Books by Haisch, Bernard

Haisch, Bernard. The God Theory. San Francisco: Weiser, 2006. ISBN 1-57863-374-5.
This is one curious book. Based on acquaintance with the author and knowledge of his work, including the landmark paper “Inertia as a zero-point-field Lorentz force” (B. Haisch, A. Rueda & H.E. Puthoff, Physical Review A, Vol. 49, No. 2, pp. 678–694 [1994]), I expected this to be a book about the zero-point field and its potential to provide a limitless source of energy and Doc Smith style inertialess propulsion. The title seemed odd, but there's plenty of evidence that when it comes to popular physics books, “God sells”.

But in this case the title could not be more accurate—this book really is a God Theory—that our universe was created, in the sense of its laws of physics being defined and instantiated, then allowed to run their course, by a being with infinite potential who did so in order to experience, in the sum of the consciousness of its inhabitants, the consequences of the creation. (Defining the laws isn't the same as experiencing their playing out, just as writing down the rules of chess isn't equivalent to playing all possible games.) The reason the constants of nature appear to be fine-tuned for the existence of consciousness is that there's no point in creating a universe in which there will be no observers through which to experience it, and the reason the universe is comprehensible to us is that our consciousness is, in part, one with the being who defined them. While any suggestion of this kind is enough to get what Haisch calls adherents of “fundamentalist scientism” sputtering if not foaming at the mouth, he quite reasonably observes that these self-same dogmatic reductionists seem perfectly willing to admit an infinite number of forever unobservable parallel universes created purely at random, and to inhabit a universe which splits into undetectable multiple histories with every quantum event, rather than contemplate that the universe might have a purpose or that consciousness may play a rôle in physical phenomena.

The argument presented here is reminiscent in content, albeit entirely different in style, to that of Scott Adams's God's Debris (February 2002), a book which is often taken insufficiently seriously because its author is the creator of Dilbert. Of course, there is another possibility about which I have written again, again, again, and again, which is that our universe was not created ex nihilo by an omnipotent being outside of space and time, but is rather a simulation created by somebody with a computer whose power we can already envision, run not to experience the reality within, but just to see what happens. Or, in other words, “it isn't a universe, it's a science fair project!” In The God Theory, your consciousness is immortal because at death your experience rejoins the One which created you. In the simulation view, you live on forever on a backup tape. What's the difference?

Seriously, this is a challenging and thought-provoking argument by a distinguished scientist who has thought deeply on these matters and is willing to take the professional risk of talking about them to the general public. There is much to think about here, and integrating it with other outlooks on these deep questions will take far more time than it takes to read this book.

May 2007 Permalink

Haisch, Bernard. The Purpose-Guided Universe. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-60163-122-0.
The author, an astrophysicist who was an editor of the Astrophysical Journal for a decade, subtitles this book “Believing In Einstein, Darwin, and God”. He argues that the militant atheists who have recently argued that science is incompatible with belief in a Creator are mistaken and that, to the contrary, recent scientific results are not only compatible with, but evidence for, the intelligent design of the laws of physics and the initial conditions of the universe.

Central to his argument are the variety of “fine tunings” of the physical constants of nature. He lists ten of these in the book's summary, but these are chosen from a longer list. These are quantities, such as the relative masses of the neutron and proton, the ratio of the strength of the electromagnetic and gravitational forces, and the curvature of spacetime immediately after the Big Bang which, if they differed only slightly from their actual values, would have resulted in a universe in which the complexity required to evolve any imaginable form of life would not exist. But, self evidently, we're here, so we have a mystery to explain. There are really only three possibilities:

  1. The values of the fine-tuned parameters are those we measure because they can't be anything else. One day we'll discover a master equation which allows us to predict their values from first principles, and we'll discover that any change to that equation produces inconsistent results. The universe is fine tuned because that's the only way it could be.
  2. The various parameters were deliberately fine tuned by an intelligent, conscious designer bent on creating a universe in which sufficient complexity could evolve so as to populate it with autonomous, conscious beings. The universe is fine tuned by a creator because that's necessary to achieve the goal of its creation.
  3. The parameters are random, and vary from universe to universe among an ensemble in a “multiverse” encompassing a huge, and possibly infinite number of universes with no causal connection to one another. We necessarily find the parameters of the universe we inhabit to be fine tuned to permit ourselves to exist because if they weren't, we wouldn't be here to make the observations and puzzle over the results. The universe is fine tuned because it's just one of a multitude with different settings, and we can only observe one which happens to be tuned for us.

For most of the history of science, it was assumed that possibility (1)—inevitability by physical necessity—was what we'd ultimately discover once we'd teased out the fundamental laws at the deepest level of nature. Unfortunately, despite vast investment in physics, both experimental and theoretical, astronomy, and cosmology, which has matured in the last two decades from wooly speculation to a precision science, we have made essentially zero progress toward this goal. String theory, which many believed in the heady days of the mid-1980s to be the path to that set of equations you could wear on a T-shirt and which would crank out all the dial settings of our universe, now seems to indicate to some (but not all) of those pursuing it, that possibility (3): a vast “landscape” of universes, all unobservable even in principle, one of which with wildly improbable properties we find ourselves in because we couldn't exist in most of the others is the best explanation.

Maybe, the author argues, we should take another look at possibility (2). Orthodox secular scientists are aghast at the idea, arguing that to do so is to “abandon science” and reject rational inference from experimental results in favour of revelation based only on faith. Well, let's compare alternatives (2) and (3) in that respect. Number three asks us to believe in a vast or infinite number of universes, all existing in their own disconnected bubbles of spacetime and unable to communicate with one another, which cannot be detected by any imaginable experiment, without any evidence for the method by which they were created nor idea how it all got started. And all of this to explain the laws and initial conditions of the single universe we inhabit. How's that for taking things on faith?

The author's concept of God in this volume is not that of the personal God of the Abrahamic religions, but rather something akin to the universal God of some Eastern religions, as summed up in Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy. This God is a consciousness encompassing the entire universe which causes the creation of its contents, deliberately setting things up to maximise the creation of complexity, with the eventual goal of creating more and more consciousness through which the Creator can experience the universe. This is actually not unlike the scenario sketched in Scott Adams's God's Debris, which people might take with the seriousness it deserves had it been written by somebody other than the creator of Dilbert.

If you're a regular reader of this chronicle, you'll know that my own personal view is in almost 100% agreement with Dr. Haisch on the big picture, but entirely different on the nature of the Creator. I'll spare you the detailed exposition, as you can read it in my comments on Sean Carroll's From Eternity to Here (February 2010). In short, I think it's more probable than not we're living in a simulation, perhaps created by a thirteen year old post-singularity superkid as a science fair project. Unlike an all-pervading but imperceptible Brahman or an infinitude of unobservable universes in an inaccessible multiverse, the simulation hypothesis makes predictions which render it falsifiable, and hence a scientific theory. Eventually, precision measurements will discover, then quantify, discrepancies due to round-off errors in the simulation (for example, an integration step which is too large), and—what do you know—we already have in hand a collection of nagging little discrepancies which look doggone suspicious to me.

This is not one of those mushy “science and religion can coexist” books. It is an exploration, by a serious scientist who has thought deeply about these matters, of why evidence derived entirely from science is pointing those with minds sufficiently open to entertain the idea, that the possibility of our universe having been deliberately created by a conscious intelligence who endowed it with the properties that permit it to produce its own expanding consciousness is no more absurd that the hypotheses favoured by those who reject that explanation, and is entirely compatible with recent experimental results, which are difficult in the extreme to explain in any other manner. Once the universe is created (or, as I'd put it, the simulation is started), there's no reason for the Creator to intervene: if all the dials and knobs are set correctly, the laws discovered by Einstein, Darwin, Maxwell, and others will take care of the rest. Hence there's no conflict between science and evidence-based belief in a God which is the first cause for all which has happened since.

October 2010 Permalink