The existence of alternate universes.

Philosophical ruminations.
Aug. 20 2003 2:21 PM

My So-Called Universe

Our cozy world is probably much bigger—and stranger—than we know.

(Continued from Page 1)

3) The multiverse, if real, would reduce our own world to a Matrix-like simulation. This objection, voiced by Davies, is surely the most bizarre of the lot. If there really were myriad universes, Davies argues, then some would contain advanced technological civilizations that could use computers to simulate consciousness and create endless virtual worlds. So, he continues, taking the multiverse theory at face value means "there is no reason to expect our world—the one in which you are reading this right now—to be real as opposed to a simulation." This is a terrible argument for at least two reasons. If it were valid, it would rule out technologically advanced civilizations in this universe since they, too, would presumably create such simulations. And the hypothesis that we are living in a simulation itself has no empirical content. We cannot even talk about it coherently, as Hilary Putnam has pointed out, since our words could refer only to things "inside" the alleged simulation.

How seriously should you take multiple universes? That depends on how scrupulous you are about your ontological commitments. I know people who still regard atoms as theoretical fictions. I have friends who claim to doubt the reality of the past, of the future, of other minds. I have heard of academics—though I cannot believe they actually exist—who think that the cosmos is a social construction. But I am a robust scientific realist. If an empirically sound theory entails that unobservable entities exist, then I take them at face value. After all, reality has over and over again turned out to be much more inclusive than we've given it credit for being. Just a century ago, our puny Milky Way was thought to comprise the entire cosmos.

If the choices we make in our everyday lives seem a little absurd from the viewpoint of a single vast and eternal universe, then, from the viewpoint of an infinite ensemble of universes containing infinite copies of ourselves, all making every possible choice, they are absolutely absurd. Thankfully, in our own little world, those choices remain terribly meaningful and important.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?