Saturday, July 28, 2012

Materialists who didn't get the quantum mechanics memo

Stephen Barr is a physicist at the University of Delaware, and isn't having any of this nonsense about science supporting materialism:
Materialism is an atheistic philosophy that says that all of reality is reducible to matter and its interactions. It has gained ground because many people think that it’s supported by science. They think that physics has shown the material world to be a closed system of cause and effect, sealed off from the influence of any non-physical realities --- if any there be. Since our minds and thoughts obviously do affect the physical world, it would follow that they are themselves merely physical phenomena. No room for a spiritual soul or free will: for materialists we are just “machines made of meat.”
Quantum mechanics, however, throws a monkey wrench into this simple mechanical view of things. No less a figure than Eugene Wigner, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, claimed that materialism --- at least with regard to the human mind --- is not “logically consistent with present quantum mechanics.” And on the basis of quantum mechanics, Sir Rudolf Peierls, another great 20th-century physicist, said, “the premise that you can describe in terms of physics the whole function of a human being ... including [his] knowledge, and [his] consciousness, is untenable. There is still something missing.”
It's a point made in a more extended form by physicist Paul Davies in his book, The Matter Myth. But some apparently never got the quantum mechanics memo: If you listen to those in the natural sciences, like biology, they still talk as if quantum mechanics never happened.

Read more here.

42 comments:

ZPenn said...

While it is true that the theory of quantum mechanics "throws a monkey wrench" in classical materialism, it doesn't necessarily contradict modern physicalism. While materialist philosophy reduces the universe to only matter and its interactions, physicalism leaves room for the interesting physical properties we observe in the universe with modern physics such as wave-particle duality, the probabilistic nature of particle interactions and uncertainty. Quantum mechanics seems to imply that the universe is indeterministic, but little else changes from the materialist viewpoint. Essentially, science now has moved from supporting the philosophy of Hard Determinism to that of "Hard Indeterminism", and there is still no physical evidence for or against any form of deity.

I don't really agree with Dr. Barr's statement that physicalism is refuted by quantum mechanics, simply because I don't equate it with classical materialism. On a fundamental level, they are both naturalistic worldviews, but physicalism doesn't limit itself to a "matter only universe" like classical materialism. The implication of Dr. Barr's article is that quantum mechanics indirectly lends credence to the existence of a deity. At most, quantum mechanics does nothing to refute the possibility of God, but it certainly doesn't do anything to imply God's existence either.

As for biologists ignoring quantum mechanics, that isn't really surprising to me. It's easy to ignore that which you can't understand, and biologists typically don't have the mathematical background to come close to understanding quantum mechanics. In fact, many people with the math background necessary struggle with understanding quantum mechanics on a conceptual level.

Art said...

Shorter Martin - we don't know everything, therefore we know nothing, therefore God.

A small collection of quotes does not make this reasoning valid. Heck, an encyclopedia of quotes doesn't fix this logic.

William said...

Quantum mechanics was well established over 3/4 of a century ago. Since it was established, physicalists of various stripes have written tens of thousands of pages on whether free will is compatible with determinism. But determinism is most likely false. So, yes, somebody needs to update the materialist philosophers on the nature of the material world :).

Singring said...

In line with Art, I have to admit that I am once again bemused by the way a paragraph that contains nothing but a couple of quote-mines is heralded as a cogent argument on a blog championing logic, but what else is new?

This is, in fact, the God of the Gaps argument in new clothing and the age-old pattern repeats itself.

Whatever happened to that staple of philosophical reasoning, Martin? You know - 'inferring to the best explanation'? You see something counter-intuitive in QM that in no way shape or form requires 'non-physical realities' as an explanation (and what on earth would those be?) and what do you do? You come up with the rather non-squitorial leap to the conlusion that these discoveries require non-physical realities to explain them.

How you square that circle, I don't know.

And as to the 'quantum mechanisc memo': I take it that the swipe at biologists is intended for me, so let me respond with tow simple points:

First: I am a tentative materialist - that is, I accept the hypothesis that the material universe is all that exists, for the simple reason that I have never been shown any credible evidence to refute that hypothesis. So in that sense, science supports materialism. Materialism may be false though - but in all honesty, it will take a lot more than Stepehn Barr telling me that materialism is wrong just because he says so and because he found a couple of vague quotes from other physicists that say so.

The remainder of Stephen Barr's 'argument' seems to be this (I paraphrase):

1.) I don't like the many worlds interpretation of QM.

2.) Therefore, God exists.

Typical of the kind of reasoning that gets accepted wholesale on this blog, I would say.

We don't decide truths based exclusively based on peoples' say so or because of their likes/dislikes regarding the consequences of certain extrapolations of QM. THAT is what science is about and Stephen Barr seems to have missed that memo.

Second: Some while ago, Martin, we ha d a discussion on QM that was related to the 'argument' that barr tries to make here: if you remember, you cited the Copenhagen interpretation of QM to support your notion that QM doesn't really say anything about the reality of subatomic particles - that it's all just mathematical models and we shouldn't be inferring anything about causality (e.g. particles arising from nothing) because thse particles that supposedly arise from noting don't really exist at all.

In reply, I asked you a very simple question to find out if you really accept the Copenhagen interpretation. The question was this:

Do you believe that particles physically exist when we are not observing them?

Unfortunately, you never answered that question. I would really love to get an answer off you now so we can compare whogot what 'memo'.

Singring said...

PS:

I am undecided on the issue of determinism. It appears to me that evidence from the macroscopic scale supports it, but QM clearly cntradicts it. On which of these scales the balance is tipped, I don't know.

ZPenn said...

I'm pretty sure most physicalists are Indeterminists. Personally, I fall into the camp of "Hard Indeterminism", so while I don't believe the universe is determined (mainly because Quantum Mechanics pretty much disallows it) I'm still fairly confident that we don't have free will.

Thomas said...

Quantum Mechanics does seem to undermine the traditional argument against free will: that physical laws are deterministic and make no room for freedom. The overthrow does not necessarily entail free will, of course, but it does undermine many of the arguments against it.

Physicalism, even where it had adjusted for Quantum Mechanics, still seems to make several of the mistakes of classical physicalism. For example, it seems to assume that all scientific disciplines may in principle be deduced from physical laws if understood completely. This priviliging of physics over other sciences has no warrant and arises, interestingly, from philosophers like Descartes.

The compatibility of physicalism and quantum mechanics also seems problematic because physicalism usually wants to attribute ontological truth to physical laws. But quantum mechanics does not even attempt to describe objective realities; it provides methods for predicting physical probabilities.

ZPenn said...

The privileging of physics over other sciences is not done out of some belief that the other sciences are less valid; I think the conclusions drawn by biologists are subjected to the same scientific scrutiny as those drawn in physics, and are in no way less respectable. Physicists like to joke around about biology being a "softer" science, but this is just friendly prodding amongst fellow seekers of scientific truth. this isn't because biologists are any less scientific, it just means that their field is inherently a lot more difficult to quantify and model. It takes a lot more research and study to draw conclusions in biology, but this doesn't make it's conclusions less correct. It simply means that it takes more work to obtain enough data to draw those conclusions.

Out of curiosity, what exactly are you referring to when you say, "objective realities"? What are these objective realities, and what about physicalism doesn't allow for them? I'm not to concerned that QM by itself doesn't explain the entire universe, because that's almost as silly as saying that the entire universe is explained by chemisty. Physicalism is the view that everything in the universe is described by physical things, which includes not just QM, but all of physics.

Anyway, this discussion is interesting to me, I love discussing philosophy and such.

Thomas said...

ZPenn,

I am referring to the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, which rejects the view, to quote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, that "quantum mechanical formalism [is] true in the sense that it gave us a literal (‘pictorial’) rather than a symbolic representation of the quantum world." Quantum mechanics, on this view, doesn't describe the world as it actually is, much less lay claim to a description that excludes other incommensurable descriptions such as those found in philosophy; though it does give a good framework for physical predictions. (But, of course, yielding accurate predictions doesn't verify a theory, it just doesn't succeed in falsifying it.)

ZPenn said...

I'm fairly certain I agree with what you say here, but I do not see how any of this in any way is incompatible with Physicalism. All you appear to be saying is that QM doesn't imply Physicalism, a statement which I wholeheartedly agree with. It in no way appears to Imply Physicalism, but it also doesn't imply a negation of Physicalism.

Thomas said...

If the sort of materialism espoused by physicalists reduces the universe to physical properties, including not only matter and its interactions but also "the interesting physical properties we observe in the universe with modern physics," then a scientific theory that does not even purport to be literally true but at most symbolic can hardly be used by physicalists. Physicalists want to say more than that physical explanations are true in a symbolic sense or that they yield reliable predictions, they want to say that these explanations are in some sense true to the exclusion of, for example, Cartesian theories of the soul. But if quantum mechanics does not in principle offer anything more than symbolic or predictive truths, then physicalists can hardly attempt to declare the QM picture of the universe as true to the exclusion of other "spiritualistic" explanations--unless physicalists wish to take on the Copenhagen interpretation.

ZPenn said...

Thomas, I may be wrong, but it appears that you may be missing what QM is. It is not some purely metaphysical construct. It is very real, very testable system; it actually describes real world physical things. I may just be misinterpretting what you have said, but it appears from your statement that you aren't aware of QM's impact on our knowledge of the natural world. It isn't like string theory, which fails to be actual science at the moment because it isn't testable. QM is a very well established description of the way things work, that has been tested as thoroughly as other theories such as Special and General Relativity.

Clearly I agree with you that QM does nothing to refute God's existence; science of any kind can never refute a supernatural claim. However, this idea that QM somehow implies the existence of anything supernatural is preposterous. I stand by my position that it is unlikely a God exists, not because I think science has disproved God, but simply because the burden of proof lies on the position making a claim. To this date, I have yet to see any evidence for the existence of God, so I do not believe in one. If you or anyone else presents evidence to me of the veracity of the supernatural, I will jump right on it. I love finding the truth! If God exists, I want to know about it. However, I have seen nothing that compels me to believe it.

Thomas said...

ZPenn,

We may be having terminological issues. A metaphysical description, in modern philosophical terminology, is generally one that either captures the nature of the world or represents reality by corresponding to it. (Classically, metaphysics was convertible with ontology and theology.)

I'm not saying that quantum mechanics is entirely subjective or make-believe. What I am saying is that it does not, for the likes of Bohr and Heisenberg, produce literal representations of reality: it symbolizes reality and it yields predictions.

I take it that your position is that testing a theory in some way validates it (or at least validates it to a greater degree than simply declaring it not falsified). That is, theory X predicts result a, a results from testing, therefore, theory X. Or to put it in the form of a hypothetical syllogism:

If X, then a.
a.
Therefore X.

Martin Cothran said...

ZPenn,

You seem to be ignoring Joseph Fourier’s distinction between a scientific theory’s predictive utility and its ability to tell what nature “really” is. Fourier’s distinction is strictly observed by Bohr and others who take the Copenhagen interpretation. So to say that just because a theory’s predictive capability can be successfully tested it therefore is correctly telling us what nature is is precisely what Bohr (and Fourier) deny.

ZPenn said...

I am not saying that testing a theory validates it. I am saying that a theory which is subjected to testing and is not falsified is more likely to be true.

The big problem with the supernatural, is that there is nothing to test. There is no falsifying that can be done. We can't find any evidence for or against the existence of the supernatural, so we go with the default answer, "it doesn't exist". It isn't necessary for the supernatural to exist to account for anything that we see in the universe, so there is no reason to throw in extra assumptions.

And no, I don't think

"if x then A
A
therefore X"

because There is no evidence to suppose that A implies X in all cases. What if multiple items X,Y, and Z all yield A?

however, if X is the only thing we know of that can result in A, while we don't know for sure that X is true, we can be reasonably certain that it is the best choice until another theory presents itself. Preferably one that can be subjected to testing and requires few assumptions.

I hope my reasoning makes sense. I will admit that my study of philosophy is largely amateur, and therefore my knowledge of the exact dictionary definition of metaphysical terms may not be perfect, but I do consider myself to be at the very least, moderately capable of following logical arguments and using reason, so I am open to criticism and willing to change my mind should reasonable arguments compell me.

ZPenn said...

Mr Cothran.

I think we actually agree on that distinction. I do not believe science tells us what nature "really is". I don't think what nature "really is" can be adequately described by any method, scientific, religious, or otherwise. In fact, I'm not even sure "what is nature" is a question that even has an answer.

Martin Cothran said...

ZPenn,

The big problem with the supernatural, is that there is nothing to test. There is no falsifying that can be done.

Are you saying that the only knowledge we can have is knowledge that is testable and falsifiable?

ZPenn said...

Mr Cothran,

That depends on what you mean by "knowledge". If you mean, to know things with 100% certainty, then in all honestly, I don't believe we can truly know anything to that degree of certainty. Everything we know, when deconstructed to the most basic fundamentals, relies on assumptions. Many of these assumptions are good assumptions, but they still are assumptions. For example, I "know" that gravity exists because I see things fall, (well, for a lot more reasons than just that, but for the sake of argument let's just say that's the only reason I believe in gravity). But in order to know this, I have to make the assumption that my eyes aren't deceiving me, and I can indeed see what I think I see. I believe my eyes are not deceiving me, because my eyes work the same way that many other people who claim to have working eyes say they should. Then, after that, I have to assume that all of these other people are real; If I was insane, how would I know it? I don't think an insane person is necessarily aware of his insanity, so how do I know I'm not? I will assume that I am not insane, because making the assumption that I am insane is useless whether I am sane or not. The assumption that I am in fact, sane, is useful if in fact, I am sane. Basically, my point is that all knowledge is based on assumptions.

After we establish some fundamental assumptions (Not the least of which is one's own sanity) the only truly trustworthy source of information or knowledge is that which is testable and falsifiable. In my opinion, it is best to follow Occam's razor when deciding one's beliefs. The theory which makes the fewest and least extravagant assumptions tends to have the smallest possibility of being wrong.

Thomas said...

ZPenn,

Metaphysics both classically and for the most part these days doesn't claim "100% certainty"--indeed, the business of philosophy has always been more about deploying critical reason against great thinkers than it has been about repeating their positions on faith.

The rest of your post sounds like fideism: you believe that your eyes don't deceive you, you believe Occam's razor is the best way to the truth, and so on.

I think this may be due to the assumption that the scientific method and a version of Occam's razor (which derives from theology, actually) are the only methods we have available for rational inquiry.

This is an intuitive assumption in a culture such as ours, but I think it much to narrow. Rational inquiry has a number of other methods at its disposal: dialectic, induction, deduction, phenomenology, conceptual analysis, casuistry, and so on. The actual work of science often employs these methods, whether scientists are aware of it or not.

As a general rule, when establishing metaphysical principles, dialectic is the most useful method, because it makes free use of the others.

ZPenn said...

I am a very strong proponent of dialectic, actually, as I believe it helps every party involved to learn, however, I reject that this is a way to receive any knowledge not already "known" through other means by at least one person involved in dialogue. It may be useful for establishing consensus, but it is certainly not the best method for gaining knowledge by itself, because it relies on other methods of gaining knowledge to be used before any information can be discussed at all.

The main problems I have with using induction, is that it is very much limited to personal observation of limited data, and subject to the problem of confirmation bias. It may be useful in forming quick assumptions, but it should not be relied upon heavily

Deductve reasoning is very useful, in that we can know for sure that if our basic assumptions are true, correctly deduced conclusions must be true. however, this is another case when the number of assumptions made should be minimized if we wish to have confidence in our conclusions.

I honestly must plead ignorance on the terms "phenomenology" and "casuistry" I seem to remember casuistry having something to do with fallacies, but I honestly don't know if that is correct. As for conceptual analysis, I'm not sure what that means to a philosopher, but I would guess based on the name that it has something to do with analyzing fundamental concepts?


Finally, in response to your statement that Occam's razor is somehow a religious concept baffles me. This association of theology and the secular ideas which were formed by theologians is ridiculous. Even if the idea is proposed somewhere in the bible ( which would not surprise me, there are tons of great philosophical nuggets of wisdom in the Bible) that does not mean that it is a fundamentally religious idea. Love your neighbor as yourself is a great biblical principle, but it's not great because it's in the bible, it's great because that is a very useful way to live your life. Thou shalt not commit murder is a great thing to live by, but I'm pretty sure secular society could have figured that one out without the help from God. There is no divine reason to believe Occam's razor is a useful tool, it's just reasonable, pure and simple.

ZPenn said...

Also, I forgot to mention this; I certainly believe that my eyes deceive me. they deceive me all the time. If you were to watch a ball fall, the way to human eye tracks falling objects tends to make us think that objects fall at a constant velocity. We know that this is an optical illusion because we have used science and experiment to discover that objects accelerate due to gravity. The eyes are very flawed, but that point was less about the fallibility of the eyes, and more that we must work off of assumptions on a fundamental level in order to come to conclusions. I assume that certain things my eyes tell me are probably there, for example, the words I am reading on my phone where I am typing this message. I do not assume that everything my eyes tell me is true, however.

Thomas said...

ZPenn,

A few things. First, dialectic may involve conversation between interlocutors or it may not; but a mere conversational style of teaching does not amount to dialectic. There's no general dialectical method, as dialectic takes its direction from its object (for this reason, dialectic will look very different when used by ethicists than it will when used by metaphysicians) and when used by different schools of thought--Hegelian dialectic works differently than does Aristotelian dialectics, for example. But one can't attack or defend dialectic in the abstract, one can engage in it or refuse to do so, just as in any other form of rational inquiry.

As for Occam's razor: it is named after William of Ockham, a bishop and theologian, who used it in the context of arguments for the existence of God. You have, so far as I can tell, a completely faith-based attachment to it. Rather than arguing that it yields true results you simply declare it "reasonable, pure and simple." (I've heard people say the same about the Bible.)

It seems very odd to me that you dismiss so quickly methods you apparently are unfamiliar with. If you haven't seen Aristotle, Kant, or Hegel's dialectics in action, how could you possibly ground a judgment that they don't work?

ZPenn said...

You are correct, I haven't studied thoroughly the works of Aristotle, Hegel, and Kant. I have only a general knowledge of what the dialectic is from classes I've taken in the past, or information picked up here and there throughout my life. I had no idea that there were multiple viewpoints of what the dialectic itself was. The fact is, I don't have the time or energy to study every possible idea and worldview ever put out. If I did so, I'd never have time to focus on my studies in physics (which will hopefully make me a living, pay my bills, and keep me alive, et cetera for the next few decades) and live the rest of my life. I have an amateur interest in philosophy, but it's only that, an interest. I simply don't have enough hours in my day to learn absolutely everything there is to know about the subject from an academic perspective. Quite honestly, I've never even heard the word "interlocutor" before in my life. I'll take into account what you've said, and maybe even read up on some of the different ideas you've just mentioned if I get some spare time to do so, because I do believe learning about other perspectives is important.

I'm sure you don't believe my mistrust in the dialectic as a pure method for obtaining knowledge can really be construed as an attack on the dialectic itself as an important tool in the pursuit of knowledge. Isn't the dialectic the entire reason I'm visiting this blog at all? I'm here to learn. I can't be very confident in my beliefs if I refuse to hear what those who disagree with me have to say. I'm here to engage in discussion, to learn why you, and Mr Cothran, and others who visit this site believe what they believe, to receive criticism from others on what I believe, and to put my worldview to the test. If that isn't engaging in a dialogue, I don't know what is.

Martin Cothran said...

ZPenn,

The big problem with the supernatural, is that there is nothing to test. There is no falsifying that can be done. We can't find any evidence for or against the existence of the supernatural, so we go with the default answer, "it doesn't exist".

My question is why you treat the truth of the belief in the existence of God using one criterion and the truth of, say Occam's Razor, using a completely different one. I think you would have to admit that neither of them are falsifiable, so why do believe in one (Occam's Razor), but not the other (existence of God)?

As Thomas points out, your only reason for affirming Occam's Razor is that it seems true to you. How is that distinguishable from someone to whom God's existence seems true?

Your reasoning here seems arbitrary.

Martin Cothran said...

ZPenn,

It isn't necessary for the supernatural to exist to account for anything that we see in the universe, so there is no reason to throw in extra assumptions.

The whole point of the cosmological argument for the existence of God is the there are at least some things in the world that are unexplainable apart from the existence of God.

ZPenn said...

Mr Cothran

My belief in Occams razor is actually a little bit more based in probability than simply "because it seems right". If I have said "because it seems right", then I apologize for misrepresenting my viewpoint. It does seem right, but there is a reason it seems right. Whenever you are dealing with probabilities, any time you add an extra unknown (or assumption) you are decreasing your likelihood of being correct. I am in no way saying that "the situation that uses lest assumptions is always right". I am saying that mathematically speaking, the situation that uses fewer, and less extreme assumptions tends to be more probable.

The way this is distinguishable from a belief in God, is that there are a lot of assumptions I have to make in order to come to that conclusion. Many of those assumptions are pretty radical claims, because they don't jive with any physical evidence I have ever come across. I'm not arrogant enough to say that you or anyone else hasn't looked at the evidence. I am sure you have very good reasons for believing in God, I'm just saying that nobody has convinced me that believing in God is the correct option.

On a related note, do you or do you not believe that the burden of proof lies on the side making the claim? Particularly one that involves the existence of supernatural occurrences which we aren't able to observe?

In response to the Cosmological argument, honestly that's one that I never really got. In fact, that was one that bothered me years ago when I was convinced that God existed. There are simply some things we don't know. Not knowing the answer is better than believing in one that has little likelihood of being true. Not knowing all the answers is something I'm OK with. I'd like to know all the answers, and I study physics because I would like to be able to know more, but it isn't necessary that we know everything.

One of the big questions asked by creationists, is "what was there before the big bang"? Scientists say they don't know (or more accurately, that the question doesn't make sense because time as we define it didn't even exist. There was no "before" the big bang as far as we know). Clearly something can't come from nothing, so there must be a personal creator God outside of space and time.

My response to that, is why does this necessitate a God? I could ask a similar question, if something can't come from nothing, then where did God come from? How did He get there? This doesn't explain anything, it just gives an answer. Of course, I could also give the answer 5 to the question "What is 2+2?" but giving a wrong answer is not preferable to no answer.

Thomas said...

ZPenn,

The cosmological argument does not require that the universe have a beginning. In fact, in Aristotle's version of the cosmological argument, he assumes the universe is eternal.

Martin Cothran said...

ZPenn,

The way this is distinguishable from a belief in God, is that there are a lot of assumptions I have to make in order to come to that conclusion.

I don't know why that would be. In the cosmological argument, for example, the only assumption you is that a) whatever doesn't have the reason for its own existence in itself is caused by something outside it, and b) that there are things that don't have the reason for their own existence in themselves.

These two assumptions are neither complex, numerous, nor controversial.

ZPenn said...

Thomas,

Sorry for misinterpretting the argument. I have heard the argument made to me based on the assumption that the universe had a definite beginning and that that beginning is what necessitates a creator. If that is not your argument, I am sorry for mischaracterizing it. Would you state for me what the actual argument is so that I may be aware of it?

Mr Cothran,

I will have to admit that I don't entirely understand what your stated assumption means, and so I can't exactly follow your reasoning. Are you saying that

1. there exist things (A) which come from other things (B), but Things (A) and things (B) are not parts of each other?

If not, could you maybe rephrase it, or somehow explain to me what you meant by it?

Thomas said...

ZPenn,

Do you have access to Academic Search Premier or Ebscohost? I ask because it sounds like you are a student, and I can point you to some concise journal article (more concise, at least, than Aristotle's Physics).

KyCobb said...

As I understand it, quantum mechanics, the very subject of this thread, not only says that things can pop into existence without cause, but that in fact it is happening constantly, as has been verified by experiment, so there may be some controversy concerning the classical cosmological argument after all. But if ZPenn is a physicist, he should know if I have that right or not.

ZPenn said...

KyCobb,
I'm am only a student at the moment, so I am by no means an expert, but I have been studying physics for a number of years now, and plan on pursuing a PhD in the not to distant future. And you are correct, particles do come in and out of existence all the time. The majority of the energy of our universe (around 70%)resides in empty space where no matter exists. We don't know why this is the case, but it has some astounding consequences. I don't think that necessarily refutes the cosmological argument, but it certainly doesn't support it either.

Thomas,

I do not know if I have access to those at my university, but I believe I might. Could you tell me which articles you are referring to so that I may find them if I do in fact have access to one of those databases?

KyCobb said...

ZPenn,

"I don't think that necessarily refutes the cosmological argument, but it certainly doesn't support it either."

I'll put it this way: since a particle can pop into existence out of nothing without cause, and the universe started as a singularity which then rapidly inflated to start the Big Bang, then the universe could have popped into existence without cause. Is there anything wrong that you know of with that statement?

ZPenn said...

KyCobb,

Well, we have to be careful when using that reasoning, because the beginning of the universe is very different from virtual particles appearing from nothing. These virtual particles exist for such short periods of time that we can't even observe them directly (The uncertainty principle does not allow it), we can only observe their effects. We know they are there because we see their impact on things which we CAN directly observe.

In a similar, but also entirely different way, it is very possible that the entire universe did appear from nothing and all without violating energy conservation laws. This theory comes from the altogether strange thought, and yet not at all implausible one, that the net energy value of the universe is zero. If there is exactly the same amount of negative energy (gravitational) as other forms of energy (mass, kinetic energy, etc.), then there is no physical reason the universe couldn't have formed from nothing, because technically, our entire universe would, in fact, be nothing. This is a relatively new theory based on observations such as the positively accelerating expansion of the universe. It will be really interesting to see if this is really the case, because it would certainly change the way we view the Universe.

Thomas said...

KyCobb,

Were you the one who said that Quantum Mechanics theorizes that living rabbits can pop out of nowhere or was that Singring?

ZPenn said...

KyCobb,

That must have been Singring (hopefully joking?), as I would never say that. It is preposterous, and absolutely not possible. I guess we can't prove that rabbits don't spontaneously appear (though if this were the case, knowing that most of the universe is empty space, the odds are that poor rabbit would not last very long), but It's about as likely as there being one God, allah, with Muhammed as His Prophet. Because I'm an equal opportunity Atheist, and don't want to keep picturing the God I don't believe exists as the Jesus, because that would just be unfair.

ZPenn said...

oh, I see that I'm blind, Thomas said that last statement. Sorry, KyCobb.

KyCobb said...

Thomas,

I certainly didn't say that; I don't know if Singring did. QM describes the subatomic world; its things like photons that pop into existence, not whole rabbits.

ZPenn said...

I'm finding the idea more and more amusing though, eh?

Thomas said...

ZPenn,

Given that quantum mechanics seems to often come up here, you might get drafted as Vital Remnant's physics consultant.

On the cosmological argument, the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia is passable to give you an overview. I don't know if it is convincing, because the defenses of the premises gets rather detailed. Perhaps a better defense is William Rowe's article in Nous. It might be more accessible too. The problem with presenting the cosmological argument is that it tends to be bound up in a complicated philosophy of nature that can't be conveyed in just one article, or even one book.

Some of the formulations of the cosmological argument incorporate some complicated mathematics and physics, which you might find more appealing, although I don't have the background knowledge to vouch for them, such as Timothy O'Conner's Theism and Ultimate Explanation.

ZPenn said...

Thomas:

I would never be able to accept such an honor, though I am certainly glad to be welcome here. It is fun to discuss physics in any context, and it is also to discuss philosophy with a wide range of well read and intelligent individuals with vastly different perspectives on things. Thank you for the links, I will try to read the articles which you have recommended, as I am sure what the Stanford Encyclopedia, Mr Rowe, and Mr O'Conner have to say will be at the very least, interesting to read.

Dark.Cyberian.Knight said...

What is free will and how would we know if we had it?

Is there another option than deterministic, probabilistic, random, or a combination there of?

I think I'm a compatabilist.

I think that which I am makes decision due to the nature of what I am.