Friday, October 12, 2007

The Naysaying of Woo #1: Timey Wimey Ball

Welcome to what is the first edition of what may become a series. Woos recklessly throw around "naysayer" and similar words, as if they were really that applicable to skeptics. I should probably make a Doggerel entry on that word, sometime.

Anyway, I'm going to spend posts like this explaining the cynical side of woos I encounter. Forgive me for not linking, but this example came from a JREF thread a year or two ago, but it probably won't be hard to find a similar woo.

The topic: First causes versus causality loops.

I've got a lot of sci-fi fans, so they'll probably know quite well what I'm talking about with causality loops. In Treknobabble, it's called a predestination paradox: A causes B causes C causes A.

Anyway, I bring this up, because I bumped into a theist woo who said that there are no alternatives to a First Cause being God: It's impossible for the universe to be different than his anthropocentric expectations. Many of you probably know many right off hand: Infinite regress, an acausal universe (without a cause), etcetera. I'll leave it up to the guys who study branes, super strings, and rarefied luminous spaghetti fired through a REALLY big particle accelerator to figure out what evidence to look for to settle the issue. Anyway, he objected to all of these, including my suggestion that the universe might be self-causing.

He claimed that such a causality loop would require a deity to jump start it. Star Trek and Doctor Who may rock, but I'm not about to subscribe to their temporal mechanics in the real world. Let's look at how my suggested loop works:

A is caused by C.
B is caused by A.
C is caused by B.

Each event has a cause that's already accounted for. There's no need for anything outside. If something from outside did cause the loop, it seems to me that it wouldn't really be a loop.

As The Doctor said, accurately, "People think of time as a strict progression from cause to effect..." (Though, admittedly, the rest of that statement could be seen as a handwave of unanticipated paradoxes and continuity breaks in the series) That's where the problem lies: This woo was substituting everyday thinking, rather than the necessary creative thinking science requires when you get that far afield. Time has all sorts of potential for unintuitive tangles, and we haven't even researched it that much. We've already shown the world that 'common sense' doesn't necessarily apply. That's where all the weirdness of relativity and quantum mechanics come in. Science lead us to those, not closed-minded woo. Scientists may balk slightly at the absurd, but if the evidence comes in favoring the absurd, we can accept that we live in a universe that allows absurdities. We aren't so arrogant to assume that the universe must always live up to expectations or first impressions.

Woos, on the other hand, seem to have a hard time accepting that the universe isn't ruled by their expectations, like the example above, where the woo couldn't break out of everyday linear thinking. I could go on, but I think I'll save more for later examples that I will link to.


Anonymous said...

I'll be honest, the big problem I had with Trek was they had like 5 different ways for time to work, each mutually exclusive, running concurrently.

So like in one episode time could be altered by going back (hence temporal prime directive), but in another time was fatalistic and all loops had to follow their course and could not be changed, hence they picked up Data's head in the future, and in yet another time travel just created alternate realities. I know the point of Trek was to explore these as possibilities, but it sorta screws up the idea of any storyline consistancy.

Bronze Dog said...

True. One thing I made a note of in a D&D campaign setting was to write down how time travel works if someone managed to accomplish travel into the past. Mostly for the sake of standardization and allowing PCs to do something to fix timeline changes.

Anonymous said...

The simplest way for time travel to work that I've seen is using a multiverse, where every possible action is taken and splits off into a different universe. Using that scenario, there's no true "time travel", just going to similar universes which started earlier or later. That way, there's no problem with causality, but there's also no way to "fix" a timeline, and the best you can do is create a corrected offshoot of the messed-up universe.

I've no clue how causality could be maintained with time travel in a single universe.

The Factician said...

Pharyngula started a mutating blog meme that got my attention (it's a good one). I don't generally do memes, but today I made an exception. As a regular reader of your blog, I decided to tag you to continue the meme. Don't let it go extinct.


Lifewish said...

My suspicion is that, viewed from the outside, the universe doesn't actually exist. All that "really" exists is an equation describing the universe's behaviour at the lowest level.

Running this equation on a big computer would of course create a Matrix-style "pocket universe". However, even without a computer there to actually run the thing, the behaviour of the entities in the generated universe is predetermined. So, even sans computer, they can be said to exist relative to each other. And that's us.

A natural consequence is that speculating about what "caused" the universe is rather silly. Nothing caused it because it only exists when viewed from the inside.

AFAICT, the only loose end this approach leaves is: whence mathematics? Still haven't cracked that one.

Any thoughts/flames/requests for elaboration/etc?