Friday, September 12, 2008

Is the Megaverse a Subject of Experience?

My thanks to Justin, whose comment and question on the last post is prompting me to try to clarify some of my thinking.

Below I address his question of whether this “megaverse” I’ve discussed in the last couple of posts might be a cosmic-level subject of experience, given our shared endorsement of panexperientialism in the context of philosophy of mind. I tentatively think the answer is yes. Along the way I’ll try to better explain some of my reasoning and my use of terms.

The most common conception of the universe people have via science is that of a space-time container with matter/energy inside it. I’ve come to believe that this conception is wrong. I think it is likely that space-time itself is not a fundamental entity, but co-emerges with matter from a more fundamental level of quantum causal events. And the universe we see is only a slice of something larger (there are no boundaries – quantum gravity models imply that the big-bang was not a singularity, but arose from a pre-existing context).

So what we think of as the actual universe is an arbitrary slice of a larger reality, and it therefore doesn’t have a good claim to be a unified whole or a candidate for being a cosmic experiential subject.

What lies beyond our actual universe? Various motivations have led cosmologists as well as philosophers to propose the existence of many worlds or universes -- a multiverse. If these are completely separate worlds, then their existence would seem to have no impact on ours, but they might help explain the appearance of contingency and fine-tuning in ours. I’d note that the multiverse conception at first doesn’t seem to fit well with the idea of our universe as a cosmic subject – unless there is one such subject for every universe.

Again, though, what we call the actual world is not some space-time container with stuff inside, it is just the causally connected region or nexus we find ourselves in. So then it is wrong to think of the multiverse as a collection of distinct space-time containers. Even if we have not been in causal contact, these other parts of reality should not be thought of as completely separate realms. I’ve taken to calling this total reality the “megaverse” rather than the multiverse, given this way of thinking.

When thinking about the nature of this megaverse, I’ve connected it to my philosophical thinking on modal realism and causality. My modal realism leads me to identify the megaverse with the complete set of metaphysical possibilities (going beyond the multiverse motivations of physicists/cosmologists). My preferred model of causality leads me to see a close relationship between each actual event and the possible but not actual events which are also part of the megaverse. (Note also because “actual” just denotes “local” in this model -- actual is an indexical term -- what is an actual event vs. a possible event is not a fundamental distinction. All events are on an even footing.)

So, I’ve given the name megaverse to this largest conception of reality, and I see it as a holistic entity given the interdependence of its constituent-events. Let me come back, then, to the question of postulating a cosmic experiential subject: if all events have an experiential aspect, then it makes sense that the holistic network of all events is also the subject of (all) experiences. I’m not sure this makes the megaverse something which has consciousness or agency in a way analogous with the human variety. This is something to think further about.


Justin said...

Thanks for that Steve

I have some trouble getting my head around the idea of a unified subject (megaverse) with causally distinct realms (universes) - It seems to me that a unfied subject would cohere, act and evolve as a single organic being. But there's a lot in your post that I have yet to digest, and I note that you've not yet considered the issue of agency.

Incidentally, I've been spending a bit of time at a site you might be interested in called It is a non religiously oriented site about Intelligent Design - not that I consider myself an ID proponent, but I am am interested in the idea of teleology and think a strong undercurrent of the ID debate concerns the philosophical presuppositions of physicalism. The site has a lot of interesting and lively exchanges from both pro and anti teleology sides.

Steve said...

On the first point, I'm trying to say that "causally distinct" is just a reflection of how far one can reach out from a local point of view. It's not a fundamental separation from an objective perspective, but a relative notion.

Thanks for the link. I read your post and where you ended up seemed reasonable to me. (I have to try to get over the negative baggage that the term ID has garnered from its use in politico-religious attempts to mess with science education. But I'm happy to consider and debate the philosophical concepts with thoughtful adults.)

Justin said...

Agree with you re negative connotations of ID.
Re "It's not a fundamental separation from an objective perspective", I don't know whether you're familiar with the work of Ervin Laszlo. I think he's an original amd perceptive thinker, though perhaps a bit willing to uncritically accept areas of fringe science.
In his speculative "theory of everything" detailed in books below, he proposes that information
can travel from one universe to another and uses this to explain the fine tuning issue, amongst other things( and he's a panpsychist as well).