by Dave Maier
Christopher Langan's Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe (CTMU) (which, my Ivy doctorate in philosophy notwithstanding, I am utterly incompetent to evaluate) is either a god-awful pretentious mishmash of meshugas, or the most profound metaphysical discovery in history, or something in between. On another day, we might discuss the very real philosophical and metaphilosophical issues involved in the CTMU and its reception.
But that day, my friends, is not today. Today we celebrate, in all its scrumtrilescent glory, an Intertubes train wreck of jaw-dropping scope and power.
On February 11, 2011, blogger Mark Chu-Carroll, a computer scientist at Google, posted on his blog another in a continuing series of posts about amusing internet cranks.
Stripped down to its basics, the CTMU is just yet another postmodern “perception defines the universe” idea.”
Sets are a tool that we use to construct abstract models that describe things. The universe isn't a set; it's the universe. And yet a huge part of his argument is, ultimately, based on “disproving” the idea that the universe is a set, based on silly word-games.
This is pure muddle. It's hard to figure out what he even thinks he's doing. It's clear that he believes he's inventing a new kind of set theory, which he calls a “self-processing language”, and he goes on to get very muddled about the differences between syntax and semantics, and between a model and what it models. I have no idea what he means by “replacing set-theoretic objects with syntactic operators” – but I do know that what he wrote makes no sense – it's sort of like saying “I'm going to fix the sink in my bathroom by replacing the leaky washer with the color blue”, or “I'm going to fly to the moon by correctly spelling my left leg.”
Thereafter follows a comment thread for the ages – a multivolume epic with unforgettable characters and deathless prose, slabs of impenetrable verbiage, earnest confessions, wisecracks, vicious personal insults, and a tragic end.
The first comment asks “Could he be trying to pull a reverse-Sokal on us?”