Sean Carroll on Stephen Hawking’s New Book

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 5, 2010 in Science,Video

William Lane Craig must be so pissed right now.

Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design.

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott September 5, 2010 at 8:02 am

I doubt WLC gives a damn. He’s a creationist affiliated with the Discovery Institute – despite all the hard evidence that evolution is true, he refuses to accept it. Why wouldn’t he take the same attitude towards this? I wouldn’t be surprised if he thinks he’s a better physicist that Hawking…

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Justfinethanks September 5, 2010 at 8:09 am

Neat. According to the description of the book, it looks like Hawking tackles the “fine tuning” argument too:

We discuss how the laws of our particular universe are extraordinarily finely tuned so as to allow for our existence, and show why quantum theory predicts the multiverse–the idea that ours is just one of many universes that appeared spontaneously out of nothing, each with different laws of nature.

I guess I’ll have to read the book, but the description makes it sound like Hawking is denying the first premise of Kalam, while the Carroll’s explanation above makes it sound like he accepts the conclusion, but the “cause” of the universe can be explained naturally.

Of course the real question: Will this mean Craig will stop quoting Hawking in debates?

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Burk September 5, 2010 at 8:21 am

Yeah, right.. and where did relativity and quantum mechanics come from? Eh?

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G'DIsraeli September 5, 2010 at 8:28 am

Yep. And not a long time ago, in a very special interview, he said Science will win over religion – Cuase, it works.

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Mark September 5, 2010 at 8:36 am

It seems like the first reaction by believers is along the lines of what Burk said above.

Can anyone provide a clear concise answer to this type of response? Without one it seems the theist will not feel much dissonance when hearing about Hawking’s statements and explanations such as Sean Carroll’s above.

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Mastema September 5, 2010 at 8:59 am

Can anyone provide a clear concise answer to this type of response?

How about something along the lines of the laws of nature existing necessarily/by their very nature?

Theists try to exclude God from needing an explanation or cause for his existence. God is a much more complicated starting point than mindless natural forces. On one hand, natural forces. On the other, a timeless immaterial thinking being who cares where men put their penis’ and wants nothing more than for us to love and worship him. Why not just cut God out of the equation via Occam’s Razor?

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Eric September 5, 2010 at 9:00 am

I think Barron’s response to Hawking is pretty good: First, we’re not talking about something from nothing if we’re invoking any laws of nature to explain why anything exists at all; and second, if all Hawking is saying is that science qua science “leaves no room for a deity,” well, yeah, many philosophers and theologians would agree. So it seems that Hawking’s claim is either obviously false or obviously trivial.

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Márcio September 5, 2010 at 10:06 am

How can be any laws without a universe? If a law can’t exist without a universe, how can they be necessary? Laws of nature doesn’t exists without nature right (that is why they are called the laws of nature)?

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exapologist September 5, 2010 at 10:23 am

Just build into Hawking’s hypothesis that the M-Theory multiverse is a factually or metaphysically necessary being. Then Hawking’s hypothesis explains the data of contingency and fine-tuning at least as well as the theistic hypothesis, in which case such data doesn’t favor the theistic hypothesis over Hawking’s hypothesis.[1]

——————–
[1]Objection: “But I can imagine the fundamental stuff failing to exist. And since conceivability is sufficient evidence for possibility, it’s possible for the fundamental stuff posited by M-theory to fail to exist, in which case we have reason to doubt that such stuff is metaphysically necessary, in which case it can’t explain the data of contingency.”

Reply: Either conceivability is sufficient evidence of possibility or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then of course the data of the conceivable non-existence of an M-theory multiverse isn’t sufficient evidence of its possible non-existence, in which case the objection fails.

On the other hand, suppose conceivability is sufficient evidence of possibility. Then since it’s conceivable that both God and the multiverse fail to exist, then there’s sufficient evidence that it’s possble that both God and the multiverse fail to exist, in which case it looks as though no being of the relevant sort could be metaphysically necessary, in which case the jig is up for arguments from contingency, in which case contingency falls out of the range of data that needs explaining. Either way, then, the objection fails.

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Chris Hallquist September 5, 2010 at 10:35 am

If Craig does get pissed about this, he won’t show it. Rather, he will announce that while he has great respect for Hawkin’s personal struggles and does not dispute a single scientific statement Hawkins has ever made, he believes Hawking has overstepped his scientific expertise in talking about metaphysics. Craig will further announce that he would like to take issue with Hawkings’ metaphysics, and will then proceed to do so through absurd caricatures of Hawkings’ statements, followed by further condescending remarks about Hawking, including, possibly, an unsubstantiated claim that he is afraid of God.

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JS Allen September 5, 2010 at 11:04 am

Hawking has a new book for sale. Doesn’t that explain everything? Booooring…

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Jeff H September 5, 2010 at 11:14 am

Great video. It really helps people like me, with the most tenuous grasp of even the most basic ideas surrounding quantum mechanics, to understand a little more clearly what Hawking is getting at.

However, I’m still a little lost, since scientific laws are descriptions of the universe, correct? So how does quantum mechanics or the law of gravity supersede the universe itself? Or is Hawking making an assumption that mathematical laws are fundamental?

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cl September 5, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I love how Carroll began with a rhetorical device he later conceded was not true. What respect for cold logic! [/sarcasm]

The point is that you could imagine… [2:13]

Classic. I would never have expected that scientists would come up with what appears to be their own iteration of the ontological argument. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Black Holes & Baby Universes, and so I eagerly await my copy.

Jeff H,

…I’m still a little lost, since scientific laws are descriptions of the universe, correct? So how does quantum mechanics or the law of gravity supersede the universe itself?

Didn’t you hear the man? Just imagine!

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lukeprog September 5, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Chris,

That is a reasonable induction from past events.

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Jeff H September 5, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Alternately, since according to quantum mechanics, everything that can happen will happen, in some universe William Lane Craig will have heard Hawking’s statements and immediately denounce Christianity. He will later devolve into an alcoholic and drug user, using copies of his own books once he runs out of toilet paper.

But it’s not likely to happen in this world.

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Thomas September 5, 2010 at 12:59 pm

God is a much more complicated starting point than mindless natural forces. On one hand, natural forces. On the other, a timeless immaterial thinking being who cares where men put their penis’ and wants nothing more than for us to love and worship him. Why not just cut God out of the equation via Occam’s Razor?

You guys really need to read some Swinburne… Very carefully. Swinburne needs to be read very carefully. Some of the stuff in The Existence of God about theism´s explanatory power and simplicity is great.

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anon September 5, 2010 at 1:37 pm

You guys really need to read some Swinburne… Very carefully. Swinburne needs to be read very carefully. Some of the stuff in The Existence of God about theism´s explanatory power and simplicity is great.

You might want to read Gwiazda’s stuff in reply to Swinburne (including his stuff on Swinburne and simplicity). John D does a nice job summarizing many of his key points, here.

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anon September 5, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Re: Swinburne on the simplicity of the theistic hypothesis, another paper worth a look is John Beaudoin’s “On Some Criticisms of Hume’s Principle of Proportioning Cause to Effect, Philo 2:2 (Fall-Winter 1999). Here is the link. See especially the section with the heading, “Second Objection”, near the end of the article.

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Rups900 September 5, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Just for the sake of completeness, Swinburne has replied to some of Gwiazda’s stuff already:
http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=6405528

but only the ‘properties’ criticism I think.

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Lorkas September 5, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Why is there something rather than nothing?

I like the way that Lawrence Krauss put it: “Because there’s no such thing as nothing.”

We know now that nothing can’t exist, just like a square circle can’t exist.

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lukeprog September 5, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Great links, all.

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Nonchai September 5, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Much though i hope the arguments in Hawkings book are right, isnt it a tad early to be making such grand philosophical statements, given the simple fact that string theory and other attempts at unification are really still very much “up in the air” at the moment ?.

When a theory – even one so elegant as string theory fails to yield up any predictions that are testable, or – where predictions exist – require unfeasibly high accelerator energies to perform, it seems to me better to sit back and wait until the theoretical dust clouds settle rather than claim a “Win”. Having said that, at least Hawking has put the dampers on any apologists sleazy attempts to quote mine him for implicit hints at theism.

In the meantime, my bet is on spme final “necessary” entity – call it an omniverse – something along the lines of Max Tegmarks plaything here:

http://discovermagazine.com/2008/jul/16-is-the-universe-actually-made-of-math

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Nonchai September 5, 2010 at 3:05 pm

@Burk “Yeah, right.. and where did relativity and quantum mechanics come from? Eh? “

I’m going to give you the benefits of the doubt and assume that was a little irony.

In any case, heres a question – if god is a logically necessary being – ie he could not possibe be any other way – neither could he NOT exist – isnt your god subject to that very same logical necessity ? and if so – isnt your imaginary friend beholden effectively to “laws” over which he/she has no control ?? .

( cue some sort of answer along the lines of: “god IS the necessity, IS both the logical principle AND the outcome of the same principe” blah blah… )

No Wonder scientists just ignore philosophers at large and get on with their work.

( no offence to all u philosophers out there… well a little maybe.. )

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Eric September 5, 2010 at 9:09 pm

exapologist –
Just build into Hawking’s hypothesis that the M-Theory multiverse is a factually or metaphysically necessary being. Then Hawking’s hypothesis explains the data of contingency and fine-tuning at least as well as the theistic hypothesis, in which case such data doesn’t favor the theistic hypothesis over Hawking’s hypothesis.[1]

——————–
[1]Objection: “But I can imagine the fundamental stuff failing to exist. And since conceivability is sufficient evidence for possibility, it’s possible for the fundamental stuff posited by M-theory to fail to exist, in which case we have reason to doubt that such stuff is metaphysically necessary, in which case it can’t explain the data of contingency.”

Reply: Either conceivability is sufficient evidence of possibility or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then of course the data of the conceivable non-existence of an M-theory multiverse isn’t sufficient evidence of its possible non-existence, in which case the objection fails.

On the other hand, suppose conceivability is sufficient evidence of possibility. Then since it’s conceivable that both God and the multiverse fail to exist, then there’s sufficient evidence that it’s possble that both God and the multiverse fail to exist, in which case it looks as though no being of the relevant sort could be metaphysically necessary, in which case the jig is up for arguments from contingency, in which case contingency falls out of the range of data that needs explaining. Either way, then, the objection fails.

THANK YOU! I WISH MORE PEOPLE WOULD POINT THIS OUT! This ridiculous rule of conceivability being sufficient evidence of possibility is possibly the most worthless rule in all philosophy.

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Alexandros Marinos September 6, 2010 at 12:36 am

From the recent physics material coming to the surface, we can now say that the laws of nature can be identified as the philosopher’s god. Non-contingent(as far as we are concerned) and with the ability to be the prime mover. If you add m-theory, they become contingent to m-theory, and you also get your fine-tuning.

Are we going to see the rise of the natural-laws theist?

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Badger3k September 6, 2010 at 10:49 am

Why will Craig be pissed? He’ll just do the same thing he does now – ignore the argument and evidence, and claim whatever he wants. He’s never corrected himself despite being taught differently on various things (such as this “something from nothing” bit) – all it takes is a little bit more denial. I bet he will barely acknowledge that this has been said (and written about).

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Badger3k September 6, 2010 at 10:58 am

Marcio – Laws don’t exist – they are explanations for things we have discovered about the universe, and if the universe didn’t exist, then neither would they (and, technically, they wouldn’t exist if humans didn’t, although the thing they describe would). However, I think the argument they are using is that for this universe to exist the way it is, the Laws are necessary – they couldn’t be anything else. In a way, it is correct (in the obvious D’oh sense), but in another they put the cart before the horse (the laws arose because of what we have discovered). I think they may even be saying that the universe is the way it is because of the laws, rather than the laws being the way they are because of the universe. I haven’t really bothered with this argument before, so I may be misunderstanding it.

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Chris September 6, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Hey, Hawking’s theory kinda fits with the “formless void” universe that existed co-eternally with God in Genesis 1 and other ancient Near Eastern creation myths!

This will be the new cosmological creationism. You heard it here first folks!

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luke September 7, 2010 at 4:35 pm

i think god will always reside in the mind of william lane craig – i actually think he’s mentally ill

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drj September 7, 2010 at 7:08 pm

i think god will always reside in the mind of william lane craig – i actually think he’s mentally ill

Ya know… I think that is a definite possibility.

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Hermes September 7, 2010 at 7:51 pm

On WLC and others;

I take it that the issue with many believers that have had their religious beliefs and experiences revealed to them is that they are correct about the experience being real but misattribute the source.

Like alien abductees or the previous generations of succubus victims, they all have a valid experience and see it as being from an external and powerful source as opposed to the reality that it is an internal powerful physiological and/or psychological source such as the phenomenon of sleep paralysis that many people experience but only a few times in their lives (if ever) and/or a vivid imagination.

Prayer and religious activities, like some forms of meditation, can encourage a trance or a vivid imaginative experience. If the person does not realize that the experiences come from their own minds, they may both attribute the experience to an external consciousness and may allow part of their own psyche to ride roughshod over their primary consciousness (the part they call or consider to be themselves).

A fractured personality can manifest itself in many ways, not just as dissociative identities. Well adjusted average people imaginatively think about how other people think all the time. The primary difference is that they know that they are imagining the other people, not being either controlled by or talking to some separate entity.

That said, WLC may be a few raisins short of a fruit cake but just smart enough to otherwise keep it together. I wonder if his neurological problems (as shown in his speech) along with his religious focus encouraged him to encounter those religious revelations with an enhanced experience that seems real and not just imaginative.

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Chris Vasquez September 8, 2010 at 7:03 am

I’m a Christian who really enjoys reading this site for the uncommonly honest content and lack of childishness normally associated with internet commentary on faith and philosophy (from both sides, I might add). I’ve got to say though, I’m a little disappointed by the characterizations of WLC in this comment thread (which I know is in no way indicative of the sites overall tone towards the man). I happen to believe that ad hominem is never appropriate and I hold true to the saying, “To scoff at [someone] is not to refute [them].” Obviously, it’s your individual prerogative to react to WLC however you’d like, but I’d urge you to consider that if your gut reaction is one of adolescent insults, then maybe you’re not approaching the issue rationally.

In any case, I’m sure WLC doesn’t care. Thanks again for the great content.

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Hermes September 8, 2010 at 7:21 am

Chris, welcome.

WLC bases his perspective on personal revelation and would not change his mind if his public arguments were refuted.^ This is no different from those that claim to have been alien abductees making a similar assessment about their personal experiences.

If I don’t hold back in my assessment of the alien abductees, then why should WLC and others that claim revelation be given special consideration?

^. From memory. I can look for a reference on this if you require it.

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Chris Vasquez September 8, 2010 at 7:37 am

@Hermes, I should have specifically mentioned the instances I was referring to, I just didn’t want to start any sort of flame war. To clarify, I’m commenting specifically on the unsubstantiated insults directed at the mental fitness of WLC and the similarly unsubstantiated critique of his disregard of argument and reason. I think an unbiased observer would be able to at least recognize WLC’s respect for argument and the fundamentals of debate. It’s very rarely helpful to call people names. Unless, of course, you’re trying to get elected.

In regards to your comment specifically, I think you had a perfectly valid argument on the merits until your last paragraph, which was needlessly insulting. To preface an insulting statement with “I wonder if” does not make it less of an attack. Also, if you’re insinuating that WLC’s belief is based solely on individual revelation, I think that’s probably a mischaracterization. Whether you agree or not, he seems to have a reasonable amount of general justification for his beliefs.

Forgive me for any ignorance or misunderstanding here. In my search to get a little deeper into this all, I’ve bought a pair of spectacles and a corduroy jacket with patches on the elbow. I’ve realized to late that unfortunately (apologies to Alvin Plantiga for stealing his joke), while those may be necessary for the study of philosophy, they’re not necessarily sufficient.

Once again, I can’t stress how much I enjoy the higher level of discourse usually shown by all you commenters, and I look forward to becoming more actively involved as time permits.

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G M Mancini September 8, 2010 at 8:22 am

GUT ? God ? = absolutes It seems to me the real choice is absurdity or any absolute .

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al friedlander September 8, 2010 at 12:43 pm

“I wonder if his neurological problems (as shown in his speech) along with his religious focus encouraged him to encounter those religious revelations with an”

I’m going to sound ridiculous, but I have to ask. Was this purely a joke, or does WLC’s speech actually reveal something interesting about his neurology?

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Hermes September 8, 2010 at 1:07 pm

He actually has mentioned himself that he suffers from a neurological disease that shows up in the way he speaks.

I’ll see if I can find a reference.

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Hermes September 8, 2010 at 1:19 pm

I found a reference, but not directly about the way he speaks. I could be mistaken on that, but I can’t find the original video where he talks about the disease to compare it against what I think I remember him saying.

* * *

I, like my mom and brother, have Charcot-Marie-Tooth Syndrome, a hereditary disorder that involves the slow disintegration of the myelin sheaths around the nerves in the forearms and legs, resulting in progressive muscular atrophy.

Source: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7069

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Chris Vasquez September 8, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Can we all agree to recognize the irony of calling out WLC’s neurological disease as a cause of craziness on a thread about a new Hawking book?

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lukeprog September 8, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Chris,

Hahahahaha.

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Hermes September 8, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Chris, while I did not intend to focus on a single possible insult to someone who isn’t even here, I’m not too concerned with insulting WLC even if he was in the same room as I am now. He promotes rolling back the advances of the Enlightenment and theocratic institutions as well as being a Discovery Institute fellow. Clearly he has decided to use his skills, as has Dr. Behe, towards promoting ignorance even if he himself is intelligent. In short; no insult intended, but he does not deserve my respect and he probably does not deserve normal cordiality either.

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Chris Vasquez September 8, 2010 at 6:05 pm

To bring things back around, I’m really looking forward to reading this book. I just ordered a Kindle and am hoping to wait for the digital edition, but it’s not supposed to ship until the end of the month.

@Hermes, Gracious! Not even normal cordiality? Let’s hope you never run in to WLC then… for his sake.

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Hermes September 8, 2010 at 6:14 pm

He’s rejected large chunks of civilization by his own advocacy; he’s earned it.

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Hermes September 8, 2010 at 8:41 pm

(Note that I’m referring to cordiality, civility, only. He’s safe physically but not safe from being insulted as he deserves aggressive attitudes to challenge his advocacy of destructive and abusive ideals.)

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cl September 8, 2010 at 10:52 pm

I’m not too concerned with insulting WLC even if he was in the same room as I am now. He promotes rolling back the advances of the Enlightenment and theocratic institutions as well as being a Discovery Institute fellow. Clearly he has decided to use his skills, as has Dr. Behe, towards promoting ignorance even if he himself is intelligent. In short; no insult intended, but he does not deserve my respect and he probably does not deserve normal cordiality either.

Oh please. Pipe down and learn a little tolerance, for FSM’s sake!

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Hermes September 9, 2010 at 3:46 am

Tolerate the intolerant?

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Udaybhanu Chitrakar August 20, 2011 at 6:58 am

Beginning of any universe cannot be governed by its own laws, for the simple reason that a universe that has not yet come into existence cannot have any laws in it. But Hawking has written that when the universe was small enough it was governed by both general relativity and quantum theory. But these are the two laws of our universe and therefore these laws could not be there when the universe has not yet begun. So how did Hawking come to know that these two laws governed the beginning of our universe? Is he all-knowing God?
Singularity theory of Penrose and Hawking was correct in showing that all the known laws of science would break down at the point of singularity, because when there is no universe there is also no arena in which these laws can appear. Nothing is more obvious than this that there cannot be any laws of science when there is no universe. Universe coming to an end means all the known laws of science also coming to an end with it. If we cannot believe in the existence of God due to lack of evidence, then it is equally true that due to this same lack of evidence we cannot believe that the laws of gravity and quantum theory were already there at the beginning of our universe to govern that beginning.

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