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Are we living in a designer universe? - Comments

Brian The Coyote's Avatar Comment 1 by Brian The Coyote

An interesting little bit of speculation, but I hope Gribbon doesn't take himself too seriously on this. It also amounts to a big bit of anthropomorphizing his speculated "Creators". They were scientists working in a lab and our universe is their experiment. Once again, creating gods in our own image.

I seem to recall something like this in an Arthur C. Clarke novel. One of the Rama Series, if I'm not mistaken.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 11:47:10 UTC | #508475

david k's Avatar Comment 2 by david k

I don't see anyting far fetched about it. I've said for years if I were to bet, something like this would be my wager. Of course it doesn't answer how the first Universe started, which is probably the best argument against the idea, but with all the science we now know, it has to be an idea taken seriously.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 11:53:46 UTC | #508480

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 3 by Jos Gibbons

Here's my 2 cents on this, though maybe a better physicist will show me to be clueless in areas.

I often hear it said black holes can make universes, but could any physicist please show me the maths that makes anyone think that? I don't claim to be an expert on black holes, although I did write an essay deriving their thermodynamic properties, including the rate at which Hawking radiation causes them to evaporate. Maybe the reason I'm not convinced theoretical physics does yield a universe-making capacity for black holes is because I've not done my research, but I'm happy to read anything anyone has.

Research shows to within experimental error the total mass-energy is 0, so I accept we came from nothing, as would the universes Gribbin can imagine us making. But bear in mind the 0 of our universe includes a negative component due to dark energy. Is this simply gravitational potential energy? Perhaps, but I'm not so sure a single black hole can pull it off. A uniformly dense sphere mass M, radius R has gravitational potential energy -3GMM/5R (apologies to those wanting to see x squared written in a better way then xx; this is all I can muster herein), and for a black hole R >= 2GM/cc so 3GMM/5R <= 3Mcc/10, and Mcc - 3GMM/5R >= 7GMM/10R > 0. This doesn't deal with the case of non-uniform density, however; I'd better go work out which density distributions$ would give a 0 total. Maybe I'm being much too harsh on Gribbin; maybe black holes can do more than I think. Even if not, maybe cleverer methods would work. ($ I'll just do spherically symmetric distributions; others are neither physically plausible nor mathematically straightforward.)

I'm especially unconvinced Gribbin can really claim to know (in the equations-say-so sense; that's all I'm asking for) that black holes or the properties of the universes they produce are in principle tweakable. But even if we concede black holes can be used to make universes conducive to intelligent life (hereafter smart universes) and that we know enough about convergent evolution to expect these more-than-merely-extraterrestrial potential designers of universes (universes so designed are hereafter artifact universes) to insist on giving it a go because they share our because-it-is-there zeal, and therefore most universes are artifact universes and any one universe including ours probably is an artifact universe, I still feel Gribbin overstates his case later on.

He insists that we should think of artifact universes as the explanation for smart universes. But surely, whether with an infinite regress (where each smart universe is so because it is an artifact universe, and is therefore smart contingent on another universe being smart) or not (so some smart but not artifact universe got the ball rolling, at least in one causal chain), the question of why there are smart universes at all is not answered by this line of thinking. Why not trust physics alone can make the smart without it needing to be an artifact? I think this at least as plausible as the suggestion that artifact universes are even possible. So even if we accept the "Believe we're an artifact because it's probable" line, we needn't accept the "It makes sense for us to be an artifact because it explains so much" line.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 11:57:03 UTC | #508481

Art Vandelay's Avatar Comment 4 by Art Vandelay

We don't need the hypothesis of a Goldilocks universe: if it were designed and set in motion, then either the creators came to be in an undesigned universe, or their creators did, and so on.

No matter how far it regresses, there would have to be a universe resulting in intelligent life that came into being unaided, as it were. So why not this one?

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 11:57:33 UTC | #508482

keddaw's Avatar Comment 5 by keddaw

This is no better, and no worse, than the idea that we are all living in a computer simulation. The maths works out the same but people feel better about it for some reason.

It also, as david k points out, leaves open the question of a first/original universe.

I think what may be more interesting is that some recent work suggests all information is not actually lost when matter/energy enters a black hole. What that information is, how it would interact with matter already in there are all reasonable topics for science fiction - and idle speculation - but not something to be taken too seriously at this point.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 12:12:42 UTC | #508491

genes4all's Avatar Comment 6 by genes4all

Basically,NO !!!!!

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 12:13:13 UTC | #508492

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 7 by AtheistEgbert

The idea of multiple universes springing from nothing creating their own dimensions of space may be entirely ordinary events without the need for artificially created ones. But until we can detect them then we're all just speculating about these things.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 12:28:16 UTC | #508499

YetAnotherSteve's Avatar Comment 8 by YetAnotherSteve

Comment Removed by Author

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 12:52:46 UTC | #508512

TheRationalizer's Avatar Comment 9 by TheRationalizer

Fred Hoyle suggested that the laws of physics were so uniquely conducive to human existence that the universe must be "a put-up job".

Right... I always thought that humans were a product of our environment. Otherwise we'd also have to say that the universe MUST have been created because it is so conducive to the existence of squirrels.

But to be fair to theists we must then ask the important questions....who created the universe in which the creators exist?

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 12:59:56 UTC | #508519

Muku's Avatar Comment 10 by Muku

Thanks for that fascinatingly informative response Jos Gibbons, you answered quite a few queries I am not smart enough to work out myself there!! Here is a couple more if you don't mind:

1: I assumed a black hole is a namesake for what is essentially compressed matter that looks like a hole because light cannot reflect from its surface, rendering it more or less invisible. What is the scientific or mathmatical evidence of such conditions creating gateways to other dimensions (as mentioned in the article)?

2: I also don't uderstand what is meant By gravity being negative, surely 0 is neutral, as in alot of nothing is still nothing?

You have my gratitude in advance for explaining these, apologies if they are particularly lame!

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 13:00:29 UTC | #508521

John_edin's Avatar Comment 11 by John_edin

I more easily persuaded that we are in a simulation. It's likely we'll have the computational power to such a thing ourselves in the next century; so it's awfully likely that advanced beings have already reached that point.

So if there is intelligent life in the universe/multiverse, which has the energy and computational power to create simulated universes, it much more likely that we are in a simulverse rather than the original by several factors!

Cheers, John

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 13:13:00 UTC | #508529

jinmane's Avatar Comment 12 by jinmane

Surely the range of possible child universes that can be created would itself be constrained by some deeper laws of physics. Why should these deeper laws allow for the creation of a universe with the potential to harbour intelligent life? Wouldn't that need an explanation too? This theory just delays the answer, just as the God hypothesis merely pushes back the question of how complex intelligence came to be by adding another layer; it doesn't explain anything at all.

I like the idea that the universe actually has no parameters at all; that these seemingly arbitrary constants only exist in our high-level understanding of physics. Or, to put it differently, that all of these parameters are totally inevitable and could not possibly be any different. And so to say "imagine a universe in which the strength of the weak force is slightly different" would be like saying "imagine a universe in which the number 17 isn't a prime".

In fact I can take this idea even further (I'm not a physicist so go easy on me if this turns out to be nonsense). What if the apparent randomness inherent in physics at the quantum level is actually not random at all when looked at at a deeper level. A system, no matter how complex, should always play out the same way given the same variables as inputs provided the laws of cause and effect aren't violated, right?... So perhaps the big bang would always play out the same way; if you were to run the universe again from the beginning, 13.7 billion years later I'd be sitting here typing this. Maybe then, nothing about this universe could possibly be any different... Isn't that a spooky idea? I think so :)

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 13:22:33 UTC | #508532

SteveN's Avatar Comment 13 by SteveN

Comment 12 by jinmane :

...if you were to run the universe again from the beginning, 13.7 billion years later I'd be sitting here typing this. Maybe then, nothing about this universe could possibly be any different... Isn't that a spooky idea? I think so :)

Although something like the Uncertainty Principle might rule this out, I have often speculated that if one knew the precise location and properties of all the subatomic particles (or whatever) present at the time of the Big Bang, and if one knew precisely how these particles interact with eachother, then it would be possible to build a simulation able to model every future occurrence in the universe, including every thought and action of living entities. I guess by definition one would need a computer more complex than the universe itself to achieve this, but if the future of the universe is indeed set in stone at the moment of the Big Bang, that sure would put an end to the theist's constant moaning about 'free will'.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 13:57:11 UTC | #508552

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 14 by God fearing Atheist

Comment 13 by SteveN :

I have often speculated that if one knew the precise location and properties of all the subatomic particles (or whatever) present at the time of the Big Bang, and if one knew precisely how these particles interact with eachother, then it would be possible to build a simulation able to model every future occurrence in the universe, including every thought and action of living entities.

Maxwell's demon:

.. if we conceive of a being whose faculties are so sharpened that he can follow every molecule in its course, such a being, whose attributes are as essentially finite as our own, would be able to do what is impossible to us. ...

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 14:04:43 UTC | #508560

keddaw's Avatar Comment 15 by keddaw

SteveN

I guess by definition one would need a computer more complex than the universe itself to achieve this, but if the future of the universe is indeed set in stone at the moment of the Big Bang, that sure would put an end to the theist's constant moaning about 'free will'.

Not exactly, it could be very simple but that would make it very slow. It only has to be complicated enough to make the most complex calculation (which wouldn't be very) and store all the information (which would be a lot).

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 14:05:31 UTC | #508563

pipsy's Avatar Comment 16 by pipsy

Q: Are we living in a designer universe?

A: No.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 14:13:10 UTC | #508570

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 17 by aquilacane

The idea that the universe around us was created by people very much like ourselves, using devices not too dissimilar to those available to scientists today.

Stupid

Where did these people come from?

Did they evolve in a universe created by other people?

Did they evolve in a blob of jello and decide a universe would be a much better place to live?

Is responding to the age old question " where did we come from" with answers that just create more questions really an answer?

Should I bother to read any further than the line of copy quoted above?

This is the old "life came from outer space" answer to how life began on earth. Never mind the "ok, how did life begin in space" question.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 14:16:35 UTC | #508576

jinmane's Avatar Comment 18 by jinmane

Comment 17 by aquilacane :

The idea that the universe around us was created by people very much like ourselves, using devices not too dissimilar to those available to scientists today.

Stupid

Where did these people come from?

Did they evolve in a universe created by other people?

Did they evolve in a blob of jello and decide a universe would be a much better place to live?

Is responding to the age old question " where did we come from" with answers that just create more questions really an answer?

Should I bother to read any further than the line of copy quoted above?

This is the old "life came from outer space" answer to how life began on earth. Never mind the "ok, how did life begin in space" question.

Actually, despite my previous comment, I'm not sure the article is even attempting to answer that question. Here is what I think the article is essentially saying: If it is possible for us to create universes like our own, and universes rarely form naturally (or those that do tend not to be suitable for the formation of intelligent life), then it follows that our universe was probably created artificially. How intelligence came to be, originally, is a separate matter for another theory. This is just an observation that there may exist a branching tree of universes, with those containing intelligent life having been spawned from other "intelligent" universes (if intelligent life is the biggest producer of intelligent universes).

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 14:37:18 UTC | #508596

Anthese's Avatar Comment 19 by Anthese

An interesting article but, oh dear, he has fallen into the monotheistic pit with this:

The argument over whether the universe has a creator, and who that might be, is among the oldest in human history. But amid the raging arguments between believers and sceptics, one possibility has been almost ignored – the idea that the universe around us was created by people very much like ourselves, using devices not too dissimilar to those available to scientists today.

Why not:

The argument over whether the universe has a team of creators, and who they might be, is among the oldest in human history. But amid the raging arguments between believers and sceptics, one possibility has been almost ignored – the idea that the universe around us was created by a single (and the only existing) person very much like ourselves, using devices not too dissimilar to those available to scientists today.

Why is it that when considering the possibility of a designer/creator the singular is always used. Clearly if the universe was designed, a team of designers was involved.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 14:48:28 UTC | #508605

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 20 by Jos Gibbons

Boy have I had bad luck with exponentiation on this site. Often when it's not possible to put symbols on different levels the shift 6 symbol is used to represent exponentiation, but that doesn't work here. I resorted to multiplying numbers instead, using an asterisk as a times sign. It turns out that produces italics instead. Apologies to people for that accidental feature of my last post.

Comment #508521 by Muku

I assumed a black hole is a namesake for what is essentially compressed matter that looks like a hole because light cannot reflect from its surface, rendering it more or less invisible.

Not quite. Every object has an escape velocity, which must be met or exceeded to escape the object's gravitational pull. For example, the Earth's is a few miles a second, hence space rockets needing to be fast. Light and matter cannot travel faster than light's speed in a vacuum, c, so a surface is inescapable if its escape velocity is at least c. Because gravity obeys an inverse square law, the escape velocity of Earth varies with altitude, but the Earth is nowhere near compact for any part of it to have an escape velocity of at least c. However, if a mass M fits in a sphere radius 2GM/c2, that surface has escape velocity c and is known as an event horizon, and the region it encloses is the black hole. Note it has radius proportional to M, volume proportional to M cubed and density inversely proportional to M squared, so a lot of matter need not be very dense to make a black hole. Interestingly, the size and density of the universe mean it's approximately a black hole, but that's another story ...

In any case, it is the impossibility of escape even for light, due to the high escape velocity, which makes it invisible$, rather than a reflection issue; and it is to this invisibility that the "black" bit is owed, whereas we call it a hole because things irreversibly$ fall in. $ Well, just as you can see the wind by its effects, black holes are detectable by their gravity, the most amazing example being they pull gas from stars so fast it gives off X-rays. Also, black holes do let one thing out, Hawking radiation (that's a long story), which may in principle be detectable too, but that's never happened, as it's far too faint.

What is the scientific or mathmatical evidence of such conditions creating gateways to other dimensions (as mentioned in the article)?

That's what I wanted to know! If there is anything, it'll just be the maths, but that's what I was asking for.

I also don't uderstand what is meant By gravity being negative, surely 0 is neutral, as in alot of nothing is still nothing?

The 0 is made by adding positive and negatives together. When you drop something it doesn't just move down, but it moves down at increasing speed, gaining kinetic energy, energy of movement. But energy is conserved, so where's it coming from? Potential energy is being lost, converted into kinetic energy. Falling is all about moving energy from one status to the other. But when an object falls, it moves closer to the Earth's centre, so it must have less potential energy near to the centre, or more further away.

If r is the distance from the centre, the easiest guess you might have is that gravitational potential energy (hereafter GPE) is proportional to r. The true answer is subtler: it's inversely proportional to r, but increases with increasing r because the proportionality constant is negative. The simplest example is if only two point masses are involved, M and m; if the distance between them is r, the GPE of each is -GMm/r. Note the - sign; the negative GPE increases towards 0 as r increases, becoming 0 infinitely far away. In practice masses take up space, which adds extra factors such as a 3/5 I used in my last post, but the principle is the same. And that is why GPE is negative.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 15:02:39 UTC | #508613

AHDouglas's Avatar Comment 21 by AHDouglas

Comment 17 by aquilacane :

The idea that the universe around us was created by people very much like ourselves, using devices not too dissimilar to those available to scientists today.

Stupid

Where did these people come from?

Did they evolve in a universe created by other people?

Did they evolve in a blob of jello and decide a universe would be a much better place to live?

Is responding to the age old question " where did we come from" with answers that just create more questions really an answer?

Should I bother to read any further than the line of copy quoted above?

This is the old "life came from outer space" answer to how life began on earth. Never mind the "ok, how did life begin in space" question.

I don't think John's article is attempting to seriously, scientifically suggest that people set up a lab and decided to create a universe.

I've read a lot of his books, and had the pleasure of interviewing him while I was at uni (he was, and probably still is, the visiting professor of astronomy). He spoke at length, and with great passion, about the cutting edge of astrophysics that was looking at black holes and 'bubble' galaxies - he even wrote it as an epilogue in his book 'Star Dust', which is an amazing and humbling read about the origins of our planet. He mentioned that it wasn't proven, but that it was exciting science. As someone who writes popular science books, entertainment and excitement is probably something he takes into consideration when writing an article such as this.

He's far from a quack, and I have the feeling that he's working some popular philosophy into this article to make the reader think.

Updated: Tue, 31 Aug 2010 15:23:13 UTC | #508624

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 22 by Stevehill

Gribbin mucks up two roles here. He is reporting some interesting science supporting the mulitverse theory (which is essence means an endless, eternal universe which never was "created" at all) - that's his job as a reporter.

Then he's postulating some "science" of his own about little green men which is utterly irrelevant to the research he is reporting (though I personally agree that in a large number of universes many forms of life are more likely than not).

That said, he's a published astronomer and as far as I can see his argument is not theistic: his point is that if we had a Very Much Larger Hadron Collider, and could make another universe out of curiosity, we probably would. So in a potentially infinite number of universes, is it really so improbable that someone has done just that?

Not sure I agree. In a multiverse system, I can't really see why he thinks it is so persuasive that some form of "intelligent design" is far more probable than a natural cause, since all that is needed, according to his article, is the formation of a black hole big enough. And we know they happen naturally. Am I missing something?

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 16:10:42 UTC | #508657

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 23 by aquilacane

Comment 18 by jinmane

If it is possible for us to create universes like our own, and universes rarely form naturally (or those that do tend not to be suitable for the formation of intelligent life)

Is he assuming universes are rare and human intelligence is a measuring stick as to the environment that any and all intelligence bearing species require to prosper?

can't say I buy that.

I see no reason why universes aren't extremely common or any evidence that our universe has produced intelligence.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 17:14:44 UTC | #508706

The Plc's Avatar Comment 24 by The Plc

I for one, welcome our new designer overlords.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 17:21:24 UTC | #508714

Charisma's Avatar Comment 25 by Charisma

A very interesting idea, but of course we can't forget that this doesn't actually explain where life came from in the first place.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 17:26:13 UTC | #508717

Muku's Avatar Comment 26 by Muku

Comment 20 by Jos Gibbons :

Thanks again Jos, its going to take me a while to get my head around those but I really appreciate your effort. I'll let you know if my brain falls out in the process! Cheers

Muku

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 17:36:22 UTC | #508726

keddaw's Avatar Comment 27 by keddaw

Comment 24 by Wasted Tourist I for one, welcome our new designer overlords.

I not only know who they are and what they are like, but what they want us to do and what will happen to us outside of this universe if we don't do it.

Bow before your creators. Beg their infinite forgiveness for not following their wishes when they had the good grace to create you.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 17:56:24 UTC | #508752

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 28 by Stevehill

I not only know who they are and what they are like, but what they want us to do and what will happen to us outside of this universe if we don't do it.

So you've been abducted and had the anal probe treatment already, then?

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 18:39:35 UTC | #508776

Laurie Fraser's Avatar Comment 29 by Laurie Fraser

Just on John Gribbin - read his Science: a History, 1543 - 2001. A fascinating, thorough, and beautifully written work.

Wed, 01 Sep 2010 04:01:16 UTC | #508955

glenister_m's Avatar Comment 30 by glenister_m

A cute idea, but overstating things a little.

If once a baby universe is started, and after that we have no contact/connection to it, how can you be sure that it followed your designs as far as laws of physics, etc.? Outside of its radius/mass/rotation speed, isn't one black hole the same as any other?

"It therefore becomes overwhelmingly likely that any given universe, our own included, would be designed rather than "natural".

While creating universes might be an amusing hobby, with the thousands or millions of stars in our galaxy alone that will form black holes, and the billions of other galaxies, that is a lot of undesigned baby universes. So I think the idea of designed universes outnumbering undesigned is unlikely, particularly in reference to my first point. Without knowing whether the laws of physics change drastically between universes, which we can't check after they form, it is just supposition that most undesigned universes are unlikely to develop intelligent life.

I am having flashbacks to the 'Men in Black' movie though, with a galaxy inside a keychain.

Wed, 01 Sep 2010 04:45:11 UTC | #508978