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Welcome to Ruminations! A writing exercise combining various present hobbies (cigars and rum) along side that which keeps me intellectually exercised, philosophy. Somewhere on your screen is a MENU. The menu consists of categories and articles under them. You can use these to navigate to articles of interest. In the interest of convenience however, I present here a list of the categories as links you can use. If you click on a link you will see all the articles under that category. They are always arranged in reverse date order (latest on top). Some articles are multi-part. If you see a “part II” scroll a bit further down to find the part I.

 

Categories:

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Philosophy: Mostly metaphysics and epistemology in the English analytic tradition. The starting point is presently fleshed out in my books (presently 3 in number) described in this philosophy subcategory my books.

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Cigar Reviews: One of my present hobbies (I have had many). There are many reviews here focused mostly on affordable cigars (under $10). There are a surprising number of very excellent cigars in the single digit price range.

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General Cigar Articles: About cigars and associated products. Covers “care and feeding” of a cigar collection.

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Rum Reviews: A hobby enhancing my enjoyment of cigars. Many reviews.

 

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Bourbon Reviews: A couple of reviews here.

 

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A few non-rum related pairing options. Some of these I haven’t touched in years.

General Spirit Articles: Pairing drink with cigars.

Hope you enjoy. I continue to add to the blog in all categories. Hope you will like and/or comment.

January 25, 2017

Rum Review: Real McCoy small batch 12 year old rum

Rum Review: Real McCoy small batch 12 year old rum

Back in the days of prohibition in the U.S., the spirits sold in the speakeasies (or maybe from the back of a truck) were frequently watered down. The story goes that one particular rum runner, Bill McCoy, loaded a boat with rum in the Caribbean, and sailed it up to New York where he remained in international waters (the 3 mile limit) and passed his rum on to boats that came out to meet him making I would think a tidy profit in the process. Bill McCoy gained a reputation for moving only honest unadulterated product into the black market channels for distilled spirits. “The real McCoy” became American idiom for “honest whiskey”, and soon after for anything genuine.

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The Real McCoy rum series (there is a 3 year, 5 year, and 12 year) is the creation of Bailey Pryor who did a documentary on Bill McCoy and in the process met R. L. Seale of Foursquare rums. The Real McCoy is a result of their collaboration, a “Barbados style” (it says so on the label) rum mixing pot and column still distillates. According to the website (linked here) a good part of the idea was to keep the rum honest. Each of the age statements represent the youngest rum in the standard blended product. It is also made without added sugars or anything else.

A picture of the standard 12 year blend (black label) appears at the end of the review. There are reviews of the standard 12 year on several well known rum sites like Inu Akena and The Fat Rum Pirate. It appears to be a very good rum, but alas I have not tried it…

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What I have tried, pictured here, is a special “small batch” 2016 release aged in both charred American bourbon, and Portuguese Madeira casks for a full 12 years (total). I assume it is a blend, the label makes no mention of a single barrel. The white label sets it off, bottled at 46% ABV (as compared to 40% for the production blend). The price of this special product is about $50, while the standard blend is about $40. It comes in a nice old fashioned sort of bar bottle, with a plastic-capped cork stopper that gives a satisfying pop when pulled. Let’s get to the rum…

Color: Medium amber, slightly red. Very appealing.

Legs: When you swirl the rum in the glass the tiniest droplets form and take forever to coalesce into very thick drops that run very slowly down the glass.

Aroma: Apricot, burnt sugars (treacle), molasses, raisin, some alcohol, tobacco. As always there seems to be something different in every whiff. Good smells though. Want to keep breathing it in.

Flavors: Very creamy from the beginning. There is the burnt sugar from the nose, but also a distinctly cinnamon note, some chocolate, tobacco, ripe grape, apricot again, and a little touch of oaky bitterness. The finish is long, smooth, and sweet. Some heat comes up but gets spread out over the finish and never burns. Very nice. The Foursquare pedigree is notable in the creaminess and depth of the flavors. Very nice.

For the price ($49) at my retailer this is close to as good as the slightly less expensive ($42) Foursquare Zinfandel and Port cask products. Purely a matter of taste here, I think the Real McCoy is a little more complex perhaps but less cleanly refreshing. In any case it is a very good rum and I know I will have to pick up a bottle of the standard black label 12 year on my next visit to my local retailer so I can review that one too.

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The cigar pictured above is a Rodrigo “Corona Project” house blend I reviewed before over here. The rum goes well with every smoke I’ve tried with it. If there’s a little roasted nut or sweet woodiness in the cigar, this rum will bring it out a bit.

Drink up me hearties!

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Rum Review: Smith & Cross

Rum Review: Smith & Cross

There is a comment to a review somewhere that begins “anyone who says they drink this rum neat is a lieing sack of…. “. No need to complete the sentence this being a family forum and all…

But I’m here to tell you that it ain’t so! Not only do I drink this rum neat, it is actually best that way. I expected something harsh. That is not what I get here… But let’s take things in order.

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Bottled at 57% ABV there is going to be some fire here. The back label says it is a mix of Plummer and Wedderburn pot still rums. It is 100% pot still. “Plummer” and “Wedderburn” turn out to be names in a classification system used (perhaps) by the British admiralty and I cannot find much else about this particular system, but I’ll keep looking. Smith & Cross is a 50/50 mix of Wedderburn aged less than 1 year, and Plummer aged from 18 months to 3 years. It seems to me that these age ranges leave a lot of room for flavor and texture differences from batch to batch. I imagine each rum might be blended with various barrels of itself before the two types are mixed. In any case this is a young rum compared to most of what I’ve been drinking lately.

I did learn that this is a “high ester” rum (you can taste that) and that these esters come from the distillery’s use of dunder. Esters are molecules formed from combination of various alcohols and acids. Our nose happens to be sensitive to esters. That is, we smell them, they are an important part of what we call flavor, and their aromas are like all kinds of ripe fruit. If I recall my chemistry years butyric acid and ethyl alcohol form a banana smelling ester. Esters come from a few places in the production chain, notably fermentation. They are volatile molecules and so come over from the finished mash to the distillate. Some also develop in aging depending on the barrels. Ester production is greatly enhanced if the distiller uses dunder.

A dunder is what is left over from a previous fermentation run. It tends to be pretty disgusting, and often some of this stuff is left to age in pits for a while where it gets even more disgusting. I’ve never been there but I’m told the smell of ripe dunder will make you sick. If true it’s because of all the esters, an extraordinary number and density of esters! It turns out that if you take a little bit of this stuff and mix it into the still along with a fresh batch of sugars and yeasts (Smith & Cross use natural yeasts native to Jamaica), those esters get into the distillate and from there into the barrels where they end up producing an incredibly rich and usually fruity rum. Let’s get to the rum!

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Color: Pale light amber, almost yellow
Legs: The rum forms tiny droplets that take forever to form into legs and run thick and slowly down the glass

The nose is full of ripe fruit. Pineapple dominates and there is grape, banana, and rich brown sugar. There is alcohol on the nose but not as much as I expected from a young 57% ABV, and there is also a little of that Jamaican funk but not a lot.

Flavors reflect the nose well. Pineapple comes first followed by other ripe fruits, dark fruit, brown sugar, molasses, and caramel. This rum is creamy from the first sip. I don’t know how they do that without any additives but it’s amazing. On the swallow there is fire, but it quickly transforms into a smooth and sweet medium finish. The funk is there too, but not overmuch and the fruit definitely dominates over the funk. I tried adding a little water. That brings out the funk a bit more but at the cost of diluting the fruit. I prefer this rum neat despite its ABV.

This is the second fruity rum I’ve come across lately, the other being the Mezan Jamaican. The flavors seem related. The Mezan also smacks of pineapple and other tropical fruits, but in the Mezan they are fresh fruit flavors while in the Smith & Cross they come across very ripe. There isn’t any dark fruit in the Mezan and the funk while present there is lighter, but the up-front pineapple definitely ties the two rums together.

At $40 locally I will surely be buying more Smith & Cross.

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Information, Life, and the Big Bang

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In 2014 William Dembski published “Being as Communion: A Metaphysics of Information” what he calls (in the introduction) a capstone on a trilogy that began with “The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities” (1998) and continued with “No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence” (2001). In the first two books Dembski spends his time building an argument about the unlikelihood of even simple life’s “information content” assembling itself accidentally on the Earth of some 3 to 4 billion years past.

Considering the Earth could only have supported any conceivable life as recently as 4 billion years ago, life appeared rather soon after supportive conditions developed. Dembski concludes (and you can read the books to follow the math) the probability of that much information assembling itself in that little time is about 1 x 10^-150. The same basic principles hold true for life’s evolution to its present forms adding an extraordinary amount of extra information along the way. Dembski understands Darwinian mechanisms. He carefully evaluates their capacity to assemble such an information pyramid by accident given the possible range of chemical interactions that occur among all the molecules of the nascent biological Earth on up to the present day. He shows again that it is incredibly unlikely for evolution to have been nothing but an accidental combination of mutation and selection.

In his third book Dembski goes on the offensive and focuses not on the unlikelihood of accidental life and evolution to present forms, but its impossibility. He does this by adding to his previous analysis a principle understood and accepted by today’s physics community; “Conservation of Information”. The concept is simple enough. A given system of mass-energy with boundary conditions (including energy flow) cannot express more information than was put into it somewhere.

To see how this all plays out over the history of the universe is the purpose of this essay. Dembski misses something important by leaving open when exactly the information needed to specify life (and next evolution) is added. Dembski happens to believe in a Christian God so he has no problem with the idea of information added to the world at life’s origin. But he leaves open the possibility the information comes not from God, but perhaps aliens. Also open is the notion the necessary information was there at the beginning, at the big bang, leading to a panpsychism, or for that matter that we are living in a computer simulation (another version of aliens) adding information as the code grinds on.

What Dembski misses (or fails to appreciate properly) is that the fundamental discoveries of physics point to a late introduction of the information needed to assemble genuine life. It is my aim here to fill in that gap. Beyond this, Dembski goes on to note that our only experience of information-creation or addition to the world is our own intelligent designs. If information is conserved, and its only source is intelligence, the universe’s initial information must come from some intelligence somewhere. Again this leaves open the possibility of super-aliens, computer simulation, or God. If Dembski is right that information is conserved, then either the universe’s information originates in some intelligence or it was all there from its beginning. If it was there from the beginning, if it was a part of the physical universe at the big bang, where in physics is it found? Does what physics finds at the beginning provide for everything from stars to conscious observers?

Information as understood by physics is of three types, Shannon information, Kolmogorov information, and semantic information. I review these more extensively in my books. A brief summary will do here. Information in all these forms is exclusionary. A hypothetically information-less collection of matter energy, displaying no behavioral regularities, contains within itself a well-nigh infinite potential of future possible states. But there is no such collection because the nature  of matter-energy and the regularities we observe depend on information. Information, beginning with its first expression in “natural law”, restricts present potentials and future possibilities. Our universe, its fundamental material regularities, allows everything from black holes to consciousness, but the possible future states of a present state anywhere in the universe, or for the whole universe, are not infinite.

On a cosmic scale, the specific history of our universe cannot have been much different than it was given its initial information. A stable universe of undifferentiated energy, mint-jelly, or Boltzman brains is ruled out of genuinely possible histories. Information configures matter-energy in some way. This is an important characteristic or property of information, more particularly its causal effect on matter-energy, and is understood and accepted by modern physics.

Claude Shannon developed formula for computing the quantity of information that could be unambiguously (clearly received) over a communication channel having a certain bit rate (number of detectable state changes per second) and some amount of noise. No information channel is noise free in the real world thanks to the second law of thermodynamics. Shannon information isn’t about any particular message, but about how much message a channel can carry. Capacity might be measured over time as it is in digital communications and radios, or in some other measure, for example the length of a DNA segment or a chromosome. The exclusion principle comes in trivially here. A particular message on a channel excludes other messages on that same channel at the same time or in the same place.

Kolmogorov information is about the complexity of a message. The message BBBBBBB is less complex than the message BCADFGE. We can re-write the first as 7B while the second requires all 7 characters in the correct order. Notice that the message FGCBAED is a different message but has exactly the same complexity as BCADFGE. Something like CCCABBF is intermediate in complexity because 3CA2BF requires only 6 characters to specify a 7 character message. Again we note the exclusivity property. Any one message of any complexity excludes all others.

Semantic information concerns what a message (information) means. Normally associated with human mind semantic information is plausibly characteristic of consciousness in general. Life, even without consciousness, displays metaphorical meaning. This meaning is metaphorical because life doesn’t apprehend it. Rather meaning is imputed to life by consciousness, and seemingly always by human consciousness. Importantly to physics, there is no semantic meaning, metaphorical or otherwise, in nonliving, material process. The purposelessness of material mechanism reflects its lack of semantic meaning. “Purposeless mechanism” and “absence of semantic meaning” are two sides of the same coin.

Information expresses itself, one way or another by configuring matter-energy whether the flow of electrons on a wire, persisting patterns, or a recognition of significance (meaning) of a configuration to consciousness. We are now in a position to understand the connection between information, life, and the big bang.

Information, the potential-reducing patterning of some chunk of matter-energy, expresses itself differently depending on boundary conditions, and energy flows. Boundary conditions reflect information in the wider chunk of matter-energy that has causal input on expression in the bounded chunk. Theoretically that would be everything in the past light cone of the inner most bounded chunk, but this is often so vast a space and time that we ignore most of it. The word ‘chunk’ here refers to the matter-energy of some particular region of space and through some bounded time. Every expansion of view to wider and wider spacetime chunks encompasses more matter-energy configured by information whose expression is in turn influenced by even wider chunks. ‘Causal effect’ is a function of forces, fields, with which matter-energy both brings about and with which it interacts. For my purposes, it matters not whether we view matter-energy as the product of fields (as in quantum field theory) or fields as a product of more fundamental matter (charged particles). Both views rest on the same fundamental information.

The first boundary conditions of our universe are the particular qualities of the forces describable in information theoretic terms. These forces restrict what can happen at any given “next instant”. When we gaze into the heavens what we see, the stars, galaxies, clusters, clusters of clusters, interlocking streams of clusters going on as far as our telescopes can peer. At the largest scales, distribution of these substructures appears random, but just inside the largest scale, there is clearly an expressed arrangement. The matter-energy of the universe is not distributed randomly at all scales. Our particular arrangement, can be described as a measure of complexity; Kolmogorov information. That state, any given “state of the universe”, changes into new states. The entire universe has a capacity, a limit, at which the evolving information expression advances. There is a limit to the rate at which change in the universe takes place. The universe has a Shannon information limit.

Cosmologists and physicists have long recognized the structures of the universe are, over-all, a natural outworking of a tension between positive energy expressed as temperature and pressure and negative energy known by its more common name, gravity. A cold cloud of hydrogen gas and dust floating around in space has more entropy than the star which eventually forms from it. It is gravity (negative energy) that reduces entropy in the gas cloud by consolidating it, restricting the freedom of its individual atoms to be anywhere in the much larger region of space that was the cold cloud. At cosmic scales, gravity is the great reducer of entropy. It does this by folding space around mass. Mass migrates inward (falls) toward the center of the folding which happens to be always what we call the “center of gravity”.

Taking entropy out of a system like this makes it more difficult for photons to escape it. Folding space compresses electromagnetic forces (constraining photons) heating the contracting gas producing more rapid particle motion, raising temperature, and increasing pressure. Eventually the gas heats up enough that fusion occurs and the resulting release of positive energy balances ever-present negative gravitational energy. But why does the balancing out occur here at this point? Why isn’t gravity strong enough to overcome fusion and keep folding space until a black hole forms more or less immediately?

The balance occurs at fusion, and gravity and pressure combine to make all the structures of the physical universe, thanks to the cosmological settings. The causal regularities we call “natural law” rest on the settings. The settings (there are some 20 of these seemingly arbitrary values among them the “cosmological constant”, the value of the “Higgs field”, the “fine structure constant”, and the “proton-electron mass ratio”) limit the ways in which matter-energy can interact. The particular interactions that occur are a reflection of the settings under boundary conditions holding at any given place and time. The settings are the minimal information present at or shortly after the big bang.

The star balanced at fusion expresses the same information as the cold gas cloud from which it formed. Both are deterministic expressions, patterning in behavior, of the same settings. At the opposite end of the size scale from stars, at the building blocks of matter (the fundamental particles of the present Standard Model) to molecules the same settings restrict behavior. At the small scales the important forces are the electromagnetic (molecular scale), and the strong/weak forces (nuclear scale). The same settings pattern matter on a different scale from the cosmological under differently relevant, microscopic, boundary conditions.

When mass-energy at a macroscopic scale is somewhere in thermodynamic equilibrium its state expresses the information present in the settings under that equilibrium. For the expression to change, to evolve, boundary conditions must change. That change rests causally on the flow of energy through the system. Change is also inextricably bound up with time. The seemingly simple notion of time is anything but simple. Is time something fundamental, perhaps even more fundamental than space (Unger/Smolin “The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time” 2014), or does it emerge from (and amount to) an averaging (as temperature is an averaging of molecular velocity) of the change in the quanta of space (Carlo Rovelli “Things Are Not as they Seem” 2016)? Does time exist at all, perhaps being nothing more than a meaning (semantic information) consciousness associates with measuring the rate of change (Julian Barbour “The End of Time” 1999). For purposes of this essay, nothing depends on this controversy. Time, one way or another, is an ingredient of every boundary condition and energy flow throughout the universe at all scales.

Significantly, when change occurs ordered patterns emerge. A star is ordered in this way compared with a gas cloud We note the same phenomena in columns of bubbles rising in the simmering water in a pot. The ordering in all of these cases is the result of a coupling between the settings, the boundary conditions, and energy flow. For my purposes below, I lump energy flow into the boundary conditions but the reader should always be aware that if changes in information expression are occurring, energy is somewhere flowing through the system. There are a few scientists who claim this emergence of order is enough to explain the eventual appearance of life, but this cannot be true. As I discuss below, life exhibits a new kind of ordering that never appears in non-living phenomena; and ordering requiring information not present in the settings directly though of course it remains consistent with them.

All the phenomena of the universe from the layout of the galaxies and down to the behavior of atoms in crystals and amino acids directly express cosmological settings under different boundary conditions, and these in turn also rest on the settings. The settings are the information present at (or within a second) of the big bang. They are information because they do what information does, they restrict or exclude possibilities by constraining what they pattern. The behavior of quarks, protons, neutrons, electrons, or the effect of gravity, isn’t random. The settings restrict the values of the forces and those constrain the behavior of everything else from quarks to superclusters.

The limits, patterns of behavior, vary as conditions change, the changes themselves “caused” (some would prefer “unfold into”) by those same regularities. Two seconds after the big bang all the settings were already in place. The strong, weak, and electrostatic forces had to exist as they now do for there to come into existence protons, neutrons, electrons, and a few nuclei of helium and lithium. Given the enormous pressures and tempretures of the environment (boundary) of the big bang in its first seconds, the building block particles where the expression of the settings. Given 14 billion years of evolution, we have the universe of today, an expression of the same settings. Up to a point.

If the Conservation of Information theorem is correct the information respresented by cosmological structure or molecules had to be put into the universe as it has evolved over time, or it had to be there at its beginning. Cosmologists today mostly believe that this information was in fact all present from the beginning, or at least within a few microseconds of the big bang. Physics and cosmology has convincingly shown the settings plus gravity explain the present structure of the cooled down universe. Granting that all of this information was present at or near the beginning from where did it come?

At first cosmologists thought perhaps the values had to be what they now are; not arbitrary but rather forced out of the boundary condition of the big bang. But a hundred years of theoretical effort to derive them has failed to prove the necessity of these particular values. The now fashionable answer is the values sprang (quickly evolved) into their values purely by accident, by sheer coincidence. Recognizing the improbability of this, cosmology and physics have spawned many theories of multiuniverses (Max Tegmark “Our Mathematical Universe” 2014) in which the settings take on all manner of random values. The idea is that given billions of such universes, it is not inconceivable that one would occur in which the settings took the values we observe. That they did so here makes the eventual appearance of observers possible and it should not be surprising that observers find themselves existing in such an unlikely universe. This idea, called the “Anthropic Principle” (Brandon Carter Krakow symposium 1973, Barrow and Tipler “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle” 1987), must be at least trivially true. Since we exist, it must be possible for us to exist within the constraints (remember information restricts possibilities) of the cosmological settings.

Of course there are plausible “intelligent alternatives”. God might have constrained the settings to obtain the physical universe we occupy, a physical universe supporting eventual life and consciousness. A few honest physicists have noted the unlikeliness of the settings would not be surprising if there is a God. Besides God, the intelligent alternatives coming from science have tended to pure science fiction speculation of super-aliens (effectively demigods) or perhaps computer simulations (also implying super-aliens). Such speculative alternatives all involve beings like ourselves only having far advanced cognitive abilities and technology. Such beings either live with us in our universe or inhabit their own universe outside our own. Either way, all the cosmological origin questions remain. But multiuniverse theories require only more physics; perhaps other physical universes of some sort. This is why the science community prefers such otherwise unverifiable speculations. But they are not better explanations. They do not, for example, extend to consciousness very well.

There is something more to notice about information re-expression based solely on the settings and evolving boundary conditions. All of these expressions, that is everything governed primarily by gravity as the source of negative energy, electromagnetism, or nuclear forces are repeating structures. Every proton is identical to every other proton, and all the galaxies, while differing widely in specific shape and size are gravitationally bound rotating collections of stars very often influenced by a large central black hole (dark matter is a part of the boundary conditions forming and maintaining these structures). If you consider any given cubic meter of a star’s interior at some distance between its center and periphery, it is much like any other cubic meter of that same star at the same distance from the center.

At almost the opposite end of universal size scales, the most informationally complex structures are homogeneous crystals and relatively simple organic molecules like amino acids which themselvs will form crystal structures under the right boundary conditions. There is a large negative entropy difference between a freely floating gas of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, and an amino-acid composed of those same elements. But that reduction, purchased in the molecular case with the energy of electrostatic bonds, is nothing more than a structure that arises automatically thanks to the settings under particular boundary conditions. From the crystallization of water (ice) to the formation of amino-acids, as with gravity, entropy reduction is associated only with the production of regular repeating structures whose variation depends solely on the nature of the settings and boundary conditions which are themselves the result of the setting and their own larger-scale boundary conditions.

This situation changes dramatically when we look at life. Galaxy formation, stars, and amino acids are an immediate response to entropy reduction caused directly by gravity or electrostatic forces under specific conditions. Once any of these arise they become stable. Only changing boundary conditions alter their stable states. Even dynamic but presently stable stars are in a stable equilibrium condition with pressure balancing gravity.

But living systems differ from any nonliving information expressions in several ways. Their stability is never merely a simple equilibrium, but rather the product of many interactions dynamically reducing entropy in the living organism over all. Of course living processes cause entropy increase in the environment, the boundary within which life operates, and there are living processes that spend heat in support of neg-entropic mechanism. Life exhibits a persistent battle against entropy and is never in internal equilibrium. If a living organism comes to complete equilibrium, or its entropic activity dominates, the organism dies. More importantly, life’s neg-entropy mechanisms achieve their effect not by the simple surrender to the consequences of the settings but rather to active mechanisms that map or translate information from one form into another. Living systems are filled with little engines that map information from one form into another reducing entropy in the system over all as a by-product. No comparable mechanisms exist in the nonliving cosmos.

The most familiar of these living mechanisms is the multistep interaction chain, associated with many intermediate structures themselves built up out of the same process, of mapping information in DNA to proteins. Obedient to the Conservation of Information theorem, this creates no new information. Rather, information is mapped from one expression to another. But the mechanism itself, a mapping engine, is new. None of this works apart from the limits imposed by the settings. But unlike stars, life’s entropy reduction is not a direct outcome of the settings, but of an entropy reducing transfer of information from one form to another.

The complexity of life frames a further limit on the space of possibility within the restriction imposed by the settings. It amounts to new information besides the settings alone. A protein’s biological functionality is not merely the result of its electostatic forces, but also its physical shape. True, the shape is the result of electrostatic forces, but an identically force-balanced molecule of a different shape will not work. Many differently shaped molecules might have identical force balances. The biological activity of a particular shape is a restriction not found in the settings alone. Life’s information is a restriction on top of a restriction and that demands more information. Where did this more come from?

Once again science, this time biology down through chemistry to physics, declares that it was all, like the settings, a lucky accident. Yes, they admit, unlikely, but not impossible and if it hadn’t happend on Earth, we would not be around to comment on it. In his first two books, Dembski explains just how unlikely such an accidental assembly is; thousands of different translations, hundreds of thousands of molecular arrangements, functioning as an integrated system, a living organism. In his third book Dembski argues that the information difference between nonliving processes and the simplest conceivable life (simpler than anything we find on Earth today) could not possibly come to exist accidentally. If life’s arrangement cannot be a direct product of the settings alone (the only information present in the big bang and throughout the evolution of the nonliving cosmos) its accidental appearance would be a violation of the Conservation of Information principle. What Dembski misses (at least I do not remember him mentioning it) is that life’s entropy reduction mechanism, complexity translation, is nowhere else exhibited in the interactions of the nonliving cosmos. From intergalactic clusters to amino acids none of the accumulated information is carried through translation mechanisms. It is all the immediate expressions of the settings under specific conditions.

For science to declare the one “life origin” event we know of is an accidental product of the settings plus boundary conditions directly is question begging and most scientists know this. “Accidental” is not a valid generalization from a single observation. Even if life on Earth originated on Mars (some cosmologists do assert this is a possibility), the question of how Mars’ life began still stands. Plausibly however, life-harboring planets around other stars are effectively isolated from one another. Life on such worlds originates and evolves independently.

What a discovery of genuine life on the planets of other stars would mean depends on what we find. Finding something indisputably alive but much simpler than the simplest life on Earth, would lend credence to the view that initial assembly might be accidental. Perhaps some life is so simple (something true also of long vanished early life on Earth) that it is not so unlikely after all. But if what we find on one or even dozens of other worlds is that all life is complex, different perhaps but on the same order of complexity as the simplest life on Earth, the hypothesis of “accidental appearance” gets all the more problematic. If, as Dembski claims, the chance of life springing into being accidentally on Earth is 1 x 10^-150, it is half as likely to have happened twice, let alone multiple times.

The rest of Dembski’s argument is straightforward. Human beings, observers in the universe, know of (that is experience and observe) only one source of new information in the universe; intelligent agency. For materialists to claim that this too, that is what we experience subjectively as intelligent agency, is nothing more than an outcome of the settings and boundary conditions, begs the same question as regards life. The “only example one has” of anything cannot be the ground of a valid inductive generalization. If the only life we ever find is complex enough to be highly unlikely there are only three possibilities. The absurdly unlikely happened, there is something fundamental that we are missing in physics, or life’s information came from the outside, from intelligent agency. In all my writing including this essay I have taken for granted there is not something fundamental missing in physics.

Physics may not be finished thanks to the problem of unifying gravity and quantum mechanics, but it has nailed a few fundamentals. It has adequately dispensed with the idea there is an “invisible force” that pushes physical regularity toward the assembly of living information. We find nothing of this in classical physics or quantum mechanics. If physics is correct as concerns its own causal closure, then life’s information had to be added at a place and time when boundary conditions were supportive. If some intelligent agency acted at life’s origin (perhaps on many worlds) then the same agency’s action, to fix the settings, at the big bang would not be at all surprising. The settings are fixed as they are in support of [eventual] developing boundary conditions conducive to life’s origination.

This notion must also apply to life’s evolution on Earth to the point of emerging consciousness, and in particular a personal consciousness (discussed at length in other essays on the blog). Over a mere 3 billion years an amazing quantity of new information (Kolmogorov complexity) assembles from primitive cells to organisms having subjective experience. Subjectivity at least begins with the higher animals, but it makes the transition into “observer status” only in human beings. Animals observe their environment in the sense of integrating sensory experience in a subjective gestalt. But being an OBSERVER implies more than mere observation, it implies recognition of meaning implicit in observation but not of the observation as such. This brings me to final consideration of semantic information.

Semantic information, taken most broadly, is prelinguistic, but not preconscious. A lion easily distinguishes between a zebra and the tree next to it. It grasps the zebra is potential food and the tree is not. The discrimination between zebra and tree has meaning to lion consciousness. Given memory and subjective experience an association links ‘zebra’ to the relief of hunger. Semantic information is transferred not by translation from one physical carrier to another, but from some such physical state to a subject. Meaning is meaning to a subject. Compared to biological information, semantic information is one step further removed from the settings. Many discrete sets of biophysical states ground a particular persisting consciousness, while different conscious experiences follow from similar biophysical states. Semantic information is largely independent of the physics underlying it and exists only to consciousness.

The uncoupling of semantic information from physical information continues in human consciousness. A zebra means [potential] food to a lion whether it is hungry at the moment or not. Both lions and humans apprehend meanings in this way, we are after all animals. But human beings not only apprehend meanings, they also abstract and evaluate them. Abstraction and evaluation combine to suggest meanings not immediately apprehended. This (and our volitional power to control our bodies) underlies our capacity to put new information into the world, literally to pattern matter-energy restricting its future potentials. Humans alone are capable of adding information, arising in subjective abstractions, to the world. Lions are not. We create art, and airplanes. Flying airplanes are like biological activity in the outcomes of information mapping engines. A successful mapping creates not only a biologically active molecule, but one that functions in a role specified by biological demands. A flying airplane signals a successful combination of semantic information and physics (purposeless mechanisms resting on the settings) whose proper role is specified by subjective intent to build a flying machine.

In a living cell there is nothing in the chain of events from DNA to a shaped protein that relies on anything other than the basic forces whose fundamental information, present at the big bang, is the settings. In this case, the electrostatic forces are dominant, but everything has its effect on the outcome. There does not appear to be anything in life that originates outside the physical world. As with the settings, once information is put in somewhere, life’s day-to-day operation exhibits nothing but outcomes explained by the forces (settings), and boundaries now including life, that cell, itself. But life’s delicately balanced self-maintenance does not address the issue of how its information originates. If the Conservation of Information theorem is true, then not only was its accidental assembly unlikely, it is impossible.

Individuals are free, of course, to believe life’s origin and evolution was accidental. But the argument that they were nothing of the kind is clearly plausible, even reasonable compared with much speculation from materialists. When we arrive at human beings, a new power springs from life through consciousness. Not only is there a mapping from some physical “state of affairs” to a meaning apprehended in consciousness, but uniquely, humans can map abstract meanings from consciousness to the world. Abstraction capable language marks the final separation between information and the settings.

The word ‘palo’ in Spanish means ‘tree’ in English. Either might refer to some particular tree or to the class or kind ‘tree’, and both are equally compatible with the settings and boundary conditions up through all of biology. All human languages are of course compatible with human biology everywhere on Earth. Expressing a single abstract meaning in different languages demonstrates the complete decoupling of semantic meaning from the settings. Completing the decoupling begun with life and continued in animal consciousness grounds both human free will and our power to create information.

This capacity, the free-willed intelligent creation (by arrangement of matter-energy) of new information, demands new information. If everything that happens in the universe expresses information, such novel power rests on information not previously present; information added not to matter-energy directly, but to consciousness. I go into what this implies in more detail in my books and the blog essay “Why Personality?”

All the information from the settings to life, supposing they come from outside physics, might conceivably (however implausibly) be the work of aliens, or perhaps we live in a computer simulation. Consciousness poses a special problem because unlike the universe and life, it is plausibly both real and nonmaterial. A corollary of life’s physical nature is that living process isn’t intrinsically conscious. Nothing about biology, however complex, suggests an emergence of subjective experience. It isn’t clear that any subjectivity can emerge from a causally closed physics; not even accidentally given infinite time! Human consciousness poses an additional problem. Even the highest animal consciousness does not display an ability to configure the world in novel ways based on new meanings conceived first (and not merely apprehended) in consciousness!

Human beings can shape the world based on thoughts whose origin has little direct connection to immediate sensory experience or memory. Of course our creative thinking includes apprehended meaning. But human creativity goes beyond experience to first postulate new, associative meanings, and then test their validity (truth content) by configuring physical subsystems that function (like shaped proteins) in their intended roles. Art, philosophy, and technology are all predicated on the validity of meanings originating in consciousness.

If aliens did this, from life (at least) to subjectivity capable of original creation, directly or in a computer simulation, they would stand in relation to us much as religion’s claims for God. Not entirely, for it is not an entailment of the alien hypothesis that aliens be for example omnipotent. If however we live in the matrix, a computer simulation, then omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence within the context of the program are reasonable inferences.

If the aliens are a product of this universe, the matter of the settings, and how the alien life started and evolved, appears. The alien hypothesis settles no philosophical issues. If aliens created the universe itself, and it is not a simulation then their universe must be something outside, apart from the physical as we see it from inside our universe. Even if one insists this outside is physical it cannot be “our physical”. There must, in this view, still be something outside our universe. But none of this matters because if any of these speculations are even remotely true, then something or someone added information, at least beginning with life if not the big bang, to the universe, our universe! It doesn’t matter if the agency is divine or not or if the information came from aliens inside or outside the universe. It isn’t necessary to assume that this agency must be purposefully intelligent. But evidence at least suggests that it exhibits all the characteristics of purposeful intelligence as we observers experience it.

If any of this speculation is true, physics must still give up the idea that “no such information came from anywhere”. There is some irony here. The speculation taken most seriously by the materialist community is that all we know as our world was genuinely an accident; precisely the “no information from anywhere” hypothesis. The irony is that this hypothesis is the one least supported by all the evidence, even the purely material evidence of life. Life is the first, partial decoupling from the settings. That decoupling depends on information not present in the settings. If the Conservation of Information theorem is true, life’s information had to come from somewhere other than physics.

There is nothing in physics, nothing in the strict causal closure of the physical that is incompatible with information coming in from the outside. Purposeless mechanism (a valid insight of physics) and purposeful information added by an intelligent, at least intelligent seeming, source are not incompatible. This is almost a trivial truth as concerns human experience. We configure purposeless mechanism (mechanism of the physical world) with our own purposes all the time. Our entire technological history not to mention art, science, and philosophy begin with that ability. If physics and intelligent agency get along as we experience them, and if our universe is everywhere basically the same, there is no reason to insist that agency characteristic of intelligence did not add information to the universe possibly starting with the big bang. Only an agency outside the universe explains everything, where all the information came from, including the universe, the settings. Physics cannot address itself to the nature of that agency because whether it is physical or not, it is not a part of our universe.

Cigar Review: Casa Cuba Flor Fina

Cigar Review: Casa Cuba Flor Fina

It has been a while since I stumbled on a new cigar. I recently tried the Caldwell “Long Live the King” line I will review another time, but about a month before Christmas I stumbled on these Casa Cuba from Arturo Fuente and the Tabacelera factory in the Dominican Republic! I think this is the nicest cigar since I stumbled on Roma Craft a few years back.

casacuba1

Size: The box says 4.5 x 54″, but I measure them out to 4.75″ x 52. In either case a classic robusto.
Wrapper: Ecuadorian Havana
Binder: Dominican (unspecified)
Filler: Cuban seed Dominican

Smell: light, tobacco and fresh hay.
Cold draw: hay, grass, and salt
Pack: firm and even but medium in weight. Not dense.

casacuba2

Lighting up the first thing you notice is the draw, just enough to tell you something is there, but not in any way a strain to smoke. It stays exactly this way throughout the smoke. I’ve had 8 of these now and they are one of the best and most consistently constructed cigars I’ve smoked. I had to make one small burn correction on this one at the beginning, and then never again. You also notice the smoke output. This cigar is a rich and creamy smoke producer. Again, the same all the way down.

The flavors are sweet and distinct if somewhat light. The first notes are light tobacco, pepper, and hay. A half inch in I get nut, leather, hay, and mowed grass notes. There is pepper all the way along too but not overwhelming and none of the sour notes often found in Dominican blends. The retrohale is filled with roasted nut, nutmeg, sweet burning wood, wintergreen, and hay. In the last third of the cigar the sweetness fades but never disappears as the pepper comes forward.

Strength stays a solid medium all the way along the smoke. It’s nice and slow too, this particular example took an hour and thirty to finish with flavors persisting all the way down to the nub. I was surprised how long it lasted given the gentle draw, but despite a light/medium pack, the tobacco burned very slowly. The flavors are never in your face, but always there hanging around. They don’t vary much throughout the cigar either, there are not a lot of transitions, but it’s good all the way along to the end.

If I remember these sticks were near $9 a stick at the box level. That makes them a little expensive for me. I’ve smoked more flavorful $9 cigars, but given the construction, smoke output, sweetness, and all the other great things about this stick, including some very sweet if light flavors, I’m sure I will want more if I can ever afford them again.

The rum being paired here is a Foursquare Zinfandel Cask Blend Reviewed here.

Rum Review: Foursquare Zinfandel Cask Blend

Rum Review: Foursquare Zinfandel Cask Blend

In the closing months of 2016 I discovered 10 delicious rums all new to me. Three of these were from Foursquare distillery of Barbados under the direction of R. L. Seale. I reviewed two of these, the “2004” and “Port Cask Finish” last year calling them possibly the best rums I’ve ever had. At the time of their discovery I learned about this third member of the group but until recently couldn’t find any. That changed a few weeks ago and this offering is even better than the others!

So what do we have here with this Foursquare Zinfandel Cask Blend? Aged 11 years in bourbon barrels and then [dry] zinfandel wine casks, bottled at 43% ABV. The label says clearly that there are no additives in this rum just like its cousins.

zincask1

Color: A beautiful medium amber
Swirled: Forms tiny droplets a few coalescing into thin and slow running legs.
Aroma: Brown sugar, maple syrup, raisen, and only a little alcohol. There are no burnt notes in the aroma, only sweetness. This perhaps the best smelling rum ever!

Sipped it is very smooth and creamy. There is a nice warmth going down the throat, but it comes up gradually and never burns. Every sip has hints of brown sugar, dried apricot, coffee, raisen, and maybe a little chocolate (or I imagining that?) along with the maple syrup I noted in the aroma. The finish is a bit short, but still sweet with no bitterness. Like the aroma the flavors have no burnt notes in them.

As I finish the glass the creaminess grows richer, the sweetness and other flavors fade back a bit, and the aftertaste gets a little longer. All in all this is one hell of a rum and with no sugar or other additives must get its sweetness from its time in the zin barrels. It is my understanding that these are dry barrels too imparting flavors only and not mixing the rum with a little zinfandel remaining in the barrel.

zincask2

At $45 here in California, this has got to be one of the best rum deals in the world! I cannot recommend anything more than this. It isn’t always easy to find R. L. Seale’s work here in the U.S. and this group of three rums seems to have popped up in California fairly recently. Seale is a well known name in unadulterated rums these days and I’m very glad to have discovered his work at last.

Zinfandel cask blend, as good as rums get!

The Understandable Inconclusiveness of Metaphysics Part II

Picture of me blowing smoke

“Scientists inevitably make metaphysical assumptions, whether explicitly or implicitly, in proposing and testing their theories — assumptions which go beyond anything that science itself can legitimate. These assumptions need to be examined critically, whether by the scientists themselves or by philosophers — and either way, the critical philosophical thinking that must be done cannot look to the methods and objects of empirical science for its model. Empirical science at most tells us what is the case, not what must or may be (but happens not to be) the case. Metaphysics deals in possibilities … only if we can delimit the scope of the possible can we hope to determine empirically what is actual. This is why empirical science is dependent upon metaphysics and cannot usurp the latter’s proper role.”  E.J. Lowe “The Possibility of Metaphysics” 1998 Emphasis in the text.

 

In part I we saw the ultimate question “what must be true for the universe of our experience to be the way it is?” can be framed with or without reference to consciousness. For a nontheist physicist or philosopher who assumes there is nothing more than physics to explain there remain questions whose answers, while remaining implicitly physical, nevertheless lay beyond what physics is qualified to address. Typically, these are questions about cosmological origins (the origin of the big bang, the cosmological settings, and the lawful regularities so well described in mathematical terms) or the fundamental ground of quantum mechanics. Also included here would be the origin of life though this in a more restricted way than the others.

Most physicists understandably ignore the matter of consciousness in their work. After all, the big bang, our present “cooled down” universe, and life, predate consciousness of any biological variety by billions of years. The universe presents much to be studied and many unanswered questions besides consciousness. But those questions too have metaphysical implications because questions themselves arise in consciousness and have implications lying outside the measurable qualities of the physical universe. Avoiding the issue of consciousness permits focus on a more restricted set of answers to the “what must be true” question at the cost (possibly) of biasing the set of reasonable answers against consciousness. What is necessary for the universe to be what it is apart from consciousness might no longer be sufficient if consciousness is added back in. Nevertheless there is, presumably, much in and about the universe whose metaphysical grounds do not demand any attention to consciousness other than implications arising from the process of explanation. The mechanisms of the physical after all are antecedent to consciousness, but their explication is not.

Physicalism, the metaphysical doctrine that physical processes and substances are all that exist in the universe simpliciter. Physicalism entails a denial of consciousness, that is, there is nothing in the universe that is non-physical. The apparently non-physical subject must be an illusion. The philosophical incoherence of such a stance should be obvious. Although many illusions have physical explanations (for example a mirage) even these are had by subjects whose purportedly illusory nature is left out of the explanation. How does an illusion have experience, or perhaps we should ask what precisely can experience be if illusions can have it? Nevertheless, many physicists and philosophers take physicalism seriously. But it is one thing to accept that a physical phenomenon must have a physical explanation, while being quite another, and metaphysically irresponsible, to declare there are no nonphysical phenomena.

Naturalism is the doctrine that explanations for all physical phenomena need refer only to physical processes and substances. By itself this does not entail physicalism, but typically naturalism combines with physicalism by insisting that only what can be explained physically is real. Most naturalists are also physicalists. Naturalism masks the possibility of the nonmaterial by suggesting to complete physical explanations for the physical means there remains nothing more to explain. Put another way, there is nothing left for the nonphysical to explain. Another implication commonly accepted by naturalists but not entailed by naturalism is epistemological in nature; namely that knowledge of the physical, and what may truly said of it, can be determined only by physical measurement.

Metaphysically speaking, naturalism divorced from physicalism, is on the most solid foundation as concerns our present grasp of universe phenomena. Even if one were to believe there is a teleological component (for example a God’s purpose) for the universe, a causally closed and intrinsically purposeless physical mechanism remains possible. Purely physical explanations for the physical can in fact be complete explanations while discounting any talk of purpose as redundant.

Materialism is the doctrine that while all phenomena in the universe (including consciousness) have purely physical antecedents, it is nevertheless possible for purely physical processes to result in what appear to be irreducible (to physics) nonphysical phenomena, notably consciousness. Materialism is not committed to physicalism except as concerns origins even if such phenomena are not conceptually reducible to physics. This is to say that materialists who are not physicalists are not committed to the idea that consciousness is illusory or unreal. Materialists are committed to naturalism as concerns the purely physical, but they concede that from the subjective side, a purely natural explanation for consciousness may not in principle be possible. Materialists reject the epistemological implication of naturalism, that knowledge can only be acquired of the physical by physical measurement.

Cutting across these metaphysical distinctions are the epistemological notions of realism and antirealism. Most scientists are realists. They believe that there is a world independent of human subjective experience, and that subjective experience (coupled with measurement) accurately informs us about composition and processes of the independent world. If our best ideas (given realism) are not in any literal sense absolutely true about those constituents, they at least approximate this truth and gradually draw (perhaps asymptotically) to it as the scientific enterprise progresses. The most troubling metaphysical response from antirealists is that the connection between what we see in our heads and what is happening in the world independent of our heads seems magical or arbitrary. Realists point to predictions derived from measurement bearing out in the world. Airplanes fly. Antirealists rejoined that some set of incompatible natures might be true of the independent world that nevertheless allowed (or explained) the same outcomes.

The argument is important to scientific work because it bears on the interpretation of phenomena related to extreme or edge cases as concerns the present status of science. Realists point out that away from the edge cases, that is within our technological capacity to experiment, there are measurements from many different perspectives. The set of metaphysical possibilities entailed by any one overlaps those of others in such a way as to cancel all but a few possible ways the independent world could be. The answer to the “what must be true” question, at least as concerns the vast number of common phenomena, is mostly if not absolutely, fleshed in. While conceding that this is not a logical proof of correspondence between theory and world it is enough to persuade most scientists of the non-arbitrariness of the connection between the mental and independent physical whatever its underlying metaphysical reason.

Scientific method has a more technical term, “methodological naturalism”. Related to naturalism in that it is the methodology by which science earns naturalistic explanations. The process begins with physical observation and measurement of physical phenomena. From the observations, science develops theories and if possible, experiments to confirm or refute them. At least this is the traditional and still frequent approach that science takes. Scientists added another approach beginning roughly in the last half of the 19th century. Theories drawn from applying mathematics to the physical world became the foundation for either experimental or purely observational searches for the physical outcomes predicted by the theory or for other phenomena that ruled out those theories. The best theories, even before any attempt at confirmation or refutation are those that predict testable necessary outcomes. Philosophically, and at least as concerns strictly physical phenomena subject to physical tests, this all makes perfect sense.

That experiments or observations can confirm or refute theories about the physical world relies on the correctness (again the realist correspondence with the independent world) of a principle, the “Newtonian Paradigm”. This asserts that a given bounded or isolated system will behave like its unbounded (real) counterpart, if the environment surrounding the bounded sufficiently matches the conditions impinging on the isolated phenomenon when taken in its natural context. If all the physical causes, events, or states of affairs that impinge on a conceptually isolated physical subsystem are properly emulated in an experimentally isolated physical subsystem, the two will behave alike. What exactly constitute sufficient limits varies depending on the phenomenon under study.

Realist scientists accept that the success of the predictive power of methodological naturalism also means that we do manage to identify the appropriate boundary conditions much of the time. But not always. In the latter cases, experiments or observations are inconclusive and it remains for science to try again. The signal, the sign that a sufficient set of limits is found is the close match between unambiguous prediction of physical consequences and their experimental and observational confirmation.

There is another assumption implicit in the Newtonian Paradigm and that is that time is real and some part of the sufficient collection of limits that cancels out (typically though not always) because it applies equally everywhere. Every experiment and every observation takes place in time as do the phenomena themselves. That time moves differently in different reference frames is not much controversial these days nor should it be. But time nevertheless moves in the same direction in every reference frame except where, at the speed of light frame of photons and potentially other massless particles, time doesn’t move at all.

The Newtonian Paradigm and methodological naturalism only work to deliver explanations for conceptually isolated subsystems of the universe. If a system has no known boundaries, we cannot construct or even conceptualize suitable limits required by the Newtonian Paradigm. The physical universe, taken as a whole, is such a system. As observers in the universe, we have no grasp of possible impingement on the universe from outside it. There are a few good scientific theories about the origin of the physical universe; the origin of the big bang itself. ‘Good’ here means these theories make unambiguous physical predictions that are hypothetically observable by present (or soon to exist) instruments.

While strictly beyond the limits of the Newtonian Paradigm, all the good theories still rely on time’s reality, literally that time existed prior to the big bang. Theories that deny the reality of time or assert time begins at the big bang (or the illusion of time in consciousness is conceived as going back to the big bang) cannot possibly have physical consequences stemming from events or states of affairs before the big bang! Because they have no unambiguous consequences in the observable universe such timeless theories of the bang’s origin are, like much metaphysical speculation, open ended and utterly underdetermined by physical evidence. Multi-universes of varying types (see especially Max Tegmark’s “Our Mathematical Universe” (2014) for a very good review of them), colliding M-Branes, or a fortuitous (for us) fluctuation in the quantum vacuum.

Even if time remains real our theories do not reach to testable outcomes before the event of the big bang, only outcomes viewed in the aftermath of it. Unlike every other event from galactic formation to atomic decay the Newtonian Paradigm applies because we can observe and measure both what passes before and what after in time. As concerns the origin event of the universe there can be no unambiguous observation of the before because there was only one such event and it is now past. Our best theories might have observable consequences now and some of these narrow the possibilities of what was before. Because they all unambiguously rely on the reality of time, they confirm the reality of time!

Concerning another of the edge cases, the quantum realm, the situation with regard to the Newtonian Paradigm is a little different. We cannot be sure the limits of force and quantity that we apply with physical apparatus, are relevant to the quantum realm. This is not to deny that quantum phenomena are physical. But it may turn out that not all of what is physical is subject, in principle, to the measurement limitations of macroscopic instruments.

All of our instruments measure, one-way or another, by exchanging energy with the environment. We know that quantum phenomena result in energy transfer as their effects interact with our instruments. But unlike ordinary phenomena, bound in our experiments by emulating the energy exchange between them and that which is outside, we do not know, for the quantum realm, if any energy transfer occurs before interaction with our instruments. The instruments measure the outcome of quantum phenomena but not what happens prior to those outcomes. Although quantum systems are small, as with the big bang, we cannot view what happens to quanta before an energy exchange takes place. We can measure quantum outcomes, but not their causes or prior states-of-affairs. We do not know, as a result, what the relevant boundaries producing the effect are. As in cosmology, the upshot is an underdetermined plethora of theories lacking unambiguous predictions that would confirm or refute them.

One of the debates currently animating cosmology and impinging on the matter of cosmological origin has to do with the presence of infinities in the physical universe. Two kinds of infinities come up in cosmology, singularities, and the possible infinity of the universe as a whole. Infinities are mathematical constructs. If, like Max Tegmark (“Our Mathematical Universe” 2014) you believe the physical universe is a mathematical construct, then physical infinities are at least conceivable and ruling out their physical possibility is problematic if the universe’s governing mathematics necessarily includes them. Black holes might instantiate genuine singularities and, in the past, the big bang might have been a physical singularity. The universe might be infinite in extent.

Roberto Unger and Lee Smolin (“The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time” 2014) unhesitatingly declare there are no physical infinities. Despite the deep connection between mathematics and physics there is no observational evidence to support the idea that what is possible in mathematics must be possible in the physical universe. As deep as the regularities in physical process may go and so be subject to mathematical description, there is no guarantee that they go all the way to infinity.

Unger puts the basic issue this way: “Everything that exists in nature, including the universe and all of its phenomena and events, results from other events and phenomena in time. Everything, as Anaximander wrote, turns into everything else, under the dominion of time.

How then could the infinite come to exist, given what we see and know of the workings of nature? The universe might be indefinitely large, and some of its rudiments indefinitely small. Its history may extend indefinitely back into the past and far into the future. There is, nevertheless, and infinite difference between indefinite largeness or smallness and infinity, or between indefinite longevity and eternity, which is infinity in time.

No natural event analogous to an process that we observe in nature could jump the gap between indefinite largeness or longevity and infinity or eternity. … Consequently, the infinite could exist only if it always existed.” [Under/Smolin 2014 pp 315].

An epistemological argument that we, that is human observers, could never demonstrate a physical infinity by any empirical means and therefore never know there are (or were) physical infinities is as ironclad as an argument can get in philosophy rooted in science. We can never know, in the sense that science yields knowledge, if a physical infinity existed. By their nature all of our instruments, and any instruments we might conceivably build are finite and can measure only finite qualities and quantities. It cannot be possible ever to measure an infinity. In his “Hidden in Plain Sight VI: Why Three Dimensions” (2016) Andrew Thomas notes that no infinity has ever been observed in the universe. It is a safe bet that none ever will be seen. The epistemological argument precludes our ever observing infinity but not its metaphysical possibility. Alas Dr. Thomas did not address the question of whether an infinity instantiated in three dimensions was physically possible.

As concerns the infinite expanse of the cosmos, most cosmologists accept this argument for the limit of our possible knowledge and for other reasons tend not to believe the physical cosmos is literally infinite. But physics is less sure about the physical instantiation of mathematical singularities. Might there be an ontological argument against the possibility of physically instantiated singularities? Since there could be no experimental measurement of infinity we cannot know if any particular property or combination of properties of the observed universe is (or are) an entailment of a physical infinity. If we derived entailments, necessary effects of a physical infinity mathematically, and they turned out to be physically impossible, we would have strong ontological reasons to reject the possibility of physical infinities.

We divide possible singularities into two types; singularities which might exist at the center of black holes, and the [possible] singularity of the only “white hole” in our universe, our big bang. It seems reasonable to link the hypothetical infinity of the present material universe to that of the big bang. Could an infinite universe proceed from anything less than an infinite initial event? If the big bang was not infinite (as Unger, Smolin, and many other cosmologists for various reasons now believe) then the material universe, however great its extent must also in the end be finite. If we can rule out the infinity of the big bang we also rule out the infinity of the cosmos.

What would be the effect in the physical world of a physical infinity at the center of a black hole? We can measure the size of a black hole’s horizon, also its mass, spin, and charge. None of these is infinite. As concerns real cosmological phenomena, black holes and the big bang, differentiated matter-energy destroyed by the extraordinary physical conditions of these events leaves but three broad properties to consider, density, temperature, and pressure. Would there not be measurable physical effects of an infinite quantity of any or all of them? Can a physically instantiated infinity have subinfinite physical effects as measured at some distance from the infinity? What does distance from infinity mean for a physical universe of three observable dimensions? Could the present universe we observe today coexist with instantiated infinity?

The physics and cosmology I’ve read is not encouraging. If the mathematics of relativity did not point at infinity this debate would not be continuing. Some physicists do believe the math signals something that exists or at least might have existed. Equally many note there is (indeed can be) no physical, empirical, evidence that all mathematical expressions represent phenomena in time. Yet in all the literature I’ve explored no one has addressed the question of the physical implications of instantiated infinity.

Some theories enable physics to dismiss the matter. One approach is to declare that at infinity the normal regularities of pressure, temperature, and density simply vanish. As a result, there are no finite physical effects of infinity. Of course there is no empirical evidence (nor could there be for epistemological reasons noted above) that such an unintuitive outcome should hold and if it did, the presence or absence of instantiated infinities could not be distinguished. There aren’t any testable results that would support any distinction.

String theorists might suggest that instantiated infinities are confined to compactified unobservable dimensions. As such they have no implications, that is necessary consequences, for the four dimensions of spacetime in which we live. In Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy In the New Physics (2016) Rodger Penrose challenges the view that events in string theory’s compactified dimensions would have no implications for the stability of our spacetime. Either way string theory is not helpful here. If Penrose is right, then infinities cannot hide in compactified dimensions. If he is not right, the possibility of infinities hidden in compactified dimensions is redundant as concerns the physics of the observable universe. As with vanishing properties their existence has no testable (confirming or refuting) outcomes. We are returned to the basic question; what would be their effects if they existed?

Even if black holes contain no singularities the question of the big bang and the potential infinity of the universe remain. A hypothesized physical infinity at the big bang suffers from some of the same potential problems as physical infinities in the center of black holes. As space expanded following the big bang event the radiation cooled yielding, in temporal order, nucleosynthesis, and then (380,000 years later) neutral atoms leaving behind the light we now see as the Cosmic Microwave Background. But why would a literally infinite big bang ever cool? Wouldn’t an infinite singularity supply an infinite amount of heat and pressure (gravity possibly nonexistent in the absence of anything with a rest mass)? Why would we expect the universe to cool no matter how much (or for how long) it expanded? In mathematics if you subtract 1 or even infinity from infinity, you still have infinity. If one is going to hypothesize a literal physical infinity would it not have to behave as its mathematical counterpart? If it did not, on what basis could we claim that it was infinite?

Is what follows from the hypothesis of a physical universe of infinite extent coherent? A few philosophers have explored consequences of the idea (an infinite number duplicate yous living lives on duplicate Earths, regions of the universe filled with mint jelly, Boltzman brains, etc). Most cosmologists do not believe the physical universe is infinite. Present models of the universe’s origin do not infer infinite quantities of matter-energy. The universe did cool as it expanded; evidence, if anything is, of a subinfinite big bang. While not a knock out argument, it is consistent with the general assumptions of the Newtonian Paradigm that we ignore what is not needed in an explanation. We’ve met the redundancy of infinity in all the hypotheses claiming that instantiated infinity has no unambiguous outcome in the physical. The same applies to an infinite expanse of matter-energy. It is redundant as concerns any observed phenomena.

Unger sums both epistemological and ontological issues this way: “The problem in supposing the world to be infinite or eternal, or both, is not just that we could never know that the world is infinite or eternal, given the infinite difference between indefinite largeness or longevity and infinity or eternity. The problem is also that the overall character of nature would be at odds with nature as we encounter it piecemeal, through science as well as through perception.” [Unger/Smolin 2014 pp 317].

Solving the riddle of infinities, either ruling them out, or showing their necessary existence, would tell us if mathematics grounds natural law or merely describes it. If mathematics controls what happens, then we live in a universe in which time emerges from interacting a priori timeless abstract structure and physical infinities are coherent. If mathematics merely describes the universe then time is real and fundamental, a primitive ingredient of a historical unfolding and there are no physical infinities thanks to the infinite gap between indefinitely large, small, long, or short, and infinity. But that gap does not address physical consequences of physical infinities should such exist. Unger notes that we cannot measure any infinity inside the explorable universe, but he directs his argument through epistemological considerations at the incoherence of physical infinities rather than the impossibility of their outcomes.

Unless physicists conclude for theoretical reasons (as there never will be any empirical reasons) that there are (or would be) consequences to physical infinities that are physically impossible (that is antithetical to all that we see), the metaphysical argument alone is not sufficiently strong. It cannot be because without that demonstration our theories can accommodate what we see with or without infinities. The metaphysical argument is suggestive and perhaps helpful if it puts physicists on the track of some theoretical examination of the physical outcomes of physical infinities, but it does not resolve the matter of infinities by itself. It cannot as long as alternate possibilities remain conceivable.

Not everything that is conceivable is physically possible though it might well be logically possible. This is an important distinction that epistemology and metaphysics presents to physics. It is important because the debate over infinities rests on the conceive-ability of the alternatives. A “knock out” argument against infinity rests on discovering the physical impossibility of their outcomes under conditions in which no empirical determination of that impossibility is possible. The track record of even theoretical physics is inconclusive here. It is possible (again logically conceivable) that at infinity all the physical laws we know are suspended or that instantiated infinities hide in compactified dimensions. In those cases, a physical universe containing physical infinities would look no different from our universe today if for no other reason than any consequence (including none) of a physical infinity is possible and nothing can be ruled out. If the mathematics did not already point to infinities, cosmologists wouldn’t be having this debate.

In 1998 William Dembski published “The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities”. He followed, in 2001 with “No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot be Purchased Without Intelligence”. His subject was not the cosmically large or the unreachable smallness of the quantum domain, but the origin and evolution of life. Living organisms fall comfortably midway in size between cosmic and quantum scales. Life presents itself in clearly bounded subsystems open to investigation by science. Biology rests on chemistry and chemistry on physics. Advances in the biological sciences through the past century show the applicability of the Newtonian Paradigm to life. In the 19th century Darwin’s theory of [biological] evolution provided a ground for explanation of life’s evolution, but never its origin. Even as concerns evolution however, Darwin’s work is incomplete. Some of its predictions are well confirmed by experiment and observation, but not all of them.

The problems here are not those of the very large or vanishingly small. They do not involve impossible measurements of infinity or phenomena that exchange no energy. Like the cosmos, we cannot observe the origin of life on Earth in the deep past. But there is no logical reason we could not watch life’s origin on other planets, or reproduce the phenomena in the laboratory. To date we have achieved neither. Rather these problems stem from the dramatic difference in the information content of living organisms compared to any nonliving subsystems of the universe.

Darwin’s theory asserts the environment of any given time selectively filters random changes in life’s information content. Changes inimical to an organism’s survival in its [then] environment are eliminated because those organisms (and those changes) fail to reproduce. By contrast changes that, by chance, happen to make the organisms reproduction more likely are added to the sum total of information present in that organism and its descendants. It was Darwin’s contention that information present in today’s living organisms was thus slowly assembled over the billions of years of evolution on Earth.

That evolution does take place is today indisputable, but all the observed examples involve a reshuffling of existing information, not the selective collection of new information. No one has witnessed the evolution of a more complex organism from a simpler ancestor. Although such development, increasing complexity achieved accidentally, is not precluded by the laws of physics, Dembski’s work casts doubt on the probability of accidental changes generating the sheer amount of complexly specified information in the variety of life on Earth even over the course of a few billion years.

The same considerations apply to the origin of life from nonlife. The information gap between even the most complex nonliving and the simplest unambiguous life is enormous. Modern biological science has proved there is nothing unnatural about life, only matter-energy in an extraordinarily fine-tuned balance behaving in accord with the laws of physics. I bring up the problem that Dembski poses to physics because it is an example of another blindness to metaphysical implications of physical phenomena present in modern science.

Dembski does not claim the “Abrahamic God” created life and fostered its evolution to present forms. What Dembski shows with mathematical rigor is that life’s origin and present status are unlikely to have occurred by chance. Chance is statistically, but not absolutely, precluded  Of course Dembski does believe that life and then evolution as we have come to experience it, if it is not the result of random chance must be, in part, the product of some intelligence. The intelligence need not be God, but something antecedent to life on Earth is surely entailed. There is nothing in Dembski’s core assertions that rules out a physically embodied designer, an alien intelligence, or some form of anomalous monism.

It is to the great shame of the modern scientific community that the implications of Dembski’s work are not at least properly understood and followed out. He is accused of having made no testable predictions, but the core of his work is not a theory but an observation. His observation concerns information, its quantity and quality (what Dembski calls “specification”). Present scientific consensus does not dispute the values with which he begins. Theirs is strictly an irrational (and emotional) rejection of the implications of Dembski’s observation. He may even be wrong! To decide someone will have to replicate his work and show where he makes his mistake. No one in the scientific community has taken on that task.

Physics often accuses philosophy, particularly metaphysics, of painting “castles in the air”. I have shown that physics, tied down by the physicalist assumption, paints many of its own castles whose only qualification for admission to the ranks of physical theory is that their imagined objects are physical. That such objects exist is no more demonstrable or refutable than the existence or nonexistence of God. But physics correctly establishes a universal characteristic of the physical world. The Newtonian Paradigm works when appropriately applied because the mechanisms of the physical are blind and not teleological. That this insight is the basis of a false induction, that there is no teleology imposed from outside the physical, is beside the point. Anomalous monism is false.

The only evidence of teleology in the physical world comes from cosmology, the values of the cosmological settings. All the cosmological “castles in the air” are unverifiable tries to escape the teleological implications of those settings. The settings define the entire landscape of the physically possible in our universe. On this, at least, scientists are agreed. Galaxies and living organisms are possible. A universe of mint jelly is not. The mass-energy of the big bang, given these settings, sets up the regularities of “natural law”. Physics and cosmology have well shown that these alone are sufficient to structure the universe down to the planets and their atmospheres. What physics has not demonstrated is that these regularities alone are sufficient to jump the information-gap between nonlife and life, or that they fully account for the accumulated information we see in the living world around us. If they are inadequate to these two tasks, they cannot be sufficient to explain subjectivity emerging from life.