International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 170 5th March 2012


I. 'Of Metaphors, Metaphysics, and Math: A Mythology of Mechanisms' by James A. Coffman and Donald C. Mikulecky

II. 'The Anthropic Principle and the Multiverse' by Wolfgang Osterhage

III. 'Quantum Mechanics, Determinism, and Free Will' by Christopher Freire



The articles in this issue of Philosophy Pathways address the question of the place of the human subject within the current objective scientific world image. How are we to understand our subjective existence in relation to the concept of an external and inanimate material world governed by immutable laws? Is the description I have just given even true, or is it just an ideology we have come unquestioningly to accept?

James Coffman is a Biologist working at the Mountain Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Maine, USA. He is currently co-authoring a book with Donald Mikulecky of Virginia Commonwealth University, which describes how Homo Sapiens 'lost touch with reality while transforming the world'. Published here is a draft chapter, where the authors argue that the Baconian, mechanistic view of science as as an instrument which enables human beings to subdue nature is a mere metaphor whose credentials have become increasingly dubious.

Wolfgang Osterhage has a PhD in Nuclear Physics and is a qualified engineer in nuclear technology. More recently, he has worked as a business consultant and has written articles for Philosophy for Business. In his contribution, he raises the question whether the Anthropic principle -- according to which the very existence of conscious beings who are able to engage in science is no mere accident but somehow necessary -- is undermined by the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics which holds that 'our' universe is just one amongst countless millions of alternate universes that together constitute the 'multiverse'.

Christopher Freire is an undergraduate at Florida State University. His article looks at quantum mechanics from the point of view of the free will problem. Is it correct to say, as has often been claimed, that the indeterminist universe described by quantum mechanics allows room for human free will which a determinist universe does not? Freire elegantly shows that the truth of quantum mechanics is consistent with a determinist view of a universe as having only one possible future. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle only proves that we can never know which of the possible futures will be the case.

Geoffrey Klempner



In this essay we examine the historical trajectory of thought that led to the ascendancy of Reductionism: the widely held Western belief that causality can be adequately understood in terms of mechanisms elucidated by taking things apart. In doing so we consider how we use language to encode, interpret and communicate our perceptions. Our central concern is the problem of knowledge: how it relates to our world, and how it shapes our values.

Human beings are social creatures, and our unique consciousness is socially developed. Underpinning this development is mythology, as explored at length by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers in their television series The Power of Myth (Campbell 1991). Myths are well-known and often literally-interpreted stories that metaphorically describe human experience, establishing a framework for enculturation. The psychological development through which we each become cognizant of ourselves as mortal beings separate from the world, and of how we are supposed to deal with that uncomfortable fact of existence, is entrained linguistically via mythological narrative. In other words, we learn to think about ourselves and our relationship with the world through the stories we are told when we are growing up. Those cognitions are reinforced throughout our lives by the stories we tell ourselves and each other, stories that metaphorically resonate with those of our childhood.

In their book Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (2003) discuss the fundamental centrality of metaphor -- the use of one thing to describe another, completely different thing -- as a linguistic device for communicating experience and expressing self-awareness. It is hard to imagine how we could think or communicate about anything without using metaphors. To see this consider what you just read: to 'imagine' anything is to form an 'image'. But not a literal image; it is an analogue: we metaphorically 'see' things in our mind's 'eye'. But what we are describing here is completely different from literally seeing with our actual eyes.

If you are finding this difficult to 'grasp', you might say that it is 'beyond me', 'over my head', 'too deep' or 'hard to fathom'.

At some point in your life you may have had your 'heart broken'.

A hunch is a 'gut feeling'.

And so on. You get 'the picture'.

Metaphorical language is one of the two fundamental ways we encode our models of reality, and the primary way that we both conceive and communicate complex perceptions. In fact, many words with meanings that we take to be literal began as metaphors. For example, the word 'understand' originally meant to stand in the midst of (with 'under' having once had a 'broader' meaning than it does now), and its synonym 'comprehend' originally meant to completely catch hold of (com-, from complete, and -prehend, from the Latin prehendere, as in 'prehensile').

Most of our metaphor-based cognitions are not even conscious. When we make a decision, we may think we are consciously thinking things through, but more often than not what we are doing is rationalizing (that is, reflectively selecting bits and pieces of knowledge to support an argument for) a decision that we have already arrived at subconsciously. These subconscious decisions are rooted in the mythologies informing 'common sense' and the moral 'compass' through which we interpret experience.

Lakoff has written about how this guides our decision-making process in politics -- and more importantly, how it is exploited by savvy politicians and their backers (not to mention preachers and other influential public speakers). The idea, called 'framing', is that a specific, value-laden interpretation of an otherwise neutral perception is subconsciously constructed or 'framed' by metaphorically evocative language. The cognitive frames that each of us is endowed with are constructed during (and via) our psychological development. Indeed, conscious comprehension of anything requires the development of an appropriate cognitive frame, which depends on our upbringing -- our level of education, and what stories we were told (or have paid attention to). This explains why otherwise intelligent people will often deny scientific facts (such as evolution), and can be induced to vote against their best interests. It also explains why advertising is so effective (and lucrative).

Given that consciousness as we know it developed in concert with language and is intimately linked to the invention of metaphor, it is worth considering how, in the course of human evolution, this unique human faculty came to be. A theory that bears serious consideration is that of the late psychologist Julian Jaynes. In his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Jaynes proposed that metaphor-based cognition emerged quite recently in human evolution -- only ~3,000 years ago, about the time that Homer's Odyssey was written. Prior to that, as late even as the events recorded in the Iliad, human beings were un(self)consciously motivated, either by habit (in routine circumstances), or (in novel or stressful situations requiring decisions) by verbal commands generated in the right hemisphere of the brain that were received in the auditory center of the left hemisphere, and thus literally heard as voices, which were interpreted as coming from an external authority, i.e., a god. This 'bicameral mind' of ancestral humans, with its authoritarian auditory hallucinations, was similar to that of modern-day schizophrenics, and in this light the latter can be interpreted as an evolutionary atavism. The major difference between then and now was that hallucinogenic authorization was then the cultural norm, and hence not considered to be insane.

According to Jaynes, the historical breakdown of the bicameral mind, and the concomitant emergence of the metaphor-based consciousness that took its place, was catalyzed by the collapse of ancient civilizations -- whose hierarchical socio-cultural structures had developed around (and reflexively reinforced) the bicameral mind -- in the face of anthropogenic ecological crises, which caused widespread famine and hence cultural conflict attendant on mixing of displaced populations attending to different 'gods'. The breakdown is chronicled in ancient texts, including those of the Old Testament, which document the progressive silencing of the 'divine' voices and refinement, through writing, of metaphorical narrative as a new device for modeling experience and articulating a code of morality.

Thus the Judeo-Christian myth of the fall from grace, precipitated by Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, is for Jaynes a metaphor for the emergence of metaphor-based (self)-consciousness, which resulted in a loss of innocence. Consciousness underpins conscience, or at least our value-laden sense of personal responsibility. But how the latter developed clearly varied between cultures. Native American scholar Vine Deloria Jr. (2003) has pointed out that in the Protestant mythology adopted by Western Europeans, the fall affected not just humanity, but all of nature. In this myth humans are left with the thankless task of having to overcome and manage a debased (and shameful) nature. Eco-philosopher Freya Mathews (2003) argues that the cognitive strategy that develops to this end is repression, which is facilitated by Cartesian dualism (which we take up below).

The Native Americans (and other aboriginal or 'pagan' cultures) developed a different myth, in which human beings are viewed as part of (indeed owe their existence to) nature, which is celebrated. Thus, our current dysfunctional relationship with the natural world can be seen to extend from religious metaphors that repressively inform Western consciousness.

Although it remains controversial and in some ways problematic, Jaynes's theory deserves a fair reading given the undeniable connection between metaphorical language and human consciousness. But for present purposes it serves only as backdrop for three postulates: first, that human experience is communicated, and reality thus modeled, through metaphorical narrative; second, that this was not always true, because humanity, like everything else, evolved from precursors lacking in contemporary attributes; and third, that what is considered normal in one cultural context might well be considered 'insane' in another, perhaps more evolved context.

The other way we humans consciously model reality is using formal logic, as epitomized by math (Lakoff and Nunez 2000). Math is itself a language, but it is unique in its affordance of a precise way to quantitatively represent and encode abstract ideas describing the physical dimensions and properties of the world, and to subject those ideas to rigorous tests for logical consistency. It is a formal means of constructing chains of entailment. Math thus counterbalances with crisp precision the vagueness of metaphorical language (which unlike math is just as effective, through fiction and rhetoric, at creating fantasy or reinforcing delusion as it is at modeling reality). Some might even say that math (or more generally, formal logic) provides the universal test of truth: the one means we have of determining, with absolute certainty, whether imagined ideas about reality are true or false.

While this may or may not be true, it is true that some truths are axiomatic (true by definition, e.g., 1+1=2), which allows other less obvious truths to be proved mathematically. But Kurt Godel proved mathematically that some truths cannot be proved mathematically. That is, a formal system (such as math, or more generally language) cannot be both consistent (meaning it can't be used to prove that the same statement is both true and false) and complete (able to prove all its postulates and theorems). So, either some truths lay forever beyond our grasp to know with certainty, or math (and for that matter language) is not the only route to knowing truth.

Be that as it may, math certainly appears, by virtue of the wonders of engineering that it uniquely enables, to be the most powerful means we have at our disposal for elucidating universal truths, and its use has gotten us to where we are. In the following we will briefly trace the historical trajectory of that development, through some of its major figures, in order to set the stage for our argument, developed elsewhere (Coffman and Mikulecky, manuscript in preparation), that the Western way of knowing and hence shaping reality -- the way of Science, upon which our Global Economy is founded -- is seriously misleading.

Plato and Aristotle

The ascendancy of Western science began in Greece. Thanks to the curatorial scholarship of medieval Christian theologians during the 'dark ages' following the fall of Rome, which made possible the revival of classical culture during the European Renaissance, we in the Western world inherited our secular intellect from the ancient Greek philosophers, and in particular, from two towering figures: Plato and his student Aristotle. Through the metaphorically grounded metaphysics articulated in their extensive writings, both played a major role in creating the world as we know it.

Plato (428-348 BC) was centrally concerned with the nature of reality. The metaphysical dualism that polarizes philosophy to this day echoes Plato's conception that the concrete world of matter and the abstract world of ideas constitute two separate realities. For Plato truth was itself an idea, as were all the general attributes that allow us to categorize objects. The objects themselves were then imperfect manifestations of what became later known as 'Platonic ideals'. For example, a line in the sand (or anywhere else) is an imperfect manifestation of the idea of (i.e., the ideal) Line. The famous metaphor offered in The Republic (one of many used by Plato to dialogically articulate his philosophy) was that of the Cave. On the walls of the Cave in which we are chained (metaphorically representing the dependency of experience on our senses) we see shadows of objects, cast from behind us by the light outside. The shadows are what we interpret as reality. But the shadows are not the real objects, they are just images projected on our senses. The Reality that they represent is that of the eternal, changeless forms -- which include those that are elucidated mathematically -- that lie outside of our Cave of perception. We can refer to this as the Platonic principle of Ideal Forms.

With Plato we thus see a metaphysical rift between an 'external' world and the 'internal' world, a schism that vexes human consciousness to this day. The Platonic formulation of this duality, as articulated in the metaphor of the Cave, is the inverse of its modern formulation, in that the external 'real' world for Plato is composed of ideal forms whereas the internal world of experience is that of particular objects. Since for Plato ideal forms are more real than perceived objects, in his work we find an early expression of metaphysical idealism or rationalism.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) was also concerned with understanding and explaining the natural world, and like Plato he sought to elucidate universal principles by which the workings of the world can be rationalized. But unlike Plato, Aristotle believed that such principles can be found by studying their particular instantiations, as opposed to their ideal forms. He thus championed 'inductive' reasoning from observation of nature, in addition (and in contrast) to the 'deductive' reasoning from axiomatic first principles and formal logic (as in math) championed by his mentor. For Aristotle the world of the senses was real and instructive, and in his work we find the foundations of metaphysical realism or empiricism, the basis for Western science.

Among other things, Aristotle sought to articulate rational accounts of observed phenomena -- that is, he wanted to logically explain the causes of things. Aristotle recognized four distinct causal categories: material, efficient, formal, and final. Material cause is simply the substance of which something is made. Efficient cause is the action that that makes it happen. Formal cause is the set of circumstances that entrain its occurrence. And final cause is its purpose, the need that it fulfills. This is classically illustrated by a house: the material cause is the bricks, mortar, and other materials that are used in building; the efficient cause is the labor that goes in to putting those materials together; the formal cause is the design ('blueprint') that is being executed; and the final cause is the need for shelter. According to Aristotle all four categories are required to adequately explain any given phenomenon in nature. We can refer to this as the Aristotelian principle of Causation.

The mental abstraction of general 'principles', such as Ideal Forms and Causation, from specific things in the actual world -- a dichotomy, created by metaphorical and mathematical encoding in human language, that forces the perennially vexatious questions about the nature of reality to which we shall turn in moment -- was thus seminally expressed in the works of two of the principal architects of Western thought, Plato and Aristotle.

To begin to see how this linguistic way of knowing transformed the world we now turn to three influential thinkers of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment.

Bacon, Descartes and Newton

Francis Bacon (1561-1628) sought to systematize all knowledge. Toward that end he devised a 'rulebook' for natural philosophy that ultimately became known as the Scientific Method. For Bacon, the stated purpose of natural philosophy was to increase knowledge, and thus power. Knowledge of causes does that, because if you know the cause of something, you can devise ways to either make it happen, prevent it from happening, or shape it to your own ends. Of the four Aristotelian causal categories, Bacon considered only three -- material, efficient, and formal -- to be relevant to this purpose, because together they suffice to reveal how things work. For Bacon, final cause, the need that something fulfills -- the reason why it occurs -- is strictly a human concern and has no place in natural philosophy, because philosophy is not suited to gleaning God's purposes. That is the job of theology. And to this day, final cause, and indeed the question why, is generally not considered to be a legitimate concern of science.

Bacon did not invent the Scientific Method. Others, notably Alhazen, da Vinci, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, probably deserve more credit than he for that. But he played a major role in codifying the scientific approach to knowledge production, emphasizing the central role of empirical verification through experimental testing. Although he rejected Aristotelian final cause, he embraced Aristotelian empiricism with its inductive reasoning. He also recognized that, when it is left unchecked, knowledge is biased by subjectively irrational beliefs and prejudices, which he referred to as Idols. His approach sought to systematically eliminate the influence of Idols, in order to obtain a more impartial or 'objective' view of the world.

And in doing so, through his influence as a scholar, statesman and writer, he contributed significantly to the ongoing human objectification of reality. For Bacon, practical knowledge of the natural world, gained through study of its particulars, was valuable because of the power it granted: the power to control, to bend the world toward one's own will. One might say that the purpose (final cause) of Bacon's system of knowledge was to serve the selfish need we each have to control events. Toward that end, knowledge is most easily gained by manipulating and dissecting the world, which requires that we treat its inhabitants -- including other creatures, and even other human beings -- as objects.

Of course, bending the world toward one's own purposes is nothing new; nor is it by any stretch a uniquely human activity. It is a fact of life: all organisms do it, many of them violently. But only humans do it consciously and hence rationally. By removing final cause from consideration, Bacon's system of practical knowledge -- part of the foundation of the modern scientific industry -- further differentiated subject and object, a process that had begun with the development of human consciousness by way of metaphorical language and which became increasingly defined through metaphysical discourse. Through the metaphysics of Bacon, human beings became a bit less inclined to view the world and its inhabitants sympathetically as subjects in their own right, i.e. agents with ends of their own, and more inclined to view them as mere objects to be studied and manipulated for human-centric purposes. By rejecting final cause, Bacon contributed to the further development of ex post facto rationalization as a cognitive approach to dealing with the world, making it a bit easier to take without asking permission. Science became a means to dominate Nature, 'to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations'. In other words, science enabled rape of the earth.

Rene Descartes (1596-1650), a contemporary of Bacon whose rationalism (recalling Plato) complemented Bacon's empiricism (recalling Aristotle), further codified the schism between subjective self and objective other by declaring that mind (also known as soul, spirit, or in Greek, psyche) and matter (the body, or Greek soma) are fundamentally different things that just happen to come together within a human being. Non-human animals are supposedly not so fortunate, being but soulless bodies (without mind). The material body is solid and spatially extensive, whereas the immaterial mind is neither. But if the mind is not made of matter, how do we know it exists? Descartes answers confidently: cogito ergo sum -- I think, therefore I am. For Descartes this mental 'I' that obviously exists is not the body, it is the soul. Although it remains anyone's guess as to why body and soul must be different things, this infectious notion, which was first articulated and discussed at length by ancient Greek philosophers and according to Jaynes emerged concomitantly with the development of metaphor as a linguistic device between the time of the Iliad and Odyssey (allowing 'I' to be objectively conceived for the first time), thus became cemented into Western consciousness as Cartesian dualism.

It is instructive to view this metaphysical development in socio-political context. The Roman Catholic Inquisition was alive and well in Descartes' time, and in 1633 tried Galileo for heresy. Descartes was no fool. His separation of body and soul allowed him to placate the church with the assurance that science is only concerned with the body. So the church retained authority on the soul. This had much the same effect as Bacon's consignment of final cause to theology.

And thus was born a cognitive collusion between science and religion that has been instrumental in shaping our reality, for reasons that will become more apparent in the discussion that follows.

But dualism is not all that Descartes left us: for in cleanly separating mind from matter he helped advance the emerging reductionist notion that the living body -- and the material world in general -- is a machine. Ironically (given their divergent metaphysical positions) this too fits Bacon's agenda like a glove, meshing so well that one might be forgiven for wondering whether that fact alone can be taken as evidence for the veracity of this schizoid approach to being in the world.

Isaac Newton (1643-1727) sealed the deal with his masterpiece Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica: the mathematical principles of natural philosophy. Newton's three laws of motion, precisely articulated using the new calculus that Newton himself invented, allowed anyone with the requisite information and mathematical skill to predict the exact trajectories of interacting particles. The first law states that the inertia of a particle -- its mass times its velocity -- does not change unless the particle is acted on by an external force. The second law states that force equals mass times acceleration: F = ma, where acceleration 'a' is the temporal derivative of velocity, i.e., its rate of change with time. The third law states that for every action there is an equal, opposite, and co-linear reaction. Since anything that happens in the material world involves interaction between particular entities, Newton's laws of motion appeared to enable one to predict the future given sufficient knowledge of the present.

Newton was a devout if unorthodox believer; indeed, much of his life was devoted to the study of theology. He wrote Principia with the fervent belief that he was gaining insight into how God works. So it is ironic that his work gave a big boost to the secular humanism that had emerged in the Renaissance and gained momentum with the Enlightenment. Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827), the French mathematician whose monumental contributions rivaled and extended Newton's own, set the tone in his famous quip to Napoleon: when the emperor asked him why he had not mentioned God in his masterpiece on Celestial Mechanics, Laplace replied 'Sire, I had no need for that hypothesis.' God was no longer required to explain the day to day workings of nature, only its primordial inception.

Newton's deterministic laws and calculus, along with that developed independently by his contemporary Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), fit beautifully with the empiricist agenda of Bacon and the dualistic metaphysic of Descartes. And so was born the 'scientific' notion that any material occurrence can be fully attributed to a mechanistic cause. The universe, in this myth, is a machine, nothing more than clockwork: everything is mechanically predetermined, so free will is an illusion. All that is needed to predict what will happen forever into the future is knowledge of the positions and momentums of all particles -- knowledge equivalent to that held by an omniscient being, such as Newton's God, or Laplace's Demon.

With their combined metaphors, metaphysics, and math, Bacon, Descartes, and Newton succeeded in fully 'externalizing' the idea of causality. From this perspective it appears that the cause of something can be discovered by dissecting that thing into its component parts and figuring out how those parts interact with one another -- it is simply a matter of lawful action and reaction. In this view subjective agency is merely a bothersome bias, a nuisance that gets in the way of progress toward ever increasing knowledge. Gaining knowledge requires only that the world be parsed into subjective self and objective other. And since subjective self is usually reserved for 'me and those like me', it requires only a short step of ex post facto rationalization to move from 'knowledge is power' to 'might makes right'.

To be sure, numerous discoveries since the time of Newton and Laplace have placed thorns in the side of determinism and its methodological handmaiden reductionism: the second law of thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, and chaos theory all suggest that the world is fundamentally un-clocklike. But within the Baconian-Cartesian framework, such indeterminacy can always be rationalized as mere epistemological uncertainty, i.e., lack of sufficient knowledge: either we have not acquired enough empirical data, or our mental model is simply not large enough.

Lest we be misconstrued, the point of this discussion is not to be anti-science. On the contrary -- we need science, now more than ever. But science cannot succeed in its ostensive purpose of producing realistic knowledge without acknowledging and taking into account its cognitive limitations and metaphysical (metaphorically-based) assumptions. Otherwise it breeds hubris, which as anyone versed in Greek mythology or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein knows, leads to ruination. The point is that science, being a cognitive discourse, is as metaphorically bound as any other cognitive discourse.

Science is often thought of as being antagonistic to religion, because it undermines literal interpretations of religious metaphors. But as noted above, science and religion are really in cahoots: a deal, negotiated by the metaphysical pronouncements of Bacon and Descartes, that works to religion's advantage. Within the Baconian-Cartesian framework that still holds sway, science cannot possibly 'win' the ultimate existential argument, because mechanisms by definition require an external cause. The concepts of final cause and subjective mind, ceded to theology some 400 years ago, are essential for explanatory closure in the real world. If they are not brought in to our discourse on nature then any attempt to explain reality leads to infinite causal regress, which can be truncated only by invoking the supernatural.

And yet the belabored mythology of mechanisms lives on (Haken, Karlqvist and Svedin 1993). Remarkably, the scientific discipline that embraces it most tenaciously is (as anyone with an intuitive feel for life itself knows) the one for which it is least appropriate: biology. As a result, science has misconceived life, and continues to do so (Rosen 1985, 1991, 2000).


Campbell, J. with Moyers, B. (1991) The Power of Myth. Anchor, New York, NY.

Deloria, Vine Jr. (2003) God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, 30th Anniversary Edition. Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado.

Haken, H., Karlqvist, A, and Svedin, U (1993) The Machine as Metaphor and Tool, Springer-Verlag, New York, NY.

Jaynes, J. (1976) The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, MA.

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, B. B. (2003) Metaphors We Live By. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Lakoff, G. and Nunez, R. E. (2000) Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being. Basic Books, New York, NY.

Mathews, F. (2003) For Love of Matter: A Contemporary Panpsychism, SUNY Press, Albany, NY.

Rosen, R. (1985) Anticipatory Systems: Philosophical, Mathematical & Methodological Foundations. Pergamon Press, New York, NY.

Rosen, R. (1991) Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life. Columbia University Press, New York, NY.

Rosen, R. (2000) Essays on Life Itself. Columbia University Press, New York, NY.

(c) James A. Coffman and Donald C. Mikulecky 2012




1. Introduction

In recent discussions two rather vague concepts have taken the stage: the Anthropic Principle and the notion of the multiverse. Both have initially arisen from deficiencies in scientific theories trying to explain the world in a concise all encompassing physical theory, variously known under such acronyms as TOE (Theory Of Everything) or GUT (Grand Unifying Theory), the first trying to incorporate the four known natural forces or interactions: gravitation, electromagnetism, weak and strong force.

Whereas the advent of the Anthropic Principle can be traced back both to the breakdown of classical logic in the wake of quantum mechanics and the adherence to Copernican reasoning (the abandonment of anything central to human positioning in nature), the idea of the multiverse has been employed to reject the Anthropic Principle and to substantiate certain cosmological models otherwise lacking sufficient observable evidence to prove their theoretical foundations.

This paper first summarizes the reasoning behind the Anthropic Principle, the arguments brought forward for its rejection, than outlines the cosmological considerations for the invention of the multiverse, to finally contemplate the philosophical implications under the assumption of the existence of the multiverse in its various types of occurrence. It will be shown that even the assumption of a multiverse will finally lead back to some sort of pre-Copernican positioning.

2. Origin of the idea of the multiverse

The concept of the multiverse can be traced back to two scientific sources: quantum mechanical considerations to explain the superposition of many possible quantum states, and, derived thereof, the adaptation of the resulting worldview to the cosmological scale, thereby imposing a similar logic and at the same time trying to explain loopholes in the cosmological standard model.

The multiverse framework has further been put forward to ward off implications of the Anthropic Principle, which claims that observations we make are more or less strongly bound to our existence proper. Before we attend to the scientific argument itself we shall have a look at the Anthropic Principle itself.

2.1 The Anthropic Principle and arguments against it

There are a number of physical constants and observations outside of randomness, which lead to the suggestion that man still occupies a special place in the universe (neutron-proton mass difference, C-12 energy levels -- all designed to enable life and intelligent life in the world). The most important discussion points can be summarized under 'fine adjustment', necessary to facilitate life at all. Several answers to that may be suggested:

-- Since we are there and observe all this, the parameters just have to be like that; otherwise we would not exist to marvel about them.

-- Life is after all extremely improbable and something special.

-- The Universe has been created in such a way as to facilitate life.

-- All nonsense

Against this background the Anthropic Principle has been brought forward. In fact there are three versions:

The Weak Anthropic Principle:
     'The physical universe, which we observe, has a structure,
     which permits the existence of observers.'
The Strong Anthropic Principle:
     'The Universe concerning the laws that govern it and its
     special structure has to be such that it will generate an
     observer eventually.'
And finally the Final Anthropic Principle:
     'There must come into existence and evolve and exist
     forever intelligent, information managing life in the
Now there are a number of counter arguments to these. The first denies fine adjustment as being necessary for the existence of life, since life could be imagined on a basis different than carbon. Thus, if the universe would have a different make-up a different type of life would come into existence. However, this is highly speculative. There is no empirical basis for a different chemistry of life.

Another objection says: fine tuning will happen in any way. The rationale behind this: there is an infinity of cosmoses within a multiverse, which contains all possible laws, constants, boundary and initial conditions. Thus our cosmos has to exist with necessity, and there is nothing to be surprised about or to explain. This is the argument we will try to pursue in the following, even though the multiverse scenario is speculative and possibly non-verifiable, the idea thus being purely metaphysical.

2.1 Cosmological considerations

The first suggestion concerning the existence of a multiverse came from quantum physicists struggling with the problems of decoherence and measurement. When measuring a quantity the wave function describing the object collapses into a discrete state, and all possible other states initially superimposed upon each other suddenly vanish. Proponents of the multiverse, however, argue that this is only happening within the limited horizon of a single universe, whereas in reality all possible states continue to exist within the context of a multiverse, consisting of an infinite number of universes. So, everything that could happen in fact really happens indeed.

Later these ideas have been taken up by cosmologists to help understand the anisotropic structure of our universe, its initial state, missing dark matter etc. Within this context several types of a multiverse are thinkable: a cyclic one, in which big bang is followed by big crunch followed by another big bang and so on. Another version comprises indeed the existence of an infinite number of universes in parallel. Part of the theory has been picked up by the proponents of the string theory trying to unify all forces of nature in a multidimensional manifold.

3. Philosophical implications

If we assume, that our universe exists an infinite number of times, then every person should also exists infinitely often (I will not delve into the problem of consciousness).

Proceeding along this line, this means, that every possible decision node, which is bound to appear during the lifetime of a person (or any other living being for that matter), which may then lead to all possible variations of the path of life, will in fact be resolved through all possible options. For example: yesterday someone decided to take the direction to the left at a crossroad. Today the same person cannot undo that decision. But in the multiverse his homologue goes to the right at the same moment and opens up a new branch of his path of life, which from then on will proceed completely differently with respect to the one which was up to then identical with the first person's one. In a multiverse all possible options in life will be run through eventually -- and this for an infinite number of times.

The multiverse is a thought construct, which has a certain philosophical appeal. While this author is writing these lines he in fact does it infinitely often at the same time but also at different times. But his consciousness belongs only to him. Or does it, because ones consciousness appears infinitely often as well? Now we are full circle: phenomenologically it is irrelevant, if someone exists only once or infinitely often and in congruence. The multiverse is no instrument to confute the Anthropic Principle.

As it is man describes the world, which he observes with his senses in two directions: contemplating the higher dimensions of the cosmos he employs relativity. Looking downward to the microcosmos he is served by quantum mechanics. Both theories are as of today not compatible. It looks as if this discrepancy can only be explained by a new anthropocentric position. Otherwise it would appear that either man serves as an interface between quantum theory and relativity purely by chance or the cosmic blueprint has been tailor made just for mankind. The present day description of the cosmos thus is just a human product -- embedded into the physiological boundaries of the capabilities of man's brain.

Somewhere at a random position in cosmic dimensions the physics of the universe seems to split itself up: and just at that position man appears! -- It is probably rather such that there, where man appears, he is just capable to describe the world of the very large and the very small with those building blocks at his proper disposal: our image of the cosmos is a product of spiritual anthropocentrism. To bridge the gap he invents the multiverse.

4. Scientific Rejection

There are seven major, but highly questionable arguments in favour of a multiverse theory, but rejected by most scientists:

(1) Space has no limit, but we can only observe it up to a certain horizon, because of the finite speed of light. However, there is no reason to extrapolate, that there exist different types of physics out there.

(2) Certain field theories predict the multiplication of universes. However, the existence of such fields has never been verified by experiment.

(3) Local variations of the cosmic background radiation suggest the production of bubble universes at an early stage. However, the type of inflation depends strongly on assumptions about the variables involved.

(4) Physics is the same in all possible universes, only the natural constants vary. This would render the Anthropic Principle useless and explain the amount of dark matter in our universe. However, this does not follow directly from the multiverse theory itself.

(5) Argument (4) enhanced by probability considerations. It still does not explain our existence, since probabilities do not make sense in a multiverse (everything will happen).

(6) String theoretical considerations (the string theory tries to unify all known forces in nature). String theory has not passed observational and experimental test yet.

(7) All possible variations of physical and mathematical laws exist somewhere one way or another. Our universe is just such a chance construct. Within our limits we will never have a chance to observe any of the other constructs.

4. Conclusions

The concept of the multiverse is a highly speculative one. It neither refutes the Anthropic Principle nor is it universally accepted in scientific circles. However: never say never! Science history is full of examples, predicting impossibilities. Even during the nineteenth century, people were dismissing the idea of speculating on the substance of fixed stars. The argument was that man would never be in a position to verify this. Spectral analysis has proven the opposite. Even in the first half of the twentieth century teachers were telling their pupils that there would never be a rocket capable of escaping the earth's gravity, since the amount of propellant necessary would be too heavy for lift off. We all know what happened later. Thus the observability of the multiverse or subsets thereof seems to be impossible in view of our current means. But those may be enhanced in ways that we cannot predict. However, this does not mean that it will definitely happen either. The future may even lead to the negative conclusion: that it really was just an idea with no correspondence to reality.

(c) Wolfgang Osterhage 2012





Quantum mechanics is the study of subatomic particles. Upon the discovery that quantum particles operate on a probabilistic, almost random framework rather than according to rigid deterministic physical laws, many philosophers began to propose that this allows for an indeterministic world and the existence of free will. I will argue against this by establishing that quantum mechanics does not provide any argument for indeterminism or for the existence of freewill. In order for indeterminism to be true, there must be more than one way for the world to possibly exist.

But quantum mechanics does not suggest that there is more than one way for the world to exist. Quantum mechanics simply illustrates that the behavior of subatomic particles can only be understood in a probabilistic framework. From time A to time B, there was only one way in which the quantum particle did behave, regardless of whether we could predict it or not. Even if we accepted that quantum mechanics proved indeterminism, this would not provide us with a good reason to believe that freewill exists. In order for an action to be considered free, it must be caused by the will of the agent. Quantum mechanics can only suggest that actions are caused probabilistically, regardless of what the agent wills. The agent does not choose the behavior of quantum particles, and therefore does not choose his own actions.

Quantum mechanics and and free will

Quantum mechanics is the latest subfield in physics. Quantum research has only recently been possible due to technological innovations that allow scientists to observe the behavior of subatomic, ultra microscopic particles. While Einstein's relativity is the physics of the extremely large, quantum mechanics is the physics of the extremely small. Quantum mechanics can be summarized with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. The uncertainty principle states that it is not possible to simultaneously know the speed and direction of a particle at any given time. This means that it is impossible to predict the behavior of quantum particles. For example, an electron can be moving in one direction and then change directions, change velocities, or even disappear for no apparent reason. This is clearly different from other subfields of physics such as Newtonian physics or Einstein's physics which seem to have organized, deterministic laws. For this reason, many philosophers believe that since indeterministic quantum particles constitute the entirety of the universe, the entire universe is not deterministic, and this in turn will allow for freewill.

Determinism is the view that the laws of nature are such that knowing every fact at one time, will be able to predict every fact in any later time. For example, many philosophers believe that if you drop a glass cup on the floor, and you know the exact velocity, density, etc, you can predict the exact location of every shard of glass after the fall. This deterministic view of nature is often used as an argument against the existence of freewill. Free will is the idea that the agent (person) is the cause of their own actions, thoughts and volitions. But since we are also subject to the laws of nature just like the glass is, and the world is deterministic, then all of our actions, beliefs, thoughts, and volitions were determined long before we were even born. Many people use quantum mechanics to argue against determinism, and argue for freewill. I will seek to establish that quantum mechanics is not a sufficient nor relevant consideration in the discussion of determinism or freewill.

Quantum mechanics as a determinism

The argument against determinism from quantum mechanics goes as follows: Quantum mechanics clearly shows with empirical evidence that quantum particles do not operate on any deterministic or even sensibly predictable physical laws. The entirety of existence is made out of quantum particles. Therefore, the entirety of existence is indeterministic. This argument is very rhetorically powerful, and on first glance, seems equally intuitively plausible. However, upon careful logical scrutiny, the argument does not hold.

I will begin by carefully examining quantum physics as it is relevant to determinism. Quantum mechanics shows us that our common conceptions of physical laws do not apply to subatomic particles. Mathematics as we commonly know it simply does not work when attempting to explain and predict the behavior of these quantum particles. But isn't it possible that our inability to apply rigid deterministic laws is a deficiency in our understanding of mathematics and physics? Perhaps we are simply unable to understand the complex behavior of these particles in the same way your pet Golden Retriever is unable to understand calculus. Perhaps we are cognitively closed to the behavior of subatomic particles. The idea of cognitive closure states that as finite intelligences, we are unable to understand some things. Like a dog is cognitively closed to the principles of complex mathematics, we are also cognitively closed to some knowledge.

So maybe it's not that quantum mechanics is unpredictable, maybe it's just the case that we as human beings cannot predict it. After a century of quantum research and countless brilliant minds seeking to understand the behavior of subatomic particles, the closest we have gotten is with probabilistic equations. So although we cannot predict exactly where an electron will go when it disappears, we can give a probabilistic framework that says where it might go.

Let's now assume that we are not cognitively closed to quantum mechanics, but rather it is indeed the case that quantum particles do not obey any deterministic physical laws. Let us make the grand assumption that quantum mechanics is undoubtedly indeterministic. Does it necessarily follow that the universe as a whole is indeterministic? Must it be the case that all the laws of nature are equally indeterministic? I must admit that it seems to follow that the whole is the sum of its parts. That is, if the fundamental building blocks of all of existence are indeterministic, shouldn't all of existence be indeterministic as well?

Well, to properly answer this we need to examine our basic understanding of existence itself. I'm sure no sane person can deny that there is a difference in the concepts of past, present, and future. Past is what happened before the present, and future is what will happen after the present. I am equally confident that no one (aside from a few skeptics) will deny that there in fact exists this distinction between past, present, and future. Quantum mechanics states that given some information in the present it is not possible to predict the behavior of some particle in the future. But just because we cannot predict it, does not mean that the particle will behave a certain way. It is certain that a particle will behave a certain way, regardless of whether we can predict it or not.

Let me clarify this with a brief thought experiment. Imagine we are observing electron E at location L1 at time T1 (present time). We are attempting to predict where E will be at time T2. At time T2, E is at location L2. Following our failed prediction, we conclude that it was impossible to predict the location of E at time T2. But this does not mean that E was not determined to move from L1 to L2, this just means then we are not able to predict this from time T1. But at a later time, time T3 (after time T2), we observed that E did in fact move from L1 to L2, in corresponding times T1 and T2. Remember the behavior of E, is not dependent on our observation. There is a matter of fact about where E is, and where E will be. There is a corresponding location for each time. That is, L1 corresponds to T1, L2 corresponds to T2, and L3 will surely correspond to T3, and so on. So the problem is not with the behavior of quantum particles, it is with our inability to predict the behavior of quantum particles. At time T3, E will be at L3. Whether or not we accurately predict exactly where L3 is, is irrelevant. If we had a database that recorded the location of E at every moment in time, there would be one location of E for every one moment in time (L1=T1, L2=T2... L32=T32, etc). This is not possible to doubt, this is not a matter of debate, this is a logically necessary fact.

The definition of determinism is not dependent on the accuracy of our predictions. Determinism is a thesis for the laws of nature, and as we all know, the laws of nature exist independent from our understanding of them. So since there is a matter of fact about how the electron will behave (regardless of our ability to predict the behavior), we can say that quantum mechanics is determined. In order for determinism to be, there must be only be one way for events to unfold. Since our linear conception of time only allows for one past, and one present, there will surely only be one future, even if this future seems uncertain. In summary, quantum particles can in fact only behave in one way due to the linearity of time.

Quantum Objections

One interpretation of quantum mechanics states that since there are almost an infinite amount of possibilities for the way a quantum particle can behave, there is an alternate reality for each of these quantum particles' behaviors. This is called the 'Many Worlds' interpretation of quantum physics. This means that for every passing moment there are an innumerable amount of new, different worlds where quantum particles behave in slightly different, or drastically different ways. This is all theoretical, but let's assume that this theory is true for the sake of the objection. The objection would then be that there is not just one way that the laws of nature can unfold, in fact there would be an innumerable amount of ways for the laws of nature to unfold. So if there is more than one way for the laws of nature to unfold, then the universe would not be deterministic.

But this objection would not be sufficient to prove that the world in indeterministic. This is because of the linearity of our own universe. So even if it were the case that there are an innumerable amount of possible worlds, there is still only one way for the actual world to exist. There is only one way for our universe to exist. A mere possibility for separate theoretical parallel dimensions does not make any claim to the existence of this universe. So even if it is possible for electron E to be at location L4 instead of L2 at time T2, there is only one location that E will exist at. Quantum Mechanics does not only not suffice as an argument for indeterminism, it can even be interpreted as an argument for determinism.

(c) Christopher Freire 2012


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020