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Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability Essay Contest
December 24, 2019 - April 24, 2020
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What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
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Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
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Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
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Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
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What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
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The Nature of Time
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Armin Nikkhah Shirazi: on 9/12/15 at 5:01am UTC, wrote Dear Bill, I only saw and read your response now, and would like to...

William Nelson: on 5/7/15 at 19:03pm UTC, wrote Armin, Regarding probabilities, let me think about that and get back. ...

William Nelson: on 5/7/15 at 18:42pm UTC, wrote Neil, Thanks for the encouraging remarks :-D I know it became kind of...

Armin Nikkhah Shirazi: on 4/21/15 at 5:54am UTC, wrote Dear Bill, Having just read your essay, I really liked your introduction...

Sujatha Jagannathan: on 4/19/15 at 14:06pm UTC, wrote If according to you, no mathematics are involved in this creation. How you...

Sylvain Poirier: on 4/13/15 at 20:32pm UTC, wrote Dear William, I just found your essay to be one of the few great essays in...

Branko Zivlak: on 4/13/15 at 9:16am UTC, wrote Dear William, You ask: Why do we see three space and one time dimension?...

David Brown: on 4/11/15 at 9:09am UTC, wrote Dear William Nelson, In your essay you wrote, "... the dimensionality that...


H.H.J. Luediger: "Even darker.... one can not easily downrate a racehorse to a donkey, but..." in Undecidability,...

Steve Agnew: "Well thank-you, you are very kind. I have come to appreciate the fact that..." in Quantum Dream Time

Samuel Parsons: "O also means a whole new universe in a box can be recreated a miniverse..." in Outside the Box

Samuel Parsons: "Is it 127? It's always comes back here. Just saying also I'm trying to..." in Outside the Box

Zeeya Merali: "INSPYRE, INternational School on modern PhYsics and REsearch, organized by..." in Welcome to INSPYRE 2020 -...

David Sloan: "Dear Alan, For any discussion regarding the essay contest, the contact..." in Undecidability,...

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Lawrence Crowell: "Tejinder, I was intrigued by your FQXi essay. Thanks for this reference to..." in Alternative Models of...

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Building Agency in the Biology Lab
Physicists are using optogenetics techniques to make a rudimentary agent, from cellular components, which can convert measurements into actions using light.

Think Quantum to Build Better AI
Investigating how quantum memory storage could aid machine learning and how quantum interactions with the environment may have played a role in evolution.

Outside the Box
A proposed quantum set-up that could predict your game-playing strategy resurrects Newcomb’s classic quiz show paradox.

The Quantum Agent
Investigating how the quantum measurement process might be related to the emergence of intelligence, agency and free will.

First Things First: The Physics of Causality
Why do we remember the past and not the future? Untangling the connections between cause and effect, choice, and entropy.

May 28, 2020

CATEGORY: Trick or Truth Essay Contest (2015) [back]
TOPIC: Was there a choice? by William Nelson [refresh]
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Author William Nelson wrote on Mar. 10, 2015 @ 20:19 GMT
Essay Abstract

Albert Einstein famously questioned whether there was any choice in the creation of the universe. Here we collect evidence that the answer may be "no", at least if the universe is envisioned as having the "purpose" of evolving intelligent life. We review the mathematical structures found in our universe and argue that each one plays an essential role in ensuring evolution of life. Crucial to our argument is the possibility of a dynamically-generated multiverse, exemplified by eternal inflation; this is contrasted with the larger "mathematical multiverse" envisioned by Tegmark. Indeed it is implicit in Einstein's question that worlds having other mathematical formulations do not exist; only one was singled out for ``creation''. We certainly can't prove this, but we argue instead that quantum theories cannot be fully axiomatized, hence our world cannot be thought of as being a mathematical structure. This means it is not a representative of a mathematical multiverse, nor does it provide evidence for physical existence of any mathematical structure.

Author Bio

William Nelson received his Ph.D. in physics from U.C. Santa Barbara in 1994, in the area of string theory and black holes. He gave up his license to practice theoretical physics shortly thereafter, but still perpetrates the occasional equation. He is the author of ``Relativity Made Real'', a popular-level book which develops special relativity from the dynamical perspective advocated by J.S. Bell.

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Gary D. Simpson wrote on Mar. 11, 2015 @ 00:49 GMT

Since you prefer a continuum, I am curious ... Do you believe there is an Aether?

All in all, this was a pretty good read. I don't believe in the anthropic principle myself, but I also don't have a better explanation for what is observed. Of course, doesn't that immediately lead to God?

Do we really know that the laws of physics are the same in a galaxy at the edge of our Hubble Bubble as they are in the Milky Way? Is gravity the same here as it is there? Isn't dark matter the result of the belief that gravity is the same here as there? How do we really know that we are not near the center of the universe? I know we think we are not but how do we know it? Maybe we are just moving slowly compared to other galaxies ... and if the laws are influenced by the velocity through the medium then those galaxies at the edge of our Bubble could be very different indeed.

Best Regards and Good Luck,

Gary Simpson

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Author William Nelson replied on Mar. 11, 2015 @ 01:28 GMT
Hi Gary,

I don't believe in an aether myself although I'm also not always sure what distinguishes that concept from that of spacetime.

As far as the laws in distant places, there have been efforts to look for variations of laws and constants and I don't know alot of details but I'm pretty sure that all results are most consistent with no variation


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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Mar. 11, 2015 @ 02:19 GMT
Dear William Nelson,

Everyone has heard that "choice" question, but very few make any attempt to answer it. You do so in extraordinary fashion. Congratulations.

I certainly agree that our world cannot be viewed as being a mathematical structure, but only as being described by one.

"Mathematics is all very well, but why probability?" Your very credible answer: "… If the goal is to evolve life, then a deterministic universe seems to be a poor choice."

On the quantum, I agree it's bizarre, but whether it underlies everything, or is statistical over reality is yet open. My current essay analyzes Bell's theorem in a novel manner, and I hope you will read it and comment.

Symmetries too are important for life, but it is very interesting that particle symmetries, from iso-spin to SUSY, are inexact. I believe that it is actually the [associated by Noether] conservation laws that are more ontologically real.

I very much like your discussion of discrete or continuous, and agree with you that this doesn't imply a [QFT-like] field theory. And I agree with your conclusion.

My best regards,

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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Jose P. Koshy wrote on Mar. 11, 2015 @ 09:08 GMT
Dear William Nelson,

You have said, “If the universe were built on a deterministic theory then the parameters of that theory would need to be finely-tuned from the outset to enable life”. I argue this is a logically false statement.

Actually, there need be only one type of fundamental particle having 4 variables representing mass, volume, energy and force. The mass of any heavier particle formed will be deterministic. Any change in the fundamental values will cause only relative changes in heavier particles, and so if life can emerge with one set of values, life will emerge with any set of values. There is no need for the values to be finely tuned at the onset.

However, if QM is correct, there are 18 fundamental particles, thus leading to 21 independent variables. With so much of these, determinism will not work. The standard model is based on probability. So it may be impossible to build a deterministic world over it. I argue that the standard model is incorrect.

I propose that particle masses are not arbitrary; there is a direct relation between the mass of electron and neutron: Internal Structures of Electron, Neutron, Proton and Nuclei – Particle Masses Are not Arbitrary. Please visit my site for further information.

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John C Hodge wrote on Mar. 11, 2015 @ 23:06 GMT
Just because statistics and quantum theories cannot be axiomatized doesn’t mean that math is not a part of nature to be discovered. Probability is merely the first, invented step in detecting a pattern that is caused by some structure described by discovered math and physics.

Another universe: The universe needs a way to disperse the energy inserted into it. S it created cooling flows between galaxies and inflows in galaxies. Life as we know it is a means to increase the rate of entropy increase for the universe in the infall models.

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Neil Bates wrote on Apr. 9, 2015 @ 01:54 GMT

Perhaps there was too much compressing of various subtopics into the allotted space, when it could be more fruitful to focus on one or a few in more depth, however - your essay was well-written, thought-provoking, and seemed to me to provide some novel insights and speculations. It certainly deserves more attention and credit than it has so far. Cheers,

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Author William Nelson replied on May. 7, 2015 @ 18:42 GMT

Thanks for the encouraging remarks :-D I know it became kind of telegraphic but I figured I may as well go for it since I probably won't be writing on this topic again, or at least I don't know of an appropriate venue. It's mainly food for thought, not an effort to present a fully developed philosophical position, something that would be beyond my abilities.

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Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 9, 2015 @ 15:47 GMT
Dear William,

I think Newton was wrong about abstract gravity; Einstein was wrong about abstract space/time, and Hawking was wrong about the explosive capability of NOTHING.

All I ask is that you give my essay WHY THE REAL UNIVERSE IS NOT MATHEMATICAL a fair reading and that you allow me to answer any objections you may leave in my comment box about it.

Joe Fisher

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David Brown wrote on Apr. 11, 2015 @ 09:09 GMT
Dear William Nelson,

In your essay you wrote, "... the dimensionality that we experience does not have to be the full dimensionality of the underlying theory; additional dimensions could exist which are wrapped up so tightly that we can't perceive them. This very natural idea was first proposed by Kaluza in 1919, and string theory famously requires it." String theory with the infinite nature hypothesis suggests the wrapping up or curling up of extra dimensions. I say that string theory with the finite nature hypothesis suggests that there is no curling up of extra dimensions. Google "witten milgrom" for more information. According to the Gravity Probe B science team, my quantum theory of gravity has already been ruled out. However, I say that the Gravity Probe B science team misinterpreted their own data and that they empirically confirmed what I call the "Fernández-Rañada-Milgrom effect." I say that the 4 ultra-precise gyroscopes functioned correctly and did not malfunction in a surprisingly predictable way. Have your personally studied the Gravity Probe B results, the space roar results, and the photon underproduction crisis results?

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Branko L Zivlak wrote on Apr. 13, 2015 @ 09:16 GMT
Dear William,

You ask:

Why do we see three space and one time dimension? Could it have been diferent?

My answer is:

Earth is a consequence of the laws of nature, not the cause. From the perspective of a whole universe dimensions are not essential. You can see in my essay that is quite good results are obtained without using Dimensions.



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Sylvain Poirier wrote on Apr. 13, 2015 @ 20:32 GMT
Dear William,

I just found your essay to be one of the few great essays in this contest, and I just gave it a boost. I also added it to the list of best essays in my general review of this contest. Sorry I did not notice it earlier. I think you will be particularly interested with these two other essays:

Genesis of a Pythagorean Universe by Alexey and Lev Burov, which addresses some common issues with yours, even if the kind of reasoning is different.

My own, A Mind/Mathematics Dualistic Foundation of Physical Reality, where I give precise reasons, other than those you mentioned, for the necessity of quantum physics with its "paradoxical" features, with the non-mathematical aspect of probabilities and the measurement problem, in order for a universe to be able to host conscious life.

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Sujatha Jagannathan wrote on Apr. 19, 2015 @ 14:06 GMT
If according to you, no mathematics are involved in this creation.

How you would essentially do the astronomical calculations and the numbering?

- Sincerely,

Miss. Sujatha Jagannathan

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Armin Nikkhah Shirazi wrote on Apr. 21, 2015 @ 05:54 GMT
Dear Bill,

Having just read your essay, I really liked your introduction involving the deeper questions one should think to ask about unicorns (what a wonderful way to teach a child to think more deeply about things in the world, let alone adults) and was struck by how methodically you covered all the areas relevant to your argument.

Concerning your comments on probability, if you...

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Author William Nelson replied on May. 7, 2015 @ 19:03 GMT

Regarding probabilities, let me think about that and get back.

Regarding relativity, an observer moving at speed c will not be able to measure anything because none of his/her measuring apparatus can function. This is because signal propagation is completely disrupted since two sub-components which are both moving at speed c cannot exchange signals. It's not possible to build any kind of working machine or even a cyclical process like a clock, out of purely massless matter.

So it's not exactly correct to say the observer would "measure zero" for anything. There simply can be no such observer in any meaningful sense.

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Armin Nikkhah Shirazi replied on Sep. 12, 2015 @ 05:01 GMT
Dear Bill,

I only saw and read your response now, and would like to mention that at least in my view, the meaning of what you wrote concerning SR is really the same as what I wrote, because of all possible things one could measure, measuring one's own duration of existence to be zero would seem to be the one thing that would preclude any sort of measurement in the first place.

What I really wanted to find out was your view about the implications one could draw from this, and whether you took any of these to be hints of a deeper understanding about what relativity really tells us about the world. I agree that it is not possible to have a spacetime frame that moves at the speed of light in space, but, it seems unlike virtually everyone else, I do not believe that this necessarily implies that such frames are altogether impossible. I wonder whether we are in this respect caught in a situation like our ancestors, who about 500 years ago, thought that the earth, moon, sun and a few planets was all there was to our world, and who could never fathom that (at least in principle) it was possible for observer frames to exist beyond the boundaries they recognized (e.g. frames on Andromeda, in which the entire Milky Way would be a small speck in the sky).

If you had some thoughts on my remarks about probability, I would love to hear them.



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