The anthropic principle, arguably one of the most important intellectual topics of the 21st century, is explored in this intriguing article in Discover Magazine:
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.
[via Slashdot][image from RonAlmog on flickr]
Hugh Everett was a quantum physicist. In 1957, as a 24 year old graduate student at Princeton, Everett produced a theory that there was a multiverse made up of many universes. In Quantum Physics a particle can be in two places at once, until it is observed (the famous Schrodinger’s Cat problem). Everett supposed that instead of the other option disappearing, the universe splits into two.
Nowadays the idea is fairly well accepted, with multiple universes popping up in science fiction like ‘Sliders’ and Ian McDonald’s excellent latest novel, ‘Brasyl’. Back when Everett first came up with it, the theory was widely ignored for two decades.
Recently, new tapes have been found of Everett talking about his theory in 1977. BBC found the tapes whilst making a documentary with Everett’s son, who also happens to be rather famous – Mark Everett is ‘E’, lead singer of eclectic indie band Eels. The documentary follows ‘E’ trying to understand better his father’s work. It premieres on BBC4 tonight.
[via the Guardian, image of Eels album cover via Wikipedia]