The Multiverse as a Posthumanist Concept

I’m sick this week but trying to power through and tackle a bunch of deadlines. There’s a considerable blog backlog building but I won’t have chance to get back to this until next week so here’s a quick one whilst I take a break from eye-destroying admin.

My days this week are all largely the same. I am existing wholly on a sofa-turned-sickbed next to a bin full of snotty tissues, working on freelance stuff with YouTube on the TV in the background. Today’s algorithm has been interesting. It went from Hot Ones interviews to a Vice on HBO short about dark matter and then onto this video from The Economist — of all places — about the science behind the concept of a multiverse.

(When did The Economist start going deep on contemporary issues within the philosophy of science? The Economist!)

Watching this, I discovered I knew absolutely nothing about what is meant by the “multiverse” but found it to be not as controversial as a suggestion as it is often made out to be — I guess, primarily, by scientists.

It seems like a theory that, yes, exists somewhere between the worlds of science fact and fiction but only by nature of it being philosophically speculative. It presents a view of the universe that is straight out of Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of Our Planet, asking the question: What is a universe-without-us?

I hadn’t thought about this before — at least not at this scale — and maybe that’s because I’m just not that well versed in this stuff — but one scientist in this video describes with great clarity how our popular understanding of the universe is wholly anthropocentric, empirically speaking. He seems to argue that the multiverse is a Copernican concept as the next level up from our understanding of what it is to exist in this reality… And that is a scale where terms like “reality” and “existence” and whatever else already start to feel woefully parochial.

He explains that the universe is basically defined as an event-horizon beyond which no light that has yet reached us. There may be many galaxies and stars far beyond those that we can currently see but because their light hasn’t reached us yet we can’t see them and have no way of knowing that they are there. The question, he points out, is not that this is true but rather to what extent it is true? Just how much universe is out there that we cannot see?

Perhaps that’s obvious but the way it is framed in this short video is interesting to me for how it conjures up an almost gothic image of our place within the void. I started imagining someone walking through a dark forest with a lamp — conjuring up memories of my own favourite stoner spot on the banks of the river Humber that could only be reached by a 10-minute walk through a dense wood. You have no light from the moon or the stars. You are limited by the light that emanates around you from a source that is woefully attached to your own position. It’s not a torch, projecting out into the far reaches, but a halo around your own existence.

Now, this is what I had never thought of before: I assumed — thanks, no doubt, to sci-fi misunderstandings — that a multiverse is not different to the concept of multiple dimensions. There are multiple universes that are probably like our own or they are quantum universes whre different cosmic events have played out from the same moment of the Big Bang. And, in a sense, that is not wrong, but rarely have I heard this argument suggested where it is human experience and perception which is held up as being wholly inadequate, in a sense that is radically beyond our sense of space and time, but by virtue of some complex layering, but simply by virtue of our empirical stuckness.

This video instead frames the problem in a radically simple way: if the universe is understood as an anthropocentric halo limited by our own position and modes of perceptions within the seemingly infinite expanse of space, the multiverse becomes an understanding of this expanse from various different viewpoints.

Physics continues to expand its predictions far beyond what we are presently able to prove — that is, empirically witness — and this sense that we can no longer limit a standard model to that which we are able to observe is perhaps widely accepted, if nonetheless still contested. But if the multiverse is then simply a challenge to our own empiricisms, the inverse problem of the multiverse seems to be: what other empiricisms are possible? These are judged not only sensorially, but by our fundamental position within the “entirety” of (our) space-time.

What does the universe look like from a somewhere else? From somewhere entirely foreign to our own field of view? Not just in the sense of there being aliens on Mars but viewpoints wholly beyond the realm in which we are able — and, even then, only to a certain degree — to accurately predict events.

We quickly end up in territory that is recognisably Kantian but expanded at an apparently radical and new scale of thinking.

This is what’s melting my cold-addled, snot-blocked brain today.

Update #1: Blessed connections being made in the new XG Discord (accessible via the Patreon).

@OuvreLeChien68 noted how this was similar to my previous posts on black holes and Negarestani’s goth rationalism, hooking them both up to an interview Reza did over at Nero in which he says:

[Engineers] also never see reality in any sense as a flat universe, they see it as vast and deeply multi-scaled structure. In order to concretely intervene at any level of reality we must not only have a multi-level view of the reality but also know which methods, models or tools should be implemented, and at which level.

Update #2: @total_exit joked:

tomorrow: xeno announces he is a lewisian modal realist [1]

And I didn’t get it and felt even more out of my depth, but @total_exit was nice enough to expand with some interesting context relevant to the topic at hand:

David Lewis was a great australian philosopher who took a very reasonable-sounding premise (true statements are true because they pick out factual things) to a very unreasonable-sounding conclusion (all possible universes actually exist. like ACTUALLY exist.) [2]

so when I say, “if I’d gotten the train, I’d be late”, for Lewis the only way to make sense of this is if it picks out an actual universe, somewhere beyond the limits of our visible universe, which is EXACTLY like ours except i (1) got the train and (2) am late [3]

analytic philosophers tend to confine themselves to very mundane examples involving catching trains and whether Nixon is alive, but this position gets wilder and wilder in proportion to what you think of as ‘possible’ [4]

Update #3: @Outsideness has sent over a great article from Forbes titled “Cosmology’s Only Big Problems Are Manufactured Misunderstandings“, adding:

“The most solidly established cosmological fact is accelerating disintegration.” [1]

… From ‘Intellectual Currents of the Late Hominid Epoch’ (2079): “R/Acc — a summary of empirical cosmology, sometimes applied to socio-political topics.” [2]

And there certainly are comments in this article which echo with accelerationism:

You have to account for everything, plus the new observation, plus new phenomena that have not yet been observed.

This is the problem with every alternative […] all fail to even account for whatever’s been already observed, much less the rest of it.

Sounds familiar. Here’s looking at you, L/Acc.


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