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A multiverse of multiverses: If everything can be true, nothing is

In “The Splendors of the Multiverse” (January 27, 2012) Barry Arrington turns the “Who designed the designer?” argument on its head, asking whether the multiverse proceeds from previous multiverses.

One senses that many multiversers would very much like that to be true. If everything is and always has been true somewhere (except that there is no multiverse) they live in no danger of disproof of any thesis, no matter how off the wall. Perfect for academics, wannabes, and poseurs in a late stage of a decaying civilization.

But some serious thinkers are attracted too: Origin of life theorist Dean Koonin has appealed to the multiverse to support a no-intelligence-needed origin of life.

Thee is indeed a tendency to kick really hard problems into the imaginary attic of the multiverse.

With respect to a regression of multiverses or designers, two things:

First, in a real world, some series can be infinite regresses, but others are not. The whole natural numbers are an infinite “progress” to n+1. But the regress is to 1. Below that, there are no whole natural numbers. And it couldn’t be otherwise, if numbers have meaning, in the sense of a coherent relationship to something else.

Of course, multiverse thinking is – among other things – a war on the idea of meaning. It originated in the need to explain away the evidence for fine tuning of our own universe, a topic to which multiversers return obsessively. There is lots of evidence for fine-tuning, almost none for the multiverse. But no matter. Once multiversers are explaining away evidence wholesale, they are happily at war with meaning.

Second, a regress to a point doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing lies beyond that point. It can mean that the series takes its meaning or existence from a governing series. For example, if a cabinet maker is making a lingerie chest, we can ask many questions like “Who designed the pattern,” “who supplied the wood,” “who manufactured the finish.” But we stop short at “Who designed the cabinet maker?”

It’s a reasonable question, but it doesn’t belong in this series. For that matter, we could ask “Who designed the wood?,” and the answer would be the same: It doesn’t belong in this series.

A multiverser can doubtless imagine universes in which any relationship between these entities may prevail (wood designs cabinet maker, etc.), but the rest of us need guides, channels, order, and discipline in our thinking, if we are going to learn anything about the world we live in. That includes understanding when a regress must naturally end.

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One Response to A multiverse of multiverses: If everything can be true, nothing is

  1. Don’t be nasty! You’re a spoil-sport!

    But, seriously, I’m afraid this open-ended multiverses business reminds me of the saying that freedom without responsibility is the prerogative of the harlot. Casting around in my mind for the ‘mot juste’, just one fits it perfectly: ‘ga-ga’.

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