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The Multiverse Is an Ancient Idea (nautil.us)
98 points by dnetesn on Jan 31, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 30 comments



I wish there was more focus on non-Western philosophy in such articles. Often there are one or two Greek philosophers, one or two Muslim philosophers and a brief mention of something something Buddhist philosophy. What about Hindu philosophy? What about Chinese philosophy? I can ascertain that the two facets he describes, cyclical nature of universe[1] and multiverse[2] are both part of Hindu philosophy. I wish there was more focus on diversity of ancient thought. Time travel is something that was alluded to in many ancient cultures and is a vast topic, imo[3]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel_of_time

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kakudmi#Meeting_with_Brahma

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_travel#History_of_the_tim...


You might be interested in The History of Philosophy podcast, which has so far covered all of western and Islamic philosophy up the Middle Ages and is currently going back and forth between medieval European philosophy and early Hindu philosophy. They're also planning on a Chinese philosophy series in the future.


Thank you. I will check it out.


I agree with you in spirit, but I also realize this is a piece on the internet. If you want something completely definitive then you should be looking elsewhere.

As Emerson said "round every circle a larger can always be drawn" (paraphrase)


Of course. Thing is - I think I understand the goals of the publication(Nautilus) and want them to be better - it would benefit everyone.


You know more about nautilus than I do. Would they usually have covered all major viewpoints? Beyond the top three but all the way to, say, top 20 (just for instance).


the equator


Technically not a circle


the projection of the equator onto a sphere is less pithy, I think.


I am not an authority but did significantly extend https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Buddhist_traditions_t... and have studied Buddhist history relatively extensively. I am unaware of any reference to infinite worlds or eternity in very early Buddhist scriptural traditions. As far as I am aware these ideas only arrive through the later schools of Mahayana/Vajrayana and possibly some contributing precursors like Mahāsāṃghika. In those traditions one could argue that certain sutras discussing for example Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin 观音, often depicted as thousand-hand/thousand-eye, from Tibet through China to Japan, Korea and Vietnam) referenced to some extent infinite worlds.

Note that as far as we can tell from scriptural evidence, the historical Buddha answered difficult questions in particular ways, suggesting that debating some questions was a waste of time (relative to the central goal of Buddhism - working to escape suffering and rebirth and achieve englightenment) since no authoritative answer could be meaningfully sought. 'Right speech' is a central pillar of Buddhism's noble eightfold path http://www.accesstoinsight.org/index-subject.html#eightfold, and it means considering all speech and only speaking when it contributes to your path to enlightenment and/or alleviating suffering in others through sharing the dhamma. He also questions the motivation behind those asking answerless questions. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/index-subject.html#questions

He specifically dealt with the question of world-origin in the Acintita Sutta: "Conjecture about [the origin, etc., of] the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it." http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.077.tha...

As far as Chinese philosophy goes, if you have access to paywalled academic articles http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6253.... looks to be a good recent review of the emergence of various concepts of the infinite. Less authoritatively, Daoism included direct reference to concepts of the infinite in its key texts (circa 600BCE) - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wuji_(philosophy) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiji_(philosophy) These concepts were expanded upon by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_of_Names however most of their work is lost. They were an interesting early school of formal logic based to some extent on a sort of primitive set theory, classification, categorization, and the discovery of formal systems proving statements in informal language anomalous: "a white horse is not a horse", "a dog is not a hound", etc. where the ontological coherence of the statement is based upon disparate formal interpretations of accepted informal senses of the verb to be. (Not enhanced in clarity by the need for translation)


There were sone mentions in the Nikayas about "aeons of cosmic expansion and contraction". Some people parallel that with big bangs and big crunches.


Interesting so I followed it up... turns out the phrase is used in two places as far as I can tell:

1. A translation of the 8th benefit of mindfulness, as espoused in the Kayagata-sati Sutta: Mindfulness Immersed in the Body. Basically in this text the historical Buddha is saying that mindfulness enables recognition of one's past lives.

2. Iddhipada-vibhanga Sutta: Analysis of the Bases of Power in which loads of supernatural powers are listed as being granted to those who achieve concentration through the "four bases of power", and is essentially similar to the above, though it also lists many other powers like walking on water, diving in to earth and flying and is probably not supposed to be taken as literally as it has been translated. Further, it specifically references pre-Buddhist Brahmanic tradition. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn51/sn51.020.tha...


What resources have you used to study Buddhist history? I've been an avid reader of accesstoinsight but want to learn more. Email in profile.


So there's an essay I thought it was called The Scientist and The Sage by Asimov (or Sagan?) but I can't currently find a link.

The point though is that there's only a couple useful things you can say about the universe: it has a definite begin and a definite end, an infinite beginning and no end, some combination of that, or it's cyclical... and because there's a very limited set of possibilities it's trivial to find an ancient sage opining on something that sounds like the big bang and the heat death of the universe.

Similarly either this universe is all there is or 'the multiverse' which means it's very easy to find historic sources spouting off things that sound like a multiverse. With out actual evidence, math, science behind it though it's not interesting that they came to this conclusion because simply guessing that this is the way of things doesn't push our understanding forward.


I don't think that evidence is what would determine if it's worth of scientific study. For me it's testability the criteria. If the thesis is testable it's worth of scientific study because we will learn something form the test result.

If a thesis is not testable, it's just an idea in millions (i.e. existence of God). The validity will remain undetermined and there is nothing to learn from studying it.

The concept of evidence defines a narrower scope.

The testability is determined by the existence of constrains that must be satisfied.


Of course; even "this new idea is actually old idea" is an old idea: Ecclesiastes 1:9, "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun."


Nautil.us seems to be obsessed with the multiverse. This seems to be related to "Fake physics": https://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=9053


Nautilus Cosmos is a special project exploring astrobiology, fine tuning, the multiverse and dark matter. That is the reason for the amount of focused content.


Do physicists take the multiverse idea seriously? Specifically, the one in the article that says that there are multiple universes each with different physical laws? (This is very different from QM many worlds, where universes share the same laws.)


Most physicists don't think about other universes with other physical laws because they don't really affect what we see.

Cosmologists interested in fine-tuning might.

Quantum foundation theorists often consider alternatives, not because they think they are real, but because it's useful to understand why QM has the form it does. Mostly their results suggest QM is difficult to modify without becoming trivial or useless.

I think the drive comes more from the metaphysical direction. It's hard to imagine why one set of laws would emerge as physical unless all sets of laws are physical, just by virtue of existing mathematically.


Certainly some do. Max Tegmark would be an example[1]. He posts a sort of "all possible universes with all possible laws". (I think "possible" in this context roughly means mathematically consistent.)

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Our-Mathematical-Universe-Ultimate-Re...


Theoretical physicists explore lots of crazy ideas and their implications. It's necessary to keep an open mind when you're working on the outer edges of science.

Max Tegmark is famous for his occasional crackpot theories. If anything they make for good sci-fi.


The reality of Multiverse is undetermined and it is untestable. Unless someone discuss methods to test it, it's a waste of time because there is nothing to learn on our universe with it.

It would be a mistake to call back into question the existence of multiverse. And a mistake as big to claim it exist.

Until a method to test it is found, discussing this idea is a waste of time. However I would respect people searching and discussing methods to test it if they have pertinent things to say.


"seriously" there's no obvious reason they couldn't exist but at the same time most of us, some what tautologically from the definition of universe, believe that their existence is completely untestable and so: a fun conversation for drunk physicists but not something to look for grant money for.


I love the idea that there is no [quantum] probability, every universe that may exist according to quantum formulae, exists in some manner.


Anyone who proposes multiverse theory (or any theory for that matter) please include the process to test it and if you can't then please don't waste people time. Always remember the idea of scientific method.


Nautil.us breaks the back button on Chrome.

To recreate...click the link and scroll down a bit, they fill your history with the same page, so you can't use the back button.

Dark pattern or honest mistake?


Seriously annoying whatever they're doing.


Not just chrome, on mobile Safari I couldn't back out either.


Multiverse isn't just an ancient idea. It's the center piece of pre-modern philosophy.

Bruno and Leibniz were arguing from the plenitude principle. The principle asserts "the universe contains all possible forms of existance". The idea is introduced by Plato's ontology from which everything after is arguably a derivative.[1]

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_plenitude




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