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Monday, October 16, 2006

The Goldilocks Enigma

Nobody can say that this blog avoids the big issues in life and these short reviews and extracts from a book by Paul Davies prove it .

The book is reviewed on the BBC web site where longer extracts can be seen.

The Goldilocks Enigma - Professor Paul Davies.

The Goldilocks Enigma tackles fundamental questions about the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it. Scientific breakthroughs, he argues, have brought us to the brink of comprehending the underlying structure of nature or "a final 'theory of everything'".
Central to finding this solution, he says, is answering the Goldilocks Enigma - why is it that "the universe seems 'just right' for life"?

THE GOLDILOCKS ENIGMA is published by ALLEN LANE, an imprint of Penguin Books.

By Paul Davies

Why are we here? How did the universe begin? How will it end? How is the world put together? Why is it the way it is? People have always sought answers to such 'ultimate' questions in religion and philosophy, or declared them to be completely beyond human comprehension.

There have been two major developments.
The first is the enormous progress made in cosmology. Observations made using satellites, the Hubble Space Telescope, and sophisticated ground-based instruments have combined to transform our view of the universe and the place of human beings within it.
The second development is the growing understanding of the subject known as high-energy particle physics. It is mostly carried out with giant particle accelerator machines (what were once called 'atom smashers') of the sort found at Fermilab near Chicago and the CERN Laboratory just outside Geneva.
Combining these two subjects provides tantalizing clues that deep and previously unsuspected linkages bind the micro-world to the macro-world.
These spectacular advances hint at a final 'theory of everything' in which a flawless account of the entire physical world is encompassed within a single explanatory scheme.

If almost any of the basic features of the universe, from the properties of atoms to the distribution of the galaxies, were different, life would very probably be impossible. Like the porridge in the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, the universe seems to be 'just right' for life.
Until recently, 'the Goldilocks factor' was almost completely ignored by scientists. Now, that is changing fast."

In a second extract Davies looked at the coincidences which are required to make the universe fit for life.

A good way to think about this is to imagine playing God and setting out to design a universe. Suppose you had already settled on the basic laws of physics but you still had some free parameters at your disposal. The values of these parameters could be set by twiddling the knobs of a Designer Machine. When would it make a big difference, and when would it scarcely matter? Maybe you can't raise the mass of the electron and lower the strength of the strong nuclear force together because these two properties of nature are connected in some deep way that forbids it.

Finally Davies looks at existing theories of existence.

"So, how come existence? At the end of the day, all the approaches I have discussed are likely to prove unsatisfactory. In fact, in reviewing them they all seem to me to be either ridiculous or hopelessly inadequate: a unique universe which just happens to permit life by a fluke; a stupendous number of alternative parallel universes which exist for no reason; a pre-existing God who is somehow self-explanatory; or a self-creating, self-explaining, self-understanding universe-with observers, entailing backward causation and teleology. Perhaps we have reached a fundamental impasse dictated by the limitations of the human intellect. I began this book by saying that religion was the first great systematic attempt to explain all of existence and that science is the next great attempt. Both religion and science draw their methodology from ancient modes of thought honed by many millennia of evolutionary and cultural pressures. Our minds are the products of genes and memes. Now we are free of Darwinian evolution and able to create our own real and virtual worlds, and our information processing technology can take us to intellectual arenas that no human mind has ever before visited, those age-old questions of existence may evaporate away, exposed as nothing more than the befuddled musings of biological beings trapped in a mental straightjacket inherited from evolutionary happenstance. The whole paraphernalia of gods and laws, of space, time and matter, of purpose and design, rationality and absurdity, meaning and mystery, may yet be swept away and replaced by revelations as yet undreamt of."

How will such revelations if they come about influence us in our attitude to conservation and global warming?
How does this all relate to the thinking of James Lovelock and his Gaia Theory?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:12 am

    How will such revelations if they come about influence us in our attitude to conservation and global warming?

    All of the anthropic coincidences that make up the "Goldilocks Enigma" are *fixed* to a balance between diametrically opposing <-|-> runaway tendencies. The balance between the runaway greenhouse effect and the long-term trend toward glaciation that is predicted by empirically derived Milankovitch models is one of these coincidences that have been unfolding since the big-bang, including the near-perfectly balanced structure of the universe, itself.

    So the implication is that global warming is an inherently instinctive tendency that progressively offsets the cumulative effect of glaciation that normally sends the Earth into the 100,000 year long ice-age that we are currently overdue for.

    So environmental awareness, and efforts in the direction of stagnation only prevent mother nature from slapping us back into line the hard(er) way.

    Neither side ever gets things all there way, so the anthropic balance is maintained *in-spite-of* all of us.

    How does this all relate to the thinking of James Lovelock and his Gaia Theory?

    It means that we are environmentally enabled to within the practical limitations of human capability for tapping energy-sources. So the implication is that we will reach a level of technological development that enables us to take advantage of the next most difficult energy-form, right *about* the time that we run out of oil.

    Conservation not withstanding... you still have to keep up with the change that time requires in a predominantly expanding universe...

    You asked... ;)