An intriguing concept in modern fiction, concerning both comics and TV-shows alike, is the idea of a multiverse: the idea that our earth is merely one of many billions of earths coexisting parallel to one another. However, physics have yet to figure it out. The medieval philosopher Boethius on the other hand, seems to accidentally point his own theories towards a multiverse theory, one could almost say that Boethius supports a multiverse-theory.
By Richard Nobbe
Last week, and continuing this week, the TV-show The Flash takes place in an alternate reality, a parallel universe, known as Earth-2. Unlikely as it may seem, I consider the medieval philosopher Boethius an accidental perpetrator of this so-called multiverse-theory. I base my findings on Boethius Consolation of Philosophy, in which he, Boethius, argues with a manifestation of Philosophy itself. In this work Boethius struggles to unify both free will and the idea of an omniscient, all-seeing God. However, by eventually defining the difference between absolute necessity and conditional necessity, he manages to convince himself that both free will and a Creator can co-exist. However, by using the definitions of Boethius and applying them in a certain way, the possibility that he may have inadvertedly defended a multiverse-theory, is very interesting, especially from the viewpoints of a geek such as myself, the multiverse being a comic-, Sci-fi- and TV-trope since the fifties. But what did Boethius write? How does this apply to a multiverse-theory? Does it even make sense? All these questions will be answered in just under 2000 words, starting with the B-man himself.
The Bear Necessities
Boethius’ first argument points out why free will and God cannot co-exist, since God in omniscient, he knows everything, and what is known, is. Since one cannot know what is not. The argument is put down in the following manner:
1. If I see that X is, it cannot be that X is not.
2. If it cannot be that X is not, then it is necessary for X to be.
3. If it is a necessity that X is, then the being of X is not-free.
It is important to know that Boethius defines God as eternal, which is vastly different from infinite. A being that is of an infinite nature perceives time as a strict progression from cause to effect. So X is present at t1, t2, t3 all the way up to tn. An eternal being however, perceives time more as a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. Meaning it experiences t1, t2, t3 all the way up to tn not in a past-present-future-sense, but all at the same time; the present.
Having made this distinction – and taking into account that God is both an eternal and omniscient being – it can be argued that God knows the outcome of every single decision that is ever made. Being that the outcome of every decision is already known, it can be said there is no free will.
Boethius eventually manages to reconcile free will and God by making a distinction between two different kinds of necessity: conditional and absolute – sometimes called simple – necessity. To make this distinction I will put forth an example of both: ‘’Necessarily, all men are mortal.’’ (Kenny, 2014) This is absolute, there are no exceptions to it, no precedents need to have happened in order for the statement to be true. An example of conditional necessity can be as follows: ‘’Necessarily if you know that I am walking, I am walking.’’ (Kenny, 2014) This puts forth the idea that something has to have happened in order for the statement to be true. For something to know that I walk, I must’ve made the decision to walk. If one were to make that statement while I was sitting down, I’d make a funny face at him, because what he says is untrue. By defining necessity in the previously stated argument as conditional necessity, Boethius ‘avoids’ the notion that there cannot be free will. To put this into practical use I can assume that I need to make a decision at t0. At this point in time I can choose to do either A or B. By choosing for A, A becomes conditionally necessary at t1, since I’ve had to choose it at t0. To make this clearer I’ve made a poor attempt at a drawing in Microsoft Paint:
Seeing that we are responsible for the choice at t0, which makes A conditionally necessary as opposed to absolutely necessary, Boethius can put his mind to rest concerning free will and God, since his new theory states that we can choose between A and B. However, Boethius does not take into account what happens to B if A is chosen, that is where the multiverse-theory comes into play.
The Theory from Two Worlds
The multiverse-theory is a theory that states that the universe in general and our earth in particular might not be the only one of its kind. A specific multiverse-theory is the theory of parallel universes, posed by theoretical physicists Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok. The theory states that there are more dimensions then the three of space and one of time that we do now. These dimensions – which contain parallel versions of our earth – exist on different ‘branes’, which then float on a higher-dimensional space. (Moskowitz, 2012) Think of our earth as a partygoer being part of a higher-dimensional conga-line.
Seeing God is omniscient and all-seeing, he should be aware of these parallel earths and preside over them with his Godliness, maybe he even has a favourite, which is probably the one with zeppelins. However, returning to Boethius argument on how free will can exist via conditional necessity I return to the question posed at the end of the last paragraph, albeit now formulated more expansively: ‘’If I choose A at t0, what happens to B at t1?’’ Since B is not-chosen at t1, it is not conditionally necessary for B to exist. Nevertheless, since God is omniscient and he knows of B, and since what is known must be, B must exist. But where? Not here, since I chose A at my t0. My guess is, is that B does actually exist, but on another ‘braneworld’, a parallel universe, a different partygoer in the metaphorical higher-dimensional conga-line. I shall try to write this down in an argument.
1. What is known, is.
2. Either A or B can be chosen at t0
3. Both A and B are known by God, since he is eternal and omniscient.
4. If A is chosen at t0, A becomes conditionally necessary at t1.
5. If A is chosen at t0, B is not conditionally necessary at t1.
6. B is known at t0, therefore it is.
7. A and B cannot both take the same space at the same time.
8. Therefore B must be somewhere else at t1.
Up until (4) and excluding (3), this argument basically replicates Boethius argument. The latter part however, is the interesting part of the argument, since that proves the existence of a multiverse to a certain degree. First let us take a look at (3), this argument uses the distinction between infinite and eternal. Since God is eternal, he experiences time as a razzmatazz of time, and therefore experiences both t0 – where A and B are known – and t1, where A is conditionally necessary. (5) Further explores the consequences of A being chosen at t0, namely the fate that befalls B. That fate being that B is not conditionally necessary at t1 if A is chosen at t0. This seems like the only logical solution, since two things that oppose each other – in this case seeing B as a contradictory to A, so B being not-A – cannot take the same place, at the same time, in the same reality, since that would make things go really, really bad, based on my experience with comic books and campy science fiction movies and as pointed out by (7). (6) Refers back to (1) and in a way to (3) since it bases itself on the idea that what is known is, and that God knows all, since that is the definition of omniscience, the word stemming from the Latin omnis (all) and scientia (knowledge).
The conclusion posed by (8) states that B must be somewhere else at t1, somewhere else being a euphemism for a parallel earth – which we shall call Earth-2 to up our reference game – on which B was chosen at t0 and therefore becomes conditionally necessary at t1, instead of A doing this on Earth-1. This conclusion is reached by taking the fact that God is omniscient and eternal, taking into account he knows A and B at t0 and that what is known, is. Eventually concluding in the fact that A and B cannot logically take the same place at t1 and therefore B at t1 resides in a parallel universe. By holding on to this argument, Boethius’ previous argument can be applied to prove the existence of parallel universes.
There is one Earth, and one alone!
Of course a few things can be brought in against my application of Boethius’ argument. The first one being that it is quite the assumption to say that there is an omniscient, eternal God presiding over us. I wholeheartedly agree with you, it is quite the assumption. But then again, this argument is not there to prove the existence of an Abrahamic God or any other Presence. It merely shows that Boethius’ argument – which contains God – can be used to prove a multiverse. If Boethius were a fanatic pastafarian, I would’ve used a big blob of flying spaghetti in the sky instead of God. The point is that the existence or non-existence of God is not the point here. Maybe one of my peers can discuss this, but I take Boethius’ assumption for granted.
A second argument against my theory came up after a resounding ‘’No’’ after I posed my idea in class. This argument that can be made against my case that although God does know A at t1, he merely imagines B at t1. Just as me imagining spending a night in a hotel room with Emilia Clarke does not mean it happened. However, this defies the definition of ‘knowing’ within the argument, now also including imagining into knowing. As is said before; if something is known, it is. To suddenly stretch the meaning of knowing to both imagining and being, would make the definition infallible and therefore unsuitable for any counter-argument against mine. Notwithstanding the fact that God imagining something would undermine his divine authority, since God being omnipotent on top of omniscient and eternal, can create anything he wants, not even needing to imagine things.
A third and final argument that can be made against my case is that this theory does not somehow bring a multiverse into existence. I agree with this sentiment, but a logical argument can never bring something physical into existence, and this argument is no exception to that rule. As stated before, my argument merely shows that Boethius’ ideas can facilitate a multiverse-theory of some sorts. To actually prove a multiverse-theory, a lot of progression needs to be made in physics, which probably cannot be done by philosophers.
Conclusively it can be said, that although there still need to be practical means to find a multiverse, an application of the pretty old argument from Boethius can be applied to prove the existence of a multiverse, despite the fact that Boethius makes a lot of assumptions, like the existence of a God. Now the torch needs to be given to physicists, hoping they can find those dimensions we are looking for, so we can finally see what a world where Firefly didn’t get cancelled after one gorram season looks like. And in the end, isn’t that what really matters?
Kenny, A. (2014). A Brief Illustrated History of Western Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Moskowitz, C. (2012, December 7). Five Reasons we may live in a Multiverse. Retrieved from Space: http://www.space.com/18811-multiple-universes-5-theories.html