Is There More Of Me?

by Dr. Kenneth W. Regan, Easter 2012--?

In theoretical computing we begin with yes/no questions, often about the existence of something we are searching for. We ask "is this formula satisfiable?" before "how many satisfying assignments does it have?" We do the same with life matters when we ask, for instance,

Is there a resurrection?

Instead, let us ask the corresponding counting question, of the kind that tends to be more important to quantum computing:

How many resurrections are there?

If you are reading this, let's ask it specifically about you. Your choices are basically:

  1. Zero,
  2. One, or
  3. Many.

Many people have said that religion has been ginned up to avoid the "zero" answer. Just by knowledge of history, that is rather sad, you see.

However, there is no need for me to argue against the "zero" answer. Science as represented in this book is already making a fine job of that.

This book as written favors the "many" answer. There is, to be sure, a big difference between saying "many" and saying "one." But it is not the watershed divide from the "zero" answer and may come down to a matter of one interpretation or possibly another.

What we must do first is resolve between the answers "zero" and "many." They each stake a claim to being the scientific answer. The "many" answer in particular begins with a claim of necessity by extrapolation from currently well-supported scientific models. What it needs---and currently lacks---is its own evidence. Once we have resolved the landscape between these positions, then we can inquire how well the answer "one" fits it.

While we do this, we see that some of humanity's longest questions have made presumptions in their wording. Take the question,

Is there life after death?

The meaning of "after" must be qualified in light of relativity. A wider way to phrase the question is,

Is there more of me?

This means more than one local organism bounded by the years of birth and death. Another old question is,

Do we have free will?

It is already recognized by scientists that the motor for the answer may be the nature of the Big Bang---our creation---or a larger creation. So the question is touched first by science, and a general form that places science first is,

What kind of world do we live in?

A question whose answer may seem useless for science is,

Why is there something rather than nothing?

That question with its "why" inserts itself in front of any effort to explain how the cosmos arose. If we remove its "why" we just leave the obvious answer that there is something. Let us instead work on the question (as phrased by Robert Mann of the University of Waterloo),

Is there something rather than everything?

After tackling it, then we will have done enough diligence to prepend the "why."


It is not yet timely to write out everything to go into this essay. But for some of the body, see the middle section of my eulogy for my father, and my talk slides here.

Update, Easter 2013: I am drawing ideas from N.T. Wright's book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, currently being read and discussed in my faculty study group. For instance, Wright's view of the soul is similar to what I surmised in the eulogy. This will take time, and the operative rule is that other surmises cannot go here until they are applied.

Update, Easter 2015: I am intrigued to find scientific theoretical support for the above-expressed views on uniqueness in two recent books by the physicist Lee Smolin, Time Reborn and The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time. The latter is with the philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger; I have not started it yet. Meanwhile, a little story: After New Year's 2014, Debbie and I took up our church's suggestion of a Christian tradition for Epiphany that is analogous to a mezuzah in Judaism. This is chalking on one's front door "CMB" for Christus Mansionem Benedicat and the year. Later in January, my trip to IBM Watson happened to coincide with a visit by the cosmologist Paul Steinhardt, a leading critic of the eternal-inflation theory and its multiverse prediction, who confirmed to me that "inflation" theories without "eternal" seem not to be viable (see also this paper). Then came the heralded announcement in March seeming to confirm a prediction about gravity waves made by leading eternal-inflation theories. It was especially arresting for me to hear this video practically open with the words "It's 5-sigma" as an expression of confidence, since I'm responsible for the same kind of statistical input on cheating allegations in the chess world. So I joked to myself that the "CMB 2014" on our door also stood for "Cosmic Microwave Background: 2014 Discovery". However, like the chalk on our door, the confidence and the result has faded away to dust.

Update, Autumn 2015: Have not read Mangabeira-Smolin yet. Should mention a book by Leonard Susskind that will also figure large in the essay: The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. The thesis is that the multiverse ensemble of size on the rough order of 10^{500} given by the theory provides a natural explanation for the appearance of fine-tuning of our present universe, in that the fine-tuning prior odds are "only" of rough order 10^{-100}, which having 10^{500} cracks at the cherry swallows up into certainty. However, this thesis IMHO concedes that it is scientifically correct to regard the one universe we know as having some "English" on it, which in the absence of empirical support for such a multiverse is as far as we can robustly apprehend.

Update, Easter 2017: Still have not read Mangabeira-Smolin, but a nice book on the Fermi Paradox covers some related ground. So does the column by Ross Douthat in today's New York times, at the end:

"Finally, a brief word to the really hardened atheists: Oh, come on. Sure, all that beauty and ecstasy and astonishing mathematical order is because we're part of a multiverse or a simulation or something; that's the ticket. Sure, consciousness and free will are illusions, but human rights and gender identities are totally real. Sure, your flying spaghetti monster joke makes you a lot smarter than Aquinas, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King. Sure."
The points of this essay will be first to say how the multiverse compounds other problems besides the one of "astonishing order" it is purposed to solve, second, how the one-world view is more scientifically economical, and third, its alignment with Christianity is only "via negativa"---for the "positiva" we need to go back to the focus of the other three essays in this cycle.

Update, Easter 2019: I have made the introduction clearer and with some further statement of the plan of discourse. And Pentecost 2019: added three questions that change under this plan.

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