Gendou's Reviews > In Search of the Multiverse

In Search of the Multiverse by John Gribbin
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's review
Apr 10, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: physics, non-fiction
Read from May 29, 2012 to April 11, 2013

This book takes the form of an essay, arguing for a multiverse using anthropic reasoning. It fails, miserably.

The author brings up fine tuning, such as the Hoyle carbon coincidence, how cosmological constant almost 0, how gravity is weak, etc. I don't have a problem with very weak anthropic reasoning. For example, we might look to find a good explanation for a small, non-zero cosmological constant. When we estimate the value for the cosmological constant based on our current understanding, we come up with a fabulously wrong guess. This is a good area for study, but it isn't a "problem" to be "solved". We have no reason to demand that nature holds up to our expectations. Nor do we have any reason to expect that a correct theory be unique, or pleasing to our particular aesthetic sensibilities.

Instead of defending anthropic reasoning, Gribbin plays on his readers ignorance with statements like "we still don’t know what electrons (or other quantum entities) are, nor how they do the things they do." This is really a mystical argument, that nature behaves in a way "feels" alien. It is no defense of anthropic reasoning.

The biggest problem with strong anthropic reasoning, which Gribbin relies on, is its abuse of statistics. For example, it is stated that some constant has a fine tuning of 1%. This means that, if you change it's value by more than 1%, the universe will no longer look the way it does. This is a fallacious use of statistics, because there is no natural scale for the constants of nature. What justification is there for assuming that a cosmological constant of zero is any more natural than a non-zero value? Just because it happens to be close to zero, doesn't mean that zero is more natural. If it had been close to, but not exactly 137, would you feel differently? It's all a bunch of numerological quackery, unless you have a physical theory that predicts a certain value!

Gribbin, like most anthropic goofballs, claims that "The very fact that we exist seems to be the best evidence available that we do indeed live in a Multiverse." But that is putting the cart before the horse. Their (unjustified) assumption is that the universe could have been different, and is different elsewhere. If that is true, than the existence of humans is indeed explained. But you could also use Occam's razor and just allow nature to be nature. Constants have their value because that's their value. It seems obvious that ours is only one of many possible ways that a universe could act. Maybe not, maybe there is only one self-consistent law. That just seems very unlikely.

Gribbin makes the case for the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics, another form of multiverse. Gribbin starts by explaining how quantum computers work, in great detail, using the MWI. He then concluding that, because quantum computers work, the MWI must be correct, and that "it's difficult to doubt" the existence of the MWI multiverse. This is a logical fallacy, because other interpretations, like the Copenhagen Interpretation, can be used to predict the same outcomes! He's just playing favorites, which sure as hell isn't fooling me.

Gribbin further proves himself insane by touting - I kid you not - a multiverse origin of "free will"! He calls upon Julian Barbour's idea of a "Big Heap"; a jumbled collection of snap-shots. Each is a different configuration state for the universe. In this view, time arises by creating a sort of flip book using these "moments". The observer creates their own history by putting them in an order. Gribbin proposes that "the quantum picture gives us back our free will". He's an idiot.

Gribbin talks about wormholes. He explains how that can be used to travel backwards in time via causal loops. Then he proposes that, much like in Star Trek, parallel histories would arise from traveling back in time and changing the past. This alleviates the grandmother paradox. But it begs the question, how come the throat of a wormhole can spirit you away to another branch in the tree of the multiverse? It's a clever idea... if you've been smoking weed. But it doesn't hold up to the least bit of scrutiny. Very Gribbin.

Gribbin introduces inflation and shows how it leads to a solution for the origin of the universe that avoids the Boltzmann Brain paradox. Then he concludes that inflation requires an infinite universe, which is not justified. He then suggests that other bubble universes are a type of multiverse, which is an argument over semantics. He then claims this type of multiverse supports his thesis about the MWI and fine tuning. It most certainly does not!

He also talks about Lee Smolin's idea of black hole driven cosmic evolution. I think this idea is really cool, and I'm glad it was included in this book.

Gribbin ends the book by proposes that, if we can create a pocket universe in the lab, maybe our universe was created in the same way. From it's mention in the book, I decided to read Cosm by Gregory Benford. It was kind of neat. Very spooky. But this is just more anthropic reasoning, verging on theism.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by David (new) - added it

David Excellent review! It looks like I will have to put the book on my "never-read" shelf.

Gendou Instead, David, I recommend The Life of the Cosmos by Lee Smolin.

message 3: by David (new) - added it

David Aha! That looks like a fascinating book.

message 4: by John (new) - added it

John Gribbin Definitely must avoid.

Barry All authorial sarcasm aside, I do concur with Gendou's assessment.

message 6: by John (new) - added it

John Gribbin Glad to be in such company as the famous Eccles. Us idiots have to stick together .

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