Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Causality Buffet

Good evening and welcome to the Universe Café! My name is Jonathan and I will be your waiter tonight. We are very glad that you chose our universe for your dining experience tonight.

If you look ahead through the dining room you will see that we have two lovely buffets this evening. To your left is what we like to call our causality buffet. All items are lovingly crafted of choice ingredients handpicked, specially engineered and, indeed, created ex nihilo by an Active Agent, sometimes called the Higher Power chef, Prime Mover primal, Universal Life Force or just plain ‘God’ for short. You can see Him at the end of the buffet carving the roast Karma on the Wheel of Fortune. Please don’t ask the chef where He came from. We did that once and He expanded into an infinite series of causes, each one more deterministic and less free than the last. We decided to just collapse them all into One Uncaused Causality and leave it at that.

On your right we have our random buffet. No causal agents were harmed in the making of these foodstuffs, or invoked at all, for that matter. All ingredients are mindlessly crafted and blindly assembled due to chance alone. You can clearly see our random mutation mutton, roll of the dice roulades and accidental salad under the glow of the blind watchmaker’s wall clock. No fates decide what you eat at this luck of the draw luncheon!

But don’t bother taking too long deciding which buffet to pick. They are both the same thing.

Why, you say? Surely a willful agent, a God if you will, would do a better job at creating meaningful dishes than blind chance, but it really comes down to one simple question: “If God created the buffet, who created God?” The usual response from people who speak for causality is that God was not created, He has always existed. He is eternal. That is one of His divine attributes. You know what I'm talking about, the ‘omnis’: Omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. That is: All powerful, ever present and all knowing.

But of course that was not the question. We are not asking, “What are the attributes of God,” but, “Why does He exist at all?” The answer is usually something like, “He just is. He is his own reason to exist. God is the great ‘I am’ which is the precursor of existence, the prime mover, the underpinning of everything else, etc.”

That is very poetic, but it raises another question: What do we call something that ‘just is’ with no reason to be? We call it a random event. God is the product of chance. He is an accident. The fact that God exists at all is causally connected to chance. He just is, which means we can imagine a universe in which he just isn’t. So instead of the causal buffet being the product of chance, the cause of the casual buffet is itself the product of chance. We have just taken the question and pushed it further up. Instead of, “Why is the buffet here?” we say, “God did it.” But why is God here? There is no answer to that question, which means the existence of God is just as likely as the non existence of God. Either one could have happened. After all, why does anything exist? Why space and time, matter and energy, mathematics and physics, or God, for that matter? Why does anything exist at all? Why are there any buffets, causal or otherwise? Why not nothing?

Chance, that’s all.

Furthermore, if God does exist, then He must be the most pitiable creature in existence. Getting back to the attributes of God, the ‘omnis,’ there is one that is most disturbing. We are told that God is omniscient. He is all knowing. God knows everything, every single thing in the universe or any other universe. God knew, trillions of years before it happened, that He would create the causal buffet and that the chafing dish called ‘earth’ would go astray. The Adam and Eve soufflé would fall. And every single event in the evolution of this universe over the past 13 billion years was already common knowledge to God for an infinite amount of time before it happened. Every event, every choice, every roll of the dice, every mental struggle and tough choice, every artistic endeavor, every creative genius struggling with his own demons and straining to hear the whisper of his own muses for that one vibration of inspiration, every single thing that ever was, is or will be is common knowledge to God in the omnipresence of his omniscient mind.

There is no changing God’s mind. God cannot think better of something; He can’t make a decision or allow himself to be persuaded to a different course. Nothing surprises Him. Long before Abraham bargained with God, God knew exactly what the outcome would be. God can’t be shocked or taken by surprise; He can’t exercise creativity or make mistakes. He can’t look forward to something and be delighted at an unexpected outcome. He doesn't mull things over and make a decision. There are no unexpected events in the mind of God. If more universes will exist after this one burns itself out, God is already aware of them. If universes have existed for ever in the past, God is aware of them, too. God can’t ‘decide’ to do anything. He already knows everything He will do as if it’s done already. The buffet is already finished, soup to nuts.

If universes consist of trillions and trillions of seemingly random events and if God has actually predestined each and every one of them, then He has been aware of all of them forever, too. For that matter, if trillions and trillions of seemingly random events are indeed random, God is already aware of how they will turn out even if He had no part in any of them. To God, every event is eternally Now. He is equally aware of and intimate with everything.

God’s existence is utterly boring.

In short, God is incapable of doing anything. He is merely a passive consciousness eternally aware of everything but incapable of influencing anything. He is locked, trapped, incapable of motion, turning or changing, utterly immobile, a statue standing in His own temple carved from the marble of all events everywhere. It never began and it will never end. In short, God is an absurdity. Either this, or God caused everything everywhere at all times and places, like a painter who created his entire catalog of work in an instant. In this case there is no free will. God is the artist who paints time and space and utterly controls every detail. The causal buffet was not created by God. It IS God. And so are we.

And the alternative? Let us consider the right buffet. That would be the random buffet. All things there, from the chafing dishes to the soufflés to the steam tables and heat lamps themselves are all the product of chance. The buffet just happened to spontaneously leap into existence all at once with no plan or pattern, no exercise of will or intelligent decision. Absurd? No more than the absurdity of God. Unlikely? Also, no more unlikely than the existence of God.

Consider this simple statement: Our universe exists. I think we can all agree on that. This fact means that there is a chance that our universe can exist. This seems pretty obvious but it is critical. We know that the chance of a universe like ours existing is greater than zero. Why? Well, because here we are. Our universe exists, so, therefore, before our universe existed there was a chance that our universe could exist. Even if you insist on a creator, we can still say that the chance of our universe existing is greater than zero in that there was a chance that the Creator would create this universe. So, what chance? We can imagine that the chance of our universe existing is quite small, on the order of a decimal point, followed by a mind numbing number of zeroes and then a one (0.0000…….000001, with the …… being lots and lots of 0’s... More than that... Yup, even more than that... OK. Well, maybe a trillion more... That will do for now.) This is a very small number, indeed, and a very slight, slight, slight chance. Still, it is greater than zero. The chance of our universe existing is ever so slightly greater than zero, but it is non-zero. That’s the key.

This means that eventually, based on chance alone, a universe like ours must exist. In other words, given enough time the chance rises to one hundred percent. (I understand that time itself may have come into existence along with the universe and may cease to exist with its demise. Still, it is safe to say that the chance of a thing existing must exist ‘before’ the thing itself existed. ‘Before’ here means simply ‘outside of’ or ‘independent of.’ Chance, in other words, takes the place of God. Chance is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.)

So for instance, suppose that there is a one percent chance of having a 1938 type of hurricane in the U.S. northeast, where I live. In any given year the chance of such an event is small; one in a hundred. But after a hundred years it becomes a certainty. The chance of a hurricane of that magnitude in any given year is small, but the chance of one happening in any given century is certain. Chance eventually becomes certainty. Either there is a zero chance of something happening, or it will happen an infinite number of times. There is no in between.

Or to put it another way, given infinite time, anything that can happen will happen, and it will happen an infinite number of times. It’s somewhat like a chess board where two players are randomly moving the pieces. As long as they follow the rules of chess eventually they will play every possible game of chess, even though they may be unaware of anything other than the rules governing each piece. Every possible game ever played will be played. This would be true if the players were replaced by robots that were only programmed with the rules of the game and had no consciousness at all. Simply through chance, every possible chess game would be played over and over again.

So, from statistics alone, every universe that hypothetically can happen and every event that hypothetically can happen must happen eventually, and since there is no end to eternity, they will keep repeating over and over again. This universe has existed before and it will exist again. Every other universe has existed before and will exist again. Every variation of every possible universe must exist over and over again infinitely. Universes are broken records that never stop replaying themselves.

The world with God is absurd. And so is the world without God.

Both buffets are absurd here in the Universe Café. Are you ready to be seated?


Randy Chunga said...

I REALLY enjoyed this read. I admire the thinking presented in your argument. You should really push this idea out there, I think it has a lot of merit.

I've been thinking a lot about the probability space of all universes and things in existence, but I could never quite figure out why that space was available in the first place. But this gives an interesting reason for it to exist: simply, because given infinite "time," chance would have it so that anything would come into existence at some point.

Now, my only question is, how does the concept of chance exist? Is that concept not something that it itself must come into existence for it to occur?

Jon said...

Thanks for your comments.

I guess chance just takes the place of god. Chance is the thing that just is. Natural selection is based on chance. (Random mutation is just another word for chance.) The law of entropy is based on chance. The reason systems evolve from a more organized state to a less organized state is because there are vastly more ‘less organized’ states available than there are ‘more organized’ states in the next instant. Whenever I read someone talking about entropy they always add the caveat that there is a 'chance' that all of the air molecules in a room will suddenly split out into a warm side and a cold side, but that it is unlikely. That means that at every moment of the universe’s existence, there are a huge amount of possible next states. Most of these, buy a huge margin, are more chaotic. So if the universe evolves purely by chance, then each step will be increasingly chaotic.

Except for those chance times when it is not. The biggest of these we we call ‘big bangs.’

The Prophet Bob said...

"Chance eventually becomes certainty. Either there is a zero chance of something happening, or it will happen an infinite number of times."

That would be true, except that chance is a fiction. It's a way of predicting the future, a guess. Whatever happens will happen, and the chance of that is, outside of the perspective that calculated the chance, meaningless. If something happens, there has always been a 100% chance of it happening; otherwise there's a 0% chance.

Also, "The fact that God exists at all is causally connected to chance. He just is, which means we can imagine a universe in which he just isn’t." -- if god created the universe out of himself, this wouldn't hold true. As it is, I think the problem really lies with this idea of creation -- there is not one documented case of anything ever being created. The defining lines between things, and things and not-things, are a phenomenon of perception. A lot of this article presumes a certain narrative to reality that would appear to exist only in the minds of men.

Jon said...

Bob, thank you for your comments. Very insightful.

I ‘m not sure how you can say that chance does not exist. It sounds semantic, but once a thing happens, it happened with a certainty. Out of the near infinite other possibilities, this is the one that chanced to happen, ergo, it was the only one that could have happened? Rather Calvinistic, don’t you think? But it does come down to an interesting paradox: If the universe is driven by chance, then in no way do we sentient beings have any control over anything in it. If, on the other hand, the universe is deterministic, then in no way do we sentient beings have any control over anything in it! Kind of like ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ by Twain. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t… Oh, what the heck, just plain damned. People have been puzzling this conundrum since recorded history began.

Not sure about creation never having been observed. I believe physicists have observed quantum fluctuation, which is matter spontaneously popping into existence and then out again. This is how black holes evaporate. Given enough time (or whatever dimension exists when nothing else does) eventually the chance of an explosion of quantum energy in a singularity, what we call a big bang, will reach 100%. But of course, that is true of any other possible configuration of matter and energy, space and time. The state space of all possible universes must be high, indeed. There are undoubtedly other universes out there which are the products of other big bangs from other random arrangements with other initial states and evolving along other chance paths. I say this with certainty because, if one exists, then others must exist, as well. Like you said: 0% or 100%. Is this what you meant about chance being a fiction? Everything that can happen will happen, and it will happen an infinite number of times, like a broken record. God, then, is merely a big bang machine, spitting out various universes like some omnipotent Roman candle. Like I said in the essay, he has no choice in the matter. He’s a blind deterministic process at best, a sentient deterministic process at worst. It seems that god suffers the same conundrum as us.

As far as this all being a question of human perception. No argument there. Of course we are talking about things as we perceive them. Is there anything else we can talk about? If your ultimate point is: We just don’t know, then fine. I feel pretty much the same and remain agnostic, myself. Agnostic with a liberal dose of skepticism. If, however, you wish to talk about things outside ourselves, then we have to talk in concrete terms with certain assumptions. Assumptions such as: There is a universe out there that we can talk about.


Eric Thurston said...

Hi Jon.
Seems to me that the random thing smacks of Newtonian physics as in the 'billiard ball universe.' I thought we left that behind a century ago, philosophically at least.

I don't think there really is such a thing as random. After all, the basic particles of the universe have 'affinities' if you will. The electron 'wants' a proton and so on. I would draw a distinction between 'chance' and 'random' in that we can expect certain types of behavior from the 'stuff' of the universe (including our sentient selves) but we cannot predict the specifics, i.e. there exists, in our perceptions at least, a chance that this may happen or that may happen.

If I were to define a deity, just for the heck of it, it would be, to borrow from Arundhati Roy, the God of Small Things. In fact the god of the smallest things.

I've always thought that the free-will/determinism argument was pretty much moot, or at least irrelevant to our existence. In fact I also think that the question of the existence of God is irrelevant.

One of the best books I've read so far on life, the universe and everything is 'Into the Cool' by Dorian Sagan and Eric Schneider. I think it is brilliant in explaining the role of energy in the evolution of the universe and the development of life. The only quibble I have is that I think they got their basic metaphor backwards. They say 'Nature abhors an energy gradient' in explaining how energy gradients are 'disappeared' by whatever natural phenomenon happens to be in a position to take advantage of it. I would say that 'Nature loves an energy gradient' because it is what Nature thrives on.

I'm rambling now. Gotta go. I enjoy your blog.

Eric Thurston