Have humans lived in a pluriverse of worlds? No, they haven’t
“In the modern West, we take it for granted that reality is an objectively knowable material world. From a young age, we are taught to visualize it as a vast abstract space full of free-standing objects that all obey timeless universal laws of science and nature. But a very different picture of reality is now emerging from new currents of thought in fields like history, anthropology, and sociology.”
So begins a bewildering article by historian and critical theorist Greg Anderson, published recently on the blog of Oxford University Press. It’s a good example of academic anti-colonialism run amok, as well as a good illustration of the self-contradictory nature of epistemic and moral relativism (more about that here, from my friend and colleague Maarten Boudry). Let us take a closer look.
After that beginning, I was bracing myself for yet another essay presenting the multiverse theory nowadays so popular among some physicists, and which is a good example of bad science. (Don’t trust me, read what a physicist has to say about it.) But in fact, this was much, much worse, and I should have gotten a clue from the end of that initial paragraph, which doesn’t mention quantum mechanics but rather anthropology and sociology.
Anderson informs us that human beings have been living in what he calls “a pluriverse of many different worlds,” an idea that he recognizes might be “far-fetched” at first sight. What is he talking about? He says that billions of our ancestors have lived without any understanding of the world along the lines of modern scientific thought. That is true, and yet, as we shall see in a moment, not very informative.
Anderson continues: “Countless non-modern peoples, from ancient Egyptians to Indigenous Amazonians, have sustained themselves successfully for hundreds if not thousands of years, despite staking their lives on very different realities, on worlds full of gods, ancestral spirits, magical forces, and so many other things which our science would deem unreal. Did they all just get lucky?”
No, they didn’t get lucky. Because they were well adapted to their environment, as a result of millions of years of what science tells us is a process of evolution by natural selection. However, their life spans were much…