Lessons from the Void: What Boltzmann Brains Teach

Analytic Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Some physical theories predict that almost all brains in the universe are Boltzmann brains, i.e. short-lived disembodied brains that are accidentally assembled as a result of thermodynamic or quantum fluctuations. Physicists and philosophers of physics widely regard this proliferation as unacceptable, and so take its prediction as a basis for rejecting these theories. But the putatively unacceptable consequences of this prediction follow only given certain philosophical assumptions. This paper develops a strategy for shielding physical theorizing from the threat of Boltzmann brains. The strategy appeals to a form of phenomenal externalism about the physical basis of consciousness. Given that form of phenomenal externalism, the proliferation of Boltzmann brains turns out to be benign. While the strategy faces a psychophysical fine-tuning problem, it both alleviates cosmological fine-tuning concerns that attend physics-based solutions to Boltzmann brain problems and pays explanatory dividends in connection with time’s arrow.

Author's Profile

Bradford Saad
University of Oxford

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