Sunday, September 23, 2012


Anything you can imagine is possible.  In fact, we can safely go even further than this cliche, because there are a great deal more things that you can't imagine which are possible than there are things that you can imagine which aren't possible.

Most things that you can imagine could, with sufficient work, feasibly be actualized.  As in, get-out-the-hammer-and-nails, elbow-grease-and-motivation, built, fabricated... created.  Most examples you are thinking of right now to contradict this statement are in the category of things that are possible but not currently imaginable by homo sapiens.  In fact, even the most conceptual and outlandish, existentially absurd things any one of us could imagine might possibly be created from scratch.  There is no reason to suppose, for example, that fundamental qualities of our universe cannot be changed from within it, by conscious will, with a sufficient level of control over sufficiently small things.  We don't even know what those very small things are yet exactly, so any argument that these things are outside of the sphere of willful manipulation is made completely out of ignorance.  The assumption that there are some fundamentally unchangeable parameters of the universe is exactly that - an assumption.  A knee-jerk, pessimistic assumption made out of circumstance, certainly not anything that could be called fact.  The more popular thought pattern seems to go:

1. We don't know exactly what series of complex interactions create the "laws" of physics that we observe in our universe.
2. Our particular species of ape has only learned to meaningfully manipulate its environment at the quantum level.
3. (From 1 and 2): It is overly optimistic to think that it is possible to change basic principles of the universe, even locally and for a short period of time.

Well I say phooey.  Going further, I believe deeply that the "laws" of physics are fundamentally plastic, moldable things, created out of other plastic, moldable things.  I believe we've been creating and manipulating these plastic, moldable things literally forever, and we will continue to, because it's the only plastic moldable toy we have, and we love it, because it is awesome, and it oozes out love, consciousness, subjectivity, and hithertoo untapped qualia from its every seam (not to mention kittens and whiskey ginger!), and we'll always try (successfully) to make it better and better, and we have nothing but time to learn how.  (Of course, by "we" I mean the royal we, consisting of all things and times, in all those universes).

As usual, the only real barrier is culture.  The limiting factors for us are only... the things that we decide are limiting factors!  Don't get me wrong, pessimism, doubts and fear-driven dismissal are all useful tools in many contexts, but not in the context of everything, and what we should do with our existence!  In this sense, we should imagine the most amazing things about our global potential, and only then will those things happen.  We're getting a bit too mature as a culture to keep wrapping our shared disposition in lethargy and dissolution.  It's starting to seem a bit silly.  Plus, we can't afford it!  It makes sense that our culture recapitulates the self-effacing, negativity-biased patterns of its constituent parts - namely brains evolved for survival instead of rationality, and at the whim of nasty, messy, electrochemical deviance - but we can't rest on our laurels with this excuse forever.  We got this, you guys!  We're in a cruise ship floating through space with infinite energy, time and resources, not to mention free will.  We're past the hard part.  We've got radio-controlled science-devices on fucking Mars!  Let's do more of that stuff.  1 - 2 - 3 break!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

The real answer is, of course, why not? As physicist Sean Carroll notes so well in this blog post, "First, we would only even consider this an interesting question if there were some reasonable argument in favor of nothingness over existence." There is no reason we have, or really can have, to favor one assumption over the other. Why shouldn't there be something? Why is it surprising that there are things? Why is it more surprising or unnatural that there is something than it would be surprising or unnatural if there were no things? What does such a thing even mean? Certainly we can't, from our perspective as things within a universe where we are all somethings, propose an argument (something, which itself would probably reference lots of other somethings) which should lead us to believe that a universe with nothing is somehow 'preferable'.  Again, quoting Sean Carroll, "We only have experience with one universe; there is no ensemble from which it is chosen, on which we could define a measure to quantify degrees of probability." Indeed.

Really, we can't even conjure a good explanation of what that nothing would be. In fact, if someone were to start giving a description or explanation of such a thing would be like, or resemble, you'd know they were full of shit right away, because of course, if nothing were described it would not be nothing.

Another thing a little irksome about the question (really, its interpretation) is that it seems to ask for some kind of a reason, which would suggest a motivation. The intuitive interpretation of this question asks us to make the assumption that a basis of all possible types of realities must have a preference between two alternatives (it also asks us to assume that these two things are fundamentally alternatives). This is the reason that some people use this question to justify their belief that the universe was created by God. If nothingness is more 'likely' or 'preferable' than somethingness, and yet we exist, there must have been a type of 'choice' event in deciding whether or not there should be something (probably with the famed 'Nothing-Coin'), and that choice landed on somethingness (easy choice, really - somethingness is way more awesome).

But let's really turn the tables and ask that question. How could there possibly be nothing, what on earth would that look like, and why should we think that this type of universe is somehow... likely?

Well, I think a fair word to describe this universe would be featureless. In fact, it would have to have this property of featurelessness absolutely everywhere, and this featurelessness property would have to be exactly identical everywhere. And of course, we couldn't have things outside of this featurelessness, so it would have to be infinite. In fact, it starts to seem like a whole lot of work to create a universe that has absolutely nothing!

Whatever this nothing is, we must at least agree that it is uniform. Think of the amount of information required to describe a universe that has absolutely no features, no deviations from a this complete uniformity. Why should such a universe come to be? Why would every point in it to be exactly so, and not any other way, say five feet to the left (to borrow from Leibniz)? It seems like an incredible amount of storage space to store the exact locations of an infinite amount of nothing, all arranged perfectly uniformly throughout an infinite amount of space. In fact, since space is an emergent phenomenon that arises from the fact that neighboring bodies are relatively distinguishable, it would have to be so uniform that space could not arise, and it goes without saying, time. Imagine the amount of energy required to maintain this state.

And if it is hard for us to imagine how such a state could be created and maintained (or why) at our point in time, it was probably never any easier to create such a state at any time in the past. In fact, if you need creation, it is much much easier for me to believe that something was the thing that would create nothing than vice versa. Something seems very messy, very easy to create than nothing. 'Something' is like Mandelbrot's famously simple z(n+1) = z(n)^2 + c, which generates the (literally) infinitely complex fractal, while 'Nothing' would be like a list of coordinates for every point in the universe (which is of course self-defeating, because where would the coordinates be stored?).