Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The anthropic principle...

Hey you, over there, with your breathing and your heartbeating and your lazy ass in a chair. What's the deal? Why are you here? What makes you so special? Huh? If your answer is, "the anthropic principle," well, you may just be right.

This is a broad term cosmologists and physicists use in discussing the overwhelmingly improbable organization of the universe after the chaos of the big bang, and more specifically, how this organization seems strangely conducive, and even hospitable to life. Starting macro, consider the number of dimensions our universe has, the physical constants, the neat dispersement of galaxies, keep going until you get all the way down to the precise placement of Earth in our solar system - a sliver of orbit perfectly zoned for complex multi-cellular lifeforms (who are in turn capable of observing this "friendly" universe). One little change in the order of things and poof, we don't exist.

Ultimately, this is THE great mystery - "a philosophical goldmine" - since no rational, scientific model of turbulence driven structuring could possibly yield such a stable and elegant arrangement of matter after a big bang. In short, either the universe is by nature a sort of life making machine, or us conscious beings are just one possible, random byproduct of the conditions that occur in the making of universes. We're either here because we must be, or we're here completely by accident. For further distinctions (and deubunkings) of these so-called strong and weak anthropic principles have a look here.

There is of course another take on all this. Intelligent design. There are believers and cosmologists who argue that the anthropic principle suggests the existence of God. Some religious folk will take this further and use the principle as proof that the Earth is actually the center of the universe, and that all of this stuff was built around us as a theater for some epic drama in which we are all players. To say that this flies in the face of science seems unnecessary. Personally, I am deeply intrigued by the murky reach of our understanding, the terra incognita out beyond the fringes of science where things don't make sense anymore. Where all we are left with is the fact of our existence and our ability to make myths. Out there on that shaky metaphysical branch is where we need to be if we have any intentions of recreating the universe to form fit our own mythological template.

(Space Baby from 2001: A Space Odyssey)


Blogger island said...

There is also an inherent implication that a true strong antropic constraint on the forces will *necessarily* entail a reciprocal connection to the human evolutionary process, which means that there exists a mechanism that enables the universe to "leap" to higher orders of the same basic structure...

As evidenced by our leap from apes to harness fire, and beyond...

... so the second law of thermodynamics enables the arrow of time to always point in one direction only.

The implication is that we are somehow a reflection of the mechanism that enbles the universe to meta-evolve via periodic big bangs.

You can get the physics for this from here:

4:30 PM  

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