Re: The Next Century's Great Discovery

Eric Watt Forste (
Mon, 28 Jul 1997 15:44:41 -0700

Hal Finney writes:
> The essential mystery will remain: are there infinite universes,
> most of which have no life? Is there just one, and somehow it was
> created in the preferred state where life can evolve? I think
> there is a substantial issue here even accepting the AP.

You're right. Two and a half millenia ago, the Buddha's answers
to these questions was to refrain from answering them, and to point
out that they are profitless. In a few more decades or centuries,
though, they may become very practical questions indeed. (At the
moment, I still find myself trapped in a gravity well, which is
perhaps the real reason why I found the AP a "good enough" answer
to allow me to move on to other questions.)

The problem is that whenever I try to think really hard about
multiple universes devoid of life, whether or not they exist, and
what to do about them, I always get distracted by thoughts of
multiple celestial bodies, which certainly exist and are certainly
devoid of life (some of them, anyway), and what to do about them.
Also I read too much Hume and Nietzsche when I was young enough to
be impressionable (gullible?) and so metaphysics makes me more
nervous than other areas of philosophical inquiry do. I tend to
think of metaphysics as a scratchpad theoretical area of the brain
where people keep their "overarching" paradigms. Everyone has
these, including me, and most of them are not worth much. (I think
all theories are fallible, but metaphyscial theories even more so
than usual.) The useful paradigms are usually more concrete, and
have specific areas of applicability and inapplicability that we've
learned to recognize. Metaphysical paradigms are supposed to
encompass everything; I don't know if ape brains are capable of
hosting computational structures that can encompass everything.
Perhaps they are, perhaps not: if the latter, then probably we
can become something better than ape brains in a little while

What keeps metaphysics interesting to me is the fuzziness of its
boundary with neighboring subjects. In fact, Tipler and Barrow
did a lot to make these sorts of questions more interesting to me
just by yanking them out of the heart of metaphysics and dragging
them over to the boundary area with mathematical cosmology. Perhaps
the real philosophers will shake their heads knowingly, but I just
can't get into Nozick's and Heidegger's long rambles about why
there is something rather than nothing. I'm not really sure what
the paying market is for such works. Reading that sort of thing
always leaves me feeling that I might just as well be counting a
rosary or spinning a prayer wheel.

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++ expectation foils perception -pcd