Furthest Right

Intelligent Design, random design, or self-reflexive perceptual error?

From this morning’s Slashdot reading:

But everything here, right down to the photons lighting the scene after an eight-minute jaunt from the sun, bears witness to an extraordinary fact about the universe: Its basic properties are uncannily suited for life. Tweak the laws of physics in just about any way and—in this universe, anyway—life as we know it would not exist.

Consider just two possible changes. Atoms consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons. If those protons were just 0.2 percent more massive than they actually are, they would be unstable and would decay into simpler particles. Atoms wouldn’t exist; neither would we. If gravity were slightly more powerful, the consequences would be nearly as grave. A beefed-up gravitational force would compress stars more tightly, making them smaller, hotter, and denser. Rather than surviving for billions of years, stars would burn through their fuel in a few million years, sputtering out long before life had a chance to evolve. There are many such examples of the universe’s life-friendly properties—so many, in fact, that physicists can’t dismiss them all as mere accidents.

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Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; the universe is adapted to us.

Call it a fluke, a mystery, a miracle. Or call it the biggest problem in physics. Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multi­verse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.


One of many reasons why every education should include a grounding in philosophy and the history of thought: without a basic capacity for analysis of the abstract, scientists too easily get lost in their own data — and their own self-reflexive perceptual viewpoint.

As Carl Jung argued (in Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle) it is entirely possible that when we see one cause acting on another, we forget that the actor (object through which action is expressed) is not the cause, but the pattern of the situation is — when a ball falls or a stone is thrown, they are not the action-initiator but the actor. As a result, we are blind to the fact that in that mysterious space called “context” or “aether,” multiple forces are coming together to make something happen.

What is string theory? In highly over-simplified form it is the idea of replacing fundamental point-like particles with new fundamental objects: vibrating loops called ‘strings’. This idea was first floated around 1970 in an attempt to explain some aspects of the strong nuclear force, but this was quickly abandoned after the advent of the Standard Model a few years later. Recently, this possible application of string theory has again drawn a lot of attention, but in 1984 it was a much more dramatic proposal that swept the field of particle theory.

The revolutionary new proposal was to replace the entire Standard Model with a string theory, one that would not necessarily solve the Higgs problem, but would provide an answer to the other two open problems: why we have the particles and forces we do, and the origins and nature of gravity. According to the string theory proposal, the Standard Model and gravitational fields were just the lowest energy excitations of a fundamental string, appearing as particles since the actual strings were so small. The Standard Model, with its mathematically beautiful and highly accurate predictions, would just be a low-energy approximation of a very different fundamental theory, one that unified everything into the degrees of freedom of a vibrating string. Way-out, but elegant.


Imagine a nothingness that becomes aware of itself.

Now imagine it starts with a very simple design, say six lines of C++ code, which causes it to do the following:

  • Compare differences.
  • Branch on difference.
  • Induce variation.
  • Enact conflict that removes incompatibilities.

Would this universe, by its nature, produce life or something like it? At some point, consciousness needs to be invented — it’s parallel processing.

If it worked acausally, wouldn’t the need for consciousness then shape the creation of the geometry of matter, including atoms?

There may “be” a multiverse, in which ours is one of many possibilities, but these possibilities all converge on a single need, so I think it’s more likely that there is one universe and the extraneous has been filtered out in infinite time before us.


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