A Philosophical Interlude

Before playing with any toy formal systems, I would like to take a moment to express another philosophical motivation for adopting Tegmark’s proposal.  For a long time I have been bothered by the apparent distinction between actuality and possibility.  In other words, what does it mean for something to be actual as opposed to merely possible?  I have always felt that to make a substantial distinction between actuality and possibility, one is forced to invent strange modes of existence, one for some “diminished” level of existence or bizarre non-existing existence, and one for a “distinguished” level of existence or “real” existence.  I cannot help feeling that this is quite artificial.  In the set of all possible worlds, why should there be a distinguished member?

From our perspective, of course, this seems intuitive.  We experience some things as “actual” and other things we recognize as possible, but they do not obtain in our world.  In other words, some things could be, but are not.  Yet, to draw a strong distinction seems a mistake akin to thinking that the Earth is the center of the universe because it appears that way from our perspective.  In reality, there is no preferred point in space and, by analogy, it seems reasonable that there is no preferred possible world either.

Being a form of modal realism, this is the thesis of the MUH.  All possible worlds exist on equal footing.  They are all of the same kind as our world.  Ironically, looking at matters this way gives coherent meaning to the terms “actual” and “possible”, but instead of inventing convoluted or mysterious modes of existence, these become relative terms.  The term “actual” simply refers to the world in which we find ourselves and “possible” refers to any other world.  Of course, in any other world, its inhabitants, if it has any, will consider their world to be actual and ours to be possible.  Another way of saying this is that actuality is indexical.  Again, one can use relativity as an analogy.  Each system has its own “preferred” (with respect to itself) reference frame from which it judges everything else.  Objectively speaking, however, no reference frame is preferred over another.  Or think of how each person deems his/her location as ‘here’.  There is no objective ‘here’, it depends on the observer.

This brilliant solution is just one of the many recommendations the MUH enjoys!

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5 comments on “A Philosophical Interlude

  1. Louis says:

    Possible worlds don’t exist.

  2. Ryan says:

    Thanks for the comment Louis! In what sense would you say possible worlds don’t exist? In other words, how are you using the term ‘exist’?

  3. scullytr says:

    I think Louis, like I myself thought at first, is talking about a linear sense of “actual” or “possible” in that, in our current universe, “actual” refers to things that are, right now. And “possible” refers to things that could be, but aren’t at this point in time.

    Of course, as you said, that’s a quite subjective view and is sort of dwarfed by the implications of an objective view of multiple universes.

    Now my imagination is running amok and wondering if we can do something with this knowledge. Like bridging the gap between two universes to make some other universe’s reality, part of this reality.

    There’s a quote that is arguably attributed to Albert Einstein:
    “Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.”

    I found it interesting, regardless of how fantastical it is. 🙂

  4. Bryan says:

    Sorry I’m a little late to this conversation. Possible worlds would include those in which I exist but act or choose differently than I do in the actual world. If possible worlds were real in the same sense that this world is real then there would be an infinite number of “me”. But other beings in other worlds can’t be me since there would be at least the distinguishable feature of self awareness, even if consciousness is purely epiphenominal.

  5. Louis says:

    Although I personally agree with you, Bryan, Lewis has an interesting counterpart theory intended to address that concern. To persuasively argue against MR would require us to treat it. Also, if you haven’t yet, you should check out the thread here: https://letusfigurethisout.wordpress.com/2012/08/10/the-thesis-of-modal-realism/

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