The Process

Imagine a multiverse, infinitely infinite.  There’s just infinity.  Or if you prefer, nothing.   There’s no space, no time, no matter, no energy.  There’s no structure whatsoever, and nothing “in” any of the universes that make up the multiverse.  it’s not even clear whether these individual universes are separate from one another or the same.  But since our minds seem finite and we have to start somewhere, let’s imagine them as separate: an infinite collection of universes with nothing in them, no dimension, and no relationship between them.

Now lets assume there is some process for picking out universes from the multiverse.  Since there’s no time in the multiverse, the process has no beginning and no end.  It’s like a computer program, but it’s infinitely complex.  Let’s call it The Process.

If The Process is infinitely complex and has no beginning and no end, what can we know about it?  We know that it picks some universes but not others, which effectively creates an “in group” (all those that are picked) and an “out group” (all those that are not).  Of course, both sets are infinite and still have no structure.  But note that all the universes in one group or the other now stand in relation to one another.  That is, they share the property of “in-ness” or “out-ness”, and between the two groups there’s the relationship of “different”.

The Process further divides these sub-multiverses in unknown ways, and this sorting creates other relationships between universes.  You can visualize a network of universes with the connections representing these relationships.  The network is infinite, and if you consider any subset of the network, it’s also infinite.  But these subnetworks are no longer arbitrary, they are networks themselves and networks have structure.  And since a subnetwork by definition shares the same connection relationships as the original network it is a “sub” of, the subnetwork is structurally similar to the network itself.  That is, the network is self-similar, which in mathematical terms means it’s fractal.  Of course this fractal we are talking about is infinite, and so wherever you start, it’s turtles all the way down, and all the way up.

Notice that the process of identifying subnetworks does something interesting, it creates an asymmetry that wasn’t distinguishable before.  For any network N, if you choose a subnetwork, n, then N “contains” n but not vice versa.  This containment relationship can viewed as a network where the connections are arrows, meaning they have directionality, N –> n.  You may have noticed that we just went from talking about a network of universes to a network of networks (of universes), but that’s okay.  Remember the multiverse is infinitely infinite, and we’re just chatting about some arbitrary aspects of it.  There’s lots of other aspects we could talk about instead, but it’s starting to get interesting here, so let’s continue….

Somewhere in the fractal multiverse network of networks described by The Process there is a subnetwork (actually an infinite number of them) where the structure is like this: each universe is connected to by only one other universe but connects to an infinite number.  Let’s call this structure, Time, and note that there are an infinity of subnetworks of the network which have this Time structure.  Unless stated otherwise, I’ll be talking from now on about networks with Time structure.

Remember though, the multiverse itself has no structure; The Process overlays structure on top of it and thereby allows us to know about things like Time.

Now let’s start using the words network, system, particle, entity, agent and universe interchangeably, so we can say things like “time network”, “temporal system”, “particles over time”, and “A causes B” to refer to roughly the same thing.  I realize that by overloading these terms I’m jacking into (and hopefully hijacking) your intuition about what these words mean, but that’s my intent.  Hopefully you’ll continue playing along by my rules and try not to project what you already know onto this alternative cosmology.

When we use the words network, system, particle, entity and agent, you might wonder whether we are talking about a universe or a multiverse.  The answer is Yes.   Remember, the multiverse is infinitely infinite and self-similar, so in some sense we can say it contains itself.  We have a hard time with infinity so this concept is mind-boggling, but if you follow the logic, hopefully you’ll accept this paradox as true.  So lets just use the word universe from now on and forget about multiverses.  And to not get confused, let’s refer to what we used to think of as the Universe as the known universe instead.  The known universe is where you live (or more precisely where you think you live) along with everyone and everything you know about or can imagine.

The known universe is expanding the more you learn about it.  The known universe is temporal.  And as we know from Einstein, it must therefore also be spatial — remember it’s not space and time but rather the spacetime continuum.  The known universe consists of particles (i.e. matter) and therefore — also thanks to Einstein — it consists of energy.  Time, space, matter and energy here may or may not be totally in sync with our intuitions of them, but just suppose they are the same thing and that our intuition is slightly biased by our particular experiences in life and could use adjustment.

We haven’t really talked explicitly about laws of nature, fundamental constants, invariant equations or even mathematics.  And I kinda jumped the gun when bringing Einstein into the equation (so to speak).  But it’s really hard to follow a line of thought without some sort of logical paradigm, some structure of thought.  In the end it doesn’t really matter what I’m saying, what you’re hearing, or whether any of this is “true”.  I’m just telling you a story, and hopefully it’s amusing enough for you to finish reading.

Originally we talked about The Process, which is infinitely complex and which describes all sorts of possible realities.  The known universe is one of those possibilities, one in which we see structure and patterns, order and complexity all around us.  Somewhere “out there” there may be portions of the multiverse (whoops, I said I wasn’t going to use that term anymore, sorry) where it’s still appears, unstructured and thus unknowable.  But let’s come back to the known universe and the “knowable” universe.

Because of the fact that we are here in the known universe thinking and talking about it, and not in some unknown or unknowable part, the non-random patterns that we see may look to us like universal laws (E=mc^2, the second law of thermodynamics, etc.)  Well, we know that even these laws are not truly universal, they apply to only certain scopes.   For example, “relativistic but not classical or quantum realms”, or “closed systems but not open systems.”  String theorists are looking for universal laws, but so far none have been found.  But let’s just grant them that they will eventually find some (or one).  How would we be able to distinguish between a true Law and just a pattern that is very very persistent over all known scopes?

How about we stop using the word “law” and instead replace it with the word “principle” to suggest that it may really just be a pattern that we see in the known universe.  And as the known universe expands via our increase in knowledge/understanding/awareness, we might find exceptions to the pattern.  After all, that’s what’s happened to every “law” ever considered in the history of science so far, and why should that pattern stop?  (Sorry, my paradox detector just went off, let me reset it….)

Coming back to principles, there’s one that emerged from the last few paragraphs, did you notice it?  Cosmologists call it the Anthropic Principle, which is the notion that the universe appears ordered in the particular way that it does with these nifty laws and constants because of the very cosmic coincidence that we are here observing it!  In other words, we live (and can only live) in the known universe, by definition.  And we wouldn’t be “here” and able to “notice” anything if we were in some unknowable part.  That’s a pretty trippy concept, but one that many physicists take very seriously.  It’s the same kind of argument as for why we haven’t been contacted by aliens yet: there’s a decent chance we are the most advanced intelligence out there and we’ll have to wait for others to catch up so we can communicate.  It’s also the reason that your keys are always in the last place you look.

Remember the Anthropic Principle because it’s really useful.  It has the same logical structure as Darwinian evolution and other “emergent” phenomena.  Is this Generalized Anthropic Principal (GAP) a universal/fundamental one?  Who knows.  Probably not.  We anthropic agents are so self-absorbed.

Another principle that emerges from our cosmology is Coherence.  Because of The Process, birds of a feather flock together.  Actually, The Process defines which birds are of which feather, so this is a tautology, though it’s fun to think of it as “like attracts like”.  But we know that really it’s just co-incidence: the birds exist at the same Time.  Using the analogy of birds, we can ask whether these coincident birds are different birds or the same bird.  But it’s a silly question because the answer is Yes.  Think of quantum coherence, if you like.

Now let’s say we are talking about particles and not birds, and instead of Coherence we’ll say Gravity.  Isn’t it the same thing?  We talk about stars and planets and other astral bodies as if they were coherent entities, but If there were no gravity, would those entities exist?  Or let’s talk about the Cooperation of the cells in your body; without it, would you exist?  We’ve all heard about the “law of attraction” from The Secret, isn’t it the same thing?  You imagine the future you want, and that acts as a beacon guiding you in every decision you make, every micro-decision, every unconscious action until at some point you find yourself living in the future you imagined.  Coherence, cooperation, attraction, unity.  Same thing.

Here’s a secret: there is no Process.  Or if you prefer, The Process is completely random.  Yet that doesn’t change anything I’ve said above.  Think of it this way: in an infinite series of random numbers, all patterns appear eventually, right?  So “somewhere” in the infinite randomness, The Process “produces” the structure I’ve been talking about.  Or maybe the fact that we’re anthropically talking about it produces the structure.  We are The Process.  Or more generally, we humans are part of The Process.  The Process is the universe.

  • JZK

    Very interesting.

    And I think I’ve found the basis for the church I’ve been waiting to setup so I can put my “ordainedness” to proper (and of course tax exempt) use.

    Reverend JK
    Infinity Church (or perhaps Church of The Holy Process)

  • Alex Golubev

    Rafe, what do you think the next question/implication/speculation out of this? Awareness may be fragmented but still infinite? i guess we don’t know how to relate my awareness to your awareness to my dog’s awareness or to some cell’s “awareness”. But IF awareness is fragmented, then we immediately have to ponder relationships and communication between different aware entities since Universe is fragmented. I don’t know what came first the fragmentation of singular awareness, but we know that it’s fragmented right now and so the question is – what should we do? I can see how there CAN be something to gain from another selfaware agent, but obviously there’s also competition for existence. Some share common language and with the right context can share meanings. The rules of engagement aren’t very formalized though. So there it is – jibberish brought to you by the Anthropic Principle of my thoughts. :)

    • Rafe Furst

      Awareness is fragmented. Consciousness is not. Or vice versa :-)

      Competition for existence is a fiction if just one thing exists.

      • Alex Golubev

        we are all aware/conscious/banana of ourselves more than of others. This fiction is our truest experience of life, so we may all very well be one, but it’s like we’re all in Sixth Sense seeing dead people (sorry if i blew the ending for you) :)

        • Rafe Furst

          While I am not sure whether I am going to die (c.f. Singularity), on average we are all currently dead already. Either way you can’t spoil the ending no matter what you say, we’ll just have to play it out :-P

          • Alex

            In the real version of Sixth Sense the kid turned out to be as dead as Bruce Willis, but that heliocentric version only came to my awareness AFTER this communication. Communication is very Coppernican in it’s nature.

            For me it is the biggest question/mystery of Science 2.0. The pursuit of truth has to love life and death equally, yet our awareness is more afraid of dying mentally than physically! And if that wasn’t enough, we’re prisoners of “slower” physical evolutionary processes. The past is both necessary and deadly. argh. So Science 2.0 seems to need some separation of powers when it comes to expertise.

          • Alex Golubev
  • I like what I read. I’m wondering if you are speaking literally or metaphorically about “the process”. I can see it being an extrapolation, an informational analogy, to what some are trying to accomplish with newer theories of everything. How does this actually relate to the mundanely physical?

    I am likewise very interested in as you put it:

    “I believe the scientific method as currently practiced is incomplete. ”Science 2.0″ is emerging, and the lessons from complex systems theory are a big part of what’s missing.”

    I have long held that science is in fact now in a state of crisis, having cut its ties to anything metaphysical and relegating deduction to the hypothesis stage of scientific method (if even there…) I see emergent behavior of complex systems as being a paradigm shifting area of research. One that may revitalize science into your “science 2.0”.

    On an aside, I hold that the anthropic principle is, of course, true, but trivially so — a mere tautology. It doesn’t really answer or explain anything.

    A thought provoking post. Keep it up! I invite you to see what my good friend Thad Roberts has to say about such things on our website (I’m the admin). ( — particularly in the sections regarding his quantum space theory — which seems the physical analogue to your informational “process”.) Let us know what you think there.

  • plektix

    You lost me about two-thirds of the way through. I’m a believer in the anthropic principle, though it’s unclear how much can be deduced from it, since we know of only one example of a human-producing universe, and no counter-examples of non-human producing universes. But how exactly does this connect to coherence or to the Secret?

  • Rafe Furst

    Jeff, Ben, the utility of Anthropic Principle is addressed in this new post on falsifiability

  • Rafe Furst

    This is what I meant by “turtles all the way down”:

    “Up to now, most people have implicitly assumed that there is an ultimate theory that we will eventually discover. Indeed, I myself have suggested we might find it quite soon. However, M-theory has made me wonder if this is true. Maybe it is not possible to formulate the theory of the universe in a finite number of statements. This is very reminiscent of Godel’s theorem. This says that any finite system of axioms is not sufficient to prove every result in mathematics.” (Stephen Hawking, Godel and the End of Physics)

    The paper is well worth a read, even for non-physicists.