill. In order for indeterminism to be true, there must be more
than one way for the world to possibly exist.
But quantum mechanics does not suggest that there is more than one
way for the world to exist. Quantum mechanics simply illustrates that
the behavior of subatomic particles can only be understood in a
probabilistic framework. From time A to time B, there was only one
way in which the quantum particle did behave, regardless of whether
we could predict it or not. Even if we accepted that quantum
mechanics proved indeterminism, this would not provide us with a good
reason to believe that freewill exists. In order for an action to be
considered free, it must be caused by the will of the agent. Quantum
mechanics can only suggest that actions are caused probabilistically,
regardless of what the agent wills. The agent does not choose the
behavior of quantum particles, and therefore does not choose his own
Quantum mechanics and and free will
Quantum mechanics is the latest subfield in physics. Quantum research
has only recently been possible due to technological innovations that
allow scientists to observe the behavior of subatomic, ultra
microscopic particles. While Einstein's relativity is the physics of
the extremely large, quantum mechanics is the physics of the
extremely small. Quantum mechanics can be summarized with
Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. The uncertainty principle states
that it is not possible to simultaneously know the speed and
direction of a particle at any given time. This means that it is
impossible to predict the behavior of quantum particles. For example,
an electron can be moving in one direction and then change directions,
change velocities, or even disappear for no apparent reason. This is
clearly different from other subfields of physics such as Newtonian
physics or Einstein's physics which seem to have organized,
deterministic laws. For this reason, many philosophers believe that
since indeterministic quantum particles constitute the entirety of
the universe, the entire universe is not deterministic, and this in
turn will allow for freewill.
Determinism is the view that the laws of nature are such that knowing
every fact at one time, will be able to predict every fact in any
later time. For example, many philosophers believe that if you drop a
glass cup on the floor, and you know the exact velocity, density, etc,
you can predict the exact location of every shard of glass after the
fall. This deterministic view of nature is often used as an argument
against the existence of freewill. Free will is the idea that the
agent (person) is the cause of their own actions, thoughts and
volitions. But since we are also subject to the laws of nature just
like the glass is, and the world is deterministic, then all of our
actions, beliefs, thoughts, and volitions were determined long before
we were even born. Many people use quantum mechanics to argue against
determinism, and argue for freewill. I will seek to establish that
quantum mechanics is not a sufficient nor relevant consideration in
the discussion of determinism or freewill.
Quantum mechanics as a determinism
The argument against determinism from quantum mechanics goes as
follows: Quantum mechanics clearly shows with empirical evidence that
quantum particles do not operate on any deterministic or even sensibly
predictable physical laws. The entirety of existence is made out of
quantum particles. Therefore, the entirety of existence is
indeterministic. This argument is very rhetorically powerful, and on
first glance, seems equally intuitively plausible. However, upon
careful logical scrutiny, the argument does not hold.
I will begin by carefully examining quantum physics as it is relevant
to determinism. Quantum mechanics shows us that our common conceptions
of physical laws do not apply to subatomic particles. Mathematics as
we commonly know it simply does not work when attempting to explain
and predict the behavior of these quantum particles. But isn't it
possible that our inability to apply rigid deterministic laws is a
deficiency in our understanding of mathematics and physics? Perhaps
we are simply unable to understand the complex behavior of these
particles in the same way your pet Golden Retriever is unable to
understand calculus. Perhaps we are cognitively closed to the
behavior of subatomic particles. The idea of cognitive closure states
that as finite intelligences, we are unable to understand some things.
Like a dog is cognitively closed to the principles of complex
mathematics, we are also cognitively closed to some knowledge.
So maybe it's not that quantum mechanics is unpredictable, maybe it's
just the case that we as human beings cannot predict it. After a
century of quantum research and countless brilliant minds seeking to
understand the behavior of subatomic particles, the closest we have
gotten is with probabilistic equations. So although we cannot predict
exactly where an electron will go when it disappears, we can give a
probabilistic framework that says where it might go.
Let's now assume that we are not cognitively closed to quantum
mechanics, but rather it is indeed the case that quantum particles do
not obey any deterministic physical laws. Let us make the grand
assumption that quantum mechanics is undoubtedly indeterministic.
Does it necessarily follow that the universe as a whole is
indeterministic? Must it be the case that all the laws of nature are
equally indeterministic? I must admit that it seems to follow that
the whole is the sum of its parts. That is, if the fundamental
building blocks of all of existence are indeterministic, shouldn't
all of existence be indeterministic as well?
Well, to properly answer this we need to examine our basic
understanding of existence itself. I'm sure no sane person can deny
that there is a difference in the concepts of past, present, and
future. Past is what happened before the present, and future is what
will happen after the present. I am equally confident that no one
(aside from a few skeptics) will deny that there in fact exists this
distinction between past, present, and future. Quantum mechanics
states that given some information in the present it is not possible
to predict the behavior of some particle in the future. But just
because we cannot predict it, does not mean that the particle will
behave a certain way. It is certain that a particle will behave a
certain way, regardless of whether we can predict it or not.
Let me clarify this with a brief thought experiment. Imagine we are
observing electron E at location L1 at time T1 (present time). We are
attempting to predict where E will be at time T2. At time T2, E is at
location L2. Following our failed prediction, we conclude that it was
impossible to predict the location of E at time T2. But this does not
mean that E was not determined to move from L1 to L2, this just means
then we are not able to predict this from time T1. But at a later
time, time T3 (after time T2), we observed that E did in fact move
from L1 to L2, in corresponding times T1 and T2. Remember the
behavior of E, is not dependent on our observation. There is a matter
of fact about where E is, and where E will be. There is a
corresponding location for each time. That is, L1 corresponds to T1,
L2 corresponds to T2, and L3 will surely correspond to T3, and so on.
So the problem is not with the behavior of quantum particles, it is
with our inability to predict the behavior of quantum particles. At
time T3, E will be at L3. Whether or not we accurately predict
exactly where L3 is, is irrelevant. If we had a database that
recorded the location of E at every moment in time, there would be
one location of E for every one moment in time (L1=T1, L2=T2...
L32=T32, etc). This is not possible to doubt, this is not a matter of
debate, this is a logically necessary fact.
The definition of determinism is not dependent on the accuracy of our
predictions. Determinism is a thesis for the laws of nature, and as we
all know, the laws of nature exist independent from our understanding
of them. So since there is a matter of fact about how the electron
will behave (regardless of our ability to predict the behavior), we
can say that quantum mechanics is determined. In order for
determinism to be, there must be only be one way for events to
unfold. Since our linear conception of time only allows for one past,
and one present, there will surely only be one future, even if this
future seems uncertain. In summary, quantum particles can in fact
only behave in one way due to the linearity of time.
One interpretation of quantum mechanics states that since there are
almost an infinite amount of possibilities for the way a quantum
particle can behave, there is an alternate reality for each of these
quantum particles' behaviors. This is called the 'Many Worlds'
interpretation of quantum physics. This means that for every passing
moment there are an innumerable amount of new, different worlds where
quantum particles behave in slightly different, or drastically
different ways. This is all theoretical, but let's assume that this
theory is true for the sake of the objection. The objection would
then be that there is not just one way that the laws of nature can
unfold, in fact there would be an innumerable amount of ways for the
laws of nature to unfold. So if there is more than one way for the
laws of nature to unfold, then the universe would not be
But this objection would not be sufficient to prove that the world in
indeterministic. This is because of the linearity of our own universe.
So even if it were the case that there are an innumerable amount of
possible worlds, there is still only one way for the actual world to
exist. There is only one way for our universe to exist. A mere
possibility for separate theoretical parallel dimensions does not
make any claim to the existence of this universe. So even if it is
possible for electron E to be at location L4 instead of L2 at time
T2, there is only one location that E will exist at. Quantum
Mechanics does not only not suffice as an argument for indeterminism,
it can even be interpreted as an argument for determinism.
(c) Christopher Freire 2012
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