Absurd claims

I’m going to steal yet another meme from Tyler Cowen, who asks: What is the most absurd claim you believe? “It should refer to a view which you actually hold, but many other smart people consider untenable and bizarre.”
During a period overlapping heavily with my undergraduate years, my answer would have been that I think David Lewis’ theory of possible worlds is largely correct; in particular the notion that all possible worlds are just as real as the actual world. I’ve only read excerpts from Lewis’ works so I’m not prepared to accept or discredit his entire theory, but the underlying principle seemed right. Later, however, I realized that this could not possibly be true as I had imagined it: the reason being that the laws of physics in the actual world seem to be very regular and time-translation invariant, whereas there are many more grue-like worlds where the laws of physics randomly change than there are worlds like this one. So the probability of finding oneself in a world where the laws of physics are observably stable is vanishingly small. (A reasonable objection is that this probability isn’t well-defined. But if all possible worlds are equally real I would be very surprised not to find myself in a world with some grue-ish properties.)
So I had to shelve this idea. I’m still don’t have a convincing idea of what distinguishes the actual world from other possible ones, but I think there must be something, and maybe it has to do with why the laws of physics are fixed with time.
Anyway, I thought the modal realism thing would be an unusual answer to the question, but it was mentioned by the fourth commenter in the original MR thread so I guess not. But having given up on that some years ago, what is my current most absurd belief? Probably that many-worlds is the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics. (Even though I don’t like to call it “many-worlds”.) Of course this has some conceptual similarities with my previous absurd belief, but at least this one suffers from fewer grue-type problems.
Anyone else want to confess some absurd beliefs?

27 thoughts on “Absurd claims

  1. Justin

    Thanks for the link – much better to live in a world with grue (color) properties than one with grue (monster) properties! 😀
    I gather that my insistance on chocolate purity may be an “absurd belief” in this context. Lots of people have insisted to me that substances other than the Holy Quaternary of Vanilla, Mint, Peanut Butter, or Cinnamon can viably mix with chocolate (fruit being the most common form of Chocolate Heresy, though nuts are the Abomination). Obviously carrier foods like cookie dough are not counted; arguably vanilla should be put in this category (ice cream) but it persists for historical reasons.
    If you were looking only for scientific absurd beliefs, sorry, I’ll have to think about that for a bit…

  2. Arcane Gazebo

    Mine may have been heavily metaphysical, but absurd beliefs in any category are accepted. :)
    In any case, I am a deviant who enjoys both fruit and nuts intermingled with my chocolate. Sometimes simultaneously.

  3. Mason

    I like putting all sorts of things in my chocolate as well, but it needs to be good chocolate (like 140 proof from Belgium or something)—not that Hershey’s junk!
    If you live in a grue world, definitely keep the lights on at all times!
    My most absurd belief? Maybe that the Cubs will eventually get another World Series win? I’ll have to think about it. But the Red and White Sox have won the last two series, so maybe this isn’t so absurd after all.
    Sometimes, I believe that the world is completely pointless. (In writing some of this, I am thinking back to when I read Sartre’s “No Exit”.) We are born, we live for a very short time (on certain scales), we die and—except for a small handful of people—we’re completely forgotten after not so many years pass and the world goes on as if we never existed. I think it would probably be considered absurd that I want to be remembered on that scale and on occasion it absolutely annoys the fuck out of me that that won’t happen. The absurd part is probably having the chutzpah to be annoyed by this. Why go through all this crap if we have a very small burst of consciousness (and nothing beyond that) and then we might as well not have been here? I should have been allowed to sleep. :)
    OK, so I don’t usually go through life that extremely, but I’ve had periods where I do. And it’s probably pretty absurd that I do at all. Enjoying what I do have is a bit of a better way to go through life, but I can’t help wanting greatness and a legacy that I won’t attain.

  4. Jolene

    Well, I still maintain the some-call-it-absurd belief that the cacti are not really sessile (except for the One sessile cactus, the mastermind behind cactus schemes worldwide), and that they’re all part of an insidious plot to destroy us all. If you don’t buy it, I have photos from a research group camping trip in the desert that reinforce this theory.

  5. Josh

    I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky. I think about it every night and day. I spread my wings and fly away.

  6. Chris LS

    I guess it can be viewed as an absurd notion (from a scientific perspective), but I truly believe that we are not simply physical beings, but rather spiritual beings that are existing in this brief, physical world in order to accomplish spiritual growth. This notion that so many seem to have embraced, that we are nothing but a bunch of chemical reactions and cells working together, with nothing beyond this existence, just doesn’t ring true to me. Oddly enough, I think that Travis’ concept of alternate worlds could very well play into this – the spiritual realm is simply another world/dimension that we inhabit simultaneously with the physical.
    Is there scientific evidence of this? Well, not that I know of, but there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence. From deja vue (I had a really strong episode of it this last week – I remembered a dream I’d had right around the time I became store manager (it was in the first couple of weeks) of events taking place in front of me – I knew what the guys standing near me were going to say and do for about three seconds). There is also an enormous pile of near death experiences which seem to validate the existence of a spiritual realm, not to mention unexplained phenomenon such as ghost sightings and out of body experiences.
    Perhaps my most absurd belief from a scientific perspective is that there are things in this world that science, as we know it today, is incapable of explaining.

  7. Josh

    Mason: if neither of those two songs got into any reader’s head, then I haven’t done my job.

  8. Arcane Gazebo

    Mason: Negative points for the Cher? Cher sounds like goddamn Mozart compared to that abomination by R. Kelly. I was tempted to ban him for that–the only thing that saved him was that it did not in fact get stuck in my head, due to intense concentration on my part.

  9. Mason

    Ugh, did you have to remind me which song it was?
    I didn’t give him negative points for it only because I hadn’t yet recognized it. Thanks a bloody bunch!

  10. Alejandro Rivero

    Many-worlds + “Dejavu as a manifestation of the collapse of eigenfuction”, ie that a very huge bifurcation is perceived as dejavu. Thus if you feel a dejavu it could either be an ordinary one or a signal that your life has just come to a big bifurcation (death, marry, etc)

  11. Alejandro

    Dunno. A reach for “collocation” in quant-ph gives a single hit. Perhaps some insight could come from Quantum Suicides (quant-ph/0412147)

  12. Alejandro Rivero

    By the way, Spanish “colocado” is jargon equivalent to English “stoned”. Thus in this sense, hmm, yes, such methods could work.

  13. Mason

    You should have been checking the bifurcation theory literature instead. :)
    Collocation methods are used by, e.g., the bifurcation package AUTO.

  14. Justin

    AG – LOL! I’m not normally very impressed by those dinosaur comics, but that was awesome!
    It’s a bit of a dodge, but since I’m vegetarian clearly a pork chop bone would be an impurity. Arguably less severe than fruits & nuts, if only for the bizarre factor. :-)
    Thankfully my ignorance of modern music saved me from whatever atrocities Josh cher’ed with us. 😀

  15. Jermaine

    I’m sorry, did I say God? I meant Gob, as in Gob Blooth(pronounced Jobe). I really believe in that guy.

  16. Sara

    my husband also has some belief in the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and was once told by Roger Penrose that “For such a reasonably guy you put way too much stock in the many worlds interpretation”.
    mine: that a sweet french gauffre (waffle), plus chocolate, make a good dinner.

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