Monday, December 16, 2013

Theistic idealism

It's striking to see how some secular physicists and cosmologists are backing into theistic idealism (a la Berkeley, Edwards, Leibniz, Robert Adams):

The basic idea is that the ultimate structure of reality is, well, a mathematical one. Please understand this well, because it is the crux of the discussion: Tegmark isn’t saying anything as mundane as that the world is best described by mathematics; he is saying that the ultimate nature of reality is mathematics. 
This is actually not at all a new thesis, though Max is advancing it in new form and based on different reasoning then before. Indeed, the idea has a long philosophical history, and can fruitfully be thought of as based on two distinct philosophical positions: Pythagoreanism, or mathematical Platonism; and Mathematical monism. 
Mathematical Platonism is the idea that mathematical structures are real in a mind-independent fashion. They are not “real” in the same sense as, say, chairs and electrons, but they do have an ontological status independent of the human (or any other) mind. As readers of this blog know, I’m actually sympathetic to (though not necessarily completely on board with) mathematical Platonism. The best point in its favor is the so-called “no miracles” argument, the idea that mathematics is too unreasonably effective (at predicting things about the world) for it to be just a human invention, rather than somehow part of the inherent fabric of the world. (Interestingly, this argument is equivalent to one by the same name advanced by scientific realists to claim that science really does describe — approximately — how the world is, as opposed to the antirealist position that the only thing we can say about science is that it is empirically adequate.) 
Mathematical monism is the stronger doctrine that not only are mathematical structures real, but they are the only real thing out there (or, more precisely, everywhere).
The combination of Platonism and monism yields a class of theories about the ultimate nature of reality, of which Tegmark’s MUH is one example. 
Max went on to say that his hypothesis has “zero free parameters” and is therefore favored by Occam’s razor. But if you check his paper at he says: “If this theory is correct, then since it has no free parameters, all properties of all parallel universes … could in principle be derived by an infinitely intelligent mathematician.

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