The Best Possible World Page


This might also be called the Apology Page.  Not many people have ever taken seriously Leibniz' suggestion that this is the best of all possible worlds, but that is the intent here.  One could say that this is an exercise in metaphysical apologetics.

When it comes to cosmogony, there are just two choices: naturalism and supernaturalism.  According to naturalism ours is just one of an infinite and more or less random ensemble of worlds or universes.  There may, however, be at least some self-selection involved in our being here.  If this universe were incompatible with 'intelligent' observers, we would not be here, we would be somewhere else.  Also, just by probability, the average observer is most likely to find herself in a densely populated universe, rather than a sparse one.  It would seem that elementary logic and probability are already loading the dice in favor of our having a reasonably hospitable home. 

Is this the best that naturalism can do?  If we want to do any better are we going to have to call on the gods?  Not quite yet! 

There are those, calling themselves naturalists, who would rather at this point appeal to the Quantum.  By doing so they controversially carry the notion of self-selection a few steps further.  You may have heard about the 'measurement problem' in quantum mechanics.  It seems that electrons and other wee things have a hard time deciding whether to be particles or waves or be in any definite state at all, unless they are being observed.  This ambiguity in itself has left physics notoriously vulnerable to metaphysical speculation, almost ad nauseum.  The problem can be extended by noting that 'measurement' remains virtually undefined.  

The basic question pertaining to measurement is the issue of deliberation.  Or, to come full circle, is there such a thing as a natural measurement?  Can there be observations without observers, and just what constitutes an observer?   Most physicists suppose that a universe could exist without any observers, and that it would exist in a more or less definite physical state, but this is only a rather vague belief which is recalcitrant to justification, and absolutely recalcitrant to verification, unless...unless we posit a cosmic observer.  Obviously we are seriously pushing the envelope of nature. 

To make a long story short, if we push the Quantum hard enough we can drastically reduce the ensemble of possible worlds by appealing to a quantum bootstrap principle.  In order to graduate from mere possibility to actuality, any deserving universe must include a final phase that is sufficiently populated with observers to satisfy the quantum measurement problem on a cosmic scale.  Just applying a moderate push to the bounds of physics is enough to drive one perilously close to the pale of eschatological theology.  It may not be quite so easy to draw a line between naturalism and supernaturalism. 

Moving on from the problem of the Quantum, we next encounter the problem of the Mind, and once again confront the issue of natural vs. supernatural.


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