Everyone's a Critic

By Sean Carroll | January 30, 2008 3:31 pm

I got this letter in the mail the other day:

I Don’t know if you Exist But I Do! I bo not Agree with your Articl and I Do not Beleave that “MOMBO-JOMBO” if you do … Well! it’s Disturbing thought But I know How to Deal with it! I will Not let the Wolb Disiper under My Nose But if you Do I cant say I’m sorry!

Sincerely

a ten year old who knows a little more than some Pepeol!

George Wing

ps. some peopl Have a little to Much time.

In response, of course, to the NYT story about Boltzmann’s Brain. George’s father Michael, a high-school science teacher, was moved to send it along (and gave me permission to post it), suggesting that “maybe it is really a Boltzmann brain speaking.”

To which I can only respond: awesome. A fourth-grader reads an article in the Science Times, and is so moved by outrage that he pens a stern missive to the scientists quoted? It’s not very often that you have a chance to inspire a young mind like that, even if you do inspire him to berate you.

Of course, George did fall into a slight trap with respect to the logic underlying the article. But that’s okay — he’s only ten years old, and there are plenty of grownups with Ph.D.’s in physics who fell into the same trap! The trap is to imagine, despite explicit disclaimers to the contrary, that the Boltzmann’s Brain argument goes something like this:

Certain cosmological scenarios predict that it’s more likely for a brain like yours or mine to arise as a random fluctuation, rather than through orderly evolution.

Isn’t that cool????

That’s really not the argument that anyone is trying to make. Rather, it goes like this:

Certain cosmological scenarios predict that it’s more likely for a brain like yours or mine to arise as a random fluctuation, rather than through orderly evolution.

Our brains aren’t like that.

Therefore, those scenarios are not correct.

It’s kind of an old-fashioned argument. Take a theory, use it to make a prediction, the prediction isn’t correct, and therefore the theory has been falsified! Rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but it works for me.

Other critics are uncharitable for different reasons. For example Don Walton, founder and president of Time For Truth Ministeries:

I believe the accusation leveled against the Apostle Paul by Festus in Acts 26:24 — “much learning is making you mad” — is most apropos for today’s cosmologists.

Hey, question my existence and suggest that I have too much time on my hands, fine — I can deal with that. But comparing me to Saint Paul? That is a low blow, sir. And somewhat unprecedented.

When you’re ten years old, you don’t have to be right — you should be curious and passionate, and George definitely is on the right track. I look forward to recruiting him to grad school some day. For the grownups I have less hope.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and the Media, Time
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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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