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Alternative Universes

I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy - but that could change...
When you take the UNCF model that, what a waste it is to lose one's mind, or not to have a mind is being very wasteful, how true that is...
The other day [the President] said, I know you've had some rough times, and I want to do something that will show the nation what faith that I have in you, in your maturity and sense of responsibility. Would you like a puppy?
People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history.
Sayings of Dan Quayle [92]


That you and I (and Dan Quayle) can change the future seems certain to us.  We either call it planning ahead or 'going with the flow', reacting to what others throw at us, but in either case we believe that we make a decision and that that decision influences the outcome.  It seems to me that I can 'decide' to go this way or that way to the city and change my mind if their is a problem with my first choice.  It doesn't matter why, perhaps if I'm following some hidden sub-conscious agenda or acting under the combined impact of my genes, knowledge and environment, yet I am sure that I'm making decisions and I'm sure you are too.

In other words you and I and everyone else change the future.  And as we have seen humans, pre-humans and even plants and animals have been changing the future, second by second, minute by minute, individual be individual, since life began.  It's been an infinity of new universe possibilities, only one of which led to the infinitely improbable moment at which you are reading this.

So the possible futures like the possible pasts and presents seem infinite most of them populated by entirely different people and different cultures; or no people at all.

Suppose a truck dumped load of sand in a playground sandpit and you visited after a week to find the sand spread out.

For a Science or Art project you decide to map the position of every grain and its present orientation.  You decide to show that the pattern that has formed is almost infinitely unlikely. 

To get an idea you look up the number of ways of shuffling a deck of 52 cards (52 factorial) and discover that the number is 8.06 x 1067 a bigger number than all the atoms on the planet.  Then you think: but the number of permutations for 52 grains of sand is vastly greater than for cards because the grains aren't just one on top of the next, they're irregular little rocks and can be rotated and they are in many relations to each other (north south east or west up and down at varying distances).  Then you think there are not just 52 of them but around 6x109 grains of sand in a ton. Thus the possible ways a ton of sand might be organised is vastly larger than even an incredibly huge number, like all the subatomic particles in the observable universe (1080).

Yet trucks of sand arrive in playgrounds everyday of the week and sand is spread out by children playing.   No one marvels at the pattern of sand resulting even though each sandpit is totally unique. There is no mystery. The sand has to be some way and it's just the way things happen to be after all that play.  This is just one of billions of everyday events that have a totally unique outcome depending on the other events that surround them.

Just as our truck can tip its sand in an almost infinite number of ways, cosmologists believe that the universe may have developed in an infinite number of ways after the big bang.

Some theorists believe that because this is possible it has actually happened; with a different universe for every pattern of sand; for every possible truck; for every possible playground; for every possible planet for every possible life form; for every possible arrangement of particles in every universe that might exist.

If every universe that can exist will exist; there is a very, very large number of different universes, an infinite number; and thus it is certain that you will be in one of these (as you are).

This is like our truck repeatedly tipping sand and the children playing, almost infinitely, until every possible pattern has been explored. When children play in the sand the number of possibilities is almost infinitely multiplied because their possible actions are variable to a very large degree.

If you have freewill (the ability to influence which universe you will be in in future), there may have to be a new universe for every one of your potential indecisions. And for the indecisions over every other living creature that has freewill.

Decisions your parents might have made, including your potential unborn brothers or sisters, maybe by different mothers or fathers, would be in other universes. These other universes might be parallel in time, happening now; or they might be what happens when successive universes are played over and over again in infinite time, from the big bang (this may be the same thing depending on your view of time).

Such multiple universes are used by some theorists to explain why our present universe is structured to allow human existence. This is called the anthropic principle: 'The only universe we can see is one that supports life. If it were a different type of universe, we would not exist to see it'. But of course this is not sufficient to explain why I am here; for the argument to stand there must be sufficient universes of that class to allow my (and your) existence.

For that to happen there have to be vastly more universes. Not just those that have the conditions necessary for life but those in which all the events that led to me and you, my reader, being born and getting to this instant in time, not to mention the present status of all those playground sandpits.  And surely we don't have to have sufficient universes for every sandpit, or for that matter every beach, to run through all possible permutations of grain location, rotation and juxtaposition?

Suppose that you are a God and are able to observe our universe from outside over a very long time (there may be many others universes you can see as well [93]). There are thousands of trillions of planets (and other potentially habitable objects) in this universe and on some of these the conditions are right for life to evolve. On at least one of these (Earth; and probably on millions) conditions are right for animals to evolve to become intelligent enough to question their own existence.

To all these intelligent beings it seems incredibly unlikely that they should exist when all around they see conditions that preclude life. Yet to 'God you' (the observer) their existence is not strange; it's like the pattern of sand in a playground, an outcome of the conditions and accidents in this particular universe.

To 'God you' it is like 'real you' finding sea anemones in a pond. They are there because conditions are right there, similarly, 'God you' sees little pockets of intelligent beings wherever the conditions happen to be right; even if it is only on one planet in a billion. But in every one of these places the intelligent beings are saying 'why us?' So would be the sea anemones in your pond, if they could think.

This might explain the presence of humans; if we were not here we would not be asking 'why us?' but why me and why Now?

During the last 4,000 years or so the human population of the planet is thought to have been relatively stable at between a quarter and half a billion people. For the preceding 70,000 years the population was considerably smaller. But in the last hundred years the population has grown exponentially. There are now 6.7 billion people still alive and this number is likely to reach 11 billion before stabilising. Anthropologists estimate that between 90 and 110 billion human beings have already lived. So the chances of any human being here now, instead of at any other time, are about one in fifteen and these odds are getting shorter[94].

It seems obvious that the world each of us sees is either the result of an incredibly unlikely set of accidents or is an inevitable outcome of the space and time fabric of universe we live in.

Can we resolve this?

The presently most useful view of the cosmos suggests that time exists and has existed, like the other dimensions, as part of the universes structure. I this is so, the future too already exists and we are simply trapped in the space time continuum like the characters in a movie.

Suppose that some weeks after the first truck dumps its sand you commission another truck load but amazingly, after the children play exactly the same pattern forms, with every grain in the same place and the same orientation.

If you have not mixed your results you can only conclude that you must have been transported back in time. Exactly the same sequence of events must have repeated: a truck with exactly the same particle's in the same starting positions; tipping in exactly the same way; the same mothers arriving with children at the same times; the children behaving in exactly the same ways; the same gusts of wind; and so on. All of the things that led to those mothers and children being there must have been the same; and all the things that led to those; and so on.

Thus the same pattern could only happen in a singular instance of space and time.  Yet although it would be like the movie Groundhog Day you would have no awareness that you had done it all before because your brain would have exactly the same awareness as that previously; and that to follow, perhaps an endless loop?

Every instance in our lives is similarly complex and can only exist in a unique point in the space time continuum.

In this view you are a character in a pre-written story, like a movie you are seeing for the first time. Your freewill is an illusion. Every moment you will do what you must, in response to unforseen but inevitable events.

The illusion of freewill results from your hugely complex interactions with other living creatures (people, animals, plants, bacteria, viruses) that are responding to equal inevitabilities, in their own lives; and interdependent physical events (the weather, things breaking, tides, lightening, earthquakes, sunspots).

Alternatively, if you have freewill there might be a different universe for each of your possible decisions.

But in either case you are only aware of one universe, this universe that has you, as you are today, in it. We know this because anything you experience or can measure defines what we mean by our universe. This is true (a priori) from the idea of a universe; all we are aware of.


parallel universes


We can't be in or know anything about any of the other universes because if we could they would become part of our universe. By observing them we make them part of our experience in this universe.

So, there may be an infinite number of other universes, in which case it is certain that you would exist in one of them; or there may be only one, in which case you may have been inevitable the instant the universe was created; just a part of what is, in the only Universe, the result of billions of incredible accidents. But your experience is the same in each of these.

You can't know anything about any other universes and needn't care, because the only thing you do know for sure is you are here in this one.

We are here now and quite soon we will be gone. You might be here as an inevitable part of the fabric of the universe, from the beginning of time or you may be part of a recent combination of accidental events. Can you tell the difference?

On balance it is a lot simpler to believe that there is only one universe, and implicitly, that 'freewill' is probably just a very compelling illusion.

But you can be sure that you are part of the totality of what is. Inevitable or not, you are an essential element in the fabric of everything that is now. And so is everyone else at this instant, including that drunk unconscious on a park bench.

We may be just following a pre-written script or we might really be making choices that cannot be predicted but we can't tell the difference. We have the belief that we make choices. It feels like we can change the future. That feels like a pretty important position to be in.


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Egypt, Syria and Jordan




In October 2010 we travelled to three countries in the Middle East: Egypt; Syria and Jordan. While in Egypt we took a Nile cruise, effectively an organised tour package complete with guide, but otherwise we travelled independently: by cab; rental car (in Jordan); bus; train and plane.

On the way there we had stopovers in London and Budapest to visit friends.

The impact on me was to reassert the depth, complexity and colour of this seminal part of our history and civilisation. In particular this is the cauldron in which Judaism, Christianity and Islam were created, together with much of our science, language and mathematics.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

More on Technology and Evolution






I recently read and commented on Dan Brown's latest novel 'Origin' in which the question 'where are we going?' is answered in suggesting an ever greater human symbiosis with technology.  But what if that's not all?

Regular readers will know that I have an artificial heart valve.  Indeed many people have implanted prosthesis, from metal joints or tooth fillings to heart pacemakers and implanted cochlear hearing aides, or just eye glasses or dentures.   Some are kept alive by drugs.  All of these are ways in which our individual survival has become progressively more dependent on technology.  So that should it fail many would suffer.  Indeed some today feel bereft without their mobile phone that now substitutes for skills, like simple mathematics, that people once had to have themselves.  But while we may be increasingly transformed by tools and implants, the underlying genes, conferred by reproduction, remain human.

The possibility of accelerated genetic evolution through technology was brought nearer last week when, on 28 November 2018, a young scientist, He Jiankui, announced, at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, that he had successfully used the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR to edit a gene in several children.

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Opinions and Philosophy

Population and Climate Change – An update





I originally wrote the paper, Issues Arising from the Greenhouse Hypothesis, in 1990 and do not see a need to revise it substantially.  Some of the science is better defined and there have been some minor changes in some of the projections; but otherwise little has changed.

In the Introduction to the 2006 update to that paper I wrote:

Climate change has wide ranging implications...  ranging from its impacts on agriculture (through drought, floods, water availability, land degradation and carbon credits) mining (by limiting markets for coal and minerals processing) manufacturing and transport (through energy costs) to property damage resulting from storms.

The issues are complex, ranging from disputes about the impact of human activities on global warming, to arguments about what should be done and the consequences of the various actions proposed.

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