"in our universe, he determined, the constant is small, because only a small constant could allow galaxies to form and life to develop." is he saying the laws of the universe bent to our will? just so it could sometime in the future create life? this is why i cant accept this. this is putting the chariot before the horse
I’m not familiar with the “he” you’re referring to, but yeah, it’s called the Anthropic Principle. Here’s a rundown from SFU:
The Anthropic Principle was proposed in Poland in 1973, during a special two-week series of synopsia commemorating Copernicus’s 500th birthday. It was proposed by Brandon Carter, who, on Copernicus’s birthday, had the audacity to proclaim that humanity did indeed hold a special place in the Universe, an assertion that is the exact opposite of Copernicus’s now universally accepted theory.
Carter was not, however, claiming that the Universe was our own personal playground, made specifically with humanity in mind. The version of the Anthropic Principle that he proposed that day, which is now referred to as the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP) stated only that by our very existence as carbon-based intelligent creatures, we impose a sort of selection effect on the Universe. For example, in a Universe where just one of the fundamental constants that govern nature was changed - say, the strength of gravity - we wouldn’t be here to wonder why gravity is the strength it is. The following is the official definition of the WAP:
“Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP): the observed values of all physical and cosmological quantities are not equally probable but they take on the values restricted by the requirement that there exist sites where carbon-based life can evolve and by the requirement that the Universe be old enough for it to have already done so.” (The Anthropic Cosmological Principle by John Barrow and Frank Tipler, p. 16)
Later, Carter also proposed the Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP), which states that the Universe had to bring humanity into being. This version is much more teleological, if not theological, and is of a highly speculative nature. Nonetheless, Carter had scientific reasons to propose it. The definition of the SAP) is as follows:
“Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP): the Universe must have those properties which allow life to develop within it at some stage in it’s history.” (The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, p. 21)
In addition to the WAP and SAP, there are the Participatory and Final Anthropic Principles. The Participatory Anthropic Principle states not only that the Universe had to develop humanity (or some other intelligent, information-gathering life form) but that we are necessary to it’s existence, as it takes an intelligent observer to collapse the Universe’s waves and probabilities from superposition into relatively concrete reality. The Final Anthropic Principle states that once the Universe has brought intelligence into being, it will never die out. These two are also very speculative.
The Strong Anthropic Principle and the Final Anthropic Principle
The Strong and Final Anthropic Principles are probably the most controversial of the many versions of the Anthropic Principle. They have a ring of creationism, a philosophy that has been frowned on by science since Darwin’s day. Despite their borderline scientific status, they have been embraced by the religious among the scientific community, heralded as proof of God’s existence and of science’s final acknowledgment of the fact.
The SAP is based on the same “cosmic coincidences” as the far more mundane WAP. It cites the same inexplicable and unlikely chance occurrences that make it possible for life to exist in the Universe. Unlike the WAP, however, they attempt to explain why such improbable events occurred, rather than just state what improbable events must have occurred in the Universe to let us be here. They take a position not unlike Aristotle in his use of Final Causes to explain the why of things: the Universe’s end result was to produce us, so the various physical constants and other properties which are pivotal to our existence have to be such that they bring about our existence.
I don’t have to point out how egotistical that sounds. Looking only at that last sentence, the notion sounds ridiculous. However, those who subscribe to this theory have defended it valiantly. For one thing, the coincidences in the physical constants have yet to be truly explained, except by the SAP and theories like it. As I have said before, many of the conditions and properties in the Universe have precise values, and if these values were changed even very slightly, intelligent life would be completely impossible. And all of these far-fetched coincidences happened together. The Universe certainly seems to have been “made” with life in mind.
If you were to accept this argument, then the FAP would be the logical conclusion after the SAP, especially if you believe the Participatory Anthropic Principle as well. If the Universe is indeed made for the benefit of intelligence, and the Universe in fact needs intelligent observers to exist, then it would be in the Universe’s “interest” to keep intelligence going. Therefore, according to those who subscribe to this theory, intelligent life will never die out.
Of course if the Universe was made toward some end, something with enough consciousness and foresight to create so precise a Universe has to have existed, though the idea of a pre-existing creator-god that we cannot observe (and therefore we cannot prove exists) does seem somewhat unscientific. The alternatives, though, have a similar problem. The proposed “many worlds” theory and its variations, which are the long-standing arguments against the SAP and FAP are just as impossible to test as the existence of God, as the worlds they hold up as a rebuttal to the SAP are just as impossible to detect (more on this later). This is a good point, as we really do only have one Universe, our Universe, to consider, no matter how many theoretical ones we construct.
“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.”
– Freeman Dyson
The Anthropic Principle and Quantum Physics
In Newton’s time, humanity has been relegated to the position of “observer” of the Universe, placed apart from it, supposedly able to look at the Universe, live in the Universe, and not participate in it. Since the 1920s, with the advent of quantum physics and the discovery of wave-packets and the superposition of particles, that has begun to change. Not only do people inexorably change the things they observe on the quantum level, but it has been proposed that a persons consciousness of a quantum event forces the particles involved collapse from superposition in all possible locations to a definite location, at the exact time they are observed by a conscious being. But let’s start from the beginning.
You have an electron, spinning around the outer shell of an atom. You want to find out where that electron is, and how fast it’s moving. To do so, you have to whack something into it, like another subatomic particle, because it’s too small to be seen with light. This is something like whacking Earth into Mars to find out the position and speed of Mars. So of course the electron is changed by this rather crude observation of it, which means that one of the two things you wanted to know is changed by your observation, so you really only know one. This the most mundane example of the observer’s involvement with the observed.
But, according to some theories, the observer is still more deeply involved in this quantum event, the determination of the location of a particle. Before the electron gets whacked with the other particle, it is said to be in a state of “superposition,” existing partially in all possible locations. It is at the moment of observation by a conscious mind that the electron “chooses” one of the possible locations to materialize in, collapsing it’s wave-packet and becoming a particle for the split second it takes to be hit by the other particle. David Albert, in the book “Quantum Mechanics and Experience,” says:
“perhaps the collapse occurs precisely at the last possible moment; perhaps it always occurs precisely at the level of consciousness, and perhaps, moreover, consciousness is always the agent that brings it about.”
Albert goes on to say,
“The brain of a sentient being may enter a state wherein states connected with various different conscious experiences are superposed; and at such moments the mind connected with that brain opens it’s inner eye and gazes on the brain, and that causes the entire system (brain, measuring instrument, measured system, everything) to collapse…”
Therefore, if this theory is true, consciousness is essential to the reality of things for it is consciousness that collapses the subatomic particles that make up everything from superposition into a definite position, changing the Universe from an aggregation of probability waves and superposed particles into the somewhat more definite reality that we know. And that, of course, is the meaning of the Participatory Anthropic Principle, that the Universe needs conscious observers to bring it from existing in all probabilities into one reality. We are not detached observers of a movie-reality playing before us that we are powerless to interact with. We are, in a certain sense, the cameramen.
Arguments Against the Anthropic Principle
As has been said, all versions of the Anthropic Principle (except the Weak Anthropic Principle) are highly controversial. They are by no means the only theories that claim to explain the anthropic coincidences. Among the other proposed cosmologies are the Many Worlds and the Baby Universes, both of which are often used as arguments against the validity of the Anthropic Principle and it’s many variations.
The Many Worlds cosmology states that every time a quantum event occurs, such as a superposed particle collapsing to a (somewhat) definite location, the Universe splits into many, one for each possible location of the particle. In each new universe, the particle is in just one of the possibilities, but all the new universes together contain within them all the possible locations of the particle. Considering how many quantum events there have been since the beginning of the Universe, the number of branch-universes would be staggeringly immense. It is by virtue of this huge number, and the fact that these universes embody all possible outcomes for every quantum event that has ever occurred, that the proponents of this theory claim to have a more scientific alternative than the Anthropic Principle. With all possibilities existing, it is only logical that such an improbable, though definitely possible, Universe would exist.
The Baby Universes theory is even more outlandish than the aforementioned idea of multiple, undetectable universes. It’s basic premise is that black holes create baby universes, and that there is a sort of natural selection, evolution if you will, going on in which the universes that can produce more black holes win out over those that don’t, thus propagating their physical laws (or laws very similar, as no offspring is exactly like a parent). According to this theory, all the matter and energy that a black hole swallows somehow “bounces back” under conditions very like our Big Bang, only perpendicular to our space-time, creating a baby universe whose physical laws are very similar to that of it’s parent, our Universe. Those who use this theory as an argument against the Anthropic Principle say that instead of our Universe being tailor-made for humanity, it’s geared toward the production of black holes, and humans are a sort of parasite in the greater organism of the Universe.
These are some very intriguing ideas. They may have more truth to them than the various Anthropic Principles, and they may not. The fact is, all of these arguments are theories based on theories based on theories, and completely untestable, at least at our current technology level. Quite a lot like the more controversial Strong and Final Anthropic Principles. In the end, I suppose, it’s just a matter of personal preference which theory, the God hypothesis or one of the Many Worlds cosmologies, you choose to believe in, for now.
Richard Dawkins weighs the possibilities of the anthropic principle as it applies to physics. He also presents the theory that universes are bound to Darwinian selection, passing on traits to daughter universes birthed from black holes. (x)
At the heart of modern cosmology is a mystery: Why does our universe appear so exquisitely tuned to create the conditions necessary for life? In this tour de force tour of some of science’s biggest new discoveries, Brian Greene shows how the mind-boggling idea of a multiverse may hold the answer to the riddle.