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Big Questions

Entry 540, on 2007-05-24 at 19:22:27 (Rating 2, Science)

Many people like contemplating the "big questions". These are questions like: why is the Universe the way it is, what caused the Universe to happen, is their life in the Universe outside the Earth, etc. Sometimes these can be tackled from a theological perspective, but (as you will know if you've read my blog before) I find that supernatural explanations are very unsatisfying because they are always made outside of a framework which allows us to judge how likely they are to be true, and they are unconstrained by existing accepted theories.

What I mean is, saying that a god created the Universe doesn't really get you far, because by invoking magic we move beyond what can be verified using observation. God created the Universe, so what about the Big Bang? Oh, God did that. OK, so why are the laws the way they are? Because God made them that way. The problem is that if there wasn't a Big Bang we could say God did that too, and if the laws were totally different than they are, well God could have wanted them that way.

So what's the alternative? Well science can tackle the big questions by looking at the little ones. Eventually the big questions are just naturally explained by accumulated knowledge. But what if we wanted answers faster than that? Can we speculate on why the Universe is the way it is, by using today's science? Of course we can, and I want to explain a fascinating possibility from New Scientist magazine here.

Cosmologists have hypothesised that Universes might be created inside black holes. It could be that the material in the black hole undergoes a fundamental change when its acted on by infinitely strong gravitational fields, and a new Universe results. OK, it all sounds a bit uncertain and I did say this was speculative, right? Its also possible that each new Universe might have laws similar, but not identical, to the previous one. So we could have a situation where Universes are reproducing!

What happens when entities reproduce? Well we get evolution, of course. For a Universe to produce "offspring" it would need to make black holes. To make black holes it would need to make large stars which are producing carbon. And carbon is the basis of life. So the question about why the laws of the Universe suit life so well might be answered by the idea that life is a by-product of the production of black holes which are necessary for Universes to evolve.

Its a fascinating thought, but one which I can't think of any way to test, so whether its really science or not is debatable. One thing's for sure though: its a better answer than "god did it"!

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