Most physicists are rather dubious about whether “multiverse” research is deserving of any support since it’s not clear that it is even science. Because of this, such research has been finding financial support in recent years not from conventional sources like the NSF, but from the Templeton Foundation, a very wealthy organization devoted to the goal of bringing together science and religion. Some examples of this funding include the World Science Festival program mentioned in the last posting, and the Foundational Questions Institute, which provides grants, many of them for multiverse research.
I’d always wondered if there was some kind of organized effort by Templeton to push this kind of research, and and got a partial answer to this question recently when I took a look at some of their web-pages. Last year they organized two days of conferences at the Royal Society in London, associated with their choice of cosmologist and Catholic priest Michael Heller for their 2008 Templeton Prize of a million pounds. The preparatory readings page of the second day’s conference provides a link to a document entitled Towards the Establishment of the Philosophy of Cosmology at Oxford. There’s also a link to “Password Protected Papers” on the topic of Toward a New Philosophy of Cosmology, but these papers aren’t really password protected since the password (“multiverse”) as well as the user name (“universe”) are given right next to the link.
If you follow this link, you are taken to the web-site for “A Strategy and Planning Workshop of the John Templeton Foundation”, held in May 2007 at the Royal Society. The purpose of this workshop is described as:
To bring cosmologists and philosophers together to review the ‘state of the field’ of the philosophy of cosmology and to explore the most effective ways of developing and enriching the philosophy of cosmology. How might the John Templeton Foundation contribute to field development?
and here are some other extracts from that page:
The John Templeton Foundation would like to help develop this field. We are considering the creation of substantial research support opportunities in the philosophy of cosmology. In addition, our expectation is that there is some need for infrastructure, and the Foundation would be interested in helping to support development of a suitable context for a flourishing field….
…the afternoon session, a discussion of strategy for field development. The Foundation is serious about providing resources if we can find a strategically-effective plan to make a difference.
This afternoon session was described in the program as follows:
Goal: Finally, we explore what is needed to develop the field of philosophy of cosmology in a dramatic way over the next decade. Our initial thought is that the field needs some infrastructure development as well as basic research support. Because this work must bring together such disparate fields, it is not easy working through basic university structures. It may be that beyond core research projects, we need to support the creation of major long-term initiatives or centers, and help establish training for a new kind of scholar as well as faculty positions and perhaps other elements of infrastructure such as book series or a journal to take two common elements of the scholarly enterprise. Also needed, perhaps, are ways of making it more visible to the public in ways that improve on current popular presentations.
The afternoon talks were by Priyamvada Natarajan, a Yale astrophysicist described as “currently a member of the advisory panel for the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and has an abiding intellectual interest in understanding issues in spirituality and science”, and 2004 Templeton Prize winner George Ellis who is described as “co-author of On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics” and “editor of the Far Future Universe: Eschatology from a Cosmic Perspective.” The respondent was the Reverend Keith Ward, described as “his main work is a four-volume comparative theology from OUP”, and “His most recent book, published in 2006, is Pascal’s Fire – religious understanding and scientific faith.” The evening program was devoted to a celebration of Bernard Carr and the book based on three Templeton-funded conferences that he edited, Universe or Multiverse?
In a whitepaper prepared for the strategy session, Carr argues not just for the anthropic principle, but for the necessity of a “new science”:
In one sense the current debate today about the scientific status of M-theory and the multiverse proposal is nothing new. We’ve seen that progress on the outer and inner fronts has always been controversial, so perhaps history is just repeating itself. However, there is another sense in which the current situation is very special. This is because today — for the first time — the boundaries at the largest and smallest scales have connected. They are unified through quantum gravity and so the two science/philosophy frontiers have merged.
One might argue that this merging represents the completion of the scientific process. This is why the symbol of cosmic uroborus is so powerful: it represents both the evolution of our knowledge of the universe and the triumph of physics in producing a unified view of the world. Have we therefore reached the endpoint of science just as the macroscopic and microscopic frontiers merge? I doubt it. Personally I believe this merely represents a transformation in the perceived nature of science.
He then explains why Templeton money is needed:
Whether one redefines science to include exotic new ideas is not just a semantic issue. It also has practical implications because research in topics deemed to be “unscientific” is unlikely to be funded through the usual channels. For example, even in my own field, I have sometimes found that I cannot obtain a grant for a research project because some funding council has changed the definition of what constitutes “astronomy”. There will always be research areas (especially cosmological ones) which straddle the border between science or philosophy and this is why JTF’s initiative to support such areas is so important. It can promote or nurture ideas which have not yet been accepted into the world of legitimate science.
Carr is a past president of the Society for Psychical Research, and in its proceedings recently published a paper entitled Can Psychical Research Bridge the Gulf Between Matter and Mind?. In the white paper he advocates the idea that Consciousness is somehow part of this new science:
Another feature of the new paradigm – and here I am definitely venturing beyond the boundaries of current science – is likely to be mind. One feature of the Universe which is noticeably absent in the current paradigm of physics is consciousness….
…even the mention of the C word was taboo until recently. On the other hand, one might be sceptical of physicists’ claim to be close to a “Theory of Everything”, when such a conspicuous aspect of the world is neglected.
Certainly physics in its classical form cannot incorporate consciousness….
But what has this to do with cosmology? At first sight, developments in cosmology and particle physics might appear to have diminished the status of mind. The more we understand the Universe, from the vast expanses of the cosmos to the tiny world of particle physics, the more irrelevant humans (and hence minds) seem to become. Curiously, however, in recent decades cosmology has brought about a reversal in this trend, suggesting that mind may be a fundamental rather than incidental feature of the Universe. I’m referring here primarily to the Anthropic Principle…
He ends with some comments on theology, beginning with:
Of course, most scientists are even more uncomfortable straying into the domain of theology than philosophy, so the G word (God) is usually regarded as even more taboo than the C word. However, since science seems to be coming to terms with the A and C words, perhaps the same will happen with the G word. Maybe there is a gradual process of desensitization in which the A, C and G words become successively accepted!
The whitepaper by Ellis deals with the crucial question of whether untestable speculation is science:
There is also a reverse flow, whereby the development of the philosophy of cosmology – pushing the philosophy of science to its limits – may well have useful influences in wider realms of philosophy. Indeed it must be so, as cosmology helps us understand the nature of being human by clarifying the overall physical context through which we come to have our existence. So a useful part of the whole enterprise may be to try to develop that link: the different ways in which our understanding of the universe helps shape our views of humanity, and the ways that the philosophy of cosmology may help shape the philosophy of science. This may be particularly useful in terms of those aspects of physics which also face problems of testability for fundamental reasons, and so where some physicists are proposing to lessen the degree of rigour usually demanded in a scientific proof, decrying usual scientific criteria of testability as they do so (string theory comes to mind).
The whitepaper of Simon Saunders is an earlier version of the proposal for a new Oxford program available on the 2008 conference site. It proposes a new masters level 2 year course in philosophy of cosmology, with Templeton funding 2 3-year postdocs, a 5-year research fellow, a visiting scholars program, buy out time for those teaching in or administering the program, and funding for fellowships for graduate students. He also proposes to spend about 20,000 pounds a year on an outreach program to promote “philosophy of cosmology” in schools.
I haven’t seen any evidence that this planning and strategy session led to anything. For one thing, there does not seem to yet be a “Philosophy of Cosmology” program at Oxford, although perhaps Templeton will at some point fund such a thing. But, this session does give a good idea of where some people would like to take theoretical physics, and indicates Templeton’s interest in the idea of heavily funding ventures to promote such a “new science”.
On a somewhat related note, see today’s PZ Myers posting entitled The name “Templeton Foundation” needs to become a mark of failure.
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