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Princeton Theoretical Physicist Paul Steinhardt on the "Multiverse"

David Klinghoffer


Princeton physicist Paul J. Steinhardt is the Albert Einstein Professor in Science at that university. Quanta Magazine notes his view on the multiverse, an idea that is of course the leading prophylactic defense against evidence that the cosmos is eerily fine-tuned:

Paul Steinhardt, a theoretical physicist at Princeton University and one of the early contributors to the theory of eternal inflation, saw the multiverse as a "fatal flaw" in the reasoning he had helped advance, and he remains stridently anti-multiverse today. "Our universe has a simple, natural structure," he said in September. "The multiverse idea is baroque, unnatural, untestable and, in the end, dangerous to science and society."

Steinhardt and other critics believe the multiverse hypothesis leads science away from uniquely explaining the properties of nature. When deep questions about matter, space and time have been elegantly answered over the past century through ever more powerful theories, deeming the universe’s remaining unexplained properties "random" feels, to them, like giving up.

Professor Steinhardt is also evidently a practitioner of Common Sense. In case you hadn’t heard, that is a controversial philosophy in some circles among cosmologists, a pathway to infection by intelligent design. Steinhardt, no ID sympathizer as far as I’m aware, is known for his intransigence on the multiverse. That is a source of frustration to some colleagues.

Stanford’s Leonard Susskind, in his book The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design, couldn’t be clearer about what Susskind sees as being at stake. On the same page (304) where he cites Steinhardt, Susskind writes about how a "Landscape" of universes seems to obviate the problem of accounting for our luck in landing on "just one of a stupendous number of starting places" for the cosmos, the only one "with a chance for life to evolve."

He rightly observes the specter of ID, referring to the "goal of explaining the world without an intelligent designer." The "goal"! Susskind gets a point for candor, anyway.

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Image: Paul J. Steinhardt/Princeton University.