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CCSMlC CCnunu8uMS: publlshed ln new SclenLlsL, 221, 26 (2014

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MCuL8n cosmology has been specLacularly successful aL explalnlng why Lhe unlverse ls as lL ls - a
geomeLrlcally flaL expandlng space pockmarked wlLh sLars and galaxles. 8uL Lhls very success means
LhaL aLLempLs Lo undersLand lLs orlgln lncreaslngly sLray lnLo lssues beyond physlcs and lnLo Lhe
realm of phllosophy, for whlch cosmologlsLs rarely have any formal Lralnlng. Llkewlse, when
phllosophers, unLralned ln asLrophyslcal subLleLles, pronounce on cosmology, Lhe cosmologlsLs are
unlmpressed. Clearly boLh groups have much Lo learn from each oLher
1he phllosophy of cosmology ls noL [usL unsLrucLured ponderlng abouL where lL all comes from or
Lhe meanlng, lf any, of our presence ln Lhe unlverse. lL ls Lhe sysLemaLlc survey of everyLhlng LhaL
posslbly could have happened, and Lhen Lo reconclle Lhls wlLh whaL acLually dld happen ln our
corner of physlcal reallLy.
WhaL can be sald, sclenLlflcally speaklng, abouL Lhese posslblllLles? lor a sLarL, many physlclsLs are
arrlvlng aL Lhe concluslon LhaL our vlslble unlverse ls parL of a larger space-Llme of lnflnlLe volume.
WlLhln Lhls ºmulLlverse", our unlverse would be buL one of an lnflnlLy of space-Llme paLches, each
one ouLslde Lhe causal reach of any oLher. ln lnflnlLe space, unlverses lndlsLlngulshable from ours
would be repeaLed lnflnlLely, as would every concelvable conflguraLlon of mass-energy permlLLed by
Lhe laws of physlcs. Moreover, Lhe laws of physlcs Lhemselves may even vary across Lhe mulLlverse.
Accordlng Lo Lhls scenarlo, lL ls dlfflculL Lo avold Lhe concluslon LhaL everyLhlng LhaL can happen wlll
happen, lnflnlLely many Llmes - an exLraordlnary proposlLlon LhaL Lakes us lnLo phllosophy's home
LerrlLory.
1he mulLlverse can be vlewed as Lhe conLlnuaLlon, or perhaps Lhe cllmax, of a serles of greaL shlfLs
LhaL dlslodged Lhe LarLh, Lhen Lhe sun, and Lhen our own galaxy from a speclal poslLlon aL Lhe cenLre
of physlcal reallLy. now even our vlslble unlverse - once halled as belng slmply and lnexpllcably
Lhere, Lo paraphrase 8erLrand 8ussell - ls comlng Lo be vlewed as buL one arblLrary paLch of space-
Llme wlLhln a manlfold of lnflnlLe volume.
SupporL for Lhls scenarlo sLems from Lhe ºunnaLuralness" of Lhe flne-Lunlng LhaL we observe ln our
surroundlngs. Conslder Lhe raLlo of Lhe mass of Lhe neuLron Lo LhaL of Lhe proLon, abouL 1.001. lL ls
exacLly Lhe raLlo needed for nucleosynLhesls - Lhe creaLlon of new aLomlc nuclel ln sLars. WlLhouL
Lhls process, we would noL be here.
Powever, one flne-Lunlng lssue sLands ouL above all oLhers: Lhe cosmologlcal consLanL, whlch
accounLs for Lhe observed acceleraLlon of Lhe expanslon of Lhe unlverse. 1he predlcLed value, based
on our undersLandlng of Lhe physlcs of Lhe blg bang, ls larger Lhan Lhe observed value by a facLor of
10
120
. 1he problem ls, a cosmologlcal consLanL much dlfferenL from Lhe observed value would make
llfe as we know lL lmposslble.
1he lncreaslngly popular soluLlon Lo Lhls conundrum ls a model of Lhe unlverse called eLernal
lnflaLlon. 1he ldea ls LhaL lnflaLlon - Lhe brlef phase of ulLrarapld expanslon of Lhe unlverse whlch
occurred afLer Lhe blg bang sponLaneously occurs agaln and agaln, buddlng off an lnflnlLy of new
expandlng unlverse domalns. 1hls scenarlo provldes an explanaLlon of Lhe lncredlbly small value of
our cosmologlcal consLanL. lf lL has dlfferenL values ln each of Lhe unlverse domalns ln Lhe
mulLlverse, Lhen somewhere Lhere has Lo be a unlverse wlLh a small enough value Lo correspond Lo
LhaL observed ln our unlverse.
CCSMlC CCnunu8uMS: publlshed ln new SclenLlsL, 221, 26 (2014)
Pow do we evaluaLe Lhe odds of Lhls happenlng? ln a mulLlverse we would expecL Lhere Lo be
relaLlvely many unlverse domalns wlLh large values of Lhe cosmologlcal consLanL, buL none of Lhese
allow gravlLaLlonally bound sLrucLures (such as our galaxy) Lo occur, so Lhe llkellhood of observlng
ourselves Lo be ln one ls essenLlally zero.
Powever, as Lhe cosmologlcal consLanL ls decreased, we evenLually reach a LranslLlon polnL where lL
becomes [usL small enough for gravlLaLlonal sLrucLures Lo occur. 8educe lL a blL furLher sLlll, and you
now geL unlverses resembllng ours. Clven Lhe lncreased llkellhood of observlng such a unlverse, Lhe
chances of our unlverse belng one of Lhese wlll be near lLs peak. 1heoreLlcal physlclsL SLeven
Welnberg used Lhls reasonlng Lo correcLly predlcL Lhe order of magnlLude of Lhe cosmologlcal
consLanL well before Lhe acceleraLlon of our unlverse was even measured.
unforLunaLely Lhls argumenL runs lnLo concepLually murky waLer. 1he mulLlverse ls lnflnlLe and lL ls
noL clear wheLher we can calculaLe Lhe odds for anyLhlng Lo happen ln an lnflnlLe volume of space-
Llme. All we have ls Lhe slngle case of our apparenLly small buL poslLlve value of Lhe cosmologlcal
consLanL, so lL's hard Lo see how we could ever LesL wheLher or noL Welnberg's predlcLlon was a
lucky colncldence. Such quesLlons concernlng lnflnlLy, and whaL one can reasonably lnfer from a
slngle daLa polnL, are [usL Lhe Llp of Lhe phllosophlcal lceberg LhaL cosmologlsLs face.
AnoLher conundrum ls where Lhe laws of physlcs come from. Lven lf Lhese laws vary across Lhe
mulLlverse, Lhere musL be, so lL seems, meLa-laws LhaL dlcLaLe Lhe manner ln whlch Lhey are
dlsLrlbuLed. Pow can we, lnhablLanLs on a planeL ln a solar sysLem ln a galaxy, meanlngfully debaLe
Lhe orlgln of Lhe laws of physlcs as well as Lhe orlglns of someLhlng, Lhe very unlverse, LhaL we are
parL of? WhaL abouL Lhe parLs of space-Llme we can never see? 1hese reglons could lnflnlLely
ouLnumber our vlslble paLch. 1he laws of physlcs could dlffer Lhere, for all we know.
We cannoL seLLle any of Lhese quesLlons by experlmenL, and Lhls ls where phllosophers enLer Lhe
debaLe. CenLral Lo Lhls ls Lhe so-called observaLlonal-selecLlon effecL, whereby an observaLlon ls
lnfluenced by Lhe observer's ºLelescope", whaLever form LhaL may Lake. 8uL whaL exacLly ls lL Lo be
an observer, or more speclflcally a ºLyplcal" observer, ln a sysLem where every posslble sorL of
observer wlll come abouL lnflnlLely many Llmes? 1he same baslc quesLlon, cenLred on Lhe role of
observers, ls as fundamenLal Lo Lhe sclence of Lhe lndeflnlLely large (cosmology) as lL ls Lo LhaL of Lhe
lnflnlLeslmally small (quanLum Lheory).

1hls key lssue of LyplcallLy also confronLed AusLrlan physlclsL and phllosopher Ludwlg 8olLzmann. ln
1897 he poslLed an lnflnlLe space-Llme as a means Lo explaln how exLraordlnarlly well-ordered Lhe
unlverse ls compared wlLh Lhe sLaLe of hlgh enLropy (or dlsorder) predlcLed by Lhermodynamlcs.
Clven such an arena, where every concelvable comblnaLlon of parLlcle poslLlon and momenLa would
exlsL somewhere, he suggesLed LhaL Lhe orderllness around us mlghL be LhaL of an lncredlbly rare
flucLuaLlon wlLhln an lnflnlLe space-Llme.
8uL 8olLzmann's reasonlng was undermlned by anoLher, more absurd, concluslon. 8are flucLuaLlons
could also glve rlse Lo slngle momenLary bralns - self aware enLlLles LhaL sponLaneously arlses
Lhrough random colllslons of parLlcles. Such º8olLzmann bralns", Lhe argumenL goes, are far more
llkely Lo arlse Lhan Lhe enLlre vlslble unlverse or even Lhe solar sysLem. An lnflnlLy of space would
Lherefore conLaln an lnflnlLude of such dlsembodled bralns, whlch would Lhen be Lhe ºLyplcal
observer", noL us.
Can Lhls blzarre vlslon posslbly be real, or does lL lndlcaLe someLhlng fundamenLally wrong wlLh our
noLlon of ºLyplcallLy"? Cr ls our noLlon of ºLhe observer" flawed - can Lhermodynamlc flucLuaLlons
LhaL glve rlse Lo 8olLzmann's bralns really sufflce? Or could a futuristic supercomputer even play
the Matrix-like role of a multitude of observers?
CCSMlC CCnunu8uMS: publlshed ln new SclenLlsL, 221, 26 (2014)
1hese quesLlons abouL exlsLence and our place ln Lhe unlverse are akln Lo Lhose debaLed by
phllosophers LhroughouL Lhe ages. now, for Lhe flrsL Llme, Lhey are arlslng ln concreLe areas of
sclenLlflc pracLlce. MlghL a flnal, as-yeL-undlscovered Lheory of quanLum gravlLy reconclle all of Lhese
mysLerles and, lf so, could deep phllosophlcal Lhlnklng pave Lhe way, [usL as Lhe work of
phllosophers such as uavld Pume and LrnsL Mach dld for LlnsLeln?
urawlng Lhe llne beLween phllosophy and physlcs has never been easy. Þerhaps lL ls Llme Lo sLop
Lrylng. 1he lnLerface ls rlpe for exploraLlon.