Friday, August 15, 2008

Review - "The Goldilocks Enigma" by Paul Davies

In the 1960's theoretical physicist Brandon Carter calculated that many of our laws of physics must be tuned to a very precise value, a "Goldilocks" value (not too hot and not too cold) in order for life (as we know it) to exist. One example of this is the fact that human beings could not exist if gravity were stronger or weaker by one part in many billions. The big question is: If the odds against our existence were only one out of many billions, why is it that we are here?

Some think that this is an excellent indication that a God lurks behind the laws of physics and fine tuned them especially for us. Yet would that not require a God at least as fine tuned as the laws are? Others, most notably Astronomer Martin Rees, believe that the Goldilocks enigma may be solved by a vast number of parallel universes, one of which hits the cosmic jackpot and is able to give rise to life. Davies rejects this explanation because he believes that of all the life inhabiting universes, most or all would eventually create many simulated universes, leading to the conclusion that most universes are fake, and finally to the conviction that our universe probably is too. Having rejected the possibility of accepting our universe as a fluke, made by the hand of a God, or one of many other universes, Davies longs for a more sensible solution. He believes that one day both physics and mathematics will be unified, and we will realize that our Universe is essentially a very rational place. It will turn out that human beings are only able to emerge in a rational universe like our own, and that a rational universe would be highly likely to give birth to something like ourselves. He even toys with the notion that future events may influence the past: Minds being able to shape the Universe as rational.

No doubt these are very difficult ideas to understand. Nevertheless, I applaud Davies for presenting such refreshing alternative explanations, and for searching for an explanation which is neither supernatural nor nihilistic. Overall, this is a thought provoking read from a very independent thinker.


Lui said...

I'm wondering if you're familiar with Lee Smolin's proposal, that black holes give birth to other universes, and that a type of cosmological natural selection is at work? This is exposited in his book "The Life of the Cosmos", which I very much recommend.

AIGBusted said...

Hi lui,

Yes, I'm familiar with Smolin's hypothesis. I think it is very interesting, and does have a leg up on other ideas, since he makes predictions from his model.

Nevertheless, I wonder if it may be too good to be true. Evolution is such a beautiful theory that it is hard to think of it being right twice!

I've written about the "anthropic coincidences" here if you want to check it out:


AIGBusted said...

^^ I saw that the link above got cut off. Simply go to:

Click "Arguments for God" and scroll down and click "The Anthropic Principal - Cosmological Version"

Lui said...

Thanks, will do.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Speaking of Davies, his view reminds me somewhat of Robert Anton Wilson's.

Here are some Robert Anton Wilson's quotations:

I don't believe anything, but I have many suspicions.

I strongly suspect that a world "external to," or at least independent of, my senses exists in some sense.

I also suspect that this world shows signs of intelligent design, and I suspect that such intelligence acts via feedback from all parts to all parts and without centralized sovereignity, like Internet; and that it does not function hierarchically, in the style an Oriental despotism, an American corporation or Christian theology.

I somewhat suspect that Theism and Atheism both fail to account for such decentralized intelligence, rich in circular-causal feedback.
I more-than-half suspect that all "good" writing, or all prose and poetry that one wants to read more than once, proceeds from a kind of "alteration in consciousness," i.e. a kind of controlled schizophrenia. [Don't become alarmed -- I think good acting comes from the same place.]
I sometimes suspect that what Blake called Poetic Imagination expresses this exact thought in the language of his age, and that visits by "angels" and "gods" states it an even more archaic argot.

These suspicions have grown over 72years, but as a rather slow and stupid fellow I do not have the chutzpah to proclaim any of them as certitudes. Give me another 72 years and maybe I'll arrive at firmer conclusions.

See also

Below are some of my favorite R. A. Wilson quotations from a letter he sent me:

An evangelical Christian once told me, “Only Jesus Christ can save man and restore him to his lost state of peace with God, himself and others.” Yeah, sure, and only new Pepsi can make you feel really happy, and only our brand is better than the competition, and only our country is the best country. It is truly amazing to me that people can utter such arrogant nonsense with no humor, no sense of how offensive they are to others, no doubt or trepidation, and no suspicion that they sound exactly like advertisers, con-men and other swindlers. It is really hard to understand such child-like prattling. If I were especially conceited about something (a state I try to avoid, but if I fell into it...), if for instance I decided I had the best garden or the handsomest face in Ireland, I would still retain enough common sense to suspect that I would sound like a conceited fool if I went around telling everybody those opinions. I would have enough tact left, I hope, to satisfy my conceit by dreaming that other people would notice on their own that my garden and/or my face were especially lovely. People who go around innocently and blithely announcing that they belong to the Master Race or the Best Country Club or have the One True Religion seem to have never gotten beyond the kindergarten level of ego-display. Do they have no modesty, no tact, no shame, no adult common sense at all? Do they have any suspicion how silly their conceit sounds to the majority of the nonwhite non-Christian men and women of the world? To me, they seem like little children wearing daddy’s clothes and going around shouting, “Look how grown-up I am! Look at me, me, me!”
There are more amusing things than ego-games, conceit and one-upmanship.Really, there are. I suspect that people stay on that childish level because they have never discovered how interesting and exciting the adult world is.
If one must play ego-games, I still think it would be more polite, and more adult, to play them in the privacy of one’s head. In fact, despite my efforts to be a kind of Buddhist, I do relapse into such ego-games on occasion; but I have enough respect for human intelligence to keep such thoughts to myself. I don’t go around announcing that I have painted the greatest painting of our time; I hope that people will notice that by themselves. Why do the people whose ego-games consist of day-dreaming about being part of the Master Race or the One True Religion not keep that precious secret to themselves, also, and wait for the rest of the human race to notice their blinding superiority?

And below are some added Wilson quotes from the web:

The experts on Heaven disagree about which conglomeration of religious believers will qualify, but they always seem to think that they personally belong to that elite group.An eternity with people that conceited seems intolerable to me...

An idea, which has terrified millions, claims that some of us will go to a place called Hell, where we will suffer eternal torture. This does not scare me because, when I try to imagine a Mind behind this universe, I cannot conceive that Mind, usually called “God,” as totally mad. I mean, guys, compare that “God” with the worst monsters you can think of--Adolph Hitler, Joe Stalin, that sort of guy. None of them ever inflicted more than finite pain on their victims. Even de Sade, in his sado-masochistic fantasy novels, never devised an unlimited torture. The idea that the Mind of Creation (if such exists) wants to torture some of its critters for endless infinities of infinities seems too absurd to take seriously. Such a deranged Mind could not create a mud hut, much less the exquisitely mathematical universe around us.

If such a monster-God did exist, the sane attitude would consist of practicing the Buddhist virtue of compassion. Don’t give way to hatred: try to understand and forgive him. Maybe He will recover his wits some day.

Robert Anton Wilson, “Cheerful Reflections on Death and Dying,” Gnoware, February 1999

By the way, I just listened on tape to two fascinating books,
Karen Armstrong's A SHORT HISTORY OF MYTH (also her big book on THE AGE OF TRANSFORMATION is great).
Mary Roach's SPOOK: SCIENCE TACKLES THE AFTERLIFE. Great listening pleasure!