The Nature of our Universe
Glenn R. Morton
This is going to be part physics, part philosophy, but no math so I don’t scare people off.
All views of creation have something pre-existing our universe, be it God, a previous universe or the laws of physics and logic. No one truly has the universe coming out of nothing. But theories can be divided into theology based views and what I will call Pythagorean views. Pythagoras led a religion based on mathematics, but they are described in a way that matches the views of most of science:
" The Pythagoreans did not differentiate between number and corporeality, between corporeal and incorpeal being. Like all the pre-Socratics, these Pythagoreans take everything that exists in the same way, as something material …" Walter Burkert , Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), p. 32
All views of creation have something that exists eternally past, either the laws of physics and logic, the universe itself or God. If a theory has nothing pre-existing eternally, then we have our universe coming out of absolutely nothing. While the term ‘nothing’ is often used as a description of where the universe comes from, I actually know of no view which has the universe coming out of absolute nothingness. For the Christian, God is pre-existing eternally past. For some physicists, it is the laws of nature and for some it is an infinitude of previous universes, with recurring big bangs.
Let’s look at Vilenkin’s view, mentioned earlier in another thread. He once said (my bolding):
" In his paper Tryon argued that even if most of the universes are tiny, observers can only evolve in a large universe and therefore we should not be surprised that we live in one. But this falls short of resolving the difficulty, because our universe is much larger than necessary for the evolution of life. "
" A more fundamental problem is that Tryon’s scenario does not really explain the origin of the universe. A quantum fluctuation of the vacuum assumes that there was a vacuum of some pre-existing space. And we now know that “vacuum” is very different from “nothing.” Vacuum, or empty space, has energy and tension, it can bend and warp, so it is unquestionably something. As Alan Guth wrote, “In this context, a proposal that the universe was created from empty space is no more fundamental than a proposal that the universe was spawned by a piece of rubber. It might be true, but one would still want to ask where the piece of rubber came from.”
" The picture of quantum tunneling from nothing has none of these problems. The universe is tiny right after tunneling, but it is filled with a false vacuum and immediately starts to inflate. In a fraction of a second, it blows up to a gigantic size"
" Prior to the tunneling, no space or time exists, so the question of what happened before is meaningless. Nothing-a state with no matter, no space, and no time-appears to be the only satisfactory starting point for the creation . " Alex Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One, (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), p 185-186
To lay ears, nothing sounds like, well nothing. That isn’t what Vilenkin is saying. Earlier he had written:
" And yet, the state of “nothing” cannot be identified with absolute nothingness. The tunneling is described by the laws of quantum mechanics, and thus “nothing” should be subjected to these laws. The laws of physics must have existed, even though there was no universe. I will have more to say about this in Chapter 19." Alex Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One, (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), p181
In the above, Vilenkin acknowledges that logic and the laws of physics pre-existed our universe. If that is true then there are several implications. Plato in some sense must be correct about the world of ideas which is apart from our universe. Why do I say that? Because the wave function upon which quantum tunneling depends, includes the existence of i, the square root of minus one. If i existed, then logically, so did the complex plane. The complex plane, along with mathematics (also required for quantum tunneling), means that the Mandelbrot set also existed pre-temporally inside the logic of complex mathematics.
For those unfamiliar with the Mandelbrot set it is a recursive equation for each point in the complex plane and is one of the most beautiful mathematical objects there is. Zooming in and using a different color scale one gets images like this
But even big bounce models, in which our universe is eternal and consists of an infinitude of previous universes and an infinitude of predecessor universes, this mathematics must have existed. Consider, the big bounce model:
" This hourglass model is known as the big bounce, and it has dramatic consequences for reality. Because theoretical calculations dictate that the preceding universe must have been similar to our own, its origin must also be similar. That means it, too, would have begun from the collapse of a preceding universe, and so on throughout eternity. “In our model space-time never vanishes,’ say Ijjas. In other words, reality has always existed and there was no beginning.”
"That seems difficult to imagine. “It’s somewhat counter-intuitive,” concedes Ijjas. But the alternative–the total absence of reality before space and time came into existence–is more difficult. ‘It’s infinitely more difficult,’ she says ." Gilead Arnit, "How Did Reality Get Started? New Scientist, Feb 1, 2020, p. 38
First off, the absence of reality before space-time is not more difficult if one believes in a creative God. Secondly, if space-time has always existed, then so has the Mandelbrot object. So has every other mathematical theorem and function.
My friends Denis Lamoureux and Marshal Janzen are the only to people who have openly told me that Genesis 1:1 is mythological (although Marshall says he believes it to also be true.). Most Christians will say that one sentence of Genesis 1:1 is real history. God was the Creator. With God, we have a super intelligent being who can hold physics, logic and mathematics prior to creation. That seems to be no more problematical than assuming that the universe held math, logic and physics prior to our big bang. It is clear that one or the other assumptions must be made.
And this brings me to the nature of reality. Humans have a real problem knowing what reality is for a variety of reasons, philosophical, physical, quantum based, and perceptual. Scientists, like me, don’t like to hear this because we believe that our techniques will bring us to all truth, but will they?
Regardless of what form the pre-existence takes, from the first moment of the big bang the full laws of physics exist in this universe and that means a full-on quantum mechanical world. Quantum mechanics has an observer problem which affects, one way or another, our view of reality. While many physicists are opposed to what follows, no one has found a way out of this problem.
" At first blush, to suggest that we create reality sounds like a combination of arrogance and absurdity. In what warped version of reality could reality only exist because of us? And yet if you spend any time pondering quantum theory – our most accurate description of reality at its most fundamental – it is hard to escape the idea that the world becomes “real” only when we are looking at it.
"The starting point for this is the peculiar fact that observation seems to play a key part in transforming the ambiguous quantum world into the definite picture we know as classical reality. An electron, for instance, is said to be in a superposition of many places at once because, like all quantum objects, it exists in a cloud of possibilities. These possibilities are encoded in a mathematical entity called the wave function, until it is measured. At that point, the wave function collapses and all the possibilities are reduced to one. The electron assumes a single, definite position or state – something we would recognise as real ." Daniel Cossins, “Do We Make Reality?” New Scientist, Feb 1, 2020, p. 41
All scientific observations must eventually be registered by an observer or it isn’t a sicentific discovery. To show this, let’s say a physicist automates his equipment and during his run, a novel particle is captured by the equipment. But due to budget cuts, no one can examine all that data. Has a discovery been made? I would say no. A scientific discovery is made only when a human knows of it.
In the quantum world things get even stranger. Those who know this theory the best know that quantum can’t be formulated without a conscious observer playing a role.
In his classic, seminal work on quantum mechanics, von Neumann analyzed the act of observation by the observer and applied it to quantum He concluded that the world was divided into the external and subjective realms (my bolding):
" But in any case, no matter how far we proceed–from the thermometer scale, to the mercury, to the retina, or into the brain-- at some point we must say: ‘And this is perceived by the observer.’ That is, we are obliged always to divide the world into two parts, the one being the observed system, the other the observer. In the former we can follow all physical processes (in principle at least) arbitrarily precisely. In the latter, this is meaningless. John Von Newumann, Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics: New Edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018), p. 272-273
" When the province of physical theory was extended to encompass microscopic phenomena, through the creation of quantum mechanics, the concept of consciousness came to the fore again: it was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness ." Eugene Wigner, Remarks on the Mind-Body Question, in Eugene Wigner, Philosophical Reflections and Syntheses, Springer, 2012, p. 172
But it was Barr who put the sharp point on the problem, the conscious observer is above and apart from the laws of physics:
" A careful analysis of the logical structure of quantum theory suggests that for quantum theory to make sense it has to posit the existence of observers who lie, at least in part, outside of the description provided by physics . " Stephen M. Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), p. 27-28
The fact that our consciousnesses are outside of the description provided by physics, has tremendous implications for the nature of reality. It is as if quantum is showing that we really do have souls.
This is a serious crack in the philosophy of materialism. Barr says that this is one of the most amazing discoveries of science. Every interpretation of quantum theory, even those formulated to avoid this problem, eventually raise other serious problems that are worse than concluding the soul is not physical.
For those who doubt Barr’s conclusion, new evidence, from a year ago, proves that if quantum tries to include conscious observers into the quantum description of a situation, multiple logical contradictions arise. Frauchiger and Renner’s theoretical paper was entitled," Quantum theory cannot consistently describe the use of itself" https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-05739-8.pdf
These authors showed that logical contradictions arose if one tried to model quantum scientists (observers) using quantum mechanics on an experiment. The theoretical results were hotly debated because it meant that likely quantum doesn’t apply to consciousness. That is, quantum is not a universally applicable theory.
Early last year, Proietti et al, experimentally confirmed these contradictions. who go through various ways to solve the contradictions and effectively chose this one(my bolding):
" While the precise interpretation of Ref.  within non-local theories is under debate , it seems that abandoning free choice and locality might not resolve the contradiction. A compelling way to accommodate our result is then to proclaim that “facts of the world” can only be established by a privileged observer — e.g., one that would have access to the “global wavefunction” in the many worlds interpretation  or Bohmian mechanics." Massimiliano Proietti et al, Experimental Rejection of Observer-Independence in the Quantum World, https://arxiv.org/pdf/1902.05080.pdf, p 4 Note: this quote has changed from an earlier pdf, but it has changed from one way to accommodate the result to A compelling way to accommodate the result.
Again, the only name one could place on a privileged observer who has access to the global wave function of the multiverse is God!
Early in Wigner’s life he agreed with this point:
" It follows that the quantum description of objects is influenced by impressions entering my consciousness. Solipsism may be logically consistent with present quantum mechanics, monism in the sense of materialism is not. The case against solipsism was given at the end of the first section ." Eugene Wigner, Remarks on the Mind-Body Question, in Eugene Wigner, Philosophical Reflections and Syntheses, Springer, 2012, p. 176
He eventually changed to believe in the Everettian multiverse, but even that view, which attempts to avoid consciousness runs into an even greater consciousness, that of God. Smolin notes:
" According to this interpretation, only an observer who lived outside the universe, who had somehow the same relation to the whole universe that we may have towards some atoms of gas in a container, could observe this quantum state of the universe. According to the many-worlds interpretation, it is only such an observer who could know all of reality.
“It thus seems to me that the many-worlds interpretation can be understood as an attempt to preserve, in quantum theory of the whole universe, the notion of single-observer objectivity. I know no other way to understand the desire to posit that the quantum state of the universe corresponds to reality, in spite of the fact that there can be no observer inside the universe (as we ordinarily mean it) who can observe it. This formulation preserves the idea that there is a single objective view of reality by the extreme means of making that the view of an observer who does not live in the world.”
" It seems to me that the only possible name for such an observer is God, and the theory is to be criticized as being unlikely on these grounds . " Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos, Oxford University press, 1997 p. 263-264
But science everywhere, comes face to face with God, and attempts to avoid this lead to the postulation of unseen objects which are epistemologically inexplicable as God. Consider the problem that unchanging laws of nature have. To say they just exist and leave no explanation is really no different than saying God exists. Instead of an inexplicable God we have a set of inexplicable set of eternally existing laws. Peirce says
" To suppose universal laws of nature capable of being apprehended by the mind and yet having no reason for their special forms, but standing inexplicable and irrational, is hardly a justifiable position. Uniformities are precisely the sort of facts that need to be accounted for. That a pitched coin should sometimes turn up heads and sometimes tails calls for no particular explanation, but if it shows heads every time, we wish to know how this result has been brought about. Law is par excellence the thing that wants a reason. Now the only possible way of accounting for the laws of nature, and for uniformity in general is to suppose them the results of evolution. " Charles Sanders Peirce, Philosophical Writings of Peirce, Courier Corp., 2012, p. 318
So Smolin postulates that each black hole creates another universe. Since we can’t see inside a black hole, one must ask oneself is this is really science or philosophy or faith.
" Natural selection of ‘favored’ universes seems the stuff of science fiction. However the American cosmologist Lee Smolin conjectures that the multiverse could display the effects of heredity and selection. When a black hole collapses, he speculates that another universe sprouts from its interior, creating a new expanse of space and time disjoint from our won. Small universes, in which there was too little space or time to form many black holes, would not leave many progeny. Nor, he argues, would even a large universe if its physics prohibited stars from ever terminating as black holes."
"Smolin then adds a new twist - the physical laws governing the daughter universe many differ from those in its parent, but only slightly. Since the number of progeny a universe has depends on the laws prevailing within it, there is a selection pressure. Many generations, or many iterations, would lead to a ‘takeover’ by the universes that generate the most numerous progeny. These would be the ones governed by laws that allowed the largest number of black holes to form ." Martin Rees, Before the Beginning, (Reading, Mass: Helix Books, 1997), p. 249-250
Is faith in an unseen set of new universe’s, created by black holes, that much different from having faith in an unseen God? Given that the known laws of physics break down inside a black hole, one must wonder how it is that anyone could ever verify what Smolin proposes.
What we have seen is that the creation of the universe brings with it something that is pre-existing, evidence that consciousness is not subject to the laws of nature, and finally the epistemological equivalence of a pre-existing God and a pre-existing universe. Both perform the same function; only the name and presumed characteristics are different.
To me, God is a reality we face in nature.