The calibrated cosmos

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The calibrated cosmos

From Saturn's rings, Earth is seen as a distant shining light (bottom right) in this image taken by the Cassini spacecraft. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL

Is our universe fine-tuned for the existence of life – or does it just look that way from where we’re sitting?

Tim Maudlin is professor of philosophy at New York University. His latest book is Philosophy of Physics: Space and Time (2012).

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Some things occur just by chance. Mark Twain was born on the day that Halley’s comet appeared in 1835 and died on the day it reappeared in 1910. There is a temptation to linger on a story like that, to wonder if there might be a deeper order behind a life so poetically bracketed. For most of us, the temptation doesn’t last long. We are content to remind ourselves that the vast majority of lives are not so celestially attuned, and go about our business in the world. But some coincidences are more troubling, especially if they implicate larger swathes of phenomena, or the entirety of the known universe. During the past several decades, physics has uncovered basic features of the cosmos that seem, upon first glance, like lucky accidents. Theories now suggest that the most general structural elements of the universe — the stars and planets, and the galaxies that contain them — are the products of finely calibrated laws and conditions that seem too good to be true. What if our most fundamental questions, our late-at-night-wonderings about why we are here, have no more satisfying answer than an exasperated shrug and a meekly muttered ‘Things just seem to have turned out that way’?

It can be unsettling to contemplate the unlikely nature of your own existence, to work backward causally and discover the chain of blind luck that landed you in front of your computer screen, or your mobile, or wherever it is that you are reading these words. For you to exist at all, your parents had to meet, and that alone involved quite a lot of chance and coincidence. If your mother hadn’t decided to take that calculus class, or if her parents had decided to live in another town, then perhaps your parents never would have encountered one another. But that is only the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Even if your parents made a deliberate decision to have a child, the odds of your particular sperm finding your particular egg are one in several billion. The same goes for both your parents, who had to exist in order for you to exist, and so already, after just two generations, we are up to one chance in 1027. Carrying on in this way, your chance of existing, given the general state of the universe even a few centuries ago, was almost infinitesimally small. You and I and every other human being are the products of chance, and came into existence against very long odds.

And just as your own existence seems, from a physical point of view, to have been wildly unlikely, the existence of the entire human species appears to have been a matter of blind luck. Stephen Jay Gould argued in 1994 that the detailed course of evolution is as chancey as the path of a single sperm cell to an egg. Evolutionary processes do not innately tend toward Homo sapiens, or even mammals. Rerun the course of history with only a slight variation and the biological outcome might have been radically different. For instance, if the asteroid hadn’t struck the Yucatán 66 million years ago, dinosaurs might still have run of this planet, and humans might have never evolved.

It can be emotionally difficult to absorb the radical contingency of humanity. Especially if you have been culturally conditioned by the biblical creation story, which makes humans out to be the raison d’être of the entire physical universe, designated lords of a single, central, designed, habitable region. Nicolaus Copernicus upended this picture in the 16th century by relocating the Earth to a slightly off-centre position, and every subsequent advance in our knowledge of cosmic geography has bolstered this view — that the Earth holds no special position in the grand scheme of things. The idea that the billions of visible galaxies, to say nothing of the expanses we can’t see, exist for our sake alone is patently absurd. Scientific cosmology has consigned that notion to the dustbin of history.

So far, so good, right? As tough as it is to swallow, you can feel secure in the knowledge that you are an accident and that humanity is, too. But what about the universe itself? Can it be mere chance that there are galaxies at all, or that the nuclear reactions inside stars eventually produce the chemical building blocks of life from hydrogen and helium? According to some theories, the processes behind these phenomena depend on finely calibrated initial conditions or unlikely coincidences involving the constants of nature. One could always write them off to fortuitous accident, but many cosmologists have found that unsatisfying, and have tried to find physical mechanisms that could produce life under a wide range of circumstances.

Ever since the 1920s when Edwin Hubble discovered that all visible galaxies are receding from one another, cosmologists have embraced a general theory of the history of the visible universe. In this view, the visible universe originated from an unimaginably compact and hot state. Prior to 1980, the standard Big Bang models had the universe expanding in size and cooling at a steady pace from the beginning of time until now. These models were adjusted to fit observed data by selecting initial conditions, but some began to worry about how precise and special those initial conditions had to be.

For example, Big Bang models attribute an energy density — the amount of energy per cubic centimetre — to the initial state of the cosmos, as well as an initial rate of expansion of space itself. The subsequent evolution of the universe depends sensitively on the relation between this energy density and the rate of expansion. Pack the energy too densely and the universe will eventually recontract into a big crunch; spread it out too thin and the universe will expand forever, with the matter diluting so rapidly that stars and galaxies cannot form. Between these two extremes lies a highly specialised history in which the universe never recontracts and the rate of expansion eventually slows to zero. In the argot of cosmology, this special situation is called W = 1. Cosmological observation reveals that the value of W for the visible universe at present is quite near to 1. This is, by itself, a surprising finding, but what’s more, the original Big Bang models tell us that W = 1 is an unstable equilibrium point, like a marble perfectly balanced on an overturned bowl. If the marble happens to be exactly at the top it will stay there, but if it is displaced even slightly from the very top it will rapidly roll faster and faster away from that special state.

This is an example of cosmological fine-tuning. In order for the standard Big Bang model to yield a universe even vaguely like ours now, this particular initial condition had to be just right at the beginning. Some cosmologists balked at this idea. It might have been just luck that the Solar system formed and life evolved on Earth, but it seemed unacceptable for it to be just luck that the whole observable universe should have started so near the critical energy density required for there to be cosmic structure at all.

And that’s not the only fine-tuned initial condition implied by the original Big Bang model. If you train a radio-telescope at any region of the sky, you observe a cosmic background radiation, the so-called ‘afterglow of the Big Bang’. The strange thing about this radiation is that it is quite uniform in temperature, no matter where you measure it. One might suspect that this uniformity is due to a common history, and that the different regions must have arisen from the same source. But according to the standard Big Bang models they don’t. The radiation traces back to completely disconnected parts of the initial state of the universe. The uniformity of temperature would therefore already have had to exist in the initial state of the Big Bang and, while this initial condition was certainly possible, many cosmologists feel this would be highly implausible.

In 1980, the American cosmologist Alan Guth proposed a different scenario for the early universe, one that ameliorated the need for special initial conditions in accounting for the uniformity of background radiation and the energy density of the universe we see around us today. Guth dubbed the theory ‘inflation’ because it postulates a brief period of hyper-exponential expansion of the universe, occurring shortly after the Big Bang. This tremendous growth in size would both tend to ‘flatten’ the universe, driving W very close to 1 irrespective of what it had been before, and would imply that the regions from which all visible background radiation originated did, in fact, share a common history.

At first glance, the inflationary scenario seems to solve the fine-tuning problem: by altering our story about how the universe evolved, we can make the present state less sensitive to precise initial conditions. But there are still reasons to worry, because, after all, inflation can’t just be wished into existence; we have to postulate a physical mechanism that drives it. Early attempts to devise such a mechanism were inspired by the realisation that certain sorts of field — in particular, the hypothesised Higgs field — would naturally produce inflation. But more exact calculations showed that the sort of inflation that would arise from this Higgs field would not produce the universe we see around us today. So cosmologists cut the Gordian knot: instead of seeking the source of the inflation in a field already postulated for some other reason, they simply assume a new field — the ‘inflaton’ field — with just the characteristics needed to produce the phenomena.

Had the constants of nature taken slightly different values, we would not be here

Unfortunately, the phenomena to be explained, which include not just the present energy density and background radiation but also the formation and clustering of galaxies and stars, require that the inflation take a rather particular form. This ‘slow-roll’ inflation in turn puts very strict constraints on the form of the inflaton field. The constraints are so severe that some cosmologists fear one form of fine-tuning (exact initial conditions in the original Big Bang theory) has just been traded for another form (the precise details of the inflaton field). But the inflationary scenario fits so well with the precise temperature fluctuations of the background radiation that an inflationary epoch is now an accepted feature of the Big Bang theory. Inflation itself seems here to stay, even while the precise mechanism for inflation remains obscure, and worryingly fine-tuned.

Here we reach the edge of our understanding, and a deep, correlative uncertainty about whether there is a problem with our current explanations of the universe. If the origin of the inflaton field is unknown, how can one judge whether its form is somehow ‘unusual’ and ‘fine-tuned’ rather than ‘completely unsurprising’? As we have seen, the phenomena themselves do not wear such a designation on their sleeves. What is merely due to coincidence under one physical theory becomes the typical case under another and, where the physics itself is unclear, judgments about how ‘likely’ or ‘unlikely’ a phenomenon is become unclear as well. This problem gets even worse when you consider certain ‘constants of nature’.

Just as the overall history and shape of the visible universe depends upon special initial conditions in the original Big Bang model, many of the most general features of the visible universe depend quite sensitively on the precise values of various ‘constants of nature’. These include the masses of the fundamental particles (quarks, electrons, neutrinos, etc) as well as physical parameters such as the fine-structure constant that reflect the relative strength of different forces. Some physicists have argued that, had the values of these ‘constants’ been even slightly different, the structure of the universe would have been altered in important ways. For example, the proton is slightly lighter than the neutron because the down quark is slightly heavier than the up, and since the proton is lighter than the neutron, a proton cannot decay into a neutron and a positron. Indeed, despite intensive experimental efforts, proton decay has never been observed at all. But if the proton were sufficiently heavier than the neutron, protons would be unstable, and all of chemistry as we know it would be radically changed.

Similarly, it has been argued that if the fine-structure constant, which characterises the strength of the electromagnetic interaction, differed by only 4 per cent, then carbon would not be produced by stellar fusion. Without a sufficient abundance of carbon, carbon-based life forms could not exist. This is yet another way that life as we know it could appear to be radically contingent. Had the constants of nature taken slightly different values, we would not be here.

Some physicists simply feel that the existence of stars and planets and life ought not to require so much ‘luck’

The details of these sorts of calculations should be taken with a grain of salt. It might seem like a straightforward mathematical question to work out what the consequences of twiddling a ‘constant’ of nature would be, but think of the tremendous intellectual effort that has had to go into figuring out the physical consequences of the actual values of these constants. No one could sit down and rigorously work out an entirely new physics in a weekend. And even granting the main conclusion, that many of the most widespread structures of the universe and many of the more detailed physical structures that support living things depend sensitively on the values of these constants — what follows?

Some physicists simply feel that the existence of stars and planets and life ought not to require so much ‘luck’. They would prefer a physical theory that yields the emergence of these structures as typical and robust phenomena, not hostage to a fortunate throw of the cosmic dice that set the values of the constants. Of course, the metaphor of a throw of the cosmic dice is unfortunate: if a ‘constant of nature’ really is a fixed value, then it was not the product of any chancey process. It is not at all clear what it means to say, in this context, that the particular values that obtain were ‘improbable’ or ‘unlikely’.

If, however, we think that the existence of abundant carbon in the universe ought not to require a special and further unexplained set of values for the constants of nature, what options for explanation do we have? We have seen how changing the basic dynamics of the Big Bang can make some phenomena much less sensitive to the initial conditions, and so appear typical rather than exceptional. Could any sort of physics provide a similar explanation for the values of the ‘constants of nature’ themselves?

One way to counter the charge that an outcome is improbable is to increase the number of chances it has to occur. The chance that any particular sperm will find an egg is small, but the large number of sperm overcomes this low individual chance so that offspring are regularly produced. The chance of a monkey writing Hamlet by randomly hitting keys on a typewriter is tiny, but given enough monkeys and typewriters, the hypothetical probability of producing a copy of the play approaches 100 per cent. Similarly, even if the ‘constants of nature’ have to fall in a narrow range of values for carbon to be produced, make enough random choices of values and at least one choice might yield the special values. But how could there be many different ‘choices’ of the constants of nature, given that they are said to be constant?

String theory provides a possibility. According to it, space-time has more dimensions that are immediately apparent, and these extra dimensions beyond four are ‘compactified’ or curled up at microscopic scale, forming a Calabi-Yau manifold. The ‘constants of nature’ are then shown to be dependent on the exact form of the compactification. There are hundreds of thousands, and possibly infinitely many, distinct possible Calabi-Yau manifolds, and so correspondingly many ways for the ‘constants of nature’ to come out. If there is a mechanism for all of these possibilities to be realised, it will be likely that at least one will correspond to the values we observe.

One theory of inflation, called eternal inflation, provides a mechanism that would lead to all possible manifolds. In this theory, originally put forth by the cosmologists Andrei Linde at Stanford and Alexander Vilenkin at Tufts, the universe is much, much larger and more exotic than the visible universe of which we are aware. Most of this universe is in a constant state of hyper-exponential inflation, similar to that of the inflationary phase of the new Big Bang models. Within this expanding region, ‘bubbles’ of slowly expanding space-time are formed at random, and each bubble is associated with a different Calabi-Yau compactification, and hence with different ‘constants of nature’. As with the monkeys and the typewriters, just the right combination is certain to arise given enough tries, and so, it’s no wonder that life-friendly universes such as ours exist, and it’s also no wonder that living creatures such as ourselves would be living in one.

There is one other conceptual possibility for overcoming fine-tuning that is worth our consideration, even if there is no explicit physics to back it up yet. In this scenario, the universe’s dynamics do not ‘aim’ at any particular outcome, nor does the universe randomly try out all possibilities, and yet it still tends to produce worlds in which physical quantities might appear to have been adjusted to one another. The name for this sort of physical process is homeostasis.

Here is a simple example. When a large object starts falling through the atmosphere, it initially accelerates downward due to the force of gravity. As it falls faster, air resistance increases, and that opposes the gravitational force. Eventually, the object reaches a terminal velocity where the drag exactly equals the force of gravity, the acceleration stops, and the object falls at a constant speed.

Suppose intelligent creatures evolved on such a falling object after it had reached the terminal velocity. They develop a theory of gravity, on the basis of which they can calculate the net gravitational force on their falling home. This calculation would require determining the exact composition of the object through its whole volume in order to determine its mass. They also develop a theory of drag. The amount of drag produced by part of the surface of the object would be a function of its precise shape: the smoother the surface, the less drag. Since the object is falling at a constant speed, the physics of these creatures would include a ‘constant of nature’ relating shapes of the surface to forces. In order to calculate the total drag on the object, the creatures would have to carefully map the entire shape of the surface and use their ‘constant of nature’.

Our modern understanding of cosmology demotes many facts of central importance to humans — in particular the very existence of our species — to mere cosmic accident

Having completed these difficult tasks, our creatures would discover an amazing ‘coincidence’: the total gravitational force, which is a function of the volume and composition of the object, almost exactly matches the total drag, which is a function of the shape of the surface! It would appear to be an instance of incredible fine-tuning: the data that go into one calculation would have nothing to do with the data that go into the other, yet the results match. Change the composition without changing the surface shape, or change the surface shape without changing the composition, and the two values would no longer be (nearly) equal.

But this ‘miraculous coincidence’ would be no coincidence at all. The problem is that our creatures would be treating the velocity of the falling object as a ‘constant of nature’ — after all, it has been a constant as long as they have existed — even though it is really a variable quantity. When the object began to fall, the force of gravity did not balance the drag. The object therefore accelerated, increasing the velocity and hence increasing the drag, until the two forces balanced. Similarly, we can imagine discovering that some of the quantities we regard as constants are not just variable between bubbles but variable within bubbles. Given the right set of opposing forces, these variables could naturally evolve to stasis, and hence appear later as constants of nature. And stasis would be a condition in which various independent quantities have become ‘fine-tuned’ to one another.

The problem of cosmological fine-tuning is never straightforward. It is not clear, in the first place, when it is legitimate to complain that a physical theory treats some phenomenon as a highly contingent ‘product of chance’. Where the complaint is legitimate, the cosmologist has several different means of recourse. The inflationary Big Bang illustrates how a change in dynamics can convert delicate dependence on initial conditions to a robust independence from the initial state. The bubble universe scenario demonstrates how low individual probabilities can be overcome by multiplying the number of chances. And homeostasis provides a mechanism for variable quantities to naturally evolve to special unchanging values that could easily be mistaken for constants of nature.

But our modern understanding of cosmology does demote many facts of central importance to humans — in particular the very existence of our species — to mere cosmic accident, and none of the methods for overcoming fine-tuning hold out any prospect for reversing that realisation. In the end, we might just have to accommodate ourselves to being yet another accident in an accidental universe.

Read more essays on cosmology, philosophy of science and physics


  • Archies_Boy

    Living creatures are a consequence of the Way Things Are. If they were any different, we wouldn't be here, or at least not as we currently are. Applying philosophy to physics is like applying philosophy to a Tinkertoy.

  • youeyeus

    If we see ourselves as being supremely well made for the universe and not that the universe is supremely well made for us, we can forget the improbability of it all, and accept that what is is what is and it could be no other way. In essence, we have been making love to the universe since the big-bang. We are what happens when love happens.

  • Ormond Otvos

    An excellent example of the way physics-educated speedfreaks talk. Not word salad, maybe, but perhaps idea salad.

    We're just here, and not every puzzle needs answering.

  • drokhole

    How Do You Define Yourself?

    It all goes together - Alan Watts

    In other words, the universe isn't fine-tuned for life, the universe is life. Human beings (or any organism, for that matter) are an expression of the entire universe in the same way that a wave is an expression of the entire ocean (which itself is an expression of the entire universe). Life didn't come into the universe sui generis, it came out of it. Organism isn't separate from environment in the same way solid isn't separate from space, they are a continuum. Similarly, you are just as dependent on your outsides as you are on your insides.

    "And so behind the fully automatic model of the universe is the notion that reality itself is, to use the favorite term of 19th century scientists, blind energy. (...) And it is only a fluke, it is only as a result of pure chances that resulting from the exuberance of this energy there are people. With values, with reason, with languages, with cultures, and with love. Just a fluke. Like, you know, 1000 monkeys typing on 1000 typewriters for a million years will eventually type the Encyclopedia Britannica. And of course the moment they stop typing the Encyclopedia Britannica, they will relapse into nonsense.

    And so in order that that shall not happen, for you and I are flukes in this cosmos, and we like our way of life--we like being human--if we want to keep it, say these people, we've got to fight nature, because it will turn us back into nonsense the moment we let it. So we've got to impose our will upon this world as if we were something completely alien to it, from outside. And so we get a culture based on the idea of the war between man and nature.

    And so we put on this great show of being a tough guy. It's completely unnecessary. You don't need to beat nature into submission. Why be hostile to nature? Because after all, you ARE a symptom of nature. You, as a human being, you grow out of this physical universe in just exactly the same way that an apple grows off an apple tree. So let's say the tree which grows apples is a tree which apples, using 'apple' as a verb. And a world in which human beings arrive is a world that peoples. And so the existence of people is symptomatic of the kind of universe we live in."
    - Watts

    More Alan Watts (transcripts of lectures...long reads, but packed with insights and offers context) to mull over:

    Self and Other

    The Nature of Consciousness

    • M Collings

      We are a Microcosm of the Macrocosm.

    • NorthernRoamer

      That's all well and good and soul stirring. Unfortunately, the bumps and bruises of everyday life knock it out of people as they are forced to deal with realpolitik.

  • phletch42

    Steven Weinberg to Richard Dawkins: "If you discovered a really impressive case of fine-tuning, I think you'd really be left with only two possibilities - a benevolent designer, or the Mulitverse." He dismisses the former out of hand, but finds himself defending a fairy tale not only without evidence, but without any chance of discovering evidence. Roger Penrose - the odds against an ordered universe are 10**10**30 to 1, against. It is finely tuned, and there are at this point in time no physical explanations within this universe to deal with it. Appealing to other universes and dimensions absent evidence is not science - it's pseudo-science, no matter how well and thoughtfully one writes about it. and no matter how much one loves imaginary strings, multiple dimensions, and inflaton fields.

    • Randy

      Calculation of odds implies a model with events that occur randomly with set frequencies. Neither I, nor anyone I know, nor I suspect, even Penrose has any idea what model he refers to when he calculates his odds. His odds without a model to put them in context has no meaning. Penrose is babling.

      • Don Dehart Bronkema

        Penrose babble? surely you jest!

    • hypnosifl

      Roger Penrose was calculating something distinct from the values of the constants of nature--he was calculating the odds that the early universe would have the low entropy that it apparently did, if we assume the early universe's state was "randomly" picked from all possible configurations. There are however theories that attempt to provide reasons why the early universe would have a low entropy, in which it isn't true that the early state is equally likely to be in all possible states--physicist Sean Carroll discusses the issue, and gives an example of such a theory (based on the "eternal inflation" idea discussed in the article), in his book "From Eternity to Here", and physicist Brian Greene also discusses theories in "The Fabric of the Cosmos".

      • Don Dehart Bronkema

        Some simulacrum of 'eternal inflation' would seem to provide an exit from the ontological conundrum.

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      Penrose knows megaverse is the only logical interpetation, even in the extreme format of Susskind's infinite regression of nested Matryoshka holograms [a dream in the mind of Brahma, so to speak].

      • JohnFornaro

        There is no a priori reason that we are not that dream. The point of the discussion, the research, and the hypothesizing is exactly to determine, and prove whether or not revealed knowledge is actually true knowledge.

        • Don Dehart Bronkema

          True--& we can't prove any negative proposition, no matter how extreme [e.g., Boltzmann-Brain hypothesis]...respondent takes it for granted [operationally] that 'revelation' is risible...would you agree, likewise, that if volition [Libet] & consciousness [Koch] are 20Khz sweeper-wave pastiches [consensae of neural nodes], we have no reason beyond existential dread to credit ANY species of 'realitet'?...would civilization be fatally compromised if people understood--or would it stiffen their spines to confront the Trumpet, not to speak of thermageddon, ecollapse, mind-memory upload to storage & Venter's plan to narrowcast the entire human genome to Mars [c. 2030] for 3-D printing & fast 'terrafying'?...surcease from ontology awaits us in the Void.

          • JohnFornaro

            Ouch. That's an awful lot there, but I missed your larger point.

            I did get one thing. People do not need any additional teleology or theories of everything in order to analyze Donald Trump's unfortunately engineered rise in the political process. Logic and an ability to do basic research on the internot will suffice. The willfully acquired disease of sophistry has permeated both political parties and we are running the risk that cooler heads will not prevail.

            But that is hardly a universal constant.

          • Don Dehart Bronkema

            Trump is a one-man Theory of Everything Rancidly Narcissistic, a true spoiler--but none of the GOPretenders is qualified in terms of depth, experience or even sobriety [cept maybe Kasich]...Cruz is Certifiable...Carson is Bryan in doc-drag...Hillary is a bore...Bernie abjures cant for explicit reforms long validated in Scandinavia &, as respondent loves to rub in--Europe is 89% in private hands...quizzed about their complaints, Swedish men say Winter nights are too long, beer costs too much & the women are too hot for their own good...meanwhile, Mens Lactea [Galactic Mind] beckons H. transcendans elysio to Unity in Hyperspace [note commo 'twixt transatlantic mice in 2014 & brain-linked chimps collaborating to reach high-shelf bananas [2015]...sarbat da bhala!

          • JohnFornaro

            I think I get it now. Thanks!

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      We can't escape Hugh Everett, poor devil...

  • Katherine Krein

    Mr. Maudlin,
    Thanks for an excellent article! There is a lot to consider here, including the very interesting concept of homeostasis. It would be poetic for homeostasis to have enabled Homo sapiens. :-)

    • mijnheer

      O homeo, homeo, wherefore art thou homeo?
      Uh, so that Homo can be sapiens, I guess.

  • LukeB

    A nice article, and well worth a read.

    I think Maudlin undersells the effort that theoretical physicists have put into fine-tuning calculations when he says that "No one could sit down and rigorously work out an entirely new physics in a weekend". For example, Epelbaum and his collaborators, having developed the theory and tools to use supercomputer lattice simulations to investigate the structure of the C12 nucleus, write a few papers (2011, 2012) to describe their methods and show how their cutting-edge model successfully reproduces observations. They then use the same methods to investigate fine-tuning (2013). My review article for "Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia" cites upwards of a hundred papers like this. This is not a back-of-the-envelope operation, not starting from scratch, not "entirely new physics", not a weekend hobby. This is theoretical physics. I've made a few more comments on this article on my blog, "Letters to Nature"

  • johnmerryman

    What if W=1 is an example of homeostasis?
    What W=1 means, is that the force of the expansion of space is inversely proportional to the contraction of the force of gravity. Is that coincidence, or two sides of the same coin?
    Now we can only see the light of very distant galaxies that manages to thread itself between all the intervening galaxies and this space is expanding, so the light is redshifted. But galaxies are not just inert points of reference. They are 'space sinks(mathematically speaking). So what is expanding between galaxies, does appear to be falling into them at an equal rate. Here on earth, we have process that neatly explains this relationship. It is called a convection cycle. Stuff heats up, it expands out, then it cools back down and contracting, falls together/down. With cosmic processes, we have mass contracting inward and light and other forms of radiation expanding outward. We know that when mass breaks down, it radiates out, E=mc2. The question then becomes, does radiation ever reach a point where it simply cools enough that it coalesces into intergalactic gases? If so, that would complete the cycle.
    Now the primary reason the Big Bang model was first proposed, is there doesn't seem to be any other reason for light from distant galaxies to be redshifted, other than the source is physically moving away from us and that debate went on for half a century, yet this expanding universe theory so far requires two enormous patches, inflation and dark energy, as well as various smaller anomalies, such as stars and galaxies nearly the proposed age and the universe and thus little time to have evolved. So might it not be time to go back and revisit the possibility that light traveling for billions of years might have some effect we cannot measure and are not accounting for? If light is redshifted by distance, this effect would compound on itself, creating a parabolic curve of increasing redshift and that might explain the shifting frequency that we insert dark energy to explain.
    As for the notion of space itself expanding, this has been attributed to relativity, but for it to be relativistic, wouldn't the speed of light also have to increase, in order for it to remain constant to this expanded space? Otherwise it's just increasing distance, in stable space. That would make us the physical center of the universe and that doesn't seem likely. Yet we are at the optical center of our view of the universe, so if redshift were an optical effect, this would make sense and no need for fine tuning that detail.

  • bwbeeman

    It doesn't matter what the prior probabilities were. We are here, and here is here. It is what it is and speculating how all this happened is a waste of time and ink. We evolved within a set of physical circumstances that allowed that evolution. Period. Why wonder about the wonder of it all?

  • Srinivas Shastri

    Fantastic stuff, but i subscribe to something even more :-) From Ramana Maharshi:
    || It is the mind that is vast, not the world. The knower is ever greater than the known, and the seer is greater than the seen. That which is known is contained within the knower, and that which is seen is in the seer; the vast expanse of the sky is in the mind, not outside, because the mind is everywhere and there is no outside to it.

    Of course, figuring how the Universe came about is a totally different ball-game. Wonder whether that's possible at all. Just an exercise in hubris, i guess. The experience of George Washington Carver, when he invented so many products due to a peanut glut, is telling:

    • Randy

      The knower is ever greater than the known is an obviously false premise.

      • Srinivas Shastri

        This is meant in the sense that, for something to be known, there has to be a knower. That way, the knower is greater than the known.

        Of course, there are so many imponderables about the Universe, which can never be figured out. But that's the department of the Self, and not the function of us, Its "corpuscles" :-)

  • steve_macdonald

    "The idea that the billions of visible galaxies, to say nothing of the expanses we can’t see, exist for our sake alone is patently absurd. Scientific cosmology has consigned that notion to the dustbin of history."

    This statement is characteristic of the shocking philosophical ignorance typical of articles like this one. This is not a scientific observation -- it is barely a rational one. In general the piece not only fails to answer the question at hand, but reveals the utter naiveté of the writer on such weighty matters. One would have thought by now that the recent philosophical inanities of Hawking, Dawkins et al would have dissuaded the scientific minds among us from venturing too far into unknown territory, but here we are again.

    These heroic attempts to construct ever more ornate theories as to why the world is as it is belie an apparent complete obliviousness to an even more fundamental question (one of a host of unarticulated assumptions held by second-rate scientistic intellectuals): why is the cosmos comprehensible at all?

    The bovine atheism of such men should not dissuade those seeking more nourishing sustenance from exploring deeper waters. (The irony here is that atheism is radically incompatible with science -- indeed "hard" materialist atheism renders science strictly impossible.)

    Atheism is typically a result of intellectual arrest at the age of 12 or thereabouts. This is why people like Dawkins sound literally childish to anyone remotely familiar with actual, sophisticated theology. It must be the same for the physicist forced to endure some bore at a party who -- without a shred of background in the topic -- attempts to elucidate the new theory of gravity that recently occurred to him in the bath.

    In any case, anyone who is a) intellectually honest and b) of sound, rational mind cannot read the second part of Hart's "The Experience of God" and remain an atheist.

    • Logos

      Cannot read Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Russell, etc. and remain a theist. Unless, schizo egocentrical sophist,of course

      • Curious

        ehhh, Kant was a theist!!

      • dentedpat

        This Steve MacDonald guy is an idiot, but that shouldn't tempt you into idiocy as well. Its a troll trap and you are being sucked down. Many people, probably millions have read those authors and retained their faith. Of them Russell's work on the philosophy of religion is just straight horseshit (his mangling of the Cosmological argument is a continuing embarrassment to fans of his work with the best excuse being that he wrote 'Why I am not a Theist' in his I-will-do-anything-for-money phase.). Nietzsche is an amateur historian/amateur psychologist who never actually gets around to providing much in the way of argument. Kant was a theist and is famous for providing one of the big four arguments for God's existence
        Hume is stellar and the best of the bunch, but his work has been responded to, and effectively by later Christian apologists and theistic philosophers of religion.
        I actually cannot think of a single author who provides knock down arguments against theism. In my own case the hypothesis that God exists was not proven to be wrong to my satisfaction. Its credibility for me just faded over time as I learned more about contemporary scientific theories and the history of science in general. Now it just seems like a deeply odd thing to think. Kind of like phlogiston theory or the geocentric model of the solar system, or the theory (Aristotle's) that the brain was a cooling system.


          I used to think the human brain, was just the coolest thing ever. But then I realized, look what's telling me that.

    • johnmerryman

      The problem for monotheism is that the absolute is basis, not apex, so a spiritual absolute would be the essence of whatever it is we arise from, not an ideal form from which we fell.
      The ancient Egyptians formalized math and religion as essentially two sides of the same coin; To describe and explain the order of the cosmos. They assigned agency to forms and patterns, for the entirely logical reason that as living beings, people are forms expressing agency. When the terrestrial and cosmic forms did not reciprocate our interest, the next logical step was to divorce agency from form and in order to maintain the function of explanation, it was made singular. Which is where we remain. The reality is that life is the form with agency. If we were to analogize this agency, it wouldn't be an old wise man, but a new born babe. It is the seed from which we spring, not the insights we subsequently gather. We are motivated by desire, but vision is the goals to which we aspire. Who knows, we may just be bacteria's way of getting to other worlds.

    • Randy

      If anything has reached the dustbin of history it is dualism. You can propose that God plays with the model in ways that we can not distinguish from causality, but that makes a God whose intent can never be verified. There has not been any sophisticated theology since the scientific revolution. There has been sophisticated natural philosophy and philosophy of mind.

      • Curious

        How about Theology of the Body?

    • Bob

      You started to make a point, then torpedoed yourself with "Atheism is typically a result of intellectual arrest at the age of 12 or thereabouts." Rational people have a term for you, it is "liar for jesus".

    • hypnosifl

      "Get this man some Godel, stat."

      Godel's theorem is a technical result that only applies to axiomatic mathematical systems that can be used to decide truths about arithmetic, you can't turn it into some grand metaphor for the incompleteness of all attempts to understand the ultimate meaning of the universe or anything like that.

      • dentedpat

        I did not think voting you up was sufficient praise. This comment is awesome.

    • Daniel Bastian

      A troll to be sure. You don't even respond to the article. You clearly only pounced in here to bash atheism, and only end up sounding like a dogmatic Christian the way you assert so many opinions as fact. It's because of people like you that rational discourse is so often a pipe dream.

  • MrChris

    "In the end, we might just have to accommodate ourselves to being yet another accident in an accidental universe."

    Let's be thankful that Darwin or [insert any great scientist here] didn't have this approach.

  • Gallego

    If there is mold in a jam jar, would anyone even for a second suggest that the jar, its content, its surrounding (amount of light, temperature, atmosphere...) have been created and fine-tuned to allow for the mold to emerge?!

    We are this metaphorical "mold" in this universe, which is just one of many billions of possible universes, and it's hardly a suprise our universe allows for life, since if it didn't, there would be no life form to point it out. Our existence is merely a result of our universe's parameters, not their cause. The only problem is that some people think that - unlike mold in a jam jar - they are cosmologically important and thus created anthropic principle...

    • babby660

      YES! YES! YES! You've got it. The question really is "why SHOULDN'T the universe exist as it does?" I've always thought it uppity of humankind to think that the universe exists just for us.

    • templeruins

      The word "created" wasn't in the article, but with all respect I think your mold analogy misses the point debated. "Our existence is merely a result of our universe's parameters, not their cause." - I didn't realise anyone was debating that? We're all agreed on that, that's the whole point of argument.

      Your mold absolutely required the specific environment of the jam jar to exist. There were lots of things that had to happen for that mold to grow in the jar, whether intentional or not, and without them, it wouldn't. Are you denying it needed some fine tuning? Had the lid been left off, or the jar sterilised, or anything else, the mold would not have grown. It had to be just right.

      The point this article and other scientists like Paul Davies take time to ponder, is the enormous unlikeliness of all the parameters happening the way that they did. We're not just talking about a jar being set up right for mold, we're talking about throwing a billion pencils and all of them landing on their sharpened tips and staying upright. Our existence may be explained in a many-universes theory, but no one has or probably will ever find another dimension or universe, so that idea is about as incredible as anything else at this moment in time. Until and if we do prove the existence of these currently invisible millions of other universes, we have no idea why this one is so fine tuned to the way it is.

      • Gallego

        In my vocabulary, fine-tuned requires an act of tuning. I agree that the mold needed some specific conditions to emerge, but these could've happened at random, without any intent or fine-tuning, as it usually does with mold. Same goes for our universe - specific conditions can happen at random.

        Speaking of unlikeliness: in my country, there is a lottery, where they draw 6 numbers out of 49. Each combination has a probability of 1 in 14 million; let's call that unlikely. Yet every time they draw, one combination is drawn - one unlikely event happens! The important thing here is, that although each combination has a low probability, they're relative probabilities are the same, all of them are as likely as any other. Unlikely things happen all the time - what are the odds that your great-great-great grand parent would have you as a great-great-great grand child? How many sexual pairings must have happened for you to be born? That number must go into one in billions, yet it happened.

        Imagine that in the lottery a combination of 1-2-3-4-5-6 is drawn. Most people will find it unlikely, it seems "too perfect to be random". Even though 1-2-3-4-5-6 seems special, it isn't, it's likeliness is the same as of any other outcome. Our universe's parameters appear to be special, too, right? The problem here is that our primitive brain works in such a way, that it tries to explain unlikely things by causality and/or intent (that's probably why people came to believe in gods in the first place). We should marshall the scientist within us - or at least the scientists should - and overcome this bias.

        Our universe's combination of parameters seem extraordinary, but is it really more unlikely than any other combination? I don't claim it is not, I just show that the appearence of extraordinarity does not mean extraordinarity. We just happen to live in the 1-2-3-4-5-6 universe. And you don't actually need many universes for this - even a single draw can come up with this combination, purely at random...

        • templeruins

          Again though, the lottery analogy breaks down because that's a system based on many possibilities. As far as we have evidence, this is the only universe. This is the reason for the language of "fine tuned". Of course if there were many universes or a multiverse, or even many multiverses as they are now suggesting confusingly, then it would not at all be remarkable that one produces specific parameters. But at the moment, we only have one, and it *is* tuned to an incredible coincidence that happens to produce life. Again, that wouldn't be special if there were an infinite amount of universes. But until we find them, we wonder why.

          • David

            the point of the lottery analogy is that our regarding any outcome as ordered is subjective, regardless of the number of possible outcomes.

            the problem with the fine tuning argument is that it assumes that the outcome in which we find ourselves is the only possible outcome, and this begs the question.

            i find the entire argument uninteresting. suppose it is true that we are what we are because of the universe and we would not be what we are if the universe were different, either in terms of preconditions or constants. what follows from this? certainly not the proposition that if the universe were different, another form of life would not result, one that is conscious and presenting the same subjective interpretation of the cosmos.

        • Nick Hart

          Perhaps it's the case that each of the physical laws came pre-loaded with limited parameters. For example, adding together a long string of whole numbers, each of which must be between, say, 2 and 5 inclusive. Even with a very large number of similar strings, the results would also have to be within narrowly restricted parameters.

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      In an infinite kosmos, jam-jars would create themselves ex vacuo on infinite occasions.

    • JohnFornaro

      You can say that you take the universe out of the mold, but you can't take the mold out of the universe.

  • MoMac62

    In terms of happy coincidence you would have to say humanity is on a hot streak. Just the right physical constants, just the right chemistry, just the right sun, just the right planet, just the right time, a genetic code of unknown origin, homochiral sorting of amino acids from who knows where, life appears as soon as the geological and atmospheric conditions are just right, then the evolutionary clock spins just the right way to make humans with reliable senses, abstract reasoning, and symbolic language allowing us to properly discern all these accidents. Makes me feel as though I won the lottery, but in reality the odds of winning the lottery sound like a sure thing, compared to all the improbable wins we have already enjoyed.

    • Randy

      Yeah, right. Improbable events become probable over billions of years.

      • MoMac62

        The problem is each of these happy coincidences had to occur as soon as they were physically possible in a highly ordered sequence. Sort of like winning the lottery every day for the rest of your life.

        • Randy

          No, the conditions occurred according to very probable physics, as a consequence the events occurred, given the conditions, with high probability.

          • MoMac62

            There is no "probable" physics that explain either the genetic code or the homochirality of amino acids necessary to construct a gene. Known physical phenomena only result in a slight amount of chiral sorting nothing like what we see in living things. We are endowed with a number of mysterious circumstances that gave rise to humanity; and their improbability is a part of the mystery.

    • Tim

      You're right, we are on a hot streak. It's really only the idea that human's were the end goal to begin with that makes that seem significant. If you abandon the idea that we were the intended end result then imagining an Earth without human's being dominant isn't that far off.

      We got lucky, and if the path to us HAD been diverted somewhere along the line then it could be another species sitting at their computers stating that their luck was too much to have not been guided.

      • MoMac62

        You presume that any other path would have resulted in anything at all, that is a leap of faith to say the least. The logical presumption is that if something looks intentional, then it probably is.

    • Watty Helms

      The dinosaurs were on a hot streak too....until that hot streak ended. In some alternative universe they're still on that hot streak. There's nothing special about our current situation.

      • MoMac62

        If you believe in evolution you would have to believe our common ancestors came through the line of dinosaurs so every thing alive today is still rolling sixes. Alternative universes may be possible but they are not real in that they cannot be known by us, so the probability of any life, in any other universe is likewise not knowable to us. You cannot claim we are not special when earth holds the only known life in the only known universe.

        • dentedpat

          No, evolution does not claim that our genetic heritage includes the dinosaurs. It includes animals that were alive during the time of the dinosaurs though. My understanding is that they were rather large rodents.
          "they are not real in that they cannot be known by us"
          So just to be clear you think that when new telescopes pick up far away galaxies, thus taking us from not being able to being able to know about them, that was the moment those galaxies came into existence? It seems to follow from the view that what cannot be known by us is not real. That strikes me as insane.

          • MoMac62

            Two flaws in your argument, one is that common descent covers all living things regardless of the different path everything is presumed to have a common ancestor. Second other universes are not unknown simply because of limits to our technology but by the laws that describe our universe. If you could physically discover another universe then it would by definition be in contact with our own. Standard model physics hold that this would be destructive to both universes. So the moment you can know of another universe is the last moment you can know anything.

          • dentedpat

            Your claim:
            "If you believe in evolution you would have to believe our common ancestors came through the line of dinosaurs "
            This claim is untrue. What is true is that we share a common ancestor with dinosaurs. What is not true is that our evolutionary lineage has the dinosaurs in it. Evolutionary history is often represented as a tree. At the very beginning is unicellular life of some kind or other, or maybe just protein chains or something like that. Then the history gets going with branches coming off the main trunk. Each branch represents a different lineage. Species on different branches are still branches off the same tree (share an ancestor) but are not descended from one another. So imagine that dinosaurs are on the branch that is 10 feet off the ground, while we are a branch that is 20 feet off the ground. There is no line that goes through our common ancestor with dinosaurs (some kind of reptile I suppose) then goes through dinosaurs and then goes through us without doubling back on itself. We share an ancestor with dinosaurs, but we are not descended from them, we are descended from the shared ancestor.
            Your other claim;
            "they are not real in that they cannot be known by us"
            To object to this is not to object to the claim that we cannot know about other universes. I don't know if we can know about them (you are wrong about what physics implies though, or at least mainstream physicists think so. It is an open question whether there is physical interaction with other universes. Some physicists think there might be gravitational effects between universes). I only object to the claim that if we cannot know about them then that means they are not real. Some things are real but not knowable. Look up Fitch's paradox to see an argument for that.

          • MoMac62

            You are not very good with language. Common descent and common ancestry mean that all animals have a common ancestor.

            Fitch's Paradox is an idea of epistemology not physics; and it in no way contradicts "not knowable to us", unless you think you are omniscient.

  • Randy

    As I believe you are getting at, accidents have no technical, philosophical definition, other than an event with a probability below some threshold across the ensemble of the observable universe. Carbon based life will probably turn out to be common, predictable, under the right temperature conditions on small rocky worlds. Multi-cellular life may be less common, and we do not yet know the conditions under which it becomes essentially certain, nor do we know the conditions under which intelligent life becomes essentially certain, etc, but such events we believe will become predictable with scientific models. In fact probably with scientific models that require no new particle physics. So the word accident has no meaning when applied to models of the universe that encompass the observable universe. From an aesthetic view we may believe the initial assumptions for a particular model imply a larger framework, or perhaps a better formulation, but this has nothing really to do with the anthropic principle, which as you have implied, is a concept without utility.

  • Mark Ferguson

    The problem may be illusory.

    The constants that are supposedly fine-tuned are really just the words in a description of the universe. Less ambitiously, I could describe an apple as 'round and red'. This description is 'fine-tuned' because if you change 'round ' to 'square' or 'red' to 'blue' it no longer describes the real apple. This does imply intelligence: my intelligence, as I have created the description of the apple. The 'intelligence' suggested by the fine-tuned constants of the universe may similarly be nothing more than the collective intelligence of the scientists and mathematicians who made them match observation so precisely. Then, all those simulations of alternative, inhospitable universes would be no more relevant than the words 'blue apple'.

    I'm furthermore reminded of Douglas Adam's puddle metaphor, which ought to kill the whole 'for life' notion. Life evolved for the environment, as the water flowed into the depression into the ground to make the puddle fit it so precisely: not the other way around.

    • Don Dehart Bronkema

      Calendric, but still cute!

    • JohnFornaro

      It's a possibility, to be sure, the way I look at it. But it is "not the other way around" because of your assertion.

  • BradMueller

    I don't care how many monkeys you got. The end result is always going to be a roomful of broken typewriters and dead monkeys.

    • abusedbypenguins

      But first they type the bible, quoran, torrah(Sp?), Henny Youngman jokes and the screen play of "The Life Of Brian".

      • BradMueller

        Nope. Broken typewriters, poo, and dead monkeys.

        • Roy Niles

          I agree. The intelligence required to give meaning to a great play cannot be acquired by accident. It's highly probable in other words that a form of intelligence has always existed and has been evolving its strategies for endless eons. Some of us will see this as a godlike creature, except that even gods would need a creator, no? Something, as John Wheeler posited, cannot have come from nothing. Thus if there is a something there has never been a nothing.
          And yet for all of this to happen, we have needed a chaotic system, where random acts present us with a set of probabilities - which again must represent a system where it's possible for intelligence to take advantage of the probable. And not possible, as neoDarwinism will have it, for improbable accidents to find intelligence to their advantage.

          • Jerry Wilson

            This thread shows that people have no idea what infinity really means. Given that there are 26 letters in the alphabet there are a finite number of ways that you can arrange those letters in order to write a book. The number of ways is huge, obviously. But still finite. So given an infinite number of attempts to arrange a finite number of possibilities, and given random chance, there is a 100% chance that whatever book you name will be accidentally written. In fact, there is a 100% chance that whatever book you name will be accidentally written an infinite number of times! However, in the case of the typing monkeys, it isn't exactly random if we want the monkeys to represent natural selection. Natural selection has a chance component, but it is certainly not 100% chance. Let's say that every time a monkey types a character that would be the next character in the book we save that copy and every time the monkey types a character that is not the next character in the book we erase it, just as natural selection erases variables that are harmful to the species and keeps variables that are helpful. Then it would not take an infinity to randomly type out the novel, but merely a few months.

          • Roy Niles

            No, infinity doesn't mean what YOU seem to think it does. The 26 letters could be typed in various ways forever without accidentally making a book full of meaningful words and then sentences and then paragraphs that presented a theme that further presented a book length illustration. These monkeys may well decide to type exactly the same thing for eternity once they find a rhythm to their liking. Nature for example has never made at least one monkey exactly equal to another, let alone a money that can type with literary purpose.
            The evolutionary process is not purely accidental, it's intelligence taking advantage of the accidental. Monkey intelligence. cannot envision Hamlet talking to a skull on purpose, let alone by accident. BUT monkeys can intelligently use randomness to evolve, and in at least one case, eventually produce a living human.skull.

    • Doug Doakes

      NO number of monkeys banging on typewriters would ever produce Hamlet.

      • Monty Burns

        "It was the best of times It was the blurst of times! stupid monkey"

  • Q. Quine

    There is an epistemological error at the base of the misunderstanding. The map is not the territory. Our models of the physical world get their validity because they make predictions that match observation. If you make changes in the models, they lose that validity. Those who claim justification for so called "fine-tuning" are mistaking that for the brittleness of the models. Making changes to the models and taking the results, which do not match the world we find ourselves in, as having some kind of meaning is like belief in sticking a pin in a voodoo doll. See more here.

  • M Mahin

    For more on the topic, see my post "A Fine Tuned Universe?" at which has a link to Barnes' paper, perhaps the most comprehensive scientific paper on this topic. See also my blog post "Four Insanely Eerie Things About the Electron" at which discusses one of the most remarkable instances of "fine tuning," the precise equality of the proton charge and the electron charge.

  • intempore

    "The idea that the billions of visible galaxies, to say nothing of the expanses we can’t see, exist for our sake alone is patently absurd. Scientific cosmology has consigned that notion to the dustbin of history."

    Why, then, does science - and you, dear author - continue to search for closure? Why do physicists and biologists continue to strengthen and refine their theories? Isn’t Darwinian evolution unsystematic in a permanent way, or is there a way to “prove” random or distinguish it from the influence of a formless designing God? Apparently, there is no Plan, no kingdom of the soul, no bigger picture. Why, then, the urgent and boorish persistence in bettering humanity, validating morality and overthrowing nature? If the universe has no undeviating purpose, surely the same applies to us. Similarly, without a transcendent home, human beings cannot be a means to any higher cause, period. We’re just curious mishaps riding this rock into cosmic oblivion. In which case, there are no grounds for secularists to justify their
    moral seriousness? There is nothing at stake.

    To posit life is random and we aren’t the centre of the universe is still, of itself, an exceptional achievement. The mind is clearly extraordinary in being able to formulate the beguiling idea we’re inconsequential, and then feel aggrieved by it.

    • BobJohnson994

      Defend this idea: God does not exist, therefore nothing matters.
      I don't think you can do it.

      • intempore

        Wrong question/premise, Bob. If the universe exists then it follows "Something" created it, and this Something is beyond the remit of reason and language. Science (Darwinism, quantum mechanics) is merely confirming this, confirming we cannot literally know our higher purpose. To the mind things are effectively random. But we do have a higher purpose - people act it out everyday. It's just something we feel. Religion has systematically taken advantage of this, but it doesn't change the truth of it all.

        • Jerry Wilson

          You simply take our unknown reason for existing and push it back to a God sphere, where there is still no known reason for a god to be in existence. And if God is a creator and if the creator must invariably be more advanced than its creation, then what more advanced form of creator created God? If God is eternal or "out of time" then why can't the universe (or multiverse) have the same properties without the extra variable of a god? In other words, the existence of God solves nothing.

          • intempore

            Rookie mistake, Jerry. Who said anything about solving things. Yes, it's an infinite regress. It's only our arrogance that assumes we should be able to prove/disprove the existence of God, what came before the Big Bang, etc. The metaphysics tied organised religion in knots, now its doing the same to science and secular politics.

        • Daniel Bastian

          "If the universe exists then it follows "Something" created it, and this Something is beyond the remit of reason and language."

          That is an opinion, one of many, and one many don't agree with. Stop presenting opinions as facts, as if no one has ever come up with alternative ideas. There are very good, equally sound options for resolving these questions. "God did it" is just one and it man's oldest. We've learned much since then.

    • Daniel Bastian

      Another commenter not responding to the actual article. The author does not even mention morality, much less make "a case for secularists to justify their moral seriousness." Instead of pounding away at the keyboard with unrelated tangents, why not actually read the article you're responding to?

  • Sample1

    Well worth the effort to read. Thanks.


  • Stefan

    Either the universe is a highly improbable one-off occurrence, or it is a common phenomenon that has occurred multiple times in multiple places. Several facts suggest the latter is more likely.
    First off, we must admit that our perceptions of time and space are curtailed by definite horizons. For instance, our universe is thought to be about 14 billion years old. But this is a remarkably short time span, a countable number, a blink compared to eternity, a dot compared to infinity.
    Today, in our galaxy alone, we can see billions of stars like our Sun that seem to possess habitable satellites like our Earth. And beyond our Milky Way we see billions of other galaxies.
    Our planet is teeming with life. Billions upon billions of billions. It seems improbable that the universe is the proscenium of a drama for which we are the sole audience or witness. Surely it is much more likely that life is a common phenomenon throughout our Universe, like micro-organisms in a pond.
    But just as we find it hard to communicate with the micro-organisms of our world, or with ants or birds, or with each other for that matter, so we may find it difficult to communicate with life-forms elsewhere, or to understand them, or to even be aware that they might be signaling.

  • NorthernRoamer

    That's all well and good and soul stirring. Unfortunately, the bumps and bruises of everyday life knock it out of us as we are forced to deal with realpolitik.

  • Harry the cat.

    That the Universe is fine tuned for the existence of life would seem to be self-evident; were it not, we would not be participating in this exchange. However, that a multiplicity of factors, some of which may seem more than a little implausible, have all needed to be 'just so', does not necessarily mean that there has to be an infinite number of Universes in order for one 'special' one to exist, nor should we be tempted to fall back on the defeatist argument and invoke divine intervention .

    Surely, the most likely answer to the question is that our knowledge regarding the reasons behind the 'universal constants' are simply not known to us at this time, any more than ALL our current scientific knowledge was known to the Neanderthals. To date, when we have FULLY understood something in the physical world, we have also understood the reason WHY. The length of the road to a complete understanding of the Universe and all that it contains will be a long one - where we are now on that road is unknown. But what is known is that all roads have a beginning - and an end.

  • MJA

    Until mankind is in tuned with the Universe the Universe will remain out of tune. As a single violin is sharp or flat the orchestra is sharp or flat too. Truth is the fine tune of harmony that will make the Universe sing. =

  • Sue

    Please check out these two references which give a much more paradoxical Understanding of Reality

    Space-Time IS Love-Bliss

  • wearylondoner

    Considering that 90% of all species that ever lived have gone extinct, that there is so far no sign of life in the rest of the observable universe and that most of our planet seems decidedly inhospitable (sea, desert, shifting tectonic plates, ice, natural disasters) we seem to have survived despite very poor ' fine-tuning'!

    • Animacy

      Seas, plate tectonics, and ice are all quite essential tunings for complex life as we know it. I recommend Stephan Harding's book Animate Earth. Organismic life seems to retain water on the surface of the planet by preventing hydrogen from escaping the atmosphere. Water seems to facilitate the continuation of plate tectonics by lubricating movement at the subduction zones. Plate tectonics maintains volcanic activity essential for the long-term cycling of carbon. The story of these kinds of dynamics gets more and more elaborate. So these phenomena that tend to perturb and threaten the existence of complex life seem also to be essential aspects of habitability.

      • Animacy

        Also, Tim Lenton and Andy Watson's Revolutions that Made the Earth

        • wearylondoner

          Thank you for the reading recommendations. All the same, it seems to me that life exists despite the hostile conditions on Earth. It is estimated that at one point the human population on the planet was as low as 200 individuals and we could easily therefore have been snuffed out. It is remarkable that life somehow evolved and some life forms survived despite all the hazards (ice ages, meteorite hits, volcanic eruptions etc etc. Bacterial life also exists in the most unlikely and extreme conditions such as the high temperatures near under-sea volcanic vents and some animals have evolved to survive in toxic conditions (flamingos in acidic lakes for example). Life exists despite hostile conditions but only when it is perfectly adapted for the environment in which it finds itself or has evolved quickly enough to deal with changing conditions. This is not what I call 'fine-tuning'!


    The universe was created by aliens. There, I said it.

    Indeed, the solar system as well. Mighty convenient, having a planet blown up into little, easily catchable bits, right there when we need it, isn't it?

    The first universe was pure chance. After that, all creation.

  • David_LloydJones

    This is an exceedingly stupid article. The likelihood of our existence is one.


  • Brad Mayeux

    Some things occur just by chance. Mark Twain was born on the day that Halley’s comet appeared in 1835 and died on the day it reappeared in 1910.

    what DID NOT happen....

    i was NOT born on the solstice, neither was Jesus, or Mark Twain.
    i am NOT a redhead (about 1 in 10 chance) neither was Jesus, or Mark Twain.
    i was NOT born with 6 fingers or toes neither was Jesus, or Mark Twain.

    sure, if you look back in history, you will find some coincidences, this is statistically PROBABLE.

    SOME WILL happen.
    SOME people WERE born on the solstice.
    If Jesus were, people would be using that to indicate his divine powers... he wasnt.
    He could have been born with 6 toes. Some people are, they are not gods.
    Jesus didnt have 6 toes, but if he did, religious people would be using that as some kind of evidence.

    (IF a guy named Jesus actually existed)

    if your parents made a deliberate decision to have a child, the odds of your particular sperm finding your particular egg are one in several billion.

    but, then it would be someone else asking questions in your seat.
    that person, thinking how its a - 1 in a billion - that he is here...

    BUT... he is not, and neither are his 1000's of brothers or sisters...

    • Brad Mayeux

      and so what happened BEFORE the big-bang? how many billions of years, of universes were before this one ?
      do you want to beleive that there was NOTHING ANYWHERE EVER before 14.7 billion years ago?
      to me, that takes faith, sorry, i dont have that, or think it needed for that fact

  • Mark

    The "fine tuning" argument is often used by religious people as evidence for a creator. To which I'd reply: If your Creator did the fine tuning, He wasn't very good at it. With the exception of Earth, the universe is incredibly hostile to the very life it's supposedly been "fine tuned" for! If religious people disagree with that, and instead feel the entire universe has been magically tuned to welcome life everywhere, then please, by all means, go live on Venus where the surface temperature is 800° F, and where there's no oxygen or liquid water. If Venus isn't to your liking, then please consider the wonderfully fine-tuned atmosphere of Saturn, where you can go live in -400° F ammonia ice clouds. "Fine tuning" really is a ridiculous thing to claim and should be rephrased:

    "The universe has been terribly tuned so as to just barely support life on one immeasurably small speck of rock for a small portion of its limited existence."

  • Gold Star

    It is time to start thinking outside the box. The universe isn't fine-turned for life - life is fined-tuned for the universe. Life may not be the universe's most important product, any more than the earth being the center of the universe.

  • David Malek

    For every sperm that makes it to the egg, there are millions and millions that do not. For every planet that sits in the right distance from a star to be hospitable for life, there billions and billions that do not. I don't see why we should see our existence as something against the odds. The only thing is the sperms that did not make it to the egg, do not exist to think like us.

    • Demofyttus

      So the moon was unlucky and earth was lucky? This would make sense if each planet was a separate entity but the whole Universe and the whole Ecosystem works with properties.

  • Narayan Acharya

    This process of thought and conclusion rests on starting with observations of the external world and conceptualizing the observations through mathematics. What if one starts the process of thought from consciousness and looks as matter as an expression of it? If one looks at matter as the attempt at consciousness trying to express itself through matter? That is one of the processes that Oriental thinkers have taken and have been able to account for many of the observations of the external world?

  • Dennis Szilak

    Chance that doorknob on my hall closet exists = 1 since it is there. Chance that it might exist same as that I might = 10 to the impossible. So what's so special about that?


    My theory is that a cosmic unknown intelligence is responsible for all of the life forms and the universe(s). The truth is out there.

  • Russell Edwards

    3600 words to rehash the anthropic principle without even mentioning the term or the people who've devoted even more kilowords to the topic before? Ummm?

  • dovhenis

    The 2013 gravity comprehension/definition is the greatest
    science feat since the early 1920s.

    Learn what natural gravity is scientifically:

    Think of the consequences re classical science of this
    comprehension of gravity…

    איך נברא היקום יש מאין

    Origin And Nature of the Universe, the greatest science feat
    since the early 1920s.

    New Science 2013 versus classical science

    Classical Science Is Anticipated/Replaced By The 2013
    Gravity Comprehension !!!

    Attn classical science hierarchy, including Darwin and

    “I hope that now you understand what gravity is and why it
    is the monotheism of the universe…DH”


    Gravity is the natural selection of
    self-attraction by the elementary particles of an evolving system on their
    cyclic course towards the self-replication of the system. Period

    ( Gravitons are the elementary particles of the
    universe. RNA nucleotides genes and
    serotonin are the elementary particles of Earth life)

    כח המשיכה

    כח המשיכה הוא הבחירה הטבעית להיצמדות הדדית של חלקיקי היסוד של
    מערכת מתפתחת במהלך התפתחותה המחזורית לעבר שיכפולה. נקודה

    ( הגרוויטון הוא חלקיק היסוד של היקום. הגנים, הנוקלאוטידים של חומצה ריבונוקלאית
    והסרוטונין הם החלקיקים היסודיים של חיי כדור הארץ)

    Dov Henis(comments from 22nd century)

    PS: Note, again:

    - Classical Science Is Anticipated/Replaced By The 2013
    Gravity Comprehension !!!

    - Think of the consequences re classical science of this
    comprehension of gravity…


    הבנת מהות כח המשיכה מספקת בסיס הגיוני מפשט/צפוי/מתקן לכל מגזרי ורכיבי
    המדע הקלסי

    יש פה אי- ניצול של הזדמנות/אפשרות של ישראל להדיח באלגנטיות מתורבתת
    את ארה"ב מעמדתה בעולם כמוליכה/המקבעת של עדר ה"מדענים/מדע"
    באמצעות האיגוד המקצועי האמריקאי הדתי, ולתפוס את עמדת ההולכה/פיתוח/הובלה של המדע
    2013 החדש המשתדרג, ולהפוך את המדע האמריקאי לגרורה של המדע הישראלי. אי-ניצול זה הוא מחדל מטומטם /עלוב/מביש...


  • Ormond Otvos

    Puffery, just pseudoacademic puffery. And way too long.

  • Donald Sensing

    "The idea that the billions of visible galaxies, to say nothing of the expanses we can’t see, exist for our sake alone is patently absurd. Scientific cosmology has consigned that notion to the dustbin of history."

    Well, no. The size and density of the universe is wholly irrelevant to the question of life on earth. When the universe big banged into existence, there were only two courses it could take: expand or collapse. Obviously, it didn't collapse because here we are.

    It expanded. As the consequence, it is the size it is. If no life had formed on earth or anywhere else in the entire universe, the universe would still be the size that it is. So the idea that the universe is just "wasting space" (Sagan) if humans are the only life has exactly the same basis as the religious claim that humanity is indeed all there is: ideological/religious conviction.

    String theory is purely hypothetical, really just physicists' science fiction, though written with equations rather than prose. If a mere 10 equations of a particular type don't make the universe hypothetically self creating (Hawking), then viola! Eleven does just the trick! Instead of turtles all the way down, they have equations.

    Why the frantic publishing by such figures to show earth is merely average? There is in fact no shred of scientific evidence for it. All the exoplanets claimed to be "earthlike" are nothing of the kind except in a very limited number of ways - size, distance from their stars and so forth - but in no way that is much relevant to hosting life.

    We are dealing with a vast universe of questions for which the only honest answer is, "We don't know at all" and yet pronouncements like this keep pushing forward.

    Why? The only reason I can think of is to make God go away. But that's an ideological, indeed religious position, yet you'll never hear a scientists admit that. Instead, more frantic working of computers and equations to churn out more science fiction.

    We do not know. And simply writing more science fiction will not tell us.

    I know I'll get flamed, but so be it.

  • Bharat Thosar

    Biocentrism could be the possible answer to this phenomenon.

  • Collin237

    Once you accept the possibility that physical constants were originally variables, there's no longer any reason to assume a multiverse. Instead of a "landscape" populated by evolving universes, you only need one universe, populated by evolving points.

    This also avoids the need to postulate "dark energy". The universe expands simply because the points of space are reproducing. And the homogeneity of the universe doesn't imply inflation, but rather is simply the result of whatever happened before the speed-of-light law evolved.

  • Math Riker

    just wanted to point out that form a biblical perspective the universe exists for Gods sake not humans

  • Moose

    The falling planet idea really made me think! Great article =)

  • Don Dehart Bronkema

    If it weren't finely tuned, we wouldn't be here to observe its 'remarkable' quiddities, void of exogenous meaning...the lever of Archimedes has never existed, megacosmically speaking, & never will.

  • Milo

    Those constants of nature are God given. Starting with a need for one more particle for every anti-particle and work from there. Brown and Wardlee in RARE EARTH posit several events HAD to happen for life to exist on planet Earth. Where I sit--it all comes to a miracle. Those who say God has nothing to do with this--know NOTHING of science; anyone who has read ANY science textbook has to wonder that it works at all. No scientist can posit a deus ex machine that says "Let there be Aspertate Carbamoyltransferase"... That this enzyme exists becomes no less miraculous for all that.

    • Milo

      And do me a favor for all those who want to jump and criticize because I invoked a Supreme Deity--GET OVER IT! That is my belief. You may as well criticize the color of my skin, the color of my eyes, my height. Such an attack is a personal attack on an individual's belief system which should be inviolate. GET OVER IT--PRAISE GOD FROM WHOM ALL BLESSING FLOW!

  • Nick Hart

    'but given enough monkeys and typewriters, the hypothetical probability of producing a copy of the play approaches 100 per cent'

    No it doesn't. The only probability is that, if the number of monkeys equalled the total number of letters in Hamlet, each time each monkey randomly pressed a key, they might BETWEEN THEM produce exactly the right number of each letter of the alphabet contained in Hamlet to reconstruct a copy of it.

  • pbasch

    This is not original to me (I'm not nearly smart enough), and I forget whose idea it was, but maybe the universe is fine-tuned, but not to produce life. If it were fine-tuned to produce black holes, life might be a side-effect of all the massive stars and supernovae that accompany the creation of black holes. Those explosions create heavy elements.

  • boonteetan

    We are product of "an accident in an accidental universe". So be it. Because of what we and what the universe is, the universal constants must not be altered. Suppose we are not what we are and the universe is not what it is, there would be another set of constants that cannot be changed. Fine tuning?

    We strive to introduce new theories to support Big Bang's occurrence, inflationary or otherwise often via mathematics, yet we still cannot fathom how all 10^100 to 10^123 fundamental particles were created in the current observable or detectable universe from a singularity, not mentioning the dark matter and dark energy. Accidental?
    (btt1943, vzc1943)

  • Jerome Ogden

    Professor Maudlin almost reaches the solution to the “fine-tuning” conundrum when he writes: “Within this expanding region (posited by string theory,) ‘bubbles’ of slowly expanding space-time are formed at random…As with the monkeys and the typewriters, just the right combination is certain to arise given enough tries, and so, it’s no wonder that life-friendly universes such as ours exist…” I write “almost”beccaue does not attempt to derive a numerical probability for the number of “finely-tuned” universes exactly like ours that exist within the multi-verse.

    I offer my first cut at such a numerical probablity below, using the basic math of exponents:

    --The fundamental or dimensionless physical constants are the determinants of the
    structure of our “finely-tuned” universe. None can be altered without collapsing that structure. Physicists, in fact, have determined the amount of deviation from the current ratios that would alter the universe we know beyond recognition, likely resulting in a stillborn or lifeless universe. Those maximum deviations are:

    Parameter Max.Deviation

    Ratio of Electrons to Protons 1/10{37}

    Ratio of Electromagnetic Force to Gravity 1/10{40}

    Expansion Rate of Universe 1/10{55}

    Mass Density of Universe 1/10{59}

    Cosmological Constant 1/10{120}

    (source--Prof. Victor J. Stenger’s “The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning”)

    Adding those exponents together results in the following conclusion: only one universe with the combination of fundamental physical constants found in ours can be found in every 10{311} universes within the multiverse. To put that in perspective, there are only 10{80} atoms in the observable part of our universe. If every atom in our universe were a universe, it would require our universe to be 10{231} larger before we could expect to find another finely-tuned atom exactly like ours. That is truly a staggeringly small likelihood. Considered in isolation, it makes our universe seem, indeed, to be a finely-tuned rarity.

    --But wait a minute. String theory, as developed by Leonard Susskind, Andre Linde and others, calculates the number of “bubble universes” within the multiverse at 10 {500}. In a multiverse of that size, finely tuned “anthropic” universes must exist with overwhelming frequency. Out of 10{500} universes, if only one in 10{311} duplicates our fundamental constants, we can still expect to find 10{189} universes exactly like ours. Again, if all those universes were atoms in our universe, the observable universe would have to be 10{109} larger to hold all the life-sustaining “anthropic” universes. That number does not include universe where the constants are different, but still capable of producing long-lived stars and heavy chemical elements, the basic
    requirements for complex life.

    In the multiverse as conceived by string theorists, finely tuned “anthropic” universes like ours must be simultaneously exceedingly rare and extremely numerous.