Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Frank Tipler's God of the Multiverse - Part III

In my previous post in this series, I indicated, without yet having heard of Professor Stephen Hawking's new book, what Frank Tipler's answer to Hawking's arguments would be:
At the heart of Professor Tipler's thesis is the conviction that the three fundamental theories of present-day physics -- quantum mechanics, general relativity, and the Standard Model -- are each proven and true, because of the vast quantity of experimental data which backs up each of them. As he states at the outset of his second chapter (p. 6):
Modern physics is based on three fundamental theories: quantum mechanics, general relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics. In the popular press -- and even in many technical physics journals -- one will find much discussion of other theories, for example, inflation cosmology, superstring theory, and M-theory. Ignore these other theories. They have no experimental support whatsoever. In contrast, quantum mechanics, general relativity, and the Standard Model have enormous support from experiment. All three theories have made predictions again and again over many decades, predictions that are completely counterintuitive to scientists and the average person, and all of these counter-to-common-sense predictions have been confirmed by experiment. A scientist, if he wishes to remain a scientist, must accept the results of experiment, and nothing but the results of experiment.
In Prof. Tipler's view, modern searches for Grand Unification Theories (GUTs), the Theory of Everything -- whatever science calls its Holy Grail for the moment -- are chases after a will-o'-the-wisp. The three theories which science has extensively tested, and which have survived every test thus far to which they have been put, are entitled to an assumption that they are correct, and no further explanations are needed.

What, then, is the problem? Why are scientists unwilling to accept fully the implications of the three tried-and-true great theories which evolved over the last century? Listen to Professor Tipler, once again, in his own words (p. 47):
One of the implications of the laws of physics, an implication that most physicists find philosophically and religiously repugnant, is a necessary consequence of the [well-documented] expansion of the universe: it began a finite time ago . . . in a singularity, where the laws of physics themselves do not apply. The laws of physics do not apply at a singularity because, as the initial singularity is approached from inside space and time, physical quantities such as the density of material go to infinity. The laws of physics, however, can govern only the behavior of finite quantities. In the words of the great cosmologist Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001), "The problem with a singularity is that not only do the known laws of physics not apply there, no possible laws of physics can apply there." Hoyle is completely correct; no possible laws of physics can control a singularity. Modern physicists hate the idea that something real could be beyond the power of the laws of physics. . . .
Research among the views of modern physicists bears out the truth of Prof. Tipler's observation. They will go to any length to justify the "origin of the universe" in a "random vacuum fluctuation", which they describe as "simply one of those things that happen from time to time." (E. P. Tryon, "Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?" Nature 246, at 396 [1973].) According to this account of Sten Odenwald (notice, as you read it, all the weasel-words, such as "perhaps", "and so on", "random", "as yet unknown", etc.):
This proposal by Tryon was regarded with some scepticism and even amusement by astronomers, and was not pursued much further. . . .

In 1978, R. Brout, P. Englert, E. Gunzig and P. Spindel at the University of Brussels, proposed that the fluctuation that led to the creation of our universe started out in an empty, flat, 4-dimensional spacetime. The fluctuation in space began weakly, creating perhaps a single matter- antimatter pair of supermassive particles with masses of 10^19 GeV. The existence of this 'first pair' stimulated the creation from the vacuum of more particle-antiparticle pairs which stimulated the production of still others and so on. Space became highly curved and exploded, disgorging all of the superparticles which later decayed into the familiar leptons, quarks and photons.

Heinz Pagels and David Atkatz at Rockefeller University in 1981 proposed that the triggering agent behind the Creation Event was a tunneling phenomenon of the vacuum from a higher-energy state to a lower energy state. Unlike the Brout-Englert-Gunzig-Spindel model which started from a flat spacetime, Pagels and Atkatz took the complementary approach that the original nothingness from which the universe emerged was a spatially closed, compact empty space, in other words, it had a geometry like the 2-D surface of a sphere, but the dimensionality of its surface was much higher than 2. Again this space contained no matter whatsoever. The characteristics (as yet unknown) of the tunneling process determined, perhaps in a random way, how the dimensionality of spacetime would 'crystallize' into the 6+4 combination that represents the plenum of our universe.

Alex Vilenkin at Tufts University proposed in 1983 that our spacetime was created out of a 'nothingness' so complete that even its dimensionality was undefined. In 1984, Stephen Hawking at Cambridge and James Hartle at UCSB came to a similar conclusion through a series of quantum mechanical calculations. They described the geometric state of the universe in terms of a wave function which specified the probability for spacetime to have one of an infinite number of possible geometries. A major problem with the ordinary Big Bang theory was that the universe emerged from a state where space and time vanished and the density of the universe became infinite; a state called the Singularity. Hawking and Hartle were able to show that this Big Bang singularity represented a specific kind of geometry which would become smeared-out in spacetime due to quantum indeterminacy. The universe seemed to emerge from a non-singular state of 'nothingness' similar to the undefined state proposed by Vilenkin. The physicist Frank Wilczyk expresses this remarkable situation the best by saying that, "The reason that there is Something rather than Nothing is that Nothing is unstable."
And despite all the refinements since 1984 -- inflation theory, dark matter, dark energy, the (revived) cosmological constant -- physics today is no further along in being able to explain how something came out of nothing to make the universe that we inhabit. Its best explanation remains that "Nothing is unstable -- therefore Something had to happen."
And that is the essence of Prof. Hawking's argument in The Grand Design (what a misleading title for a book that argues against a designer!): there was no singularity, because there was no beginning, according to the latest version of string theory, called "M-Theory" (where "M" may stand for "membrane", although there is no official connection). But as Prof. Tipler reminds us, one can cite Hawking against himself -- where he now attempts to dismiss the initial singularity as "not applicable", it was in 1984 that he proved mathematically, using the standard theories of physics, that it had to exist:
Even such an indirect explanation of origins, however, cannot hide the mathematical fact of what Stephen Hawking and James Hartle proved in 1984: the universe as we know it originated in a singularity -- an instant for which there is no known explanation according to the laws of physics, because the laws of physics -- of any conceivable kind whatsoever -- simply have no application to a singularity.

Frank Tipler's answer to this conundrum is: "Get over it -- accept the singularity which all of our mathematics and physics are showing us actually happened. The theories are correct, and are verified by mountains of data. Instead of rejecting the theory and scrambling around to find one or more hypothetical alternatives, for which there is zero experimental support, be a real scientist and work with the data which the world has given you."
Hawking's latest attempt to generate another best-seller, therefore, need not detain us. If you throw out all the well-tested and extremely accurate physics developed to date, then of course you throw out any notion of an initial singularity, and your way is cleared. Note that in doing so, however, you are departing radically from precedent. Whereas Newton's laws were a refinement of Galileo's and Aristotle's, and Einstein's a refinement of Newton's, M-Theory is by no means a "refinement" of Einstein's, Dirac's or Heisenberg's. Newton's laws of motion exist as a subset in Einstein's general relativity, but M-Theory exists on its own, with no subspace that contains current physical laws.

Or, to be more accurate (but still as vague as M-Theory allows), M-Theory implies a multiverse which is so vast (10^500 or so individual universes), with each one having different physical laws, that there has to be one of them in which we exist, with our current laws. Except it is a deception, because instead of the three spatial dimensions with which we are familiar, there are really eleven spatial dimensions, but folded up so that we can't tell if they are there. And despite Hawking and Hartle (1984), that little universe of ours did not begin in a singularity, because it is part of a multiverse in M-Theory, which has no singularities.

In short, M-Theory is able to accommodate anything, because it is tied to nothing real. It is exquisite mathematics, but it has no known physical analogue. Let us follow Frank Tipler's advice, therefore, leave it to its own devices, and work with what we know is accurate down to the smallest degree.

Tipler's primary concern, in his book The Physics of Christianity, is to use the known laws of physics to predict the future of the multiverse in which we find ourselves. The universe is currently expanding, and there are some hints that the rate of expansion is accelerating. Fine -- let us deal with those known facts. What, he asks, are the consequences of an ever-expanding universe?

There are two principal consequences, each of which Prof. Tipler finds disturbing because of their implications for life itself. The first is that the large-scale structures of the universe -- galaxies, clusters, and super-clusters, would be ripped apart, leading to the "heat death" of the universe as entropy itself maximizes to infinity. The second is that event horizons will of necessity form, and rob life of the ability to stay in contact.

An event horizon is essentially a cone in spacetime, whose boundaries are defined by the speed of light, which is a constant of the theory of relativity (click the image to enlarge):

If we forget the bottom half of the diagram for a minute, and take point A as the origin of the universe in a singularity (the "Big Bang", in Fred Hoyle's terms), then the expanding cone depicts a universe expanding in time. The outer boundary of the cone represents the world-line of a particle traveling with the speed of light, and the collection of those world-lines from the point of the Big Bang defines the cone. Any event which occurs inside the cone will eventually be perceived anywhere else inside the cone, because all points inside the cone represent places which may be reached by traveling at the speed of light, or less.

For the same reason, events which are shown as outside the cone cannot be known to points on or inside the cone. Now, here is the key point: as the universe expands (upward in the diagram) with time (and particularly if the expansion accelerates), there will develop regions of spacetime which are beyond each others' light cones. This will mean that they have become too far apart ever to be in communication with each other again, because by the time a light signal could travel to that region, it will have moved too far beyond it (at an accelerating rate) for the light ever to catch up.

It is crucial to Tipler's theory that life as a whole remain in contact, because only then can life master the problem of ever-increasing entropy and harness the energy of the universe to prevent its heat-death. Thus for Tipler, life's very survival means that it must accomplish this feat before any event horizons are able to form in the universe.

But there is a more formal aspect to Tipler's theory: if quantum theory and general relativity are to coexist, and describe (and predict) the entire known universe, then spacetime itself must be compact (finite), and incapable of forming event horizons. Instead of an ever-expanding upward cone, its ultimate shape must be like the bottom half of the illustration above, and all world-lines must collapse together in a final singularity as time moves upward toward its endpoint. He stresses again and again that there can be no other solution that is consistent with the well-established fundamental laws of physics.

Thus far from evading any initial or final singularity, Frank Tipler embraces them, and says that any physicist worth his salt must accept what physical laws spell out for us. As the universe (actually, multiverse) began in a singularity, so it must end in one. This final singularity is what Tipler calls the Omega Point, and was the subject of his earlier book, The Physics of Immortality.

It was in the course of working out the implications of the Omega Point that Frank Tipler came to be struck by the similarities between what his mathematics was telling him and the theological doctrine of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Thus it is at this point that we may part ways with any physicists who have been tracking this series up until now. However, I would ask for patience: Tipler's views are soundly rooted in mathematics, and deserve a fair hearing; it is the construction he puts on them which causes all the consternation.

But why should that be? If mathematics had developed in the Middle Ages to the point where it is now, the philosopher-scientists of that time (Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, et al.) would not have shied away from dealing with questions of theology raised at the same time by their mathematics. To them, the world was a continuum, and any line of investigation could lead to a better understanding of the whole. It is only our post-Enlightenment, secular worldview that gets in our way now, and there is really no defense for it. That worldview purposefully shuts out a huge section of our world by denying its existence, since it maintains its nature is beyond "scientific" investigation.

Poppycock and balderdash, as Roger Bacon might say. If God "made" the universe, then he made it all -- mathematics, physics and whatever else can be the object of organized study -- including the study of God, insofar as His existence is reflected in our understanding of everything. I have no objection to someone's saying that theology is beyond his or her ken, and that mathematics (or physics, or whatever else) suffices for a lifetime of occupation; I know from firsthand experience that it can, and does. But why should any such person deny the legitimacy of one such as Frank Tipler, who has the insight (and abilities) to carry the investigation much further? In an earlier post, I have already demonstrated the enormous contribution his scientific probings have made to our understanding of the theological doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus (that is a later chapter in The Physics of Christianity). In that instance, it took the relentless questing of a determined scientist to discover what everyone before him had either overlooked, or suppressed. And while I shall conclude that he is not right about everything he puts in his book, there is much to commend your attention.

In future installments of this series, therefore, we shall follow Professor Tipler's unfolding of the Omega Point, and what it represents to him in relation to traditional Christian doctrine.


  1. I was very disappointed in the recent WSJ article re: Hawking's theories. He listed the improbabilities associated with this universe/world, but then simply asserted the "truth" of his theory. Perhaps he didn't think folks would be able to follow the math (probably correct), but surely he could have made at least an attempt at convincing us of his position. Thanks for your many fine posts.

  2. The increasingly obscure postulations of theoretical physicists, which are impossible to understand for ordinary mortals, remind me very much of the similar efforts of astronomers to explain the motions of the planets during the early middle ages.

    The problem with planetary models at that time was that they were all geocentrically based (i.e., founded on the idea that the Earth is at the center, with everything else going around it). While they became steadily more sophisticated, all these models still had fundamental problems in explaining the regressive (i.e., backward) motion of some of the planets (e.g., mercury). We have no difficulty explaining this type of motion in modern times. It is due simply to the relative positions and velocities of the Earth and these planets as they all orbit around the Sun.

    The early astronomers, however, hung on to geocentric models, and tried to explain the regressive motions by adding more and more concentric spheres to their astrolabes. These finally became so complicated that they were impossible to understand.

    Finally, Ptolemy produced a theory of astronomy so impenetrable that it lead Alphonso X of Castile to (reputedly) say: "If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking on creation thus, I should have recommended something simpler."

    No amount of development based on the old assumptions was going to work. It needed time for Copernicus to come along with a revolutionary new idea (i.e., heliocentrism) to break the logjam, and reduce everything to simplicity again.

    I rather suspect the same is eventually going to happen with modern theories of the universe. There is some basic assumption the physicists are all making that needs to be reevaluated, some basic change of perspective that needs to be made, which will lead to a coherent and comprehensive explanation. It will also have the virtue of being much simpler than the multiple dimension universes currently being proposed.

    Who is going to be our modern Copernicus?

  3. Without addressing the rest of this essay (Dr. Tipler's claim is fascinating in the extreme, but it's hard to which side of the genius-madness line he falls on), I'd like to note that in mathematics and the hard sciences, "random" usually isn't a weasel-word (though the rest you so described surely are). Particularly in relation to quantum mechanics, "random" has a particular meaning that is itself part of the well-testedness Tipler points out.

  4. Topper, there are a number of alternative suggestions to string theory, which IMHO is "multiplying entities unnecessarily". In particular, the proposal of loop quantum gravity is that space and time are divided into discrete chunks just like energy states of an atom are.

    LQG is hardly "simple" in the sense of using elementary-school mathematics, but it does provide a much simpler and more coherent model than string theory does, and it makes some predictions that are being tested right now--essentially, we ought to be able to see some "rounding error" in the universe at large scales. (Tipler's proposal of an infinite-order construction rather than a second-order is also mathematically simpler and more coherent, but I've yet to see an explanation of how to distinguish the two orders.)

    All this is still up in the air, though, because of the question why inertial mass and gravitational mass are the same thing, and I don't see that Tipler's construction satisfactorily addresses the issue. We're hoping that observation of the Higgs boson will give us some key clue that will enable the kind of fundamental perspective shift that you prescribe, but it's taking some time to get the necessary machines running.

  5. "Modern physicists hate the idea that something real could be beyond the power of the laws of physics. . ."

    Thankfully, not all modern physicists.

    I'm a bit confused about something. Tipler correctly stresses empirical data to validate and/or support the theories of physicists. And he is a big proponent of the theory of multiple universes. So then where is the empirical data to validate multiple universes?

  6. chrylis, thank you for those contributions. I am not sure whether you saw the link in my first Tipler post to his article in Reports on Progress in Physics, which gives a detailed and fully mathematical treatment of his ideas about how to reconcile quantum gravity (as developed by Feynman, DeWitt and Weinberg) with general relativity, by basing the former on the metric of the latter (the continuum). The article also describes his theory that the cosmic microwave background radiation is a pure SU(2)sub-L gauge field, with predictions that are testable.

    My objection to the use of the word "random" in Odenwald's quote was not to its use in the quantum mathematical sense; he used the word to describe the outcome (in our present spacetime) of an admittedly quantum-random tunneling process, which, however, could not ("as yet") be explained as the random outcome of a particular wave function. As he states, the primeval tunneling process somehow determined, "perhaps in a random way, how the dimensionality of spacetime would 'crystallize' into the 6+4 combination that represents the plenum of our universe." Here I think "random" is just a word thrown in (along with "perhaps" and "as yet unknown") to fudge the explanation of why our spacetime is as we find it, rather than naming an attribute of the quantum tunneling process itself.

    Be that as it may, I am glad to have you looking over my shoulder, and I would be happy to have your continued contributions as the series goes forward.

  7. TU&D, for Prof. Tipler, all the experimental data to date is explainable only by means of the multiverse. Here is a quote from pages 14-15 of the book:

    "But make no mistake: if quantum mechanics is true, the many universes necessarily exist. The mathematics of quantum mechanics gives no alternative. The existence of the many universes, which collectively are called the multiverse, is really also implied by the Hamilton-Jacobi equation [in classical mechanics], but because they are nonlinear, one could have supposed that only one particle trajectory was actually followed. The linearity of Schrödinger's equation does not leave us that option. So the multiverse exists even in classical Newtonian mechanics if this theory is expressed in its most powerful mathematical form.
    ". . .
    ". . . However, it must be kept firmly in mind that we are not postulating the existence of the multiverse. Instead, we are postulating that quantum mechanics -- and classical mechanics in Hamilton-Jacobi form -- applies to all systems without exception. Then it follows, of mathematical necessity, that the multiverse exists. Once again, all experiments conducted to date show that quantum mechanics (or classical mechanics) applies to every system we have been able to test over the last century (the last three centuries if we include classical mechanics). The multiverse is forced on us by observation."

  8. Dear Anglican Curmudgeon,

    Thanks for posting those excerpts from Tipler's book. I'm still a bit muddled and unclear, however.

    Let me present my muddled thoughts and see if you (or anyone else) can help sort them out.

    (1) "[M]uch discussion of other theories, for example, inflation cosmology, superstring theory, and M-theory. Ignore these other theories. They have no experimental support whatsoever. In contrast, quantum mechanics, general relativity, and the Standard Model have enormous support from experiment."

    (2) I ask, "What is the experimental support for the Multiverse? And where is it?" I'm merely using the same criteria that Dr. Tipler uses to establish critical acceptance of physics' theories.

    (3) Dr. Tipler then says: "Then it follows, of mathematical necessity, that the multiverse exists."

    Is this not a case of special pleading? I.e., Ignore all theories that lack experimental support. BUT we must accept the theory of the multiverse because of its mathematical necessity, and lets overlook its lack of experimental support. And this will be the only theory that we'll accept with its lack of experimental support.


    Alright, that seems weird to me, uneducated layman that I am. Let's grant Tipler's request for the existence of the multiverse. (which, by the way, Hawking also affirms.)

    What then are the implications of the multiverse and Christian theism? There seems to be a wide spectrum of opinion about this. From Tipler's perspective to this fellow who wrote Multiverse Theory - Apologetic Tool or Atheist Construct?


    "While putting forth teleological arguments for the existence of God in Saturday night’s debate, William Craig mentioned the emergence of multiverse theories as a possible refutation of theism.

    Because if multiple universes do exist, it could challenge our notions about God, Christ, the creation event, and morality. For instance, If there are multiple universes, then the Genesis event spoken of in Scripture is not all that unique. Furthermore, Does Christ dying for the sins of the world have any impact upon other possible worlds? And do the laws of morality embrace all possible worlds, or are they specific just to our own?

    In The Multiverse Problem, Seed magazine suggests that the growing popularity of multiverse theory among scientists may be an intentional ploy to undermine traditional theism.

    In a 2005 New York Times op-ed, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, accused scientists of concocting the idea of a multiverse specifically “to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science.” Since then, a handful of other prominent Christian thinkers have also argued that multiverse theory is motivated by a refusal to accept evidence of god’s handiwork in the cosmos. Evangelical philosopher and Discovery Institute fellow William Lane Craig has called the idea an act of “desperation” on the part of atheist scientists. And Canadian journalist Denyse O’Leary, an ally of the intelligent design movement who is writing a book about cosmology, also asserts that “religious or anti-religious motives dominate the discussion” among scientists developing multiverse models."

    Do read the rest.

    Anyways, I'm just a Christian layman trying to ask the right questions. And trying to understand difficult subject matters.

  9. I'm not sure if I can give you any reassurance, TU&D, but let me try.

    Because humans, like everything else, are representable as wave functions in quantum mechanics, it is impossible for any human to observe what Tipler is calling "the multiverse", or establish its existence by observation of simultaneous results in more than one universe at a time. Our own quantum limitations prevent us from perceiving more than one universe at a time, and the one we are "in" seems like a continuously unfolding environment to us.

    But if quantum mechanics is sound, then each wave function must have many solutions -- one each in a different universe of the multiverse. That is why quantum mechanics requires the multiverse.

    The problems you point up are not trivial -- it is very difficult to get one's head around the philosophical and theological ramifications of the multiverse. But one reason I so admire Tipler's book is that he has thought these problems through, and offers a very Christian interpretation of what he says quantum mechanics, the Standard Model and general relativity all require. I shall lay out his interpretation in the future posts in this series, and then you can see how well he has addressed your concerns.