# Swami and McGuffin

The most skilled mathematician of Trantor, Hari Seldon, poses a question:

Quoting me:

For then there is no explanation to explain why this particular earth in this particular solar system and galaxy and continuum just so happens to be the one we inhabit, and not one where the moon was in a different orbit, earth’s core did not spin to erect a magnetic field, and Jupiter did not sweep the early solar system clear of planet-killing asteroids and meteorites, where chemical ratios and atomic behaviors were all exactly just so to give rise unintentionally to men.

He asks:

“I don’t understand this part of the objection. In the atheist-multiverse worldview, there would be an infinite number of solar systems, and the solar systems where the Earth’s core didn’t spin up or Jupiter didn’t exist would be ones inimical to human-type life, and these solar systems would be much less likely to harbor human-type life. Therefore, most humans to evolve would evolve on solar systems friendly to them, and however many coincidences it took for humans to evolve, almost all humans would live in universes where those coincidences happened, in a cosmic survivorship bias.

“Positing an entire multiverse might well go against Occam’s Razor, but I don’t see how it wouldn’t be self-consistent. Unless I’m misunderstanding your comment.”

This requires, alas, a very long and involved answer. Please be patient.

Please keep in mind the argument and counterargument. I am not saying their answer is not self consistent. I am saying it is not an answer at all.

The multiverse argument is that, out of an absurdly large number of continua, each with its own different initial conditions, there is one possible combination of conditions, selected at random, which leads to human life on earth, and by happenstance we happen to occupy that one continuum.

And if there happens not to be a possible combination of initial conditions selected at random which leads to human life on earth within the given absurdly large number of possible combinations, let the number of continua be increased until there is.

If life is a million-to-one shot, let a million alternate continua be posited. If a billion-to-one, posit a billion continua. Or a trillion, quadrillion, septillion, nonillion. As many as need be: because it costs nothing to posit continua.

At some point, the number will be large enough for the one combination, no matter how unlikely, that leads to human life on earth to be likely.

The counterargument I give above is deceptively simple: what explanation explains why this one particular continuum we just so happens to inhabit just so happens to be the one?

The answer is a non-answer, for instead of answering with an explanation, that is, something that makes the answer be the answer, the response is to say that this is the one continuum able to produce human Alife because it did produce human life.

Fine, but what I asked is *why* did it produce human life, if human life arises under such statistically unlikely conditions that only one chance in a nearly infinite number must be posited?

The whole argument, sadly, rests on the commonplace confusion, created by Pascal, regarding percentages.

Let us clear up that confusion before going further.

If I take one hundred coins and place them by hand so that there are 99 in a row sitting heads up, what is the percent chance that the next coin I put down next to it, if I place it by hand, will also be heads up?

Now, if you were not paying attention to the question, you may have thought, well, the percent chance with a true and balanced coin for tossing one hundred times and getting one hundred heads in a row is 1 in 2^100 which is 1 in 1,267,650,600,228,229,401,496,703,205,376 which is roughly one in one nonillion.

Which is not what I asked. I asked what the chances were if I had placed all the coins in a row by hand. If I place the next coin by hand, without flipping it, it will rest heads or tails as I wish, and there is no percent chance involved whatever.

Next question: you walk into a room and see a table where I have 99 coins, all face up, in front of me. With a straight face, I tell you that I have flipped all these coins fairly, and they all by odd happenstance just so happened to land face up. What are the odds of you plucking a coin out of your pocket, flipping it, and having it land face up?

Once again, you may think, well, the percent chance with a true and balanced coin being tossed one hundred times and getting one hundred heads in a row is 1 in 2^100 so the odds are roughly one in one nonillion.

Actually, the odds are one in two since the coin in your hand does not know nor care nor remember whether I actually flipped all the coins on the table before me of whether I placed them there by hand.

If I lied, and all the coins were placed by hand, your odds are obviously fifty-fifty. It is just a coin toss like any other.

If I told the truth, the odds of your one flip when added to my ninety-nine in a row all being heads-up in a row is indeed one in one nonillion. Or, rather, to be precise about this, the odds HAD BEEN one in nonillion BEFORE anyone started flipping coins, because no one knew beforehand how they would land.

Please note that at the moment I am halfway through my unlikely run of luck, once I have flipped 50 coins headsup in a row, those coin toss outcomes are known, so my odds of throwing 50 more coins in a row landing all heads is 1 in 2^50 or roughly one in a quadrillion. Much better odds.

But NOW, at the moment, with 99 out of 100 coins known and determined, what are the odds of the coin in your hand landing heads up?

The odds of your one coin itself landing head-up is one in two.

So, in other words, the odds of you *completing* the nonillion-to-one heads-up streak is even-steven.

Not to worry, though. The odds of tossing 99 true coins heads-up in a row and having the last coin land tails-up is also exactly 1,267,650,600,228,229,401,496,703,205,376-to-one, as are the odds of spelling out in a Morse code (heads for dashes and tails for dots) the letters of any given Shakespeare sonnet, or the odds of any other particular combination or pattern of heads and tails.

Final question: you have made a foolish deal with the devil for the elixir of immortality, granting you youth without end, provided only that before you flit off to enjoy the agelessness of the gods, you flip one hundred coins heads-up in unbroken row.

You figure that, no matter how many years this takes, you can flip one coin per second, and, as an immortal, you have no need to pause food or rest. No matter how long it takes, once you are done, it will be but an infinitesimal fraction of an infinite life!

Ah, but math is a tricky mistress, is she not? You are not released from the curse until a nonillion-to-one unlikelihood manifests. Flipping coins once per second for nonillion seconds is considerably longer than the estimated age of the universe.

Let us say that luck is against you, and you run through 1,267,650,600,228,229,401,496,703,205,375 coin tosses, and somehow manage to get every other possible combination except all heads in a row.

However, the next hundred flips, the first 99 all happen to land heads-up! The final coin trembles in your ageless yet somehow infinitely weary thumb. What are the odds that, after countless myriads of kalpas of uncountable eons, this final coin will land heads-up, and free you from the curse?

It is still even-steven, one in two. No matter how many times you flipped the coins before, nor what combinations they fell into, it is still fifty-fifty.

And if the devil is sly, and the coin lands tails, what then are the odds that the next hundred coins will all land one hundred heads-up in a row?

Answer: 1 in 2^100 which is 1 in 1,267,650,600,228,229,401,496,703,205,376 or roughly nonillion to one. The fact that you have already done this a nonillion times before means nothing.

It does not change the ongoing odds because it does not change the unknown factors in the coin toss to known factors to know the past history of the coin tosses. That past is not one of the factors.

The only factors involved are the current physical factors, such as the balance of the coin, and the location and magnitude of the impulse setting it in motion, air resistance, acceleration due to gravity. Knowing these factors, the outcome is determined by Newtonian mechanics.

For the very thing that makes it a fair toss is the fact that not even a juggler can knowingly flip a coin and make it land as he would.

But nothing makes it impossible for someone or something more skilled at precise motion to do so, let us say a robot. A coin flipping mechanism could be built into a robot’s gauntlet able measure the position of the coin and impart the impulse of motion with sufficient precision to flip the coin the desired number of turns, odd or even, before coming to a stop.

The only difference between the robot and the juggler is that the robot’s programmer can measure hence know the exact impulse of motion imparted to the coin, and the juggler cannot.

The same is true for shuffling cards. No human eye can count the cards flickering under the left and right thumb in the rapid moment of the shuffle, or tell at which card of 52 the deck is cut for subsequent shuffles, and rare is the human brain able to track the repositioning of each card of 52 after each shuffle.

But, again, this is not due to some Heisenbergian limit in nature which does not allow these motions to be measured and tracked. The same annoying robot company who provided us with a robotic coin tosser could construct a card dealer able to track the motions of the cards during a shuffle, for a human who shuffled slowly enough and took notes on a piece of paper could do likewise.

So what does the percent measure? It measures what we know and what we do not know.

If we know the shape of the coin, we know it will land heads or tails, because landing on its rim never seen. So we can narrow down the outcomes to two. However, the factors which determine which of the two known outcomes it will be are myriad, delicate, and unknown.

Indeed, coins and dice and other instruments of gambling, for honest gamblers, are deliberately made as true as possible to make the determination of how they might land as far beyond human power as precision engineering can make them.

That is why shuffling the deck is not done slowly enough to note the location of each card in the sequence. If I know there are four aces evenly spaced apart in an unopened deck (where all the cards are sequential), but the shuffle was done truly and rapidly, I do not know where in the final sequence they might be resting.

However, the King of Diamonds is in the deck. The odds of it being the next card depends on the number of card already dealt out and known. It is one out of fifty-two for the first card displayed; and one out of one, or certain, if it is the last card displayed.

The odds change as the cards are turned over but the cards do not change in their sequence. The only thing that changes is your knowledge of the cards.

With this in mind, let us turn to the multiverse non-answer.

For the purposes of this illustration, let us limit the number of factors needed for human life to exist to one hundred, which is far, far below the real number, and far, far too generous to the human race.

Let us also assume that all choices are binary, either the factor is present or absent, and let us further assume that the odds of any given factor being present or absent is even-steven, a true coin toss.

This is also far, far too generous to the human race. Earth must be one AU from the sun for liquid water to be possible, but if left to random chance, the chances are not 50 trials out of one hundred, Earth is one AU from the sun, and 50 trials out of one hundred, it is not. If it were truly random, the odds of any given distance would be any number whatsoever. But be that as it may.

Let us say the demiurge or world-maker is at work. You walk into his cosmic workshop. On the table are displayed the factors of nature going into the creation of the Earth.

He says that by sheer happenstance, the first ninety-nine factors out of one hundred needed to bring forth human life have all turned up favorably. How lucky!

He says that, since he is an atheist demiurge, and must act without deliberation, blindly, the determination of the final factor he will leave up to a coin toss, and you may toss the coin. If it lands heads, the distance from the sun (or whatever) will be exactly right for liquid water to exist on the planetary surface; if tails, it won’t.

You spin the coin! What are the odds of the coin landing just so that Earth exists in such a condition so as to allow you to exist and walk into this imaginary scenario? All the choirs of angels hold their breath, clutching their golden harps in white-knuckled tension, eyes blazing, waiting for the coin to land!

Let us pause a moment before the coin lands to ponder. Is the demiurge telling the truth? Were all the ninety-nine other factors actually decided by blind chance? Because he could have used a mechanical process to go through every single possible combination of factors, no matter how long it took, until the right combination inevitably came up: in which case, no matter how your coin lands, the mechanical process will establish the opposite coin toss for the next trial, which means that the outcome is inevitable, and involves no element of chance at all. In which case, it is not chance that ground like a clockwork millwheel through all the possible combinations, but a mechanical process. What is that process? It is not chance, but the opposite.

Well, let us leave that to one side and watch the coin fall. What are the odds of it landing heads and creating the human race?

Well, on the one hand, in the imaginary scenario, the odds are, of course, even-steven. One in two. But in order for you to exist to imagine the imaginary scenario, there is no odds involved at all. It is a certainty. One in one. You know you exist.

You see, the answer of the multiverse atheist is simply a trick, and a stupid trick at that. He switches halfway through the question is asked you about the odds of tossing a coin to the odds of you being in the imaginary scenario where you toss a coin.

The multiversal atheist is either positing an inevitable mechanical process that blindly articulates every possible different combination of material factors, one after another hence each different for each poaited continua, until human life exists, or he is positing a new random nonillion-to-one coin toss for each continuum posited.

Indeed, positing that a mechanical operation to articulate every possible combination of material factors does not answer the basic question: how does it so happen that we occupy a multiverse where one of the myriad possible combination of material factors leads to human life? Is not a multiverse where no possible combination of factors, if the factors are truly selected blindly, much easier to create? If the factors are not selected blindly, then there is a Creator.

The multiversal atheist non-answer is a non-answer because it pretends we know what we don’t know so that it can attribute both final cause and historical cause to a thing called chance, or luck, or odds, or randomness, but there is no such thing as chance, or luck, or odds, or randomness except as a description of the limits of human knowledge. You or I might not know where the King of Diamonds rests in the sequence after the shuffle, but from his one-eyed point of view, so to speak, he does know, and there is no chance involved.

So, again, the question is what explains why this continuum happens to be the one where all the factors, if they are indeed randomly distributed, just so happen to fall out to be this one in which we happen to be?

Saying that if this were not the continuum which brought forth human life, no human would be around to ask the question is circular.

What is circular? It is an answer that assumes the answer without answering it.

Let me tell an anecdote from my childhood.

In third or fourth grade, the teacher introduced us to a game.

The game was this: the teacher picked one student to be “the swami” who was sent out of the room. The students then, out of earshot of “the swami” picked an object in the room, such as the flag, or the the blackboard, or the doorknob, or the eraser, or the picture of Washington hanging over the door, or the stuffed canary, or the sunflower on the tack board, to be the “McGuffin” and told the teacher.

The teacher called “the swami” back into the room and touched first one object then another asking, “is this the McGuffin?” always using the same words.

Now, here is what made the game interesting, at least, to a fourth grader.

The teacher told “the swami” a simple rule or trick to follow to identify the “McGuffin.” The students were not told the rule.

Of course the kid playing “the swami” correctly identified the McGuffin every time, no matter what the bewildered students picked.

The challenge was to see if the students could figure out how the teacher was signaling to the “the swami” what the McGuffin was, when the signal was being given right in front of them.

As I recall, the signal in my case was that the next item the teacher touched after she touched a yellow item was the McGuffin. If she touched the canary then the flag, the flag was “McGuffin”; if she touched the blackboard, the eraser, the sunflower, then the doorknob, the doorknob was “McGuffin.”

Here is the part that stuck in my mind.

Before the teacher revealed the trick, the students were asked to discuss and guess what the trick might be.

Some said it was always the third thing touched; some that it was always a thing that started with the letter “B”; or that the teacher was winking or changing her tone of voice. Other guesses were wilder.

One of the fourth graders — his name might have been Jimmy — brightly offered, “The rule is that whatever the last thing is teacher touches is the McGuffin!”

The teacher patiently tried to explain that, no matter what the rule was, the kid playing “the swami” would not keep guessing what the McGuffin was once he had guessed aright.

The bright fourth grader could not grasp the concept, and stubbornly insisted his model fit all the facts: Yes, indeed, the “the swami” kid would stop guessing after he guessed aright, and, indeed, the McGuffin was always the last thing the teacher touched because at that point the game stopped.

It is a good thing Jimmy was not an atheist enamored of the multiverse theory. He might have offered that it was merely random chance that the “the swami” kid always guessed the McGuffin, and that we just so happened to be in the multiverse where “the swami” kid guessed correctly. I would not be telling this story now if I had not been “the swami” and had not guessed correctly each time. So I must be in the universe where random chance made me guess aright.

The multiversal atheist saying that the universe we humans just so happen to inhabit is the one that just so happens to have all the factors needed to give rise to human life, is like the bright fourth grader saying the last thing the teacher touches is the McGuffin.

Yes, Jimmy, the last thing touched is always the McGuffin, but that still does not explain why the “the swami” always knows what the last thing touched will be. You have not answered the question.

The question is: what is the rule?

What is the rule that makes this continuum we now inhabit a continuum able to bring forth a world able to bring forth human life?

Saying that we are here because we are here is not such a rule. Saying it happened for no reason, without a rule, because other continua (which may or may not exist) may or may not have also brought forth life, or not, or brought forth something else like life but not like ours, is like asking about the odds of tossing the final coin in an nonillion-to-one shot. The odds are still even-steven, because the coin does not care about your history.

Likewise, this continuum does not care about your other continua. They could also be exact copies of this one. They could all be utterly lifeless. They could all be paradises of perfection, and ours is the one and only Eden where Adam disobeyed. They could be any number of things, but if the other continua are isolated from us, then our universe does not care about them any more than your one coin cares about my ninety-nine.

No one continuum cares how many other imaginary continua there are. Either they effect this one, spring from one cause, or not.

If they do not effect this one, they don’t exist as any sort of causal fashion that caused anything in this continuum.

If they all sprang from the same cause, then this begs the question of what factors were caused to be present here which failed to be present there, and what caused those factors?

Whatever caused those factors caused human life, and that cause rests in the one event that gave rise to this continuum and all other continua. But this one cause of all creation, whether creation is in the form of one continuum or many, cannot be random chance because “random chance” is our name for our ignorance of the specific cause.

If this one cause of all creation, whether creation is in the form of one continuum or many, displays intelligent design (such as if a clockwork millwheel is created to grind through every possible combination of factors leading to the creation of human life), then the one cause of all creation is the Creator.

How does the kid playing “the swami” get the clue from the teacher telling him what the McGuffin is?

There is a real answer to the question, and “the swami guesses by random chance — we just so happen to occupy that nonillion to one continuum where he always happens to guess correctly” is not one of them.

No, Jimmy. The next thing touched after teacher touches a yellow thing. All the clues are present for you to see the rule and figure out what it is.

Likewise, atheists. Saying the order of creation arose out of random chance merely says you know not how it arose. All the clues are present. Creation cannot be random.