Open Thread

By Sean Carroll | June 6, 2007 12:43 pm

Everyone is too busy to blog this week. But I’ll point you to my favorite quotes from Ezra Klein’s liveblogging of last night’s Republican presidential debate:

  • 7:15 If this election is to be decided on ties, Ron Paul is totally going to win. And Sam Brownback will be executed.
  • 7:41 Does anybody really believe religion is a “very important” part of Giuliani’s life? He seems like the type who would make holy water sizzle.
  • 7:47 McCain thinks Americans should be exposed to “all theories.” All children will now go to school until the end of time.

Talk amongst yourselves, as long as it doesn’t involve Paris Hilton.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Miscellany
  • tyler

    I would like to dispel all the rumors making their way around the Intertubes by formally announcing what you all have suspected: I did, in fact, discover the Higgs boson in the grounds of my morning coffee a couple days ago. Unfortunately I washed the cup, but you all beleive me, right?

    You may deliver my Nobel at your convenience.

  • Mike Saelim

    We’ve recently discovered the Hilton Boson. Whenever anything happens to it, it immediately gives mass to all other news stories, sinking them to the end of the news broadcast and the back of the newspaper.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Brownback sez:

    One of the problems we have with our society today is that we’ve put faith and science at odds with each other. They aren’t at odds with each other. If they are, check your faith, or check your science.

    The science has been checked repeatedly. Please do check your faith. At the door.

  • Z

    While McCain may be pandering to the right wing with his comments, I think he’s correct in principle with one caveat – children shold be exposed to all theories, true or false, and then presented with falsifying evidence that shows why a certain theory is wrong. Just like today’s students are exposed to the old plum pudding model of the atom as a prelude to Rutherfords experiments.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Cold object delights astronomers

    Astrophysicists have found a star-like object with a surface temperature just one tenth that of the Sun.

    For some definition of “cold.”

  • Garth Barber

    The science has been checked repeatedly. Please do check your faith. At the door.

    Now which faith would that be?
    The faith that God does exist, or the faith that God does not?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    …or the faith that God does not?

    Teapot.

  • http://mollishka.blogspot.com mollishka

    For some definition of “cold.”

    Uhm, yes, that’s cold. You can get your oven to that temperature without requiring 2500 Earth masses of gunk.

  • Scott

    May God bless the Higgs boson and Paris Hilton

  • Pingback: Quest » Blog Archive » Open Thread()

  • Garth Barber

    Reginald –

    teapot

    The problem with the celestial teapot argument is that is prejudges the question.

    The argument’s invocation of a ridiculous entity such as an orbiting flying teapot or flying spaghetti monster as the object whose existence cannot be dis-proven does not say anything about the existence or non-existence of a reasonable object – such as the question of the existence or non-existence of an as yet unobserved “Planet X”.

    When applied to the question of the existence of God, the argument is convincing or not convincing depending on whether you prejudge God’s existence to be a reasonable possibility or not. Thus Russell and Dawkins et al. find it a convincing argument whereas I find it fatuous.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    When applied to the question of the existence of God, the argument is convincing or not convincing depending on whether you prejudge God’s existence to be a reasonable possibility or not. Thus Russell and Dawkins et al. find it a convincing argument whereas I find it fatuous

    Find yourself a good glossary of logical and philosphical terminology. Look up special pleading.

    Clestial teapots, invisible pink unicorns, easter bunnies, gods: all of those things are equally unevidenced. If you hold one of them to be not ridiculous, that is merely your opinion, and an unevidenced one.

    Victor Stenger makes a decent case that if a god anything like the omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent creator of western theology existed than there very likely should be evidence, and yet there is not.

  • Garth Barber

    Reginald,

    By placing the concept ‘God’ in the same set as

    Clestial teapots, invisible pink unicorns, easter bunnies

    you provide an excellent example of what I was talking about.

    My definition of ‘God’ is as the author and guarantor of the laws of science. In the observing of an ordered, and indeed fine tuned universe, about me I do not see the existence of such a God “unevidenced”.

    Others observing such a universe would look to a ‘multiverse’ as its explanation, it is all the other universes that I find “unevidenced”.

  • citrine

    Sean,

    Maybe the other CV bloggers are away on conferences at places like the Paris Hilton?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    My definition of ‘God’ is as the author and guarantor of the laws of science. In the observing of an ordered, and indeed fine tuned universe, about me I do not see the existence of such a God “unevidenced”.

    Well that’s your definition. My definition of invisible pink unicorns is as the authors and guarantors of the laws of science. My definition is equally as well grounded as yours.

    I stick by my call of special pleading. You want unearned respect for your views merely because they are your views. So [CENSORED] you.

  • Garth Barber

    Hi Reginald,

    Find yourself a good glossary of logical and philosphical terminology. Look up The Straw Man Fallacy

    Happy hunting!

  • Billy the Kid

    Garth,

    Reginald’s point, a reasonable one I think, is that many distinct definitions of “god” (some of which will surely be absurd) will subsume yours. Moreover, the laws of science seem to me to work just fine with neither an author or a guarantor so I don’t see how that provides any motivation.

    Best,

    Billy

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Reginald –

    You aren’t very sharp. What Garth was saying, is that he believes in something responsible for, “behind” the universe. That by definition is what people usually mean by “God”, and doesn’t inherently carry any other descriptive baggage apart from various notions (omnipotence, omniscience, etc – neither of which would have to be true of something a priori of and ground for the universe. On the other hand, “invisible pink unicorns” is a specific description and brings up “principle of sufficient reason” issues of why something so fundamental would be a specific color pink, why horse-like but with a horn (and don’t come up with dopey “why not” questions – “why” is the relevant default question about anything in particular.)

    The whole claim of ‘special pleading’ applied to, in effect, the whole class of unproven claims is specious anyway. SP is supposed to be a case (as one can see in the link you gave) where a principle should apply generally to a class, but someone claims an exception without any particular reason why. Well, of course that’s a fallacy, but since when are unproven claims all equally unbelievable or believable a priori? Consider the following three claims not proven directly, or maybe unprovable: (1.) I believe in life on at least one other planet. (2.) I believe in a (not specified in detail) more fundamental being/reality from which derive universe/s according to principles embodied in that being, which could include ‘whys’ of ultimate function or ‘purpose’ and not just mathematical beauty etc. (3.) I believe we can build a perpetual motion free energy machine. Well: (1.) is very believable because it is an extension of a process we already know of to somewhere else, (2.) Is “game” as being debatable albeit not subject to empirical study, and genuine argument depends on abstruse arguments about modal realism, the anthropic principle, back-engineering of one’s circumstances by Bayesian principles, etc. (3.) This is unlikely since it violates already known principles. Technically it counts as “unproven” empirically (since we haven’t tried every possible machine), and even theoretically we don’t know if supposed near-proofs like Noether theorems apply to esoteric QM issues like zero-point energy etc. Clearly, it’s about the quality of the arguments and the credibility for any particular unproven claim, not about some overall character of being unproven combined with mere assertions about any of them.

    As for the argument that our universe is dependent and designed somehow: I haven’t looked at Stenger’s latest (I suspect it’s his same old bilge), but: After dropping straw-man insistence that if a creator existed at all, he/she/it would have to be omnipotently in potential or actual control of each event etc, (the latter is not a necessary consequence of the former, which is what really matters) we can ask: If something was responsible for a universe existing and having a life-connected purpose, we would expect for example that something like the fine structure constant would have a value favorable for life to develop, like 1/137, instead of the logically appealing value of say, “one.” Well, it happens to be about 1/137, just like it needs to be, to within a tiny fraction of a percent. Why? And don’t go muttering about “multiple universes with other laws of physics” without acknowledging the irony and hypocrisy of anyone postulating (so far) unobservable and theoretically baseless worlds of that nature just to avoid some other improvable entity.

    Finally, I can see that your type of, yes, straw-man reasoning reminds me so much of how dittoheads like Rush and Ann Coulter pretend to argue that liberals are really communists etc, right down to the insults like I stick by my call of special pleading. You want unearned respect for your views merely because they are your views. So [CENSORED] you. Scientism dittoheads are often just as rude and just as philosophically illiterate.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Kid:

    Why in the world would particularly absurd “definitions” (actually, characterizations and not definitions) of God “subsume” the general idea and hang the general idea of God with the disadvantage and opprobrium of the worst cases? That isn’t any legitimate line of reasoning. Why not just say, if I can imagine a really idiotic speculative sort of extraterrestrial life, then the whole idea is just as silly…. (consider the abstract point here, not the particulars.)

  • Garth Barber

    Billy,

    As well as endorsing Neil’s question about your first statement I want to comment on your second one:

    Moreover, the laws of science seem to me to work just fine with neither an author or a guarantor so I don’t see how that provides any motivation.

    I find there are four (at least) “meta-questions”, to which the answers appear to lie outside the orbit of observational and falsifiable science.
    1. The question of existence: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” expressed by Stephen Hawking in the light of modern cosmology and the equations of a possible ‘theory of everything’ as: “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”
    2. The question of fruitfulness: “Why is the universe propitious for life rather than otherwise?” – often answered as I said above by appealing to a multiverse.
    3. The question of comprehensibility: “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.” (A.E.) “Why should it be that the understanding of our minds correlates with the universe ‘out there’?”
    4. The question of consciousness: “How was it that a set of particles and forces, reacting together in a more or less random way, evolve into conscious sentient beings able to ask such questions?” i.e. the question of consciousness in a material universe.

    I find my motivation for belief in the above definition of God in the answering of these questions, you may find otherwise.

    Peace,
    Garth

  • Reginald Selkirk

    You aren’t very sharp. What Garth was saying, is that he believes in something responsible for, “behind” the universe. That by definition is what people usually mean by “God”, and doesn’t inherently carry any other descriptive baggage apart from various notions (omnipotence, omniscience, etc – neither of which would have to be true of something a priori of and ground for the universe…)

    Neil B.: You aren’t very sharp either. (Or not so honest, take your pick.) Most people do not believe God is a “thing”, but a “person”; some sort of conscious entity. Consciousness is poorly defined itself, but we need not go into that. As Billy the Kid points out, there is no evidence whatsoever that the origin of the laws of Nature lie in such a “person.” The entire history of science is a journey away from that position. If you want to discard Garth Barber’s claim as rather than special pleading, that would be fine with me.

    Your second paragraph is a red herring. Why change the subject? Let’s stick with the claims that are on the table. God(s), invisible pink unicorns, celestial teapots. All equally unevidenced.

    Your third paragraph is about fine-tuning. I’ll just refer you to an essay, Why (Almost All) Cosmologists are Atheists by Sean Carroll.

    Your fourth paragraph is pretty much substance-free, so requires no response.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    4. The question of consciousness: “How was it that a set of particles and forces, reacting together in a more or less random way, evolve into conscious sentient beings able to ask such questions?” i.e. the question of consciousness in a material universe.

    Well Mr., Barber: If you feel that the development of consciousness in a material universe (and how nice of you to phrase it as a How question rather than a Why question) is difficult to explain, it is nothing compared to the development of consciousness without or outside of a material universe.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    If you want to discard Garth Barber’s claim as rather than special pleading

    Something got left out there. It should be: If you want to discard Garth Barber’s claim as affirming the consequent rather than special pleading…

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B.

    Reginald:

    It doesn’t matter whether people consider the originator as a person or not, if the argument is posed as an abstract denial of self-sufficiency. In any case, your statement:
    As Billy the Kid points out, there is no evidence whatsoever that the origin of the laws of Nature lie in such a “person.” The entire history of science is a journey away from that position.
    is a near total non-sequitur. First, talk of evidence is a red herring regardless of which side you’re on, because this is an interpretative philosophical question with no direct evidence one way or the other. Second, you can’t say “there’s no evidence” in what is by nature a philosophical argument without actually getting your hands dirty arguing about it, not just making such empty pronouncements. Third, science has little to no idea what the origin of the laws of nature is, not to be confused with discovering and using them. Nor is there any basis for the idea expressed in this quote from your ostensible very savvy thinker:
    Imagine that what we think of as the ”constants of nature” are merely local phenomena, in the sense that there are other regions of the universe where they take on completely different values. This is a respectable possibility within our current conception of particle physics and cosmology. Yeah, sure, just imagine that the constants are local, with absolutely no basis or no evidence at all. What a hypocrite. That idea is fundamentally suspect anyway, for isn’t the behavior of matter an expression of its identity, not of some external police-like enforcer additional to the matter itself, that could vary independently? Aren’t “the laws of physics” just a way of talking about what stuff does, per Hume, not an additional “animating spirit” that could be different somewhere else despite the underlying “stuff” being the same material? We don’t even know what laws of physics really are or what they come from.

    Hey, I’ve got an idea: maybe those far regions of the universe are filled with flying spaghetti monsters! Maybe those “other universes” are filled with them too! Well, according to the idiotic idea of uniform credibility of possible characterizations (of an idea one doesn’t like…) By the silly reasoning we’ve heard about speculating on the unknown, I can just as easily believe it would be like that, to “show” how dumb the whole idea is…

    Complaining falsely that an opponent can’t rightly utilize insights from some other subject or type of example, to make a point by abstract general comparison, is a pitiful attempt to disarm valid avenues that just make you look bad. It is all fair game, and I don’t have to accept your idea of what “the” subject is anyway, since we don’t’ have an agreed upon debate program. Indeed, the better debaters have to redefine and reframe bungled framings of issues all the time, as I did here many times. That often means exploring avenues the other side didn’t pursue.

    Finally, the argument is not about affirming the consequent. Maybe you think, some of us believe if there was a God, he/she/it would create a universe (or with anthropic quality), there is such a universe, so there is God? I don’t know what you meant by that, but that is not the argument of the Paul Davies sort. The actual argument works back the other way around: Ask how reasonable would all this be as is, if there was not an originator, finding “not” a compelling answer, and so claiming there is one. (I only consider it a good argument and not a proof, but you are so stridently sure – who is the faithful true believer around here, anyway?)

    PS: Do you believe in modal realism, and why or why not? In either case, what do you consider the implications of that answer to be?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    It doesn’t matter whether people consider the originator as a person or not, if the argument is posed as an abstract denial of self-sufficiency. In any case, your statement… is a near total non-sequitur.

    Yes, it matters a great deal whether you are using a standard definition of “God,” by which most people indeed mean a person, or whether you are making up a new definition. To say I believe in X, but I will define X later; or I will define X to be something that no one else means when they use the word X is poor substitute for intelligent argumentation. If I said ” I believe in God, which I define to be the snot I wipe on my sleeve when I don’t have a handkerchief,” it might be true, but it would not add much to the discourse.

    First, talk of evidence is a red herring regardless of which side you’re on, because this is an interpretative philosophical question with no direct evidence one way or the other. Second, you can’t say “there’s no evidence” in what is by nature a philosophical argument without actually getting your hands dirty arguing about it, not just making such empty pronouncements.

    Scientific evidence can be quite meaningful to philosophical questions. Look at the argument from design; any competent philosopher of the 20th or 21st century would tell you that Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection, and the evidence which supports it, eviscerates the biological argument from design. If you have evidence that the “laws of science” have an “author and originator,” go ahead: get your hands dirty and present it. Garth Barber has certainly failed to do so. All he has presented is his personal choice of gaps for his gap theology.

    Yeah, sure, just imagine that the constants are local, with absolutely no basis or no evidence at all.

    Wow, and just a minute ago you were saying that evidence didn’t matter. Garth Barber has put forth pretty much the same thing when he offered that there is no reason why the universe need make sense, why don’t you get in his face about that?

    We don’t even know what laws of physics really are or what they come from.

    Thank you for admitting that. Now, not knowing where TLOP come from, does it make sense to presume that they come from a person? What does Occam’s razor do to that? What is the appropriate null hypothesis?

    Complaining falsely that an opponent can’t rightly utilize insights from some other subject or type of example, to make a point by abstract general comparison, is a pitiful attempt to disarm valid avenues that just make you look bad.

    You mean like two minutes ago, when you tried to tell me that evidence had no bearing on a question of philosophical interpretation?

    since we don’t’ have an agreed upon debate program… Finally, the argument is not about affirming the consequent.

    We haven’t agreed on a debate program, but you know what it is? My, but you are full of yourself. I will remind you: the disagreement started when Garth Barber said that disbelieving in God was a faith position. After that, he stated his definition of God as “author and guarantor of the laws of science” without establishing that these laws have an author and guarantor. This takes us back to your statement that we have no idea where the laws of physics come from, so that the existence of laws of physics cannot be used as evidence that these laws have an author.

    I don’t know what you meant by that, but that is not the argument of the Paul Davies sort.

    Paul Davies ins’t here, unless he’s using a pseudonym. We are talking about an argument of the Garth Barber sort.

    Indeed, the better debaters have to redefine and reframe bungled framings of issues all the time, as I did here many times.

    So full of yourself that it’s coming out your ears. You don’t like the way I “framed” issues, so you refer to my “framing” as “bungled.” It’s such a great thing that you are here to straighten us all out with your invented definitions. Well now I need to go “worship my God” by which I really mean “brush my teeth and go to bed.”

  • Garth Barber

    Reginald,

    Firstly, my definition of ‘God’ is not some arbitrary definition I have just dreamt up but one that goes all the way back in the development of science (cf: Johann Kepler: “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”) to the Hebraic belief in a creator described by the story of Moses and the burning bush. In Hebrew the holy name for God “I AM that I AM” is dynamic, not static, in meaning, viz: “I am bringing into existence that which exists”.

    Secondly: [quote]If you have evidence that the “laws of science” have an “author and originator,” go ahead: get your hands dirty and present it. Garth Barber has certainly failed to do so.[/quote]
    Absolutely correct, I do not claim [em]evidence[/em] that the “laws of science” have an “author and originator,” it is a statement of faith, my whole point is that to claim otherwise [em]is also a statement of faith[/em]. It is just that those making that statement, such as yourself, are blinded by the circular ‘teapot’ argument to recognise the fact.

    Garth

  • Garth Barber

    Whoops! Wrong HTML tags – where is my ‘Preview’ option?
    I used to have one but now it has disappeared.

    Garth

  • http://theeternaluniverse.blogspot.com Joseph Smidt

    Sean,

    You shutdown the Cosmology FAQ thread so maybe you don’t want any more questions. But if you have room for one more here it is:

    The expansion of the universe stretched the photon wavelength of the CMB. Does the expansion of the universe stretch the de broglie wavelength of massive particles, say like the neutrinos that may be part of the neutrino background? (Assuming they have mass)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Comments on old threads just get shut down automatically, to cut down on spam.

    The de Broglie wavelength, which tells you the uncertainty in where the particle is and is inversely proportional to its momentum, does indeed grow in an expanding universe. That’s just because the momentum does redshift away.

    But the Compton wavelength, which gives a fundamental uncertainty below which you can’t localize the particle (and can thus be thought of as measuring “how big” it is, in some loose quantum-mechanical sense) is inversely proportional to the mass, and does not change as the universe expands.

    So the size of a neutrino (or an atom) doesn’t grow, but your uncertainty about where it is does (until you measure it).

  • Reginald Selkirk

    It is just that those making that statement, such as yourself, are blinded by the circular ‘teapot’ argument to recognise the fact.

    Garth Barber: You assert, after a lengthy discussion, that the teapot argument is circular. Your time might have been better spent if you could demonstrate that the teapot argument is circular. All you have accomplished so far is to point out the gaps on which you base your gap theology, which is not enough to convince anybody reasonable. Meanwhile, Neil B. would claim that your evidence is irrelevant – oops, no he wouldn’t, since he is on your side. He only claims that my evidence is irrelevant, when he is not busy presenting his own evidence.

    Since you are unable to make and defend a coherent argument for your side, and since Neil B. has severe problems with intellectual integrity, I’ll leave now. Have a nice day.

  • Garth Barber

    Reginald,
    Garth Barber: You assert, after a lengthy discussion, that the teapot argument is circular. Your time might have been better spent if you could demonstrate that the teapot argument is circular.
    I thought it was obvious, I will obviously have to spell it out.

    Unobservable hypotheses cannot be falsified, nevertheless ‘Russell’s Celestial Teapot (CT)’ argument concludes that certain hypotheses, such as that of the existence of God, does not have to be falsified because the ideas themselves are ridiculous.

    “If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes.”

    It is obvious that a firm refutation of the CT assertion does not require a great act of faith because Russell has chosen a ludicrous concept in the first place.

    However, we can replace in the argument the CT concept with a plausible alternative such as the proposal of a planet Vulcan interior to Mercury, suggested in the 19th Century to explain Mercury’s anomalous orbital precession:

    “If I were to suggest that interior to Mercury there is planet Vulcan revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the planet is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes because it is lost in the Sun’s brilliance.”

    Now, the question of the object’s existence or non-existence is not a trivial matter but one that had to be answered by careful observation and finally by General Relativity’s resolution of the anomaly.

    In one case the question is absurd in the other it is reasonable. Therefore, whether faith is required or not to disbelieve in the existence of God depends on whether the concept itself is considered reasonable or absurd in the first place. Is the argument not circular?

  • Garth Barber

    I really would like a ‘Preview’ option!

    That last statement could have said:

    Russell’s argument runs as follows:
    “God is unobservable just as a CT is unobservable so it appears that the idea of their existence is not falsifiable, however the very idea that there is a God is absurd, just as the idea of a CT is absurd.
    The refutation of their existence is therefore self-evident.
    As the concept of God’s existence has been refuted the idea is absurd.”

    Is this argument not circular?

    Peace

  • http://www.sunclipse.org Blake Stacey
  • Rol Klingberg

    Is it possible that dark energy IS gravity? Does matter exist because “normal” energy (us) is fundamentally incompatible with dark energy and the result is matter as we know it? Could it be that normal matter displaces dark energy and the result is gravity? Is there a quality of dark energy that causes the speed of light to be the value we observe? Just curious.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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