Why I Don’t Believe in a Multiverse

Last semester, I took a very terrible (but mandatory) class called Science and Religion. A lot of the class involved bashing atheism and the worldview of naturalism as well as taking Dawkins, Hitchens, and Sagan quotes out of context and pinning the men as proponents of scientism. One big thing that this class got wrong was that it assumed that all atheists are believers in the theory of multiple universes. While this certainly is one hypothesis to explain the complicated naturalist stumbling block of fine tuning and the anthropic principle of the universe, it is just that: a hypothesis, and definitely not one that all atheists believe is true.

During our discussion of the multiverse, one angry young-earth creationist in my class shouted, “You need just as much faith to believe in that as you would in order to believe in creationism!” I had gotten swept away in the accusations that atheists believe in the multiverse as well as the self-righteousness of my peers, and I couldn’t help but take offense at his accusation. It seemed to me that a multiverse, if not real, was at least a better hypothesis than that of a deity who created the cosmos.

Later, after some contemplation, I decided that I wasn’t so sure that a multiverse was such a good explanation. It does seem equally as likely, or unlikely, as our universe having a designer. There’s nothing wrong with believing either of the two hypotheses, but I have no reason or evidence to take either one at face-value. I haven’t yet read Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing, nor have I looked extensively into the multiverse theory, but it seems to me as though it is nothing but a proposal to try to explain the observation of the seemingly delicately fine-tuned universe. Until I have a more legitimate reason to accept the hypothesis of the multiverse, I don’t believe it to be true, which is what I would expect any true skeptic to do.

I understand how this may lead me to a ridiculous sounding conclusion: that our universe is the only one there is, that it isn’t the product of thoughtful design or an infinite number of big bangs and big crunches, and it just happened to end up the way that it is on its first try. Dawkins has mentioned a few times so far in The God Delusion, as of where I’ve read to, that one very common mistake that is made when denying naturalism is that it is extremely unlikely that the universe, and even our tiny planet, must have come about randomly.

Keep in mind that I haven’t yet read A Universe from Nothing or The Blind Watchmaker (although I ordered them and they should be coming in the mail very soon!!) and that I’m no scientist, but it seems to me that all that we know for sure is that the universe is here, we are here, and we don’t know absolutely why. We know there was a big bang, but we don’t know what caused it, if anything, or whether or not it was following a series of other bangs and crunches. Those that accuse naturalism of being faulty due to having no concrete explanation of why or how we got here should know that, the way I see it, no other worldview has a better explanation. Sure, there are several hypotheses, such as a multiverse or a deity, but all they are are possibilities. Until we know for sure, I err on the side of skepticism and say that this is the only universe and there is some reason why it naturally turned out the way it did, which may involve natural selection and evolution, or something like them on a grander physical scale.

However unlikely it may be that this universe is naturally occurring, I like the sense of wonder that I am left with, hoping that in my lifetime, more answers are discovered in regards to the big bang and fine tuning. The most unlikely thing appears to be that we, and our world, manage to exist at all, but for now, it’s really all that we can be sure of. While we may never have a concrete answer of how or why, it is amazing and fascinating to be able to constantly ask questions and find out more.

37 Replies to “Why I Don’t Believe in a Multiverse”

  1. “While this certainly is one hypothesis to explain the complicated naturalist stumbling block of fine tuning and the anthropic principle of the universe, it is just that: a hypothesis”

    That’s actually incorrect – that’s a common lie from Christian apologists. I’m afraid your professor lied to you (or doesn’t understand what he’s talking about). The multiverse was absolutely NOT imagined to try to explain the fine tuning of the universe. It has the nice side effect of being an argument against fine tuning if it happens to be true, but that is really, really not why it was invented.

    The multiverse isn’t even a theory – it is a prediction of other theories, in the same way that time moving at different rates is a prediction of general relativity. In the same way that the equations of general relativity result in cool shit like time going at different speeds, the equations of quantum mechanics result in a multiverse.

    There is no consensus among physicists, and there is actually not even a majority opinion concerning the best interpretation of quantum mechanics. http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/01/17/the-most-embarrassing-graph-in-modern-physics/

    Anyway – just wanted to clear up some lies promulgated by the religious.

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  2. The multiverse may fail as an explanation for the supposed fine-tuning issue. The reason for this is what if all the universes were the same. After all, it seems to me that this is just as likely as their being all different. Our universe has a probability of one. It is here and it is the only one we know of for sure, unless you believe the world is all an illusion like some Eastern religions, which are just as much a bunch of hooey as any other religions.

    As another commentator has said there are other reasons for positing a multiverse, and it is connected with the standard model of physics, which got a huge boost as the ruling theory of the laws of physics and fundamental particles with the finding of the Higgs boson at CERN. Where the standard model fails is in trying incorporate gravity. If you pardon a religious phrase, it is the holy grail of physics. String theorists and others are working furiously on this ultimate unification.

    The big bang is somewhat of a misnomer. It was actually given to the expanding universe hypothesis by the steady-state proponent Fred Hoyle. From my understanding, which could be wrong, there was no big bang. What we seem to know at this point is that the universe expanded for an extremely small area of space and energy. The reason it is not infinite is because in quantum mechanics nothing can be smaller than the Planck length. The preponderance of evidence is that we live in an expanding universe and not in a steady-state one. Both quantum and relativity theories have issues at the Planck length, which could mean that one or both are incomplete. The one thing for sure is that we do not understand everything about the physics of the universe, let alone much that is in it. Of course, just because we do not know is no solid reason to posit some mysterious god to save the day.

    You are right to be skeptical of the multiverse. There is absolutely no empirical evidence (the ultimate judge along with coherency for things known, whether in science or not) for it.

    There is a book that I have not read as of yet by Victor Stengel called The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning.

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  3. There are two options for everyone in this universe,
    Option 1: Easy way, just believe that there is someone very technical out there and designed this complex universe couple of thousands of years back and he know his stuff, just obey him, you will be “happy” and you are gonna meet him in “heaven”. BTW, all his first “contacts” rode camels, horses and sheep!
    Option 2: Start using your brain and ask questions on “Option 1”. “Why there are so many religions in the universe, with similar concept but slight variations? and religion always got created by some “Man” (not women) who gets sudden enlightenment and this happens always while this “Man” is alone! Why God did not protect people while they were at deep troubles, look at the world, children getting gassed, helpless women and children getting raped and burnt! What is this God is waiting for? Why are the people trying to kill others just to SAVE their gods? Does God needs such help from his creation? This should tell everyone that “Man created God, now he is protecting God”.
    There is explanation behind everything, logical and scientific, but we have not advanced to that level of understanding of our universe (Probably we will never fully understand everything). As we all know science is advancing and lot of things which would have considered Godly about a 100 years back is happening even in a basic kitchen because of science. No believer goes to Church/Temple/Mosque when he is ill. Basically all believers are hypocrites that’s all. We want to take all goodies science has given us and then become so stupid to discredit logical thinking, and blindly support some cave man! Science community trying to give possible theories to prove that “Their” theory is right, but I feel universe is too complex to understand w.r.t the scientific knowledge we have now. We just know about earthly science and all the explanations and proofs are working fine but we are nowhere near to understand about universe at the same time sub atomic level of universe. It will take time. But whatever you do, there will be set of people who just want “Option 1” as per their convenience.

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  4. I’m not a physicist, so I could be off the mark here, but I think there are better motivations for positing a multiverse than the fine-tuning problem and anthropic reasoning.

    First, there are multiple forms of multiverse. One comes from the idea that the universe seems to be infinite. In a infinite space with finite laws, everything possible is bound to happen and happen repeatedly. Thanks to the laws of physics and the details of cosmic inflation directly after the Big Bang, there are regions within that space that will never influence one another, making them functionally separate universes.

    A second concept of the multiverse, not necessarily independent of or contradictory to the previous, comes from an attempt to understand some of the weirdness in quantum mechanics. It attempts to explain the probabilistic, wave-like nature of elementary particles – the fact that they seem to occupy a “superposition” of every possible state – by suggesting that every possible outcome occurs. So at each point where multiple things could happen, everything possible thing happens, resulting in an infinite budding of minutely differing universes.

    In both cases, the ideas flow from highly corroborated scientific theories. It’s not just a matter of explaining why the universe seems fine-tuned for life (which is debatable, anyway). Rather, it’s a matter of deriving logical deductions from the nature of highly compelling explanations of natural phenomena – which is the same process that generates all good hypotheses. Whether or not those hypotheses prove to be true is another matter.

    Brian Greene’s books about this stuff are very good for folks unwilling or incapable of dealing with hugely complex mathematical equations (like myself). Max Tegmark’s Our Mathematical Universe is another good one.

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  5. I love theories revolving around multiverses, we cannot say whether they are true or not, but they are definately based on observations and have correct predictions compared to the faulty creationism. You should read Brian Greene’s A Hidden Reality, you might be a supporter of multiverse or not but this book gives a really lovely insight to the different version of multiverses

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  6. I feel encouraged when I see people honestly wrestling with deep puzzles, and one “symptom” of this kind of courageous engagement is admitting that people with other points of view have good arguments too! So thank you for candidly admitting that the “fine tuning” of cosmic laws is tough for humanists to explain.
    I talk a little about this issue in my book, Bridging the God Gap.
    Here are a couple of relevant passages:

    Philosopher Bradley Monton, an atheist, has written a book which evaluates intelligent-design arguments, including the claim that physical laws were fine-tuned for our benefit. “Ultimately,” he concludes, “I don’t think very much evidence is there, but that conclusion can only be reached after careful evaluation of the arguments . . .” (Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, p. 7). Perhaps the book should have been subtitled “An Atheist Studies and Rejects Intelligent Design,” but that’s a bit cumbersome. In any case, Monton is unusually fair-minded in assessing the data. Importantly, he notes that fine-tuning arguments “are the sorts of claims about which even competent physicists disagree. For example, Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg has said that he is ‘not impressed with these supposed instances of fine-tuning.’ . . . I’ve read a lot of the literature on the fine-tuning argument, but I’ve never seen an opinion poll of experts, so it’s not clear to me what the majority do believe regarding the fine-tuning evidence. However, it is clear to me that the promulgators of the fine-tuning argument aren’t relying on such an opinion poll” (p. 81).
    Bridging the God Gap includes a series of conversations among a theist, an atheist, and an agnostic. At one point the atheist asks: “if a super-duper mind created the universe, why would it resemble our traditional concepts of God? It would have to be an incredible information-processing system with the power to shape matter, but look at all the ways that a matter-shaping mind might not be godlike. It might not be conscious. It might have no emotions, and no sense of right and wrong. It might be unaware of (or uninterested in) Homo sapiens. It might not be eternal, and in fact it might not even exist anymore. ‘It’ might be several different entities, working together. Its attention might even be focused on some other universe, and our cosmos might be an accidental by-product of what it’s doing ‘over there.’
    Just some ideas – Roger Schriner

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  7. Interesting. So in a sense you’re agnostically sceptical about the idea of the multiverse, is how I read that. You have no belief that there is a multiverse, but you also have no belief that there is not one.

    Cue massive long screed on the multiverse!

    The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is neither the only grounds for believing in a multiverse nor the only possible interpretation of quantum mechanics. Stochastic interpretations are another option for example: we see the averaged version of the possibilities.

    I personally do believe in the multiverse, and another way to justify this belief is modal realism – the idea that other possible worlds are as real as this one and that terms referring to probabilities and possibilities et cetera are indexical-reflexive expressions and the like, such as “this”, “here”, “now” and “I”. “Actual” is an indexical word. David Lewis is one example of a modal realist philosopher whose metaphysics don’t depend on quantum theory: http://users.ox.ac.uk/~worc0337/modal.realism.html . His issue is that a counterfactual conditional such as “If Donald Trump hadn’t lost the election, the president of the US would be a woman” is true rather than meaningless, and that this entails that it must refer to a real possible world in which this is so. This doesn’t depend on quantum theory because there could be a completely deterministic chain of cause and effect leading to the state of affairs which currently obtains in US politics.

    I think religion can be studied as an anthropological, psychological or sociological phenomenon and I also think the history and philosophy of science are relevant and could also be studied. Since our own children never went to school, the issue never arose for us. One of them is now atheist and the other Christian.

    Sorry to go on. Too much caffeine!

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    1. “So in a sense you’re agnostically skeptical about the idea of the multiverse, is how I read that. You have no belief that there is a multiverse, but you also have no belief that there is not one.” – yes, I think you’re correct.

      After that, you kind of lost me (I don’t really know anything about quantum physics), but I have heard before the multiverse theory in which a decision is made (I’m going to go to College A not College B) or an outcome happens (Trump beats Clinton in the presidential race), that a new universe stems off of both outcomes. I think the main reason I don’t believe that is simply because it’s simply so unfathomable how many universes that would create that it blows my mind.

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      1. Sorry, it’s my doing I’m afraid, clarity is not one of my strengths.

        Infinities, or at least vast numbers, do exist in the real Universe though. Considering that we (appear to) live in a Universe which is 13 billion years old and tens of billions of light years across, and that the Planck lengths and times are so tiny compared even to our familiar human scale, you’re getting into numbers with more than sixty digits in each case. Multiply those together to account for volume and the passage of time and the numbers involved run into well over two hundred digits. Those enormous numbers are generally accepted to apply to the real world. Given that, do the vast or infinite numbers involved in possible worlds seem more feasible?

        Determinism and cause and effect probably rule out a lot of other worlds if all you have to go on is quantum stuff, because everything is caused by everything else back to the origin of the Universe, and those initial conditions are feasibly the same. I once tried to write an alternate history in which the economic and political conditions in the West didn’t break down in 1979. I ended up having to make no less than seven points of divergence. There may not be as many alternate universes as at first seems possible – for instance, there probably couldn’t be a world in which four-leaved clovers were the norm because they wouldn’t be able to photosynthesise efficiently enough to compete with their three-leaved relatives or other species of plant.

        I’m going on and on again, sorry! But there is another way in which possible worlds can be made feasible which doesn’t involve quantum mechanics, which is to account for the apparent fact that when you make a conditional statement it appears to be true or false rather than having no meaning at all. That suggests that such a claim is about a state of affairs in another literal possible world which has the same status as our own.

        Having said that, I like your commitment not to make a definite assertion about something you haven’t got strongly reliable evidence for.

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  8. I don’t “believe” that there is a multiverse, but I also don’t “believe” that there isn’t a multiverse. It’s a very interesting hypotheses, that if shown to be true would explain a lot. But right now we don’t have any way to investigate the question, so I need to leave it unresolved for now.

    The only time I would use the idea is when a theist tries to use “fine tuning” as proof of god, claiming there couldn’t be any other explanation. But of course there could. Could be a naturally occurring multiverse, could be universe-creating pixies, could be a celestial unicorn that farts universes. Until such time as we can investigate these possibilities, there’s no reason to accept any sort of “it had to be a god” conclusion.

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    1. Exactly. And in another class, we explored a couple different multiverse theories: a series of bangs and crunches, as well as the idea that universes are like a bubbles in a bubble bath, all existing at the same time but some stay and some pop and grow and shrink. That gave me a headache.

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  9. A note on the multiverse, as I understand it, it’s a hypothesis not a theory.

    The reason why it is suggested is that it works with the mathematics of the standard model of physics. The standard model is well tested and it works and every prediction based on it pans out so there is good reason to investigate the multiverse further to see if there is a way to improve what we know.

    Where things get challenging is the point of the big bang, the standard model breaks down somewhere there and something new is required to help our knowledge progress. String Theory was proposed to help here but I think enthusiasm for this is waning somewhat.

    There is certainly plenty we don’t know and as ideas are discussed and investigated, we’ll learn more. Shutting ideas down and dismissing them out of hand, as in the example of the religious discussion above, is exactly why religion should be kept out of the classroom because it is a science stopper.

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    1. I personally don’t think that creationism should be taught in science classes; it should be kept in a religion class, and it should include stories from multiple religions to keep it fair. And if creationism is taught as a hypothesis, then the multiverse definitely should be as well, as it sounds like a much more plausible explanation for the big bang.

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  10. “You need just as much faith to believe in that as you would in order to believe in creationism!”

    I love the own goal in statements like that, it essentially says that atheism must be wrong because it believes in stuff without evidence just like theism does so they’re just as bad as each other.

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    1. I don’t want to be ad hominem about it but to me that places doubt in both his own religious faith and his prowess as a scientist, because it seems to me that he needed to come up with a scientific justification for creation rather than simply relying on faith, and that to me suggests his hypothesis and therefore possibly his testing of it was biassed by his faith. By no means am I denying the Big Bang theory but I’ve always been a little suspicious of the character of the person who thought of it.

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      1. “…it seems to me that he needed to come up with a scientific justification for creation rather than simply relying on faith, and that to me suggests his hypothesis and therefore possibly his testing of it was biassed by his faith.”

        Lemaitre believed that religion and science should exist separately — that one shouldn’t be used to try and justify the other.

        When the Pope announced to the world that Lemaitre’s theory was compatible with the teachings of the Catholic faith — i.e., God said “Let there be light,” and BANG! there was light — Lemaitre said “Please don’t do that.”

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            1. This was why I felt uneasy about Lemaitre coming up with the Big Bang theory. From what you say it sounds like I got him wrong. However, as a general principle it seems to make sense to me to be confident about both faith and science rather than use them to prop each other up.

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  11. Interesting article. I’m no big fan of the multiverse theory myself. I read a book about it once, I think it’s called “The Rabbits of Schrödinger” at least that was the name of the Spanish translation. It just seemed a bit fairytaleish to me, and really has quite a bit in common with the concept of God. First of all it’s irrefutability, the impossibility of ever prove it wrong. Second of all it’s birth merely to explain something difficult to understand, without any proof at all. The fact that something explains something does not make it true. And it’s even rather boring since the trail seems to stop there, the theory can’t really be used to any further progress. Just like God. So I think the problem is that many theists are incapable of understanding that some people neither need nor want these kinds of theories to explain the unknown. We want to find out how things really are, rather than cling to unproven ideas to calm our curiosity. We want our curiosity to glow.

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  12. OK, firstly I don’t understand how you came to the conclusion that it’s unlikely our universe is naturally occurring – what evidence is there to suggest this?
    Secondly, I don’t follow your logic in suggesting that this universe is the only one. It seems to me more of an assumption than anything else. People thought our world (planet earth, though they wouldn’t then have understood it as such) was the only world, and turned out to be wrong. It’s only a few years since most people assumed ours was the only planet with life on it, certainly the only one with intelligent life. Current evidence suggests this is extremely unlikely. It isn’t good scientific practice to make assumptions. As I understand it, we don’t have sufficient knowledge to know whether ours is the only universe, or whether there are others. We should therefore keep an open mind.
    I’d also say that although I’m no cosmologist, as I understand it there is an increasing unease, within the scientific community, with the big bang theory. Until we have better evidence, we shouldn’t assume we’ve cracked it with regard to that particular theory.
    Phew! I think I need to lie down in a darkened room for a while!

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    1. The fact that I believe that the universe is naturally occurring is more related to a disbelief in the supernatural than to a belief in the natural. I see no reason to believe that there are supernatural causes, so unless I learn that there is evidence of that, I view it skeptically.

      There’s always the chance that I’m wrong about this and there are multiple universes. I tend to operate on the assumption that something doesn’t exist unless I have very good reason to believe that it does. This could end up the way that it did when we thought we were the only planet, solar system, or galaxy, only to discover others, but as of yet, we haven’t discovered another universe, so for now, I don’t believe that there is.

      I guess I kind of view this the way that someone would think of agnosticism and atheism. I don’t have definite knowledge either way as to a multiverse’s existence (agnostic), but because I don’t have evidence of it, I don’t believe in it (atheism, or in this case, amultiverseism).

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      1. Hi, sorry, I misunderstood – I thought you were saying you thought it unlikely that the universe had occurred naturally. No wonder I was surprised! Confusion cleared up.
        I can understand your agnostic view on the universe/multiverse question. On the other hand, we can’t be sure of what we’re seeing when we look out to the edge of our universe (or what may be the beginning of time) so, who knows!

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  13. I’m very suspicious of “arguments for the existence of God” because some people want so badly to believe in God that they will believe any theistic argument, regardless of its quality. That being said, the sheer improbability of life as we know it strikes me as the best argument for God – unless some multiverse theory works out. Of course, the appearance of some kind of purpose loosely guiding the universe does not prove the existence of the God of popular religion, but it does open the door (at least in my mind) to some reasonable speculation about God. When I left conservative Christian theology, I decided I was done shrugging my shoulders at tough questions and accepting wonder as consolation. For me, a “best guess for now” (colored by openness, of course) is better than nothing.

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    1. My own sense is, we evolve. Both mentally and physically, and (you should forgive the expression) spiritually. We are, if you look at it objectively, following pretty close on the path an infant takes, only on a much slower, broader scale.
      When an infant is very small, the world he sees around him is ‘his’. MY dog, My daddy My toys. (not unlike early man, who believed the sun revolved around the earth and we owned it). As a child matures his world opens out (aha, the earth revolves arount the sun, amazing) and he begins to view himself as part of a bigger whole. Every year, he expands a bit, both mentally and spiritually. We now realize that we are not the entire universe, but a very small bit of it. And we start reaching out, exploring. always exploring.

      religions have yet to get past the notion that we are all important in the universe, which puts them squarely in the early growth stages of children. For them, we are so all -important to god it’s almost mind blowing. It’s a bit creepy to think of a Deity that lonely that he needed to create toys (us) to play with.

      I would say, religion notwithstanding, we have reached a level of maturity in our mental /emotional evolution equal to about early adolescence, when a little girl decides she wants to end world hunger, save the rabbits, and give away all her possessions to the poor. Commendable, but not really practical. We have also begun, finally, to view war on any scale as abhorrent. No longer do men go off to battle singing war songs while their brave wives go home to knit socks. We have suddenly realized that a war is not a land of glory but a land of hideous death.

      As a group animal we are slowly heading toward the next level of maturity as a human. , whatever that might be.

      I gave up wondering about the size of the universe (although it is cool to think about it) or the possibility of more than one (not sure why we would need another, but it’s possible. I no longer ponder the mystery of a deity I can neither touch, feel, or hear.

      it may also be that since the Christian era is coming to a difficult end, the next one, which, sadly, I won’t be around to see, promises to be messy and interesting.

      sorry, motor mouth just took over. Skim at will. =)

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        1. oh, so do I. It could take another thousand years before much more change happens, but even in our own lifetime (or mine, probably more than yours) we have seen the tide against war turn quite strongly. men still go to war, but not because they feel heroic doing it. In ancient times men were instructed by their mothers and wives “either come back carrying your shield or lying on it”. =)

          And if you study history at all, from that point of view, you can see us turning from a self-centered self-absorbed species to one that is beginning to think beyond the ends of his fingers.

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