How big is the universe?


The universe is a very big place – these are galaxies billions of light years away.
The universe is a very big place — these galaxies are billions of light years away.

How big is the universe? While it is generally known that the universe is very big, the latest science reveals that its true size defies all comprehension.

By the end of this article, you will understand why the universe is so big, it guarantees the existence of aliens, mirror Earths, and even copies of you living in the distant past and far future.

Historic Views

Not long ago, people had a limited conception of reality. Five-hundred years ago most believed that Earth was the only world. But with new discoveries our picture of reality grew.

In time we came to understand other planets are whole worlds like Earth. A bit later, we learned stars are distant suns. Only in the last one hundred years has our conception of reality grown to include many galaxies, many Hubble volumes, many Big Bangs, and most-recently the idea of many universes.

Earth is the only World (Ancient Times)

The Greeks spoke of a celestial sphere, the old testament of a firmament in the sky — rigid canopies, either a sphere or dome, that surround the Earth and to which the stars are affixed.

The Flammarion engraving (1888)
The Flammarion engraving (1888) shows a medieval missionary peeking through the Celestial sphere to see heaven itself.

Before Newton, no one understood that gravity acts universally. Rather, gravity was seen as a force that drew everything to the center of the universe (where Earth was centered).

Accordingly, other worlds were impossible — there would be no force to hold them together.

Though five other planets were known to the ancients, they were not considered worlds. They were seen as celestial entities (or Gods) that moved across the backdrop of the fixed-stars. The word planet is derived from this phenomenon — ‘planetos‘ being Greek for wanderer.

Our World is one of Many Planets (1543)

Five-hundred years ago, Copernicus developed a model of planetary motion that assumed Earth and the planets moved around the Sun. Earth was no longer a lone world, but one among five others known at the time: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

But people couldn’t handle expanding reality from one world to six. The Church classified the idea as heresy and in 1616 compelled Galileo to recant under the threat of torture and execution

The threat was not to be taken lightly. The Church had just burned Giordano Bruno at the stake in 1600, partly over his belief that stars are distant suns and that other planets might harbor life of their own.

Our Sun is one of many Stars (1838)

Under Copernicus’s model, stars remained as objects that adorned the celestial sphere. The only difference was that this sphere now encased the solar system rather than Earth.

TWINKLE, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are!

When “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” was published in 1806, it was not just children who wondered what stars were. It was a genuine mystery to science.

It was not until 1838 that Friedrich Bessel found the first evidence that stars are distant suns; or more accurately: that our sun is a nearby star. He used a simple method to prove this: parallax.

Hold up your index finger and look at it with one eye closed. Then switch: close one eye and open the other still looking at your finger. As you flip back and forth between eyes, your finger seems to shift in its apparent position. That is parallax, and the amount of shift can tell you how far your finger is from your eyes.

Bessel, rather than use the distance between his eyes, used the distance across Earth’s orbit.

He looked at the apparent position of the same star half-a-year apart. In this time Earth travels 2 AU (roughly 185 million miles) from where it was six months prior. This provided sufficient distance for Bessel to detect a Parallax effect for a few of the closest stars. From the shift he determined how far away those stars are.

NASA Parallax Diagram shows how the apparent position of a star will shift ever so slightly as Earth moves about the Sun.
The apparent position of a star will shift ever so slightly as Earth moves about the Sun.

The distances Bessel obtained from this method were enormous. Even the closest stars were many trillions of miles away. Moreover, each star sat at a different distance. This blew apart the idea of a celestial sphere.

When Bessel estimated how brightly our sun would appear at these distances, he found it in line with the brightness of the stars. This was the first evidence that vast numbers of star systems fill our reality.

Perhaps each star had its own planets, as Bruno hypothesized centuries earlier. Our concept of reality grew.

Our Galaxy is one of Many Island Universes (1920)

At the start of the 20th-century telescopes remained near-sighted compared to those of today.

The best telescopes could only see stars within the nearest 10,000 light years (about 10% of the way across the Milky Way Galaxy) — our vision constrained to the local backwater of the galaxy.

We had no idea there were other galaxies. Scientists thought the Milky Way constituted the entire universe.

Nearly a century passed since Bessel’s discovery. Our picture of reality was due for another adjustment.

At the time, there was a debate concerning what these spiral arm nebula really were.

A typical "spiral arm nebula". We know them today as galaxies.

Most astronomers considered spiral nebula to be clouds of gas. Their name ‘nebula‘ is even Latin for cloud.

A few upstarts subscribed to a fringe idea. They believed these gas clouds constituted entire ‘Island Universes‘ — vast assemblages of stars like our own Milky Way.

In 1920, Edwin Hubble measured the Doppler effect on the light from these ‘gas clouds’. He found them fleeing from us at speeds so great that they were not gravitationally bound to our galaxy. In other words, if they haven’t already left our galaxy they soon would.

This evidence shifted the debate in favor of the Island Universe Theory, which is today just the standard idea that there are vast numbers of galaxies.

Hubble also found that galaxies move away from each other at speeds proportional to their distance. This strongly suggested space itself is expanding. Rewinding time, everything would be closer together.

This finding set the stage for the next debate in cosmology.

The Modern View

The Observable Universe is tiny part of the Whole (1927)

If space is expanding and making everything drift apart, then earlier everything would be closer together. Rewind the clock far enough and everything would be squished together at an incredible density.

In 1922, Alexander Friedmann showed how Einstein’s equations of General Relativity could account for an expanding universe. In 1927 Georges Lemaître connected the idea with Hubble’s discovery of expanding space. Lemaître called it The Hypothesis of the Primeval Atom. Today we know it as the Big Bang Theory.

Most scientists found the idea of an abrupt creation event inelegant and preferred the Steady-State theory.

According to this view, the universe was infinitely old, and always expanding. But if new space could be created, why not matter? Steady-State theory supposes that in the wake of newly minted space, new matter is continually created and new galaxies perpetually form to fill the void created by the expansion.

Ancient Radiation

This led to a battle between Big Bang proponents and Steady-State theorists.

Both sides lacked evidence to conclusively settle the matter. The debate raged on for decades. But in 1964 evidence finally came in. The Big Bang won.

The Holmdel Horn Antenna was able to see the Big Bang.
Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson stand by the antenna that first detected ancient light left over from the Big Bang

Two radio astronomers from Bell Labs, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson found a persistent interference in the microwave frequency, a cosmic hum that seemed to emanate equally from all directions in the sky.

With the aid of physicists from Princeton, they determined the signal had all the predicted characteristics of thermal energy left over from the Big Bang. For their discovery, the pair won a Nobel Prize.

An untuned television set can also detect this signal. About 1% of the static appearing on the screen is due to this radiation. You are seeing energy that traveled for billions of years from the farthest reaches of the observable universe. Only a rare few of these particles are fortunate enough to meet their end on your antenna.

Given the speed at which galaxies are flying apart, we can estimate the Big Bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago. We usually consider ourselves as living in the second millennium, in actuality we’re in the 13,800,000th!

Where the Big Bang Happened

If the universe began a finite time ago, does that imply it has a finite size? Not necessarily.

The idea that a finite age implies a finite size stems from a common misrepresentation that the Big Bang emanated from one particular spot. In truth, it happened everywhere in space, all at once.

If you picked any spot in the universe, the Center of the Milky Way, a distant galaxy, even your own bedroom, you will find in rewinding the clock that all surrounding matter converges there. But the same is true for any point you choose.

Rewinding time, the universe was hotter and denser, but importantly, it was equally hot and dense everywhere. The Big Bang didn’t only happen somewhere far away, it happened right here — in the very space you now occupy. 13.8 billion years ago a plasma filled this spot. And it was so hot that nuclear fusion occurred.

The very space you are in now was once as scorching as a hydrogen bomb.

Fortunately, space has expanded and cooled a lot since then. It is now an average of just 2.7°C above absolute zero. The reason space is not zero degrees is due to the residual warmth of the Big Bang.

The Size of the Bang

Given the finite age of the universe, we can see only as far as light has been able to travel in 13.8 billion years.

This constitutes the entirety of the observable universe. But the observable universe is not the whole; the observable part constantly grows as new light from ever-more distant locations enters view.

So how big is the universe according to the Big Bang theory? How could we ever measure it?

Fortunately, Einstein’s General Relativity provides a way to measure the size of the universe. Even better, it works without having to travel to the far reaches of the universe.

It works a bit like measuring the size of the Earth using a level.

General Relativity says that if the universe is finite then space will be positively curved. It is analogous to how the surface of a planet is curved. Small planets have more curvature, larger planets have less.

In principle, you can measure the size of the Earth without leaving your home.

All you need to do is measure the curvature of the surface of water in a container. It’s tiny. Across the surface of a 2 meter bath tub, the surface curves by 0.3 microns. Over a mile it would curve just 8 inches.

Cosmologists have measured the curvature of space. The universe appears flat to within the limits of our measurement capability (within 0.4%). Given this, we know the whole universe must stretch at least 250 times farther than we can see. However, we know no upper-bound to how much farther it might go.

If the width, height, and depth increase by a factor of 250, then the volume increases by 250^{3} = \text{15,625,000}. This means the whole universe is at least 15 million times bigger than the part of the universe we can see.

Within our observable universe, our telescopes can see hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. Based on the curvature measurements, what we can see is just a small speck of a much larger, potentially infinite, universe.

The lack of detected curvature implies space extends a minimum of 11 trillion light years in every direction. Given that the big bang happened everywhere at once, we can’t say how far space ultimately continues. For all that is presently known, it may go on forever.

Yet a new theory, one that fills gaps in the Big Bang Theory, suggests reality is vaster still.

The Big Bang is one of Many (1980)

The Big Bang is a successful theory due to its many verified predictions. It explains the appearance and ratios of chemical elements in interstellar space, and moreover we can actually see the big bang with our telescopes.

Given the finite speed of light, the farther a telescope peers into space, the farther back it looks in time. We see the moon as it was one second ago, the sun as it was 8 minutes ago, the closest stars as they were years ago, and nearby galaxies as they were millions of years ago.

Our radio telescopes can look far enough to see the universe when it was just 400,000 years old. At this point in time space was filled with an orange afterglow remaining from shortly after the universe became transparent.

This period in time is known as the recombination era. But 400,000 years after the big bang, the whole sky would appear orange, as bright as the surface of a star. Filling the sky, it would quickly roast us.

Fortunately, the Doppler effect of expanding space has reduced this orange light to the much less energetic microwave range, losing over 99.9% of its energy. The universe fell in temperature from a searing 3000 Kelvin to a bone-chilling 2.7 Kelvin.

Cosmic Inflation

Despite its successes, there were lingering mysteries not addressed by the original Big Bang theory:

  1. The Homogeneity Problem: Why is the background radiation so uniform in temperature?
  2. The Flatness Problem: Why is there so little curvature to space?
  3. The Monopole Problem: Where are all the magnetic monopoles?

In 1980, Alan Guth, Alexei Starobinsky, and Andrei Linde worked out a theory known as Cosmic Inflation. It is an extension to the Big Bang theory which addresses all these problems. Further, it explains why the universe went BANG in the first place and why the universe is still expanding to this day.

The theory makes a modest assumption, which is also backed up by particle physics: that the vacuum contains energy. If vacuum energy is non-zero, General Relativity predicts space will expand on its own. The greater its energy, the faster it expands.

In answering the previous questions, Inflation trades four problems for one. It also tells where all the space, matter and energy comes from. The only problem left is from where did this little piece of high-energy, self-inflating vacuum originate?

Inflation supposes that the vacuum energy was once greater than it is now. So great, in fact, that this high-energy vacuum would double in about a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second.

But this high-energy state is unstable and can decay, much like a radioactive particle. When the vacuum decays, its vast energy gets dumped into space. This energy manifests as spontaneous particle creation. The thermostat is raised and the temperature of the universe soars to 10^{27}°C.

If inflation happened, then for it to be consistent with observations it must have gone on for at least 10^{-32} seconds. In this time the spatial doubling causes space to stretch by a factor of 10^{26} in every direction — an increase in volume by a factor of 10^{78}. But inflation could have gone on for much longer.

Alan Guth thinks it is reasonable to suppose that inflation went on for twice the bare minimum time. That implies the whole universe is 10^{78} times bigger than the part we can see.

Once the vacuum decays to a lower energy state the rate of expansion slows. This is why the universe now doubles in volume after billions of years, rather than in a fraction of a nanosecond.

Eternal Inflation

Observational evidence supporting inflation came in 1992, with data from the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite. The patterns of variation seen in the radiation are consistent with cosmic fluctuations occurring at all scales of space as the universe rapidly expanded.

The rapid expansion of space turned the observable universe into a sort of giant microscope. The pattern of radiation and the distribution of galaxies across the night’s sky are gravitational imprints of quantum fluctuations that occurred at the microscopic scales when the universe was small. Following inflation these variations were magnified to galactic proportions.

The cosmic microwave background radiation, shows the border of the observable universe.
The mottled picture of the microwave radiation in the sky reveals tiny temperature variations. This picture shows the boundary of the observable universe. It the farthest we can see and the earliest moments in history that can be photographed.

There is however, a shocking consequence of inflation. Once it begins, it never fully stops. This is the idea of Eternal Inflation. Inflation is eternal because for inflation to start, the high-energy vacuum must grow faster than it decays. But if it grows faster than it decays it leads to a runaway reaction that never ends.

Consequently, there remain parts of the universe that are still inflating rapidly. That means parts of the universe have for billions of years been growing at fantastic rates. Whenever and where ever the vacuum decays to a lower energy state, the result is another Big Bang and a new region of slowly expanding space.

The total number of Big Bangs is therefore unbounded, and grows exponentially with time. In a way, Steady-State theory is vindicated. New matter and energy are created in the void of rapidly expanding space, it just doesn’t happen in the slowly expanding space of our neck of the universe.

In summary, if eternal inflation is right, then our Big Bang was just one of an infinite number of Big Bangs.

Current Speculations

Thus far we have covered only established theories with direct observational confirmation. These ideas are part of standard science and are described in today’s high school textbooks.

Nonetheless, these ideas imply a reality unbelievably bigger than the one accepted just 50 years ago.

New speculations make even the exponentially growing number of Big Bangs seem puny in comparison. Though not confirmed, there are good reasons to believe these ideas, or something like them, hold water.

Our Physical Constants are one of Many

String theory is a candidate quantum theory of gravity. Its key idea is that particles are not points or balls, but rather tiny strings of energy vibrating in many dimensions.

Developing a quantized theory of gravity is necessary if we are to ever understand what happens inside black holes or during the incredible densities near the beginning of the big bang. Such an understanding is also necessary to create the fastest physically possible computer — the black hole computer.

The only problem: string theory doesn’t have one unique solution. In 1987, the Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg worked out that string theory contains at least 10^{500} possible solutions. Each one has a different set of physical properties.

Later investigations raised this estimate to at least 10^{\text{272,000}} solutions. The true number of allowed solutions may be infinite.

While there is no experimental verification of string theory, aside from its prediction of gravity, there is strong evidence to believe that many different systems of physics, each having different parameters, are real.

The strongest evidence comes from the apparent fine-tuning of the constants of physics to support life. Chief among these is the strength of the vacuum energy. If it were just slightly greater, space would have expanded too fast for galaxies or stars to form. The universe would remain an ever-expanding haze of gas.

But it’s equally fortunate that the energy was not zero or negative. In that case the universe would have gravitationally collapsed billions of years ago, before life could arise. The vacuum energy had to be balanced just right, with a positive strength extremely near to zero, but not zero or negative.

The odds that it would have a value in the right range by random chance is about one in 10^{120} — about the same odds as winning a national lottery 15 times in a row.

The conclusion it leads to is that not only is our big bang one of many, but our own physical forces and constants are one of many. String theory implies a vast landscape of possible universes each with their own unique physics, and given fine-tuning, there’s reason to believe they are real.

Graphical depiction of the string theory "Landscape"
Graphical depiction of the string theory “Landscape” by University of Cambridge

We imagine our universe to be unique, but it is one of an immense number—perhaps an infinite number—of equally valid, equally independent, equally isolated universes. There will be life in some, and not in others. In this view the observable Universe is just a newly formed backwater of a much vaster, infinitely old, and wholly unobservable Cosmos. If something like this is right, even our residual pride, pallid as it must be, of living in the only universe is denied to us.

Carl Sagan

We are now led to wonder: is there anything special about the equations of string theory? Why should they be blessed with the gift of existence while other equations describing other universes are not?

This thinking led to the reality-shattering idea that perhaps every possible structure exists.

Our Physical Laws are One of Many

In 1996, the cosmologist Max Tegmark published his Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (MUH).

It is the idea that physical existence is merely mathematical existence. This makes physical existence redundant, as for every physical object there is already a corresponding mathematical object of an identical structure.

Our universe for instance, which we consider a physical object having a physical existence might just be a mathematical object having a mathematical existence.

After all, how could we ever tell the difference when the two objects are otherwise identical?

The Mandelbrot Set, nicknamed the ‘Thumbprint of God‘ displays infinite complexity and goes on forever. Where does it exist?

These ideas are more than idle speculations. The MUH explains several features of reality. It answers:

The logician Bruno Marchal, the computer scientist Russell Standish, and the physicist Markus P. Müller have each independently demonstrated how the existence of an infinite and comprehensive reality directly leads to physical laws that are probabilistic and contain irreducible randomness.

This is exactly what we find when we look at our own physics. The laws of quantum mechanics make only probabilistic predictions, and manifest a fundamental randomness that cannot be predicted, even in principle.

Just as string theory predicts gravity, MUH might account for some or all of the features of quantum mechanics.

Some people object to the MUH on the basis that objects in math, unlike in physics, are changeless.

But this overlooks two important facts. The first is that any object in math can model time by adding a dimension through which different states are ordered. The second, is that modern science suggests time and change are not actual features of our physical universe, but apparent ones. See “What is time?“.

MUH inevitably leads to deep philosophical questions, like why does anything exist?

Given that we just witnessed evidence of a vast, possibly infinite, reality, it becomes a little easier to believe that reality could be a bit bigger than we originally thought. Reality might just include everything that can be.

Conclusions

Compared to the time humans have walked the earth, we’ve undergone a radical shift in a short period. We now understand reality and our place in it very differently than in times past.

In the words of Sagan, our time is marked by “successive debunkings of our conceits.

  • Our world is the only world
  • Our sun is the only sun
  • Our galaxy is the only galaxy
  • Our big bang is the only big bang
  • Our physical constants are the only physical constants ???
  • Our physics equations are the only physical equations ???

Given the trend, it would be wise to bet on reality being bigger than most people believe.

How Many Stars

For most of history, humans believed in the existence of only one Sun. Ancient peoples held the sun in the highest esteem. It provided warmth, protection from predators, and sustenance through our crops.

The Egyptians consider the sun god Ra to be king over all the others. Even in modern times, we’ve named the first day of the week in its honor.

But in a few human generations, we’ve gone from a belief in a singular sun to understanding that our galaxy is filled with 100,000,000,000 other suns — a 1 followed by 11 zeros (or 10^{11}).

YearConcept of RealityNumber of Suns
1543Solar System1
1838Milky Way Galaxy10^{11}
1920Observable Universe10^{22}
1927Universe Size implied by Flatness10^{29}
1980Universe Size implied by Inflation10^{100}
1987Multiverse Size implied by String Theory10^{600}
1996Concordance Model, Eternal Inflation, Infinite Landscape, or MUH\infty

There are people alive today who were born at a time before we understood there are many galaxies. Learning that there were other galaxies with their own stars expanded our picture of reality to include 10^{22} suns.

General Relativity allowed us to estimate the size of the universe from the curvature of space. This implies a universe at least 15 million times larger than what our telescopes can see.

Not to be outdone, Inflation suggests a universe of at least 10^{78} times the volume of the space we can see, giving us a whopping 10^{100} (a googol) stars.

Wading into more speculative physics, such as string theory, we find there might be 10^{500} times as many universes, each with their own unique physical constants, adding another 500 zeros to the googol inflation gives us.

Of course all these numbers are lower-bounds. The standard model of cosmology, called the Concordance Model, assumes a flat and spatially infinite universe. This alone gets us to an infinite number of stars.

If the universe is not spatially infinite, then eternal inflation does the job. An infinite number of big bangs occurring for all eternity has no trouble producing infinite stars.

Even if the universe is not spatially infinite, and even if Inflation somehow stops, an infinite landscape from string theory or the MUH also fill reality with infinite stars.

The consequences of an infinite reality cannot be understated.

Implications of an Infinite Reality

Surprising consequences follow when reality is sufficiently big.

We’re Not Alone

The first and most obvious consequence of a huge reality is that it guarantees the existence of extraterrestrial life. Though we have not spotted little green men in our telescopes, our instruments have nonetheless indirectly proven their existence.

The COBE satellite, looking at patterns in radiation from the big bang, provided evidence for Inflation. Inflation leads to a reality 10^{78} times bigger than previously assumed, and more likely than not, implies an infinite space populated by infinite Big Bangs.

If life is possible, inflation ensures it will recur an infinite number of times in an infinite number of places.

You have Doppelgangers

If space is infinite, then patterns in the arrangements of matter eventually repeat.

In fact, Max Tegmark calculated that an exact copy of you, reading an exact copy of this article written by an exact copy of me can be found just 10^{{10}^{28}} meters from here.

The physical situation is analogous to the infinite series of digits found in the number Pi:

\Pi = 3.1415926535 89793238462643383279\dots

Among Pi’s infinite digits, you can find any sequence: your zip code, your phone number, encodings of any book, picture or movie. Every finite sequence of digits exists somewhere in Pi.

On average, to find a sequence that is n digits long, you need to look through 10^{n} digits to find the next occurrence. A 5 digit ZIP code should appear about once in every 10^{5} = \text{100,000} digits of Pi.

Every finite sequence recurs an infinite number of times precisely because Pi goes on forever. Similarly, should space go on forever then every possible finite arrangement of matter occurs in an infinite number of locations.

So should space be infinite, there are infinite copies of you, Earth, and even exact atom-for-atom copies our whole Milky Way Galaxy.

What has Happened Before, will Happen Again

Given infinite Big Bangs, even rare and uncommon events, such as the entire history of life on Earth as we have experienced it will not only happen again, but have happened before.

In an eternally inflating universe, anything that can happen will happen; in fact, it will happen an infinite number of times.

Alan Guth

According to inflation, this isn’t the first time you have lived your life. Nor is it the last.

You will live again exactly as you have now, and also you will live every possible variation of that life.

But are they all you?

Does God Exist?

If the MUH is right then everything exists. The set of all mathematical structures includes all possible universes and all possible beings. Some of those universes will possess unlimited computational resources.

Using these resources, intelligent life or intelligent beings could simulate any universe in exact detail. In effect, they would possess the power to generate reality and create universes through computer simulation.

For a more thorough consideration of this question, see “Does God Exist?” and “Are we living in a computer simulation?


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139 Replies to “How big is the universe?”

  1. Before inflation started were a total number of zero universes in a volume which is 0 was 0 because 0 times infinity is 0. But as soon as inflation started the total number of bubble universes were infinite in a volume which was infinite because any non zero number times infinity is also infinity. The space between bubble universes expands exponentially and in those regions of expanding space between bubble universes new bubble universes continue to form and this process will go on forever. So as soon as inflation started there was already a volume of false vacuum background which was infinite. 1/3 of that volume decayed and produced bubble universes and the other 2/3 of that volume expanded and doubled in size. Then 1/3 of that expanded and double volume decayed and produced more bubble universes and the 2/3 of that expanded and doubled volume doubled and expanded again and this process will go on forever. The total number of bubble universes was already infinite as soon as inflation began but as inflation false vacuum expanded it made the distance between bubble universes expand and will create number bubbles in that expanded region of space and this process will go on forever. Max Tegmark’s says you can finite an infinite volume inside a what a subatomic particle looks like from the outside without affect the exterior space. At first it may seem like this model of a multiverse only works if each universe is finite in size. After all, an infinite universe wouldn’t have an edge beyond which other bubble universes could be found, right? Actually, no. It is possible for a universe to have an infinite volume but be contained within a finite edge. As it also turns out, the nature of quantum fields can be determined at an infinite distance away from some starting location. Solving the formulas of quantum field theory at that distance allows you to determine the quantum fields behaviour at the 2D boundary surrounding an infinite volume. Mathematically, you can fit an infinite volume within the bounds of a finite 2D edge using tessellation and hyperbolic geometry, which you can learn about from the video above. Doing so allows you to fully describe an infinite universe by examining its finite edge. I have a video here about it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJevBNQsKtU&t=1s
    The same principle would apply to the false vacuum background of an eternally inflating multiverse. Am I right about eternal inflation what I have said about eternal inflation.

    1. Hi James,

      It looks like you’ve done quite a bit of research on these topics recently. I commend you for that. 🙂 Mathematics does provide many ways of “compactification” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compactification_(mathematics) ) that enable infinite things to be fit into finite spaces. As to how this works in inflation, Alan Guth has describes it in terms of the geometry of spacetime — where the infinite time dimension the universes can be partially used to fit the infinite space: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfeJhzPq3jQ I hope to cover these ideas of inflation in more depth in an article “Does space go on forever?”

  2. if there are an infinite number of ways that the entropy of inflationary perturbations (uniform mass of matter and energy that existed milliseconds after the big bang) can be different and an infinite number of e folds of the slow roll inflation can be different, if there is an infinite number of ways that the value of entropy at the big bang and value of mass at the big bang can be different, If there are an infinite number of ways the average density of normal matter can be different, If there are an infinite number of ways the density of dark matter can be different, If there are an infinite number of ways that the density of dark energy can be different, If there are an infinite number of ways that the cosmological constant can be different, if there are an infinite number of ways that the ratio of dark energy to dark matter to normal matter can be different, If there are an infinite number of ways that the total mass density of the universe can be different, if there are an infinite number of ways that the value of entropy and density at the big bang can be different, If there are an infinite number of ways that the laws of physics can be different, If there are an infinite number of ways that the constants of nature are different, If there are an infinite number of ways that the string theory vucua can de different, If there are an infinite number of ways that the string theory geometry can different and finally if there is an infinite number of ways in which the strength of the inflationary field in which new universes are created are different then how is it possible to live again and the history of the universe to repeat again if cosmic inflation is true? You said with string theory, the laws of physics and the constants of nature as long as there is no detectable difference you will live again and the history of the universe will repeat again but how about the other criteria’s such as the density of the universe and the entropy of the universe at the big bang?

    1. Hi James,

      Good questions. It’s always difficult reasoning about infinities. I am actually planning an article on infinity. It’s a very complex topic, for there are an infinite number of different kinds of infinity (see https://weta.org/watch/shows/infinite-series/hierarchy-infinities ). That said, the way I view it, is that if nature can cause one universe with our set of conditions to exist once, then why should nature not be able to cause such a universe with our set of conditions to exist a second time? It’s not a proof by any means, but I have never seen an argument for why whatever process caused this universe to begin in the first place could not happen again. If you see the “Why does anything exist?” article, it leads to the idea of a reality that is infinitely repeating, and varied, much like a fractal ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandelbrot_set ) going on forever with infinite apparent complexity.

  3. Hey Jason, take a look on this article and comment what do you think about it. I will copy and paste it here.


    The Idea That a Scientific Theory Can Be ‘Falsified’ Is a Myth
    It’s time we abandoned the notion

    By Mano Singham on September 7, 2020

    Transit of Mercury across the Sun; Newton’s theory of gravity was considered to be “falsified” when it failed to account for the precession of the planet’s orbit. Credit: Getty Images
    J.B.S. Haldane, one of the founders of modern evolutionary biology theory, was reportedly asked what it would take for him to lose faith in the theory of evolution and is said to have replied, “Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian.” Since the so-called “Cambrian explosion” of 500 million years ago marks the earliest appearance in the fossil record of complex animals, finding mammal fossils that predate them would falsify the theory.

    But would it really?

    The Haldane story, though apocryphal, is one of many in the scientific folklore that suggest that falsification is the defining characteristic of science. As expressed by astrophysicist Mario Livio in his book Brilliant Blunders: “[E]ver since the seminal work of philosopher of science Karl Popper, for a scientific theory to be worthy of its name, it has to be falsifiable by experiments or observations. This requirement has become the foundation of the ‘scientific method.’”

    But the field known as science studies (comprising the history, philosophy and sociology of science) has shown that falsification cannot work even in principle. This is because an experimental result is not a simple fact obtained directly from nature. Identifying and dating Haldane’s bone involves using many other theories from diverse fields, including physics, chemistry and geology. Similarly, a theoretical prediction is never the product of a single theory but also requires using many other theories. When a “theoretical” prediction disagrees with “experimental” data, what this tells us is that that there is a disagreement between two sets of theories, so we cannot say that any particular theory is falsified.

    Fortunately, falsification—or any other philosophy of science—is not necessary for the actual practice of science. The physicist Paul Dirac was right when he said, “Philosophy will never lead to important discoveries. It is just a way of talking about discoveries which have already been made.” Actual scientific history reveals that scientists break all the rules all the time, including falsification. As philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn noted, Newton’s laws were retained despite the fact that they were contradicted for decades by the motions of the perihelion of Mercury and the perigee of the moon. It is the single-minded focus on finding what works that gives science its strength, not any philosophy. Albert Einstein said that scientists are not, and should not be, driven by any single perspective but should be willing to go wherever experiment dictates and adopt whatever works.

    Unfortunately, some scientists have disparaged the entire field of science studies, claiming that it was undermining public confidence in science by denying that scientific theories were objectively true. This is a mistake since science studies play vital roles in two areas. The first is that it gives scientists a much richer understanding of their discipline. As Einstein said: “So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.” The actual story of how science evolves results in inspiring more confidence in science, not less.

    The second is that this knowledge equips people to better argue against antiscience forces that use the same strategy over and over again, whether it is about the dangers of tobacco, climate change, vaccinations or evolution. Their goal is to exploit the slivers of doubt and discrepant results that always exist in science in order to challenge the consensus views of scientific experts. They fund and report their own results that go counter to the scientific consensus in this or that narrow area and then argue that they have falsified the consensus. In their book Merchants of Doubt, historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway say that for these groups “[t]he goal was to fight science with science—or at least with the gaps and uncertainties in existing science, and with scientific research that could be used to deflect attention from the main event.”

    Science studies provide supporters of science with better arguments to combat these critics, by showing that the strength of scientific conclusions arises because credible experts use comprehensive bodies of evidence to arrive at consensus judgments about whether a theory should be retained or rejected in favor of a new one. These consensus judgments are what have enabled the astounding levels of success that have revolutionized our lives for the better. It is the preponderance of evidence that is relevant in making such judgments, not one or even a few results.

    So, when anti-vaxxers or anti-evolutionists or climate change deniers point to this or that result to argue that they have falsified the scientific consensus, they are making a meaningless statement. What they need to do is produce a preponderance of evidence in support of their case, and they have not done so.

    Falsification is appealing because it tells a simple and optimistic story of scientific progress, that by steadily eliminating false theories we can eventually arrive at true ones. As Sherlock Holmes put it, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Such simple but incorrect narratives abound in science folklore and textbooks. Richard Feynman in his book QED, right after “explaining” how the theory of quantum electrodynamics came about, said, “What I have just outlined is what I call a “physicist’s history of physics,” which is never correct. What I am telling you is a sort of conventionalized myth-story that the physicists tell to their students, and those students tell to their students, and is not necessarily related to the actual historical development which I do not really know!”

    But if you propagate a “myth-story” enough times and it gets passed on from generation to generation, it can congeal into a fact, and falsification is one such myth-story.

    It is time we abandoned it.

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-idea-that-a-scientific-theory-can-be-falsified-is-a-myth/

    Yeah, it sounds very militant atheistic and fanatical atheistic, but the criticism of falseability is quite right.

  4. After searching a bit about Mano Singham, I have just found out he is a militant atheist and an atheist zealot, sadly. But yet, his article about falseability is quite good. Despite I strongly disagree with his books and writings about atheist. I seriously think and support that scientists shouldn’t be atheists at all, but rather they should be agnostic, just like Marcelo Gleiser, or still have their religious/spiritual beliefs, just like Reinaldo José Lopes, Guy Consolmagno, Ascending Luminosity (Jonathan Riley), or just like most scientists of the areas of spiritual sciences, or even like other religious/spiritual scientists out there. And also, I strongly disagree with the whole “freethought” thing, if you have read my other comments and texts doing criticism of freethought you will understand me. I mean, yes, everyone, including scientists, should have the right to choose between be religious/spiritual, agnostic or atheist. And yes, Mano Singham, as well as so many others out there, are wrong when it is about “scientists should be atheists” or some more extremists who say “all scientists should be militant atheists” and such things, I mean, yeah, some scientists are atheists, but it doesn’t mean they are anti-religious or anti-spiritual, the impression that people like Mano Singham, as well as so many others out there, give is that science is equal to atheism and that everyone should be forced into being an atheist, and it is nonsense, for do not say it is militant atheism, atheist fanaticism, atheist fundamentalism and atheist extremism. The problem is that mass media and the Internet give a lot of voice to those people, and it is really bad. I say that scientists should be whatever they want, and not necessary be atheists, and more, scientists should counter militant atheism and antitheism, and not join it or support it, because militant atheism (which includes atheist fanaticism, atheist fundamentalism, totalitarian atheism, state atheism, and atheist extremism) and antitheism are just like religious fundamentalism and like what the Taliban is doing in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan or just like what ISIS did and still do with the Middle East, militant atheism and antitheism are just like that, but rather in psychological, emotional and “scientific” terms rather than physical terms. And yes, falseability might be a completely myth, as Mano Singham said, but I strongly disagree with Mano Singham when it is about “scientists should be atheists”. And I seriously think that the views/opinions/statements of Marcelo Gleiser, Reinaldo José Lopes, Guy Consolmagno, and Ascending Luminosity (Jonathan Riley) about religion and science are more worthy, valid and better than militant atheist nonsense, fanatical atheist nonsense, atheist fundamentalist nonsense or atheist extremist nonsense things said by people like Mano Singham, Daniel Foschetti Gontijo, Dave Farina, Bibi Bailas and such people who support militant atheist nonsense, fanatical atheist nonsense, atheist fundamentalist nonsense or atheist extremist nonsense things. And that is one of the reasons I am a harsh antiatheist and a harsh critic of atheism, and people should be encouraged to become antiatheists and critics of atheism, as well as to become critical antiscience and critics of science, but that is my own opinion/view/statement, and you all are free to disagree with me on that, as well as with others.

  5. Despite that just a very few people actually read what I write and what I post, but yet, I feel I am doing a good job writing what I think and what I feel on the Internet, despite some of my posts can be considered as “schizoposting” and “bipolarposting”. But yeah, my treatment to anxiety and bipolar disorder is working well, and I am feeling better for express myself and avoid trying doing “schizoposting” and “bipolarposting”. And thank you for exist, Jason K. Resch, and thank you for your blog where I can express myself and post what I think. I just hope you will answer all my comments one by one and won’t delete them, at least, not most of them lol. Anyway, I just hope you will answer my comments properly and tell what you think about the things I wrote and posted here on Always Asking.

  6. Atheism Is Inconsistent with the Scientific Method, Prizewinning Physicist Says
    In conversation, the 2019 Templeton Prize winner does not pull punches on the limits of science, the value of humility and the irrationality of nonbelief

    By Lee Billings on March 20, 2019
    Atheism Is Inconsistent with the Scientific Method, Prizewinning Physicist Says
    Theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser, recipient of the 2019 Templeton Prize. Credit: Eli Burakian Dartmouth College
    Marcelo Gleiser, a 60-year-old Brazil-born theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College and prolific science popularizer, has won this year’s Templeton Prize. Valued at just under $1.5 million, the award from the John Templeton Foundation annually recognizes an individual “who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” Its past recipients include scientific luminaries such as Sir Martin Rees and Freeman Dyson, as well as religious or political leaders such as Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

    Across his 35-year scientific career, Gleiser’s research has covered a wide breadth of topics, ranging from the properties of the early universe to the behavior of fundamental particles and the origins of life. But in awarding him its most prestigious honor, the Templeton Foundation chiefly cited his status as a leading public intellectual revealing “the historical, philosophical and cultural links between science, the humanities and spirituality.” He is also the first Latin American to receive the prize.

    Scientific American spoke with Gleiser about the award, how he plans to advance his message of consilience, the need for humility in science, why humans are special, and the fundamental source of his curiosity as a physicist.

    [An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

    Scientific American: First off, congratulations! How did you feel when you heard the news?

    Marcelo Gleiser: It was quite a shocker. I feel tremendously honored, very humbled and kind of nervous. It’s a cocktail of emotions, to be honest. I put a lot of weight on the fact that I’m the first Latin American to get this. That, to me anyway, is important—and I’m feeling the weight on my shoulders now. I have my message, you know. The question now is how to get it across as efficiently and clearly as I can, now that I have a much bigger platform to do that from.

    You’ve written and spoken eloquently about nature of reality and consciousness, the genesis of life, the possibility of life beyond Earth, the origin and fate of the universe, and more. How do all those disparate topics synergize into one, cohesive message for you?

    To me, science is one way of connecting with the mystery of existence. And if you think of it that way, the mystery of existence is something that we have wondered about ever since people began asking questions about who we are and where we come from. So while those questions are now part of scientific research, they are much, much older than science. I’m not talking about the science of materials, or high-temperature superconductivity, which is awesome and super important, but that’s not the kind of science I’m doing. I’m talking about science as part of a much grander and older sort of questioning about who we are in the big picture of the universe. To me, as a theoretical physicist and also someone who spends time out in the mountains, this sort of questioning offers a deeply spiritual connection with the world, through my mind and through my body. Einstein would have said the same thing, I think, with his cosmic religious feeling.

    Right. So which aspect of your work do you think is most relevant to the Templeton Foundation’s spiritual aims?

    Probably my belief in humility. I believe we should take a much humbler approach to knowledge, in the sense that if you look carefully at the way science works, you’ll see that yes, it is wonderful — magnificent! — but it has limits. And we have to understand and respect those limits. And by doing that, by understanding how science advances, science really becomes a deeply spiritual conversation with the mysterious, about all the things we don’t know. So that’s one answer to your question. And that has nothing to do with organized religion, obviously, but it does inform my position against atheism. I consider myself an agnostic.

    Why are you against atheism?

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    I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. “I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.” Period. It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations. We say, “Okay, you can have a hypothesis, you have to have some evidence against or for that.” And so an agnostic would say, look, I have no evidence for God or any kind of god (What god, first of all? The Maori gods, or the Jewish or Christian or Muslim God? Which god is that?) But on the other hand, an agnostic would acknowledge no right to make a final statement about something he or she doesn’t know about. “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” and all that. This positions me very much against all of the “New Atheist” guys—even though I want my message to be respectful of people’s beliefs and reasoning, which might be community-based, or dignity-based, and so on. And I think obviously the Templeton Foundation likes all of this, because this is part of an emerging conversation. It’s not just me; it’s also my colleague the astrophysicist Adam Frank, and a bunch of others, talking more and more about the relation between science and spirituality.

    So, a message of humility, open-mindedness and tolerance. Other than in discussions of God, where else do you see the most urgent need for this ethos?

    You know, I’m a “Rare Earth” kind of guy. I think our situation may be rather special, on a planetary or even galactic scale. So when people talk about Copernicus and Copernicanism—the ‘principle of mediocrity’ that states we should expect to be average and typical, I say, “You know what? It’s time to get beyond that.” When you look out there at the other planets (and the exoplanets that we can make some sense of), when you look at the history of life on Earth, you will realize this place called Earth is absolutely amazing. And maybe, yes, there are others out there, possibly—who knows, we certainly expect so—but right now what we know is that we have this world, and we are these amazing molecular machines capable of self-awareness, and all that makes us very special indeed. And we know for a fact that there will be no other humans in the universe; there may be some humanoids somewhere out there, but we are unique products of our single, small planet’s long history.

    The point is, to understand modern science within this framework is to put humanity back into kind of a moral center of the universe, in which we have the moral duty to preserve this planet and its life with everything that we’ve got, because we understand how rare this whole game is and that for all practical purposes we are alone. For now, anyways. We have to do this! This is a message that I hope will resonate with lots of people, because to me what we really need right now in this increasingly divisive world is a new unifying myth. I mean “myth” as a story that defines a culture. So, what is the myth that will define the culture of the 21st century? It has to be a myth of our species, not about any particular belief system or political party. How can we possibly do that? Well, we can do that using astronomy, using what we have learned from other worlds, to position ourselves and say, “Look, folks, this is not about tribal allegiance, this is about us as a species on a very specific planet that will go on with us—or without us.” I think you know this message well.

    I do. But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment, only because earlier you referred to the value of humility in science. Some would say now is not the time to be humble, given the rising tide of active, open hostility to science and objectivity around the globe. How would you respond to that?

    This is of course something people have already told me: “Are you really sure you want to be saying these things?” And my answer is yes, absolutely. There is a difference between “science” and what we can call “scientism,” which is the notion that science can solve all problems. To a large extent, it is not science but rather how humanity has used science that has put us in our present difficulties. Because most people, in general, have no awareness of what science can and cannot do. So they misuse it, and they do not think about science in a more pluralistic way. So, okay, you’re going to develop a self-driving car? Good! But how will that car handle hard choices, like whether to prioritize the lives of its occupants or the lives of pedestrian bystanders? Is it going to just be the technologist from Google who decides? Let us hope not! You have to talk to philosophers, you have to talk to ethicists. And to not understand that, to say that science has all the answers, to me is just nonsense. We cannot presume that we are going to solve all the problems of the world using a strict scientific approach. It will not be the case, and it hasn’t ever been the case, because the world is too complex, and science has methodological powers as well as methodological limitations.

    And so, what do I say? I say be honest. There is a quote from the physicist Frank Oppenheimer that fits here: “The worst thing a son of a bitch can do is turn you into a son of a bitch.” Which is profane but brilliant. I’m not going to lie about what science can and cannot do because politicians are misusing science and trying to politicize the scientific discourse. I’m going to be honest about the powers of science so that people can actually believe me for my honesty and transparency. If you don’t want to be honest and transparent, you’re just going to become a liar like everybody else. Which is why I get upset by misstatements, like when you have scientists—Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss among them—claiming we have solved the problem of the origin of the universe, or that string theory is correct and that the final “theory of everything” is at hand. Such statements are bogus. So, I feel as if I am a guardian for the integrity of science right now; someone you can trust because this person is open and honest enough to admit that the scientific enterprise has limitations—which doesn’t mean it’s weak!

    You mentioned string theory, and your skepticism about the notion of a final “theory of everything.” Where does that skepticism come from?

    It is impossible for science to obtain a true theory of everything. And the reason for that is epistemological. Basically, the way we acquire information about the world is through measurement. It’s through instruments, right? And because of that, our measurements and instruments are always going to tell us a lot of stuff, but they are going to leave stuff out. And we cannot possibly ever think that we could have a theory of everything, because we cannot ever think that we know everything that there is to know about the universe. This relates to a metaphor I developed that I used as the title of a book, The Island of Knowledge. Knowledge advances, yes? But it’s surrounded by this ocean of the unknown. The paradox of knowledge is that as it expands and the boundary between the known and the unknown changes, you inevitably start to ask questions that you couldn’t even ask before.

    I don’t want to discourage people from looking for unified explanations of nature because yes, we need that. A lot of physics is based on this drive to simplify and bring things together. But on the other hand, it is the blank statement that there could ever be a theory of everything that I think is fundamentally wrong from a philosophical perspective. This whole notion of finality and final ideas is, to me, just an attempt to turn science into a religious system, which is something I disagree with profoundly. So then how do you go ahead and justify doing research if you don’t think you can get to the final answer? Well, because research is not about the final answer, it’s about the process of discovery. It’s what you find along the way that matters, and it is curiosity that moves the human spirit forward.

    Speaking of curiosity… You once wrote, “Scientists, in a sense, are people who keep curiosity burning, trying to find answers to some of the questions they asked as children.” As a child, was there a formative question you asked, or an experience you had, that made you into the scientist you are today? Are you still trying to answer it?

    I’m still completely fascinated with how much science can tell about the origin and evolution of the universe. Modern cosmology and astrobiology have most of the questions I look for—the idea of the transition from nonlife, to life, to me, is absolutely fascinating. But to be honest with you, the formative experience was that I lost my mom. I was six years old, and that loss was absolutely devastating. It put me in contact with the notion of time from a very early age. And obviously religion was the thing that came immediately, because I’m Jewish, but I became very disillusioned with the Old Testament when I was a teenager, and then I found Einstein. That was when I realized, you can actually ask questions about the nature of time and space and nature itself using science. That just blew me away. And so I think it was a very early sense of loss that made me curious about existence. And if you are curious about existence, physics becomes a wonderful portal, because it brings you close to the nature of the fundamental questions: space, time, origins. And I’ve been happy ever since.

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/atheism-is-inconsistent-with-the-scientific-method-prizewinning-physicist-says/

  7. Skeptics, zealots and scriptures: Science and religion have more in common than you might think.

    Welcome to the age of “doing your own research.” Given the increased attention we’ve all been paying to science this past year, we thought it important to bring on Brother Guy the Catholic Science Guy, a.k.a. Guy Consolmagno, S.J. Nicknamed “the pope’s astronomer,” Brother Guy is the director of the Vatican Observatory, president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation and he’s here to give science a much needed “shot in the arm.”

    During Signs of the Times, Ashley and Zac unpack the pope’s call for universal basic income and a shorter work day (among other things) and discuss whether or not we still need godparents.

    https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2021/10/22/catholic-science-vaccines-podcast-241702

    FAITH
    FAITH AND REASON
    I am a Jesuit scientist. I’m all for vaccines, but we have to do more than just ‘follow the science’
    Guy Consolmagno
    October 22, 2021
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    Anti-vaccine protestors hold placards during a march against COVID-19 vaccinations in Cape Town, South Africa
    Anti-vaccine protestors hold placards during a march against COVID-19 vaccinations in Cape Town, South Africa, Sept. 18, 2021. (CNS photo/Mike Hutchings, Reuters)

    In the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, the scientific evidence in favor of vaccination is overwhelming. With this in mind, there are many people who see universal vaccination as the only way to bring the pandemic to an end, often invoking the mantra of “follow the science.” As a slogan it would seem to have a certain appeal, but the evidence suggests that the catchphrase has not actually been particularly effective at increasing vaccination rates. After all, a significant portion of the population has still refused to be vaccinated and indeed is skeptical of the science.

    I am the director of the Vatican Observatory. That means that I am both a scientist and an official within the Catholic Church. I am well familiar with both scientific and clerical authority. And while I am all in favor of vaccinations, I also find myself troubled by that phrase, “Follow the science.” It implies that the authority of science is infallible.

    [Related: Vaccine hesitancy is declining in religious communities]

    But, of course, science is not infallible. Yes, the vaccine prevents the disease for the overwhelming majority of people who receive it, and even for breakthrough cases it reduces the severity of the disease. But the vaccines are not perfect. Fully vaccinated people can, and do, come down with Covid—sometimes with serious effects, even if this happens rarely. To the vaccine skeptic, the fact that such failures happen at all suggests not only that the vaccine is not perfect, but it also gives credence to their fear that “following the science” blindly can be dangerous.

    As much as we hate to admit it, that fear of blind trust in science does have an element of truth to it. Sometimes “the science” is wrong. I am a scientist, and I can name any number of papers I have written that have turned out to be embarrassingly incorrect. But more so, there are times in our history when “the science”—or at least how it is presented to the general public—has turned out to be not merely imperfect but horrifyingly wrong.

    While I am all in favor of vaccinations, I also find myself troubled by that phrase, “Follow the science.” It implies that the authority of science is infallible.
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    The popularizers of science in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—people like H. G. Wells, Alexander Graham Bell and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes—all promoted the idea of eugenics. They insisted that we could perfect the human race by eliminating supposedly “inferior” people. It was an idea so self-evident to these figures that anyone (including the church) who opposed it on moral grounds was seen as dangerously backward.

    As a result of the popular acceptance of eugenics, it is estimated that 70,000 women, mostly minorities, were forcibly sterilized in the United States during the 20th century. Such programs continued well into the 1970s. And, of course, this was also the logic of Nazi death camps.

    The fight over “following the science” is really a fight over the reliability of authority in general.
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    Because popular science had been so wrong in this case, does it logically follow that science should never be trusted? Obviously not. For one thing, science eventually got it right; indeed, eugenics had been long discredited in scientific circles decades before the fad of forced sterilizations was finally halted. (Of course, even if the science had been true, forced sterilization still would have been immoral.) One could argue that the villains in this tragic situation were the popularizers, who succumbed to the temptation of promoting oversimplified views of the science in question. But that does not excuse the scientists who got it wrong in the first place.

    It goes deeper than that. The fight over “following the science” is really a fight over the reliability of authority in general. At the end of the day, both those who promote science and those who disdain it are looking for certainty in an uncertain universe. It is an almost Calvinistic intolerance of error; the world is black and white, and “failure is not an option.” If only we could be certain, we tell ourselves, if only we could be without doubt.

    The irony is that science itself is actually a process based on doubt and error, and of learning how to analyze that error.
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    The irony is that science itself is actually a process based on doubt and error, and of learning how to analyze that error. In science, it is essential to know that you don’t know all the answers: That is what drives you to work to learn more and to not be satisfied with what you already know.

    Sadly, though, that is not how we teach science. In the introductory courses at least—and how many people ever get past the introductory courses?—“success” in your science class means getting the same answer as you find in the back of the textbook. True, doing such rote problems in science is probably the fastest way to immerse a student into a sense of what it feels like to practice science successfully. In the same way, you have to learn to play the scales before you get to play the music. But scales are not music, and getting the “answers” is not science.

    You only become a scientist when you are able to look at something you thought you understood and then say, “Hmm, that’s not right.” Until you can do that, you will not even know to start looking for what went wrong.

    You only become a scientist when you are able to look at something you thought you understood and then say, “Hmm, that’s not right.”
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    In science, failure isn’t an option; it is a requirement.

    Doubt plays a role parallel to that of faith. The writer Anne Lamott summarized it perfectly when she said that the “opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is certainty.” It is not just that if we did not have doubts we would not need faith. It also means that doubt is the essential driver that keeps us looking for God and will not let us be satisfied with just accepting, or rejecting, the stuff we learned when we were kids—like in science.

    Accepting doubt, accepting the inevitability of error, also means accepting a tolerance for other people even when they have been wrong. I still enjoy the stories of H. G. Wells, I still admire much that Oliver Wendell Holmes did as a chief justice, and I still use Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, even as I abhor those people’s views on eugenics. I can accept that heroes sometimes are also sinners, even serious sinners.

    Science and religion seem to be in conflict only if you think of both of them as closed books of rules and facts, each demanding infallible credulity. But that’s not religion; that’s fanaticism. And that’s not science; that’s scientism.

    Science and religion seem to be in conflict only if you think of both of them as closed books of rules and facts, each demanding infallible credulity.
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    Science does not give you the perfect truth. But it can tell you the odds. We trust the vaccine because it vastly improves your odds of not getting sick. (The trouble is, of course, that most of us are lousy at understanding how odds work, which is why casinos and lotteries are so successful.)

    There is a further irony, of course, seen in some of the vaccine-skeptic crowd. Just after they announce that they are too clever to be fooled by the experts, they then start self-dosing with some utterly inappropriate and dangerous drug that they heard about on the internet. The same folks who urge us not to be sheep are the next minute trying to cure Covid by taking drugs meant for sheep.

    Why would anyone trust their lives to some random site they found on the internet? Why would we reject religion in favor of a philosophy we can read on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker? We should recognize the temptation. It is the allure of gnosticism, a desire to embrace “secret knowledge.” This is an urge that has been around since the Church Fathers in the second and third century, and indeed since the ancient Greeks performed esoteric rites.

    But rather than heaping scorn on those who fall prey to this urge, perhaps we might want to look at where we have gone wrong in the way we teach our science and our religion. If we promote “follow the science” with the implication that the scientists deserve to be followed because they are smarter than you, aren’t we just feeding a dangerous fallacy?

    Rather than heaping scorn on those who deny the efficacy of the vaccine, perhaps we might want to look at where we have gone wrong in the way we teach our science and our religion.
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    If your sense of self-worth comes from thinking that you are smarter than the average person, that you are the smartest guy in the room, then a great temptation arises to never agree with the consensus of the majority—never to be a “sheep.” If you are smarter than everyone else, then presumably you must know something that no one else knows. And if your beliefs come at a high cost—for example, because of the scorn you endure for holding them—then you become so invested in your peculiar stance that you can’t ever admit you were wrong.

    And so I think this comes to the root issue: the identification of intelligence or cleverness as a criterion of superiority. Certainly the history of the church should tell us otherwise, if only we were paying attention. There were many learned theologians in the 19th century, most of them at each other’s throats; nearly every one of them is long forgotten in the history of the church. Instead, the saints of that era were people like Bernadette; Francis de Sales; and Thérèse of Lisieux, the “Little Flower.” The simple people who were not concerned so much with scoring theological points as experiencing God.

    Trying to understand the universe, from astronomy to medicine, is only possible when it is a response to love. It depends on loving the unlovable; trusting even when trust is uncertain; willing to forgive and learn even from those who have gone wrong in the past; living with uncertainty, even as we learn to trust.

    After all, the only certain thing in life is God’s love and mercy—and our need for both.

    https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/10/22/covid-vaccine-anti-vax-science-241697

  8. I agree with most of the things that Guy Consolmagno and Marcelo Gleiser said in both of their articles. I would go a bit more forward in what Guy Consolmagno said and I would expand that to even for memes/charges and pop culture as a whole (in that part he mention about philosophy in a T-Shirt), and I would even say that there’s atheist fanaticism, scientific fanaticism and skeptical fanaticism, that are the so called militant atheists, militant scientists/scientificists and militant skeptics, and I would also expand religion and mention polytheist and neopagan religions and even spirituality as a whole, and also mention about subreddits, Internet forums, social media (Instagram/Facebook/TikTok/YouTube/Discord/Skype/Reddit/VK and such) accounts, and even random “scientific dissiminators” and random “scientific popularizers”, and I would also alude about the misuse of terms like “antiscience”, “science denial” and “antiscience”, and I would also mention about the whole state atheism, totalitarian atheism and fascist atheism things and explain how state atheism, totalitarian atheism and fascist atheism are no different or are even worse than religious fundamentalist theocracies and no different than the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and of ISIS, as well as I would also allude that secularism will not end religion/spirituality if we do it in the right way and allow criticisms of atheism and criticisms of science and counter militant atheism, antitheism, neopositivism just as we counter religious fundamentalism, and then we will see that religion/spirituality would still stay and nothing would change a lot about that, and reform secularism to do not allow militant atheism, antitheism and neopositivism inside secularism as well, and I would also mention about antitheism and how antitheism is as bad as or even worse than religious fundamentalism and I would also make more criticisms to scientism and neopositivism and mention neopositivism as well, and I would also mention about the media bias favorable of militant atheism, antitheism and neopositivism as well and the need of countering it. And about the Marcelo Gleiser one, I would mention about spiritual sciences and the need of development of areas such as agnosticology/deistology, E-SETI, conscientiology, spiritual psychology, spiritual psychiatry, extraphysics, paranormal research (revisioned/reformed paranormal research), occult sciences, hermeticism, esoteric sciences, divination and so on. And I would also mention about that people should be encouraged to become antiatheist and harsh critics of atheism and I would also make several more criticisms of atheism and antiatheist statements as well.

  9. And also, that is so funny and interesting when religious people and spiritual people defend their beliefs/views/opinions/thoughts they are called “delusional” and “fantastical” but when atheists, antitheists and skeptics do the same they are called “free thinkers” and “intellectuals”. It shows the consequences of the enlightenment and of secularism, and both both the enlightenment and of secularism are biased towards (militant) atheism, antitheism and skepticism. It is very sad to see that. And also, that is also funny when postmodernists, postpositivists and continental philosophers defend their beliefs/views/opinions/thoughts they are called “pseudoscience promoters”, “pseudophilosophers”, “antiscience”, “irrational”, “delusional” and “charlatan”, but when neopositivists, scientificists and analytical philosophers do the same they are called “intellectuals”, “pro-science”, “defenders of science”, “science guys”, “debunkers”, “skeptics” and “realists”. And yeah, both cases are somehow related, sadly, and yeah, the term “delusional” became a term for attack anyone they disagree and for disqualify and delegitimize their oppositors. And also, both cases say a lot about how the world is becoming nowadays… Very militant atheist, antitheist, skeptic, neopositivist and analytical philosophic, and it must change before it is too late. And I have told that incessantly so many times. religious people and spiritual people have the right to defend their beliefs/views/opinions/thoughts without being called “delusional” and “fantastical”, as well as postmodernists, postpositivists and continental philosophers have the right to defend their beliefs/views/opinions/thoughts without being called “pseudoscience promoters”, “pseudophilosophers”, “antiscience”, “irrational”, “delusional” and “charlatan”. And also, it is very similar about the case where atheists and antitheists can say whatever they want about religion and spirituality and calling anyone they disagree as “believer”, “delusional”, “insane”, “fruitcake” and such terms, but if someone make any criticism of atheism or even an antiatheist or an anti-antitheist statement, the same atheists and antitheists will literally attack the person, harrass the person and call him/her “believer”, “delusional”, “insane”, “fruitcake” and such terms. Atheists, antitheists, skeptics, neopositivists and “free thinkers” are mentally ill people, at least most of them, their atheism (mainly militant atheism), antitheism, “skepticism”, neopositivism and “freethough” are pathological, they are pathological atheists, pathological antitheists, pathological skeptics, pathological neopositivists and pathological free thinkers, for do not say they are atheist zealots/fundamentalists/extremists, antitheist zealots/fundamentalists/extremists, skeptical zealots/fundamentalists/extremists, neopositivist zealots/fundamentalists/extremists and freethought zealots/fundamentalists/extremists.

  10. Everytime you see or get an antireligious, atheist or antitheist meme or cartoon, just replace “religion/spirituality” by “social sciences”, “soft sciences” or “philosophy” (mainly continental philosophy) to see if the meme is actually a scientificist and neopositivist meme/cartoon as well as antireligious/atheist/antitheist or just a militant atheist meme/cartoon.

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