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One-electron universe (wikipedia.org)
169 points by ColinWright on Sept 12, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 100 comments



Reminds me of this short story: The Egg by: Andy Weir http://galactanet.com/oneoff/theegg_mod.html

Instead of electrons, everyone in the universe is the same person.


Thanks for linking to that story, I enjoyed reading it again. I think you should consider editing your comment to remove the spoiler though, if this was the first time I'd read the story that would have spoiled it a little for me.


Alternately, try reading All You Zombies by Robert A Heinlein http://www.polvoestelar.com.mx/babilonia/Libros/Robert%20A.%...


Thank you times a million for a Heinlein I'd never read! I thought I'd got them all.

Isn't there another one like this involving a wizard who rules in a castle?


You may be thinking of "By His Bootstraps", which is a fantastic Heinlein short story about time travel.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/By_His_Bootstraps


Indeed I am. Thanks!

I love so much the effortlessness of steeping in a culture of people with such similar tastes and preferences enabled by the internet (and, to a lesser extent, HN).


PS: I meant

(a culture of people with such similar tastes and preferences) enabled by the internet

not

a culture of people with (such similar tastes and preferences enabled by the internet)


It's funny, I had a similar idea before reading either of these stories, and wrote my own version: http://i.saac.me/reincarnation.txt

I'd like to know what people think, since I haven't shown it to anyone before. I don't write fiction often and was experimenting with the writing style, and I'm not sure if it's too over-written.


Overall, the story is verbose, and I think it would be much improved if you shortened it by 25-50%. In the beginning, you use too many pronouns ("he" or "him" is in nearly every sentence). I liked the juxtaposition of changing to she half way through. Maybe you could also add 1st and 2nd person narratives for more variety. Similarly, the first usage of sentence fragments was a good change of pacefrom the stilted introduction, but I think you started overusing it towards the end. If you replaced some of the narrative with dialog, you might solve these problems. But be careful not to get too close to the style of "the egg."

Keep it up! I love fiction like this that tries to tackle deep topics.


I haven't read this story before, and while I appreciate the link, I wish you hadn't spoiled it.


For all of you complaining about "spoilers" - an interesting bit of research was published last month that indicates "spoilers" actually increase enjoyment of the story. http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/08/spoilers-dont-sp...


I've always felt this way... enjoying a story is more about the experience the writer creates while telling it. I always encourage people to go ahead and "spoil" the story for me.


I don't think that's universally true; there are some movies that I think would be absolutely destroyed by knowing the ending.


Fight club is a good example of this.


"enjoyment" as measured rather arbitrarily. there is a quieter form of enjoyment in enjoying a story as the author intending it, deciding to let the author surprise you.

psychological results being misused to say "Be glad it got spoiled, now you'll like it!" irritates and offends me.


I'm merely providing evidence that this may not universally be the case. No offense was intended.

As a personal rule, I don't spoil events (books, movies, etc.) when friends ask.


Great story, thanks! I don't believe in the collecting of experiences through past lives thing. However, I sometimes think if the Borg are misrepresented in Star Trek: wouldn't it be great if we could save all experiences and thoughts of all beings on earth living now and also have a way to easily browse this vast collection? The Internet to the n'th degree.


My impression of the Borg was that they weren’t disliked because of their goal, but because they forcefully recruited.


Sure, but they were depicted as ugly and, well, borg-like. Whereas I would envision such a race to be highly rational but also emotional (you have access to the world's emotions), perhaps like Ancient Greece, on steroids!


Though I don't really get why the borg need all organisms of a species. If they just took a few millions here and there, nobody would complain - or at least not that loudly.


> wouldn't it be great if we could save all experiences and thoughts of all beings on earth living now and also have a way to easily browse this vast collection?

No.

I'm thinking of a short story I read long ago, about a man who invents a device which can be used to view the past, despite mysterious attempts to sabotage his work.

As I recall, it does not end well.


You might be referring to "The Dead Past," a classic short story by Asimov.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dead_Past


That sounds like a business idea (that I'm already working on actually). Archive everyone's personal online history and let them contribute/share their experiences with the 'collective'


See, I think Borg-like archiving is the easier part of the problem (although of course, I have no idea to capture and save perception, I believe it can be done, and anyway simpler capture process, like yours can be created). The real challenge is how to catalog and browse such a database. When I enter my personal history, it needs to be analyzed, main themes (and memorable parts) labeled using an ontology and all this needs to be presented using an intuitive UI.

Researchers have pursued similar goals for image/video databases for more than a decade now, with little success (think how you search YouTube or Flickr: mainly through manual tags). Any that is a much simpler problem.


Good feedback, I agree completely. Got some ideas on meaningful ways to curate the data so it can be browsed. Need to get it built!


The ultimate form of social networking. We will be more connected than ever! So this was what Zuckerberg has been planning all along...LOL


I hope not! Hoping he gets lazy and would rather acqui-hire it!


Reminds me of the of the Boltzmann brain paradox:

The Boltzmann brain paradox is that it is more likely that a brain randomly forms out of the chaos with false memories of its life than that the universe around us would have billions of self-aware brains.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boltzmann_brain


Thank you for sharing that. I find it interesting that (from Wikipedia here) the paradox is based on the idea that "it is more likely for one instance of a complex structure to arise than for many instances of that thing to arise".

What interests me about this is that a physicist is capable of such complex ruminations vis-a-vis self-awareness without indicating the slightest apprehension of self-replication.



>everyone in the universe is the same person

That was the theme of Richard Bach's One: A Novel as well.


Style reminds me of Coelho, author of The Alchemist.


See also: Buddhism.


Brilliant short story - thanks for posting this.


I wish I could find a scan of Dr. Watchstop ( http://www.amazon.com/Dr-Watchstop-Adventures-Time-Space/dp/... ),specifically the "Single Electron Proof" story based on this idea. In it, Dr. Watchstop builds a machine capable of disproving this theory by utterly destroying an electron without creating a positron. He fires it up in the second-to-last panel of the strip; the last panel, of course, is blank. Short and silly, but fairly smart and gorgeously drawn.


Does anyone know if we still believe that there are more electrons than positrons in the universe (also more matter than antimatter)?

Do we have a way of checking if distant galaxy is made of matter or antimatter?


We can invalidate the idea of antimatter galaxies indirectly. While a hypothetical antimatter galaxy puts out the same light as a matter one and probably looks exactly like normal matter from the outside, there is a telltale signature: it would put out additional gamma rays. Space is not empty, even intergalactic space is filled with atomic particles (albeit in a weak concentration). This means that an antimatter region somewhere out there would react at the boundary with an adjacent matter region and this reaction would put out radiation that we can measure. In some instances, there would even be very violent gamma flashes from colliding galaxies.

While such a boundary may still exist outside of our observable range, the size of that area makes it pretty unlikely because everything we can see so far is pretty much uniform. We can see about 13.8 billion light years in either direction (note that this is a view not only through space but also back through time to the beginning of the universe), and we haven't come across such a phenomenon within that area.

In short: it's possible but this stuff would have to be extremely far out and if it's happening at all it may well be beyond our cosmic horizon.


There's also the possibility of a much larger universe filled with "cells" of matter and antimatter. While there would be annihilation at the boundaries, it would be very tenuous, as the radiation would push both regions apart (in the same way a drop of water survives on a hot pan by floating on a cushion of vapor).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasma_cosmology#Alfv.C3.A9n_an...

Not endorsing this theory, just illustrating some possibilities.


Putting aside this theory (which I believe is bogus): It's absolutely possible that huge cells exist, but the radiation pressure would have to be very high to actually push those regions apart and we'd probably still still see lot of stuff colliding. Even if the boundaries are huge and uniform, the effects should be visible. Apart from the radiation we would also observe boundary galaxies that are stripped of their gas and dust clouds. As you suggested, it might very well happen somewhere out there beyond our horizon, as we really have no idea how big the universe actually is.


There wouldn't be any real interaction between such cells, would there? From the perspective of ourselves, in our observable Universe, perhaps the detail of such other cells can't ever be measured in the same way scales smaller than the Planck distance and time can't be measured. That is, quantum effects occur at the largest scale as well as the smallest.


> There wouldn't be any real interaction between such cells, would there?

That's a difficult question to answer without a simulation. All we know is how the visible portion of the universe is structured. The matter seeding works a bit like a procedural terrain generator (where quantum fluctuations introduce a chaotic and self-similar structure) and then gravity and expansion do their thing, so we end up with a universe that is filled with a uniform web of filaments made up of galaxies. Both simulation and observation agree with this model. The primary interaction mechanism at this scale is gravity.

Now if there are pockets of antimatter in there, they'd either be separated from normal matter early on in the process (leading to huge gaps between the cells) or they would visibly communicate with their nearest neighbors when they annihilate stray matter. I don't know which would be more likely. But either scenario is observable if it happens within our field of view, and so far that doesn't seem to be the case. There might be something like this hidden in the ultra-deep field close to the edge of time, but it currently doesn't look like it.


> if there are pockets of antimatter in there, they'd [...] be separated from normal matter early on in the process (leading to huge gaps between the cells)

Thanks to inflation, I suspect that something like this might indeed be possible. Any cosmologist around who knows enough about ΛCDM to give an educated guess?


I don't understand why antimatter stars would emit more gamma rays than normal matter. The only difference is the charge right? Then mass and energy should be the same. That is why matter and anti-matter annihilate each other completely because neither has more energy/mass than the other, just opposite charge. And if your are referring to galactic collisions between matter and antimatter galaxies most galactic collisions do not result in star collisions because of the vast spaces in between stars within galaxies. But I could imagine gas clouds from the two opposing galaxies could come into contact and turn matter into gamma emissions.


How about whole galaxy cluster made of antimatter?

Isn't the void separating clusters really really empty?

And what if roughly half of the galaxy clusters are made of matter and half of antimatter? Would the annihilation radiation be detectable from the background? How do you detect if gamma rays are normal or additional if space might be filled with such matter-antimatter boundaries?


> How about whole galaxy cluster made of antimatter?

Galaxy clusters are too small a structure to be candidates for this. They still interact with their neighbors' matter, they pass through intergalactic particles all the time, and they're simply not isolated enough to do this undetected. At a larger scale, the universe is not cluster-like, it's filament-like:

http://cosmicweb.uchicago.edu/filaments.html

Those filaments are all gravitationally connected and they share the same type of matter from which they were created.

> Isn't the void separating clusters really really empty?

No, vacuum is relative. While the matter density of intergalactic space is very low, the sheer size of that space means there is a lot of stuff in it. The intergalactic space is mostly filled with protons that would be detectably annihilated if they came in contact with an antimatter galaxy. Furthermore, galaxies are colliding and spewing jets of stuff at each other all the time. There would always be annihilation going on that we could see.

> And what if roughly half of the galaxy clusters are made of matter and half of antimatter? Would the annihilation radiation be detectable from the background?

Yes, in two ways. First, if there were antimatter pockets as "small" as galaxy clusters within our observable universe, we would detect massive annihilation patterns along their boundaries from a time when the universe was much more dense than it is now. This is not the case, as the CMB is uniformly chaotic and mirrors the likely structure of the observable universe in its infancy. There are no such pocket boundaries visible in the cosmic background radiation.

Second, there would still be annihilation going on, both from anti-galaxies plowing through the intergalactic proton plasma and from galactic collisions. This would mean seeing antimatter galaxies really lighting up in the gamma spectrum and we'd also see some very long-lasting otherwise unexplained intense gamma sources in the sky. Both are not occurring within our visible horizon.

There is also the distinct possibility that antimatter pockets would, due to billions of years of annihilation events, be separated from matter pockets by huge gaps. We do not see such gaps in the distribution of matter.

Again, all this may be going on beyond our horizon, but if it does that also means antimatter regions would have to be vastly bigger than galaxy clusters.


Thank you very much for your answers. They are very informative.

> The intergalactic space is mostly filled with protons that would be detectably annihilated if they came in contact with an antimatter galaxy.

Are we sure of that? Namely are we sure that it is not equal mixture of protons and antiprotons? If that was the case matter galaxies and antimatter galaxies would look equally "hot" in gamma spectrum.

When we look at the spectrum of radiation of galaxies is it all explained just like spectrum of a star can be fully explained by laws of physics?

> This is not the case, as the CMB is uniformly chaotic and mirrors the likely structure of the observable universe in its infancy. There are no such pocket boundaries visible in the cosmic background radiation.

What if matter and antimatter were well mixed at the time that CMB comes from?

I pretty convinced about your argument that we should be observing sometimes that a collision between galaxies is bit "hotter" in gamma spectrum but how often would that occur would depends on how well matter and antimatter in the universe are separated. If the separations originated at the time that CMB comes from it might be pretty good and not apparent as a few easy to observe well defined pockets and gaps. They also might be increasingly separated as universe expands.


There has been a recent result by the PAMELA experiment indicating that there is a ring of antimatter around the Earth, antiprotons trapped in the planetary magnetic field, that was non previously known of. http://news.discovery.com/space/pamela-spots-a-smidgen-of-an... (or search at your favourite science news source).

Personally I've not had time to look in to this result more.


It kind of reminds me of Mach's principle

"There is a fundamental issue in Relativity theory. If all motion is relative, how can we measure the inertia of a body? We must measure the inertia with respect to something else. But what if we imagine a particle completely on its own in the universe? We might hope to still have some notion of its state of rotation. Mach's principle is sometimes interpreted as the statement that such a particle's state of motion has no meaning in that case."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machs_principle


Feynman's also the one quoted as playing with the idea of what it would be like if 3 + 1 spacetime was instead 2 + 2 (i.e. 2-D space, 2-D time).


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imaginary_time

I always love to throw this one at my friends once we get started talking about numbers/dimensions/philosophy.


Wikipedia has a nice summary on the arguments as to whether 3+1 is "privileged" in some sense:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spacetime#Privileged_character_...


I dont even know if there's a line between troll and inspirational out-of-the-box thinking, but if there is, Feynmann dances all over the place and probably laughs about it from beyond the grave.

I love that dude.


Unfortunately, the idea that a positron is an electron going "backwards" only works for electromagnetic interactions. Gravity and the strong & weak electromagnetic forces seem to be the same going "forward" in time for both electrons and positrons. If the positrons were going backward in time, they should react "backwards" to everything.


Gravity is attractive even if you run physics backwards in time. To see that this is the case, consider the following scenario:

You've got a ball at rest 500 meters up, and you drop it. It falls downwards at 9.8 m/s^2. After 10 seconds, it's traveling 98 m/s towards the ground and has falled 490 meters (10 meters above the ground).

Now freeze time and reverse it!

What do you see if you reverse the "movie"? Well, the ball changes direction. It's still 10 meters above the ground, but is now heading upwards at 98 m/s. It continues up, but slows down at -9.8 m/s until it finally comes to a stop 500 meters up.

In other words, running the movie backwards looks like just like the normal laws of physics -- attractive gravity and all. Weird, huh?


Thanks for the mind expansion. Never looked at it that way.


Say what? Your gedanken simply proves that you've assumed that gravity is attractive when time reverses.

If you place a ball on an inclined plane then it rolls downwards to a position of lower potential energy, (under a Newtonian consideration) the gravitational force acting to accelerate the ball.

If you reverse time, unless you know how gravity acts in reverse then how do you know that the ball will roll up the hill rather than stay in place or roll down.

You're saying gravity remains attractive, ergo that if you reverse time the ball still rolls down, the universe still expands, etc..


No, he's saying that if you "reverse the movie" of the ball accelerating down the inclined plane, then it will appear to decelerate as it rolls up the plane; looking at a ball slowing down as it rolls up a plane you can't tell if time is going forwards or backwards.


A ball will not roll uphill, even when time is reversed. Gravity really is time-reversal invariant. But when you reverse time, you do have to invert all velocities. So the inverse of your experiment of a ball rolling down an incline is a ball starting at the bottom of the incline with a certain velocity pointing upwards, that'll roll upwards until it comes to a stop, just as it would do in normal time.


I'm curious--if the ball rolling down an incline were instead a photon falling through an event horizon, would the time-reversal involve breaking various physical laws? (Does it fall into the "physics doesn't apply inside of a black hole" disclaimer?)


No, the physics are still valid in the event horizon. It's just the singularity at the exact centre of the black hole that is problematic.

Interestingly, if we ignore only the point at centre, it can be shown that an object that falls in a black hole, goes right through it and is ejected at the other side. All in finite proper time. This situation is non-physical because it takes an infinite amount of time for the photon to reach the event horizon. Even if we could reverse the photon inside the black hole, it would still take an infinite amount of time to crawl back out. So even in theory, black holes are still inescapable.


Time "slows down" asymptotically as you approach the event horizon, so you will never "see" anything cross it. https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Event_horizon...


Particle physics isn't really my specialty, but I think you're wrong on all counts.

Gravity affects light, so particles going backwards in time wouldn't suddenly experience gravity as a repulsive force. The curvature of spacetime is what matters. (Light experiences zero subjective time.)

The strong interaction affects protons and neutrons, not electrons or positrons. "Zero effect" is implicitly time-invariant.

As to the weak interaction, it is mainly a (reversible) "given inputs, get outputs" process. Both β+ decay and electron capture have an analogous process for positrons. The catch is that when you swap signs on the electron, you have to make corresponding changes to the rest of the equation - e.g. if there's a proton for the electron version, it needs to be an antiproton to work for a positron.


About gravity, I didn't mean that the force of gravity would be opposite. I meant that, to us moving "forward", positrons would seem to be reacting backwards, i.e. decelerating instead of accelerating.


But deceleration and acceleration are the same thing: a delta applied to velocity.


I had a similar idea once, only with people - the theory was that each person is the reincarnation of the same one. So anything you do to someone else, you basically do to your future or past self.

Edit: just noticed the link from amvp, guess that's the same. I have to read that story, thanks.


That seems to be the buddhists premise.


None of the buddhist traditions that I know of states that every (human) being is the incarnation of the same 'person'. Also, this would contradict with the scriptures, which describe many enlightened beings (who ended their cycle of rebirth).

On a more abstract level, reality could be seen this manner in Buddhism. Buddhism teaches the doctrine of dependent arising, which states that all phenomena are interdependent. As such there is no distinct/independent self or other.


Surely, you're joking, Mr. Wheeler :) However, it would be interesting to see the process of annihilation explained in terms of this one.


I imagine it as the moment when the line turns back in time :).


I though of it this way too. The problem (and what think disproves this theory) is that when that pair annihilates, it forms a closed loop in time.

To surmount this, I suppose you could say there are N electrons (where N is still less han the total # observed). Assuming not all loops are closed, this could also explain the electron/positron imbalance (more forward-going strings) as well as quantum entanglement (different instances of the same electron).

Experiment to test this theory: allow the positron from a newly created electron-positron pair to annihilate with a second electron. The spin of the two electrons should always be the same.


I think of it as the same particle(electron) arriving at the same point of space at the same time but going in a different direction (in time). Pretty mangled up. And where does all the energy come from then?


It is just a change of interpretation; rather than saying the annihilation causes the release of energy, you could say the change of motion (forward time to reverse time) causes the release of energy. The effects are the same either way, remember Eliezer's dictum, "It all adds up to normality."


The energy was moving backwards in time, and was absorbed in order to reverse the electron's direction.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retrocausality "Time runs left to right in this Feynman diagram of electron-positron annihilation. When interpreted to include retrocausality, the electron (marked e-) was not destroyed, instead becoming the positron (e+) and moving backward in time."


an electron is not a thing, it is something that happens under the right conditions. just like everything else.


Now that's getting to be a more metaphysical than physical question. =] Primacy of events over objects is a possible metaphysical position, but I'm not sure it's the right one...


an object is seen as being distinct and different from other objects, with its own unique history.

the best physical understanding of the universe that we have at the present moment says that all properties of all objects are entirely dependent on ... all properties of all objects. so the idea that an object is distinct doesn't make sense. consider: how large is an atom? quantum mechanics tells us that the wave functions of the atom's constituent particles extend throughout the entire universe, which means that every atom is the size of the entire universe.

additionally, our understanding of the nervous system tells us that the only information we get about the world comes from the firing of all of our nerve cells - discrete events that happen or do not happen. because our understanding of reality is nothing more than than a lossy compression of all sensations humans have ever experienced, if you see reality as being the sum total of all human experience, it's fair to say that it's a stream of events, in which our minds are going for a swim.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cogito_ergo_sum

We create the whole of our reality (the sum of our existance).


By that definition everything is nothing. Matter holds states in variable conditions. Bricks are in a state to allow houses to be built. Everything is nothing. It's all states on a timeline. :)


now you're getting it ;)


I don't see much use in redefining the word 'thing' into oblivion.

An electron is a thing. Start with that to build your definition. If you think 'thing' has strange and wondrous properties then get to that separately.


I think it's telling that the final sentence uses a word which contradicts his intent (emphasis mine):

an electron is not a thing, it is something that happens under the right conditions. just like every_thing_ else.


So, if you cut the thread off in two places because one electron and one positron annihilate each other, wouldn't that unravel the whole thing?

(kind of tongue-in-cheek)


I have a similar theory, of which the idea is, INF ... multiverse ... universe ... earth ... atom .. electron ... multiverse ... repeat ... INF


Maybe electrons do not really exist. Maybe none of you exist at all and this is all a dream.


That would've been my reaction as well: Of course positrons are hidden in the protons (or something).


... and that electron is God? Now all suddenly fits into places :)


Ofcourse religion is misused for taking power and therefore a lot of people don't like to think about it. But I find it always a little strange that a God theory is more 'strange' than a single electron theory.

In the end it seems we still know nothing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electron but we know how to take advantage of them (welding, cathode ray tubes, electron microscopes, radiation therapy, lasers and particle accelerators).


God omnipresence fits in the 'single electron' theory only if God is an electron, an electron being a subatomic particle with a negative charge.

I suppose that is fine if that's what you mean by God, but none of the usual connotations or implications of God-hood would apply. The God-electron would have omnipresence, but no omnipotence or indeed any other of the qualities usually ascribed to gods (other than the obvious, the negative energy those ideas tend to bring with them).


Well I did not agree with the 'God being a single electron'. I just observed that a theory like the single electron is nominated for being 'interesting' while other theories are being nominated as 'not possible'.

Edit: The egg theory is even on top of this thread...


I didn't mean to dismiss your question, it's a reasonable one to ask.

The reason for considering this theory interesting is because it is at least nominally a scientific theory, whereas a God theory is not a scientific theory and thus not interesting to science.

Why is a God theory not a scientific theory? Let me attempt to explain..

A scientific theory starts with experimental observation (in this case, the observation that all electrons have the same mass and charge) and attempts to explain that observation. This explanation should be 1) testable, and 2) predictive. That is, it should be possible to disprove the theory through further experiments, and the theory should lead to further conclusions about how the world works that would then be provable through experimentation as well.

Now, it is doubtful that the one-electron theory is actually testable, which moves it from the realm of serious theories to merely interesting hypotheticals. This is similar to the idea of everything in the world being part of a computer simulation, for example.

Now, God theories in general have multiple issues that make them unscientific. For example, if you claim that God is an entity that is 'beyond time', you need to define in scientific terms what it means to be beyond time. Another issue is that you would need to come up with some experiment that would prove that God does not exist. Even if you were to formulate a definition of God that would satisfy these requirements, it is doubtful that many believers would agree with that definition. Thus, 'God theory' in general doesn't describe a scientific theory at all, and so it is fundamentally not related to science.

edit: I should also say that such a God theory is usually not interesting for another reason: Since it doesn't describe the god of any major religion, no one is really very interested in seeing it disproven. It's easy to invent a cosmic entity and come up with an experiment that proves that it doesn't exist, but what's the point?


I point out, for illustration, the theory of dark matter/energy and string theory. Both of which have started out as hypothesis with few if any testable ways to observe them. At a Google tech talk Murray Gell-Mann, whose lab was where the idea of string theory arose, indicated that he was not very impressed with the idea and suggested it was completely untestable.

The challenge I see in God theory is that it is that people go off and start from some concept they learned in primary school and poke holes in that image. Rather than actually taking a scientific approach and asking what the nature of God might be, given the data they do have access to.

Note that this is completely distinct from theology, or the study of religions, rather it is an attempt at understanding God (which is often referred to as enlightenment).

As Dawkins and others have pointed out however, the God 'meme' has been used forever in human cultures to assert power over one group by another. Thus there is a lot of mental baggage around taking God seriously (think confirmational bias on steroids).

Example, I once talked to an engineer who would not even posit the existence of 'a' God because for them it meant there was a hell and they were afraid to think about what it would mean to spend eternity in such a place.

From that example you can see the confluence of what they were taught by a religion as a control mechanism (obey us or go to hell) versus his ability to ask critical questions. I suggested that a 'God' might exist and their might not be a hell. He found that pretty heretical but it gave him a way to ask the question without wincing.

My wonderings are around the source of sentience and the implementation of free will. Generally the debates of philosophers rather than scientists but one in which the presence of a 'God' (in the scientific sense) could be hypothsized as the difference between sentient and non-sentient. I thought it would be fun to write a short story where confirmational bias was the result of God knowing what you wanted the outcome of your experiment to be and making it so, leading too a lot of angels in therapy because they had made it work like you wanted and then you were all irritated that it wasn't reproducible or something.

Your approach could be used:

Now, God theories in general have multiple issues that make them unscientific. For example, if you claim that God is an entity that is 'beyond time', you need to define in scientific terms what it means to be beyond time.

Ok, so we'll put this 'God' entity thing in a dimension that is orthogonal to time like one of the 11 in string theory.

Another issue is that you would need to come up with some experiment that would prove that God does not exist.

You do have to work on some experiments, and being falsifiable is a slam dunk, but given that we're talking about something that has a will (or is will) its hard. I've often suggested that I can read the phone book for Perth Austrailia and see an indication that a Tom Smith exists, but if I can't get to Austrailia or contact it in anyway I'm hard pressed to prove he exists, even though he has a home address and everything. This is the current challenge with Dark Enery/Matter as well which is coming up with ways to actually see it. And we can't so we look for ways it would influence the stuff we can see. You can make the same argument for God, look for ways that if God exists things might be different. (caveat confirmational bias etc etc).

Even if you were to formulate a definition of God that would satisfy these requirements, it is doubtful that many believers would agree with that definition.

There is no rule that says for a theory to be legitimate it has to be believed by everyone :-) Many solid theories started out being believed by no one but the theorist themselves.

Thus, 'God theory' in general doesn't describe a scientific theory at all, and so it is fundamentally not related to science.

I don't think you succeed in your claim that God theories are 'unscientific'. I would agree with the claim if you said that some theories put forth about the nature of God are unscientific but that does not preclude the existence of a scientific theory about the nature of God.

To have a theory about God, you have to first accept, for the sake of argument, that God might exist. Then you can start looking ways to put boundaries around what God might or might not be, sort of like how collision analysis of partcles is telling us where the Higgs boson isn't. I caution you though, if you start looking for God you run the very real risk of being found.


I certainly agree with the skepticism in regards to some aspects of string theory, and my impression is that skepticism is widely held. However, I don't think your interpretation of the extra dimensions of string theory is correct when you suggest that it would be possible to insert a God into them. The extra dimensions of string theory are tiny and curled up, not additional time-dimensions.

The other major flaw that I see in your argument is that you don't define God. If you posit that God exists, you need to define what that means, and what that God is. I put it to you that any such definition you could come up with would render the concept of God mundane and not divine, and thus would be irrelevant to any believer. You are of course welcome to disprove me on that point.

My point is not that people need to believe in the conclusions of the theory or even the theory itself, but that people would disagree with your definition of God to such an extent to render any such theory meaningless.

edit: I should also say that it is absolutely true that any theory that cannot be disproven experimentally is not a valid scientific theory but merely a hypothesis. All of the examples you give are hypotheses that, at some point, either an experiment was conceived to test them, or that still remain hypotheses. This doesn't mean that untestable hypotheses are worthless, but they do not qualify as scientific theories (yet).


I see your point on the string theory, I was claiming that as long as you have an untestable hypothesis you can construct and arbitrary route to get there. So pre-supposing an additional dimension which is orthognal to space time, would create a space which existed in all time.

"The other major flaw that I see in your argument is that you don't define God."

That is intentional actually, it reflects the challenge that any two people have when they try to define God, as a species there is lots of variability there. But it does not preclude one from creating a definiton, and then creating an untestable hypothesis around that definition (which is the basis of my rebuttal)

One could define 'God' to be a system, mechanism, or phenomena that exists in a dimension orthogonal to space time which is aware of and can interact with beings and matter which exist in the space time that we inhabit. But your later comment is more on the mark.

"I put it to you that any such definition you could come up with would render the concept of God mundane and not divine, and thus would be irrelevant to any believer."

This speaks to the question of 'who cares'? Which is to say that you have to be very careful not to conflate what a religion defines as God (or a god in the case of multi-theism) vs a physics theory which is about the nature of something which could explain observed phenomena associated with 'God'.

In attempt to disentangle the two, consider that we don't have a physics theory of 'consciousness' either, although we have good information about brain chemistry and construction. We can show that 'something' is missing because its possible to create a nearly exact simulation of a brain's physical and chemical signalling makeup and such constructions do not demonstrate consciousness. Such experiments tend to disfavor hypothese which hold that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain's construction or composition.

And to be clear here it is not my intention to create an 'escape through rhetorical trickery' (as I was once accused by a dogmatic believer) rather I think about these things as a means of trying to understand or to quantify my own feelings and experiences.

You remark "My point is not that people need to believe in the conclusions of the theory or even the theory itself, but that people would disagree with your definition of God to such an extent to render any such theory meaningless." seems to imply that for a theory of God to be correct that other people would have to believe the theory and agree with the definition.

I don't think this prequisite holds.I think the only thing you need to have a solid theory is to be able to make predictions and a way to run experiments to test those predictions. So the cosmological theory of God would show how the phenomena labelled as 'God' can do what it does. And then there would a philosophical discussion about whether or not the 'entity' known as God is an emergent property of the mechanism or something else entirely.

I am strongly reminded of Marvin Minsky's lament about 'Artificial Intelligence' where the study of AI has been unfairly criticized for 'not making any progress.' In his report on the progress of AI [1] he says "Artificial Intelligence, as a field of inquiry has been passing through a crisis of identity. As we see it, the problem stems from the tendency for the pursuit of technical methods to become detached from their original goals so that they follow a developmental pattern of their own." He observes that once we know how to do something we just go off and do it and as an engineering exercise it no longer meets the more meta definition of 'Artificial Intelligence.'

So we have computers that play chess (which was once considered a strong indicator of artificial intelligence) and we dismiss it as directed graph analysis. Etc.

My point is that one can create a hypothesis about how God exists (one that satisfies popular properties of God like 'everywhere and everywhen at once') only to find that once its clear then its no longer 'divine or miraculous.' I was always amused by the ancient aliens hyphothesis (effectively a God theory in my mind) since if it was aliens doing things we already know how to do which were considered miracles by people who didn't know how to do them were we all duped?

Once you understand the physics of how God could exist then the question becomes one of motiviation and philosophy. This is why I carefully separate 'religion' which is a series of commandments which generally apply to 'believers' with built in penalties that apply to 'heathens' with the question of whether or not God might exist.

[1] http://web.media.mit.edu/~minsky/papers/PR1971.html


yeah, exactly, the 'usual connotations or implications of God-hood'. all these 'usual connotations' is what people came up with. omnipotence in this perspective is meaningless - if everything is you, why would you need to have any 'power' over yourself? you is you and you are what you need to be :)

and if you're after thunderbolts and other gimmicky things, then sorry, single electron theory doesn't cater for that IMHO...


There are more things in the universe than electrons and positrons, so if God was THE electron, he still wouldn't be everything.


When single electron theory includes proposition that the single electron was the author or guarantor of a particular holy book, then it will be as strange as God theory.


Which holy book did God say He wrote Himself?


Interesting philosophical distinction I've learned from some party discussions between Muslims and Christians:

In Islam, the Koran is held to be a revealed text: Muslims believe the text's writers wrote verbatim the words proceeding from Allah.

In Christianity, the Bible is held to be an inspired text: Christians believe authorship rests with the text's writers, with a sort of guidance from God. What's fascinating here is the degree to which even closely-related sects may disagree on the nature of this guidance: some protestant groups believe in an infallible inspiration, while others believe even the Bible can suffer from bad CRCs.


I see you're getting downvotes too :) Somehow (some) people are quite touchy about the subject...

Rant aside, funny how God omnipresence ideas fit nicely into this 'single electron' theory. After all may be this is what proves the existence (or absence) of God as we know him...

And you're quite right. We got down to the smallest particles. We can observe them. But this is where it stops. I sincerely hope this is temporary halt and there will be progress made some time soon. Ah yes, we still in search for Higgs, aren't we? ;)




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