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Thursday, January 03, 2013


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Dear Bill,

Thank you for your thoughts on this. I am afraid, however, that I still run into the same conundrum regarding the status of "fictionality" of the alternative worlds imagined by God. I believe my difficulty may be related rather to the intrinsic finiteness of my own mind: for me to know the full possibilities of my chess game, I will need to have an infinite number of chessboards to play all variations to full depth, so that for my finite mind, full knowledge would require complete actualization of all possibilities. An infinite mind would obviously not need that, and in that case only one actualization needs to be "real"...

On further thought, I guess that since the actual world is a specific choice of God, examining the actual world may reveal intrinsic qualities of the divine mind. I wonder also whether Aquinas' (and others') statement that "God sustains the creation" is a way of saying that the mind of God is "needed" during the whole history of the Universe (rather than only at the creation moment), because the full timeline of the Universe is an actual instantiation of one particular thought-accusative. In this line of thought, one might argue that all possible worlds (since they are though-accusative) are, in a way at least, "sustained" by God, though only one of them (that we know of) has been created.

In a final note, this train of thought has made me more appreciative of the Universe "as it is", and my presence in it: if God has found this Universe worthy of creation, it cannot be all bad ;-)


You need to formulate your problem more precisely, ideally, with as much rigor and precision as you formulate a scientific problem. Here are some quick observations.

The fictional is not the same as the possible. Fiction can include logical contradictions; the possible cannot.

The conceivable is not the same as the imaginable.

The conceivable is not the same as the possible.

The potential is not the same as the possible.

There are different senses of 'possible' that must be distinguished: narrowly logical, broadly logical, nomological, epistemic/doxastic, and others.

For Aquinas and other classical theists, God is not merely an initiating cause, but a sustaining cause: the universe depends on God for its very existence at every instant. Please note that the universe could be a divine creation even if it has an infinite past such that there was no past time at which it was created.

I will try to formalize my reasoning...

1. Given some initial conditions (I) and a set (S) of physical laws which completely describe the evolution of the system, a universe (u) arises and its history unfolds. The complete history and contents of this universe is what I will now call, the "uppercase" Universe (U) (for lack of a more precise word)

2. The actual Universe (U1) obeys a set (S1) of physical laws operating on some initial state (I1)

3. Other sets of physical laws (S2, S3,.... ) and/or initial conditions (I1,I2, I3,...) would describe different Universes (U2, U3, ...)

4. An infinite omniscient mind may deduce, from a specific set of physical laws, the full history of the specific Universe arising from each possible initial conditions.


5. As an infinite omniscient mind, God , before creation, has full knowledge of all Universes arising from all non-impossible physical laws.


6. God also knows the influence of any direct divine intervention on any universe, at any time point, and the resulting histories. This includes (but is not limited to) creating new minds, free will, revelations, Incarnation, etc.

7. "These possible worlds have the status of complex divine thought-accusatives. They exist only as intentional objects of the divine intellect. It follows that they do not exist apart from God. On the contrary, their existence depends on God's existence."

8. From this whole array of Universes, God instantiated our Universe. From your blogpost, I now understand this as "God wills one of the possible worlds to [...] to exist extramentally, 'outside' the divine mind, but still in continuous dependence on the divine mind."

Therefore (in no particular order):

9. Since the timeline of the Universe is one of its constituents (from 1. above) creation is not simply a choice of I and S, but a choice of what history will unfold. Therefore, in my reasoning "sustaining" the Universe would be another way of saying "Not only this world, but also its full history, his God's creation: He did not simply "wind the clock" and let it run"

10. Any created Universe must be "sustained" by God. All uncreated non-impossible Universes are however fully known to God.

11. Our Universe has some property/properties that God "preferred" above all other Universes, and can therefore be a path towards understanding some aspect of His mind.

The argument may be expanded to the case of temporally infinite Universes: the only step needed would be to add the possibility of one specific state of the Universe being repeated, and then evolving into a different direction.

Thank you so much for making me think a bit more deeply than usual, and for taking my question seriously.


As for #1, surely the initial conditions are part of the universe. Is 'u' a variable ranging over possible universes? What is the difference between u and U?

1a. "u" are the physical contents, laws, and information (e.g. positions, velocities, charges, masses of all particles of the universe), electromagnetic fields, etc. at ONE particular time point.

1b. "U" includes "u" at ALL timepoints of existence. This distinction is needed because in a system with free will (or with probabilistic outcomes, like predicted and described by quantum mechanics) several different futures may arise from any single "present moment".

As an example, if I have a given amount of radioactive uranium atoms, I may confidently predict that a fraction of them will spontaneously decay after some time, but predicting WHICH atoms will decay and at what exact moment that will happen is impossible (see the end of the comment if you are unwilling to accept randomness in a deterministic universe). For an omniscient infinite mind, however, all "futures" that may arise from this system are equally visible "before Its gaze". Only one of these becomes actual, i.e. instantiated extramentally, however.

In case this physical description seems far fetched, imagine an infinite mind in the process of writing "Anna Karenina": from the initial cast of characters, social conditions, etc. an infinite amount of books could be written, all with equally forceful personalities engaging in realistic storylines. However, only one of these would be the "Anna Karenina" we know. All others are different because at some point the free will of one character or a trivial incident steered the actions of some other character into a different course of events. In my "idiolect", all these alternate novels are individual Universes "U" arising from the same lowercase "u" universe ("u" being the cast of characters and social conditions and the initial line "All happy families are alike...")

PS: Most people who first meet quantum mechanics tend to feel quite uneasy with its description of the submicroscopic world as ruled by probability. Einstein also felt that, and he long worked on a way to explain the probabilistic character of quantum mechanics as a symptom of the existence of more fundamental physical laws which, if properly understood, would allow us to precisely predict radiocative decay, etc. without invoking "arbitrary"-sounding probabilities. Bell's theorem shows that such "Einsteinian hopes" are, alas, impossible.


I still don't know what your problem is. Is it that if God creates the world then it has a merely fictional status?

My problem was simply how to distinguish all worlds present under God's gaze from the one "actual" world we live in: they all seemed equally "real" to me until you pointed out that existence is "getting a world to subsist extramentally". My further comments (after the 1st paragraph on my 1st comment in this combox) were simply meant as additional reflections with a new (for me...) take on the meaning of "God sustaning the universe".

Thank you again for your help on this, and for probing me to be more specific. I love your work, even when it is too far above my philosophical level.

I'd really be interested in seeing you tackle Proclus a little more on this question, and really the whole swath of Late Platonism and how they handle this question.

It seems that you have already anticipated in your other posts that I have perused to something possibly like the following in its simplest form:

1. God creates ex nihilo.

2. 'Nothing' admits of no distinctions whatsoever, not even between what we mean by the term 'God' and whatever we mean by the term 'nothing'. (Note: This is another way of saying that God 'is' absolutely simple).

3. God 'is' Nothing.

Therefore, the notion of creatio ex nihilo denotes the same as creatio ex deo. Or we could say that the One qua One (Nothing) 'is' the unfolding Cause or explanans of all that is (both intellligible and sensible).

One can object to 2, but that might saddle one with dualism if 'ex nihilo' is--intelligibly--distinct from God. And if distinct it would not be intelligibly nothing, but something.

If what I'm saying has any merit at all here, what might a Late Platonic critique of the obnoxioius Krauss et al actually look like? Have they said anything really new in its conceptual content? Or are they making a whole bunch ado about Nothing?

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