My dad, science, and the multiverse
My father, Paul Deisler, might have described himself as a chemical engineer and an amateur cosmologist, but he never described himself as a writer though he spent much of his life writing and thinking about things he would or could write about. From short stories and essays in his teens, to reports, articles, a Ph.D. thesis, books, and even an attempt at science fiction at one point (he decided he wasn’t meant to be a sci fi writer) and explorations of physics, religion, and the cosmos in the last decade or two of his life, he always had a project or two going and another one or two (or more) waiting.
It would have been my father’s 90th birthday today, January 20, 2016, and I found myself thinking, what better way to wish him happy birthday than to get a few of his pieces out into the world for others to appreciate? One piece in particular is a poem he was working to publish on the beautiful and magnificent multiverse, but I also thought a couple of pieces might help give a broader context.
One is a set of notes that he made for a sermon (“The Last Lap”) he gave last January that acts as a brief memoir or as a kind of autobiography of his spiritual and intellectual evolution—giving the salient points in his evolution from Anglican Christian “fundamentalist” (my dad’s word for it) to believer in science and awed observer of the multiverse. Another is the actual sermon itself. With the sermon notes, I’ve included a link to an MP3 of it, given on January 11, 2015, at the Corpus Christi Unitarian Church.
Next is the poem, “A Paean to Ultimate Reality, Eternal Creator of Life,” which could be thought of as a super-concentrated form of a longer book he was hoping to write about the Multiverse (in which our finite Universe is just a piece). The book would have had a lot more of the scientific thought behind the idea of a multiverse (and, in fact, the original version of the poem had much more scientific detail.)
I’ll add that, while my father had written in many genres, poetry was not something he had attempted seriously before. Yet he felt a poem would be the right form for conveying this big, magnificent, awesome thing, the multiverse, in a way that conveyed both its beauty and his reverence for the “Orderly, law-driven creation” that is continually “renewed and refreshed / by the superimposed chaos/of repeated destructions.”
The file name for his poem is “Magnificent Multiverse,” and so what I call it when I think about it.
The Last Lap
A sermon by Paul Deisler, delivered to the congregation of the Unitarian-Universalist (UU) Church of Corpus Christi, Texas, on January 11, 2015
(Extended sermon notes, prepared on January 16, 2015)
• Introduction. Last week’s bulletin gave the title of my sermon as “the last laugh” and not “the last lap”. I probably should have given that sermon. It might have been funnier than this one, but I have already prepared this one so here we go with the last lap.
• Background. Mine has been a very happy life, a relay race of many laps, some pain and strong sorrow but much very good luck, starting with exceptional parents.
– At each lap, torches have been passed to and fro bearing helpful advice and criticism. This month I enter my 90th year – I am now, in-deed, beginning my last lap. It is now, if ever, that at least one more torch needs to be passed, from me to you.
• Becoming a Christian. My parents sent me to an excellent British boys ‘school in Santiago, Chile — not a religious school, but steeped in Anglicanism 5½ days per week plus Sunday school. God was in the air we breathed and religion was taught as seriously as (and even more authoritatively than) math, French, or British history by none other than the Anglican archbishop of Santiago, gaiters and all. He carried a steel-tipped, bamboo wand, which he applied vigorously to the palms of our hands when we stumbled when reciting an assigned verse. The Christian religion was literally beaten into us.
– Our god sought out our sins (and what boy has no sins?), oversaw our every move, word, and thought — dishing out much fearsome justice and very rare mercy, all day, all night, all the time.
• By age 11 I had become a firmly believing, fundamentalist Christian. It was an awkward condition in which to enter my teen years with their many biochemical ferments and changes — yet I remained a happy boy, happy with my many friends, my pets, my school, my hobbies and with my life in general. My parents knew nothing of the intensity of my religious life. I had learned, at my British school, to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity and to confide my trepidations to no one.
• Questions arise. But, discrepancies in holy writ and recognizable sophistry in the explanations I was given for them began to bother me.
• My growing love of science. I soon realized that science is one, religion is many. No matter the language, culture, gender or other background of scientists, their tested and proven discoveries were universally true, as one might expect of the laws governing a universe created by the necessarily perfectly consistent, perfectly rational creator of the laws of science.
– Scientists, themselves, are tough, rigorous skeptics of each other and of them-selves, demanding proof as objective as possible, where-as religionists consider strong faith to be enough, especially faith in authority deemed to be sufficiently ancient, holy or sacred. Such teachings, to scientists, amount to drawing conclusions on the basis of hearsay. When religious belief contradicts science, religion runs aground. Only new, valid scientific discovery can contradict current science; then science must change or lose its credibility.
• Science is not the enemy of religion. For me, science is never the enemy of religion; I think of it, and reason, as among religion’s guides, as revelations about the creation and, therefore, about the creator, itself, directly. If we are religious, we therefore should listen attentively to what science can tell us and we should heed its lessons.
– My deep interest in religion thus guided me ever deeper into the arms of science, to applied science in my career and to fundamental science otherwise.
– On the fundamental side, I developed special interest in the sciences of origins – cosmology, physics, bio-chemistry and biology. From these interests there arose studies on the basis of which I have formed a mental picture of what I call a new genesis, which has become the basis of my religion.
• The new genesis. The new genesis is not a totally new idea but an old one greatly updated. What might Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been like if the ancient Hebrew wise men had been in contact with, and impressed by, the Greek philosophers?
– Some 4,600 years ago, Anaximander of Miletus. A pre-Socratic, Greek philosopher, proposed that there is a fundamental space, which he called apeiron, which is a space that is spatially infinite, temporally eternal and in which worlds are continuously born and destroyed.
– Today apeiron, with the addition of contemporary cosmology with its quantum theoretical underpinnings, with dark energy accelerating apeiron’s space’s homogeneous expansion, with dark matter helping to guide apeiron’s further development, and with the word “universes” substituted for the word “worlds” is the multiverse of contemporary cosmology.
– Our very existence shows that the probability of occurrence of “big bangs” in apeiron’s space is greater than zero, in keeping with the probabilistic nature of quantum theory. Our universe’s finite age makes it clear that, with infinite time available, there are an infinite number of universes in space and time, and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle re-quires that universes be nonuniform in their properties. Our universe’s example shows that at least some fraction of the universes will produce life, even, possibly far advanced life — perhaps, in some cases, life with god-like abilities. We do not have the ability, today, to place any limits on the combination of biological, technological and cultural evolution possible in an infinite multiverse.
– We may now at least allow ourselves to speculate that when we finally understand the phenomenon of quantum entanglement we may understand how infinitely fast communications can take place within or even between universes, enabling truly god-like species to operate within, and even influence, events in apeiron.
– Such entirely speculative, god-like species must not be confused with any supernatural creator of apeiron and its laws. Such species have merely evolved within apeiron, again and again.
– This, then, is a brief description of the new genesis, one far more scientifically based (and satisfying to me) than the creation myths of other religions.
• Consequences of the new genesis. Paraphrasing René Dubos, having thought multiuniversally, I now must act locally. What, therefore, can I believe and how should I live in the here and now?
– I know for a fact that existing, religious, super-natural concepts of god are myths, that I, like all other life, live in the here and now and there is no “afterlife”, no heaven or hell impossibly “outside of” the infinite, eternal multiverse. The laws of the multiverse are immutable, no miracles are allowed or needed and the multiverse is a continuing source of universes and life, needing no supernatural creator (though this does not mean there is not one, a question and a mystery yet to be resolved; our science is not yet up to that task).
• With these thoughts in mind I visited, in March of 2013, the UU Church of Corpus Christi, Texas, read the church’s own covenant and turned to my older daughter, who had brought me to the church, to say, “I have found my church home”. In-deed I have.
-The UU church covenant, the seven UU principles, with, further, the inclusion of the concept of my forgiveness of trespasses against me and, in addition, the content of the humanist manifestos (available online) are a good, general description of my non-creedal, religious, moral life principles. These principles need no basis in belief in the supposed desires of a supernatural god to support them, though they do not prohibit anyone who wishes to do so from believing that such a god exists to give some kind of purpose to creation.
• Now, as my last lap in life begins, I have become a liberated, happy, content and spiritually nourished man, grateful for my life as it is and totally unworried about, or fearless of, my future.
• Love is the key concept on which to build the world we long for and need, complete with its own bits of heaven and devoid of hell. We have the needed ability. Let us all work to that end.
There’s a link to the MP3 of of my dad giving the sermon on January 11, 2015, here: http://uucorpus.org/2015/01/11/jan-11-2015-the-last-lap-dr-paul-deisler/.
A PAEAN TO ULTIMATE REALITY,
ETERNAL CREATOR OF LIFE.
Paul F. Deisler, Jr.,
of hyperactive vacuum energy that it is,
is without beginning or end.
Within it is all there is,
and nothing can ever exist
that is not within it.
Multiverses and universes abound
universes within multiverses
and all within the infinite shelter of their
one and only mother,
They are all fathered
by the many-times-proven
powers of quantum mechanics,
the vacuum energy contained in all of space.
Each universe is born in its turn, by stages, within its multiverse,
in explosive light,
and fast-evolving storms of tiny particles.
Some universes are, while living,
fit as birth-mothers
of clouds of gas and dust,
and the molecules of life
that yield, after long eons of time
and repeated and fearsome,
destructive and constructive
rare and miraculous,
delicate and tough,
Thus was our very own
terrifying and beautiful,
life-giving and nurturing Universe
and all in it created
by the drivers of invention
and adventitious design:
extreme violence and
the many diverse and tireless processes
generation by generation,
from simplicity to complexity,
fighting entropy locally
with hugely long time as its great ally.
Orderly, law-driven creation,
renewed and refreshed
by the superimposed chaos
of repeated destructions,
is the inspirer
of ongoing, eternal,
changes of direction
without end and, perhaps,
without a Grand Purpose.
Is the perpetuation of eternal
within infinite universes
within infinite multiverses, scattered throughout Eternal Ultimate Reality
not enough for a Grand Purpose?
Must we seek more?
Some do seek, but are we not enough,
of infinite and eternal processes,
living briefly as enchanted students
of unending holy mysteries
for as long as we draw breath?
Such is my vision of our living Eternity.
Here’s a link to a little more on the idea of the multiverse from Space.com (for those who might be interested): http://www.space.com/31465-is-our-universe-just-one-of-many-in-a-multiverse.html. In an introduction to the longer, earlier version of the poem, my dad wrote about it:
The Universe, our universe capitalized to name it and to distinguish it from other universes or constructs, is 13.8±0.1 billion years old and the Multiverse that gave it birth is eternal. Within it our star, the Sun, is 4.5 billion years old and our Earth a bit younger. This is the time frame of the drama herein depicted.
The Universe may or may not be infinite in spatial extent. The homogenous expansion of the Universe and the acceleration of that expansion that resumed some 5 billion years ago, prevents our observing, using waves that move past their own co-moving coordinates with the velocity of light (the maximum velocity in our Universe), prevents our seeing to infinity even if it were otherwise possible. Gut opinion tends to favor finite universes.
The Multiverse is One and it must, by definition, be infinite in all spatial dimensions, as well as eternal in time, since it confines all that there is, was and can ever be.
The known and well-confirmed finiteness of the age of our Universe argues that there are more universes in space and time or both, constituting a Multiverse. Something had to appear “before” or “along with” our Universe within the provably active Multiverse.
Here is the the story of the birth and growth of the Universe, of all of us and of the existence of intelligence within the Multiverse, in brief. . . .
The writing of this piece was inspired by the following books, in particular, though others contributed inspiration:
• The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
• In Search of the Multiverse, John Gribben
• Alone in the Universe, John Gribben
My dad, June 2014, giving a talk about universe and galaxy formation. If you look closely, you might be able to see the baby galaxy forming between his hands.
Graduating from high school (El Paso High) at around age 16.