Does Feynman's Multiple Histories mean what I think it does?

Discussion in 'Physics & Math' started by Tailspin, Dec 16, 2023.

  1. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    My own experience of watching and reading content by Brian Cox is that he is usually careful to distinguish between what is considered "known" and what is speculation. You might be skipping over his careful qualifications and differentiations without realising what you're missing.

    It is true that the current consensus among cosmologists is that, most probably, the universe will end in the sort of dark, lifeless void you mention. But this is not a certainty. It is just considered by experts to be the best working hypothesis, given current data. If Brian Cox is explaining what our best current theories suggest will happen in the future, then he's probably not going to keep repeating over and over again that this is just our best educated guess at this point in time. Probably, he'll make that point just once, near the start of the explanation. You should watch for it.
    Those responses sound to me like they come from people who are equally unaware about the provisional nature of scientific theories. In future, knowing what you know, you can help them to see their error.
    I think your premise is incorrect. It is simply not true that everyone says it's all factual. You might even like to curate your own media consumption in future. Choose to watch content in which the experts are careful to distinguish fact from hypothesis; avoid content that doesn't do that, or at least take it with a large grain of salt.
    You keep saying you can't help but make certain assumptions. But you can help it. You have the ability to think critically, or not to. It's completely up to you.
    This is an old dilemma: would you rather believe what's true, or what's comforting?

    If your priority is being comfortable, then I guess you don't have to worry yourself about being a critical thinker. Sure, you'll probably be duped by liars and conmen more often, but you might even remain happily oblivious to that fact.
    Read widely - even if it's just pop science. Compare what you read from different people who claim to be experts. Do they all agree with one another? If not, then you might need to put a bit more effort into deciding who you should trust on the particular topic.

    Over time, you will build up your own body of knowledge, some of which you will be able to use as a "common-sense" filter when you are confronted with controversial claims from people who may or may not be experts.

    What you should not do is go looking for the One True Guru to follow. There is no one expert in anything who is right all the time, or who can be trusted to do your thinking for you every time.
    Unfortunately, I can't help you with that. However, my own experience with a number of individuals with Asperger's is that they tend to be able to think critically about claims - some of them more effectively than non-Aspie people. I don't believe that Asperger's is necessarily an impediment, in this regard.
    Surely you must have had experiences in your own life where you were confident you were right about something and somebody else was wrong? I can't believe you haven't had such experiences. I find it very hard to believe that you just accept that everything somebody tells you must be true. And, again, I note that you wrote "I can help but think it's true..." You meant you can't help but think it's true, right? But you can help that. You just have to decide to think critically rather than just taking everything at face value.
    If it is really true that "overwhelming masses" agree with the experts on something, then it seems like a reasonably safe bet - most of the time - to assume, provisionally, that the thing is a reasonable thing to believe. Even then, though, it is worth bearing in mind that overwhelming masses of opinion have turned out to be wrong about certain things in the past. The overwhelmingly wrong masses were often shown to be wrong by courageous critical thinkers who dared to question the prevailing "wisdom" of the time.
    My advice to you would be that, in future, you should assume that statement appears at the start of every documentary you watch, regardless of whether it is explicitly there or not. See how that works out for you.
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  3. Tailspin Registered Senior Member

    That's what I said to people when I questioned the theories (or facts as people seem to think) of the heat death of the universe. People just said the possibility of some new information wasn't good enough and people should believe the universe will end.

    I get that but there are things we know for fact, like the existence of gravity and the water cycle.
    How Am I supposed to sort fact from theory when the people who teach it use the same tone each time, all the time and everyone else seems to agree with them and think it's foolish to think otherwise?
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  5. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Suitably corroborated observation is fact. Theory is not. Although some theories are so reliable that they are treated for day-to-day purposes as if they are fact.

    The heat death of the universe is nowhere near fact. It is a hypothesis:
    In that link you can read about opposing views.
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  7. Tailspin Registered Senior Member

    Well this is the first time I've ever encountered the word "shonky" so technically never. Also, unless they were a character on Law & Order or Diagnosis Murder I've barely ever heard of any particular doctors and certainly no lawyers.

    I don't it's just I assume scientists are smarter then most people because science is presented as the most intellectually demanding work there is.
    I myself know creative writing and I consider myself quite good at it. I'm not saying any scientist could do it but I doubt it's harder then advanced mathematics, a course of which I failed in.

    About matter and space? Nothing. He just went ahead and stated it. "Since matter can only be finitely arranged" was the lead in to his next statement.

    I don't think I've ever been taught critical thinking skills. In fact until about a year ago, I had gone my whole like thinking the term "critical thinking skills" meant important or vital thinking skills not critizing stuff.
    And while I know people can have different opinions, honestly sometimes I don't think people should and the world would be a better place if we all had the same beliefs. If everyone believed the same as I did about nuclear weapons there wouldn't be any in the world and the doomsday clock wouldn't have just been set to it's highest yet.
  8. Tailspin Registered Senior Member

    I have and they do all agree with one another. Like I said I've never heard anyone say the universe won't end but everything I've ever read and seen about it says it will and when I publicly question this people say it's so obvious it will end. And the same has happened with other scientific issues.

    About 10 years ago I was taking a writing course, we had this opportunity to talk with out writing teacher 1 on 1 about our story ideas. He was someone else I put on a pedestal.
    I had come up with what I thought was a brilliant idea for a story, like the makings of an instant classic. I was so sure of that. I ran it by my teacher and right away he started pointing out flaws in my masterpiece.
    My confidence was broken and I don't think my certainty in my own work, opinions or abilities has been the same since.

    Then a few years later I was in a conversation with someone about Animal Farm. I said the moral was "The price of freedom is constant vigilance." He said it was that there is no such thing as a free country. I tried to counter argue but he was like this big, confident rock deflecting everything with "Doesn't exist." I couldn't help feeling I must be wrong.

    In 2019 I was taking another writing course. My class was analysing a short film about this obviously, horrendously bad mother. One girl actually said she was really a good mother who was only doing the best her own knowledge of mother hood would allow. I told her she was obviously a bad mother and she got angry at me. I stuck by my guns that time but only because there was so little room for interpretation that time. And I still might still have doubted myself if another student hadn't backed me up.

    And we're not talking about how I felt about some movie here but the truthfulness of science.
  9. gmilam Valued Senior Member

    Not that my opinion carries any weight. I'm a software engineer by day and musician by night, so what do I know? But... While the big freeze does seem to be the current frontrunner in hypothesis, it's by no means settled. There are other hypothesis out there.

    I have often wondered if the big bang was just the end of a previous "cycle" of the universe. Imagine my surprise when I found out that I wasn't the only one. It even has a name, the Cyclic Model.

    I only have high school level math and some basic college level physics, so I don't have the required skills to pursue the idea. And honestly, it's not like it matters in the grand scheme of my life. I'll be dead long before any end of the universe occurs.
  10. Tailspin Registered Senior Member

    I'm well aware of that but it's never brought me any comfort.
  11. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    It's in the dictionary. Look it up. Probably much more commonly used in my country than in yours, but nevertheless...
    I think that people tend to be (rightly) impressed by the achievements of science, especially the visible, obvious ones, such as the technologies that science has enabled. The assumption that tends to follow that is that the individuals who do scientific work must all be super smart.

    The fact is, though, there are lots of incredibly smart, highly educated people who work in all kinds of areas that have little or nothing to do with science. Lots of different types of work are intellectually demanding.

    Science tends to come with the myth of the lone genius who is so smart they make revolutionary breakthroughs, essentially on their own. But that rarely happens in science these days. Mostly, science is a group enterprise, conducted by teams working towards a common goal. This is not to devalue scientific geniuses, by the way. Science has its Einsteins and its Darwins. But, then, music has its Beethovens and Mozarts. Literature has its Shakespeares and its Dostoyevskys. etc. etc. Do you think Beethoven was less of a genius than Einstein? Do you think his work was less intellectually demanding?
    It's horses for courses. A person who can write a symphony might have no special aptitude for mathematics or literature. The world's number 1 tennis player might have no special aptitude for music. The person who fails the maths test might still win the Pullizer Prize, or collect an Oscar. Nobody can be good at everything; apart from anything else, there just isn't enough time for an individual gain expertise in more than a few different fields.
    So, that was the very first thing he talked about in the documentary, was it?
    Stick around here for a while and you might pick up a few pointers on what it means to think critically. You'll also see more than few of examples of how not to do it.

    Thinking critically means not accepting that everything you read or hear is true, without question. It means asking questions like: what is the source of this information? How reliable is the source? Is what the source is saying corroborated by other, independent, sources? How well (or poorly) does the information presented by this source correlate with what you already know about related topics, from other sources? Is the information being presented backed up with suitable evidence and/or argument, or is it being presented without evidence (for example, as if it is self-evidently true)? How could you verify - or try to refute - the information presented by this source? Is there some conceivable way in which it would be possible to disprove what is being claimed? And more.
    The only way to know whether a belief is good or bad is to compare it to alternatives. And the only way to compare alternatives in a meaningful way is to look at things such as evidence and the strengths and weakness of the arguments for and against it.

    Do you think the world would be a better place if we all believed that humans should be regularly sacrificed to the gods of the Mayans? I'd say the answer is obvious.
    They don't.
    I'm sorry, but I can only conclude that you haven't read widely enough, if you haven't managed to find any alternative opinions. They aren't very hard to find.
    I don't know who your teacher was, but is it possible that he was trying give you some helpful advice, rather than trying to bring you down by criticising your efforts? You know, trying to teach you something?
    He isn't responsible for any lack of confidence you have, you know. If you felt like you couldn't refute his arguments, one possible response to that would be to try to learn more, so that next time you had that discussion with somebody you could defend your position better. Alternatively, perhaps on reflection you might have realised that his arguments were demonstrably better than the ones you were using, meaning that maybe you should change your mind.

    Being wrong about something - if you were wrong - is not something to be ashamed of. A more positive attitude is to try to learn from the experience and get it right in future. Ideally, we learn from our mistakes. Excessively beating yourself up over them is never helpful.
    Maybe that girl didn't express herself well. Maybe she could have admitted that, yes, the mother was a bad mother, as evidenced by her actions towards her child, but that there were reasons the mother turned out the way she did.

    Of course, I don't know how that discussion went, so I could be wrong. Maybe the girl who was arguing with you was being unreasonable. But another possibility is that you were being unreasonable, by insisting that there could only be one interpretation of the mother's actions in the story. Human behaviour is complex. There is rarely just one "correct" point of view on things when you're examining interpersonal relations.
    Theories in science can never be proved to be true. They can only fail to be proved false. At any given time, there is a set of theories which is the "best" (or most widely accepted) that science has to offer, consisting of those theories that have been found to best explain the largest amount of all the evidence at hand, collectively. But, in principle, any one or more of those theories might be disproved at some future time, based on new evidence and/or superior theories.
  12. Tailspin Registered Senior Member

    Not to be a nuisance but one time someone told me that dark matter opened up another end to the universe, I think he said it was more likely then the heat death. Is that true or is it to provisional?

    Also I would like to add my father was a professional scientist, the most intelligent, knowledgeable, scientifically minded person I've ever known. And he thinks the end of the universe certain and inevitable.
  13. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Well, it's hard to tell what that person was talking about, based on what you have written. What kind of "other end" was the person referring to? And what was the explanation about how dark matter affects things?
    Which of the possible ends?
  14. Tailspin Registered Senior Member

    I was saying how everyone says the heat death is inevitable and he said dark energy opens other possibilities. Since I'm also aware of dark energy causing the end of the universe, I assume that what he meant.

    Heat death I think. Whichever it is it's gospel to him.
  15. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Without more information about what the "other possibilities" might be, I can't really comment.
    Even if there was no dark energy, the "heat death" scenario would still be a likely end to the universe.

    If there was no dark energy but sufficient mass in the universe, the universe would eventually collapse in a "big crunch", which is sort of the opposite of the heat death scenario. With no dark energy and insufficient mass, we'd still get the heat death. Our current observations tend to suggest borderline amount of mass with dark energy, which makes the continuous expansion of the universe - and therefore the "heat death" inevitable. But, of course, it's always possible that something about the current observations or the theories is flawed.
    Maybe you should talk to him about this some more. Scientists shouldn't have anything like a "gospel". That sounds like dogma to me.
  16. phyti Registered Senior Member


    Contrary to the darkside of heat death, there is:

    star formation in huge clouds of gaseous material,

    formation of complex matter within stars,

    formation of planetary systems by gravity,

    new plant, animal, and human generations,

    and maybe some I missed.

    All this 14 billion years later!

    No basis for concern.
  17. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Not in the short term, anyway.
  18. QuarkHead Remedial Math Student Valued Senior Member

    And as a bonus - loss of biodiversity, species going extinct, seas and rivers becoming uninhabitable, atmosphere harmful to health in many places and near space used as a dumping ground for redundant space junk.

    huge basis for optimism
  19. Tailspin Registered Senior Member

    If you're saying this all all far too far in the future to effect me, I KNOW THAT! But it doesn't make any difference to me, the thought it's going to happen at all fills me with dread and is another reason why people are baffled as to why this bothers me. But that's how I feel and I'm not changing it.
  20. Tailspin Registered Senior Member

    Well my dad does, once he gets an idea stuck in his head there's no shifting it. One time he told me about this other scientific theory that devastated me. No matter how bad I got it simply didn't occur to him to tell me it might not be true. I happened to get in touch with a physicist who sait the theory had been debunked decades ago. I put him in touch with my dad, told him what he told me and dad still wouldn't shift his position. Also things have never been good between us and when I talk to him about this ind of thig he just gets exasperated.

    If the end of the universe is, as you say, provisional, why is it so commonplace? Why does it keep coming up in comics, TV and movies? Why does it seem everyone in the world is sure it will happen? And why is it, when I ask will, not how will or when will, it happen people reply "of course it will"?
  21. phyti Registered Senior Member


    My post was intended to show a more balanced view of the world with processes that add order in the form of new things to replace the old. That compensates for the excessive emphasis on a doomsday scenario.

    The entertainment industry produces stories that sell, with lots of action, special effects, and super heroes.

    You are putting too much trust in people regarding the future, when they don't know anymore than you.

    Consider, humans have only been here for a few thousand years (per Jewish, Chinese calendars) and archaeology.

    That's not enough time to understand how the universe works.

    The masses rely on the 'expert' opinion of a few. They could be wrong and have been wrong.

    No one can know the future (as fact) since it hasn't happened yet.

    Deal with one day at a time. It's a much smaller challenge.
    Tailspin likes this.
  22. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    The thing that tends to come up in comics, TV and movies is not the end of the universe, but the end of the Earth.

    Best case scenario is that the Earth will last for another 10 billion years or so, after which it will be swallowed by the Sun as it goes into its red giant phase.

    More immediate than that is the issue of whether the human species will last long enough to see that. Lots of things could potentially wipe out the human species - or at least drastically reduce its numbers. There are natural disasters, like a meteor strike (similar to the one that took out the dinosaurs), and there are disasters that we ourselves might cause (such as global nuclear war, or catastrophic climate change.) We've already got the ball well and truly rolling on global heating. Mutual nuclear self-destruction is still a live possibility. An extinction-level meteor strike is not beyond the bounds of possibility (though probably less likely than the other two scenarios I have mentioned). Then are things like global pandemics. We saw a mild one (in the grand scheme of things) with Covid-19, but a really bad one is possible.

    So, if I was you, I'd probably worry more about humans surviving for the next few billion years than I'd worry about the ultimate death of the universe as a whole. Earth is just one minuscule speck in a mindbogglingly huge cosmos, but we can go anywhere else. We're stuck here, for the moment.

    As for the universe at large, it must end eventually, one way or another. That is almost certain. But the most likely scenario - the "heat death" - will only happen a very long time after our Sun is dead and gone.

    Regarding movies and other fiction: disasters have been a genre for a long time. They make for exciting stories. Mostly, you have probably noticed, the stories concentrate on those few who survived and the heroic struggles they go through to survive. People like heroic tales. People enjoy watching drama. That's why it keeps coming up; it's not a big mystery.
  23. origin Heading towards oblivion Valued Senior Member

    Well, that's a big waste of dread IMO.

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