Friday, 8 May 2015

FATHER FRANK’S RANTS Rant Number 631 7 May 2015



Distraught teenage girls are in mourning. Heartthrob Zayn Malik has quit the One Direction band. A lacerating affair. Depression, bulimia, even suicide could result. Al-hamdulillah, renowned cosmologist Professor Hawking proffers words of scientific comfort. He argues theoretical physics suggests the existence of possible countless universes or parallel worlds. So, girls, cheer up! There is a reality in which your Zayn has never left the famed band. Science really outdoes old-fashioned religion in its consoling wonders.

With all due respect to teenage nymphs, the future of One Direction is perhaps less than world-shaking. But consider the British elections. Tomorrow morning you will wake up to...what? Fear and loathing? Bliss? Indifference? Cynicism? Whatever, quantum mechanics could solace, even overjoy you.

Hawking says nothing new, of course. Commenting on Werner Heisenberg’s wondrous Uncertainty Principle, physicist Paul Davis 50 years ago wrote that ‘a quantum measurement involves postulating an infinity of coexisting parallel worlds or realities.’ Never mind how disappointing or dreary or wretched your life is here, a jolly universe exists in which everything is kosher.

The apparatus of possible worlds arose first theologically. The philosopher Leibniz speculated that God created our world out of numberless possibilities. Why did the Creator opt for this, actual one? Because it is the best of all. A claim that got Leibniz unjustly derided, as scoffers pointed out our world contains miseries and evils galore. Still, the great logician never meant that his possible universes had any concrete existence. Their status was only hypothetical. Alternative projects in God’s mind. Once the Deity chose to make the world we live in, puff! They vanished like ghosts at dawn.

Theology is highly unfashionable. Instead, today science rules. That is why people genuflect in awe before men like Professor Hawkins, whether they understand his equations or not. But possible worlds have charm. Also, they can provide consolation. For example, if tomorrow morning UKIP supporters wake up to the undoing of their dreams, Nigel Farage unelected and the party down the drain…well, they will know there is a parallel reality in which UKIP wins hundreds of seats and Nigel strolls victorious into 10 Downing St amidst rave acclamations. Nice. Or maybe not.

Conversely, if Ed Milliband, aided by that Nicola woman, wins the day and become PM disgruntled Tories can postulate another, equally factual world in which Labour is wiped out and Cameron returns in triumph to Number Ten. (Nick Clegg…Is there a reality in which he conquers? There must be but…not my kind of reality, folks!)

Problem is, Hawkins, like Leibniz, must be a bit of an optimist. In his message to young females the scientist evoked a world highly pleasing to them – where Zayn still belongs to the fab band. But surely, other things being equal, there must be an alternative reality in which Zayn ‘comes out’ and tells everyone he is…gay. Shock and horror! Can you imagine the lovelorn girls’ reaction?

Yes, alternative worlds could be real nightmares. Because there must be a possible universe in which Adolf Hitler invaded England, overran Russia and the US never entered the war, so the Millenarian Reich is alive and kicking. A Europe unbearably Aryan and white, in which no Jews or third world immigrants are allowed to set foot. Horrid and yet…such possible world will exist.

Likewise, there is a parallel universe in which the Raqqa Caliphate, with its head-chopping, stoning and slave-marketing of prisoners has spread across the whole Middle East. ISIS has landed its jihadis into Italy, they have taken Rome, turned St Peter into a mosque and…geddit? (Naturally, this scenario will not be at all unpleasing to some – there is another side to every coin, I suppose.)

And there may also be a parallel world in which the Crusaders beat the Saracens, cut off the Islamic world into two, linked up with the Mongols and almost strangled Islam. Richard the Lionheart soundly crushed Saladin and its successors still reign over a whole Christian Jerusalem. No state of Israel…ahem.

Could any imagined reality, however absurd, actually exist? St Thomas Aquinas and Leibniz taught not. Logically impossible ones, for instance. So there is no universe in which you are a triangle or a scooter or a cucumber. Relief? It depends. Philosopher David Lewis apparently believed a logically consistent world exists in which donkeys can talk. Now a talking donkey would be a rational donkey. Rational animals then? St Thomas thought that was logically self-contradictory. Even God could not make a man to be ass, the Saint wrote. An unfortunate example, Bertrand Russell observed.

Lewis also put limits on optimism. Possible worlds do exist all right, just as our reality does, and they are concrete things, not abstractions. However, they are not causally or spatio-temporally related to our reality. What that means is that you could never travel there, as you could one future day travel to Mars or even the stars. Our universe is hermetically sealed off from those alluring or frightening realities. Laugh or cry!

To conclude: girls will never sensorially experience a Zayn-inclusive One Direction. Nor will neo-Nazis ever go to, and delight in, the Third Reich-world. Nor Communists get a frisson over a Red America. Nor will the sandal-wearing brigade exult over the Greens in power or similar such absurdities.

It seems humanity is stuck with this humdrum, silly, infidel, wicked actual world. As well as the impending election results. Groan…

Revd Frank Julian Gelli

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