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No. 37: Jan-Feb 1985

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What does it all mean?

W.G. Pollard, a distinguished physicist, has written a very philosophical, almost mystical article on the nature of the cosmos. Let us begin with his abstract:

"There are several hints in physics of a domain of external reality transcendent to three-dimensional space and time. This paper calls attention to several of these intimations of a real world beyond the natural order. Examples are the complex state functions in configuration space of quantum mechanics, the singularity at the birth of the universe, the anthropic principle, the role of chance in evolution, and the unaccountable fruit fulness of mathematics for physics. None of these examples touch on the existence or activity of God, but they do suggest that external reality may be much richer than the natural world which it is the task of physics to describe."

Pollard then elaborates:

Example 1. Quantum mechanics, a mathematical formulation of reality, has been extraordinarily successful in describing and predicting many things in the microscopic world. Pollard notes that quantum mechanics contains no hint of God per se and possesses no numinous quality, but its great complexity and multidimensionality provide evidence for "the reality of the transcendent order in which the natural universe is embedded."

Example 2. The singularity at the beginning of the universe. Science is at a loss to explain creation and what happened before. (Pollard assumes that creation occurred like most scientists.)

Example 3. The anthropic principle can be interpreted as a restatement of the religious contention that the universe was made-for-humankind. In Pollard's words: "If one imagines an ensemble of universes of different size and duration and equipped with different values of the fundamental constants G, h, c, e and others, this principle selects only that member of the ensemble for which life and its evolution to man is a possibility. But merely stating the problem in this way suggests a creator with a mysterious plan or purpose of his own. And certainly by any standard for judging a creative artist, to carry life from bacteria to man in three billion years is a startlingly immense creative achievement. Even the creation of a planet like the Earth is also a remarkable creative achievement. All such con-siderations are clearly beyond the competence of science to either affirm or deny."

Example 4. The role of chance in evolution is assumed by Pollard, as it is by most scientists. The atoms and mole-cules had to have just the right properties as well as enough time and room to fall together into humankind. "Could it be that whoever or whatever started this universe, some 18 billion years ago in the big bang, designed it to last that long, and therefore to be as big as it is, in order to have an opportunity to create man?"

Example 5. The fruitfulness of mathematics. "Since the seventeenth century, we have had at least four major and numerous minor examples of mathematical systems which were produced initially as pure products of the human mind simply for our delight in their inner beauty, but which later turned out to mirror the workings of the natural world accurately and precisely in every detail in ways completely unforeseen and unexpected by their originators." In other words, God is a geometer.

(Pollard, William G.; "Rumors of Transcendence in Physics," American Journal of Physics, 52:877, 1984.)

Comment. Pollard's article is laced with reductionism; that is, he feels that everything can be reduced to physics, and that whatever physicists have found out about their corner of reality applies everywhere!

From Science Frontiers #37, JAN-FEB 1985. � 1985-2000 William R. Corliss