There’s a peculiar long article in the New York Times science section today by Dennis Overbye, entitled Big Brain Theory: Have Cosmologists Lost Theirs? It’s about the debate raging among a small number of cosmologists about “Boltzmann Brains”, and the article does a pretty good job of explaining what the debate is about.
This seems to be a debate that is mostly taken seriously by people who live near the coast in California, with the article quoting Susskind and Linde (Palo Alto), Lisa Dyson and Raphael Bousso (Berkeley), Hartle and Srednicki (Santa Barbara), Albrecht and Sorbo (Davis), and Sean Carroll (Pasadena). One of the few from further inland who is quoted is Don Page (Edmonton), described as a “prominent voice in the Boltzmann debate” who argues with Hartle over the issue of whether to count humans differently than insects since we have consciousness. Page’s recent arguments that God may like having lots of universes around are not quoted. On the other hand , Andrei Linde has a lot to say about what all this has to do with reincarnation, with the article ending with this quote from him:
“If you are reincarnated, why do you care about where you are reincarnated?” he asked. “It sounds crazy because here we are touching issues we are not supposed to be touching in ordinary science. Can we be reincarnated?”
“People are not prepared for this discussion,” Dr. Linde said.
Overbye does note that:
If you are inclined to skepticism this debate might seem like further evidence that cosmologists, who gave us dark matter, dark energy and speak with apparent aplomb about gazillions of parallel universes, have finally lost their minds.
and, while he doesn’t quote any such skeptics, I suspect the title of the piece and the way he quotes some of the sillier things respectable cosmologists are saying indicates some sympathy for skepticism about this.
If you do take all this seriously, you might want to discuss it over at Cosmic Variance where Sean has a posting on the topic. In the NYT piece he is quoted as saying:
When you break an egg and scramble it you are doing cosmology
to which his ex-colleague Jeff Harvey from Chicago responds in the comment section:
When I break an egg and scramble it I’m making breakfast. I guess that is the difference between cosmologists and particle physicists.
Update: The New York Times is listing this article as the most popular article on their site (in terms of how many people are e-mailing it to others).