Monday, July 25, 2011


by Richard Crews
Continuing two threads I was discussing about "luck": (1) the STRONG versus WEAK Anthropic Principles, and (2) where is God in all this?

The Anthropic Principle takes note that we live in a Goldilocks world where all those tricky astrophysical numbers are just right for humans to come to life--a world where none of those numbers is even a tiny bit too big or a tiny bit too small, although there doesn't seem to be any good reason why they shouldn't be. So why are they "just right"? The STRONG version of the Anthropic Principle says that whatever brought the Universe into being 14 billion years ago (with the "Big Bang") must have had humans in mind even way back then, more than 13 billion years before there were any humans (or any life at all, for that matter). The WEAK Anthropic Principle says, "Nah, we were just lucky"--very, very trickily lucky, it's true--but (and here's the "explanatory" part), "If we hadn't been so lucky, we simply wouldn't be here at all looking back and being astonished by the coincidences--nobody would be here at all."

So the STRONG Anthropic Principle puts God right in there at the moment of the Big Bang, setting things up nicely for humans to come along 13-plus billion years later. Admittedly, 13-plus billion years ago is a long way from "give us this day our daily bread," but scientists hate to put God in anywhere--they consider it a cop out, a violation of the basic principle of science that everything--EVERYTHING--has a logical cause. So when the WEAK Anthropic Principle came along and said, "Nah, we just lucked out," there was a general sigh of relief.

But not for long--for two reasons: first, the WEAK Anthropic Principle just kicks God back up the road a ways. After all, where did it all come from in the first place? In fact, the key existential questions is, "Why is there SOMETHING rather than NOTHING?" And if that question doesn't pull the rug out from under your comfort zone, you haven't thought about it enough.

The second reason the WEAK Anthropic Principle doesn't help with the God dilemma much is this: If we just happen to be in the "lucky" Universe--the one that just happens to be just right for life and humans to come along--where are all the other "unlucky" universes? You see? It kind of implies that there are lots and lots of other universes out there somewhere that didn't quite make it.

Quantum physics introduces another complexity into these considerations. Quantum physics establishes--backed up, unreasonable as it seems, by air-tight mathematics and many kinds of experiments--that reality doesn't take its final form until it is observed. Yes, consciousness is king over the physical world. A beam of light, for example, may be flitting along in space for a billion years or more, but it doesn't decide whether it is a particle or a wave until someone looks at it--and it can't be both--and whichever one it chooses (or the observer chooses for it), it can never have been the other--NEVER. It has, once observed, characteristics (such as charge, position, amplitude, polarization, or diffraction potential) that it simply could not have if it ever had been in the alternate form.

My resolution of these paradoxes? The human brain evolved to hunt, compete, and survive by solving problems using temporal sequencing and causal relationships in three-dimensional space. We simply do not have the biological computer hardware or software to answer the questions posed. It is like asking someone, "How do I get from #25 Third Avenue to #100 Lolly Street?" if the person has never been in the particular town in question and doesn't have a map. Worse, let's say the person is blind and doesn't speak English. Or the "person" you are asking is a cow. They can "mooo" all they want to, but they can't begin to conceive of the question or how to answer it.

Neither can we. It's humbling but realistic.

Enough for now--maybe more on "luck" later.