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05 September 2010


D. King

"The answer to winning the cosmological lottery was a simple one – just posit that the cosmos contains a gazillion universes all popping into and out of existence, and voila! one of them was bound to pop up with the proper laws and constants."

Ah, the old infinite monkey universe hypothesis.
Hey Joe, we’ve got something here at # 2456893.
“To be, or, not to be, that is the gazidinflorfuf#%@&%...”

Mikey McD

On this beautiful sabbath day I would ask... what if they are right? But, the far more important question is...what if they are wrong?


RL Crabb

Maybe in another hundred years, after we've solved the mysteries of our own tiny blue speck of dust will we be able to reach out far enough to answer The Big Question. Hawking's theories are no more absurd or reliable than the rantings of theologians who are positive that the Grand Canyon was formed during the Great Flood, or the amusement park where cavemen are dipicted riding dinosaurs.

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that I created the universe, and that you all are figments of my imagination. It would certainly answer the question of why the world is insane.

D. King

Found this George.


Robert R. Sachs

I've not yet read Grand Design (next up, though), but let's take the criteria of Occam's Razor and falsifiability as normative. Query: does a theory of either a personal God (as in the Bible), or some version of Deism, Intelligent Designer past the same tests? I would argue not.

The Biblical God certainly seems to suffer many nicks and cuts from the Razor. Even dropping any notion of the literal truth of the Bible (creation in 7 days and all) and leaving simply a personal, all knowing, all powerful God, leaves many unsatisfying and unsatisfiable and well known questions: the existence of evil and the irreconcilable claims of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. Yes, I've read the explanations (ancient and modern) but at the end of the day they are no more "valid" in strict sense then what Hawkings proposes.

An Intelligent Designer is arguably just a "bigger" turtle. Here's a neat trick, a recursive ID argument: Just as the order and "design" of the world implies an ID(n), thus it follows that the order and "design" of the ID(n) (anything powerful enough to create a universe must be ordered and complex, not random) implies an ID(n-1). Thus its turtles all the way down.

George Rebane

Good points Robert. A few years back I was teaching a ‘bible and science’ course in our church to a small spiritually hardy group of people. There I introduced one of the recent revelations/propositions of science that upon close examination on the smallest of scales, our universe looked like a running program. This, of course, opened up a whole lot of possibilities ‘upward’. Then I mentioned that we are now creating the first software ‘worlds’ of reproducing life that can learn. Furthermore, that given the acceleration of technology and the advent of the Singularity, it is conceivable that we (our near progeny) could, and possibly would, create cognitive environments that would appear as the entire universe to the sentient and sapient creatures that would evolve in such environments. I even posited a physical embodiment that would ‘serve’ such a universe – a computational shell of matter that totally envelops a brown dwarf. (Brown dwarves may already be used in such a manner by post-Singularity civilizations that have created such ‘universes’ – but that’s a whole other fascinating discussion.)

Anyway, the bottom line of this development inferred that here was a plausible ontology that would have an undefined number of turtles going up, and also down from where we find ourselves. (That did not sit well with many of our church members, and the group reduced itself to an even smaller and hardier assemblage.) In short, the existence of … ID(n+1), ID(n), ID(n-1), … .

Re your questions of God’s operational ethics (good, bad, evil, …) and their longstanding contradictions arising in the Judeo-Christian scriptures, I would point you to recent essays on ‘open theology’ by John Sanders (2007) and Gregory A. Boyd (2008). According to my lights, open theology is a totally coherent explanation of how this stochastic universe functions – at least from our current vantage – that satisfies the scientist in me who believes that existence reaches way beyond the x,y,z,t and its relativistic and quantum counterparts. We ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

In the end, and speaking only for myself, I seek a breakout from the stack of turtles in any proffered explanation that seeks to expel the notion of creator or ID – since we can (or soon will be able to) ‘do it’ downward, why can’t we ‘have been done’ from upward? This scheme does at least satisfy Occam and an intrinsic hardwired desire by humans to have their searches be informed and directed by teleology – we naturally seek causal beams and basins (cf. Pearl and Rebane) to profitably structure our cognition of our surroundings, and that approach has served us well for eons.

Since I cannot think all thoughts that even this Universe supports (e.g. Sapir-Whorf), I have no idea what is the ‘ultimate’ structure of existence. Nevertheless, I am in awe of the local structure. Therefore I am perfectly happy to contemplate and worship ID(n), no matter the contingencies for ID(n-1), who, in any case, would not take exception to such a shortsighted cosmology from a critter like me.

Robert R. Sachs

Thank you for the very reasoned and insightful response. I shall definitely look into Sanders and Boyd. I'm also intrigued by the "upward" and "downward" (or perhaps "concentric" would be more accurate) proposition, and its implications for local (which we can never break out of) and vs ultimate ontological or epistemological outcomes.



We may well be at the top of a stack of n critters, each n(x) the creator of n(x-1). And one day we may push ourselves another level down by creating our own new level. But this ,for me, has nothing to do with spirituality. It would be unfortunate if the n(self+1) we eventually create worships us at n(self) as Truth. Appreciate us, admire us, delight in us, yes. Take us to be the absolute truth that is the goal of spirituality: no.

Spirituality is only one thing: the question of the first turtle (FT). And we know something about FT, or rather we know in what ways it does not correspond to our limited concepts:

FT is uncreated. By definition. It is First. It sits outside of causality, time, space and anything else we can conceive of - all we can conceive or think of being conditioned upon our experience, which is conditioned on and physically dependent on the created. Thus have no worries that you cannot think all thoughts - thoughts cannot touch FT.

FT created the present universe we live in. Note that I use "created" loosely here, as it implies an act in time, but in fact time as we know that time did not begin until that creation and exists only within that creation. And it implies a conscious act, which would not be the case in anything resembling what we know as consciousness since (in any human sense) consciousness exists within time. So we have a choice:

a) FT created one universe, with one set of physical principles and corresponding constants so as to make that universe generative of us and possibly of our creating critters. Presumably because FT somehow wanted critters to exist.
b) In its creativity, sitting outside of time, FT created universes in a way and capacity that we cannot begin to conceive of, one of which happened to have the proper generative conditions for us.

The choice between (2a) and (2b) is certainly not testable within the constraints of current technology. But given (1), imposing the limits of (2a) seems like pure hubris to me. Why in the heck would an FT that we know by definition has the freedom of 1 be constrained by 2a? Sure you can ascribe some qualities to FT that might lead to (2a), but then you are hardly playing fair with Occam. The point is that anything that could be an FT for us seems to with minimal baggage (Occam) be far more likely to be "creating" infinite universes (since it does not exist in time) than to be limited to one, and hence to have no special relationship to our one. And once you allow infinite creation, our universe appears with probability one, so there is no issue around anthropic principle concerns.

So I suggest that the Turtle argument, taking Occam seriously, is more compatible with a multiverse based Truth than a singleverse based Truth.


I should point out that it sounds like I am cheating by picking out FT as the first cause. But then it must have a cause To say that there is a critter(1) that exists within causality and then causes critter(2) would indeed be cheating. I am saying that causality itself does not begin until FT "creates" something in which causality does indeed exist. Causality is dependent on time; certainly time does not exist in the uncreated pre-big-bang world of FT.

Michael Anderson

I love stacked turtles. Every time I climb or descend the stack, I find new places that I had never been before.

Sometimes I arrive at a new place which turns out to be a place I had been before. It looked different only because of the different approach (ascension vs. descension).

If I apply K(Z,2) metaphorically, topology in belief systems becomes geologic. Something I can get my hiking boots on top of, or underneath, as it were.

George Rebane

MichaelA, surely you jest; then again ... .

George Rebane

KD, your evoking FT and first cause takes us (at least me) to places where our/my ability to think may be lacking. There is no requirement that in the cosmos (all existence), or even within an asei ID (your FT), we must be limited to our concept of time as the only dimension that allows the prioritizing or ordering of events. Time, as we know it, may be only one of many types of prioritizing manifolds of arbitrary dimensionality that can be orthogonal to space (x,y,z,...). We can barely conceive of such notions, let alone think coherent thoughts about them.

But what the hell, let's give it a try anyway.

Michael Anderson

"But what the hell, let's give it a try anyway."

Yes, let's see what we can do.

The concept of time that I finally became comfortable with is this:

Existence flows like a river, there are eddies and faster parts. Our brains dip into this river for samplings of reality, but we miss a lot. If we dip faster we may have a firmer grip, but not necessarily. The slower dippers might actually have the upper hand, because between dips, they are virtually sampling other rivers (multiverses?) that flow alongside our present existence.

George Rebane

In considering God and creation for some decades now, I keep coming up to the same wall. Perhaps it can be stated as a principle of system science or at least a hypothesis awaiting proof. Let me offer it as the first System Incompleteness Theorem –

SIC1 - The origin of no system can be reliably determined only from information generated within the system itself (i.e. endogenous information).

This theorem has a direct analog in Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem which, however, limits the extension, instead of the inception, of propositionally bounded mathematical systems. A weaker second System Incompleteness Theorem can then be stated as –

SIC2 - The terminal state of no system can be reliably determined only from information generated within the system itself (i.e. endogenous information).

It’s a stretch to think of SIC2 as an analog of Turing’s Halting Problem because that undecidable problem allows an external view of the system which itself receives exogenous inputs. Now you can see what happens when you join time and an idle mind ;-)


Nifty: Godel (and reading the tortuous attempts to reach God by Thomas Aquinas, Nagarjuna and others of their ilk) has played a pivotal role in my view that logical positivism has nothing positive to offer in this realm - though much to offer in the sense of negation; good for destroying mythological/primitive conceptions of God(s), but not for revealing God).

However, although SIC1 is fascinating science it seems to have already given up the ghost as far as religion. Isn't the fundamental issue here whether the the system as we know it is in fact closed to NT?

The revelation of the founders of any religion must a) come from outside the system (God intervenes in the system (i.e, Newton's clockwork universe) temporarily), or b) the system must include the source of the revelation (meaning either that God inheres in creation, or that the revelation is bogus - deliberately fraudulent, the result of psychosis, or dealing with critters( != 1)).

In the latter case, SIC1 does not apply, and there is no particular reason other than mythology (the original oracle(s) as something more than human) that we cannot also directly participate in that revelation (for the inherent God case), though it seems self evident (to me anyway) that what is found is a direct revelation or ekstasis, not an intellectual conclusion (intellectual conclusions being nothing but an instantiation in consciousness of human limitation).

In the former, the system is not closed, so SIC1 does not apply. Here though, we as non-founders would seem to have a trivial chance of our own revelation.

Funny, I seem to have derived a bit of Catholic versus Protestant split, though certainly the Catholic mystics would protest. Certainly the writings of Eckhart, for example, are among the most powerful testimony to a God which inheres - not only in creation but in each and every of us.

George Rebane

Finished reading Grand Design. My post on the book is here.

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