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The New Philosophy Of Cosmology

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <post.nul>
Date: Sat, 21 Jan 2012 20:08:15 -0500
Archived: Sat, 21 Jan 2012 20:08:15 -0500
Subject: The New Philosophy Of Cosmology

Source: TheAtlantic.Com


Jan 19 2012

The New Philosophy Of Cosmology
By Ross Andersen

What existed before the big bang? What is the nature of time? Is
our universe one of many? On the big questions science cannot
(yet?) answer, a new crop of philosophers are trying to provide


Last May, Stephen Hawking gave a talk at Google's Zeitgeist
Conference in which he declared philosophy to be dead.


In December, a group of professors from America's top philosophy
departments, including Rutgers, Columbia, Yale, and NYU, set
out to establish the philosophy of cosmology as a new field of
study within the philosophy of physics.


One of the founding members of the American group, Tim Maudlin,
was recently hired by New York University, the top ranked
philosophy department in the English-speaking world. Maudlin is
a philosopher of physics whose interests range from the
foundations of physics, to topics more firmly within the domain
of philosophy, like metaphysics and logic.

Yesterday I spoke with Maudlin by phone about cosmology,
multiple universes, the nature of time, the odds of
extraterrestrial life, and why Stephen Hawking is wrong about


Andersen: I recently came across a paper about Fermi's Paradox
and Self- Replicating Probes, and while it had kind of a science
fiction tone to it, it occurred to me as I was reading it that
philosophers might be uniquely suited to speculating about, or
at least evaluating the probabilistic arguments for the
existence of life elsewhere in the universe. Do you expect
philosophers of cosmology to enter into those debates, or will
the discipline confine itself to issues that emerge directly
from physics?

Maudlin: This is really a physical question. If you think of
life, of intelligent life, it is, among other things, a physical
phenomenon -- it occurs when the physical conditions are right.
And so the question of how likely it is that life will emerge,
and how frequently it will emerge, does connect up to physics,
and does connect up to cosmology, because when you're asking how
likely it is that somewhere there's life, you're talking about
the broad scope of the physical universe. And philosophers do
tend to be pretty well schooled in certain kinds of
probabilistic analysis, and so it may come up. I wouldn't rule
it in or rule it out.

I will make one comment about these kinds of arguments which
seems to me to somehow have eluded everyone. When people make
these probabilistic equations, like the Drake Equation, which
you're familiar with -- they introduce variables for the
frequency of earth-like planets, for the evolution of life on
those planets, and so on. The question remains as to how often,
after life evolves, you'll have intelligent life capable of
making technology. What people haven't seemed to notice is that
on earth, of all the billions of species that have evolved, only
one has developed intelligence to the level of producing
technology. Which means that kind of intelligence is really not
very useful. It's not actually, in the general case, of much
evolutionary value. We tend to think, because we love to think
of ourselves, human beings, as the top of the evolutionary
ladder, that the intelligence we have, that makes us human
beings, is the thing that all of evolution is striving toward.
But what we know is that that's not true. Obviously it doesn't
matter that much if you're a beetle, that you be really smart.
If it were, evolution would have produced much more intelligent
beetles. We have no empirical data to suggest that there's a
high probability that evolution on another planet would lead to
technological intelligence. There is just too much we don't

[More at site... thanks to 'The Norm' for the lead]

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