God’s Many Dices (II) – The Philosophy of Parallel Universes
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
(Hamlet, I, v, 166-167)
In a Reality of many and much varied Parallel Universes, as modeled from contemporary Cosmology, it is possible not just to revisit and better understand scientific puzzles like the nature of Mathematics and Time, the Goldilocks Enigma, and the Many-Worlds interpretation of Quantum Physics
The Science of Parallel Universes has also significant consequences outside science itself, and can be used to provide answers to age-old questions in the fields of philosophy, morality and theology, such as:
- Why would a benevolent God, or gods, or any Creator let bad things happen?
- Do we have Free Will and what exactly is that?
- Are we the combination of a physical entity called body and ethereal ones called mind and/or soul? And what is the reality of our thoughts?
Surprisingly, the one and only assumption really necessary for that to happen, is for cosmos to be unimaginably big, containing an untold number of different versions of everything we see, some of them stranger to us than others
(I know: the below is far from complete, far from perfect, and under development: but elegantly simple)
A branch of contemporary Cosmology predicts that “All There Is” (let’s call it the Cosmos) is made of many “Parallel Universes”
Not of the creepy, nearby kind favored in sci-fi movies: as explained by Max Tegmark of MIT in a recent SciAm article, those Universes all reside in the same hugely gargantuan volume of space but at very big and growing larger distances from one another
Those Parallel Universes can be grouped in Multiverses at Level I (same physics, only initial conditions differ); Level II (different physical constants and particles); and Level IV (different physical laws, different mathematical structures)
More: there is equivalence between the Level I//II set of those Universes and the multiple-outcome probabilistic world of Quantum Mechanics (the Level III Multiverse)
This suggests that the quantity of Parallel Universes is truly huge, and their diversity enormously great: because their combination will cover everything that is possible
But if “All There Is” coincides with “All That Is Possible”, then any thing that can happen, does, did and will do, in some Parallel Universes (or just one)
Let’s call this the “EP:H Model of Reality“: somewhere, sometime everything possible happens
(That should obviously read Almost Everything and almost any thing: it depends on the number and variety of Parallel Universes. The qualifying adverb is implied in the rest of the text)
The implications beyond a strictly scientific arena are almost unimaginable
1. Why would God, or the gods, or any Creator let bad things happen?
In the EP:H Cosmos, because the possibilities of existence appear to be more important than a pre-ordained good and evil
The question about the apparent inaction of the Divinity in the face of iniquity or calamity is the topic of the branch of philosophy and theology called Theodicy: from the Greek: theos, “god” and dike (pr. dee-kay), “justice”
“The justice of God” (or lack thereof) has kept philosophers busy for millennia
Why for example doesn’t any God just intervene to rescue a little child on top of whom a house has collapsed after an earthquake? Or to eliminate a little-know Austrian painter called Adolf instead of letting him butcher people in the millions?
In ancient Greece, philosopher Epicure elaborated the Epicurean Paradox, arguing that a benevolent, omnipotent God indeed does not exist: “God either wants to eliminate bad things and cannot, or can but does not want to, or neither wishes to nor can, or both wants to and can. […] If he can but does not want to, then he is spiteful […] If he wants to and can, which is the only thing fitting for a god, where then do bad things come from? Or why does he not eliminate them?” (from “The Epicurus Reader”, translated and edited by Brad Inwood and L.P. Gerson, Hackett Publishing, 1994, p. 97)
Interestingly, whilst Epicurus still believed in a different kind of Gods, his argument has been repeated by countless people since, as way to deny tout-court the existence of a God.
Pick a tragedy, any tragedy, and you will find your proof that there is no God
German polymath Leibniz coined the term Theodicy in a 1710 essay, and he is remembered as arguing that in spite of much evil within it, the world is the best of all possible worlds. He went further, saying that God as “infinite being” will create as a matter of course an infinitely rich universe (perfect in the sense of being complete)
In reaction to that, after the Lisbon quake of on All Saints’ Day, 1755, French philosopher Voltaire wrote the novel “Candide, or Optimism” (1759). In there, Leibniz himself (or possibly, French savant Pierre de Maupertuis (1698-1759)) is satirized as the character Pangloss, convinced against all kinds of odds and runs of bad luck that “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”
The centuries -old Epicurean argument against the existence of God loses validity in the EP:H Cosmos: the God(s) (if existing) is/are simply letting everything happen.
Everything means everything: everything good, and everything bad. It will include all things evil, and all disasters (and not-so-incidentally, all joys and all luck)
This is known as the Plenitude Principle. It can be traced back to Aristotle, and has been reasoned by many including St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Kant.
Paraphrasing then Albert Einstein (once scorning Quantum Mechanics by saying that “God does not play dice with the Universe”): God (if one exists) does indeed play with the Universe(s), throwing a very large lot of dices, making sure that all possible results do happen
This is another way of saying that there is no “morality” in “Nature”
Reality coincides with the Realm of The Possible, not the Empire of the Good: therefore, for a benevolent (or otherwise) God (if one exists indeed) there may be no meaning in “preventing evil”
Three (obvious?) points about EP:H and the Divinity:
(a) EP:H is no proof of the existence of God(s)
(b) If there is no God the Theodicea question becomes a moot point
(c) A Divinity may as well choose to intervene, in particular circumstances in particular Universes…that’s compatible with EP:H as long as the action is physically possible)
2. Do we have free will and what exactly is that?
With EP:H, on the whole Free Will is an overall illusion, and a particular reality
The issue of Free Will is about a conscious being’s ability of choose and/or control their decisions
In the EP:H Cosmos something somewhere is going to happen, as long as it is possible. At first glance then, the question of Free Will may appear as having no meaning
In one sense, anything possible is compelled to happen
If there is, say, a one-in-a-million chance of you buying the winning lottery ticket, and 999,999 copies of yours have failed to do so in as many Universes, well, really there will be no escape…
Still, each individual’s life experiences are evidently a limited subset of the whole range of possibilities. Therefore the fact that everything is happening can only be statistically reflected at the level of the person, who may as well retain Free Will for all intents and purposes
Thus, each of us is practically free as individual to choose one’s next action. The only constraint is on the set of all our “copies”. They (we) will commit all possible acts wherever they exist somewhere in the Cosmos, but only when considered together
On the other hand, in a gas that is moving in one direction as a whole, a particular molecule can yet move at a particular instant in the opposite direction. Likewise, each of us can still be free to choose which way to go at every particular step in our lives
Paradoxically (but only up to a point), the EP:H Cosmos is made of items that are individually free, but constrained as a group
3. Are we the combination of a physical entity called body and ethereal ones called mind and/or soul? And what is the reality of our thoughts?
Everything is physical: there is no need for any “external metaphysics” located somewhere outside of the EP:H Cosmos
The belief in a soul may have accompanied our species for at least 30,000 years (although our concept of it is of strictly ancient Greek origin). It has sometimes crossed or collided with the other belief, that of a mind just as well separated from lowly physical body, a major point in the philosophy of great rationalist Descartes himself.
Current Christian theology speaks of a soul-body singular union that will be reinstated by God at the End of Times. But a fundamental question remains: how can a non-physical entity act in the physical world? Where is the ultimate interface between the body and the soul?
Wolfgang Pauli answered with the consideration that in quantum physics, it is not possible to precisely measure all variables, and thus they may be considered even not to “physically” exist: in a sense, “hiding” metaphysics in the uncertainties of quantum mechanics
In the EP:H Cosmos things are much simpler. There is no need for anything “beyond physics” to exist: either it is possible, and therefore is indeed “happening” in one or many Parallel Universes: or it isn’t possible, and therefore it does not exist
Thus there is no need for the concept of a soul. But that does not mean that the soul does not exist: it means that it is a physical entity
Or starting from a slightly different point of view: in the EP:H model, anything we can think of is indeed “happening” in some other Parallel Universe
But if thoughts inside us are as real as anything we experience outside ourselves, then there is no necessity for a “spiritual” or “metaphysical” world beyond the physical universe
EP:H is a strange Cosmos indeed
It is a freer world: God (if one exists) prefers to make everything (possible) happen rather than constraining us in a particular setting. Even if our life will overall resemble some of our copies’, still we can choose to do whatever particular action we want
Our whole being is a single entity, not a split creature with an untraceable soul. The world in our heads is just as real as the one in our hands
It is at the same time a terrible and an uplifting thought
Somewhere out there in the EP:H universe, I am (i.e. my equivalent being is) winning loads in Las Vegas. Somewhere else my whole family is being gunned down and/or persecuted. In a place I am the Emperor of the Galaxy, in another I wasn’t born, or my infant body has been discarded in some garbage dump
Somewhere, I am a refugee holding on to dear life to reach some kind of Promised Land. Somewhere else I am the policeman charged of sending the refugee back home, or the people-smuggler profiting from the refugee’s awful situation
What sense can we make of all of this? Obviously, the best way to understand all that is through probability
In fact, even if “everything happens” it doesn’t mean that it has the same chances to happen. It only means that somebody able to oversee all the various “equivalent Earths” out there would see some kind of a pattern.
For example, with my body size and shape the likelihood that any of my equivalents is the topmost dancer at the local Russian Bolshoi theatre in any Universe is, say, 1/100,000. In an EP:H Cosmos big enough to contain one hundred thousand of my equivalents, just a lonely one of them will manage that miraculous feat (in the Universe of the Very Plump People, no doubt)
If the Cosmos is instead full of 100 million of my copies, there will be a whole thousand of them proudly working as “primo ballerino” at the Bolshoi (in the 1,000 Universes of the Very Plump People, no doubt)
But if on the contrary the Cosmos contains just 10 Maurizio’s, well, so much for my Barishnikov impersonation
Is the inherently ethics-less EP:H Cosmos a licence to do as one pleases?
Can we justify any action we do by saying that everything is happening, anyway? Can one make it out with the intern whilst his copy is becoming the US president?
(Well, we all know something managed to do both at the same time. Is there an unfortunate William C of Little Rock, Arkansas, living a life with no lust and no power in another Universe, just to even out the overall chances?)
On the other hand, even if there are countless other people out there, similar or even identical “copies” of us, in EP:H each individual is still substantially free to will as he or she wants to
And just like there are many copies of us in the Cosmos, there are many houses like ours in our streets. Some homes are tidy, some dirty, some are well maintained and some are left to run down
Still, the state of any other house has no bearing on our individual “duty” to keep our own house as clean and in as good conditions as possible (if we want to)
And so for our own good, for everybody’s good, because of our nature, to happily live next to one another: or for whatever personal reason driving us to act in one way or another, still there is a meaning to have, develop and follow our own specific brand of ethics (if we want to). All that, whatever the number and diversity of Parallel Universes
The journey through the implications of a EP:H Cosmos of many and much varied Parallel Universes has just begun
Consider the concept of “Humanity”: just as every “copy of me” is another Maurizio with slightly (or a lot) changed initial conditions, so every person could be seen as the copy of somebody else, from the same Universe, with changed initial conditions
Not only then we belong to the same species, we may as well consider each other as variations on the same theme
In EP:H we are all brothers indeed: twin brothers
Perhaps there are as many questions as universes, still left to explore. Is the EP:H model too simple? Does it explain too many things at once? Can it be partially or wholly confuted?
What’s next step in discussing Cosmological Theodicea? Is it compatible to the beliefs of any mainstream religion?
One thing we can be sure of: things much weirder still are out there to discover
There is a theory which states that if ever
anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for
and why it is here, it will instantly disappear
and be replaced by something even more
bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory
which states that this has already happened
(Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe)