I hope that our rabbinical friends have had an edifying Day of Atonement.
Over the summer, the Orthosphere’s Bonald wrote on contemporary physics and its underlying philosophical understanding: “Philosophy in physics: returning to measurement.” Bonald links to an essay by Stephen Barr on Big Questions Online wherein Barr argues that quantum physics undermines materialism: “Does Quantum Physics Make it Easier to Believe in God?” It is a short but fascinating read. Barr argues that a materialist who accepts quantum physics is forced to justify his materialism by adopting the “Many Worlds Interpretation” of quantum mechanics. He seems to think that the metaphysical stinginess of materialists will make them hesitate to adopt such an outlook to save their materialism, thereby undoing their materialism.
Bonald, however, considers the Many Worlds Interpretation a genuine threat to traditional understandings about man and, I suppose, to a particular cosmological “paving” argument for the existence of God. I disagree and commented so:
I wish that there were more article’s like Barr’s — it is intelligible by the “uninitiated” without being condescending. It is hard to find well written explanatory articles about math, science, or philosophy that speak toward a broad, educated audience outside the field. We have become a society of insular experts.
Also, I do not see what is so alarming about the “many worlds” theory. I have wondered about it, though not from knowing any discussion of it in physics — and certainly not to defend materialism. Rather, I wonder if our thinking that our world is “the world” is similar to our thinking that our present is “the present.” I call the latter temporal chauvinism. For our “now” is not God’s now any more than the moment when Heloise and Abelard first discovered their great love or some occasion in the thirty-fourth century of the Christian era. For God is beyond time, and thus past and future are causal directions in cosmic history relative to a given “present” moment on that timeline. Maybe, the same holds for multiple worlds. God surely knows every possible world, of which ours is one. But is it “the one” or simply one for us? Perhaps the structure of modal logic actually reveals something about reality — wherein the principle of plenitude may hold.
Moreover, wouldn’t the many worlds theory itself discredit materialism? For if certain features/elements/entities show up in many worlds, and if there is an identity among them, then what is that very identity? If a particular baseball exists in so many different worlds, what explains the correspondence? Any decent answer will eventually have to resort to the non-material — form, an assembly of certain qualities (again, form), a relationship of the parts to the whole (formal structure yet again), and so on. Of course, we need not many worlds to see the same argument against materialism (thinking about atoms will suffice), but I find it queer that materialists would latch onto such an obvious refutation of their world view as a defense for that view.
Materialism seems to be called into question by the very theory that is supposed to support it. In multiple worlds, there is some sort of identity among certain elements/parts/unities/entities in the worlds, and that identity cannot be material. If each thing is utterly discrete/different, then what’s the point of the many worlds? It would seem a huge con. If there is an identity, then the materialist must explain such identity in material terms. Bonald responded:
The idea that my consciousness might bifurcate is one that I find troubling. Either all the bonald-states with nonzero amplitude are one person or they’re separate people. Either way, I would have to weaken my concept of unity and self-identity to either
A) something that could simultaneously hold two incompatible conscious states
B) something nontransitive, since in which (bonald after measuring result a) = (bonald before measurement) and (bonald after measuring result b) = (bonald before measurement), but (bonald after measuring a) =/= (bonald after measuring b)
I find both alternatives distasteful.
I do not share Bonald’s angst because I am rather agnostic about the nitty gritty details of metaphysics. As I have written before, what really are we? If my true being is an idea in the eternal mind of God, then we may see how Bonald’s objections can be answered. For the instantiation of myself in one world is really myself, and the instantiation of myself in an alternative world is really myself, though they are not the same instantiations of myself. The same mystery of existence holds true in our own world through time. Identify persists through change because the identity is something other than the combination of the temporal-spatial facts of any given moment. Such is Plato’s affirmative path as opposed to Buddhist nihilism’s peculiar via negativa from old Parmenides’ house.