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Crazy Enough to be True

Entry 657, on 2007-12-11 at 23:49:29 (Rating 2, Science)

I am currently listening to a Science Friday podcast where cosmologist Paul Davies is being interviewed regarding why the Universe is the way it is. Specifically, scientists are puzzled about why the basic laws turn out to be so fine tuned for a Universe where life can originate.

There are four main theories on this subject. First, the Universe is the way it is because there are many Universes and we just happen to be in the one which has laws making it well suited for life. Second, there is some reason why the laws need to be the way they are but we don't know what it is, or maybe we just got lucky. Third, there are various theological explanations but these don't work well for reasons I'll explain later. And last, there is Davies' theory where the laws were selected at the Big Bang by quantum events from the future.

To be honest, I don't really like any of these theories much. The multiverse theory is probably the best, but we have no way of showing the other Universes exist and, as far as I know, no one knows how we might study them. The second is really an appeal to ignorance and it could be true but until some theoretical or experimental basis is discovered it really says nothing. The theological explanations are the worst in my opinion because they move the question from the Universe to god. You have the same problem, but one more step removed.

For example, we could say the Universe is conducive to life because god wanted it that way, but we must then ask why is god the type of god who wants life. In other words we ask about god exactly the same question that we asked about the Universe and god was hypothesised to answer.

What about Davies' theory? It sounds perhaps the craziest of the four, but when you factor in quantum mechanics its not quite so bad. Experimentally we know that many pasts really exist: its like the present is a point with many possible pasts and futures radiating away like a cone of chance (at least that's my interpretation, so I hope I'm not too far off the truth). We know that observing a quantum event changes it in some way (change is the wrong word but let's just use it) so everything seems to fit.

I don't like the idea that life and mind are fundamental features of the Universe in the same way that particles and dimensions are, but the theory doesn't require this for it to work. Mind could me thought of in a standard reductionist way and still affect past laws.

Intuitively future life choosing the past laws so that the future life can exist sounds like a circular argument, but in the quantum world things like this shouldn't be rejected too quickly. Quantum physicist Niels Bohr once said: "Your theory is crazy, but not crazy enough to be true." Maybe Davies' theory really is crazy enough to be true!


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