Is infinity an illusion?

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lean bean

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #300 on: 15/10/2013 11:22:54 »
Do you mean there may be other universes in which things could happen that cannot happen in our Universe, or do you have concrete examples?

To give a quote from John Barrow's book 'The Infinite Book' page 197....The bubbles are universes .
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As in the chaotic inflationary process, each of the bubbles may carry a different number of forces of Nature,different vaues for some (or even all) constants of Nature,and different  numbers of dimensions of space and time.
Same page
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if it is infinite in size, without us having to appeal to metaphysical notions like 'other' universes existing in parallel realities.  One infinite universe contains enough room to contain all these possibilities.This is the conserative multiverse option.
His italics


Same book page 192.
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It is this impressive agreement between the simple predictions of the inflationary universe theory and a large number of high-precision observations that provokes us to take seriously the wider consequences of the inflationary universe for infinite universes.



Quote from: lean bean
Bill, I don't know why you assume the universe was  infinitesimally small to begin with?  Just because the equations of running the observable universe backwards ends with those equations breaking down/singularity, Why do you assume that means the whole of the universe was once infinitesimally small?
That's what modern cosmology says so its no surprise that Bill accepts that as it is. I do. Cosmologists and most physicists know that the big bang theory is an extrapolation running back wards. But it works that way. Only when we run things back to 10-34s or so do we see things working out to what we observe today.
pete, are you saying within that 10-34s the universe was infinitesimally small, how do you know the size for certain within the period of undeterminable space and time.
« Last Edit: 15/10/2013 13:41:28 by lean bean »

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #301 on: 15/10/2013 21:16:45 »
Quote from: LB
Bill, my last post. I can't get the quote boxes looking right

I hope you are not asking me for technical advice; I'm a certified and practicing luddite.

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #302 on: 15/10/2013 21:21:28 »
Quote from: LB
what's not going where?

Strange! I was sure you had asked "Where's this going".  Now I can't find it; I guess it must have gone, whatever it was. :)
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Offline dlorde

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #303 on: 15/10/2013 21:35:19 »
... I can't get the quote boxes looking right??
Make sure each start-quote tag has a matching end-quote tag. Nest them to go back to previous posts:

current post
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          even earlier post
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      earlier post again
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current post again


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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #304 on: 15/10/2013 23:02:15 »
Thanks, dlorde.  I shall enjoy trying that and seeing what sort of mess I can make.
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Offline Pmb

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #305 on: 15/10/2013 23:17:35 »
Quote from: lean bean
Bill, I don't know why you assume the universe was  infinitesimally small to begin with?  Just because the equations of running the observable universe backwards ends with those equations breaking down/singularity, Why do you assume that means the whole of the universe was once infinitesimally small?
That's what modern cosmology says so its no surprise that Bill accepts that as it is. I do. Cosmologists and most physicists know that the big bang theory is an extrapolation running back wards. But it works that way. Only when we run things back to 10-34s or so do we see things working out to what we observe today.
pete, are you saying within that 10-34s the universe was infinitesimally small, how do you know the size for certain within the period of undeterminable space and time.
[/quote]
I can’t recall where I got that from so let’s ignore that comment. I’m not sure what LBs problem was above either. However Infinitely small is not a real term. It has no meaning. And we don’t know what happened at  t = 0 and we can’t take the universe back to a size of zero. The term infinite quite literally means unbounded. So the term infinitesimally small means unbounded smallness which is meaningless.

Our understanding of physics today only allows us to run the equations back only so far.

Note: Please understand that when it comes to the early universe and cosmology that I’m a beginner. I do not profess to be an expert or even fully versed.

Let me quote Gravitation and Spacetime – Third Ed. by Ohanian and Ruffini. From Chapter 10 Early Universe page 445
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Entirely new physics needs to be introduced to deal with the behavior of the universe at earlier times, at about 10-32s and earlier, when the universe apparently suffered a quick and very large inflation. Strong circumstantial evidence consistent with such an inflation has now been discovered by analysis of miniscule temperature fluctuations in the observed distribution of the cosmic background radiation over the sky. But the mechanism underlying inflation remains purely conjectural, and a large variety of possible theoretical scenarios are still under investigation.

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #306 on: 16/10/2013 04:15:40 »
Quote from: Pete
  Infinitely small is not a real term. It has no meaning.

If I were not already in bed (4.15am) I would open a bottle to celebrate that one! :D
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Offline Pmb

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #307 on: 16/10/2013 04:36:34 »
Quote from: Pete
  Infinitely small is not a real term. It has no meaning.

If I were not already in bed (4.15am) I would open a bottle to celebrate that one! :D
I'm so glad to hear that. I'm here to please. :)

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #308 on: 16/10/2013 14:30:30 »
Quote from: Pete
So the term infinitesimally small means unbounded smallness which is meaningless.

This is probably nit-picking, but surely "unbounded smallness" would be the definition of infinitely small; whereas "infinitesimally small" means so small it cannot be measured, but not zero.
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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #309 on: 16/10/2013 15:18:17 »
One of the things that emerges in this thread is the thought that I am basing arguments on unwarranted assumptions. 
I asked myself the following questions, and made a stab at answering them.

Q1.  Given that there is something now; can there ever have been nothing?

A1.  Possibly.

Q2.  How could that be possible?

A2.  Outside our observable universe the laws of physics, including the laws of causality, could be different.  It is possible that something could come from nothing as a result of a process unknown in this Universe.

Q3.  Is there anything we can observe in our Universe that would point to such differences? 

A3. Not to my knowledge.

Q4.  Is there anything we can observe in our universe that would negate such differences?

A4.  Not to my knowledge.

Q5.  If one needs to make an assumption about what conditions might be outside the Universe, is it better to assume that conditions are essentially as we observe them in the Universe, or that that they are different?

A5.  Ockham’s razor would tend to point towards the former.  Also, James Hutton started a revolution in geology with his assertion that “The present is the key to the past”.  One might extrapolate this to “The known is the key to the unknown”.   

Q6. How reasonable is it to make assumptions in order to try to move from the known to the unknown?
 
A6.  Science in general, and cosmology in particular, would be severely hampered without a few very basic assumptions.

Cosmologists assume that the Universe is both homogeneous and isotropic, even beyond the horizon of our observations.

The laws of physics are assumed to be the same everywhere in the Universe, including those parts we cannot observe.

Even the second law of thermodynamics is based on an assumption - that the Universe began its life in an ordered state.

Q7.  Can anyone make assumptions about the unknown, or should only experts do this?

A7.  Obviously, experts are in a better position to make reasonable assumptions than are non-experts.  Non-experts would be wise to run their ideas past experts to test validity.  However, there is often disagreement among experts, so the extent to which ideas are validated may depend on the choice of expert.

Conclusion:  Thinking outside the box is hard work.  :)
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Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #310 on: 16/10/2013 15:38:56 »
Quote from: Pete
So the term infinitesimally small means unbounded smallness which is meaningless.

This is probably nit-picking, but surely "unbounded smallness" would be the definition of infinitely small; whereas "infinitesimally small" means so small it cannot be measured, but not zero.

Just to be the grumpy dissenter--infinitely small is a bit of an abuse of the term "infinitesimally small" as you noted, Pete, but it does certainly have meaning mathematically.  If it didn't, we'd have no calculus!

We can debate whether it has meaning physically in the sense that it may or may not make sense to talk about infinitesimally small regions of space.  The Planck length, as I understand it, isn't the smallest possible distance--it's simply where we need a better theory.  (That better theory may very well end up telling us that the Planck length is the smallest unit of distance, but we don't have it yet!)

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Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #311 on: 16/10/2013 16:45:32 »
One of the things that emerges in this thread is the thought that I am basing arguments on unwarranted assumptions. 
I asked myself the following questions, and made a stab at answering them.

...

Q5.  If one needs to make an assumption about what conditions might be outside the Universe, is it better to assume that conditions are essentially as we observe them in the Universe, or that that they are different?

A5.  Ockham’s razor would tend to point towards the former.  Also, James Hutton started a revolution in geology with his assertion that “The present is the key to the past”.  One might extrapolate this to “The known is the key to the unknown”.   

Q6. How reasonable is it to make assumptions in order to try to move from the known to the unknown?
 
A6.  Science in general, and cosmology in particular, would be severely hampered without a few very basic assumptions.

Cosmologists assume that the Universe is both homogeneous and isotropic, even beyond the horizon of our observations.

The laws of physics are assumed to be the same everywhere in the Universe, including those parts we cannot observe.

Even the second law of thermodynamics is based on an assumption - that the Universe began its life in an ordered state.

Q7.  Can anyone make assumptions about the unknown, or should only experts do this?

A7.  Obviously, experts are in a better position to make reasonable assumptions than are non-experts.  Non-experts would be wise to run their ideas past experts to test validity.  However, there is often disagreement among experts, so the extent to which ideas are validated may depend on the choice of expert.

Conclusion:  Thinking outside the box is hard work.  :)


I thought I responded previously but I can't find it, so maybe I got distracted and forgot to post.  (Just got a new puppy, so I tend to get about 30 seconds at a time at the computer before he chews on something he shouldn't!)

In light of what you're saying here, I think my main contention with your argument is your assumption that extrapolation to the unknown is always the best option.  It isn't!  Extrapolation is fair when you have reason to believe your models are continuously connected to the unknown cases in some way.  For example, we observe large-scale homogeneity and isotropy in the visible universe, and we expect the universe as a whole to be a large, connected region of space-time.  Therefore, it's reasonable to assume that isotropy and homogeneity hold for the universe as a whole. 

Similarly, physical laws seem to be consistent over space and time, so it's natural to assume that the same laws which hold today also also held back near the birth of the universe. 

Both of these may be false, but since we can continuously extend our models to cover these regions we don't have access to, it's most natural to assume that this extrapolation holds.

However, when you can't continuously extend your models to cover the new cases, Occam's razor doesn't hold.  You're essentially saying "I'm going to apply what I know to an unrelated system."  The simplest explanation is not to enforce the unrelated model to hold.  I'd argue that the simplest model is to say "I can put bounds on how this system behaves in terms of measurements I've made, but I have to assume I know little about the model at work."

For example, a lot of people mistakenly assume that "photons don't experience time."  This is based on erroneously extending special relativity, which says that if a clock moves past a stationary observer, the clock appears to run slowly as measured by the observer.  The closer the clock moves to the speed of light, the slower it appears to run.  In the limit as it's speed approaches the speed of light, its clock slows down without bound.  It's natural to say "well, that observer sees all photons as flying past him at the speed of light, so photons must experience that limiting case and so their clocks don't move at all as measured by that observer."  (By the same logic, an observer riding on a photon would see the entire universe as static, since he/she would measure all external clocks as static).  This immediately leads to a paradox, since we know photons are emitted an absorbed, interacting at 2 points in time, so clearly they do somehow "experience" time. 

The problem here is that special relativity is defined over a set of states (observers moving with constant speeds) that can be connected continuously to each other by accelerations (Lorentz boosts).  We've only tested special relativity in a small range of cases, but we can safely extrapolate it to all inertial (constant speed) reference frames because they're all continuously connected to each other within the framework of the theory.  However, no amount of Lorentz boosting will take you to the reference frame of light, so this case isn't connected in any way to the rest of the theory, including cases we've tested.  There's no justification for extrapolating to this unconnected case and here it provides answers that are both paradoxical and useless (and wrong in the sense that they have no meaning).

I'm arguing throughout that your ideas of finite-sized objects growing at finite rates makes a lot of sense, but only within our universe, since that's where all the examples we know of live.  Moreover, finite objects must exist in space, and rates of increase in size occur over time, so we're justified in extrapolating these ideas to any region in space and time that's connected to the region we've observed--in other words, the entire universe (possibly excepting black holes and other singular objects).  In other words, these ideas make sense so long as your object is bounded in some region of space and time within our universe. 

The problem is that you're asking us to extrapolate this idea to our entire universe, which clearly doesn't live in a region of space and time within itself!  Whatever set it's a part of (if it is a part of any larger set) is not in any way we know of continuously connected to the space and time of our universe (since anything connected to our universe would be part of our universe.)

I'd go further and argue that extrapolation is useless when performed to unconnected cases.  I'd also suggest that the best way to tackle the problem of an infinite universe is to return the fundamentals of science: can we come up with a theory that makes a testable prediction based on the size of the universe.  Then we can apply Occam's razor to boil down these theories to the simplest ones and experiment or observation should then be the judge of which one is best.

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #312 on: 16/10/2013 21:20:34 »
Once again, thanks for the detailed response, JP.  What you say makes very good sense to me. 

I must point out that I didn’t intend saying, or implying, “that extrapolation to the unknown is always the best option”.
What I was saying was that if one were speculating about the unknown one would have the choice of assuming that the situation there would be essentially as it is in the known Universe; or that it would be essentially different.  Assuming (without a sound reason) that it is different introduces an additional level of “unknown”.  This is where I was applying Ockham’s razor. 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be saying something more like “We don’t know what, if anything, is outside our Universe, so there is no point in trying to think about it.”

That’s a perfectly valid point of view, but, to me it seems much like saying “God created it; end of speculation.”  While this may also be a valid point of view, it too seems a bit restrictive.
There never was nothing.

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #313 on: 16/10/2013 21:23:47 »
BTW, JP, what sort of puppy?
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Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #314 on: 16/10/2013 23:14:31 »
2 points, Bill:

1) Boiled down, my point is basically that your idea is based on things we view within the space-time of our universe.  You're trying to extend this idea to regions outside of our universe, where space and time as we know them probably don't exist.  How would you even go about doing this?  It seems a bit contrived to try to force our models into a case that's probably completely alien to them just for "simplicity."

2) I wouldn't say it's not worth questioning what's outside the universe, but I would say that as scientists it's our duty to make every possible effort to come up with testable models.  This is where much of this does go into the domain of experts (and I'm not an expert on this!)  Sure, these models will likely have a lot of speculation, but we should be speculating towards testable answers.  I see two possible ways forward on this front: 1) we can work entirely within the universe and try to figure out testable consequences if the universe is finite vs. infinite or 2) we can work on models outside the universe with testable predictions.  This second vein of work contains string theory and other similar theories of everything which are generally criticized because they don't provide testable predictions.  I also don't find them terribly convincing for that reason.  But there are plenty of scientists who are convinced that the theory is heading in the right direction towards testability and I trust them, since I don't know enough of the area to judge otherwise.  :p

But hey--you may be right.  I just don't think it's the most fruitful way to approach the question.


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Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #315 on: 16/10/2013 23:16:26 »
3) Pembroke Welsh Corgi

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Offline Pmb

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #316 on: 17/10/2013 09:33:25 »
2 points, Bill:

1) Boiled down, my point is basically that your idea is based on things we view within the space-time of our universe.  You're trying to extend this idea to regions outside of our universe, where space and time as we know them probably don't exist.  How would you even go about doing this?  It seems a bit contrived to try to force our models into a case that's probably completely alien to them just for "simplicity."
I thought that string cosmology was doing something very similar. Is this not the case? They'e using that to formulate the Pre-Big Bang scenario

See http://www.ba.infn.it/~gasperin/

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Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #317 on: 17/10/2013 12:55:41 »
From what I understand of string theory, its not a matter of simply extending known physics to pre-big-bang times.  String theory has a bunch of new parts (11 dimensions, for example, in M-theory). 

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #318 on: 17/10/2013 14:05:00 »
Quote from: JP
You're trying to extend this idea to regions outside of our universe, where space and time as we know them probably don't exist.

In this sort of discussion it is easy to divert to side issues which, although relevant to some extent, detract from the main point, or even give a wrong impression.

In fact, the only concept I would seek to apply to anything beyond our Universe is that if there had ever been nothing, there would be nothing now.  I certainly have no wish to argue that space and time exist outside the Universe.  I would not even join the multiverse advocates in assuming that whatever might be beyond our Universe would need to be composed of universes.

I like the look of the puppy and hope you and he/she have many enjoyable years together.
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Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #319 on: 17/10/2013 14:33:51 »
Quote from: JP
You're trying to extend this idea to regions outside of our universe, where space and time as we know them probably don't exist.

In this sort of discussion it is easy to divert to side issues which, although relevant to some extent, detract from the main point, or even give a wrong impression.

In fact, the only concept I would seek to apply to anything beyond our Universe is that if there had ever been nothing, there would be nothing now.


That goes to a bigger side issue--what is nothing?  Do you mean a complete vacuum, or do you mean "absolute nothing," e.g. no space, time or anything else?  (We did have a lengthy argument elsewhere that showed the difficulty in defining absolute nothing.) 

Again, it seems like a simple requirement to say "if there ever was nothing, there will be nothing now," but that's far from simple once you step outside the bounds of our universe.

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lean bean

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #320 on: 17/10/2013 16:38:52 »
... I can't get the quote boxes looking right??
Make sure each start-quote tag has a matching end-quote tag. Nest them to go back to previous posts:
current post
Thanks dlorde, I will keep that in mind. I have removed the post to keep the thread neat. :)

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #321 on: 17/10/2013 19:20:36 »
Quote from: JP
Do you mean a complete vacuum, or do you mean "absolute nothing,"

I mean "absolute nothing", which does seem somewhat tautologous. 

Quote
it seems like a simple requirement to say "if there ever was nothing, there will be nothing now," but that's far from simple once you step outside the bounds of our universe.

Other than saying that something could come from nothing outside the Universe, what would be the complications?
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Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #322 on: 17/10/2013 22:36:27 »
Quote from: JP
Do you mean a complete vacuum, or do you mean "absolute nothing,"

I mean "absolute nothing", which does seem somewhat tautologous. 

Quote
it seems like a simple requirement to say "if there ever was nothing, there will be nothing now," but that's far from simple once you step outside the bounds of our universe.

Other than saying that something could come from nothing outside the Universe, what would be the complications?

Define "nothing."  Define "come from."  Keep in mind that we're outside the universe which contains all (known) space and time.

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #323 on: 17/10/2013 23:06:16 »
Quote from: JP
Define "nothing."  Define "come from."  Keep in mind that we're outside the universe which contains all (known) space and time.

Nothing:  Complete absence of anything, known or unknown to us.

Comes from (as used here):  Is caused, created or otherwise brought into existence by.
There never was nothing.

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Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #324 on: 18/10/2013 15:36:31 »
Quote from: JP
Define "nothing."  Define "come from."  Keep in mind that we're outside the universe which contains all (known) space and time.

Nothing:  Complete absence of anything, known or unknown to us.
I think the result of the previous thread on nothing was that isn't a scientifically useful definition, since science deals with measurable which are necessarily tied to "somethings".  If you think "nothing" is scientifically useful, I suspect the burden of proof is on you that it can be so before we start using it to make predictions about the universe.

Quote
Comes from (as used here):  Is caused, created or otherwise brought into existence by.
That seems to imply that there was a time at which something didn't exist and a time at which it did, which means there is time outside of the universe.  What justification do you have for assuming this, since the universe presumably contains all time?  If that's not what you mean, created/caused/brought into existence are problematic to use in a definition, since all imply time passing.

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Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #325 on: 18/10/2013 16:35:38 »
Quote from: JP
Define "nothing."  Define "come from."  Keep in mind that we're outside the universe which contains all (known) space and time.

Nothing:  Complete absence of anything, known or unknown to us.



Comes from (as used here):  Is caused, created or otherwise brought into existence by.


What this seems to imply is that we can never know or define nothing since any 'idea' of nothing is itself not nothing as it is an idea. Now, as we know, an idea is really the electrochemical activity of the brain (at least we will use that as a working definition unless and until we know better) so it must be something. No doubt, there are ideas or concepts that have yet to be experienced, however, it seems to me that for any meaningful purposes nothing cannot exist. Even if you talked about a complete vacuum containing no atoms, quarks, virtual particles and the rest, you will still be left with the ideas of space and time and dimension, which are not nothing. Science cannot exist within a framework of nothing because it needs to measure things and nothing cannot be measured! A puzzling question to me is: do things already exist before we think about them or do they come into being by the processes of consciousness? The reason I pose this question is because it is always possible to ask "what went before?", but an eternal universe, with no beginning or end, doesn't seem to make much sense to me since it seems to defy cause-and-effect. If something is uncaused how then does it give rise to causality? How can causality suddenly spring from nowhere? A more logical, if more startling, conclusion would be that it is consciousness itself that defines reality because this way we only have to worry about stuff we can think about rather that what might or might not already exist. The problem about an eternal universe then disappears because it is only as 'real' as our ideas.

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Offline dlorde

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #326 on: 18/10/2013 18:43:15 »
... A more logical, if more startling, conclusion would be that it is consciousness itself that defines reality because this way we only have to worry about stuff we can think about rather that what might or might not already exist. The problem about an eternal universe then disappears because it is only as 'real' as our ideas.
That sounds too much like solipsism. I don't see that it helps at all; apart from the philosophical cul-de-sac of solipsism, you still have to account for consciousness itself, and you've now removed any causal material basis for it. You also have the problem of how we can discover new things and be surprised by them if they're defined by our consciousness...

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #327 on: 18/10/2013 20:00:35 »
Quote from: JP
since science deals with measurable which are necessarily tied to "somethings"

Does science deal with infinities?

Are infinities measurable? 

Quote
If you think "nothing" is scientifically useful, I suspect the burden of proof is on you that it can be so before we start using it to make predictions about the universe.

I am certainly not saying that “nothing” is scientifically useful.  In fact I am trying to investigate what might be the effect on science – and everything else – if there had ever been nothing.  So far no one has convinced me that, had there ever been nothing, there would now be scientists to discuss what might or might not be scientifically useful. 
There never was nothing.

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #328 on: 18/10/2013 20:12:55 »
Quote from: Webplodder
What this seems to imply is that we can never know or define nothing since any 'idea' of nothing is itself not nothing as it is an idea

Of course an idea is something; but having an idea of "nothing" does not make it something, any more than having an idea of Mount Everest upside down would actually invert that geological feature.
There never was nothing.

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Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #329 on: 18/10/2013 20:59:53 »
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That sounds too much like solipsism. I don't see that it helps at all; apart from the philosophical cul-de-sac of solipsism, you still have to account for consciousness itself, and you've now removed any causal material basis for it. You also have the problem of how we can discover new things and be surprised by them if they're defined by our consciousness...

But how can we similarly account for any causal basis for an eternal universe? The concept of an eternal universe removes any causal chain leading to what we see today because, by definition, there can never be any original cause. The only way out is to reject such a notion and accept that 'classical' ideas about time and space are merely illusions - illusions created by the mind. Is this not itself "a new thing?"

If it turns out that consciousness is the only basis of reality then it cannot obey the same rules of cause-and-effect that we see in material objects, despite giving rise to it.
« Last Edit: 19/10/2013 09:32:07 by webplodder »

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Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #330 on: 18/10/2013 21:03:32 »
Quote from: Webplodder
What this seems to imply is that we can never know or define nothing since any 'idea' of nothing is itself not nothing as it is an idea

Of course an idea is something; but having an idea of "nothing" does not make it something, any more than having an idea of Mount Everest upside down would actually invert that geological feature.

Is it not a truism that any scientific theory one can name began only as an idea? All of reality is, in the final analysis, an idea. Even using the word " nothing" is, in a sense, producing "something" that attempts to describe an idea.
« Last Edit: 19/10/2013 09:38:43 by webplodder »

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Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #331 on: 18/10/2013 21:25:14 »
Let me address your points in reverse order:

I am certainly not saying that “nothing” is scientifically useful.  In fact I am trying to investigate what might be the effect on science – and everything else – if there had ever been nothing. 

I'll go one further, then. "Nothing" in the sense you're using it is a scientifically vacuous term: it has no useful meaning.  It in no way relates to any measurements we can or ever will make.  This is different in one important respect from the concept of infinity.  Regardless of whether infinity can exist or not in nature, we can approximate certain things as infinite if they are simply very large in order to simplify our calculations, so it serves some purpose in physics.  We can never approximate anything as "absolute nothing" since that term is meaningless to physicists.

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So far no one has convinced me that, had there ever been nothing, there would now be scientists to discuss what might or might not be scientifically useful. 
This is a loaded statement: one doesn't need to convince you of this, since the statement "had there ever been nothing, there would now be scientists to discuss what might or might not be scientifically useful" is meaningless in a scientific sense.  We can't convince you of this because we can't talk about nothing and what might arise from it in a meaningful way.  This is very similar to someone saying "No one has convinced me that god didn't make the universe."  Sure, you can hold that opinion, and a god defined in the right way can never be disproven by science, so it's a scientifically useless statement.


Quote from: JP
since science deals with measurable which are necessarily tied to "somethings"

Does science deal with infinities?

Are infinities measurable? 
First, I'd like to point out that we could have the case where your argument holds no water and infinity isn't physical.  I'm not arguing that infinity exists.  I'm arguing against the logical fallacies being brought up in the thread to provide reason to believe that it doesn't exist.  My claim is that these arguments, in particular yours about something being unable to come from nothing, have no meaning and can't be used to tell us about the existence or nonexistence of physical infinity.

Second, science does deal with infinities, in the sense I've pointed out several times: as approximations to very large things.  This is very important because it at least gives us some reason to think a physical infinity (if it exists) might have some bearing on reality (unlike "absolute nothing").  Are they measurable is an open question.  Clearly we are finite constructs, so I doubt we can ever measure infinity directly.  The critical point is that those scientists who do or don't believe it is physical are making arguments based on what we can measure to test their ideas.  The no-infinity camp is looking for consequences if space is discretized (so no infinitesimals) or the universe is finite.  Similarly, the infinite-universe camp is looking for measurable consequences as well.


-------

By the way, I'm intending this as friendly debate--when I reread it, I saw that "scientifically meaningless" might come across sounding overly critical, but it's not a bad idea to have.  I just think it is an idea that ends up leading nowhere useful when you try to develop testable, scientific models based on it.

And I to tend to agree with you that in the end, physical infinity is probably not real, but I don't think anyone has figured out a way to test for its existence one way or the other yet!  I feel that it's important as a scientist to distinguish between what you feel is true and what you can back up with scientific rigor as true.
« Last Edit: 18/10/2013 22:21:09 by JP »

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #332 on: 19/10/2013 16:16:35 »
Quote from: JP
I'll go one further, then. "Nothing" in the sense you're using it is a scientifically vacuous term: it has no useful meaning.  It in no way relates to any measurements we can or ever will make.

Is this tantamount to saying “if we can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist”?  That would be a bit dogmatic for my taste, but I would be very happy with the idea that “nothing”, or perhaps I should say “the state of nothingness”, cannot exist. 

OK, someone is going to say: “You can’t have a state of nothingness, because a state is something.”  However, I’m more interested in the discussion than the semantics.  I acknowledge the difficulty of discussing infinity when our language is based in the finite, and discussing nothingness when our existence is essentially something-based.  I think it’s worth trying, though.

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we can approximate certain things as infinite if they are simply very large in order to simplify our calculations

As I have said before, I have no problem with this as long as we accept that these are approximations that cannot actually be infinite.     

The way in which scientists use “nothing”, e.g. “a universe from nothing” seems very much like using “nothing” as an approximation for “something ethereal”.
There never was nothing.

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #333 on: 19/10/2013 16:30:59 »
Quote from: JP
This is a loaded statement: one doesn't need to convince you of this, since the statement "had there ever been nothing, there would now be scientists to discuss what might or might not be scientifically useful" is meaningless in a scientific sense.

If "nothing"  is meaningless in a scientific sense, does this mean that science maintains that there must always have been something, or is “eternal something” scientifically meaningless as well?

NB. I’m not being deliberately awkward here, but if I feel something is within my ability to understand, it is not in my nature to let go of it until I come as near to understanding as I can.  This is probably why, years ago on a geology trip to Arran, I became known as “Bloody Bill”.  I’ve not changed much.  :)

There never was nothing.

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #334 on: 19/10/2013 16:38:06 »
Quote from: JP
And I to tend to agree with you that in the end, physical infinity is probably not real

Are we at cross purposes here?  I am certainly not saying that physical infinity is unreal.  In fact, logically, I see no way to escape its reality.  This is one reason for my persistence; I need to know if/how my logic might be flawed. 
There never was nothing.

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Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #335 on: 19/10/2013 17:47:13 »
Quote from: JP
This is a loaded statement: one doesn't need to convince you of this, since the statement "had there ever been nothing, there would now be scientists to discuss what might or might not be scientifically useful" is meaningless in a scientific sense.

If "nothing"  is meaningless in a scientific sense, does this mean that science maintains that there must always have been something, or is “eternal something” scientifically meaningless as well?

NB. I’m not being deliberately awkward here, but if I feel something is within my ability to understand, it is not in my nature to let go of it until I come as near to understanding as I can.  This is probably why, years ago on a geology trip to Arran, I became known as “Bloody Bill”.  I’ve not changed much.  :)



I'm probably way off beam here but I have an inkling we might eventually be forced to accept a model of the universe and reality that is both infinite AND finite, both eternal AND otherwise depending on how we wish to explain phenomena. This does sound crazy but bear in mind it is the job of science to provide supportable evidence to account for what is observed, not to make religious proclamations about who or what made the universe and why we are here. We only have to turn to the strange behaviour of quantum mechanics to realise things are far from what our common sense would have us believe. This may seem like giving up on any possibility of answering the really big questions but to seek scientific answers to perplexing questions leaves us in such a position.

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Offline JP

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #336 on: 19/10/2013 19:23:43 »
Bill, to address your points:

1) We don't have to directly measure something to render it scientific, but we have to have a model which makes testable predictions and depends on that "something."  For example (and without any basis in fact here), let's say we find out that there's a constant that will have one value if the universe if infinite and another if it is finite.  We could measure that parameter to answer the question "is the universe infinite?" without having to measure the size of the universe directly. 

1a) Therefore, to answer whether there was ever "absolute nothing" we'd have to have a model that discriminates in terms of measurables between a scenario in which there was at one point "absolute nothing" and one in which there was not. 

1b) My claim is that neither you, nor anyone else can come up with such a model.  The arguments you've given so far which are along the lines of "something cannot come from nothing" is basing a model on opinion with no connection to physics--at least until you define what processes are available for things to "arise" and define precisely "absolute nothing" in a form that plugs usefully into that model.  "Arising from" in the context of the universe not yet existing is hard enough, but "absolute nothing" is a metaphysical concept without physical utility.  I don't think it's worth going into "nothing" again in this thread.  It was pretty clear from the thread about "absolute nothing" that it's a nebulous metaphysical concept that no one could really nail down except by saying it was the absence of everything. 

2) I agree that "the universe from nothing" is very poorly chosen phrasing that confuses laypersons.  When physicists say "nothing," they mean something specific, for example vacuum, which is certainly "something," if perhaps a very empty something.  The impetus to sell books can make scientists jazz up their titles for laypersons a bit more than should probably be done.

3) I think we both agree that "infinity" is useful mathematically, and that we both agree that we do not yet know if it's real or not in a physical sense (the size of the universe, for example). 

4) Your question:
Quote
If "nothing"  is meaningless in a scientific sense, does this mean that science maintains that there must always have been something, or is “eternal something” scientifically meaningless as well?
I think your first problem is "eternal," which assumes time always existed and therefore makes this a bit circular.  I suspect science is always going to deal with "somethings" though, since everything eventually has to tie back to measurable quantities and this always requires defining models.  The minute we define a model about anything, it becomes a "something."  So scientific answers probably will always avoid "absolute nothing" because it can't plug into a model in any useful way.  This places limits on what science can describe, but we already know that to be the case.  We can always define a god such that science can't answer questions of its existence, for example.  Absolute nothing is a similar concept.

4b) Let's say we do come up with an ultimate theory that explains everything in existence.  Let's say also that it describes that the "initial" (again, we're limited by terms dealing with time) state of things was that nothing in existence was there--it was a blank slate from which some processes occurred to generate everything.  Even then, this blank slate is not absolute nothing, since it has the potential to generate everything, which is a property.  "Absolute nothing" could not have properties.

5) Logically, infinity doesn't have to exist.  Let's say we prove we can never go beyond the universe in any experiments and we also find the universe is finite and that space and time consist of discrete units on a fundamental level.  Then physics will never have a real infinity present in it.  We can speculate philosophically or religiously about what is outside the universe, and whether infinities could exist there, but it's not a scientific question since we can't ever address it. 

6) It strikes me as I write this, that part of the problem is that you're looking for absolute answers, whereas physics is only capable of generating answers to a certain set of questions that can be scientifically framed.  A lot of ideas of infinity or absolute nothing are simply outside of this set of questions.

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Offline grizelda

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #337 on: 19/10/2013 19:36:59 »
I once had a theory that the universe reconfigured itself randomly every planck instant, and our experience was those instants which made that experience valid, all other instants not figuring in consciousness, i.e. nothing. Since most random reconfigurations of the universe would not work for us, there would be an eternity between instants which figured in our experience. So our experience would be finite but spread out over infinity.

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lean bean

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #338 on: 20/10/2013 10:34:21 »
Are we at cross purposes here?  I am certainly not saying that physical infinity is unreal.  In fact, logically, I see no way to escape its reality.
Bill, is this where I came in...http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~wright/infpoint.html
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The Universe was not concentrated into a point at the time of the Big Bang. But the observable Universe was concentrated into a point.
Here is a cosmologist  Prof.(Ned) Wright not requiring an infinitesimally small beginning.

About the 'infinitesimally small' thing...
I maybe be wrong ,but I thought the extrapolation of equations backwards, only make ’sense’ back to the end of the Planck era…10^-43 sec after bb.  So, before 10^-43 sec I would ask,where’s the evidence to say it started infinitesimally small?

Ps, it is I, lean bean :)

« Last Edit: 20/10/2013 11:19:33 by beany »

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Offline Pmb

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #339 on: 21/10/2013 07:50:52 »
Quote from: JP
1b) My claim is that neither you, nor anyone else can come up with such a model.  The arguments you've given so far which are along the lines of "something cannot come from nothing" is basing a model on opinion with no connection to physics--at least until you define what processes are available for things to "arise" and define precisely "absolute nothing" in a form that plugs usefully into that model. 
This is the best point that I’ve seen anybody make in this entire thread. It’s a shame that more people never took the lesson that quantum mechanics taught us much more seriously. QM taught us that its dangerous to attempt to use our physical intuition in areas where we have no experience. We have no experience with times that short and distances that small. We never have and we never will. Therefore using the intuition we’ve developed billions of years after the big bang on a scale of human dimensions (give or take factors of many tens) is not using very good logic.

Thanks JP. :)

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Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #340 on: 22/10/2013 13:46:51 »
I believe time is really just an illusion caused by our conscious experiences in order to allow us to exist as organisms. Fundamentally, time has no meaning and, therefore, when we examine our material universe we are faced with perplexing questions about how old the universe is and what gave rise to it and what gave rise to that, ad infinitum. It is assumed that our sense experiences are reflecting the true nature of reality but in making such an assumption we inevitably run into problems about causality which can have no meaning in an eternal multiverse. Some people put forth the view that time, space and causality were introduced at the time of the big bang but this is little better because we are then immediately faced with the question of how causality can be uncaused ; it is little better than saying God did it! Although very difficult, we have to ditch the idea of time and space and try to embrace a model of reality that does not follow regular rules but is actually very schizophrenic in nature and that the parameters we place on our experiences are just artificial illusions, being simply special cases of a much greater truth.
« Last Edit: 22/10/2013 15:41:11 by webplodder »

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Offline dlorde

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #341 on: 22/10/2013 14:10:15 »
I believe time is really just an illusion caused by our conscious experiences in order to allow us to exist as organisms.

This implies that time doesn't exist (which needs a thread to itself), and that if we weren't conscious, we wouldn't exist as organisms - which doesn't sound plausible, given the multitudes of organisms that appear to exist quite happily despite not being conscious...
« Last Edit: 22/10/2013 14:13:33 by dlorde »

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Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #342 on: 22/10/2013 15:38:56 »
I believe time is really just an illusion caused by our conscious experiences in order to allow us to exist as organisms.

This implies that time doesn't exist (which needs a thread to itself), and that if we weren't conscious, we wouldn't exist as organisms - which doesn't sound plausible, given the multitudes of organisms that appear to exist quite happily despite not being conscious...

You seem to be making a distinction between people being conscious and other organisms as not being conscious. Why should it be all or nothing? Surely we can see that animals such as chimps and other primates possess awareness and consciousness, though not to the same degree as us, therefore, they too experience the passing of time as a unidirectional experience. In my view, every organism possesses SOME consciousness because it is through being able to be conscious that organisms can adapt to their environment. We all evolved on this planet and so had to find solutions to the problems of survival which has favoured those species who hit upon the correct solutions, i.e., things like sight, hearing, smell, touch and so on. Even an amoeba has to have the ability to feed and sense its surroundings to some extent and this, I believe, is how consciousness developed.

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Offline Pmb

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #343 on: 22/10/2013 17:38:10 »
Quote from: webplodder
I believe time is really just an illusion caused by our conscious experiences in order to allow us to exist as organisms.
I strongly disagree. When physicists use the term time they have something very specific in mind. Time is a measurable phenomenon and is defined according to the change in things that are not related to different locations in space. E.g. think of a room with four boxes in it, one box sitting on the floor in each corner of the room. Now think of the same room and the same boxes but where the boxes are no longer in the corner but are stacked on top of each other in the middle of the room. This is a obviously a measurable phenomenon. We define time to denote the two configurations. We say that the rooms only differ in “time.”

Quote from: webplodder
Fundamentally, time has no meaning and, ..
Why would you say that? It’s clearly a well defined term whose meaning is also well defined. So in what sense are you claiming that it has no meaning?

If you want a very clear and precise definition of the concept please see
http://users.wfu.edu/brehme/time.htm

It’s very well done. The author was a GR expert in his day. He’s retired now.

Quote from: webplodder
It is assumed that our sense experiences are reflecting the true nature of reality but in making such an assumption we inevitably run into problems about causality which can have no meaning in an eternal multiverse.
I believe that you’re confusing physical time with personal time.

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Offline Pmb

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #344 on: 22/10/2013 17:50:49 »
The Foundational Questions Institute[/i] as a category for this under their website which is located at http://www.fqxi.org/community/forum/category/10

Consider the tact that someone else took on this subject, i.e. Space does not exist, so time can. by Fotini Markopoulou
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I argue that the problem of time is a paradox,
stemming from an unstated faulty premise. Our faulty assumption is that space is real. I propose that what does not fundamentally exist is not time but space, geometry and gravity. The quantum theory of gravity will be spaceless, not timeless. If we are willing to throw out space, we can keep time and the trade is worth it.
Yikes! I've heard it all now.

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Offline dlorde

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #345 on: 22/10/2013 18:00:17 »
You seem to be making a distinction between people being conscious and other organisms as not being conscious.
No, not really. Plenty of other organisms are conscious; I was pointing out that the capability for conscious experience is not of existential importance, as demonstrated by trillions of organisms not capable of conscious experience.

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Why should it be all or nothing? Surely we can see that animals such as chimps and other primates possess awareness and consciousness, though not to the same degree as us, therefore, they too experience the passing of time as a unidirectional experience.
Yes, of course.

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In my view, every organism possesses SOME consciousness because it is through being able to be conscious that organisms can adapt to their environment.
That looks like an equivocation of 'consciousness'; you were talking about time being an illusion caused by conscious experience; which suggests a nervous system capable of mapping & interpreting. But simple responsiveness is rather different.

But that's OK, I'm just trying to discover what you meant by our conscious experiences causing the illusion of time to allow us to exist as organisms.

If conscious experience causes the illusion of time which is necessary to exist as an organism, then all existing organisms must cause the illusion of time. Which suggests that bacteria, plants, fungi, etc., have conscious experience that can cause the illusion of time.  I'm not sure that's what you meant, so I was hoping you'd clarify.
« Last Edit: 22/10/2013 18:02:46 by dlorde »

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Offline Bill S

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #346 on: 22/10/2013 18:24:34 »
my absence does not mean I have lost interest, or that I don't appreciate the efforts of others.  Time is short - as usual - but last Sunday I managed to take part in a geology field trip in Suffolk, and hope to fit in another next weekend.  Splashing around in the mud will always take pride of place over the computer keyboard.  Having said that, there are always the notes to write up. 

As someone once, famously, said:  "I'll be back."
There never was nothing.

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Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #347 on: 24/10/2013 12:35:45 »
Quote from: webplodder
I believe time is really just an illusion caused by our conscious experiences in order to allow us to exist as organisms.
I strongly disagree. When physicists use the term time they have something very specific in mind. Time is a measurable phenomenon and is defined according to the change in things that are not related to different locations in space. E.g. think of a room with four boxes in it, one box sitting on the floor in each corner of the room. Now think of the same room and the same boxes but where the boxes are no longer in the corner but are stacked on top of each other in the middle of the room. This is a obviously a measurable phenomenon. We define time to denote the two configurations. We say that the rooms only differ in “time.”


Yes, but my problem with this approach is that although this model of time seems to work well within specific frames of reference, when you try to apply it to an eternal universe it does not seem to work. What do I mean? Well, we ask the question: what caused the Big Bang, ok? Now, let us assume we manage to come up with a workable theory about that (which may or may not be correct). Sooner or later, we have to confront another question about what gave rise to that particular model and this process has the potential to go on forever, never reaching any final solution. What this means is that we can never find any original cause, so we then have the problem of trying to answer how causality can arise from an apparently causeless universe! I don't think we can because it seems to destroy the legitimacy of causality since it is based on an irrationality (i.e. an eternal universe) and the underpinning of this difficulty is the concept of time itself as being a forward flowing aspect of reality. In view of this it seems inevitable to me that we need to adopt a new model of reality which avoids such a huge contradiction where time and, therefore, space are fundamentally unseperated and where time does not "flow" but is actually static and it is only our conscious attention to the incredibly complex interwoven fabric of the universe that seems to make time real. So, what it comes down to is when we think about time it is not that a thing called "time" really exists but as a result of the mechanisms of consciousness which can switch its attention, leading to the illusion of time.

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Offline webplodder

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #348 on: 24/10/2013 13:05:06 »
Quote

If conscious experience causes the illusion of time which is necessary to exist as an organism, then all existing organisms must cause the illusion of time. Which suggests that bacteria, plants, fungi, etc., have conscious experience that can cause the illusion of time.  I'm not sure that's what you meant, so I was hoping you'd clarify.


Exactly, that is my point.

Allow me to approach this from a different direction. A piece of wood, for example, it not alive and so does not possess any consciousness. Since a piece of wood is not conscious it has zero ability to experience the passing if time and has zero ability to be aware of its environment, let alone the universe in which we live. It is only the possession of consciousness that permits its owner to experience the passing if time and history and, indeed, the concept of cause-and-effect. So, I suppose I'm reaching the conclusion that the essential difference between a human being and a piece if wood is complexity! It is complexity that allows us to be observers but that is not to imply we are passive observers but dynamic observers in that we collate, arrange, organise and analyse the myriad instances of our consciousness enables us to make. The same argument can be made for the difference between a piece of wood and a bacterium, say, because although a bacterium is nothing like a human being it is even less like a piece of wood!

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Offline dlorde

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Re: Is infinity an illusion?
« Reply #349 on: 24/10/2013 13:34:22 »
The same argument can be made for the difference between a piece of wood and a bacterium, say, because although a bacterium is nothing like a human being it is even less like a piece of wood!
I'm aware of the varying complexities of wood, bacteria, and humans. But it's not just complexity that's relevant. A dead person is far more complex, yes, and dynamic, than a bacterium. But which has conscious experience (if either) ?

So, to repeat the question, are you saying that bacteria, fungi, plants, etc., all have conscious experience and can use it to generate the illusion of time?

If so, can you explain precisely what you mean by 'conscious experience' ?