Sunday, January 14, 2007

God's-eye view

Gary Drescher insists that we take the worldview of physics seriously and apply it to ordinary life, producing some profoundly non-intuitive results -- the flow of time is illusory; the universe is constantly splitting into multiple copies; we have no free will. None of these are new ideas but Drescher combines them with a ruthless seriousness into a worldview that I've labeled ultramaterialism.

Today it occurred to me that the first of these is perhaps the easiest to understand but the hardest to reconcile with everyday experience. Physics tells us that the universe is composed of four-dimensional spacetime, with time being simply another dimension. So all moments of time exist as spacelike slices of spacetime (or frames of a movie) and the fact that we experience time serially is a mere artifact, rather than an intrinsic property of the universe. So not only is the universe deterministic, everything event from Big Bang to Grand Gnab has (in some sense) already happened.

Drescher has some interesting explanations for why we might experience time serially (and in only one direction), involving entropy among other things, but I don't fully understand them and wil have to reread that chapter a couple more times.

But one thought strikes me: while this is a resolutely non-theist view of reality, it seems that God has been exiled from the universe only to reappear in the subjectivity of the observer and reader. Who else but an omniscient and eternal God could perceive the universe from beginning to end as an unchanging seamless whole? Drescher's book labors to take us out of our human perspective and take a more godlike view of the universe. Author and reader are, by taking this radically un-embodied perspective, almost blasphemously usurping the role of God while denying his reality.

I don't mean this to be an argument against naturalism or for the reality of God (heaven forbid). It's more of an observation of a phenomenon something like conservation of subjectivity -- that is, no matter how hard we try to make a completely mechanistic object of the universe, some notion of a subject slips back in through the back door. Exile God from your thinking and you end up unknowingly writing His vantage point into the foundations of your theory.

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