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Gifford Lecture One: Cosmos, Time, Memory

Based on my book The Big Picture, this is the first of five lectures exploring how different ways of talking about the world fit together. The other four lectures are on YouTube.

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Sean Carroll
California Institute of Technology
Science and philosophy have changed
our image of the world
Our everyday, common-sense way of thinking about
the world (the “manifest image”) has not caught up.
Manifest image Scientific image
Time flows from past Time is a label within
to future an eternal universe
For every event there is Parts of the
universe
a reason; for every are related by patterns:
effect there is a cause the laws of nature
Life and mind are Life and mind are
distinct from matter physical and emergent
Purpose, morality, and Purpose, morality and
meaning are objective meaning are
personal
Ontology:
the study of being,
what exists
Reality
Monism
multiple one
Idealism
nature mind
Naturalism
Property
dualism
Physicalism
extra-
physical physical
Austere
naturalism
Poetic
naturalism
eliminative expansive
Poetic Naturalism
• There is only one world, the natural world.
• We learn about it empirically, through science.
• But there are many ways of talking about the world.
• If a way of talking accurately describes (part of)
the world, the concepts it refers to are real.
Our task: understand how the fundamental-physics
way of talking about the world is compatible with
the everyday-life way of talking about it.
[Allesandro Bianchi, Reuters]
Cause and effect, motion and movers,
reasons why

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Gifford Lecture One: Cosmos, Time, Memory

  • 2. Science and philosophy have changed our image of the world Our everyday, common-sense way of thinking about the world (the “manifest image”) has not caught up.
  • 3. Manifest image Scientific image Time flows from past Time is a label within to future an eternal universe For every event there is Parts of the universe a reason; for every are related by patterns: effect there is a cause the laws of nature Life and mind are Life and mind are distinct from matter physical and emergent Purpose, morality, and Purpose, morality and meaning are objective meaning are personal
  • 4. Ontology: the study of being, what exists Reality Monism multiple one Idealism nature mind Naturalism Property dualism Physicalism extra- physical physical Austere naturalism Poetic naturalism eliminative expansive
  • 5. Poetic Naturalism • There is only one world, the natural world. • We learn about it empirically, through science. • But there are many ways of talking about the world. • If a way of talking accurately describes (part of) the world, the concepts it refers to are real. Our task: understand how the fundamental-physics way of talking about the world is compatible with the everyday-life way of talking about it.
  • 6. [Allesandro Bianchi, Reuters] Cause and effect, motion and movers, reasons why
  • 7. Everything that happens has a cause/reason? Aristotle: Eric Gaba. Aristotle Spinoza Leibniz
  • 8. We learn about the world by looking at it (not just by thinking about it) Hume Bayes
  • 9. Bayesian reasoning posterior credence likelihood of evidence given theory prior credence “Credence” = “degree of belief.” 1) Assign priors. 2) Calculate likelihoods. 3) Gather evidence. 4) Update credences. Steps:
  • 10. Conservation of momentum: the world moves by itself Ibn Sina Ibn Sina: Adam Jones; Voyager: NASA/JPL. Wikimedia commons.
  • 11. “An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces and all positions of all items of which nature is composed… for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.” - An Essay on Probabilities, 1814 Laplace’s Demon. Laplace: Wikimedia Commons Conservation of information: each moment determines its past and future
  • 12. Laws are differential equations in time. Isaac Newton: Erwin Schrödinger: (Footnote: quantum indeterminism?)
  • 13. Time doesn’t “flow,” or bring the future into existence; it’s just a label. Laws of nature are patterns connecting different moments. time
  • 14. “Cause and effect” isn’t fundamental “The law of causality, I believe, like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm.” – Bertrand Russell
  • 15. Aging Memory Cause & EffectFree Will Major disconnect between fundamental physics and everyday life: the arrow of time. Nowhere to be found in the underlying, microscopic laws.
  • 16. A single phenomenon underlies all manifestations of time’s arrow: increasing entropy. Entropy is a measure of disorderliness, messiness, randomness.
  • 17. Time Entropy Second Law of Thermodynamics: entropy increases with time (in closed systems).
  • 18. Ludwig Boltzmann, 1870’s: Entropy counts the number of ways we can re-arrange a system without changing its basic appearance. high entropy: all mixed up low entropy: delicately ordered [Martin Röll]
  • 19. possible arrangements of atoms/molecules, grouped by macroscopic indistinguishability Entropy increases simply because there are more ways to be high-entropy than low-entropy. All makes sense, if the entropy was low to begin with. low entropy high entropy
  • 20. The Past Hypothesis: our universe started in a low-entropy state. 13.8 billion years ago, at the Big Bang.
  • 21. 1 second: hot, smooth plasma.
  • 22. 380,000 years: ripples in a smooth background [Planck]
  • 25. 10100 years: empty space (dark energy).
  • 26. 1 sec 105 yr 1010 yr 1015 yr 10100 yr Our observable universe
  • 27. “Memories” and “causes” are emergent features of an underlying time-symmetric universe that has a macroscopic arrow of time. Memory: feature of now that lets us infer something about the past. Cause: feature of now that lets us infer something about the future.
  • 28. Low-entropy past gives features of the present leverage over other times. what we know about the present low-entropy past correct reconstruction possible futures possible pasts
  • 29. Emergence: different levels of description involve completely different concepts/vocabularies Macroscopic world Microscopic fundamental physics tables chairs people planets particles forces spacetime • arrow of time • dissipation • cause and effect • “reasons why” • laws of nature • patterns • differential equations • conservation of information
  • 30. 1. Cosmos, Time, Memory images of the world; causality; the arrow of time 2. The Stuff of which We Are Made quantum theory; the laws underlying everyday life 3. Layers of Reality effective theories; emergence; multiple vocabularies 4. Simplicity, Complexity, Thought entropy vs. complexity; life; consciousness 5. Our Place in the Universe ought vs. is; meaning, caring, constructing morals

Editor's Notes

  1. William James, Alfred North Whitehead, Hannah Arendt, Neils Bohr
  2. Final cause: the sake for which something happens or is done. Principle of Sufficient Reason: “Nothing is without a ground or reason why it is.”
  3. What do we do for the multiverse? Exactly this.