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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Anthropic Acid in the Middle of the Cosmic Pyramid

When posing the questions of why/how we exist in a scientific context, the questions can be posed/organized/framed in many ways, but they typically have the same layout. The cosmos can be described as a series of scales and explanatory mechanisms roughly corresponding to the layout of the Drake equation. The possibility of life is can be seen as the product of a series of possibilities:
          Cosmological Possibility
          Universal Possibility
          Galactic/Planetary Possibility
          Chemical Possibility
          Biological Possibility
          Historical Possibility

This weekend's Origins Symposium at ASU is laid out in this way, with cosmologists speaking at the beginning leading to biologists and ending with discussions of human culture. This also corresponds roughly to Dennett's "grades of possibility" as well as the typical ladder of reductionism (philosophy -> physics -> chemistry -> biology -> social science -> philosophy -> just kidding).

Associated with different layers are different formulations of the anthropic principle. When listening to what I would usually consider one of the less interesting and more mundane layers [the formation of earth-like planets -- just a bunch of dirt flying around], I found one of the more interesting formulations of the anthropic principle. It is turning out that earth-like planets may be extremely rare.

If earth is unlikely, then why do we exist? Because we are here to ask that question, of course! DON'T assume, as cosmologists have historically done, that our region of reality/space is typical [the mediocrity principle]! We can only assume, at best, that it is typical of places like ours! It sounds a little circular, but we now have evidence of some formulations of the anthropic principle against the mediocrity principle. I haven't read the article yet, but the cover of this month's SciAm reads "DARK ENERGY Does it really exist? Or does Earth occupy a very unusual place in the universe?"

I suspect that evidence in one layer will spread the anthropic principle through the cosmological pyramid, weakening the mediocrity principle of other layers as well [In case you can't tell, I've been reading Darwin's Dangerous Idea]. Maybe we are special after all.


Anonymous said...

You should read this because it is highly relevant:


Earth-like planets are extremely rare, but only as rare as other planets in the habitable zone.

All of the links within that article are from reputable .edu sources, and are extremely important to understanding the precarious balance between diametrically opposing *runaway* tendencies that are inherent to Davies' Goldilocks Enigma.

For example:

This is the last link on that page:


This gives the anthropic principle predictive capabilities when applied only to the observed universe, as well as falsifiability, because the predictions is self-evident between runaway tendencies that life will not be found on Venus or Mars, and that's only because of what I've just told you.

RhymesWithOrange said...

I'm not convinced that this type of evidence for the anthropic principle at one level really matters to my question. I guess my question is more a cultural one than a specific question of physical science.

As my next post suggests, when we find evidence at another scale suggesting that the end result [us] is likely, we have no need for the anthropic principle at that scale -- we consider that piece of the puzzle just-plain-solved.

I am not convinced it is predictive or falsifiable. If we find at one layer that the end result, known in advance, was likely given conditions set up by the layer below it, it does nothing to diminish the philosophical power of the anthropic principle applied in another layer. And, the anthropic principle can always create us from a theory that gives our existence a non-zero probability, but it should not be used to predict a specifically low probability.

The steal more from Dennett, suppose you are put through a coin flipping tournament and at the end of 10 rounds, you are the winner. Are you lucky enough to win 10 coin flips in a row? Was it chance, was the game rigged to favor you, or what? Does the corresponding anthropic principle at this level have predictive power or falsifiability? It looks rigged, but on the other hand, if there was enough space to work with, someone had to win.

Anonymous said...

But luck isn't a factor, until you bail-out on first principles, so the pointed nature of the physics is *most apparently* indicative of a bio-oriented cosmological principle.

This is a common mistake because people don't realize that we do have a most natural expectation for what the universe should look like without an anthropic constraint on the forces:

Is Our Universe Natural?

In other words, you have to assume that a bunch of unestablished, and theoretically speculative physics is actually the reality, in order to assume that luck had anything to do with it.

This only takes precedence over the natural expectation if you have a final theory to justify it, and we don't.

It's funny, but I was using a layers theory when I discovered the Anthropic Principle.

Anonymous said...

Also, if I'm understanding you correctly, then I failed to make clear that the anthropic balance sets this layer apart from all other layers. This "goldilocks" balance is "set-up" by the layers above and below it between diametrically opposing tendencies, and this anomaly extends all the way up to the near-flat balanced nature of the universe, itself.

That's why the infinitesimal value of the cosmological constant is an anthropic coincidence.

The point being that you have to ignore the bio-oriented cosmological principle that is suggested by the commonality between the local conditions for our existence and the structure of the universe itself, in order to speculate about alternatives to what we are most apparently looking at.

RhymesWithOrange said...

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that "you have to ignore the bio-oriented cosmological principle" in order to believe that physicists still have more to uncover regarding the apparent fine tuning of the universe -- that if you take our existence in the absence of a complete non-theistic explanation, then you must conclude that no such explanation exists.

When you phrase it that way, it sounds absurd. I'm happy for you that you have found a way to phrase your beliefs in a way that does not sound absurd [most theists get nowhere near it], but that does not change the nature of what you are believing/saying.

Anonymous said...

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that "you have to ignore the bio-oriented cosmological principle" in order to believe that physicists still have more to uncover regarding the apparent fine tuning of the universe...

No, I'm saying that you have to ignore the extremely obvious call for a bio-oriented cosmological principle to look elsewhere for the solution to the problem of the unexplained universe.

Which is REALLY unscientific and purely dogmatic because one would think that physicists would be all over this if there is even the most remote possibility that it might be the answer that they have UNSUCCESSFULLY searched for, for so long.

You don't get it. Scientists willfully ignore the most plausible solution to the problem because they are historically recorded to be ideologically predisposed and hardwired to believe that this can only support the creationists position. WRONG!

"god" has absolutely nothing to do with anything that I've said to this point and the fact that you waited MONTHS to respond to me is highly suspect, and makes me wonder what you are really all about, because it obviously isn't the integrity of science.

For example:
What need for a jackhammer in an entropic universe?... duh.

That's such an obvious plausibity that you'd have to be a willfully ignorant fanatic not to say...

HEY... we should look into that!!!

Physicists are dogmatic idiot, in other words.

Clear enough?

RhymesWithOrange said...

Clear as mud! First, the delay was because (1) I very very rarely do anything on this blog [which is easily backed up by the evidence here] and (2) I was reminded of this conversation by a post of yours on another site.

I have no idea what you are talking about. It feels like you keep repeating the same thing over and over, but I can't be certain because I don't fully get it. I ADMIT THAT!

I think it can be boiled down to your use of the phrase "extremely obvious". To me that phrase is meaningless. To me it is extremely obvious that our brains do certain things for practical reasons that have very little to do with the universal truths that religions and some physicists claim to be after. I have always been a fan of optical illusions. Perhaps because they remind us that our brains are not optimal truth detection machines, and common sense is a flawed notion. Our physical intuition works well in three-dimensional Euclidean space along with most implications of classical Newtonian physics. Our social intuition works well in small tribes of people sharing a set of cultural conventions. Beyond those situations, we KNOW that our intuition breaks down. Whatever appears obvious in physics beyond this is most likely an illusion.

Obvious bio-orientation? Isn't this the story of human thought. People have ALWAYS thought we were the center of the universe. People have ALWAYS thought that unexplained phenomena showed the hallmarks of a life or intelligence rather than assumed some other explanation that our brains are just not hard-wired to understand. People have ALWAYS thought that there was something fundamentally magical about life and mind and consciousness and the soul.

As scientific discoveries have picked away at such notions, it has done nothing to weaken the grasp they have on our intuition. I ALSO ADMIT THAT!

So. What need for a jackhammer? I don't get it. You tell me. What need for stomach acid or teeth?

RhymesWithOrange said...

To see what I mean better, consider the thinking outside the box or consider the historical example of the luminiferous ether. What we learn from these is that what seems to be every possibility from a narrower perspective sometimes turns out to not cover every possibility. This is how I see physical laws. Imagine how strange quantum mechanics would seem to Galileo.

What appears to be a system perfectly fine-tuned to achieve what we perceive to be a significant result could turn out to be an obvious outcome, or in the case of multiverse theories [which I don't see to be as wild and unparsimonious as you] inevitable.

It could be that there are many ways for life to exist!

Suppose even in our 'universe' [with physics we roughly recognize] there are many different ways for life to form based on chemistry and/or other organizational schemes we might NOT recognize. If such schemes are widespread enough, then the majority of such life forms would perceive themselves as being near the "middle" on many scales. Also, in a purely mathematical sense, complexity seems to me to require a "precarious balance" because runaway tendencies are in a sense the opposite of complexity. So, life of any form will require [in some sense significant from their perspective] a region characterized by precarious balances between runaway tendencies.

So what? If life is by chance, that's why we are HERE. If by direction, then that's WHY we are here.