This question Is the unobserved universe quantum mechanical? was closed as off-topic with the rationale in the comments that it is more about physics than philosophy. There were comments in the thread disputing this rationale, including the OP mentioning that when the question was posted on Physics SE the response was that it is more about philosophy than physics. As a corroboration I can cite David Wallace among others, a well known philosopher of physics, whose works in particular address issues in the question. See e.g. his Worlds in the Everett Interpretation published in Studies in the History and Philosophy of Modern Physics or review of his book Emergent Multiverse in Philosophical Reviews. The closers did not comment further, so it is hard to tell the reasons. Several answers in the thread (including mine) were downvoted and the OP asked for reasons, I speculated about it in a comment, but it is only a speculation and obviously I am biased.

This is a request to users who may have more insight into the issue to share their thoughts. To be clear, this is not about closing or voting, which I think work quite well overall, just a request for feedback on this particular case. And beyond this case I think it would be helpful in better framing questions and answers concerning philosophy of physics in the future.


I read the question as a raw physics question, which had the following history:

  1. Was posted on physics.SE.
  2. Was closed there
  3. Was brought to philosophy.SE
  4. Was closed here.

1 and 2 are the business of physics.SE and have no bearing on what happens to the question here.

The question as asked isn't particularly philosophically oriented and got passed to our SE just because it was rejected elsewhere. But being off-topic somewhere else is not the criteria that makes it on-topic here.

Or to put it another way, the OP indicates it's a physics question through having originally posted it there.

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    Why do you read it as a raw physics question? That is what interests me the most, I don't really care about voting, closing and turf anxieties. Neither you nor Keelan give a substantive answer. The OP rep on Physics SE is 1, and here 12, so his posting choices indicate little, if anything, and my impression from the help center is that we should try to help frame questions better, you wrote so yourself in some comments. – Conifold Dec 19 '15 at 1:03
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    Are we talking about different questions? The one I linked is:"Is the unobserved universe quantum mechanical?" philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/30702/… – Conifold Dec 19 '15 at 1:56
  • You are completely correct. I was referring to the wrong question in my two comments (though not in the answer). – virmaior Dec 19 '15 at 1:57
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    The questions "Are the particles beyond the observable universe (beyond the 96 billion miles diameter range) in a state of super position because they have not been observed yet? Or did the wave function collapsed because the particles in the observed universe somehow interacted with the unobserved universe? And what about the parts of the universe that we will never observe?" seem at least to me to be pure physics questions. – virmaior Dec 19 '15 at 1:58
  • I don't take them to depend on any particular interpretation of QM or anything like that to answer, but I could be wrong. But the person who could tell me I'm wrong is a physicist. – virmaior Dec 19 '15 at 1:58
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    A physicist can not tell you that because physicists disagree on that, as Wallace's papers I linked show, even Many Worlds and Many Minds within Everett's MWI will give you different answers. Moreover, different answers do not alter quantum predictions about the observable, so this is not a question of physics as empirical science. It is interpretational and metaphysical, with choices debated on their philosophical merits. – Conifold Dec 19 '15 at 2:12
  • I don't actually see how those papers matter to the questions the OP raises that I quote above. Those seem to be answerable regardless of interpretation at the level of QM qua physics. (Or to word it differently, yes, how to interpret QM is a problem for philosophy, but no, not every problem in QM such as calculating orbital energy is thus for philosophy). I didn't on a very quick glance find anything relevant to that in the paper you linked. – virmaior Dec 19 '15 at 2:54
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    "Are the particles beyond the observable universe (beyond the 96 billion miles diameter range) in a state of super position because they have not been observed yet?" Yes, if you accept decoherence, no if "consciousness causes collapse". "Or did the wave function collapse because the particles in the observed universe somehow interacted with the unobserved universe?" Maybe on Bohmian interpretations and objective collapse, no on Copenhagen and MWI. See above on "unobservable parts", he also asks about co-creating reality. "Calculating orbital energy" is not even in the ballpark. – Conifold Dec 19 '15 at 3:51
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    @conifold: I have a suggestion for you, why not open up a separate site for the 'philosophy of physics' as a separate interdisciplinary site; you and Jo Wehler moderate it, and see just how popular it is? – Mozibur Ullah Dec 19 '15 at 10:21
  • This seems the obvious solution ... – Mozibur Ullah Dec 19 '15 at 10:21
  • I for one completely support people who are interested starting new SEs that work for what they want. I wouldn't particularly want to participate in "anything-goes.SE" but it'd be interesting to watch it work. – virmaior Dec 20 '15 at 5:41
  • Philosophy of physics is still philosophy why open a new site? Why do you think philosophers can't tell if an answer depends on a particular interpretation of QM? Conifold made an argument to that effect what is your answer to it? – Quentin Ruyant Dec 21 '15 at 1:24
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    @virmaior I'm serious. Whether the interpretation matters for the decomposition is a philosophical question which has to see with how decoherence fits with a given interpretation and the answer is not trivial (see SEP entry on the role of decoherence) I think it can be part of the answer. – Quentin Ruyant Dec 21 '15 at 8:42
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    @virmaior Specifics of this question matter only insofar as they indicate what makes it off-topic. That is what the title question here is about, pointers on the boundary b/w philosophy and physics. But I do not see how "speculating about whether what we don't observe is therefore in superposition... is just that -- speculation" is philosophically disqualifiying. There is plenty in the metaphysical toolkit dealing what what we can never observe, and all of it is just speculation. E.g. Leibniz's monadology, or the Platonic realm, or Penrose's quantum version of it. – Conifold Dec 22 '15 at 0:43
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    @conifold: I apologise for being snarky; I started the philosophy-of-physics tag, simply because of hearing well-known physicists such as Hawkings in The Grand Design being dismissive of philosophy; and as someone trained in physics and mathematics, with an amateur interest in its history, as well as an amateur interest in philosophy, this seemed to me wrong; partly because it mischaracterises philosophy as only important when it tackles questions of mathematical or physical interest; one only has to cast an eye over Aristotles or Platos oeuvre to see that it is much more wide-ranging. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 22 '15 at 18:38

Moderation can act as censorship, but moderation can also empower discussion by helpful or even progressive comments. I consider downvoting without giving a reason to be a first step into the realm of censorship.

Censorship is necessary to prevent unfair, discriminating or offending comments or statements. Fortunately, these occur very seldom in this blog.

I vote to leave the decision to each participant of this blog whether he likes to answer, to comment, or to skip a question.

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    Are you suggesting to not close anything in your third paragraph? – user2953 Dec 19 '15 at 7:12
  • @Keelan After a decision according to my second paragraph has been made, I suggest a more liberal policy of closing other answers: A question with has received at least one serious answer within a certain period of time should not be closed.- It is the task of the experienced moderator deciding how to deal with questions without any answer.The moderator should take into account votes for close, leave open or reopen from the community. I assume our moderators do so already today. – Jo Wehler Dec 19 '15 at 8:24
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    That's just not how Stack Exchange works. I don't think it is a good idea, but even if everyone would agree it is, it would take a long time before realisation (if that would ever happen). I just don't see how this is feasible in the SE framework. – user2953 Dec 19 '15 at 8:28
  • @Keelan downvoting answers to questions you judge bad if not how Stack Exchange works either. – Quentin Ruyant Dec 21 '15 at 1:16
  • @quen_tin meta.SE seems to disagree with you on that meta.stackexchange.com/questions/194963/… – virmaior Dec 21 '15 at 2:01
  • @virmaior not everyone disagree – Quentin Ruyant Dec 21 '15 at 2:12
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    @quen_tin that question doesn't even mention yet the situation that one out two members repeatedly answer bad questions, don't close anything, reopen everything, and in that way endanger the quality of the site. – user2953 Dec 21 '15 at 8:22
  • @Keelan Sometimes it is possible before answering, to rephrase or to reframe a question which is not quite clear. And then to provide an answer to the question made precise. And sometimes such answers are even helpful to the questioner and welcome to other participants. – Jo Wehler Dec 21 '15 at 14:06
  • But you rarely do that... – user2953 Dec 21 '15 at 16:24
  • @Keelan It's up to you to improve any answer by a comment or by an answer of yourself :-) – Jo Wehler Dec 21 '15 at 16:27
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    So you're basically blaming me for the fact that you leave bad questions and answers around? – user2953 Dec 21 '15 at 16:31

The people at Physics.SE don't get to decide on our scope - we do. If enough users judge the question isn't a good fit, it is closed. If enough users judge it is a good fit, it is reopened. Can it be clearer than this?

As for the downvotes: I have started to downvote answers from users that know the site well to questions that are clearly not a good fit, to give a statement.

I'm on my phone now so I can't check for you, but I know that Jo Wehler is essentially voting to leave open / reopen almost everything. That cannot be a healthy style of moderation, and I expect experienced users to know better. Giving answers to bad questions only encourages more bad questions - I try to discourage people from writing these answers. Obviously, I can only speak for myself here.

Finally, in general, anyone should be discouraged from asking explanations for particular downvotes. If you encounter repeated downvoting or the like it could be interesting to discuss it on meta, but these requests in the comments only clutter up the comment thread; they should be removed.

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    Physics is simply the only reason given in the comments, where do you see a suggestion for letting Physics SE decide our scope? Help center encourages comments to help OP improve their questions, or point them to a better SE fit, but that is exactly what is missing. You mention "questions that are clearly not a good fit", but while it may be clear to you it may not be so to the OP and others, and clarification is helpful to avoid cluttering the site with unsuitable questions/answers in the future. I do not see how this can happen under "that's it" policy. So yes, it can be much clearer. – Conifold Dec 18 '15 at 22:54
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    I also suspect that OP asked about downvotes in this case because he wants to know if he can "trust" the answers, and since you seem to say that you downvoted for "strategic" reasons this information would be useful to him/her. I don't think it is fair to have OP answer for Jo Wehler's supposed faults, and in this case the comment thread is in no danger of being cluttered. – Conifold Dec 19 '15 at 2:53
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    @Conifold I referred to the comment "I initially did post this question in the physics SE, but got a response saying that its more of a philosophical question since physics cannot explain what it can never see." That the question is not a good fit is clear to me and the others closing the question, the only people who don't seem to understand are you and Jo Wehler who seems to suggest to not close anything in his post above and can't really be taken seriously. – user2953 Dec 19 '15 at 7:10
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    @Conifold I don't think it's a good thing that bad questions get extensive answers. That would encourage more bad questions. Hence, I wouldn't reply to OP's request for explanation of the downvotes. – user2953 Dec 19 '15 at 7:11
  • If the question is rejected from physics and from philosophy for being off topic, then one of the two communities should revise their criteria. In this case it seems to me that the question is philosophical because it asks about the consequences of a particular metaphysical interpretation of quantum mechanics. This is why I answered it. Down voting answers to question you judge bad does not seem a good practice to me: down votes are for bad answers, and close requests are for bad questions. You should use the tools for what they were designed for. – Quentin Ruyant Dec 21 '15 at 1:09
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    Basically you are sanctioning users for having a different opinion than your own on the quality of questions. This is an illegitimate way of imposing your own views. – Quentin Ruyant Dec 21 '15 at 1:13
  • You wouldn't reply to OP's request for explanation for the downvotes because you don't have any good reason to give maybe? – Quentin Ruyant Dec 21 '15 at 1:37
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    @quen_tin you might want to review the policies of SE itself more generally for all three of your comments. (1) It absolutely does not follow that just because something is off-topic somewhere else that it must be on-topic here. Even if something mentions both "physics" and "philosophy" does not mean it fits on either or both. (2) downvoting answers to question that shouldn't be asked is consider appropriate (meta.stackexchange.com/questions/194963/…) – virmaior Dec 21 '15 at 1:58
  • @virmaior (1) my point was not about the policy but about physics and philosophy (2) not for everyone apparently. – Quentin Ruyant Dec 21 '15 at 2:09
  • Then I don't understand your point (1) though I'm welcome to learning more about that. – virmaior Dec 21 '15 at 2:10
  • @quen_tin for what it's worth, I didn't downvote your answer, because I don't see you answering bad questions over and over again. Other than that I don't have anything to add to Virmaior's comment. – user2953 Dec 21 '15 at 8:19
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    @virmaior my view is that philosophy of physics is more encompassing than physics itself, but the two overlap on fundamental issues. I don't see any room for questions that would not be empirical, yet not philosophical between the two. I admit that the question here is not very good but that's probably because the user has poor knowledge of physics and interpretational issues in QM. People ask questions because they don't know everything and my initial reaction was that the philosophy SE can help this user better understand the issues. – Quentin Ruyant Dec 21 '15 at 8:49
  • The problem I see in your last comment is that you're completely right "People ask questions because they don't know everything" but then we also as people who answer don't know everything and the required knowledge level to competently (rather than crazy guy sitting in his underwear) answer a question that includes both muddled physics and philosophy is a steep curve. – virmaior Dec 21 '15 at 9:22
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    Keelan, again you are reading into my post what isn't there. I did not call the question good, I did not advocate its reopening, and I certainly did not bring up Jo Wehler. The main reason I got involved is that the OP is a newbie, and it has to be part of our role to help newbies improve. What I hoped for was a discussion of the boundary between philosophy and physics, to which users can be referred so that they can ask more fitting questions. Instead we are discussing voting, reopening, PhysicsSE, Jo Wehler, anything but that. – Conifold Dec 21 '15 at 23:36
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    @Conifold apologies, I didn't get that from your post. – user2953 Dec 22 '15 at 5:00

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