‘What this journey really boils down to is trust in evidence. Because no matter how strange the conclusions may seem, it is only be accepting evidence that we have come to understand not just the universe but also our place in it.’ Michael Mosley, The Story of Science
Will our warnings stop scatter-gun scientists peppering their books and documentaries with a Valentine’s-Day massacre of runaway analogies? Not till the last speakeasy in Hell freezes over. Will Bob Dicke and Fred Hoyle agree to resolve their differences in the virtual debating chamber of Celebrity Death Match? Science has no higher mission.
‘The primordial atom burst. Sending out its radiation. Setting everything in motion. One particle collides with another. Gasses expand. Planets contract. And before you know it we’ve got starships and holodecks and chicken soup. In fact you can’t help but have starships and holodecks and chicken soup because it was all determined twenty billion years ago.’ Star Trek: Voyager: Latent Image s5e11, Doctor to Janeway
Bob Dicke et al back in the star-struck sixties were preaching a lesson from the pulpit of science that if the cosmological constants were slightly different, life could not exist in the universe. From such black and white beginnings, without planning, was born the baby-booming Anthropic Principle — the universe seems to have been fine-tuned for our benefit. Fred Hoyle hung until the eighties to wham us with another of his withering analogies comparing: ‘The chance of obtaining even a single functioning protein by chance combination of amino acids to a star system full of blind men solving Rubik's Cube simultaneously.’ Fred Hoyle, Intelligent Universe
Fred Hoyle wasn’t yet converting to the Christianity of a white-bearded God sitting by a tomb-sized radiogram and fiddling an array of knobs to resurrect life from a cosmic sea of interference.
What ho! What is this? Do we detect with the defined value of certain cosmological constants the final proof of a fiddling God? The hearts of theists everywhere skip a beat and burst into a chorus of Onward Christian Soldiers:
‘The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron ... The values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.’ Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
Are these fine-tuned parameters — Martin Rees envisions six — as fine-tuned as we suppose? Do the cosmological constants have free agency of value? If not, why those particular values and not others? Do the constants in combination conspire other values that give rise to the conditions ripe for life? Does String Theory tie the values of the constants? Would a Theory of Everything explain the values?
‘I am really not impressed with the amount of fine tuning there is, with the exception of this one — dark energy.’ Professor Steven Weinberg, interview Professor Richard Dawkins
Varying versions of the Anthropic Principle have evolved. So has criticism of the cosmological constants as logical truisms rather than observable reality e.g. D = number of spatial dimensions. The teleologic Anthropic Principle is a straw man. A tautology. An all-encompassing idiom adopted as a lazy surrogate for a proper body of further observation and research.
‘It tends to be invoked by theorists whenever they do not have a good enough theory to explain the observed facts.’ Professor Roger Penrose
The universe is not friendly to carbon-based life-forms apart from a few freak flat spots. The universe is not built for our benefit. The Earth is not built like a Raisa-style pleasure planet. But you can bet your bottom dollar the loose-moralled Analogy is right up our alley and riding to the rescue to sucker the susceptible with another highly suspicious death-defying cosmic comparison: Stephen J Gould suggests a sausage made long and narrow to fit the modern hot-dog bun. Ships are made to shelter barnacles. John Leslie puts a man before a firing squad and all ten men miss the target leaving the lucky man to muse that, ‘obviously they all missed, or I wouldn’t be here thinking about it.’ Richard Dawkins, offering for his friend a eulogy, described the domesticated example from that bête noir of the cosmic analogy, the late author Douglas Adams:
‘Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact, it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the Sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be all right, because this World was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.’
In a Mormon universe Y Psi is the number of wives sealed to Joseph Smith; D Delta the number of sections in the Book of Mormon as a ratio of the time it takes to stare at a peep-stone in a hat; H Eta is the strong binding nuclear force of the penishood; and K Kappa is the distance to Kolob as a ratio of the IQ of the person yearning to get there.
Paul Davies in The Goldilocks Enigma (2007) prefers the lumpy porridge of the Three Bears to explain our upstart place at the universe table:
1) The Absurd Universe: Our universe just happens to be this way.
2) The Unique Universe: The Theory of Everything governs the values of the universe.
3) The Multiverse: Multiple universes with all possible combinations of constants, and we have hit the cosmic jackpot.
4) Intelligent Design: A crazy creator designed the universe to support intelligent life.
5) The Life Principle: Some underlying principle obliges the universe to evolve intelligent life.
6) The Self-Explaining Universe: Only universes with a capacity for consciousness can exist.
7) The Fake Universe: We are part of a virtual reality simulation.
The final option — Simulated Reality — is a pot-load of fun, popular with philosophers and writers of science fiction — Imagine there’s no heaven. Imagine a civilisation civilised enough not to top itself in a puff of nuclear wind. Imagine a civilisation whose computing capacity doubles every eighteen months or so as prophesied by Moore’s Law. Imagine the day in the dawn of infinity when that civilisation’s super-duper computer has evolved the power to duplicate an exact copy of planet Earth replete with holes in socks that need mending and hair that needs cutting. And if this super-duper computer can compute one copy of planet Earth, it can compute a multiverse of copies. The people of planet Earth will not know they are part of a duplicated simulated reality. The chances weigh heavily we inhabit a copy of planet Earth and not the pristine original. The pixels of this computer program are the iddy-piddy quarks and protons we hold in smashing esteem at the Cern particle accelerator.
‘You cannot have complexity to build a computer, to build a second-life software to run us, unless the creatures that built that computer evolved ... Sooner or later regresses of that kind have to be terminated. You cannot suddenly invent complexity and intelligence. The only way to do it is to start from primeval simplify and work up gradually.’ Professor Richard Dawkins, American Atheist Conference 2009
Too far-out and trippy for you? This advanced civilisation has evidently discovered a way to overcome an unnamed law that dictates your computer will crash at the climax of your video game, document or program. The philosopher Nick Bostrum proposes a window pop-up with the message ‘You are living in a simulation; Click here for more information’. Should you come across this marvel of super-computing, assume you’re either confronting a giant computer bug, you’re the picked-out favourite of the programmer — God — or in accordance with a universal Sod’s Law you’re about to crash into oblivion.