Where is my AskMe question about parallel universes? April 7, 2005 11:04 PM   Subscribe

So I posted a question about parallel universes on askmetafilter yesterday (got a bunch of great comments within the first hour) and when I checked in this morning I can't find the question either on the page or in the archives. Where is it?
posted by Panfilo to Bugs at 11:04 PM (52 comments total)

It was probably deleted. I'm not sure how to access deleted posts, but someone will probably point you in the right direction.
posted by xammerboy at 11:28 PM on April 7, 2005


Deleted? That's a shame. People posted some good links which I didn't have the presence of mind to save.
posted by Panfilo at 11:41 PM on April 7, 2005


I was wondering about that. I enjoyed reading the comments. It might have been deleted for being too chatty and straying too far from the question. I was thinking of jumping in and talking about memories and dualism, because the conversation was heading that way, but thought it might have been too off-topic. I've never seen a whole question deleted for that reason, though.
posted by painquale at 11:43 PM on April 7, 2005


It's deleted. Just check your own profile for your posting history: and no questions and 1 answer to Ask MetaFilter.

There is no way to find deleted askme's, they just go away. They're actually deleted.
posted by dabitch at 12:04 AM on April 8, 2005


Try looking over here.
posted by mono blanco at 12:15 AM on April 8, 2005


It just seemed like a silly, slightly obnoxious use of ask metafilter. There were several comments saying what I just did but in less pleasant terms and lots of flags to delete it.

I don't know if there's a place in ask metafilter for hypotheticals that exist as pure fantasy. Seems like things have to have the slightest grounding in reality and that was asking for opinions on something that doesn't exist, which is at least a couple steps removed from anything concrete or real.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:59 AM on April 8, 2005


Oh, man! I would have liked to read that! Panfilo, can you tell us your (more or less) exact phrasing of the question?
posted by taz at 1:00 AM on April 8, 2005


It just seemed like a silly, slightly obnoxious use of ask metafilter. There were several comments saying what I just did but in less pleasant terms and lots of flags to delete it.

That's harsh. I saw several good answers in thread.

I don't know if there's a place in ask metafilter for hypotheticals that exist as pure fantasy. Seems like things have to have the slightest grounding in reality and that was asking for opinions on something that doesn't exist, which is at least a couple steps removed from anything concrete or real.

So questions about God are out too? Good.
posted by mr.marx at 1:14 AM on April 8, 2005


mathowie writes "There were several comments saying what I just did but in less pleasant terms and lots of flags to delete it."

How many is "lots"?

Since I didn't see the question myself before it was deleted, it's hard for me to understand why a hypothetical question about parallel universes would get "lots" of flags.

What made the question so bad that rather than ignore and move on to one of the other forty-eight questions also posted April 6, so many people took the time to flag it? And why waste even more time leaving an unpleasant comment? I mean, it's at worst a stupid question, not an ethical or moral failing, right?

I mean, the question wasn't "if there are parallel universes, in which ones can I cook human babies over pyres made of stray cats, bald eagles, and the contents of the Library of Alexandria?", was it?

What is it about MetaFilter that "lots" of people seem to be so passionate about complaining about such a trivial thing a question they don't care for? Is it a feeling that any post they dislike is a personal affront? A feeling of lack of control in their real lives where they can't flag the PHB's water-cooler stupidities? Or do I have it backward? Do they make it a practice to walk down the street and like a bastardized episode of "Queer Eye", point out "fashion faux pas" and "bad questions" and "incorrect" musical tastes with a shrill "Flag, you're it"?

Is tolerance so dead that people really no longer think, "what he's doing/saying/posting/asking really is not for me, but I guess it works for him"?
posted by orthogonality at 1:55 AM on April 8, 2005


Wow, reminds me of my insanest question ever to AskMe, which somehow not only survived but generated a vigorous conversation so metaphysical I couldn't be bothered to read any of it.

Believe me, I learned my lesson.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:59 AM on April 8, 2005


I can see the point if "grounding in reality" means that one may only post questions like "What scissors should I buy, What rocks can I kick". Now I know the rule. But I think it's unfair to dismiss the question as pure fantasy and therefore useless. Thought experiments in theoretical physics (Newton's bucket, Maxwell's demon, Einstein's elevator, Heisenberg's gamma-ray microscope, Schrödinger's cat) can surely be very interesting, enlightening, and educational. And I really don't get the obnoxious part. I posted the question quite innocently and was grateful for the number of good and interesting comments made. I wish I had saved the links. The question was roughly: If one travels to a parallel universe according to the "many worlds theory", does one bump into another self or is the self substituted for the self in that universe?
posted by Panfilo at 2:01 AM on April 8, 2005


Perhaps if you'd worded it: I'm planning on traveling to a parallel universe next week. And can anyone recommend some good restaurants? And should I pack one or two sets of clothes?

I don't get the "obnoxious," either, btw.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 2:12 AM on April 8, 2005


Aha! Okay, I'm thinking this is one way to ask the question that won't get people upset: "Help me understand a point of theoretical physics: According to the 'many worlds theory', if one travels to a parallel universe, does he bump into another self, or is he substituted for the self in that universe?"

I know it seems like a silly distinction, but I'm pretty sure this would not be deleted or be subject to many complaints. I would post this question myself right now to test that theory, but I've posted within the last week, so I can't...
posted by taz at 2:18 AM on April 8, 2005


I almost took a module on parallel universes as part of my philosophy MA. I didn't, in the end, so can't be any use answering the question. But it sounds like a fairly reasonable question to ask.
posted by handee at 2:21 AM on April 8, 2005


Panfilo:
Perhaps you could have rephrased your question so it was answerable and not silly:
"Do beings in a parallel universe cut the top off a half eaten bag of chips?"
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:13 AM on April 8, 2005


Honestly, it was turning into a trainwreck. People got snarky debating interpretations of the Many Worlds theory, or refused to answer the question because travel between parallel universes is impossible under it thus rendering the hypothetical situation moot.

I said something to the effect of: As I understand it, parallel universes are created with every action or choice. Suspending disbelief and running with Panfilo's stipulated elements of travel and alternate selves (so, not strictly adhering to the M theory), I would hazard that you would bump into yourself, but it would be the you that would have been had you gone a different path (i.e. ditch-digger) and not the you as you are now (i.e. the travelling you). And then bumping into your own self would create more incursions, additional universes ad infinitum.

I am not a physicist, but questions like this are fun to think about. Perhaps the question could have been better-put or better thought-out but I learned from it anyway and especially enjoyed Ryvar's quantum suicide link and peacay's Michio Kaku link.
posted by Lush at 3:24 AM on April 8, 2005


Lush: Many thanks for those links. Actually, (as I read last night) Michio Kaku suggests that travel is possible in the Many Worlds setting, just quite impractical, as the traveller has to be smaller than an atom. But to pose better questions requires a better brain, and sadly I'm stuck with what I've got. That's why I ask my fellow metafilter members to enlighten me.
posted by Panfilo at 3:51 AM on April 8, 2005


things have to have the slightest grounding in reality and that was asking for opinions on something that doesn't exist

my first answer said something similar. but then i looked into it in more details (and posted a couple more links) and it seems that travel between alternate universes would be possible if quantum mechanics was non-linear (experimental upper bounds are that it's linear to at least 1 part in 1e27) and that the hypotheses might be testable in the future. i linked to a faq on the subject.

anyway, i think deletion is a bit harsh, but i guess defining "slightest" as better odds than 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 is reasonable.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:44 AM on April 8, 2005


the pedant in me is regretting that last sentence. limits on linearity not really being related to probabilities.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:47 AM on April 8, 2005


So... I didn't see the thread, and therefore have no idea how nasty/silly it got, but the more I think about it, the more this seems to me a particularly unfortunate deletion because I imagine that mostly people who (relative to me or Panfilo, at least) are somewhat knowledgeable about dealing with such ideas would be responding, and that those responses would be quite fascinating.

If there were lots of (ignorant) joke responses, then it's a shame, but then it's also a shame that the poster is penalized for this. It seems to me that asking about something that is actually a subject of academic conjecture is not out of bounds (as opposed to genies in bottles, say — or how much gold is in the pot at the end of the rainbow, etc.).

I'm really a little befuddled about why a lot of people would flag that thread for deletion, and, frankly, the fact that they did is giving me the creeps.
posted by taz at 5:10 AM on April 8, 2005


Maybe because there's a large group of users who want AskMe to have a more focused usage? I didn't see or flag the thread, but it's pretty obviously one of the best examples of chatfilter that you're going to find.

I understand the desire to have MetaFilter be all things to all users and that some people think that anything that's interesting has a place here, but maybe it doesn't. I have hardly ever bothered to flag anything, but it doesn't give me the creeps that people use the flagging feature, given that it was put in place for just such a purpose.

Also, I'd point out that with some of the links already given here, you could create a decent FPP about multiple universes, and then you could have at the discussion over on the blue.

And then someone can bring it back to MeTa again. It's the circle, the circle of life. Which is the same shape that gets made when I roll my eyes.
posted by anapestic at 5:22 AM on April 8, 2005


So AskMe is essentially a geeks' concierge, and woe to the person who doesn't approach the English language as a programmer?

(except for the one special inapropriate/"chatty" question that got on the sidebar...? Is this just further proof of people in the U.S. being insane?)

Firsthand experience is valued, but only if it's technical? People ask on the green because they want people who know what they're talking about to answer—on the blue it's more of a free-for-all, and no sane person would have such high expectations.
posted by MightyNez at 5:38 AM on April 8, 2005


I thought it was a silly question and wondered what the hell it was doing here.

There, Matt, did I do good?
posted by Doohickie at 6:01 AM on April 8, 2005


It's not like he was asking how to change a lightbulb or anything...
posted by item at 7:07 AM on April 8, 2005


Anapestic: To me, it's too close to the idea of putting someone in pillory because they have talked about something so bizarre as a "molecule". What?! You're trying to tell me that there might be this "invisible particle" that makes up everything, and that it's everywhere? Riiiiiiight!!!! LOL!!!!

Again, I have to say that there's a big difference between asking what people would wish for if they had three wishes, and asking about something that actually constitutes an area of academic study. Proposing the idea of airborne disease would have once earned you the ridicule of every serious person, and the complete scorn and contempt of every physician. Still...
posted by taz at 7:13 AM on April 8, 2005


I didn't find the poster's struggling to articulate a question on deep subject matter obnoxious at all. I may have umm...cringed to a certain extent, but that may say more about my own elitist condescending attitude or the somesuch. It's been rejected because they weren't overly successful in framing the question succinctly. The gist was definitely there, however.

It suggests to me that there could be value in having some wikifying element in the posting procedure - a panel has dibs for an hour or so to reconstruct the question before it is writ permanent on the green/blue? (And let's face it, some of the cryptic, abrupt and noncommunicative FPP's in the blue can be as annoying as hell, at times. Although I do otherwise subscribe to the view that there ought to be a tight rein on the integrity of the green and the blue can get sorted out with peer pressure/MeTa).
posted by peacay at 8:17 AM on April 8, 2005


I tend to be pretty quick to hit that exclamation point (and am likely to remain so, in spite of orthogonality's highly persuasive ad hominems), and yet I didn't flag that post. For whatever that's worth.

A lot of the answers were getting pretty chatty--and I think I flagged some of the individual answers within that post--but I think there's a distinction to be made. Some questions are ChatFilter by the very nature of the questions, and those should be deleted. Some turn chatty in spite of the legitimate question which spawned them--in those cases, there may be a lot of comments to delete within the thread, but I don't think the whole thread has to be deleted. This was one of the latter, IMO.

Even given the leading view that one (at least, a whole person) can't travel to parallel universes under the Many Worlds interpretation, it's still valid just for the answers that point that out. "What brand of rain gear should I take on my trip to the Sahara" is valid for the responses that you probably don't need rain gear there, even if no one can provide an answer to the question as asked.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:02 AM on April 8, 2005


Well, all is not lost! I'm learning here dribs and drabs and bits of information that might have been more straightforewardly addressed there... but at least I'm learning a tiny bit of something.
posted by taz at 9:27 AM on April 8, 2005


I saw the post, and my first reaction was wha???

It wasn't that it was a bad question, it was that it was badly phrased. I think the question was phrased along the lines of...

"When travelling to a parallel universe is there another you or do you become the you in that universe?"

Stated openly like this, many people probably felt the question was too open ended and not grounded enough in reality.

That said there were some good responses from those who understood the question was a hypothetical in relation to physics. So, next time, I would be clearer in the phrasing of the question.
posted by xammerboy at 9:30 AM on April 8, 2005


I should also say I opened the thread, saw that a good conversation was taking place, and did not flag it. In general, something would have to be pretty bad to be flagged, and I think members who find they are using the flag all the time should get over it.
posted by xammerboy at 9:34 AM on April 8, 2005


I think members who find they are using the flag all the time should get over it.

pffft. The flag rules. I'm having conversations in real life, looking around for the little exclamation point. I LOVE the flag. I'm flagging you for slagging on the flagging.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:53 AM on April 8, 2005


I flagged one thing, once, on the blue, for being in my estimation too "Farkish". I felt bad about it later, and have never flagged anything since then. In fact, I shun the flag.
posted by taz at 10:02 AM on April 8, 2005


I didn't flag it, but I definitely cringed a little at the question. It seemed to assume that parallel universe theory is empirical in some way. It's interesting theory, but it's the stuff of science fiction and very tentative, theoretical science. But to involve that already completely unresolved problem of what a self is (to start with), with a completely fantastic and poorly described 'mechanism' of 'getting' to another universe... well, it was definitely set up for confusion. I like those kinds of topics, but I didn't check into that one because it just seemed to touch on way too many different philosophical/scientific issues without even noticing the complications raised.
posted by mdn at 10:02 AM on April 8, 2005


[mdn's summary is perfect.]
posted by andrew cooke at 10:24 AM on April 8, 2005


I <3 taz.
posted by mr.marx at 11:34 AM on April 8, 2005


we all do.

don't we?
posted by andrew cooke at 1:17 PM on April 8, 2005


in which ones can I cook human babies over pyres made of stray cats, bald eagles, and the contents of the Library of Alexandria?

There goes my new restaurant concept. Oh, well.
posted by gimonca at 2:18 PM on April 8, 2005


For the record: I've flagged only about ten comments; all those I flagged "fantastic post".

Of the "lots" of flaggers, not one of them apparently cares to step forward here and explain why he flagged. (DevilsAdvocate allows that he did flag some comments within the thread.)

Arguments for deleting (or flagging) the thread seem to hover somewhere being "Ill-formed question" and "question not formatted according to AskMefi rules".

So my question is this: if I'm browsing through AskMefi a year from now, looking for an answer on parallel universes, is it better for me to find no question (and thus no answers) on parallel universes, or a bad question with some good and some poor answers?

Or more directly, my question to the flaggers is, what, in your opinions, was gained by flagging?
posted by orthogonality at 2:36 PM on April 8, 2005


It's probably better for you to look elsewhere to find information on parallel universes. Try google.

Why would anyone who flagged the thread come here and speak up just so that you could be a dick to them? The flagging system is a good thing because it allows the people who don't want to always be making a fuss on MeTa to have some say. Otherwise they just leave the site. I reckon that some people who like making a fuss on MeTa would be just as happy to see them go, but I'm glad they have some way to express their opinions that only opens them to general rather than specific abuse.
posted by anapestic at 2:42 PM on April 8, 2005


Wow, I'm surprised at why it got deleted. I may have been a contributor to straying off-topic, but it seemed like a perfectly valid metaphysical question to me. I don't think the premise of the question was right, but some of the aspects of it were things professional philosphers discuss in high-level metaphysics.

Questions that are not concrete can still have informative, definitive, right answers.
posted by ontic at 3:25 PM on April 8, 2005


some of the aspects of it were things professional philosphers discuss in high-level metaphysics

wtf is that supposed to imply? when you add the price of your shopping you're using the same digits high-level mathematicians use. but it's still not interesting.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:05 PM on April 8, 2005


"So AskMe is essentially a geeks' concierge, and woe to the person who doesn't approach the English language as a programmer?"

Yes. That is correct. Ask Metafilter is not a chat room. Please don't use it just to shoot the shit.
posted by majick at 4:09 PM on April 8, 2005


It just seemed like a silly, slightly obnoxious use of ask metafilter.

Silly, maybe. Obnoxious? Why? What harm did it do, for pity's sake? It was a bit of fun and plainly lots of people enjoyed it. Damn, if there's one thing I really dislike about this otherwise fine place it's the grinding, anal fussiness about protocols and post content. It's really quite off-putting. It's fun when someone posts something a bit offbeat or speculative. And to delete a thread that's clearly active and buzzing just smacks of spoilsport assholery, to me.

If people could just loosen the hell up a bit and simply not go to threads they don't personally like... Jesus. There's something fundamentally wrong with a site where you have to fret endlessly about whether your post precisely meets the fucking dress code.

Would some upright memner of the site Stasi please flag this for deletion? I'm being a jerk, no doubt.
posted by Decani at 4:48 PM on April 8, 2005

Yes. That is correct. Ask Metafilter is not a chat room. Please don't use it just to shoot the shit.
posted by majick at 4:09 PM PST on April 8
"Shooting shit" is not generally on my mind when I come to MetaFilter, period. It just seems people have some strict ideas about AskMe, but it seems more related to personality type than something real. Particularly when every "offensive" question can be rephrased in such a way that it would be okay, as MetaTalkers have consistently pointed out.

Should there be some sort of AskMe purity test?
North American? _
IT professional? _
native English speaker? _
obnoxious? _

Really, the anal obsessiveness about certain things on this site is part of why I've always had ambivalent feelings about MetaFilter. People do seem to want to strive for an inclusive, open, and intelligent community, but then you have a lot of remarks which reveal the insular, narrow-minded, unwelcoming reality that outsiders face. MetaFilterians make certain basic assumptions about everyone here that in effect work to exclude those who don't fit those assumptions. However, it is the diversity of personalities and range of experience that has always made MeFi such an appealing place.

If there is room here for obnoxious commenters who consistently try to derail threads, there sure as hell ought to be room for people who don't use some perfect style of posing questions or perfectly formed sentences. If someone can't overlook something here or there that doesn't appeal to that individual on a site with such an abundance of goodness, then perhaps the problems are beyond the scope of MeFi?
posted by MightyNez at 9:32 PM on April 8, 2005


Can't say I agree with this deletion. Some respondants might have thought that the question was nothing more than a flight of fancy, but the fact that people are continuing to debate it in this very MeTa thread suggests that there's a lot of confusion about the subject and it's worth clearing up. And plenty of others didn't think it was an utterly illegitimate question. I think it was poorly worded, and I personally think it had an obvious answer, but those weren't the grounds for deletion... it was deleted because it wasn't 'a question grounded in reality'.

Kind of an editorial content bias at play here. Would a question on new-age healing techniques and the powers of crystals be deleted? There's less of a case to be made for those than there is for many-worlds theory.
posted by painquale at 11:15 PM on April 8, 2005


I don't agree with the deletion. Though badly phrased, this was a perfectly acceptable question about a point of theoretical physics that is entirely worth discussing. I'm concerned that the standard for 'silly and obnoxious' is quite arbitrary. If we are to consider all posts that fall outside our fields of expertise as 'silly and obnoxious', we might as well scrap the whole AskMe idea, which is to provide a wide-ranging pool of responders who have varying areas of speciality and as a whole, are capable of responding to an immense variety of field-specific questions.

There just doesn't seem to be any kind of real standard being applied. When we compare this question - a completely serious inquiry which may have generated useful answers for the asker's further study -- with other recent questions which were allowed to stay, the mind boggles. If we can't ask about questions of philosophy or metaphysics, which might include asking what well-known thinkers have postulated about the nature of other universes or about points of Christian theory or about utilitarianism or another philosophical system or about Hemingway's depiction of justice or whatever, then we're left with a much less useful and less interesting resource.
posted by Miko at 7:22 AM on April 9, 2005


decani - things at the boundaries are fun because there are boundaries. i don't feel strongly either way on this deletion, but i can see the argument that if you don't have some boundaries then you end up with something formless in which the same threads would no longer be as interesting. instead of being a post where some interesting but poorly defined ideas were discussed it would be just one more tedious discussion of junk science from sf books.

boundaries help. unfortunately they also attract the kind of people who live (that was a typo for "like", but makes more sense as it is) to have rules and procedures and complaints and all the rest of it. so i understand where you're coming from (and have said the same more strongly), but today i'm feeling inclusive.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:44 AM on April 9, 2005


miko - it might have been like you say, but in practice it wasn't. most of the comments had nothing to do with the finer points of theoretical physics. they were the confused mess that mdn predicted above.

i agree that there's no clear standard being applied, but that's always been the case here. it's how it works, and it has clearly worked well - this place has flourished for years under matt's apparently haphazard control. complaining about that is a first step on the path to fishy trousers. and any regular reader knows where that gets you.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:50 AM on April 9, 2005


things at the boundaries are fun because there are boundaries. i don't feel strongly either way on this deletion, but i can see the argument that if you don't have some boundaries then you end up with something formless in which the same threads would no longer be as interesting.

This is perfectly put. I also don't feel strongly about this, but I really don't think it's a terrible loss. Philosophical questions are much more interesting if you can work out a little more precisely what your question is before you ask it. Work out what assumptions you're making and what relationships (causal or otherwise) specifically you don't understand.

The fact that "some of the aspects" of this question are discussed by "high level" metaphysicians is pretty meaningless. If metaphysics is of any use, it has to take care in defining what it is trying to do. It is way too easy for such questions to spread out into vague blurry intuitions... I think a certain amount of philosophical diligence makes a major difference between a good conversation and pointless blather.
posted by mdn at 8:49 AM on April 9, 2005


mdn : "Philosophical questions are much more interesting if you can work out a little more precisely what your question is before you ask it. Work out what assumptions you're making and what relationships (causal or otherwise) specifically you don't understand."

This is true, but figuring out what question you're trying to ask is often the whole battle. Panfilo obviously didn't know anything on the subject he was talking about, and people started giving responses to put him on the right track. I think that's a very natural way to learn. I understand that AskMe's not meant to provide this kind of support, so the deletion isn't completely unreasonable. But this is a grey area - it's not obvious what delineates a question from being pointed and from being exploratory. I think there was enough of a germ of a concrete question in there to respond to.

mdn : " The fact that 'some of the aspects' of this question are discussed by 'high level' metaphysicians is pretty meaningless. If metaphysics is of any use, it has to take care in defining what it is trying to do."

Well, eventually, yeah... but people get interested in these subjects by first grappling with their vague and blurry intuitions and trying to form them into something more precise. I thought the thread was actually doing a pretty good job of refining Panfilo's question and pointing out the complications.
posted by painquale at 9:28 AM on April 9, 2005


weird deletion.
posted by blacklite at 11:29 AM on April 9, 2005


It sounds like it was an interesting question and I'm sorry to have missed it.

Ask Metafilter is not a chat room. Please don't use it just to shoot the shit.

The first statement is correct. And although the answers may ..er.. wander a bit, never, ever have I seen people using it to "just shoot the shit." Then again, I don't read every question, just the vast majority. But I suppose "shooting the shit" can be (should be?) considered a subjective rather than objective perspective.
posted by deborah at 8:46 PM on April 9, 2005


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