Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Still Not Smelling What Frank Tipler is Cooking

I was impressed by the depth and conviction of James Redford’s comment on my Tipler essay. Again as my reply to his comment approached the 500 word mark, I decided to make it a follow-up to what I said earlier:

Hello Mr. Redford,

Thank you for your detailed comment on my previous essay on Dr. Tipler's Omega Point Theory. While you have provided me with a great deal to contemplate, I figured that the simplest way to absorb your argument and craft an appropriate response would be to focus on the popular exposition that Dr. Tipler provided in the Wired article referenced from the Theophysics site "From 2100 to the End of Time".

According to this article, Tipler himself says that the Omega Point is “infinitely improbable” in the absence of universal colonization. But once we enter the realm of speculation on the feasibility of universal colonization, even if I were to concede that physics and cosmology say it is possible (which they do not if the rate of universal expansion does not decrease) we have left the domain of fundamental science and entered that of futurism.

Once the argument veers in this direction Tipler’s impressive resume becomes merely a well-decorated piece of paper in light of all of the non-scientific issues that would have a significant bearing on a possible Earth-originated universal colonization effort (Finance, Economics, Politics, Law, Diplomacy, etc.).

The fact that the Omega Point Theory is so critically dependent upon so many non-scientific factors means that it is not a theory of fundamental science. That is unless Tipler believes that what he characterizes as the law of the indestructibility of quantum information directly influences human decision-making as he evidently believes it will somehow slow the rate of expansion of the universe.

While its non-fundamental nature does not in itself invalidate the theory, it does undermine Tipler’s credentials for being taken completely seriously where his speculations are dependent upon events beyond his area of expertise (teleology is a philosophical outlook, not a scientific one). This is analogous to a quantum mechanic who does not fully grasp the underlying mathematics.

In addition, for all of Tipler’s impressive hand-waving, to date cosmologists have not arrived at a consensus on the nature of the phenomenon responsible for the observed increase in the rate of universal expansion (be it dark energy, quintessence or fairy dust). For all he knows this phenomenon could be based on a more fundamental law of nature than the law of the indestructibility of quantum information, which Tipler insists is why the universe must stop expanding and ultimately collapse towards a singularity in a finite amount of time. Or for that matter if singularities manifest on (or below) the Planck scale the law of the indestructibility of quantum information may not apply to them since no other fundamental laws are applicable there (this is after all the sub-quantum level).

In this context my reasonable doubts persist. As a result, I feel comfortable going with the latest cosmological observations and Tipler’s own words, which indicate that there will most likely not be a material Omega Point at the end of our universe. Mind you, the framework I have developed is based on a metaphysical Omega Point (and an indistinguishable Alpha Point) and so I do embrace the idea conceptually, just not necessarily on a material level.


James Redford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Redford said...

Hi, Rational Answers. Let me here address the matter you raised.

It's not a Theosophy website which I linked to, but rather the Theophysics website.

What was referred to being "infinitely improbable" in Prof. Tipler's article which you cited was the universe collapsing into the solitary-point final singularity without intelligent control of the universe's collapse parameters. So far from this being an argument against the Omega Point, this is a proof (according to the known laws of physics) for the Omega Point: since the known laws of physics require that the universe end in the solitary-point final singularity, yet the only way for this to occur is via intelligent life lasting to the end. That is, it is infinitely improbable that the solitary-point final singularity (which is required by the known laws of physics) can occur without life guiding the universe into it.

Hence, what this is a proof of (according to the known laws of physics) is that life must last until the end of the universe, and that life's information-space must diverge to infinity, since the total entropy of the universe diverges to infinity going into the final singulariry, necessitating divergence of the complexity of the system that must be understood to be controlled.

That all is to say, according to the known laws of physics, the possibility of life not reaching infinite informational content is infinitely improbable.

For a fuller exposition of the above, see:

"Why the Acceptance of the Known Laws of Physics Requires Acceptance of the Omega Point Theory," based on articles by Prof. Frank J. Tipler, Theophysics http://www.geocities.com/theophysics/omega-point-physics.html

See also page 925 of Prof. Frank J. Tipler's below paper:

F. J. Tipler, "The structure of the world from pure numbers," Reports on Progress in Physics, Vol. 68, No. 4 (April 2005), pp. 897-964. http://math.tulane.edu/~tipler/theoryofeverything.pdf Also released as "Feynman-Weinberg Quantum Gravity and the Extended Standard Model as a Theory of Everything," arXiv:0704.3276, April 24, 2007. http://arxiv.org/abs/0704.3276

To point out again, out of 50 articles, Prof. Tipler's above paper was selected as one of 12 for the "Highlights of 2005" accolade as "the very best articles published in Reports on Progress in Physics in 2005 [Vol. 68]. Articles were selected by the Editorial Board for their outstanding reviews of the field. They all received the highest praise from our international referees and a high number of downloads from the journal Website." (See Richard Palmer, Publisher, "Highlights of 2005," Reports on Progress in Physics. http://www.iop.org/EJ/journal/-page=extra.highlights/0034-4885 ) Reports on Progress in Physics is the leading journal of the Institute of Physics, Britain's main professional body for physicists.

Further, Reports on Progress in Physics has a higher impact factor (according to Journal Citation Reports) than Physical Review Letters, which is the most prestigious American physics journal (one, incidently, which Prof. Tipler has been published in more than once). A journal's impact factor reflects the importance the science community places in that journal in the sense of actually citing its papers in their own papers. (And just to point out, Tipler's 2005 Reports on Progress in Physics paper could not have been published in Physical Review Letters since said paper is nearly book-length, and hence not a "letter" as defined by the latter journal.)

Of course, the referees at the Institute of Physics would not publish Prof. Tipler's Omega Point Theory in their journal if they thought that it was demonstrably flawed.

Rational Answers said...

Hello Mr. Redford,

My bad on the Theosophy/Theophysics mistake. I have corrected it in my blog.

As for the crux of your reply, my interpretation of the text leading up to the "infinitely improbable" comment is as follows:

1) The universe cannot be open because if it went on forever, black holes would eventually evaporate and quantum information would be lost (this is theoretical speculation, not an empirically observed law of nature).

2) The universe cannot be closed in the standard sense because the Bekenstein Bound (again theoretical speculation, not an empirically observed law of nature) and the Second Law of Thermodynamics (now we're talking!!!) contradict it.

But even if I were to accept the Bekenstein Bound as a true law of nature, isn't it more likely (than Tipler's "infinitely improbable" solution) that as the universe approached violation of the Bekenstein Bound, it would simply elastically collide with and recoil from this impenetrable theoretical barrier and begin a Big Bang-like expansion?

3) The only way out of this conundrum (that Tipler can see) is the "infinitely improbable" manifestation of a special type of closed universe which represents the Omega Point.

This hardly constitutes a proof of the Omega Point since Tipler has not been especially effective in invalidating the other two alternatives he describes against the "laws of physics" and he fails to consider other possible solutions to his conundrum.

James Redford said...

Actually, it constitutes an apodictic proof for the existence of the Omega Point if one accepts as one's starting point the known laws of physics, and hence empirical science.

The Bekenstein Bound is an unavoidable result of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, since entropy is informational complexity, yet if the informational complexity of a given finite mass of matter within a given finite volume of space didn't have an upper bound then it would make no sense to say that entropy increases.

In the three points which you give in your previous post, points Nos. 1 and 2 contradict each other. Again, if the universe fails to end in finite time but merely contracts partially, then one will be left with the same black hole information issue.

Nor are the known laws of physics merely theoretical, but have been confirmed by every experiment to date. The only way to get around them is to reject empirical science.

Rational Answers said...

Hello James,
Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. I had moved on to other topics and didn’t notice your comment.

You seem to believe in an inappropriate degree of inviolability of the “known laws of physics”. These laws are simply theories that have not been empirically invalidated. One of the critical things that make science so special is its willingness to admit when one of its theories is wrong or incomplete. All you need is a single experiment to demonstrate that you can measure the position and momentum of a sub-atomic particle with perfect precision and quantum mechanics becomes a wonderful, beautiful but flawed (or incomplete) theory. Without its falsifiability this discipline is merely dogmatic posturing, not science.

The absolutism that you seem to want to ascribe to the “laws of physics” flies in the face of its core ideal. Science does not worship its laws; it throws rocks at them to make sure they are sound. The scientific community adopts more of a Buddhist take on its objects of veneration (“If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him”) than a Christian one (“No gods before me”, “No graven images”, “No taking my name in vain, etc.).

In general, if the evidence supporting a theory hasn’t been measured, the theory is not empirical. Did I miss the announcement that the Bekenstein Bound and black hole evaporation had been measured in accordance with Jacob’s and Stephen’s conjectures? If not, they are not “empirical science”.

The Bekenstein Bound and black hole evaporation are based on speculations that have definitely not been empirically verified (many scientists regard them as impossible to test experimentally). As such, they remain theoretical postulates. By contrast, the theory of General Relativity went from theoretical to empirical on May 29th 1919, with the observation of the solar eclipse that experimentally confirmed that Einstein was closer to the correct explanation of gravity than was Newton.

Tipler is insisting that the universe must end in an Omega Point because of a theoretical contradiction between the Second Law of Thermodynamics and conjectures on black hole evaporation and the Bekenstein Bound. The fact that the Omega Point Theory insists on resolving this contradiction by requiring human intervention using technology that is indistinguishable from magic from our contemporary perspective sounds like a call for some very healthy skepticism. Wouldn’t it be simpler to suspect that the theoretical conjectures are simply wrong or at best incomplete?

I don’t have to reject empirical science to not buy into the Omega Point; I simply have to maintain reasonable skepticism about a virtually magical resolution of contradictions between theories that have not yet been empirically verified.

Mike Doolittle said...

I just wanted to say thanks for such a great response (to Redford) above. I recently read Tipler's book, and mentioned it in a few sentences in an otherwise unrelated blog. Then this Redford fellow comes and spams up my blog with epic posts rambling on about Tipler's theory. After attempting to engage him in some semblance of debate, a quick search revealed he was cut-and-pasting this stuff all over the blogosphere, and I realized he was just a troll on his pet cause. He has his own Tipler blog, so I asked him to move the debate there or have his comments deleted, a request which he ignored. After I deleted his comments, he re-posted his original comment exactly as it had been. I had to change my comment settings to require my approval just to fend this guy off. He's certifiable. Google "Tipler Redford" and you'll see what I mean.

I think people like this are dangerous – dangerous in how they stretch the limitations of science and how they obfuscate the difference between conjecture and fact.

Fortunately Tipler's science is absurd enough to be rejected by most scientists, and his theology is fanciful enough to be rejected by most philosophers.

Rational Answers said...


Thanks for the heads up.

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