Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

The Turtle-Free Universe: Introduction

(Sorry for the title. I have nothing against turtles; I'm just fond of this particular metaphor. It'll make sense soon.)

A while back, I posted a discussion of my personal beliefs. In the course of that, I referred to the possibility of an uncontextualized universe, and the fact that that concept makes me rather uncomfortable, because I couldn't wrap my head around it -- it's a strange enough notion to be beyond my imagination.

Well, putting things that way amounted to a challenge to myself, and I am rarely one to leave a gauntlet sitting on the ground. The notion's been stewing in the back of my mind for a couple of months now, and it seems that it wants to be discussed. So here is a collection of strange theories about Life, the Universe and Everything.

The following should not be construed as scientific in any way; at best, it's fairly wooly philosophy verging on mysticism. Like most philosophy having to do with ultimate truths, it's guesswork and intuition, and may well never be provable or disprovable. I don't know if anything in here is actually novel, but I haven't seen it put together before.

It's also quite long -- I'm trying to deconstruct the universe here, and that takes a few paragraphs. So I decided to serialize the discussion over the next few days, as I have time to write it down. In deference to friends lists, it'll be behind cut tags from here on out...

Introduction: As I mentioned in the earlier posting, I've come to think of the universe as composed literally of math. The evidence for this is simply too strong to ignore: the story of physics in the past century has been one of intuition colliding with mathematical calculation, and the math generally wins. Simple observations lead to bizarre but correct conclusions. The fact that lightspeed is constant resulted in the extremes of relativity; the need to clear up strange infinities in oven temperatures led to the quantized universe.

Somewhere along the line, I began to internalize this notion that the macro-scale universe that we're used to is really an illusion, wrapped around a far subtler and stranger reality underneath. That led to the "Church of Christ, Programmer" notion -- the concept that our universe is essentially a giant program, running on an unimaginably complex computer. In and of itself, this actually makes a certain odd sense: if our world is made of math, something has to be calculating that math, right?

The problem is, that explanation, at least when naively constructed, requires Turtles. As in the old joke,

"Grandpa, why does the Earth move around the sun?"
"Why, it's on the back of a giant turtle, that walks its way around."
"But what is that turtle standing on?"
"Another turtle, of course -- it's turtles all the way down."

The Cosmic Computer is a giant Turtle -- it makes a bit of sense until you ask the question of what it is made of, which leads to a Crisis of Infinite Turtles.

Thinking about it that way, I began to realize that the Cosmic Computer explanation is more of a hope than a belief: specifically, a hope for a description of the universe that was within my comprehension. But the more I look at it, the less I believe it. The infinite regress doesn't really explain much. And at a certain level, I find it inelegant. The computer scientist in me craves elegance: I want a consistent system that is aesthetic, even if necessarily incomplete.

This is what follows from that craving. The Scientific American article on multi-universe theories a while back got me started on this road, but I've been wandering further down it. Not all of this is necessarily tied together; rather, this is a set of somewhat related ideas that I'm tying together. Let's see where they lead...

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