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rhinoceros
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Is the universe fine-tuned for life?
« on: 2002-12-18 15:34:55 »
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[rhinoceros]
In the following article, Shermer deals with an "Intelligent Design" view of life and the universe.

"Intelligent Design", aka "Creationism Lite", is a religio-scientific memeplex which is currently heavily funded by various institutions and seem to gain ground over the more traditional but discredited Creationist "answers".

It seems that people are often discouraged by the technical intricacies of figuring out usable answers and tend to jump to absolute but unusable answers; they delegate a complex or not well understood issue to a "knowing" entity or will, and they just feel happy with that.



Digits and Fidgets

Is the universe fine-tuned for life?

Source: Scientific American
Author: Michael Shermer
Dated: 2002-12-16


There was a young fellow from Trinity
Who took the square root of infinity.
But the number of digits
Gave him the fidgets;
He dropped Math and took up Divinity.



In the limerick above, physicist George Gamow dealt with the paradox of a finite being contemplating infinity by passing the buck to theologians.

In an attempt to prove that the universe was intelligently designed, religion has lately been fidgeting with the fine-tuning digits of the cosmos. The John Templeton Foundation even grants cash prizes for such "progress in religion." Last year mathematical physicist and Anglican priest John C. Polkinghorne, recognized because he "has invigorated the search for interface between science and religion," was given $1 million for his "treatment of theology as a natural science." In 2000 physicist Freeman Dyson took home a $945,000 prize for such works as his 1979 book, Disturbing the Universe, in which he writes: "As we look out into the universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known that we were coming."

Mathematical physicist Paul Davies also won a Templeton prize. In his 1999 book, The Fifth Miracle, he makes these observations about the fine-tuned nature of the cosmos: "If life follows from [primordial] soup with causal dependability, the laws of nature encode a hidden subtext, a cosmic imperative, which tells them: 'Make life!' And, through life, its by-products: mind, knowledge, understanding. It means that the laws of the universe have engineered their own comprehension. This is a breathtaking vision of nature, magnificent and uplifting in its majestic sweep. I hope it is correct. It would be wonderful if it were correct."

Indeed, it would be wonderful. But not any more wonderful than if it were not correct. Even atheist Stephen W. Hawking sounded like a supporter of intelligent design when he wrote: "And why is the universe so close to the dividing line between collapsing again and expanding indefinitely?... If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been less by one part in 1010, the universe would have collapsed after a few million years. If it had been greater by one part in 1010, the universe would have been essentially empty after a few million years. In neither case would it have lasted long enough for life to develop. Thus one either has to appeal to the anthropic principle or find some physical explanation of why the universe is the way it is."


We may live in a multiverse in which our universe is only one of many universes.


In its current version, the anthropic principle posits that we live in a multiverse in which our universe is only one of many universes, all with different laws of nature. Those universes whose parameters are most likely to give rise to life occasionally generate complex life with brains big enough to achieve consciousness and to conceive of such concepts as God and cosmology and to ask such questions as Why? Another explanation can be found in the properties of self-organization and emergence. Water is an emergent property of a particular arrangement of hydrogen and oxygen molecules, just as consciousness is a self-organized emergent property of billions of neurons. The evolution of complex life is an emergent property of simple life: prokaryote cells self-organized into eukaryote cells, which self-organized into multicellular organisms, which self-organized into ... and here we are.
Self-organization and emergence arise out of complex adaptive systems that grow and learn as they change. As a complex adaptive system, the cosmos may be one giant autocatalytic (self-driving) feedback loop that generates such emergent properties as life. We can think of self-organization as an emergent property and emergence as a form of self-organization. Complexity is so simple it can be put on a bumper sticker: life happens.

If life on earth is unique or at least exceptionally rare (and in either case certainly not inevitable), how special is our fleeting, mayfly-like existence? And how important it is that we make the most of our lives and our loves; how critical it is that we work to preserve not only our own species but all species and the biosphere itself. Whether the universe is teeming with life or we are alone, whether our existence is strongly necessitated by the laws of nature or highly contingent and accidental, whether there is more to come or this is all there is, we are faced with a worldview that is breathtaking and majestic in its sweep across time and space.

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Re:Is the universe fine-tuned for life?
« Reply #1 on: 2003-02-05 01:06:12 »
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rhinoceros
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Re:Is the universe fine-tuned for life?
« Reply #2 on: 2003-02-05 07:12:02 »
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[FreeGambit]
Statisically, life of our level was bound to happen in at least one place in the universe right?


[rhinoceros]
Not really. "Statistically" and "bound to happen in at least one place" do not go well together. Although that would be an easy way out of the "sense of miracle" feeling about life beeing so rare, a better explanation is needed.

Here is something weird that I have been thinking. It is about another "miracle". As Hawking put it:


<quote>
"And why is the universe so close to the dividing line between collapsing again and expanding indefinitely?... If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been less by one part in 1010, the universe would have collapsed after a few million years. If it had been greater by one part in 1010, the universe would have been essentially empty after a few million years. In neither case would it have lasted long enough for life to develop. Thus one either has to appeal to the anthropic principle or find some physical explanation of why the universe is the way it is."
<end quote>


[rhinoceros]
Hawking's thought comes as natural when we use one of our mathematical models for the universe and "slide a ruler" by changing this or that parameter to see the "what ifs". We draw a line on a diagram representing a law of nature and we say: "This physical constant seems to be here along this line. What would have happened if it was there?" But...

But our mathematical models, no matter how well they work,  are not really Nature itself. The line we draw on a diagram and the diagram itself is just a part of our own endeavor to figure out Nature. Choosing a different point along a line could be completely meaningless for Nature, because that line is a construct of ours, and it is only meant to help us do some reasoning.

Just a thought. The idea of a multiverse is another one.
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Re:Is the universe fine-tuned for life?
« Reply #3 on: 2003-02-10 23:29:55 »
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Rhino, I agree.
We are here because that is the way our particular Universe happened to pan out. If it had panned out some other way, we would not be discussing it. No big deal...

« Last Edit: 2003-02-12 00:19:34 by Hermit » Report to moderator   Logged

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg, 1999
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Re:Is the universe fine-tuned for life?
« Reply #4 on: 2003-02-11 19:28:14 »
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Quote from: Hermit on 2003-02-10 23:29:55   

Rhino, I agree.
We are here because that is the way our particular Universe happened to pan out. If it had panned out some other way, we would not be discussing it. No big deal...

I think there is a bit more to it than that. We find ourselves holding the mother of all winning lottery tickets. Either we are amazingly lucky (like a situation where only one person buys a lottery ticket and they win), or there are lots of other universes. Either possibility is mind boggling.
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Re:Is the universe fine-tuned for life?
« Reply #5 on: 2003-02-11 19:43:52 »
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[David Lucifer]
I think there is a bit more to it than that. We find ourselves holding the mother of all winning lottery tickets. Either we are amazingly lucky (like a situation where only one person buys a lottery ticket and they win), or there are lots of other universes. Either possibility is mind boggling.


[rhinoceros]
Yes, it is mind boggling. What I tried to do in my line of reasoning was to put aside the lottery in the first case. I speculated that maybe there are no other lottery tickets in reality, because the different possible values of the parameters are only possible or significant in the mathematical models we are currently using.
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Re:Is the universe fine-tuned for life?
« Reply #6 on: 2003-02-12 03:11:43 »
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[Hermit 1] We are here because that is the way our particular Universe happened to pan out. If it had panned out some other way, we would not be discussing it. No big deal...

[David Lucifer 2] I think there is a bit more to it than that. We find ourselves holding the mother of all winning lottery tickets. Either we are amazingly lucky (like a situation where only one person buys a lottery ticket and they win), or there are lots of other universes. Either possibility is mind-boggling.

[Hermit 3] This is not really where I was heading. Essentially the fact that we are here, in the form we are in, proves only that the combination which produced us was statistically possible - and happened.

[Hermit 3] If it happened an infinity of other times, when we (or some things similar) did or did not result, or if we resulted from the first and only instantiating occurrence of a Universe, or even if we live in a never starting, never ending Klein-bottle-like very-Sebby-verse (tm) is unknown (and quite possibly unknowable - although I do think we will know which is the case and we continue with space research).

[Hermit 3] In a sufficiently disordered environment of a large enough size, every possible improbable thing will happen if given long enough to play the permutations. Current thinking tends to the view that the flux is infinite and timeless. Which might imply that all possible universii are quite likely to exist at some un-time or another. Depending on what we learn about Hawkin radiation, and what it tells us about the flux and baryonic material, we will probably be able to tell whether we live in a connected (wormhole) multiverse, a monoverse (although we wouldn’t and probably couldn’t tell whether the monoverse is a singularity or merely one isolated instance amongst many), or something different all together.

[Hermit 3] On the one hand, I am suggesting that we only see ourselves as being amazingly lucky because we take an human-centric, gaia-centric, sol-centric, milky-way-centric stance - and can see how easily our Universe might not have been suitable for us at all. Which naturally leads us to thinking of ourselves as being “specially selected” or possibly as the “final result” of the largest known dice throwing system, and with the odds against ending up as we are looking like nothing short of amazing. On the other hands (and you will see I have three here), there are other (and probably more appropriate) ways to look at this situation. After all, dice have no memory and we are here – so absent other “forces” acting on the die (and science shows us that they are unnecessary), the odds of us analyzing this situation as we are doing approaches unity. All of the uncountable "other ways" which didn't happen are not relevant to the now or future, except as background. Which brings us to the third hand. It is quite possible that a vast number of parallel alternatives might have brought us here. Which suggests a card-dealing problem. Again, in such an environment, the fact that we are here means that the odds of drawing the configuration, which lead us here, are unity.

[Hermit 3] In all the above scenarios, the probability that something will or won’t happen tells us nothing about when we can expect it happening – first throw or last. Probability doesn’t even tell us at what frequency things will happen. And mankind is monstrously poor at evaluating such information – especially when faced with as many unknowns – and maybe unknowables as we see here.

[Hermit 3] We need to step back from ourselves and recognize that we don't appear to be terribly important to the Universe - only to ourselves. Which means that the only reason we can think about lottery tickets is because we have the form we have in the Universe we inhabit. So had we not happened, or if we eliminate ourselves or are as brutally eliminated as when we were formed (unity statistical probability for the combined possibilities), we will not have been "unlucky" either.

[Hermit 3] To illustrate what I am attempting to communicate here, let me attempt to construct an example. Say we had been born about 75 million years ago, and were thudding away at our keyboards while munching on brontosaurus bits (from Jurassic Fried Brontosaurus?) I’m sure that they tasted just like chicken (Triceratops and turkeys apparently share as much DNA as we and chimps do) and it is easy to imagine them discussing how fortunate they were for the earth to have been formed the way it was. Warm, moist, fertile. Boom. Was that a meteorite? Doom. Shudder.

[Hermit 3] Now consider that practically every species that has ever lived in the last 4 billion years or so is now extinct. Did they imagine that ending? I don't know. But let us suggest that some of them did. Presuming that, and knowing that we couldn't exist if the Dinosaurs hadn't gone the way of the trilobites and ammonites of the Cambrian seas - and they wouldn't have existed without earlier mass extinctions too, who was lucky and who was unlucky? Do we flatter ourselves - or hope - that we will be different? Could we be different? Really? Would a "yes" answer not be purely wishful thinking? What are the odds when it has not happened before? Should we “hope” to be different? Or not?

[Hermit 3] Then again, do we deserve to be different? If, or more likely, when we are wiped out and forgotten by an uncaring Universe (or perhaps by our inability to play nicely with others of our kind), will that be lucky - or unlucky? For ourselves? For our successors (if we have them)? It certainly won't matter to us at that point. And surely, if we have successors, and they are intelligent, one or more of them will ask themselves the same question. If that happens, I strongly suspect that our answers, and our successor’s answers will be as different as our answers and those of our hypothetical “brontosaurus bit” nibbling ancestors.

[Hermit 3] I do know that "modern man" has existed for less than 1/1000 of that time, and as individuals we live for less than 1/10 millionth of that time - and at least some men are aware that we all die and our memories are then lost. Is that luck - or tragedy? Or neither.

[Hermit 3] May I suggest that we are here, now, and able to enjoy – and share our enjoyment – of life. The probabilities for or against such life arising make no odds to the enjoyment – or our term - for us, or for those with whom we share our memespace. The fact is that we are emergent here-and-now-ians. If asking questions about whether we should or shouldn’t have happened – or whether we will or will not survive a little longer floats your boat a fraction of the way it floats mine, then you will be having a lot of fun chewing on the answers. But like all such questioning, the “answers” are, I think, when accessible, necessarily vague and so not very testable (or useful). Even when not vague, the answers are probably not sufficiently predictive to be much help either. And, assuming we do eventually calculate or conclude some answer, entropy then moves on. At which point, if Einstein’s theories continue to hold, we cannot hope to return to a previous blank sheet state and formulate a new hypothesis to test it. In other words, the cards remember being drawn (we continue to exist or the answer and maybe even the question becomes moot), even if the die forgets. So the fun ends when the subject of the hypothesis becomes testable.

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With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg, 1999
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