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]
We may be in a bubble:
Earth may be trapped in an abnormal bubble of space-time that is particularly void of matter.
Scientists say this condition could account for the apparent acceleration of the universe’s expansion, for which dark energy currently is the leading explanation.
“If we lived in a very large under-density, then the space-time itself wouldn’t be accelerating,” said researcher Timothy Clifton of Oxford University in England. “It would just be that the observations, if interpreted in the usual way, would look like they were.”
One reason why this theory still isn’t widely accepted:
One problem with the void idea, though, is that it negates a principle that has reined in astronomy for more than 450 years: namely, that our place in the universe isn’t special.
When Nicholas Copernicus argued that it made much more sense for the Earth to be revolving around the sun than vice versa, it revolutionized science.
Since then, most theories have to pass the Copernican test. If they require our planet to be unique, or our position to be exalted, the ideas often seem unlikely.
This is obliquely tied to the problem of the apparent un-arbitraryness of our universe: a key scientific and philosophical problem for the 21st Century – why is it that the universe seems to be conveniently set up for life.
[via Slashdot][image from Jeff Kubina on flickr]
Following on from yesterday’s post about Hugh Everett and the ‘Many Worlds Interpretation’ of Quantum Physics, I came across this interesting article via Chris Mckitterick’s blog. NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe(WMAP) has been studying the microwave emissions of the universe back towards the big bang. The Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB, is more or less constant across the sky, a gradually cooling remnant of the beginning of our universe.
Earlier this year a vast region of space was detected where the CMB was a lower temperature. Further study showed that the area had very few stars or galaxies and was a much bigger empty space than predicted by any models. Some scientists think the hole is caused by a massive patch of dark energy. Others think that this region may be evidence of another universe, especially if a similar patch is found in the southern hemisphere of the sky.
[via Chris Mckitterick, image from Science Daily]
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]