Sunday, October 08, 2006


Reeling Heads

There is an article in The Sunday Times dealing with Paul Davies' new book, The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life?, concerning the "anthropic principle" and the various responses to the problem. As the article explains it:

Why is the universe, like the porridge in the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, "just right" for life? Even cosmologists have said it looks like a fix or a put-up job. Is it a fluke or providence that it appears set up expressly for the purpose of spawning sentient beings?

While the anthropic principle is frequently pointed to by Intelligent Design advocates as a kind of "scientific" evidence for the euphemistic "Designer," Davies is not in that camp:

We can’t dump all this in the lap of an arbitrary god and say we can’t inquire any further. The universe looks ingenious, it looks like a fix, and words like meaning and purpose come to mind. But it doesn’t mean that we’re going to have a miracle-working cosmic magician meddling with events.

But Davies asserts:

No scientific explanation of the universe can be deemed complete unless it accounts for this appearance of judicious design.

One suggested "solution" is known as the "multiverse." Essentially, this proposes the existence of a large, perhaps infinite, number of universes. Then, by the laws of probability, no matter how "improbable" the set of constants in our universe may be, that configuration becomes almost a certainty in some universe and we are just like Douglas Adam's puddle, amazed that its hole fits it so well. Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society, is a leading proponent of the multiverse.

String theorists, who aspire to a final theory that will unify all physical laws scoff at the multiverse. Others, like Oxford theoretical physicist Frank Close, who dismiss string theory because it has little or no evidence in its favor, feel much the same way about the multiverse:

It’s a cop-out. To my mind it’s no different from the idea that God did it. If we cannot do any scientific experiments to prove what one of these other universes would be like, it’s beyond science. It’s just giving up.

But Close spares no one when it comes to this debate. Close compares Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and who holds that life is essentially pointless and came about by chance, to religious fundamentalists, "who know they are right in their position, just as Richard knows he is right in his position."

But perhaps weirdest of all is Davies.

Somehow," he writes, "the universe has engineered, not just its own awareness, but its own comprehension. Mindless, blundering atoms have conspired to make, not just life, not just mind, but understanding. The evolving cosmos has spawned beings who are able not merely to watch the show, but to unravel the plot." ...

Davies’s big idea goes back to the Big Bang. According to the standard picture, the laws of physics were already in place at the explosive origin of the universe. But he contends that perhaps the universe and its laws emerged together in malleable form: "We would expect that these laws were not infinitely precise mathematical statements, but they would have a certain sloppiness or ambiguity that could lead to observable effects from the earliest universe, when these laws were still congealing."

So how did compatible life and mind come into being? Davies’s explanation, involving quantum mechanics and something called backwards causation, is impossible to compress without sounding "ludicrous", he confesses.

Ummm, yes . . .

As I see it, the only reasonable position at this point is a frank admission of ignorance. But that includes ignorance of whether there is any phenomena that needs explaining. In the absence of any knowledge of whether the fundamental universal constants can change or how many "tries" there may have been at getting them in the right configuration or just how limited life may be, this is a debate only fit for pin-dancing angels.
The illustration is a detail from Camille Flammarion, L'Atmosphere: Météorologie Populaire (Paris, 1888), p. 163, Courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries.

Nah, it is reasonable science to conclude that the unexpected configuration of the universe is "natural", so that the structuring that the big bang produced, still somehow follows the least action principle.

In case you don't know it, this is the reason that the anthropic principle came about in the first place, since it's the closest thing to a stability mechanism that we've got, because normal turbulance driven models don't even come close to accurately reflecting what we ended up with:

The observed structure of the universe occurs in **dramatic contrast** to the modeled expectation... so many fixed balance points that are commonly or "coincidentally" pointing directly toward carbon-based life indicate that there is some good physical reason for it that is somehow "specially" related to the existence of carbon-based life.

This is not unreasonable if you don't start reading a bunch of crap into it.

It makes perfect sense if the least action principle requires that the universe be most-economically restricted to the observed, balanced, minimal-entropy configuration, so that energy will be most-uniformly dissipated, because energy cannot be conserved if work is not efficeintly maximized.

Davies' goldilocks enigma, doesn't just apply to the universe as a whole, every last anthropic balance point is similarly fixed between diametrically opposing <--|--> runaway tendencies, so the "goldilocks enigma" can be used to predict stuff about the observed universe from this average of runaway opposing tendencies.

The multiverse is a way to rationalize around the structure problem, but that's commonly viewed by scientists, like, David Gross, as a cop-out on the kind of first principles that I've been discussing, but the more absurd that string theory and the multiverse becomes, the harder they will be pressed to look at the most obvious implication of the evidence for answers.

There is some good physical reason for it that is somehow "specially" related to the existence of carbon-based life.

Don't hide from it and claim ignorance as your excuse, figure out how it is plausible without mumbo-jumbo like "backwards causation".

Tell John Wheeler that he'd have to be independently wealth to think that we're here just to watch.
Uh, as far as I can tell from your exposition of usual clarity, you don't have any answers either, outside a bunch of conclusions and "somehows" and "not unreasonables". I see no reason that shouldn't be called "ignorance."
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Nope. I've seen your idea of "reasoned discourse" and it ain't showing up here anymore.
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I remember you from and you are a troll. If you want attention, go there of somewheres else they have time to laugh at you. nothing you post is staying here.
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I don't suppose it even occurs to you that you are proving my point.
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