What caused the universe?

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Mr. Mercurial
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Re: What caused the universe?

Post by Mr. Mercurial » Sun Jan 18, 2009 11:15 pm

I’m no scientician, but… If we go with Hume’s account of causation then talk of what caused something else is going to be intelligible without a temporal context. If time didn’t exist before there was something, or if it worked differently, then it seems to me that the question of “what caused existence” wouldn’t make much sense, since there would be no such thing as “before time”.


As far as us all living in a simulation, I came across a rather nifty argument recently which suggested that it is in fact quite likely that we are living in one. I’ll have a poke around and see if I can find it.
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Re: What caused the universe?

Post by Scorpio » Sun Jan 18, 2009 11:18 pm

I think this will just go around in circles, because there had to be something before something. But there also had to be something before that. Where does it end?
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Ygern
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Re: What caused the universe?

Post by Ygern » Sun Jan 18, 2009 11:31 pm

The matrix idea is not entirely without merit ... except, no Keanu Reeves or killer robots.
Physicists have been playing around with the idea, see here or here that looks at the idea that we exist only as 2D information projected onto a cosmological horizon so that it appears 3D to us. :shock:

Although, to answer the OP's original question, the current theories on how our universe are discussed in this video here by Steve Weinberg.

The idea that the universe has always existed as far as I know is called the Steady State Theory, but my understanding is that the reason the theory is less popular is that it basically contradicts the Big Bang Theory, and now that we have evidence that the universe is expanding and in fact accelerating; the idea of a fixed universe seems unlikely.

And Scorpio, its natural enough to think that there always has to be a "before" because we exist in time. However, time only started after the Big Bang; so technically, there was no "before".
It does boggle the brain a bit, I admit :)
Check this video out - Brian Cox explains this much better than I can.
The universe is huge and old, and rare things happen all the time ~ Lawrence Krauss
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bipedalhumanoid
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Re: What caused the universe?

Post by bipedalhumanoid » Mon Jan 19, 2009 3:56 pm

Neil wrote:It surpsises me how seldom the argument that the universe has always existed comes up, at least in everyday conversations about such matters.
I think this is due to confusing the concepts of the observable universe and the universe in general. People think that because our observable universe had a beginning at the big bang that that is necessarily a creation moment. You don't need the steady state theory to be able to talk about eternal energy (matter is merely a state of energy).

No matter what evidence is produced for the big bang the question of whether energy is eternal is still open. You just have to consider that the laws of physics as we know them don't apply inside a singularity. And human language as we know it might not even be a useful tool in asking the right questions.

For instance, what happened before the big bang? If we accept that the big bang was the moment at which time came into existence then this is not a meaningful question. There can't be a 'time' before time.

Where did the energy come from? Again, without space how do we have 'where'?

We don't know that the energy didn't just leak in from another universe or from whatever state of existence there is outside of our universe (if any).

I think it was Smolin who came up with the idea of universes spawning universes. I think the idea was that black hole singularities are powerful enough to tear through space time and create other universes as their incredibly dense matter spews out.

Despite what the theists will tell you, the question of a cause for the big bang is still open and our science only takes us back to a fraction of second afterthe big bang.
"The fact of your own existence is the most astonishing fact you will ever have to face. Don’t you ever get used to it." - Richard Dawkins... being shrill and offensive again I suppose.
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Re: What caused the universe?

Post by Ygern » Mon Jan 19, 2009 10:00 pm

More stuff on theories of how the universe began:

Big Bang Machine - Brian Cox expands on Standard model of particle physics

There's a great interview with Dr. Michio Kaku by the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe team in Podcast 182 - Dr Kaku explains String theory, M theory and the theories about the initial state of the universe. (Audio only)
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Re: What caused the universe?

Post by aZerogodist » Wed Jan 21, 2009 3:21 pm

JH wrote:If we exist in an advanced simulation (cf. The Matrix) - Then 'god', the prime mover, is whatever switched on the simulation at the beginning of what we perceive as time. And you can never prove that you *don't* exist in a simulation! :)
Sorry thats wrong, as say we reach the boundary say the beach, then IT-god would have to expand our known universe. Could he control each of us so we don't see hit edge of space oneday then extend the land so by magic there's no boundary the following day/year.

In the sim ITgod would have to be able to reprogramme us, and erase all recolection. See if we are as intelligent to create our own sims then the higher prog would have to be flawless. Also this would still prove none existance of ITgod as we would still not exist.
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Re: What caused the universe?

Post by Ygern » Wed Jan 21, 2009 4:31 pm

I don't follow that argument. It's perfectly conceivable that in a scripted and simulated environment it would be possible to prevent the inhabitants from ever discovering they are in a simulation.

All you need is a piece of code or background script that generates and fixes new random landscape once an inhabitant avatar approaches the pre-exisiting boundaries. The boundaries are not subject to the same constraints as the real world as we perceive it. In a program they could be extended outwards indefinitely, and frequently are in, for example, online games.

Add to this the Prime Mover's - or ITgod, if you will - ability to recondition the inhabitant avatar's perception of reality and memories, and rewrite the inhabitant avatars' intelligence and abilities; and you're looking at a universe of inhabitants that go about their business as their programming dictates and they never know the difference. We can do this even in the real world with chemicals and electric shock - although crudely and unreliably. Its much easier to achieve within a programmed environment.

In my (comparatively primitive) RPG worlds, when I reload a saved game the NPCs do not know they have been in cyber-oblivion for an hour or a week or a year. Or that a new modification program has been dropped into their world changing the way it looks and adding new places and people. Or even worse, that my avatar went on a rampage and caused serious civil unrest in their fair town just minutes before. And that's in spite of them having Artificial Intelligence that allows them to examine the world around them and respond to it. The reason they don't know goes beyond the fact that their AI just isn't very advanced yet; it's also because it's beyond the scope of their programming to retain information that has been overwritten.

So, the denizens of an artificially simulated program could quite plausibly be prevented from ever knowing that they were in a simulation. No matter how sophisticated the program or perfect the world, a God by definition may intervene with his Creation. ITgod by definition may tweak the programming. ITgod may not really be God, but she is certainly godlike in her abilites.
The universe is huge and old, and rare things happen all the time ~ Lawrence Krauss
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Re: What caused the universe?

Post by aZerogodist » Wed Jan 21, 2009 6:16 pm

Well I don't know much about sim programming, I never did RPG so it was more a philosophical view point. So I suppose how do you tell the difference between Artificial Intelligence and real free willed intelligence, if your not even sure whether or not your inside a sim... my head hurts.
note: denizens-never heard before, cool word must use it in a conversation.
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Re: What caused the universe?

Post by Ygern » Thu Jan 22, 2009 1:01 am

aZerogodist wrote: how do you tell the difference between Artificial Intelligence and real free willed intelligence, if your not even sure whether or not your inside a sim...
A very good question. :mrgreen:

My answer would be - does it matter?

At the moment we have no difficulty distinguishing AI from human* intelligence; and we're a long way off meeting a program that could pass the Turing Test, even though there are a few programs out there that can do a reasonable job of simulating a normal conversation.

try: Chat with ALICE & Chat with GOD

You'll notice where they go wrong :)

But they are the result of AI in its infancy. I think that its reasonable to expect that programs will get sophisticated enough to hold a conversation where they don't make the mistakes that ALICE and GOD make. At that stage we will have to re-evaluate what we mean by 'intelligence' and what privileges we assign to those that have it.
A dog is more intelligent than a plant - which is why we punish someone who wittingly commits a cruel action upon them.
Certain members of the ape family have been granted legal rights in Spain.
Mentally disabled people have legal rights too.

An AI capable of passing the Turing test would have to exceed certain capabilities of the three cases mentioned above who are already accorded rights. The fact that the algorithms controlling an AI would be machine code rather than organic chemical code should not diminish our perception of its capacity.

Other Turing test pages:
http://www.fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk/~asaygin/tt/ttest.html
http://www.turing.org.uk/turing/scrapbook/test.html
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/turing-test/

* I'm calling it 'human' as opposed to 'free will' as there is significant evidence now to debate whether free will exists at all other than as a necessary illusion humans use to rationalise and justify their actions.
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adamd164
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Re: What caused the universe?

Post by adamd164 » Thu Jan 22, 2009 7:41 pm

Ygern wrote:You'll notice where they go wrong :)
I got it! She believes in god! :mrgreen:

Anyway, if you agree with Dan Dennett's propositions, when AI becomes sufficiently advanced to pass an actual Turing Test, it would be a fallacy to say that it's just "imitating" consciousness; it really would (will?) be conscious in the fullest sense of the term. Distinctions would be meaningless.

The nervous system, of humans or any other animal, is merely a collection of complex electrical signals, highly coordinated and regulated. There is no de facto reason why artifical intelligence - made of the same stuff - cannot attain the same level of complexity.

It's all part of letting go of persistant spiritualistic delusions about the nature of the human mind. Same goes for free will in its classical sense; it couldn't exist in a world made solely of energy and matter, that's just a plain fact. Dennett and other compatibilists accept this; they basically just make the point that even though we don't have free will, we should continue to attribute the responsibility of decisions to the decision-maker. Human society couldn't function otherwise. Just because our legal system operates on a basic fallacy doesn't mean we should scrap it, as indeterminists seem to claim.

If there were a law passed tomorrow that no human being can be held accountable because they didn't really "choose" their own actions, because they were determined by a million and one preceding causal events, and so that no one should be punished for doing wrong, we'd simply be changing the direction of the deterministic trajectory such that people who were _determined_ not to do wrong because of fear of punishment were now _determined_ to do wrong because that fear was removed. Social fabric would erode in no time and chaos would ensue.

We rightly choose to continue to punish persons as though their actions were somehow formed in a region of the brain separate from the energy and matter of the rest of the Universe because we want to live in a society which maximises liberties and reduces suffering.
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