Monday 12 September 2022

The Uncaused Multiverse: And What It Signifies

By Keith Tidman

Here’s an argument that seems like commonsense: everything that exists has a cause; the universe exists; and so, therefore, the universe has a cause. A related argument goes on to say that the events that led to the universe must themselves ultimately originate from an uncaused event, bringing the regress of causes to a halt.

But is such a model of cosmic creation right?

Cosmologists assert that our universe was created by the Big Bang, an origin story developed by the Belgian physicist and Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre in 1931. However, we ought not to confuse the so-called singularity — a tiny point of infinite density — and the follow-on Big Bang event with creation or causation per se, as if those events preceded the universe. Rather, they were early components of a universe that by then already existed, though in its infancy.

It’s often considered problematic to ask ‘what came before the Big Bang’, given the event is said to have led to the creation of space and time (I address ‘time’ in some detail below). By extension, the notion of nothingness prior to the Big Bang is equally problematic, because, correctly defined, nothingness is the total, absolute absence of everything — even energy and space. Although cosmologists claim that quantum fluctuations, or short bursts of energy in space, allowed the Big Bang to happen, we are surely then obliged to ask what allowed those fluctuations to happen.

Yet, it’s generally agreed you can’t get something from nothing. Which makes it all the more meaningful that by nothingness, we are not talking about space that happens to be empty, but rather the absence of space itself.

I therefore propose, instead, that there has always been something, an infinity where something is the default condition, corresponding to the impossibility of nothingness. Further, nothingness is inconceivable, in that we are incapable of visualising nothingness. As soon as we attempt to imagine nothingness, our minds — the act of thinking about it — causes the otherwise abstraction of ‘nothingness’ to turn into the concreteness of ‘something’: a thing with features. We can’t resist that outcome, for we have no basis in reality and in experience that we can match up with this absolute absence of everything, including space, no matter how hard we try to picture it in our mind’s eye.

The notion of infinity in this model of being excludes not just a ‘first universe’, but likewise excludes a ‘first cause’ or ‘prime mover’. By its very definition, infinity has no starting point: no point of origin; no uncaused cause. That’s key; nothing and no one turned on some metaphorical switch, to get the ball rolling.

What I wish to convey is a model of multiple universes existing — each living and dying — within an infinitely bigger whole, where infinity excludes a ‘first cause’ or ‘first universe’.

In this scenario, where something has always prevailed over nothingness, the topic of time inevitably raises its head, needing to be addressed. We cannot ignore it. But, I suggest, time appears problematic only because it's misconceived. Rather, time is not something that suddenly lurches out of the starting gate upon the occurrence of a Big Bang, in the manner that cosmologists and philosophers have typically described how it happens. Instead, when properly understood, time is best reflected in the unfolding of change.

The so-called ‘arrow of time’ traditionally appears to us in the three-way guise of the past leading to (causing) the present leading to the future. Allegorically, like a river. However, I propose that past and future are artificial constructs of the mind that simply give us a handy mechanism by which to live with the consequences of what we customarily call time: by that, meaning the consequences of change, and thus of causation. Accordingly, it is change through which time (temporal duration) is made visible to us; that is, the neurophysiological perception of change in human consciousness.

As such, only the present — a single, seamless ‘now’ — exists in context of our experience. To be sure, future and past give us a practical mental framework for modeling a world in ways that conveniently help us to make sense of it on an everyday level. Such as for hypothesising about what might be ahead and chronicling events for possible retrieval in the ‘now’. However, future and past are figments, of which we have to make the best. ‘Time reflected as change’ fits the cosmological model described here.

A process called ‘entropy’ lets us look at this time-as-change model on a cosmic scale. How? Well, entropy is the irresistible increase in net disorder — that is, evolving change — in a single universe. Despite spotty semblances of increased order in a universe — from the formation of new stars and galaxies to someone baking an apple pie — such localised instances of increased order are more than offset by the governing physical laws of thermodynamics.

These physical laws result in increasing net disorder, randomness, and uncertainty during the life cycle of a universe. That is, the arrow of change playing out as universes live and peter out because of heat death — or as a result of universes reversing their expansion and unwinding, erasing everything, only to rebound. Entropy, then, is really super-charged change running its course within each universe, giving us the impression of something we dub time.

I propose that in this cosmological model, the universe we inhabit is no more unique and alone than our solar system or beyond it our spiral galaxy, the Milky Way. The multiplicity of such things that we observe and readily accept within our universe arguably mirrors a similar multiplicity beyond our universe. These multiple universes may be regarded as occurring both in succession and in parallel, entailing variants of Big Bangs and entropy-driven ‘heat deaths’, within an infinitely larger whole of which they are a part.

In this multiverse reality of cosmic roiling, the likelihood of dissimilar natural laws from one universe to another, across the infinite many, matters as to each world’s developmental direction. For example, in both the science and philosophy of cosmology, the so-called ‘fine-tuning principle’ — known, too, as the anthropic principle — argues that with enough different universes, there’s a high probability some worlds will have natural laws and physical constants allowing for the kick-start and evolution of complex intelligent forms of life.

There’s one last consequence of the infinite, uncaused multiverse described here. Which is the absence of intent, and thus absence of intelligent design, when it comes to the physical laws and materialisation of sophisticated, conscious species pondering their home worlds. I propose that the fine-tuning of constants within these worlds does not undo the incidental nature of such reality.

The special appeal of this kind of multiverse is that it alone allows for the entirety of what can exist.


Thomas O. Scarborough said...

‘Infinite density’ would seem to me a contradiction in terms. How should density be infinite? It seems a concept as impossible as nothingness—it just has a more admissible ring to it. There seems to be something we have not understood, and perhaps never will.

Keith said...

As you suggest, Thomas, the concept of infinite density—whether in the singularity at the time of the Big Bang or in the singularity of a supermassive black hole, like that at the center of our Milky Way—is controversial among astrophysicists. Some say it exists, and our math points to it; others say we don’t really know with certainty, and perhaps it’s a reflection of our math breaking down, the way our currently known laws of physics might not apply at the cosmic beginning (like during the so-called inflationary phase). The hypothetical ‘cosmic wave function’ having collapsed to make that happen. You speculate perhaps we will never know; however, I’m more sanguine. Regardless, the key infinity the essay refers to is of the larger whole of which multiple universes are a part—there always having been ‘something’ and never ‘nothingness’—crucially canceling out the need for a prime mover or first cause.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

You appear to say that the beginning likely lies behind a veil where ‘current laws of physics might not apply’. Yet current laws of physics (they will always be current) are crucial in establishing causality. If you say that there is causality between universes (which I think you are saying), you would seem to appeal to laws which ‘might not apply’.

Keith said...

Actually, Thomas, no, I don’t contend that “the beginning [of the larger whole in which multiple universes exist] likely lies behind a veil.” Rather, in the scenario I laid out—there always having been ‘something’, in context of the inconceivability of ‘nothingness’ as an alternative—there is no ‘beginning’ to that multiverse. That is, there is no need for a prime mover or first cause of that multiverse; those terms become meaningless. Where astrophysicists believe that our known laws of physics might not apply is in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang—which, to be clear, pertains to just the particular universe we inhabit, not to the infinite multiverse. However, to acknowledge the (predicted) insufficiency of our known laws of physics to the earliest phase of our own universe is not to say that hopelessly we’ll never know, as personally I don’t doubt that at some point physicists will. But importantly to cycle back around, the thematic core of the essay is not any one universe, whose natural laws of physics might differ from one universe to another, but rather the infinite (beginningless, uncaused) multiverse.

Martin Cohen said...

I quite like the play of ideas in this post… and I see it continues in the comments! Actually, though, to me, the idea of infinite density seems reasonable. If you take a binary approach to things. So if matter is essentially energy, then where there is energy there is density… However, presumably energy requires change, so "infinite" density implies no change in energy - no energy! Nothingness. A Black Hole would be where energy stops flowing… I don't know if any of these thoughts make sense, but that, as I say, is the spirit of such pieces: they are speculative rather than definitive.

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