Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle

Poul Anderson, "Wellspring of Dreams," see here.

Anderson discusses The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986) by John D Barrow and Frank J Tipler. Barrow and Tipler ask whether the important quantities in physics are arbitrary. The quantities listed by Anderson are:

the gravitational constant
the fine-structure constant
Planck's constant
the charges of elementary particles
the masses of those particles
the present size of the universe
its present age

This reminds me why I am a philosopher, not a physicist. Like Socrates, I cannot handle all these technical details. But, without them, we would have neither science nor technology. The scientists (natural philosophers) have got it right.

The size and age of the universe are closely related, almost identical, since the universe is expanding. To say that the universe is big is to say that it is old. Or, at least, to say that it has reached a certain size is also to say that it has reached the corresponding age. It is sometimes argued that there must be life elsewhere because the universe is big. However, if the universe needed to reach a certain age before it could contain any life, then maybe we are the first? Elements necessary for life had to be synthesized in a first generation of stars, then had to condense into a second generation of stars and planets - and that took time.

Why are the size and age of the universe listed with the other quantities? They just happen to be the current size and age when we are asking the question. The universe had to reach a certain size and age before anyone could exist in it to ask anything. However, the size and age will continue to increase whereas the other listed quantities will not.

The Weak Anthropic Principle: the universe is the way we perceive it because, if it were otherwise, then we would not exist to perceive it.

If there are universes with physical quantities that are incompatible with life, then no one is perceiving those universes.

The Strong Anthropic Principle: the universe must have properties that allow life to develop.

Anderson tells us that the reasoning involves quantum mechanics and the observer-observed relationship. Philosophically, I believe that there is an objective world that existed before it was observed and that exists independently of being observed. However, I have yet to read Barrow's and Tipler's book.

The Final Anthropic Principle: intelligence must come into existence and will never die out.

Anderson says that this "...is admittedly a non sequitur..." (p. 244) So why is it asserted? The human race could be killed by a comet or a nuclear war and we might be the only intelligent life... But, again, I have yet to read the book.

Anderson writes that: "We can only hope for another Stapledon..." (p. 238) to fictionalize current cosmology "...as he did the cosmology of his period." (ibid.) And, again referring to Stapledon by name, Anderson writes:

"What we now have offered us is an eschatology for today. What we need is a genius who will make a story of it." (p. 245)

Since Anderson's later novels fictionalized all of the cosmological and eschatological speculations summarized in this article, it is clear that Anderson himself was this genius and this new Stapledon.

Dyson imagines intelligence surviving heat-death as "...changeable configurations of leptons." (p. 246) Barrow and Dyson argue that, in the finite time before a cosmic collapse, an infinite number of experiences and thoughts would be possible. How? I need to read their book.

1 comment:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I agree, Anderson's HARVEST OF STARS books, STARFARERS, and GENESIS, rivals and surpasses Olaf Stapledon's work.

    Sean

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