Thursday, May 03, 2018

The boy in the barbershop

1. I'm noncommittal on the antiquity of the universe. I'm open to old-earth creationism and new-earth creationism in that regard. A stock objection to mature creation is that it's deceptive. For instance, if the universe is only about 6-10K years old, then when we see a supernova, we're witnessing a nonevent. There never was a supernova corresponding to what we see, because the universe isn't old enough for the light to travel from the point of origin to earth, measured in lightyears. 

2. However, that objection poses a conundrum for the critic of mature creation. It posits a discrepancy between appearance and reality. We see something in the present, but in reality, we're witnessing the past, like a photograph of an event taken from the distant past. So the "deception" is relative to the background knowledge of the observer. According to modern astronomy, the supernova we see may no longer exist. Yet an ancient observer would assume that if he sees it, it must be there. So the objection of deception cuts both ways. 

3. This raises the problem of the observer in science. If physicalism is true, the observer is the brain, connected to sense organs. This means the observer never perceives the external world directly. Indeed, he can only see eyes with eyes. He can't directly observe the instrument he uses to make observations with. So he has no way of independently  confirming that he even has sense organs. The observer can't observe himself apart from himself. He can't assume the role of an outside observer. He can't step outside of himself to observer what he's really like, or what the world is really like. All he has to go by are his impressions. 

4. If anything, the problem is more acute regarding the origin of the world. Since that starts from nowhere, it could start anywhere. An absolute beginning is bound to be artificial. There's no right or wrong way to begin. 

5. As a young boy, I remember sitting in a barbershop. I was sitting in the barber chair, having my hair cut. It was one of those neat swivel pump chairs. Behind me was a mirror all along that side of the shop. In front of me was another mirror. The combination of the two mirrors generated an infinite=y mirror. Sitting in the chair, I could see my reflection multiplied, receding into the never-ending distance, in ever smaller images. Boxes within boxes. 

Of course, that's an optical illusion, but I knew it was an illusion because I was seeing myself. I enjoyed a privileged perspective. 

Yet science is all about reducing the first-person viewpoint to a third-person viewpoint. Eliminating that indexical perspective to produce a universal viewpoint.

But in that event, what counts as the unbiased observer? What's the true frame of reference?

Which of those images in the infinity mirror is the correct representation of reality? We can't say the boy in the chair is the unbiased observer, because that's a unique and unrepeatable viewpoint. An outside observer can't tap into his experience. As the boy in the chair, who sees his own reflection, I know that there's an asymmetrical relation between the observer and the images. Yet that's not a third-person viewpoint. That's not the perspective of an outside observer. 

In theory, the entire system–the boy, the mirrors, and the barbershop–could be boxes within boxes of an even larger image, like a picture on a wall. The observer could be standing outside the picture, looking at the picture of the boy in the barbershop. 

As creatures within the universe, who's the objective observer? Who's the outside observer? Who sees things as they really are? Is the supernova like reflections in a cosmic infinity mirror–or the object producing the reflections? 

6. Modern physics is very strange. The theory of relativity is counterintuitive. And quantum mechanics is even more baffling. There are multiple interpretations of quantum mechanics, and it's a choice between one weird interpretation and another weird interpretation. 


  1. Have you read Jason Lisle's solution to the "distant starlight problem"? Basically he removes the problem by saying light travels at an infinite velocity towards an observer, since one way light speed is chosen by convention.

  2. I love Dr Gerald Schroeder's reconciliation of the biblical 6 days of creation with science's dating of the universe being 13 billion years old. That there is no conflict.