On Philosophy

May 29, 2007

Why The Universe Is Regular

Filed under: Metaphysics — Peter @ 12:00 am

As established previously it isn’t the case that natural laws exist outside of the universe, so to speak, and force events to progress as they do. But it is an undeniable fact that the universe seems to have a regular structure. I wouldn’t want to say that it was structured as if there were such external laws, because the best way to look at the universe in such investigations is as a whole. And by looking at it as a whole we are looking at it at all times, not just some particular moment. So talking about future events being forced by past events is to bring in time to a timeless situation. Rather we should say that the universe looks patterned, that if we look at a particular state of affairs at an arbitrary location in space and time it is always preceded and succeeded by other states of affairs in a predictable and regular manner. It seems legitimate to ask why this regular pattern exists, instead of chaos or random deviations.

There are basically two ways to approach this problem. We can either attempt to show that universes without a regular structure are impossible or we can use the anthropic principle, and argue that any conscious observers in any universe should expect to observe a universe that appears patterned. The first approach is perhaps historically more popular. Some have suggested that universes that are simple are more likely to exist, and that regularity is a form of simplicity (why? maybe god likes them better). Others have suggested that a universe is not defined by what happens within it, but rather by its regularities and either its initial or final conditions. But the problem with these ideas is that they are just speculation. The available evidence does not favor one of them over any other, and we have no way to rule out the as yet unthought of possibilities, or the possibility that there is no reason, and that the universe we inhabit just happens to be ordered. Certainly there doesn’t seem anything inherently contradictory in the idea of a universe that doesn’t behave completely regularly, and if there isn’t then it will be impossible to prove that the universe must be regular in this way.

Thus an appeal to the anthropic principle seems more likely to provide a satisfactory explanation. Such an appeal results not in an a priori argument for the existence of regularities, but rather an a posteriori one, in which the existence of regularities are deduced in part from the fact that we exist and are conscious. Such an argument admits of the possibility that there are other universes that are unordered, or if there is only one universe, that our universe equally well could have been without any regularities.

To get the argument going we must first look more closely at what regularities are and how the universe might fail to exhibit them. We might think that the law of gravitation is an example of just the kind of regularity we are interested in, but in fact it is not. It is true that the law of gravitation expresses a regularity, but it is not a fundamental regularity. A fundamental regularity is one that governs the interactions of the smallest components of the universe. Other regularities, like the law of gravitation, exist because of these fundamental regularities. A change in the fundamental regularities would result in a change in them, and they could not change without there also being some change in the fundamental regularities.

One way in which our universe might fail to be regular overall is if the regularities change at different times from one set of regularities to another. Such a change however would obliterate any consciousness in that universe. A change in the ways in which the fundamental components of nature interact would result in a change in the way everything works, since those same components make up everything. And thus the way minds work would change as well. And consciousness is a delicate phenomena, changes in the way the mind works are likely to change whether that mind is conscious. Thus a universe in which there are conscious minds can’t be one in which those minds observe a change in which regularities describe the world, because the occurrence of such a change would obliterate those minds. And so we can reason anthropically and conclude that because we exist our universe is one in which the regularities don’t change. Of course this says nothing about whether the universe will remain regular in the future, but given the fact that it has been regular so far, and the fact that there is no way to falsify the hypothesis that the regularities will change sometime in the future, it is reasonable to think that it will remain regular.

Of course it may be that instead of the regularities changing random events happen on occasion that do not fit into the overall pattern of the universe. Now if our universe was a classical universe this might make sense, but our universe is a quantum universe, which means that there is already a small probability that everything that can happen will happen. So to say that an event that breaks the overall pattern occurs is really to say that it has an unusually high probability of occurring, one that doesn’t fit the pattern. But suppose this event actually occurs, what will the inhabitants of this universe think? Well, they will think that they have just witnessed a very improbable event, but not an impossible one. And since improbable events do occur this will not cause them to think that any regularities have been broken. To make them think that this unusual event would have to happen repeatedly, so that the probability of it happening can be observed to be greater than the probability predicted by regularities that are thought to describe the universe. But then they will not be motivated to think that the regularities are being broken, but that there are a different set of regularities in which the probability of that event occurring is higher than they previously thought. So, even if the universe really does contain events that break with every regularity, that fact won’t be known by the inhabitants, who will still conclude that the universe is regular.

So no matter what if a universe contains conscious inhabitants then those inhabitants will conclude that the universe they live in is governed by regularities. And since we are inhabitants of a universe this tells us that we should expect the universe to seem regular. And thus there is no need to further need to explain why such regularities are perceived to exist.



  1. we can use the anthropic principle, and argue that any conscious observers in any universe should expect to observe a universe that appears patterned.

    That’s not the anthropic principle, it’s an anthropic selection effect that physicists have wrongly termed, whereas an anthropic cosmological principle defines the structuring of the universe from first principles that include carbon based life as a “specially” relevant feature of the mechanism.

    An anthropic principle isn’t a copout on first principles, whereas, the rest of the lame rationale that scientists and you have attempted to use to explain the otherwise unexpected structuring… … is.

    Comment by island — May 29, 2007 @ 9:25 am

  2. Your point?

    Comment by island — May 29, 2007 @ 11:16 am

  3. My point is that it is you who are confused about anthropic reasoning and its justification. The link was an attempt to allow you to become better informed on the matter.

    Comment by Peter — May 29, 2007 @ 11:20 am

  4. Listen to me, son, I wrote most of the first four or five sections of that wikipedia. Does that help?

    Comment by island — May 29, 2007 @ 11:30 am

  5. Here’s the deal:

    A physics principle has to say something fundamental about structure and dynamics.

    A cosmological principle has to say something fundamental about the structure and dynamics of the observed universe.

    A selection principle, (the weak interpretation), is not a physics principle because it does neither, rather, it is a selection effect, which uses random probabilities, rather than physics to “choose” the correct vacuum solution.

    You have to prove that this is really what is going on, in order for the latter to supercede the former, so you have to prove that the multiverse is more than a semi-established cutting edge theoretical speculation in order for this to supercede implications of the observed universe…

    OR…. you can produce a valid cosmological principle that prove that we are simply a consequence of the physics, rather than the reason for it that the anthropic physics makes it appear to be.

    Comment by island — May 29, 2007 @ 11:45 am

  6. I didn’t claim that anthropic reasoning was a physical principle. It can however tell us what we should expect given our existence. In this case we should expect the universe to be regular. That’s it, no need to invoke the existence of other universes.

    Comment by Peter — May 29, 2007 @ 12:17 pm

  7. No, it does NOT tell us that the universe is “normal”, or “regular”, nor is it most naturally expected… and this is the reason why David Gross says that the biggest failure of science in 20 years, has been it inability to find a “***unique*** dynamical principle” that explains the otherwise completely UNEXPECTED structuring of the universe.

    Is Our Universe Natural?

    Comment by island — May 29, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

  8. You are confusing the desire for a causal explanation with a non-causal one. Obviously one cannot give a dynamical/causal explanation for the structure of the universe. Which is why we rely on anthropic reasoning, or something like it, in order to give a non-causal explanation.

    Comment by Peter — May 29, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  9. That’s why Gross calls anthropic selection a copout of first principles, not because it can’t be done. What you’ve said is like saying that a theory can’t be falsified only because nobody has disproven it. That’s just wrong.

    You certainly can use anthropic selection as a counter-argument to equally non-evidenced “causes”, like god or ID, but as I’ve said, unproven theoretical speculations that are not even falsifiable science do not supercede the implications of the observed universe, until or unless they are vindicated as a necessary feature of the as-yet unknown theory of everything, or maybe a tested and proven theory of quantum gravity.

    As for causal explanations, yes, I can give a “dynamical/causal explanation for the structure of the universe”… but that falls under the heading of original research, so you’d have to be able to understand the physics to make a judgment call about the validity of the physics. I can certainly explain it in terms that you can clearly understand make sense… but the door for denial and appeals to authority gets left open to anyone that wants to play devil’s advocate, rather than honest skeptic.

    Comment by island — May 29, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

  10. Obviously you have completely missed what I am trying to do here, but at this point it doesn’t seem like you are even trying to understand. Now I have run these ideas by qualified people both in philsophy and physics (Ph.d.s) and they agree that what I am saying here is sound. Now that is not to say that they agree with all of my conclusions, but we agree that the reasoning strategy is sound, and that you can’t in principle give causal explanations in these cases, without radically re-defining causation, as causation deals with the development of events over time, and time is part of the universe, and thus it is impossible to give such an explanation of the overall structure of the universe, or of its existence.

    Comment by Peter — May 29, 2007 @ 2:52 pm

  11. No, the ability to give such an explanation depends on which cosmological model actually bears out to be in effect, and and the *most apparent* strong anthropic constraint on the forces very strongly indicates that you are dead wrong about that.

    I don’t give a damn what cosmological model that you or your “qualified people” thinks can over-ride the most apparent strong anthropic constraint on the forces, but you guys REALLY need to read this, because you don’t know the application of the scientific method to this, from adam… jack!


    … and because you are hopelessly lost in cutting edge, ad hoc theoretical speculation, that is not difinitively proven by anything except a valid ToE, or a *complete* theory of quantum gravity that requires some version of the multiverse.

    So put up, or shut up, because I have falsifiable physics to prove that every one of these problems can be resolved without need for any of that crap and MUCH more.

    Comment by island — May 29, 2007 @ 3:51 pm

  12. If you have no intention of listening why bother responding? And you are certainly not dealing with any kind physics, falsifiable or not, given what you have said in the linked post, just speculation, and poorly backed up speculation at that. Have a nice day.

    Comment by Peter — May 29, 2007 @ 4:23 pm

  13. I make a point of deleting comments that are excessively rude, and will continue to do so. As for your supposed “science” the paper you link to isn’t falsifiable science, but rather speculation by someone with a physics background. Which doesn’t make them wrong necessarily, but physics people have a hard time grappling with certain philosophical problems. In this case specifically they are looking for a way for physical laws to change within a single universe in order to explain why things are as they are. This makes two mistakes. 1- it falsely pre-supposes that there must be a causal reason, and that we need one. 2- it falsely pre-supposes that the only way to talk about multiple universes is within some sort of multiverse / qauntum many worlds model; this ignores the possibility of completely disconnected universes.

    Comment by Peter — May 29, 2007 @ 5:00 pm

  14. You cannot speak of disconnected universes, nor, multiverses in context with any falsifiable science. I have repeatedly given you the criterion that is necessary to call them science, so if you want to disconnect from reality and physics and everything else that means anything to anybody, then have at it, but DO NOT CALL IT SCIENCE.

    Comment by island — May 29, 2007 @ 5:04 pm

  15. That is why the blog is called “on philosophy” and not “on science”. As for the rest, well you are a very angry person. If you don’t like the explanation, that’s fine by me if rejecting it out of hand makes you happy. However, the explanation satisfies me since you have yet to demonstrate a flaw with its reasoning, and it satisfies some other people as well, such that we no longer think that there is a gap in our reasoning as to why the unvierse behaves according to regular laws instead of randomly.

    Comment by Peter — May 29, 2007 @ 5:10 pm

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