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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Design or Chance Session One: One universe or many?

I don't know how many of the people who will be taking the Design or Chance? course at 100 Carr Hall tonight at the University of Toronto regularly check this blog, but I do encourage it. Each week I plan to put up links of interest to people who are interested in the topics of our weekly sessions. There is no obligation or test, and you don't need to attend the course to benefit from the links. My book, By Design or by Chance? pictured above, may be of help in understanding the controversy, but it is not a textbook.

Tonight's speaker is Dr. Robert Mann, chair of physics at the University of Waterloo, and a member of an advanced physics think tank, The Perimeter Institute. He is also vice-president of the Canadian Association of Physicists and president of Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation.

Update: Robb Mann's talk was great! More later, but for now briefly:

The findings that have created controversies in physics around God vs. the multiverse are relatively new - many have come to light only in the last decade. And they are CONTRARY to what physicists expected. Many physicists thought that science findings would explain away reasons for considering God, purpose, or design.

But in reality, they have created a situation in which wild and perhaps only questionably scientific speculation about multiverses can do that.

What I most appreciated about his presentation is the methodical, coherent way in which he explained HOW we find ourselves in this fix.

A most interesting time to be a physicist ... .

Meanwhile, three notes:

1. Users of Internet Explorer may have noticed a nuisance problem with a file that refuses to download and thus disables the back browser button (unless you click it four times). I have asked Blogger for tech support and am in consultation with them.

2. The NEXT talk (Tuesday, October 30) is on Origin of Life. It will be given by Don Wallar of the Biosimilars program at Apotex. He will explain why there is no simple explanation for the origin of life. So when you hear media headlines like "Scientists MUCH closer to origin of life!!", be a teeny bit cautious. Wouldn't hurt to know just what some of the problems are. I will put up a page of links for that talk too.

3. Some students have asked if Dr. Mann would please write a book. Watch this space for possible developments ....

He will be talking about whether there is one universe or many.

A little background: At one time, many scientists found it convenient to assume that the universe was eternal - it has always existed and always will exist. One advantage is that if the universe has always existed, anything that is physically possible will happen eventually. A modern version of this theory, still held by some scientists, is the Steady State universe. (A hydrogen atom spontaneously generated here or there keeps the system expanding.)

It is worth noting that some religions - Buddhism for example - are much happier with the Steady State Universe. The Dalai Lama has freely admitted that. He is, of course, prepared to live with what he must.

However, most scientists are persuaded by the Big Bang model, which posits a beginning to our universe. The Big Bang has much to recommend it in terms of evidence and is gladly accepted by Western religions, because they think in terms of a creation event. But it creates many questions: What caused the Big Bang? Could there be anything behind it? Were there other Big Bangs, creating other universes? Will there be a Big Crunch? What happens after that?

Some scientists argue that there are in fact many universes, perhaps an infinite number. This point of view is echoed in the popular film, What the Bleep Do We Know? Some insist that this view is an inevitable outcome of quantum physics.

If so, then every possible variation of everything that has ever happened to you has happened to someone like you somewhere. Or has it?

See you tonight.

Also: This really interesting conference is coming up next year, sponsored by Perimeter Institute, that asks a deceptively simple question: Why doesthe arrow of time travel only one way? It's easy to shout, "Of course it only travels one way" but if time is a dimension in a four-dimensional universe (and that is the standard view), all the other dimensions have reversible directions. Time does not. Why not?

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