Many Worlds or a Straight Jacket? The pseudointellectual tantrum of Evolution News

This is part 2 of looking at how a blogger, Michael Egnor, has assessed the mental competence of the Caltech physicist, Sean Carroll. Last time we assessed the claim that Carroll’s ideas on Boltzman brains make him illogical. This time, we are looking at whether finding a multiverse more believable than a God makes Carroll a candidate for psychiatric intervention (here). But first, as that is a bold claim that spans both psychiatry and psychics, let’s have a look at Egnor. After all, we couldn’t want medical diagnoses made by just any old person with wifi and a keyboard, would we?

Egnor is a doctor: a neurosurgeon, to be precise. I have no intention of taking that away from him. This means he probably has a familiarity with, but not an expertise in, psychiatry. He certainly has no reason to be familiar with quantum mechanics, an understanding he tried to feign in the article my last post responded to. Weirdly, Egnor is on the record saying that doctors don’t study evolution ― which they do. It’s a weird claim, given that Columbia University is not an awful university. However, medical doctor or not, his notoriety comes from being a public creationist, not medical advancement or knowledge.

If Egnor had no medical background, and his claim that Carroll has psychiatric concerns didn’t stand up to scrutiny, my response might be to claim that this is a careless hyperbole. But, knowing that he does have medical expertise, I do wonder whether or not my response might instead be a sign that he has little understanding or respect for his own discipline. But let’s not get into that, yet. Instead, we should have a look at why Egnor would say something so disparaging about Carroll at all.

Anyone who wants to know what category Egnor’s argument might be filed under, here’s my generalised synopsis of Egnor’s argument: Atheism is naturalism; this part of naturalism appears absurd; therefore atheism is absurd; absurd means wrong; therefore religion is intellectually justified.

Quantum mechanics is weird. That statement might be vague, but I think you’d have a hard time saying I was wrong (short of denying all subjective judgement and language). The fact that individual events appear to be uncaused and random ― and yet at the statistical scale follow rule with immense precision ― is an alien world unlike anything the average person has ever seen (except, perhaps, primary school teachers). The experiments, results and maths are one thing, but the actual reality they suggest ― the ontology ― is another question altogether. And, as a result, there are a number of interpretations of the data that physicists take seriously.

One is the ‘Many Worlds’ interpretation. To be clear, this is not the multiverse, and neither is it higher dimensions. This is the idea that at every quantum event, reality splits. There becomes one reality for each thing that event could have been. (Arguably, the number of realities created should actually be proportional to the probability of each event.) I’m not sure what the empirical difference between this only happening in conceptual space and this actually happening is. But, I’m not a physicist and that’s not my call to make. The Copenhagen Interpretation, for reference, is that quantum material is actually all of the possible events at the same time, until there is some sort of ‘observation’ (which actually means “interaction” ― so any time the quantum material is part of a causal chain).

Everett, who first articulated the Many Worlds interpretation (hence the name Everett’s Many World Interpretation), says that all the other interpretations are making facile attempts to make the equations fit some sort of intuitive understanding of what the equations could mean, but that what the equations do mean is the Many Worlds interpretation. I have taken that from the same place Egnor took umbrance: Carroll’s discussion in this video.

Egnor makes a point of telling us he is not going to discuss the physics, but the delusional psychology of Carroll. But what Egnor actually does is offer us an explanation of how the many worlds (which he does confuse with many universes ― because he’s less qualified than I am to talk of this stuff, and I’m almost wholly unqualified) is wishful thinking; the many world, apparently, is to play the numbers game and elide1 the need for a creator. But, that is not what the video is about. The video is about interpreting the meaning of established mathematical equations. If we compare Many Worlds with the Copenhagen interpretation, we find a choice (which is incomplete, admittedly) between living in a universe that has incompatible things happening simultaneously or living in only one world when there were others. Perhaps ‘Shut up and keeping doing the maths’ is a better interpretation, but given the maths is pointing somewhere, I’m not sure choosing between these two is a psychiatric concern at all.

Intellectual progress has included rejecting Aristotelian physics, developing non-Euclidean geometry, harnessing the power of cooperation over conflict, all of quantum mechanics, heliocentrism and relativity. And yet, authors like Egnor still prefer to call the prima facie absurd “wrong”. When confronted with the unintuitive nature of reality, they deem reality absurd and those who care what reality is delusional. They live in a world entirely limited by the untested boundaries of their intuitions.

1 Engor’s word. Good word. I approve.

30 thoughts on “Many Worlds or a Straight Jacket? The pseudointellectual tantrum of Evolution News”

  1. Sean Carroll is as sane a man as exists. I studied quantum mechanics in both undergraduate and graduate school. It is indeed “weird.” But one must ask where our sense of weirdness comes from. It comes, IMHO, from our interaction with the world around us. It was considered weird when it was suggested that the sun appears to rise and fall in the sky because the planet we are sitting on is rotating. Most people thought the sun was in orbit around the Earth. This was not a stupid conclusion this is just what it looks like, still. In order to see that it would also look that way if the earth rotated on its axis required us to do some powerful thinking. This is usually done in grade school.

    I came to the conclusion from my science studies that if my thinking differed from the story the data told, then my thinking was wrong. (Why should I place a high value on the thinking of an ignorant man?) Unfortunately, the thinking described above, rooted in the idea that if their thinking differs from the story the data tells, the data are wrong, is far, far, too common.

  2. I think one only needs to look at neurosurgeon Ben Carson to realize that neurosurgeons aren’t exactly intellectually as bright as one would think. This article about Carson might help explain what traps Engor might also be falling in.

    There was another article I read that I can’t find, that said neurosurgery is complex, but it’s more a trade rather than a discipline that requires large amounts of critical thinking except when it comes to diagnoses. You must be highly skilled rather than highly intelligent. It’s hours and hours of practice and deep specialization, which can make you rather ignorant about most everything else.

    1. Right. Neurosurgeons aren’t smart. They just work hard.

      Plus, there’s the Christianity thing. That alone invalidates everything anyone might say on any subject.

      1. Not sure if you are being sarcastic or not. I never said they weren’t smart. But there is a difference in specializing in an applied science, like engineering, and actually doing investigative research. My criticism of the odd things Ben Carson has said, go far beyond his Christianity.

      2. Sure.
        And there is a difference between the Michael Egnor and Ben Carson. If specialization is required on a subject before we can exchange ideas we “non-specialists” might as well pull all our blogs down. I suspect you don’t possess a specialization in “Ben Carson Philosophy” and even if you do, your criticism of Ben Carson has nothing to do with this post.

      3. And I was exchanging ideas to provide a post that talks about why neurosurgery isn’t necessarily a pre-requisite for accurate psychoanalysis and a claim by Egnor that he understand quantum physics. The fact that you don’t see it as relevant is your problem.

        But after taking a look at your blog, there is a lot you don’t seem to get, so that’s not surprising. I know many intelligent Christians, you don’t appear to be one of them. Spreading fundamentalism through comedy. Brilliant! It’s that you think you’re so clever that’s your best bit. Bye Felicia!

      4. Hmm…can you get a degree in intelligence? I never looked into that one. I mean can I assess the nastiness hidden in your sarcasm, can I assess the fundamentalist self-righteousness hidden in your haikus? Can I find the racism nestled cozily into your thoughtful poetry? Who knows? But since you’re somebody who places personal beliefs ahead of evidence and scientific reasoning, I guess we’ll just have to be at a stalemate.

        By the way if you are looking for real good material, there is a fundamentalist named Colorstorm you have to meet. Some of his material is golden. You’ll laugh yourself off a flat Earth all the way to heaven. It’s priceless.

        You’re a new kind of charlatan. So thank you. I have to say it’s refreshing to taste new flavors. Unfortunately it’s kind of like putting lipstick on a hippopotamus…we can still kind of tell it’s a hippopotamus.

      5. I certainly can’t respond to your thoroughly scientific assessment of my character. (I assume you’re not just placing your personal feelings ahead of evidence and scientific reasoning!)

        By the way, Colorstorm being a nitwit is not relevant to the conversation either. Ark and Zande flame-out in spectacular fashion but I don’t expect you to defend them.

      6. The primary concern is what god, if any, do these people actually believe in?
        Turns out to be the one called Yahweh.
        And that, in a nutshell, is all we really need to know.

        And then you turn up, Johnny …. oh shit!

      7. Yes. That’s what I said at the very start.
        Christianity invalidates anything said on any subject.
        I’m a little surprised that you’re supporting my thesis…

      8. *Smile*.
        Ah, Branyan, ever the Dickhead, I see. And your level of sarcasm hasn’t improved either – still at the remedial phase. Why don’t you work at intelligent wit, rather?
        Swarn had you pegged from the off and I’ll bet this is the first time he has had the misfortune of encountering you in Blogville
        There is a reason why someone like Carroll does not write for the Discovery Institute and Engor does.
        Maybe you need to think about that a bit?

      9. I appreciate your continued support, Doug!
        Your timely ad hominem is exactly what I needed to validate my statement. Go ahead and drop an ‘F-bomb’ and we’ll call it a night.

    2. I think one only needs to look at neurosurgeon Ben Carson to realize that neurosurgeons aren’t exactly intellectually as bright as one would think.

      LOL! But come on, he was spot on about the pyramids being Joseph’s grain silos.

  3. Quantum mechanics is only weird to someone who lives their life on the brink of reality and the starting point of insanity. Thus why some physicists are considered crazy and in turn feel that normality is overrated in so many ways. If this needs explaining let me know

  4. Well, after reading both parts twice, I am personally at a point of “To be determined.” Admittedly, this could just be my own lack of full comprehension of the subject and related disciplines; probably is! Hahaha

    I don’t feel the panicked urgency to have precise answers to everything like Egnor seems to promote or propagandize. HAH! Which could indeed be a symptom of one or more psychiatric disorders of which I do indeed have some experience and knowledge of having worked in the field for many years. Fear, and all its guises, is not so difficult to unveil, especially when it permeates all of human interaction and cognition… until it becomes insanity. But I won’t get off track with all that fun stuff.

    I am convinced of this: monism or dualism/binarism are utterly irreconcilable with each other or with this world. Period. They cannot nor do they function within our empirical, ontological, data of human reality. There’s just overwhelming data disproving concepts of monism and dualism. Clearly, that puts me opposed to Engor in significant ways. Nevertheless, I did learn some more by reading this post, Engor’s website, independent articles of the persons in question, the old subject of Evolution vs. Grand Design, and all your comments following both posts… some of which were… hmmm, quite peripheral. Although Steve and Swarn did have good contributions. Applause to them. 🙂

    Stony Brook and Columbia Universities, huh? Well, at least he didn’t graduate from the Wharton School of Pennsylvania University. That university obviously has no courses in public speaking, much less a learned vocabulary above a middle school grade level. 😉

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