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I don't mean here, as in why are you sitting there in your kitchen, munching a cold turkey and cranberry sandwich and wondering if you can save yourself from tryptophan poisoning by a well-timed call to Papa John's.  I don't even mean why are you at your keyboard, when you still have visiting relatives you haven't seen since Uncle Bill's funeral.  This is the big question, the ultimate existential question.  The whole "does this well-nigh infinite universe have a purpose, and are we a part of that purpose" question.

A couple of decades ago, evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould put out the construct that science and religion were non-overlapping magisteria.  That is, that some questions belonged to science, others to religion, and that the Venn diagram of the questions that could be addressed by either would show no area of overlap.  That certainly seems to be true when it comes to religious folks seeking some kind of scientific validation for their beliefs.  Not only has evolution wrung the Genesis out of human origins, cosmology has pressed the origin of everything back to to ridiculously small fractions of a second after the big bang.  With the inherent messiness of quantum mechanics, the bulging "Standard model," and unanswered questions about the bulk of the material that makes up the universe, we haven't quite reached Mark Twain's deterministic pinball machine, but there seems little room for facts not resolvable within the magisteria of science.

Except... not all the answers about the universe, can be found in the universe.  The concerns Paul Davies addresses in Cosmic Jackpot are not about the how of the universe, but the why.  Specifically, why are the rules of the universe as they are.  If the universe was a DVD, what Davies wants to know is: who wrote the specs for reading that DVD?

Why are so many of the constants and rules that define the universe so precisely right, to allow matter to exist, to keep the stars burning over long periods, to permit life to exist, to allow us to exist.  Anyone who has ever looked into the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, is bound to have run into the Drake Equation, a series of values that define the possibility of encountering another intelligent race.  Depending on the values that are entered into the equation, other civilizations may be common, or vanishingly rare.  Davies projects a much longer equation, one in which all the varied rules of physics conspire against life, and variation of almost any of these values limits the possible civilizations to a firm zero.  

That brings him back to the question of "why?"  Why are all the rules so perfect as to allow us to be here, pondering why the rules are all so perfect as to allow us to be here, pondering...  <whack>  Er, okay.

It's not exactly a new question.  A lot of what Davies is pondering is the debate between the Weak and Strong versions of the Anthropic principle.  The weak version says "the universe is friendly to intelligent life, because we're here to observe it."  So does the strong one.  The difference is all in what word gets stressed.  Under the weak theory, the universe is coincidentally benevolent, and we wouldn't be here to wonder about it otherwise.  Under the strong theory, we are the point of the universe.  Were it not for us, there would be no one around to admire the universe, the rules, and Eva Green.  Call it a High Universal Vanity Constant -- the universe just really, really, wants to be seen.

If it occurs to you that this is the cosmological equivalent of the old "if a tree falls in the forest" question, you are precisely right.  If it occurs to you that cosmologists spend a lot of time considering ideas that others would confine to stand-up routines, you're right again.

So what does Davies bring to the table?  Too a large extent, an approachable style that makes such a tangled question more open to a debate that doesn't include overuse of exponents and mu-something or others (though approachable is relative, so if you failed to make it to the back cover of A Brief History of Time, think twice about diving in here). Somewhat arbitrarily, Davies reduces the candidates for the "why you so nice to us, universe?" pageant down to three candidates.

The first answer is: luck.  Everything could have gone wrong, but it didn't, and we're here, so sit back and marvel at the fact that a quarter was tossed a few billion times, and it came up heads every time.  Barring any other evidence, this candidate looks like a winner to most scientists, especially since one aspect of current cosmological theory is the existence of multiple -- infinite, in fact -- side by side universes, of which we happen to live in the Garden Universe.  There's this universe, an inifinite number of universes almost like this one, an infinite number of universes where things are wildly different, and an infinite number of universes without shrimp.

Most scientists at the weak end of the Athropic line have already awarded this contestant the crown.  However, Davies doesn't find that candidate appealing, for a number of reasons.  Neither does he like the idea that the rules of the universe were stamped in place by an external force -- a point where Gould's magisteria touch -- leaving us with an observable universe as the maker's mark of a benevolent creator.

One big point that he argues against each is that because each solution requires actions occurring outside our universe, they are also outside our ability to test or observe.  That makes either solution an unprovable theory, and so bad science.

Instead, Davies goes for contestant number three, one that might be called the Sampson of Strong Anthropic theories.  He thinks we're doing it.  Just as the act of observation interferes with particles in quantum states, Davies posits that our observation shapes the universe, not just now, but from the very beginning.  In the ultimate closed system, our thoughts -- in a way unspecified -- shape the universe into one that can be observed.  Poof!  We are all become that other aspect of Shiva, creator of worlds.

It's an interesting, involving, and sometimes infuriating read, as some of the failings Davies levels against his runner-up theories seem equally true of his chosen winner.  In many ways, his search for a consciousness-based cosmology is reminiscent of string theory.  Both are intellectually appealing in that they bring a sense of order to something that is otherwise woven out of chaos and chance.  Parts of his discussion will no doubt resurface as a kind of Intelligent Design for physicists (again, not an altogether new idea as looking for the mathematical equivalent of Slartibartfast's signature has been around for a long time).  

At the moment, I'm unconvinced.  However, I think I'll go take a walk in the fall woods and look around.  There are deer out there, wild turkeys, and still a few stubborn oak leaves clinging in the branches.  I'd hate to think they all disappeared for lack of my observation.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 11:40 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Hey, nothin' wrong with geology! n/t (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tovan, mcmom
    •  Are you crossposting this at Street Prophets ? (3+ / 0-)

      And if not, why not ?

      Let's get some Democracy for America

      by murphy on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:16:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The jumping rock theory (5+ / 0-)

      So 5 billion years ago there was this middling-size lump of seemingly inert rock, wandering in circles in an otherwise vacant patch of space. Time passes, nothing was added (debatable, but let's just say) and nothing was taken away. 4.99 billion years later, a portion of that rock had reconfigured itself into rabbits, aka a jumpin' rock. It's pretty amazing, in the truest meaning of the word.

      Once you have rabbits, 'tis but a short hop to poetry. If human consciousness is the universe observing itself, then poetry may be the highest of our accomplishments. Music is applied physics, done for the fun. Sex, as the mechanism for the production of more and better rabbits, is a locally salient manifestation of the universal will to consciousness.

      Rocks rock. It's cool that they have learned to classify themselves.

    •  We've already blown it for the universe big time (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mrkvica, farleftcoast, mcmom, DBunn

      Mankind "shortening universe's life".

      New Scientist reports a worrying new variant as the cosmologists claim that astronomers may have accidentally nudged the universe closer to its death by observing dark energy, a mysterious anti gravity force which is thought to be speeding up the expansion of the cosmos.

      The damaging allegations are made by Profs Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and James Dent of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, who suggest that by making this observation in 1998 we may have caused the cosmos to revert to an earlier state when it was more likely to end. "Incredible as it seems, our detection of the dark energy may have reduced the life-expectancy of the universe," Prof Krauss tells New Scientist.

      The residents of Galaxy NGC3 are collecting signatures for a letter to Earth stating:
      "Thanks a whole lot for nothing, mankind!"

      The IPCC predicts average global temperatures to rise enough by 2050 to put 20-30% of all species at risk for extinction.

      by Plan9 on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:33:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Also on EDGE (0+ / 0-)

      There is a piece by Davis, TAKING SCIENCE ON FAITH, on Edge.org, probably one of my favorite web sites for scientific discussions. The piece was actually first written for the NYT.

      And just as Christians claim that the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case, so physicists declare a similar asymmetry: the universe is governed by eternal laws (or meta-laws), but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe.

      It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe they govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme.

      In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.

      I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

      by taonow on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 04:42:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Oh, lordy. This reminds me too much of (0+ / 0-)

      studying theories, and my brain is too old to go through that exercise again! I tried to use Systems theory as the basis of my thesis, and ran into all sorts of problems as I dug deeper. I will read with interest, but not think too hard.

      "This is not our America and we need to take it back." John Edwards.

      by mcmom on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 07:45:58 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  "luck" isn't science; and a "modestly strong..." (0+ / 0-)

      ...anthropic principle.

      First, about luck.

      The best definition of "luck" I have been able to come up with, is "the personalization or anthropomorphism of deviations from randomicity."  

      In other words, "I'm lucky" = "something about me causes a distortion of random probabilities in a manner that is favorable to me."

      Strictly speaking, statements of the above type occastionally turn out to be empirically "true" though weakly so:  see also the vast amount of research on PK (psychokinesis), the apparent ability of individuals to alter the output of random systems as a function of will and intention (in particular see Jahn & Dunne).  PK is a statistically robust phenomenon, but its absolute magnitude is small.  In other words, you can use your mind to alter the output of a random number generator by a few percent, but you can't use your mind to move the chair so you can find your lost car keys (except of course by using your mind to move your muscles to lift the chair, blahblahblah...).  

      However, the human brain is nothing if not an excellent pattern-detector, and so if over time people observed small acts of PK and related phenomena, they might come to believe that the effect is of larger magnitude than it is, and from this, come to believe that "something about an individual's personality or character" had an effect on the course of events that should by all rights be purely random. (Throw in a bit of remote viewing or other nonlocal forms of perception, and natural selection prefers those who can remotely-view the hungry mountain lion up the trail to the left and thus decide on a "hunch" to take the trail to the right.  However, natural selection doesn't care if they got the "hunch" to choose the right path due to a remote viewing input or due to subconsciously noticing puma tracks heading to the left path; results are what count.)

      Thus was born the concept of "luck."   Ogg survived but his brother Ugg was eaten by the mountain lion, beause Ogg is "more lucky" or "has better luck" or in other words "has more of the characteristic" of something about him that bends random events in a manner favorable to him.  

      Now if someone wants to operationalize "luck" as "the personalization or anthropomorphism of deviations from randomicity," fine with me.  But if they want to leave it as an undefined blackbox or defined as per common cultural understandings that are loaded with implicit assumptions, then, boo, hiss, that's not science.  

      ---

      And now, a modestly strong Anthropic Principle.

      The weak version says this universe is life-friendly because the only universes we could ever observe are those that are life-friendly.  The strong version says that there is an implicate order that is inherently benign and therefore that life-friendly universes are the rule rather than the exception.

      My modestly strong version says:  

      One:  Living organisms are dissipative structures; by definition, they siphon off prevailing entropy-flows to create localized syntropy (negentropy) in the form of evolution (increases over time in the complexity and diversity of organisms in and of themselves, and in the complexity and diversity of relationships among and between organisms).  

      Two:  If, in a given universe, life is possible, then, in that universe, life, including intelligent life, is mandatory.  The simple physics of dissipative structures dictate that when you get one that is composed of self-reproducible molecules, for example certain protiens and amino acids, it will reproduce, and over time it will mutate, and as examples of its type continue to accumulate energy from prevailing entropy flows (sunlight, thermal venting on the ocean floor, etc.), they will increase their dissipative activity and thereby increase their internal complexity, and eventually the process of random mutation and natural selection will lead to speciation and an increase in diversity of species.  And this process is inexorable up through the point where you get organisms with critical-mass brains that can support consciousness, and then beyond.

      Three:  Insert the Weak Anthropic Principle here.  This occurs due to items one and two above.  

      Four:  What makes my version "slightly stronger than weak" is the set of items in points one and two above, which are logical preconditions for item three above.  

      ---

      Does this make sense or have I been tripping on tryptophane?:-)

  •  Why are we here? (6+ / 0-)

    How about for no reason at all but just to be here?

  •  I have always been of one range of thought... (5+ / 0-)

    That being that whether we are alone or not in the universe, we and perhaps all other sentience is that which makes the universe truly expressionably alive. We provide intelligence, creativity, and potential for growth in ways that purely physical processes can not.
    So in a way, we do from the very beginning have purpose. The universe reached a certain point where it could continue onward to create us by natural process, and then in turn we could grow into a species that can and will add to that process.
    In fiction there are those aliens who came before. The Preservers of Star Trek and Larry Niven, the Vorlons and Shadows of Babylon 5, the Ancients of Stargat SG-One.
    To me, that's just common sense prophecy for our future. And until we make first contact, we may be the only ones out there who actually become the "First Ones" of the universe.
    As for the fall of reality into place by the formation of our observations, to this I put it to you that mathematically, our brains have their own processes that fall into a mathematical model in regards to observation, is it a surprise when the processes continue into the outer world as well?

    A pity we don't have the votes to defend the Constitution.-me

    by RElland on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 11:49:25 AM PST

  •  Man..... Astronomers have damaged time & space (10+ / 0-)

    totally screwed-up the Universe

    They measured Dark Energy and accidentally hit a Universal Reset Button.

    Perhaps this will undo some of the damage done by Team Bush, though......

    GreenState Project: Democratic Talking Points for Cannabis Reform.

    by xxdr zombiexx on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 11:52:43 AM PST

    •  hey that link (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      88kathy, xxdr zombiexx

      isn't working for me... chimpsternation.com isn't coming up at all. Is it me or something else?

      -8.38, -8.00 Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice. --Thomas Paine

      by hyperstation on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:05:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The new scientist is such a piece of crap (0+ / 0-)

      That's where this new horseshit came from. No physicist with a functioning brain would say such crap. It is, in fact, completely incorrect, as shown by the consistent histories version of quantum mechanics, which solves the mystery of schrodinger's cat, wave function collapse, etc.

      Let's call it New ScienTwist from now on, okay :-)

      Come see TV from the reality-based community at RealityBasedTV.com

      by MarkInSanFran on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:29:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I love dark matter theory (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      farleftcoast, randy lynn

      Like einsteins' "universal variable" and the heisenberg principle. The equations aint workin out so we'll make some shit up. Wonder what theyd think if one of their students used that trick on an exam hehe

      I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

      by cdreid on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:29:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  That method has an excellent history (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cdreid

        of success. Take the neutrino, for example.

        The alternative is just to say that god stepped in and performed a miracle - not very scientific :-)

        Come see TV from the reality-based community at RealityBasedTV.com

        by MarkInSanFran on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:31:14 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Actually, we are talking about Dark Energy. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cdreid, farleftcoast

        Dark matter is a whole different thing.  And while I agree that Dark Energy and Dark Matter are in some sense the price of keeping General Relativity, there are number of reasons to believe GR is the "right" theory.

        GR has been uncannily successful in solar system and other weak field tests.  The existence of gravitational radiation has been indirectly verified by the decay of the orbit of a double-pulsar (two ultra-compact stars that emit radio pulses a number of times a second, the best clocks in the universe, so far).

        Now, what happens in the strong field regime is unclear.  In fact how you would like to define the strong field regime is a little ambiguous.  Nevertheless, attempts to modify GR in a way that is aesthetically acceptable (as in they must satisfy some general symmetry concerns) have not been particularly successful.  Indeed, they generally cause a number of problems in the absence of postulating entirely new types of matter.  So, such modifications aren't really better than Dark Matter & Energy anyway.

        IMPEACH=Rock+Hard Place! Let every Rethug either publicly support the least popular president in 30 years, or admit their president is a traitor.

        by zephron on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:04:22 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Pass the Blame (9+ / 0-)

    The way I see it, with a multiple universes theory we're just passing the blame up a level, because the question will necessarily be the why of THAT.  But saying that we're the reason for the universe, causally, doesn't pass the laugh test for me.  I guess I'll have to read the book...  Honestly, the weak anthropic principle makes the most sense, and if we assume an infinitude of universes with all possible combinations of rules and initial conditions, well, we just happen to live in this one, right, no problem?

    I think one of the hardest things to understand, in everything, is the notion of nonexistence of self.  It's almost impossibly hard to consider a world without a self, since there's no vantage point to consider it from.  What happens when I die, for instance?  I don't believe in this afterlife mumbo jumbo, so nothing happens, nothing.  I simply cease to exist as an entity.  I won't miss my family or meet angels; "I" will be a meaningless word that is not allowed in sentences anymore.  I think it's similar when we consider the universe; it would not be different for us had we been in another universe instead, because there would be nothing to compare it to.  It's like saying, "What if I were born in 1584 instead of 1984?"  The answer is that it wouldn't matter -- it would be a different me and this question wouldn't exist.

    This, to me, is the problem of understanding the anthropic principle.  I think that "why?" is a question that simply does not have an answer.

    •  Does a universe with no observers (6+ / 0-)

      Exist at all?

      That could do in several infinities of possible universes right there.

      •  NO (3+ / 0-)

        The whole idea of mind independent matter is completely incomprehensible to me

        But I am weird that way.

      •  No, I don't think it does. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        farleftcoast, Joffan

        If something can't be observed at all, no matter how indirectly, then it also doesn't matter at all.  It can't.  It makes zero difference whether it's there or not or what its properties are if it has zero coupling with something observable.

        I don't really know how the multiple universes theory works in physics (I guess I stopped taking physics when I got my physics BA), just in science fiction, so I don't know if they're actually unobservable (a cursory glance at Wikipedia says they are except for quantum interference).  I don't think a multiple universes theory can be relevant unless it actually does

        •  In the midst of the word he was trying to say (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Canadian Reader, Jacob Freeze

          In the midst of his laughter and glee
          He had softly and suddenly vanished away
          For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.

          This is not a sig-line.

          by Joffan on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:25:47 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Unless multiple universes... (0+ / 0-)

          are actually ever demonstrated, either physically or philosophically, then the question of 'why ours exists' will never be resolved.  In such continued absence of evidence, the existential question must fall back to 'are we alone?'.  Personally, I expect that we are alone because our universe must be as large & old as it is to contain the statistically infinitesimal probability that self replicating and mutable polymers would arise somewhere in the vastness of its space & time.  So, I believe that our best shot at understanding is the search for intelligible 'signals' from within our own observable universe.  The SETI literature is replete with visions of mutual communication concerning our relative levels of scientific & cultural advancement; but how 'on Earth' could a dialog proceed with a multi-century delay between questions & answers?

          And why would we on Earth, who only listen, expect others to not only listen but to also transmit?  Granted, there have been a very few paltry efforts here to also transmit; but there have been those who caution that such beacons might be dangerous to us for alerting say, agriculturally depleted aliens who seek only fertile planets as a source of protein, especially if the communication medium allowed them to zero in on our location.

          Further, the overwhelmingly most significant part of any 'first contact' would not be to convey cultural or new scientific information but rather the astounding revelation that 'you are not alone!'.

      •  sure it does (12+ / 0-)

        The Grand Canyon, the Nile, etc., or whatever their precursors were existed thousands of years, if not longer, before us, and didn't need us to confirm their existence.  Going back to the whole "tree" question, if it did fall, the sound waves caused by the motion of the tree toward the ground and the impact on the ground occur regardless of whether anyone is there to observe it.

        "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

        by chingchongchinaman on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:10:00 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Define exist ? (10+ / 0-)

        Isn't it wonderful.  For an atheist, the closest I can get to awe is northern lights, lighting or zillions of stars over Lake Huron.  Oh an clouds and seeing what they remind me of.  The heavens are incredible.  No wonder our ancestors quaked in their bare feet.  

        •  Well (6+ / 0-)

          They also might have been quaking in their bare feet cause it's freakin' cold everywhere you can see the Northern Lights.
          But point taken.

          My moment was hearing wolves sing. The rise of a full moon over the ocean, in a deserted and lonely beach where the only light was the pinpoint stars and the silver road the moon paved on the water was a close second.

          One day, I hope, I will cast a vote for Keith Olbermann.

          by Jaxpagan on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:37:25 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Ooh yes, (0+ / 0-)

            mysterious creatures and the heavens.  How could anyone resist the tempting idea that it has a purpose.

          •  Ever (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Canadian Reader, dkmich, farleftcoast

            talken almost any natural thing: a leaf, a hair, and held it close to your eye in bright sunlight? Awe in the colors there.
            I was sitting in the lion house at the zoo and a small child began running back and forth infront of the cages. A lion got frustrated (I would assume) that this meal was tauntingly close yet impossible to reach and began to roar. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. Awesome.
            It's all so awesome, I can hardly stand to think of it. I'd never do more than stare at the wood grain or lady bug or my cat's eyes, listen to the birds at the feeder, the wind ruffling the leaves in the trees.
            I'm so sorry you find it so hard to find the awesomeness all around you. Atheist or not, this is an awesome world.

            When you make yourself less free, you are not safer, you are just less free. - Molly Ivins

            by Audri on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 03:34:16 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I find lots of awe on the planet (0+ / 0-)

              and all of it comes from nature. I've never heard a menacing roar from a lion, bet it did rumble to your toes; but I did get to hold and play with a baby lion.  He was sooo cute.  He played just like a little tabby kitten.  Nature is full of awe and wonder.

      •  Depends (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        randy lynn

        What's "observing". If you imagine an alternate universe (which, with infinite variations, must exist somewhere exactly as you imagine) then have you "observed" the universe? Does speculating on whether there even are infinite variations count as observation of their existence? Do we create them merely by asking?

        One day, I hope, I will cast a vote for Keith Olbermann.

        by Jaxpagan on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:34:53 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Yes. The tree in the forest propagates sound (3+ / 0-)

        waves when it falls. That is a physical phenomena that exists independent of observation or observers.
        The universe does exist and would exist even if we didn't.
        Try looking looking from this angle (on your back starring up): The very question "why" did not exist till we did. Our nearest primate cousins might stick their hand in fire and register that it burns. They will then recall that with subsequent encounters and not stick their hands in and will even pass that rudimentary knowledge to their offspring. But they lack the synaptic firring patterns that allow them to ask why it burns. They share with us many of the other electro-chemical mechanisms that allow emotion, learning and even a basic inquisitiveness that allows them to look for food in a dark whole because it smells possible.
        We ask Why (and keep asking) becuase we can. And for now, the answers are as unique and varied as we are.

        I belong to no organized political party, I'm a Democrat. -Will Rogers

        by geez53 on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 04:11:59 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Reply (0+ / 0-)

        No, but who said the observers had to be human?

    •  I used to feel that way... (5+ / 0-)

      I think one of the hardest things to understand, in everything, is the notion of nonexistence of self.  It's almost impossibly hard to consider a world without a self, since there's no vantage point to consider it from.

      ...until the first time I went under general anesthesia for surgery.

      When I woke up, I understood what it was like to be simply nonexistent. It didn't feel like anything at all, really, just the complete loss of a day's time, during which I had no awareness, no thoughts, no dreams that I can recall... nothing.

      Poof.

      "Occasionally glancing up through the rain, wondering which of the buggars to blame, and watching for pigs on the wing"

      by Executive Odor on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:18:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I tend to think (7+ / 0-)

    without any basis--just the feeling I get after reading a lot of physics for poets and having too much religious indoctrination as a youth--that really we are all part of the same one thing, and this individual "we" bit is a by-product or limitation of the brain, and that the individuation that we experience as discrete individuals actually represents the myriad ways in which the universe is attempting to achieve consciousness of itself. In fact, it may already be conscious, since this linear moving time is probably another by-product of our perception, and our brains are just a backwater of subroutines the great oneness of existence ran/runs/is running/will run to understand itself--which is the incomprehensible (to us subroutines) wondrous nature of probability itself.

    Of course, that doesn't really help to explain anything, but it feels good when I think about it this way. Thanks for another great post, Devilstower.

    -8.38, -8.00 Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice. --Thomas Paine

    by hyperstation on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 11:58:39 AM PST

    •  I personally like Jung's collective unconscious (10+ / 0-)

      We're all islands and we look out across the sea and we all seem to be disconnected.  Underneath we all share the same ocean floor.

      •  yep, that fits right in with it (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        geez53

        for sure. A very comforting outlook that did not seem illogical and also made room for faith. Keeps my wife and me from arguing.

        -8.38, -8.00 Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice. --Thomas Paine

        by hyperstation on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:08:07 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  As I've thought about it (0+ / 0-)

        While I have a like Jung's notion, I've also given thought to a broader questions of afterlife and reincarnation.
        I had, at one time, posited the idea of the Greater Self, the whole you, that is the source of the you that's here this time. You live your life, having experiences and ideas that are made unique by circumstance and brain chemistry (the same person would never experience the same event the same way). You then "upload" to the Greater Self when you die. This is the self that actually remembers all the lives. It's still you. Just more you than you are right now.
        Now, assuming a metaphysics that says souls are unbound in time and space, I wondered if a "soul mate" might really be just that -- one reincarnation happening concurrently with another. Literally one soul in two bodies. Different experiences, different emphases, but the same essential soul. I have people I'm deeply connected to -- are they, in fact, me (or I they? No need to be narcissistic)?
        But that unfolds to the Final Question for me, the last logical step of that line of inquiry:

        What if there's just one person?

        One day, I hope, I will cast a vote for Keith Olbermann.

        by Jaxpagan on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:10:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  There is just one (0+ / 0-)

          And everything is part of that one.

          When you make yourself less free, you are not safer, you are just less free. - Molly Ivins

          by Audri on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 03:38:03 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Ramifications (0+ / 0-)

            The Doctrine of the Single Soul, if we may call it that, has the potential to be more radical for humanity than the notion of consensual reality. The latter changes the way we appreciate the mechanics of the universe. Would it lead to us awakening the power to shape reality by will? I don't know, but I do know that the Single Soul notion would do much more to shape us.
            How many dogmas, platforms, ideologies become irrelevant or even loathsome if we take that idea as true?

            One day, I hope, I will cast a vote for Keith Olbermann.

            by Jaxpagan on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 05:28:37 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  As Cheez Whiz pointed out (0+ / 0-)

      the one brain (or lots of connected little ones) theory is panpsychism.

    •  I tend to think the same thing- also. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hyperstation

      without any basis, just what I feel.

      There's one big intelligence - and we split off from it for a while, but then return to it.  The question for our sojourn here is whether we learned anything during our stay to add to the universal intelligence.  I think we keep coming back.  The old souls definitely add to the intelligence here. Maybe young souls sometimes add some new perspective to the universal intelligence.

      I do think we create our own reality while here and that with a lot of determined thought, we can create other realities.

      Buy a Boat. Save the Seed.

      by cumberland sibyl on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:11:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  oneness (0+ / 0-)

      We are all raindrops, falling through the sky.
      Death is when we hit the ocean.

      When you make yourself less free, you are not safer, you are just less free. - Molly Ivins

      by Audri on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 03:36:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Pantheistic Multiple-ego Solipsism (0+ / 0-)
  •  I Only Wish (7+ / 0-)
    that this had been posted yesterday, when I was also out for a walk in the autumnal woods, or at any time before I got on the bus heading back into the city (all the other family members had departed before me, anyway).

    I remember looking at variants of those "probability of intelligent life" equations as far back as 30 years ago, back when I thought I might want to seriously pursue a career in the sciences.  This was before I got intellectually lazy and gave up on science as anything but an avocation.  Thses questions of course are at the nexus of philosophy and science, and they clearly have been ever since the disciplines came into being some 2500 years ago.  Questioning the "whys" of our existence is what makes us fundamentally human, and explains why those who truly, deeply believe in an omnipotent deity (or deities) will always presume that we are the "enemy" and virulently hostile to their beliefs.

    Anyhoo, I personally refuse to consider the existence of any universe (or even planet) without all-you-can-eat shrimp platters, for any such place would most certainly render itself into nothingness as soon as it became aware of its predicament.

  •  Do we not exist when turkey's don't observe us? (12+ / 0-)

    Or for that matter, when chairs fail to observe us?

    Speaking as a former physicist here, I never really
    understood why our kind of observation was specifically more privileged than that of other objects.

    My chair can process information just as efficiently as my brain.  The difference is, my brain can then do something with the information.  But the chair is fully capable of making a qmechanical observation as I am.

    We don't know that consciousness isn't everywhere.  In fact, I suspect it is implicit in matter:  The character of the consciousness is shaped by the organization of the matter, but not the presence or absence of it.

    It's called panpsychism, and it's what's for dinner.

    Hand me down my walking cane, hand me down my hat...

    by Cheez Whiz on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:02:28 PM PST

  •  Bishop Berkeley's Immaterialism (7+ / 0-)

    We're doing it? This sounds a lot like George Berkeley's Immaterialism, or subjective idealism, wherein there is nothing, ultimately, but thoughts. Except this sounds like Berkeley on steroids, wherein there is "stuff" but we control it - some sort of Jonathan Livingston Seagull world in which my windshield stays clean because I want it to.

    Berkeley got to this weird place because he was trying to prove the existence of God, where in the end he said  we can't prove that what we're not looking at still exists, therefore, if it does, it must do so because God is making it happen.

    From Berkeley's Wiki:

    Theologically, one consequence of Berkeley's views is that they require God to be present as an immediate cause of all our experiences. God is not the distant engineer of Newtonian machinery that in the fullness of time led to the growth of a tree in the university's quadrangle. Rather, my perception of the tree is an idea that God's mind has produced in mine, and the tree continues to exist in the Quad when "nobody" is there simply because God is an infinite mind that perceives all.

    My question is, why complicate your ontology? Chance is really a simple thing, a very graceful explanation.

    •  chance (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      side pocket

      is usually epistemic chance (cf a roll of a dice) we don't have an example of genuine ontological chance, with the possible exception of the universe itself--and that of course is the issue.

      It is also quite simple to suppose that there is a necessarily existence being that explains why all contingent beings exist.

      St. Thomas Redux

      Berkeley: there are only minds an ideas. What can be simpler than that.

      •  But one of Berkeley's "minds" (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        oldpro, side pocket, farleftcoast

        is the mind of God. I see no evidence of that.

        •  the existence of God (0+ / 0-)

          will one day be proven by science, according to Baha'ullah (founder of the Bahai faith).

          As of today they have found the locus of religious experience in the human brain.  Nevertheless, you are left with the question:  did God create that part of the brain in us for some reason, or did it evolve over time as the outcome of our social nature?  

          So while not ultimate proof, it is certainly a tantalizing tidbit.

          •  News to me....got a link? (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            MahFellaMerkins, farleftcoast

            they have found the locus of religious experience in the human brain.

             Is it anywhere near the 'fear' locus?  And what are we non-religious to make of the missing part of our brains?  Are we super-evolved, or....uh oh...

            Tell me how you spend your time and how you spend your money -- I'll tell you what your values are.

            by oldpro on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:03:36 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  google (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              oldpro

              gave me a ton of stuff - this - takes the more atheistic interpretation, since I can see that is what you would prefer.  

              Without science, I can say that the math part of my brain is much like a muscle - when I exercise it regularly I'm multiplying three digit numbers in my head.  When I don't use it, I struggle to remember whqat 7 x 8 equals for a second.  So, I would say you are "non-exercised" rather than super evolved.  :)

          •  um, no they haven't (0+ / 0-)

            As of today they have found the locus of religious experience in the human brain

            Nope, wrong.

            What they have found is an area of the brain that produces a feeling of "awe", more strongly in some people than in others.

            That feeling of "awe" can come from religious contemplation.

            It can also come from looking at the Grand Canyon or photos from the Hubble Space Telescope.

            "Religion" and "God" are social constructs.  They are no more "genetic" than are "football" or the "Democratic Party".

            There is no "God Gene".

            The evangelical theists, of course, want there to be a God Gene, because it "proves the existence of God".  The evangelical atheists, on the other hand, also want there to be a God Gene, because it "proves that religion is just a brain defect".

            They're both wrong.

            It's what happens when either side tries to make science support their particular religious or philosophical opinions.  Alas, science doesn't care about anyone's religious or philosophical opinions.  Not mine, not yours, not anybody's.  (shrug)

            Editor, Red and Black Publishers http://www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

            by Lenny Flank on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 09:25:46 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Read the Three dialogues (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          supak

          Its not like he does not give an argument. It might not be a good argument, but it needs to be evaluated on its merrits (I actually like it, though in the end disagree. I think B is right in holding that, as far our experience is concerned minds are the only causes.

          One of the odd things about Berkeley's God is that all apparent causal relations turn out to be illusory, So B, the supposed defender of common sense, must hold that the sense organs and medical advances (to give just one example) is just an elaborate show

          Panpsychism is a better alternative in my view.

    •  Limerick on Berkeley (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      farleftcoast

      There was a young man who said God,
      must find it exceedingly odd
      when he finds that the tree
      continues to be
      when noone's about in the Quad.[18]

  •  Ok. I couldn't finish reading this post because (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oldpro

    it reminded me to much of the self-indulgent one I just deleted.

    Still, I see where your trying to go, and you have my sympathy and support.

    Could it be that knowing that you don't and can't know, is the the true religion?

    And what about tulips?

    "Yes dear. Conspiracy theories really do come true." (tuck, tuck)

    by tribalecho on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:04:24 PM PST

    •  Yup. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tribalecho

      Could it be that knowing that you don't and can't know, is the the true religion?
      And what about tulips?

      Here's the scary thing...tulips are now available in my Safeway supermarket year round!!

      Tell me how you spend your time and how you spend your money -- I'll tell you what your values are.

      by oldpro on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:06:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  backwards causation (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xynz, supak

    Does Davies view require that current or future conditions of the universe cause or influence past ones?
    But then it would be in principle possible for someone now to do something to kill their grandfather (the famous grandfather paradox).

    •  Yes (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blue vertigo

      His view, at least as it seeps through to this observer, is that while we perceive time moving in one direction, our perception itself must be free of time and influence the whole shooting match.

      •  Davies' Dislikes "Initial Conditions" (0+ / 0-)

        One of the imperative consequences of our universe's initial conditions, which is a special and simple one, is that time flows steadily forward throughout the universe and (if Hartle and Hawking are correct, which they appear to be) requires no information beyond the dynamical law governing the system of elementary particles.

        There is no evidence for predestination and plenty of evidence against it.; therefore the future condition is one of indifference.

        The basic quantum-mechanical formula for the quantity D, which yields all probabilities of alternative histories of the universe, contains the asymmetry between past and future.  At one end, the initial condition, at the other the summation of all possible states of the universe in the future, making it possible to deduce all the familiar aspects of causality.

        Says Murray Gell-Mann in The Quark and the Jaguar, "All the arrows of time correspond to various features of coarse-grained histories of the universe, and the formula exhibits the tendency of all those arrows to point froward rather than backward anywhere."

        They burn our children in their wars and grow rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

        by Limelite on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 02:08:18 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The forward direction of the time arrow (0+ / 0-)

          Seems to do mainly with the laws of entropy as I understand it.
          Time could go backwards but it´s not likely, For example it´s unlikely that atoms will reform into ice at room temperature.  They´re more likely to become more random and melt.
          I´m no expert, but that´s my understanding.
          Anyone with more knowledge feel free to set me straight.

          The Truth is such that it cannot be seen and not be believed. Wm. Blake

          by John L on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 05:16:53 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  If and Only If the Universe Had (0+ / 0-)

            come into existence with different initial conditions, which could then have given rise to chances for different quantum mechanics, which could then allow possible results of different values for D, which might lead to very weird coarse-grained histories producing arrows in forward and backward conditions (to name but two).

            In which case, we wouldn't be here to discuss the forward direction of time throughout the universe.  No?

            ;>)

            [I understand you're only speaking hypothetically.  As am I.]

            They burn our children in their wars and grow rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

            by Limelite on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 06:11:20 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  That depends (0+ / 0-)

      If you believe in lineal time it might be not possible to change the past but if you think time is non-lineal then we change the past as much as we change the future by our actions in the now.
      And I think the question we should ask isn't 'why are we here?' but 'what are we here and when are we?'

      Everybody eats, nobody hits.

      by upperleftedge on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:18:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  and now what is required is some (0+ / 0-)

        clear presentation of what it means to say time is 'nonlineal".

        It is not really possible to "change" the past or future. What is, is. But I think the future, in contrast to the past, is open--undetermined. so it can be determined by present conditions (including our choices) whereas the past, since it already is, cannot be any different.

        •  Depends of what is is. (0+ / 0-)

          Or what present means. If now is a constant then past and future are both part of that now that is change. The change from the is to the was or the will be is the constantly moving now. If we can see time as something that is not just before us or behind us, but as something to our left, right, above and below us, we might be able to effect change in what is, and thus what was or will be. As well as changing the length, width, height and density of the constant change we call time.
           But I'm pretty much a of the school of mathamatics that is willing to consider formula like "Pi, to the second power of yellow equals Tuesday."

          Everybody eats, nobody hits.

          by upperleftedge on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:34:38 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  All Due to the Comic Jackpot (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    melo, mrkvica, carolita, NonnyO

    I'm here because I'm here and it is truly all a joke.

  •  To Love (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    upperleftedge

    each other... no matter what.

    "Parlimentary inquiry Mr. Speaker... does whining come out of my time?"

    by Andrew C White on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:06:45 PM PST

  •  I'm with the "luck" column (5+ / 0-)

    Sooner or later, over however many billions of years, every possible biochemical combination can occur, and the bad ones dissolve back into the biochemical flotsam, but the good systems can continue to replicate.

    "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

    by chingchongchinaman on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:07:16 PM PST

  •  The thing is (10+ / 0-)

    Everything could have gone wrong, but it didn't, and we're here, so sit back and marvel at the fact that a quarter was tossed a few billion times, and it came up heads every time.

    That outcome is exactly as likely as every other possible outcome, really.

    Personally, I've always found the universe to be even more awe-inspiring as a thing in which everything happened in a way that allowed this complex life thing to develop in such complicated ways.

    But to some degree, looking at it that way IMO gets to one of those easy fallacies: the belief that everything happened in order to build where we are now, something that only makes sense looking backward. Of course there had to be events in the universe, and those events could have gone in an infinite number of different directions, but (for the purposes of our universe, at any rate) also had to go in exactly one. Any one "coin toss" going differently -- we could be in a very different world, but it would still seem like "the only way this could have come to be", assuming anything was around to wonder about these things.

    •  and if there is "nothing" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mrkvica

      and then somehow there is probability of existence, then some version has to come up. And even if this was the only version that could happen and sustain life, then it also had to happen. Given nothing but probability and infinite time (can probability exist without time, or can there be some other parameter that would function the same in some nonexistence that allows for probability) then here it all is. Once probability exists something happens/has happened. Maybe it is nonexistence, true nothingness, that is impossibly unlikely.

      -8.38, -8.00 Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice. --Thomas Paine

      by hyperstation on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:13:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  call it in the air (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mrkvica, farleftcoast

      i think the first scenario should be called chance, instead of luck.   to say that the coin flip was heads every time suggests we were meant to be here - i believe it's a more accurate analogy to say that the coin was flipped an infinite number of times, and the sequence that resulted was the only one that could have lead to us.  

      but heads every time?  no.  this ain't a heads every time kind of world.    

  •  Why ask why? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Limelite, zephron, gloryous1

    Seriously.

    phat

    Economic Left/Right: -7.75 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.54

    by phatass on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:09:24 PM PST

  •  I am a "former" scientist (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oldpro, corwin, chingchongchinaman

    and my first guess is "luck". I was not a cosmologist, so I really can't get my brain around Before and Since, if that is how they even look at it. In this particular scenario, I think that life on earth is a random hit that made multicellular organisms (via evolution, again random hits where the stronger survive).

    BTW, I never made it through Hawking's book.

    •  I never made it through his book because .... (0+ / 0-)

      ....the self-aggrandizement became sickening.

      Steve: you're the Newton Chair of Physics. You don't have to keep telling me how brilliant you are: I got it the first dozen times....

      -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

      by xynz on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 02:37:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Who can say for sure (4+ / 0-)

    That a universe with completely different rules of physics wouldn't have stable "matter" of some form or another. It wouldn't have to be baryonic matter with electrons and quarks. The rules that are so precise for our universe would prevent our type of universe from forming if slightly altered. The thing is, we can't know for sure what they allow, in what form, and if life may be even better out there, in the multiverse. After all, we have to put up with background radiation that can kill us, a universal speed limit which prevents us from going out among the stars and only about 10 - 20 billion years left before the universe starts shutting itself down.

    Do Pavlov's dogs chase Schroedinger's cat?

    by corwin on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:10:41 PM PST

    •  That turns out not to be correct (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      corwin, mrkvica, farleftcoast

      The arguments that the physical constants are fine-tuned is just wrong. See Steven Weinberg: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/...

      Some physicists have argued that certain constants of nature have values that seem to have been mysteriously fine-tuned to just the values that allow for the possibility of life, in a way that could only be explained by the intervention of a designer with some special concern for life. I am not impressed with these supposed instances of fine-tuning. For instance, one of the most frequently quoted examples of fine-tuning has to do with a property of the nucleus of the car-bon atom. The matter left over from the first few minutes of the universe was almost entirely hydrogen and helium, with virtually none of the heavier elements like carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen that seem to be necessary for life. The heavy elements that we find on earth were built up hundreds of millions of years later in a first generation of stars, and then spewed out into the interstellar gas out of which our solar system eventually formed.

      The first step in the sequence of nuclear reactions that created the heavy elements in early stars is usually the formation of a carbon nucleus out of three helium nuclei. There is a negligible chance of producing a carbon nucleus in its normal state (the state of lowest energy) in collisions of three helium nuclei, but it would be possible to produce appreciable amounts of carbon in stars if the carbon nucleus could exist in a radioactive state with an energy roughly 7 million electron volts (MeV) above the energy of the normal state, matching the energy of three helium nuclei, but (for reasons I'll come to presently) not more than 7.7 MeV above the normal state.

      This radioactive state of a carbon nucleus could be easily formed in stars from three helium nuclei. After that, there would be no problem in producing ordinary carbon; the carbon nucleus in its radioactive state would spontaneously emit light and turn into carbon in its normal nonradioactive state, the state found on earth. The critical point in producing carbon is the existence of a radioactive state that can be produced in collisions of three helium nuclei.

      In fact, the carbon nucleus is known experimentally to have just such a radioactive state, with an energy 7.65 MeV above the normal state. At first sight this may seem like a pretty close call; the energy of this radioactive state of carbon misses being too high to allow the formation of carbon (and hence of us) by only 0.05 MeV, which is less than one percent of 7.65 MeV. It may appear that the constants of nature on which the properties of all nuclei depend have been carefully fine-tuned to make life possible.

      Looked at more closely, the fine-tuning of the constants of nature here does not seem so fine. We have to consider the reason why the formation of carbon in stars requires the existence of a radioactive state of carbon with an energy not more than 7.7 MeV above the energy of the normal state. The reason is that the carbon nuclei in this state are actually formed in a two-step process: first, two helium nuclei combine to form the unstable nucleus of a beryllium isotope, beryllium 8, which occasionally, before it falls apart, captures another helium nucleus, forming a carbon nucleus in its radioactive state, which then decays into normal carbon. The total energy of the beryllium 8 nucleus and a helium nucleus at rest is 7.4 MeV above the energy of the normal state of the carbon nucleus; so if the energy of the radioactive state of carbon were more than 7.7 MeV it could only be formed in a collision of a helium nucleus and a beryllium 8 nucleus if the energy of motion of these two nuclei were at least 0.3 MeV—an energy which is extremely unlikely at the temperatures found in stars.

      Thus the crucial thing that affects the production of carbon in stars is not the 7.65 MeV energy of the radioactive state of carbon above its normal state, but the 0.25 MeV energy of the radioactive state, an unstable composite of a beryllium 8 nucleus and a helium nucleus, above the energy of those nuclei at rest.[2] This energy misses being too high for the production of carbon by a fractional amount of 0.05 MeV/0.25 MeV, or 20 percent, which is not such a close call after all.

      Come see TV from the reality-based community at RealityBasedTV.com

      by MarkInSanFran on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:36:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        farleftcoast

        I wasn't arguing that our rules were fine tuned. I think that the rules were randomly generated at the big bang, and that everything else that has come into existence since has just been following what the rules will allow. In some other universe, with different rules applied, what is allowed may be completely different, but it does not necessarily prevent matter, or life, from forming.

        Do Pavlov's dogs chase Schroedinger's cat?

        by corwin on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:54:32 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Anthropic principle (13+ / 0-)

    It's very common for someone in a religious or existential conversaion to say something along the lines of the following:

    "But what are the odds that we would have happened this way by chance?  Fingers, toes, trees, blue skies, laughter, animals?  The odds against that are more than a billion to one!  That proves there must be a purpose and a God!"

    Now, setting aside the fact that evolutionary and planetary development theories are not only not "by chance" but, in fact, are the very opposite of "by chance", the reasoning above still has the fundamental flaw of misunderstanding what "odds" actually are.  In fact, the "odds" of us existing in the exact way we exist today are not "a billion to one" or "a quintillion to one" or any such nonsense.  The odds are, in fact, one to one, by definition.  Because we're asking from the point of view of the "finished" product, not theorizing what life might be like before the big bang started.

    The example I usually give to explain this principle is the following:

    Let's flip this coin ten times and record the results.  We get:  heads, heads, tails, heads, tails, tails, tails, heads, tails, tails.  What are the odds that we would have gotten that result?  Well, that'd be 1 in 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2, or 1 in 1,024.  1 in 1,024?!?  Why, that's only a 0.09% chance of happening!  That's amazing!  This must be a magic coin, right?  No, of course not.  Because at the time we calculated the odds, the odds were 1 in 1, because it already happened.  Now, if BEFORE I flipped the coin I theorized the order would be h-h-t-h-t-t-t-h-t-t, and that happened, then that WOULD be amazing odds.  (Which, of course, is how the lottery works.)

    For the same reason, we can't say "but isn't it amazing how beautiful a sunset is" as a proof of higher power, because, for example, mud isn't beautiful at all.  If sunsets were ugly and mud was beautiful, then the same people would point to mud, and not sunsets, as evidence of God and a planned purpose.  

    Turtles, turtles, turtles all the way down.

    by cartwrightdale on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:10:52 PM PST

  •  I think this is called solipsism... (5+ / 0-)

    ...not new, but apparently I wish to revisit the notion because here the idea is again, manifest. I once had a vision (a nightmare, really) that I was the only person on earth, and, in fact, the only sentient being in the universe. From the perspective of one living creature, it is easy to imagine as we cannot really verify the existence of others. I think therefore I am, but what about you? My theory was that God got lonely, went schizophrenic and created all of these other creatures, which are really just aspects of his personality. However, he could not know the truth because if he did, there he would be, just one creature again. Very lonely! And so he (he because me is he as you are we and we are altogether!) chooses to be unaware of the truth because the truth is very harsh indeed.

    Alan Watts talks about this quite a bit I think..or perhaps I should say he talked about this...or perhaps I should say I arranged to have him talk about this. I think that's where the theory breaks down -- I'm just not as bright as all of that!

    "I am my brother's keeper. I am a Democrat." -- That's your slogan, Democrats.

    by Bensdad on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:11:17 PM PST

  •  When I was a senior in college (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blue vertigo, brentmack

    I had a final exam in (Roman Catholic) theology in which there were two questions:

    1. Why is there anything rather than nothing ?

    and

    1. Why was there Jesus rather than no one ?

    Pretty good questions, I thought then. Still do.

    Let's get some Democracy for America

    by murphy on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:11:53 PM PST

  •  Hawkings (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oldpro, supak, Anna M

    would disagree with you on the luck thing. According to Hawkings ideas we must exist because every possibility exists in the multiverse. We just happen to be on the tree where humans exist.

    High level physicists share more and more with religious leaders though. There are those who strongly doubt the big bang theory for instance because physicists have to keep stretching and bending more and more to keep the theory viable.

    A lot of physics now seems based more in philosophy rather than science as well. The Heisenberg principle is treated as tested scientific fact on the macro and micro levels despite it having little real basis on most levels. The "did a tree fall" flaw is commonly used by physicists who are still after all these millenia trying to make the universe humanocentric. Yes the tree would make a sound. Yes the universe would get along quite well without any form of life. In fact it did for a very long time and will for a very long time after our energy returns to it

    Ah for the good old days when science was based on testable ideas. But then we call Archaeology, Psychology, Political science and the storytelling we call history sciences too..

    I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

    by cdreid on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:12:22 PM PST

    •  You touch on an important point (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cdreid

      we need to be very careful applying laws from the micro to the macro.

    •  References, please? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cdreid, a gordon, farleftcoast

      There are those who strongly doubt the big bang theory for instance because physicists have to keep stretching and bending more and more to keep the theory viable.

      I Am Not A Physicist, but this strikes me as an exaggeration. I doubt that the Big Bang theory is seriously doubted in the sense of "No, there is no Big Bang to see here; move along." I think it's more a question of just what happened, and how did it happen (and what does it mean for the present and future state of the Universe.)

      Of course, I could be wrong. But since I created this particular Universe by observing it, that doesn't seem very likely.

      I believe that ignorance is the root of all evil. And that no one knows the truth. RIP, Molly Ivins. And thanks.

      by Nowhere Man on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:38:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Easiest one that comes to mind (0+ / 0-)

        Have a telescope? If so John Dobson probably invented it. Reading about him was what made me first come to the realisation that maybe  there wasnt any there there. I read a lot of Hawkings and Tried to sort through the Einstein devotees(?) and his "critics" and eventually came to the conclusion i didnt know anywhere near enough math to follow where they were going. All i eventually came away with was that while physicists are  amazingly open minded there are some ideas that really scare them. This being one. And that they were creating dark matter, storing information in wormholes, and screaming at the top of their lungs that information could never disappear from this universe. Then i got drunk and felt at peace with the world.

        I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

        by cdreid on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:48:36 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Ummm, Dobson isn't a physicist (0+ / 0-)

          ... and neither am I, and neither (I gather) are you...  I still think that the statement that "There are those [physicists] who strongly doubt the big bang theory" is not supported by the facts.

          (I assume that you did mean "there are those physicists"; if that's not what you meant, then never mind.)

          I believe that ignorance is the root of all evil. And that no one knows the truth. RIP, Molly Ivins. And thanks.

          by Nowhere Man on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:16:11 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  There are (0+ / 0-)

            I dont have the links because it was pretty intense stuff from a lot of sources. Big bang is based on one model of the universe. There are a Lot of models of the universe some of them with big bangs. Some where the big bang cycles. Some where the universe disappears into itself etc. For every answer i've ever found put out by guys way smarter than myself theres another scientist just as smart who will show you holes and point to another one. This isnt exactly stuff they publish in Time..

            I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

            by cdreid on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:21:09 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  They're supposed to do that (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              farleftcoast, Nowhere Man, geez53

              It's incredibly difficult to actually measure these things. You can't go out and state definitively that this is how the standard model was created. So, yes, you will see heaps of criticism of even the best theory and lots of alternate theories that better explain certain phenomena and maybe fail a bit on others. No cosmologist actually thinks that an accurate model of universe formation and structure has been proposed.

              But part of the goal of science is to not play favorites. We want alternates to get attention, so even if it's supported by very few scientists, we still want to see it promoted and tested. With a topic like this, taking measurements and disproving a theory is very difficult. It's going to be messy for some time. That said, we've taken a very, very broad canvas of theories and narrowed them down into a much more contained package. There's still a lot of variability at the ends, however - the early universe formation and the end state. If physicists could decouple distance and time in taking their measurements, we'd be much further along, but we don't have telescopes on the other side of the galaxy to help us on this.

              -6.00, -7.03
              "I want my people to be the most intolerant people in the world." - Jerry Falwell

              by johnsonwax on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:39:10 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Of course (0+ / 0-)

                too bad other so-called "sciences" arent as amazingly scientifically minded. Thats what i was trying to explain to the above poster. I got lost in the myriad of proposals, counter proposals, and countercounter proposals containing the proposals etc etc.

                I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

                by cdreid on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:57:04 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

          •  Something that non-scientists (6+ / 0-)

            seem to overlook is the degree to which these disagreements manifest themselves.

            No physicist agrees that Newtonian mechanics is sufficient. It fails spectacularly outside the scale that people normally operate. But every physicist, when throwing a ball to their kid relies on their intrinsic knowledge of newtonian mechanics to help get it to the destination. Their disagreement is contained to specific areas, not to the theory in general.

            Every time I hear these 'But lots of scientists disagree with global warming' assertions, I instantly recognize the pattern. Scientists almost universally agree with it, but disagree about the magnitude, or the rank order of mechanisms, or the consequences and timeframe, and so on. Scientists job, after all, is to be a skeptic and to formally disagree with what's been presented as 'true' and try and prove it wrong in an effort to help support that it might in fact be right. Non-scientists exploit this all the time, and it's dishonest as hell to do it.

            -6.00, -7.03
            "I want my people to be the most intolerant people in the world." - Jerry Falwell

            by johnsonwax on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:30:37 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  The difference is (0+ / 0-)

              Global warming is observable, testable and provable.
              The big bang isnt.

              Not that i actually disagree with the big bang or even know enough too. Its' the reversion to dogma and and orthodoxy that disturb me.

              I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

              by cdreid on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 02:17:11 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  um, wrong again (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                zephron

                Global warming is observable, testable and provable.
                The big bang isnt.

                Um, yes it is.

                In particle accelerators, physicists have already reproduced the conditions of the Big Bang to within one billionth of a billionth of a second.  The Large Hadron Collider will, soon, reproduce even earlier conditions.

                Further, the Big Bang HAS been tested, repeatedly.  The prediction and subsequent confirmation of the cosmic background radiation.  The relative ratio of hydrogen and helium.  The simple fact that the sky is dark at night.  All of them are directly observable effects of the Big Bang.  All of them can be observed, tested and verified through experiment using the scientific method.  And have been.

                Americans, alas, are completely ignorant of science.  Most don't know what a "molecule" is.  Most can't describe the scientific method.  Most don't know the period of time it takes for the earth to revolve once around the sun.  Many don't even know THAT the earth revolves around the sun.

                The wingnuts take advantage of this general ignorance.  Science itself, as a way of knowing about the world, is currently under fuill attack, by two different but compatible groups of people.  The first group are the big business apologists, who have learned that attacks on science as "unreliable" and "controversial" can be used to delay or divert regulations that they don't like, concerning things like global warming, endangered species, or environmental pollution.  The other group are the fundamentalist religious nuts, who want "science" to be just another ideology or "dogma", no different from theirs and thus no more worthy of weight or consideration. (That, by the way, is why the creationist wingnuts like to refer to evolution as "darwinism" -- they want to give the impression that it's just an ideology or dogma, no different than, say, "marxism".)

                Not that i actually disagree with the big bang or even know enough too

                Well, THERE'S your problem right there.

                To people who don't understand it, science can seem like magic or philosophy or religion.

                It's not.

                Of course, to people who don't understand it, the trick of sawing a woman in half can look like magic, too.

                It's not, either.

                Editor, Red and Black Publishers http://www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

                by Lenny Flank on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 08:09:35 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Lenny my man (0+ / 0-)

                  Prominent accepted theories:

                  Swamp gas causes disease. Statistically verifiable. Conventionally tested and accepted at the time. Wrong.

                  The lower classes are genetically criminal: Statistically easily verifiable. Wrong.

                  I'm sure you know a thousand more. There was a time when people thought Relativity was unquestionable. Not so much now? Not that its wrong just that it is only a partial model. As mathematics is simply a Modelling language, not a binding set of rules on nature imposable by man.

                  And again with the Temple Priests scolding the ignorant novices? I liked the post though.

                  I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

                  by cdreid on Mon Nov 26, 2007 at 11:45:50 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

    •  Uh, no. Just wrong. Sorry. (5+ / 0-)

      Uncertainty has been tested.  Repeatedly.

      The Big Bang theory is remarkably successful at predicting the properties of the Cosmic Microwave Background and the abundances of elements.  I know of no one who "strongly doubts the big bang theory", and I know these people.

      Finally, physics seems like philosophy to those who don't see the math.  Of course, that is the difference.  In one you pull shit out of your ass, in the other you are expected to relate it to observable and testable predictions.  And it still is.

      IMPEACH=Rock+Hard Place! Let every Rethug either publicly support the least popular president in 30 years, or admit their president is a traitor.

      by zephron on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:28:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Explain (0+ / 0-)

        dark matter? A non observed and apparently by definition non-observable class of matter that apparently has mass but has never been detected.. but fits into a particular cosmic theology so is the dogma?

        Explain 'scientists' who argue using uncertainty on the macro level??

        Explain chaos theory as a 'science' where they do things like measure the timing between water droplets and try to make complex calculations explaining them while very specifically not measuring the causes that go into the effect that is the water droplets fall?

        "Poor people have no morals" would predict higher crime rates amongst the poor, yet be stunningly wrong. Does that make it acceptable scientific fact?

        You seem to get very upset that someone would question the proclaimed dogma.

        I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

        by cdreid on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 02:03:48 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Arrogance. (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          melo, mrkvica, a gordon, farleftcoast, brenda

          Before trying to pass judgment you should try spending the time scientists do understanding what has been done and why.  I'm not "very upset that someone would question the proclaimed dogma."  In fact, I do exactly that everyday.  However, I am annoyed when somebody who admittedly doesn't understand the math goes off criticizing existing theories.  Based upon what?

          As far as dark matter, you've read another comment in which I point out that the ohter cures are not any better, usually involving introducing other, more exotic particles.  Having said that, dark matter actually does solve a variety of astronomical problems rather neatly, including the rotation curves of galaxies, galaxy clusters, as well as providing the seeds for structure formation in the early universe (which "normal" baryonic matter could not for a variety of reasons).  Dark matter has been sufficiently constrained that we know that it isn't massive compact objects (like black holes), or even strongly self-interacting particles (WDM).  The fact that it hasn't been observed directly is disappointing but not a deal breaker since there is plenty of room in the standard model for such particles.  Indeed, the problem isn't what particle could act this way, but rather which of the many possibilities!

          There are a number of macroscopic manifestations of the Uncertainty principle.  These include things as mundane as the electronic and thermal properties of metals (in which the electrons act as a partially degenerate Fermi gas) and as exotic as white dwarfs and neutron stars.  The latter two examples involve objects that are supported against gravity by the fact that electrons (WDs) and neutrons (NSs) cannot occupy the same space, which due to the Uncertainty principle means that they must maintain a distance from each other that is dictated by the quantum energy level they inhabit.  Otherwise I'm not sure what you mean when you talk about "macroscopic Uncertainty".

          In regard to chaos, this is formally a mathematically theory regarding certain classes of equations.  Chaotic systems cannot be microscopically described due to the strong amplification of perturbations in their motion.  However, many such systems, when viewed over many dynamical timescales can be well described by various unified mathematical theories.  The simplest example is statistical mechanics, which relies upon the chaotic nature of the underlying system through something called the "ergodic hypothesis".  This is justified, like all such physical theories by the fact that it works so damn well.  More complicated examples involve things like catastrophe theory, which does reasonably well at describing some features of earthquakes and piles of sand.

          Finally, I find exercises in epistemology rather fruitless.  If the theory "Poor people have no morals" fit all of the data, how would you know it is untrue?  The fact is, such an example is a straw man since the reason you know it is "stunningly wrong" is that it fails badly to fit some observations.  However, ironically this is frequently the kind of thing that "outsiders" who propose alternatives to things like Dark Matter or General Relativity or Quantum Mechanics do.  The latter two have passed countless experimental tests, and any alternative had better do as well in all cases.  Making grandiose claims having failed to do so is the height of arrogance.

          IMPEACH=Rock+Hard Place! Let every Rethug either publicly support the least popular president in 30 years, or admit their president is a traitor.

          by zephron on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 06:30:34 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  um, no, wrong (0+ / 0-)

          dark matter? A non observed and apparently by definition non-observable class of matter that apparently has mass but has never been detected.. but fits into a particular cosmic theology so is the dogma?

          Dark matter HAS been observed, through its gravitational influence.  Just like black holes.  We can even measure its mass, very precisely.  

          The problem is that we don't know what it IS. But its existence is directly observed and measured.

          Explain chaos theory as a 'science' where they do things like measure the timing between water droplets and try to make complex calculations explaining them while very specifically not measuring the causes that go into the effect that is the water droplets fall?

          Um, no.  Wrong again.  Chaos theory DOES measure the "causes that go into the effect".  That's the whole POINT of chaos theory -- that the future behavior of the system cannot be accurately predicted, no matter HOW precisely you measure the initial conditions.

          But if you think THAT is strange, wait till you understand quantum mechanics, in which there simply IS NO "cause and effect".

          You don't know science very well.  

          Don't be ashamed, though -- most Americans don't either. That's why it sounds like magic or philosophy or religion to them. (shrug)

          Editor, Red and Black Publishers http://www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

          by Lenny Flank on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 07:57:25 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  You should (0+ / 0-)

            read my original post.

            Dark matter HAS been observed, through its gravitational influence.  Just like black holes.  We can even measure its mass, very precisely.  

            The problem is that we don't know what it IS. But its existence is directly observed and measured.

            The "Spheres" would by your definition be "observed". Though honestly. I'm certain you're right and that Something physical is causing these meaasurements rather than a fundamental theoretical flaw. Probably.

            You're simply wrong on chaos theory. The best explanation i have heard for the study of chaos was by a physicist who only did that. He said something like the closer they looked at chaos the more order emerged. The closer they looked at order the more chaos observed. And that chaos theory was the science dedicated to understanding that. He's also one of the people who was doing the random drip studies. And he specifically didnt measure the inputs. The why is something we programmers (computer scientists) understand very very well. Finding true chaotic sources is one of  the holy grails of computer science. It is a huge hindrance to AI and Alife because the order found deep inside what we believe are superclever chaos sources shows itself eventually in the macro of ai and alife. It is hard to point to flocking behavior etc as rudimentary ai when it could be caused by your chaos source. All of which contradicts what you've stated is chaos theories goal.

            And quantum theory only calls cause and effect into question on Quantum levels. It does not apply to the macro. If heisenberg is true then of Course cause and effect dont always apply, which is the cleverness of those who discovered the two.

            And you can state i dont know science very well if you wish. Frankly this sounds a whole lot like the Priest Class explaining to the novices that they cannot possibly understand the teachings of the god(s).... It also reminds me of a discussion between Thom Hartman, arguably one of the most intelligent people on the planet, with the current "creator" of supply side economic theory. The supply siders only argument was "Thom you're not an economist and therefore must accept all that i say"... desptie the reality that supply side economics has been repeatedly disproven and is entirely based on a stunning misunderstanding of basic high school algebra.

            I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

            by cdreid on Mon Nov 26, 2007 at 11:37:58 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  PS Neat site (0+ / 0-)

            You should rework your website. The books look fascinating and informative. (you need tags and some stuff to help with search engine traffic.. and maybe something more compact imho).

            Those as audio books would go over very big with truckers im thinking.

            I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

            by cdreid on Mon Nov 26, 2007 at 11:40:58 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  We are here... (11+ / 0-)

    ...because we were born into a universe that by necessity supports our kind of life.

    If we were born in a universe in which the laws of physics were different, whatever those laws of physics were would allow for a different set of patterns and interactions.  Those differences in patterns and interactions could in turn create a different form of self-replicating basis for life (as DNA is for ours).  The whole concept that if subatomic particles were only slightly different, if light were a slightly different speed, etc, that life could not exist is fundamentally flawed.  After all, if those constants were different, the whole system would function in a different manner.  That manner needn't be any less organized, or make any less sense, it would just be different.  The entirety of such a universe would have its own unique interactions, environments, etc, and life would still come in to being somewhere, as a system approaching the complexity and replicating properties of DNA forms under those new rules.

    If we were born as pulses of emotional color in the Infinite Quark Constant of the Ryl'yul sector of another universe, our universe would still seem to be 100% perfect and flawless...and for our form of life it would be.  In fact, such a life-form would find the concept of matter-based, carbon-centric life to be quite odd, and likely quite impossible.  Our concept of God would also match our form, and would therefore be a being of infinite color and infinite emotion.  

    It is incredibly arrogant to think that because the laws of physics in our universe allow for the existence of DNA-based carbon-based, matter-based life, that life is astronomically rare.  There are very distinct possibilities that other organized systems are able to produce self-replicating systems, which in turn leads to life of one form or another.  For example, mathematically there appear to be 11 dimensions in our universe.  We perceive only 4 of those dimensions.  The may very well be forms of life living among us right now that only exist in and perceive a reality wholly outside of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th dimensions.  They may never be able to perceive us without technological aid, and we may never be able to perceive them without the same.

    It's not that we live in a Garden Universe, it is that WHATEVER kind of life we happened to be, our universe would SEEM to be a Garden Universe.

  •  I guess he read Greg Egan's The Bubble... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xynz, Limelite

    The theory that makes most sense (to me) is candidate two primarily due to the arbitrariness of the fundamental constants of the universe. You start off with the Big Bang where a buttload of energy cools down into plasma and then matter, analogous to snowflake formation, the precise shape and nature of the universe resulting from this is unique. The other element that supports this interpretation is rolling up and hiding away of X dimensions (the number varies depending on which maths you go with). This leads me to subscribe to the weak anthropic principle situated in the multiverse bathtub filled with bubble bath and each new bubble is a big bang creating a novel and unique universe.

    Davies point about postulating a multiverse where the universe is influenced by something outside of it and that this being untestable is a flawed assumption. Certainly at our current level of technology we do not understand enough about our universe to determine where the points of contact and influence are between our universe and the multiverse but to say there are none is to violate his own logic (ie he has no proof there are none and so shouldn't assert it).

    Now the reason I think candidate three does not fly is that the universe existed before observers on this planet emerged, in fact before even the sun that lights this solar system emerged. To validate his hypothesis he could look for a change in the universal constants of the speed of light or Planck arising in the last 10,000, 200,000 or 1,000,000 years ago when different forms of human(oid) observers arose - unless he is asserting that matter is the observer or non-self-aware life are the observers.

    Thanks for the diary - I sure do miss being a scientist sometimes.

    •  But that postulates a humancentric universe (0+ / 0-)

      for candidate three. I confess that I have not read the book, butit seems unrealistic to postulate humans as the only sentient products of creation, whatever form that took. Davies choice would seem to have the same alternatives as the weak anthropic principle. Just because our technology does not presently allow us to observe something does not mean it is unobserved.

      "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." -Edmund Burke

      by carolita on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:54:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  re (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xynz, TIKI AL

    Why is an earthworm in a plot of land off of route 44 just outside omaha nebraska?


    For about the same reason we are here I would guess, just a by product of atoms and quarks and such put together in a certain combination.

    "Hillary plants questions (just like Bush). Steve Holt does not." - Steve Holt

    by cookiesandmilk on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:14:30 PM PST

    •  You'll excuse me (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      corwin, revenant

      if I say your analogy doesn't work for me.

      Why are WE here, as well as why is there an earthworm anywhere ?

      Why is there ANYTHING rather than NOTHING ?

      That is the real question.

      Let's get some Democracy for America

      by murphy on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:17:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  re (0+ / 0-)

        Why WE are here is because we are by-products.

        Why the universe?

        Prob. Because the Uni is a by Product of something, and that something is a by-product of something and....

        Pretty sure you won't find an answer in this diary.

        "Hillary plants questions (just like Bush). Steve Holt does not." - Steve Holt

        by cookiesandmilk on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:21:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Because.... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cookiesandmilk

        the laws of physics and fundamental constants of this universe allow there to be.

        Why are the laws of physics and fundamental constants of this universe such that the we are capable of coming into existence? That I think is the real question.

      •  Because reality is infinite... (6+ / 0-)

        An infinite reality is the only reality possible without a fundamental paradox.

        Reality was.
        Reality is.
        Reality will always be.

        We exist in a universe that is a series of interwoven, interacting systems within systems within system.  Every system we've discovered seems to be made up of smaller systems within systems within systems.  The universe as we know it is merely all of the systems within systems we are (currently) able to perceive.  To think that beyond our universe is infinite NOTHING, or one infinite being of supreme paradox, is preposterous to me.  The more likely answer is that our universe is itself a set of systems within systems that exists within a larger set of systems within systems, and these systems within systems build upon one another infinitely "outwards" and infinitely "inwards".

        IMHO, there can never have existed nothing.  All of reality has and will always exist.

        •  I just said the same thing (0+ / 0-)

          under you but not as eloquently.

        •  Sounds beautifly (0+ / 0-)

          fractal to me.

          Isn't there a book out there postulating that the Universe is just a big computer program and we are just a certain point in its code?  
          Haven't read it but only because I keep forgetting to buy it.

           

        •  I (0+ / 0-)

          don't know why but this scares me and chills me to the bone.

        •  um . . . (0+ / 0-)

          All of reality has and will always exist

          . . . then why is the night sky, dark?

          That is not a flippant question.  It has a serious scientific answer -- one which demonstrates, conclusively, that you are . . . well . . . wrong.  Reality has NOT always existed.  It CANNOT have always existed, simply because the night sky is dark.

          I leave it to you to do your homework and discover this scientific answer for yourself.  (But I'll give you a hint:  do a Google for "Olber's Paradox").

          In regards to this entire thread, I am reminded of a quote from Herr Doktor Karl Marx:

          "Philosophy and the study of the actual world have the same relationship to one another as masturbation and sexual intercourse."

          (shrug)

          Editor, Red and Black Publishers http://www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

          by Lenny Flank on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 08:38:10 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Why is there ANYTHING rather than NOTHING ? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        hyperstation

        That is the question that has always bothered me. How did something come to be from nothing? One theory I've heard, and I don't know anywhere near enough to say much about it other than it makes some sense, comes from Heisenberg. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle leads to particles and anti-particles coming into existence, then annihilating each other after a very short time, say 10^-25 seconds. Given enough time, it should be possible for some particles to just miss being annihilated, for example, if two positive particles form at exactly the right time and in the same space, they might tend to attract each other, leaving them in the universe. After this happens 10^{big number}, there is enough "stuff" to cause a big bang. Since the particle and anti-particle "sum" to zero, that is how something can come from nothing.

        Do Pavlov's dogs chase Schroedinger's cat?

        by corwin on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:30:00 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Because it didn't come from nothing... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          corwin, blue vertigo

          ...we simply have no observational data about what exists outside of our universe, and how it fits in to the greater whole.

          Any concept requiring a universe coming from absolutely nothing is flawed, and always leads to a logical paradox.  The very paradox you mention: how can all that is come from nothing?  Within the framework we have, where we observe that nothing can be created or destroyed, merely altered in form, that simply cannot be.  Therefore, everything we observe has always and will always exist in one form or another.

          •  um, and what's outside the stuff that (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            corwin

            has "always existed" if time itself seems to be a particular kind of law or idea?

            Your argument, while true, doesn't answer the larger question, which is where did the "something" come from, even if it's not in "our" universe; it almost sounds like you're saying: "It's turtles all the way down."

            -8.38, -8.00 Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice. --Thomas Paine

            by hyperstation on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:47:13 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  um, no (0+ / 0-)

              um, and what's outside the stuff that has "always existed" if time itself seems to be a particular kind of law or idea

              There was nothing "before" the Big Bang because time itself began with the Big Bang.  The Big Bang itself is the very appearennce of spacetime.

              Asking "what happened before the Big Bang?" is like asking "what part of the earth's surface is north of the north pole?"  The question itself is meaningless.

              You are asking religious and philosophical questions, not scientific questions.  Science can only answer scientific questions.  It can't answer philosophical or religious questions.  That's what we pay philosophers and theologians for.

              Editor, Red and Black Publishers http://www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

              by Lenny Flank on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 08:14:59 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  Why are we here? Because we are. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        hyperstation

        Looking for answers to this is fun and a great mental exercise.  We can answer why we are here in the micro but not the macro.  I think we are all our own universe within another universe and probably within another universe - just like the stacking Russian dolls.  Who knows, we could be somebody else's ant farm.

      •  I think on that question more than any other (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        murphy, A Chicagoan in Naples

        single thing. I can really freak myself out if I think about it hard enough.

        I came in peace, seeking only gold and slaves

        by revenant on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:20:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  While it's fun to speculate on the "why" (5+ / 0-)

    I'm still more interested in the practical science of "how."  The evolution of life, the evolution of hominids and the dispersal of man across the world, affecting the world itself.  My comments are just going to meander around here --since the question of "why are we here" eventually devolves into the idea of all those universes in universes in universes as mentioned in Animal House.  (...please don't bogart that...)

    Just before Davies on NPR's Science Friday yesterday, the author of "The World Without Us," Alan Weisman was interviewed.  His book is a fascinating look at how we've terraformed this planet, and what would happen if man disappeared (through an epidemic, space invasion, rapture, whatever).  

    Also interesting, to me and some others, is to study WHY we believe in gods.  To see man's religion as developing along with civilization, and to try to step out of it to figure out just why people believe in religious ideas that are much crazier than any science fiction story.

    So to try to back away even further to ponder why we even exist in the universe is probably the biggest non-practical question we could ever ask. Maybe Gould was right, and this question can never be answered by science.  But science has pretty much shown that just about every other question that once was the strict territory of the supernatural is eminently qualified to be studied.  No, science can't say that god exists or doesn't exist.  But it can study why people believe in gods, why every culture and civilization has had religious authorities.  

    It's funny that these religious authorities have typically railed against science, have misused it (like the current Professor Behe who argues for intelligent design), and have finally had to integrate science into their world as rationality tried to make sense of the world around us.  Sometimes I feel that, as an American, I'm in the minority of the reality-based world community. Most people don't want to think about these things, don't have time to think about these things, and have somehow been able to believe conflicting religious myths while using science and technology in their daily lives.

  •  Every Religious and Philosophical Question That (17+ / 0-)

    has become accessible to scientific investigation has turned out to have rational anti-mystical answers, as far as I can see.

    Outside of exceptional circumstances where the earthly power of religion has been very tightly constrained as in Enlightenment governance, answers provided by religion appear to me to have been fairly consistently more hazardous than the absence of answers from science.

    So why are we here? I'm open to scientific input. At least I know science will leave me free to take it or leave it.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:21:52 PM PST

    •  Bingo! n/t (4+ / 0-)

      Come see TV from the reality-based community at RealityBasedTV.com

      by MarkInSanFran on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:39:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  but . . . (0+ / 0-)

      Every Religious and Philosophical Question That *has become accessible to scientific investigation*

      There's the rub . . . .   There are plenty of religious and philosophical questions that science simply cannot answer.  Not even in principle.  

      When it comes to questions of morality or ethics, science is completely helpless.  Oddly enough, those are the questions that religion and philosophy take up.

      "Is abortion wrong?"  Science can't tell us.  Science CAN tell us, right down to the molecular level, how a fertilized egg develops.  But that won't answer the question "is abortion wrong?"  

      Only WE can answer that, religiously and philosophically.

      And we can only answer it for ourselves.

      Editor, Red and Black Publishers http://www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

      by Lenny Flank on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 08:19:15 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Oh great. Just great. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xynz, jeijei, farleftcoast, supak, petulans

    If the universe was a DVD, what Davies wants to know is: who wrote the specs for reading that DVD?

    Republicans in power for 7 years and the CCA now encrypts the entire fucking universe.

    Fuckers.

    It rubs the loofah on its skin or else it gets the falafel again.

    by Fishgrease on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:22:22 PM PST

  •  meaning of "observer" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower

    this always flummoxes me, and I get the impression of a different answer with every other article I read, so let's try and resolve it once and for all (obviously no chance of success).

    What does "observer" really mean, in the context of quantum mechanics? Does it mean a living, breathing, fleshy thing with sensory organs and consciousness? Perhaps without some of the above? A person? A squirrel? Bacteria? Or is it only confusing shorthand for "any external thing which interacts with the object", in other words, subatomic particles (everything else is, after all, made of them)?

    The latter seems much, much, much more "right" (nowhere else in physics do vague, mushy things like "consciousness" enter into the picture -- it's just cold, hard reality), and I always come to the conclusion that this really must be it, but then I encounter another article which implies the other, and I can't tell whether that's because it's the other which is actually true, or only that yet another person got carried away with the ostensible meaning of the word "observer", which is not actually what it means here.

  •  Fourth Magisterium (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    farleftcoast, One Opinion

    Dawkins pointed out that there is a third valid magisterium - that of 'stupid questions'.

    I know that 'why' is a terribly tempting question, but there are many unanswerable why questions. And I don't meant that in the sense that we can't say why humans evolved as they did, but the 'why' question is unbounded in practice. Answer why humans and most will be unsatisfied because you didn't address why sentience, or why language, or why culture, or why here, or why now, or a zillion other whys.

    Perhaps we need a 4th magisterium: the science or religion yet not stupid question that is simply unanswerable because the answer is infinite. The magisterium of good questions but with infinite answers. It's like asking 'what are all the digits of pi'. It's straightforward and you can answer components of the question, but can never answer the question. 'Why do I like blue more than green' is similar. I'm sure there are both physiological (I have more blue than green receptors) and psychological (my mother usually wore blue dresses) reasons, but you can dive infinitely into the question and always have more answer to give.

    -6.00, -7.03
    "I want my people to be the most intolerant people in the world." - Jerry Falwell

    by johnsonwax on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:24:01 PM PST

    •  "Why?" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Chicagoan in Naples

      I know that 'why' is a terribly tempting question, but there are many unanswerable why questions

      Nonetheless, there is a strong natural desire for us humans to want to know why we are here. And being advised to not ask "Why?" makes me want to scream "WHY!?" even louder!

      Being left needing to know why, with no answers forthcoming, is, imo, a distinctively human burden, and tragedy.

      'If [voters] can be reached out to with respect...I think a lot of them will come back' to the Democratic Party -Jim Webb

      by assyrian64 on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:39:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I agree. (4+ / 0-)

        But it's important to resist it at times or else the pancakes will burn and your kids will cry.

        You could ask 'why' about that too, but your kids will just cry more for not dealing with breakfast. If you keep it up, Family Services will come and take them away which really only opens up more why questions. Things really get out of hand then.

        Have you checked on the pancakes yet?

        -6.00, -7.03
        "I want my people to be the most intolerant people in the world." - Jerry Falwell

        by johnsonwax on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:02:54 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  this is way beyond my pay grade (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower, farleftcoast

    although I adore tweaking the rapidly diminishing brain cells by reading Paul Davies (The Mind of God for an atheist is quite a challenge!)

    Could it not just be really simple, that everything was exactly right in that exact nano to the millionth unit of time (sort of like spontaneous combustion).

    Does there actually have to be a WHY or a WHO?  at least not in the kindergarten pre-school of our current understanding of the entire universe?

  •  Devilstower, please consider that.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MahFellaMerkins

    Time occurs as a "Hawking Wave."  Einstein correctly theorized that time has a curve.

    So, if time is on a curve, and like a wave, then there is no reason to think that there are not multiple planes in different times in one universe, like reflections seen in 2 mirrors facing each other.

    why are we here?  Because we are.  Learn to love it!

    Today, 11/23/07, 3874 Americans, and untold Iraqis are dead, tens of thousands more maimed. What are YOU going to do today to help end the Bush/Republican war?

    by boilerman10 on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:29:13 PM PST

  •  The more you look at this planet... (5+ / 0-)

    the more you realize the incredible odds it took for us to be here.  We have a solar system that appears quite unique.  It seems that the moon is merely a by product of a planetary collision.  Without the tides caused by the moon and the tilt in our axis, it is doubtful we would be here. You look at barren Venus and barren Mars and you wonder what the envelop was for distance from the sun.  You look at the asteroid belt that brought us water en masse.  Incredible odds.  I would not be surprised if this place is unique in the universe.

    As you survey the emptiness of space, I would say that life is the reason.  Life is the why.  All animals, creatures, plants are the why.  This planet, teeming with life in a vast empty space that surrounds us is the reason.  If we can survive, we can easily infect this universe with life.  Not via time warp travel but by small leaps and bounds over the span of hundreds of millions of years, 5 light years at a crack.

    That would be my hope.  It is entirely possible that we are merely dinosaurs in the grand scheme of things.  We could easily wipe ourselves from existence and merely be the precursors to the next intelligent life form.  As I view the proliferation of nuclear and bio weaponry, the massive pollution, I am increasingly becoming pessimistic about our future.  If we are unable to spread life throughout the universe, it would be my hope the next intelligent species will and they will hopefully learn some things from our failed existence.

  •  The problem with infinity (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MahFellaMerkins, farleftcoast

    One fun thing to wrap your mind around is the concept of "infinite" time and "infinite" space.  We now know, at least to our best understanding of mathematics, that both concepts are impossible, by nature of our own existence.  If the universe were infinitely large, than we, in turn, would be infinitely small.  If the universe had no beginning nor ending when it came to time, than our existence would take up an infinitely small amount of time.  But this is impossible.  Something that is "infinitely small" or takes an "infinitely small amount of time" cannot, by definition, exist.  Because something that is "infinitely small" is, by definition, zero.  Not "a little tiny tiny tiny bit more than zero".  It is absolutely the SAME THING as zero.

    An easy way to illustrate this concept is the proof that .9999999 repeating forever equals 1.00000.  It is not a little tiny tiny tiny bit less than one.  It IS one.  The exact same thing as 1.000000.  You probably remember the proofs from 9th grade algebra so I won't rehash them here, but imagine what "infinitely small" would mean.  Consider 0.01.  That's pretty small.  0.0000000001 is smaller.  0.00000000000000000000000001 is really really small.  The number of zeros we put before the 1 makes the number smaller, right?  So "infinitely small" must be 0.00000 repeating FOREVER, since anything less than "forever" would allow us to add one more zero to make something even smaller.  And, clearly, 0.00000 repeating forever equals zero.  

    Therefore, we can only exist in time and space if neither time nor space are infinite.

    Turtles, turtles, turtles all the way down.

    by cartwrightdale on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:29:52 PM PST

    •  Matter may be finite but the vaccum between and (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      farleftcoast

      around may be infinite, for where nothing exists looking for a beginning or end would be futile.

      "I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self." --Aristotle

      by java4every1 on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:38:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Holy Zeno, Batman! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      farleftcoast

      Maybe you are correct and maybe not.

      Resolving this paradox remains on our species "To do" list. In my speculative opinion.

      HRC & 43 on foreign policy? Kinda like that Blues Brothers scene: "We play BOTH kinds of music, country & western!" Differences? Yes, but not enough.

      by Bill White on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:43:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  You get infinity (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      One Opinion

      and that is amazingly rare. I've read  some brilliant scientists who didnt. They thought of it as "a lot! but  someone coooould count it maybe!" or something.

      But you arent applying it on the reverse end. .00(infinite)1 isnt Zero any more than 1(000)infinate is. Your proposal is a flaw in the symbolism. Try 1/1(000)infinite instead. Its all in the symbolism.

      I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

      by cdreid on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:06:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  ".00(infinite)1 isnt Zero" ? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        farleftcoast

        Since when :) ?

        We know that .999(infinite) = 1.000(infinite), after all, in part because the number you would have to add to .999(infinite) would be .000(infinite)1, which equals 0.000(infinite).

        Turtles, turtles, turtles all the way down.

        by cartwrightdale on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:10:13 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It isnt (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          One Opinion

          The problem is in the symbology. Math is just a modelling language. And it is imperfect. Just consider the dividing one by 3 and the decimal equivalent. (I even heard a mathematician say there was a theory out that proved math could not calculate reality beyond a certain point. I quit listening then cuz my brain exploded).

          I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

          by cdreid on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:26:37 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Two words.. George Cantor (0+ / 0-)

            Infinite set theory will help everyone on this discussion.. wikopedia it.

          •  Well (0+ / 0-)

            Okay, if we go into hyperreal numbers and alternative number systems we can have all sorts of fun.  But I'd need to break out some old textbooks from my Carnegie Mellon days if we branch away from Archimedian logic.  And even then I might need another degree or two.  :)

            Turtles, turtles, turtles all the way down.

            by cartwrightdale on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:41:25 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  And a couple years (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Ubik, One Opinion

              to explain a tenth of it.

              What sortof intrigues me is the idea that math can be proven to be incapable of modelling the universe. Id love to read a nice long post explaining that. Hmm maybe i better start smoking pot again first though heh.

              I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

              by cdreid on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 02:07:01 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  GRIN (0+ / 0-)

          And that was a neat mindtrick oh jedi-master!

          I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever TJ

          by cdreid on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:27:13 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Heh... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      a gordon, cartwrightdale

      Perhaps you just answered the paradox yourself.  All of infinity is observed to be nothing (zero), but only when viewed in its entirety.  That is the only way that nothing truly exists.  Anything existing within infinity will be be unable to observe the whole.  Anything outside of infinity cannot exist, by definition, and nothing cannot be traveled to, and nothing cannot be observed.

      Thus, the only way for infinite time and space to exist, is if the whole = nothing.

    •  This is wrong (0+ / 0-)

      something that is "infinitely small" is, by definition, zero.

      No, I don't think so. You're getting tripped up by your symbols I think. Even worse, some infinite numbers are bigger than others. The rest is ok but I don't think it gets you to your conclusion. I think the universe is finite but the multiverse proably isn't.

      "Freedom of speech isn't something somebody else gives you. That's something you give to yourself." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

      by brenda on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 11:20:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not by a real numbers definition (0+ / 0-)

        A number that's "infinitely small" (call it X) has to be zero by definition, because otherwise you could find a number between X and zero.  If you can find a number between X and zero, then X must not have been the smallest possible number.  Same with infinitely large.  If you define X as "infinitely large" then clearly no number could be larger than X, because that breaks the definition of X.  That's why "infinitely small" is zero, and "infinitely large" is an imaginary and untenable concept.  (Again, in real numbers.)

        Turtles, turtles, turtles all the way down.

        by cartwrightdale on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 08:28:54 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Easy (0+ / 0-)

          It's a day later but...

          If you define X as "infinitely large" then clearly no number could be larger than X

          I can find uncountable infinites larger than "X". "Infinitely large" has no mathematical meaning, it's too vague but if we take the infinite set (as all numbers are sets) to be w then w+1 is larger than w.

          We can continue with: w+2, w+3, w+4...
          or in other words: w+w, w+w+w...
          clean up again to: w^w, w^w+1, w^w+2, w^w+3...
          which gives us: w^w^w, w^w^w^w, w^w^w^w^w...

          And we can keep going until we have exhausted every symbol or combination of symbols we can imagine.

          I think you'd like
          Rudy Rucker and especially his book Infinity and the Mind

          ;)

          "Freedom of speech isn't something somebody else gives you. That's something you give to yourself." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

          by brenda on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 04:26:45 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I would posit that thier is no correct answer (0+ / 0-)

    All answers would be grouped into what is commonly in logic called the Affirming the consequent.

    That bieng said the idea of constance like the number 3 are built off of axiums that science uses and seem to work.. to a point.. and that is precisly the problem i.e. gettier and in calculas the Aleph equation (Set Theory via Cantor)

    The axiums of science are as fluid as the mesurments they make and the tools they use just as fluid as the mathamatician and or poet. Or at least seemingly so. It does appear that they are functional rules but this would not make them knowledge or even something we could prove in an absolute sence.

    I would posit the ideas of these axiums used in science as useful but never difinitve. In otherwords thier is no such thing as and A postori axium becoming an Apriori axium and that these axiums are built off of pragmatic rules to attempt to work with matter and not expnative due to the lack of tools we have for explaining and discovering it all.. we are all just alchemists...

    The law of Identity, Law of exculdid middle, the General reliablity of scense perception, Law of contradiction.. all useful to describe to a point our observations but cannot constitute logical defintions of knowledge (I do not mean truth by the use of this word). Knowledge and truth are two separate and distinct things in epistemoligy, logic and philosophy.. one can have a true proposition but still lack knowledge about it.. i.e. the number 3...

    I move myself more an more along the line of Sextus Empiricus day by day...

  •  Odds? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower, oldpro

    So far as the Drake equation, I guess it comes down to the Indiana Jones Effect. Yes, it was unlikely that Jones would get all the lucky breaks and nick-of-time rescues he did in the movies. But they didn't make the movies about all the guys that didn't, just the one guy that did. All the failures died before the opening credits, and that doesn't make much of a film.
    How can it be that we're here when the odds are so steep? Because however steep the odds may be, if you can ask "Why" at all, it means you're the guy that got the lucky breaks. The civilizations that never happened don't get to muse on the existential questions of their existence. The odds, in a sense, are an illusion of hindsight.

    That said, I'm open to the notion of consensual reality, that mind itself is the creative cornerstone of the universe(s). The idea makes a certain sense to me, religiously and scientifically. It's not just comforting, or holding the promise of human ascendancy. It clicks, I guess I'd say. It seems right in line with the hijinks at the quantum level.

    One day, I hope, I will cast a vote for Keith Olbermann.

    by Jaxpagan on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:31:32 PM PST

  •  Surfer dude may have figured it out for real!!! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xynz, Ubik

    Garrett Lisi: "An impoverished surfer has drawn up a new theory of the universe, seen by some as the Holy Grail of physics, which has received rave reviews from scientists."

    Garrett Lisi, 39, has a doctorate but no university affiliation and spends most of the year surfing in Hawaii, where he has also been a hiking guide and bridge builder (when he slept in a jungle yurt).

    In winter, he heads to the mountains near Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where he snowboards. "Being poor sucks," Lisi says. "It's hard to figure out the secrets of the universe when you're trying to figure out where you and your girlfriend are going to sleep next month."

    Despite this unusual career path, his proposal is remarkable because, by the arcane standards of particle physics, it does not require highly complex mathematics.

    Even better, it does not require more than one dimension of time and three of space, when some rival theories need ten or even more spatial dimensions and other bizarre concepts. And it may even be possible to test his theory, which predicts a host of new particles, perhaps even using the new Large Hadron Collider atom smasher that will go into action near Geneva next year.

    The secret to his Theory of Everything is a mathematical structure called
    E8:

    Lee Smolin at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, describes Lisi's work as "fabulous". "It is one of the most compelling unification models I've seen in many, many years," he says.

    "Although he cultivates a bit of a surfer-guy image its clear he has put enormous effort and time into working the complexities of this structure out over several years," Prof Smolin tells The Telegraph.

    I've been waiting for this kind of breakthrough for years.
    We are living in the Golden Age of Cosmology and it may be coming to an end.

    I can live with doubt and uncertainty. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. -- Richard Feynman

    by Jimdotz on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:32:11 PM PST

    •  Here's the actual paper if you dare: (0+ / 0-)

      I can live with doubt and uncertainty. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. -- Richard Feynman

      by Jimdotz on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:39:45 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  More about E8: (0+ / 0-)

      From A Babe in the Universe

      E8 is an intriguing and well-studied mathematical pattern with 248 points. In Garrett's theory, each vertex corresponds to an elementary particle field. Some of these points correspond to the known particles, and others would indicate particles yet to be found. The undiscovered particles are testable predictions which may someday be found in accelerators. His theory requires only the four dimensions of Space/Time, and doesn't use strings.

      I can live with doubt and uncertainty. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. -- Richard Feynman

      by Jimdotz on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:48:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  This is art.. does not make it true (0+ / 0-)

        Or even knowledge.. its great though.. Theories even compleatly believable ones do not count on the very axiums they use as bieng non observables or even testable by thier own theories.. its art pure and simple..but beautyful...very yummy.. like my favorate color of ice cream Mint... is an artful statement.. it makes sence to someone who uses the same definition of mint.. but is just that a definition that may look and tast good but may not be good in further explenation. I am not saying its not a true set of properties..its just as unprovable as god is....

        We should try though.. as any artist would.... now off to my cosmic refrigerator to scoop me out some creamy delicious possable worlds...

  •  As Atrios would say (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    farleftcoast

    >"does this well-nigh infinite universe have a purpose, and are we a part of that purpose"

    No. This is another simple answer to...

  •  Uncle Bill's funeral? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower, One Opinion

    Hey, I have large a number of nieces and nephews and as we all know;

    Dead men don't type blog comments.

    HRC & 43 on foreign policy? Kinda like that Blues Brothers scene: "We play BOTH kinds of music, country & western!" Differences? Yes, but not enough.

    by Bill White on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:34:46 PM PST

  •  The real mystery, how is matter aware (0+ / 0-)

    of its own existence? What a miraculous occurrence. We are mostly space, some particles flying around, circling each other in a lawful pattern, planets, suns and here and there water, cells, life growing. Then in some way in the process of life living things become aware of their own existence, more creatures than just the human ones. How is that possible?

    If we are just matter how does this awareness appear in life? I think that consciousness is a substrate of the universe like gravity and that when life arises it can at some level of organization become aware that it is. I don't see this substrate of consciousness as a separate creator entity anymore than gravity is a separate creator entity.

    The why question isn't significant to me. The fact that we are aware we exist and can become more aware of our existence in many different ways is enough for me to create tremendous meaning to life. The meaning of life once it knows of its own existence is to expand its awareness of life and preserve life. What a wonderful world. I don't care if it was a random accident, as if meaning can only come from being made for a purpose by some unknown entity or force.

    The search for a religious or scientific primary cause of existence as a precondition for a meaningful existence is IMHO just a power struggle between religion and science to compete for who has the best authority (matter or God) external to consciousness.

    Love = of existing and potential mutually beneficial exchange across semi-permeable boundaries. Politics and economics should amplify Love

    by Bob Guyer on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:36:28 PM PST

  •  Didn't Kilgore Trout... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xynz

    ...answer this question in Breakfast of Champions?  As I recall, he answered it as decisively as such a question can ever be answered...

    "The Romans brought on their own demise, but it took them centuries. Bush has finished America in a mere 7 years." -- Paul Craig Roberts

    by Roddy McCorley on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:40:54 PM PST

  •  Three (or more) possibilities (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xynz

    One: Dueling infinities. Big Bang cycles are composed of a large infinity of mostly sterile universes, punctuated by a smaller infinity of cycles where life is possible. Life-sustaining cycles are the green zero on an endlessly spinning roulette wheel.

    Two: Life-sustaining universes (some crazier than we can imagine) are either common or inevitable. We just haven't expanded our noggins to see how that can be. Life-sustaining cycles get from one to all spots on that same endlessly spinning roulette wheel.

    Three: Big Bangs aren't how the universe "recycles itself" at all. Maybe all matter eventually empties into black holes and gets farted out somewhere else, where the game begins anew.

    Yep, this seems like a good time to get outside and enjoy the day.

    How stupid do they think we are?

    by jimbo92107 on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:40:59 PM PST

  •  Here's a theory for you: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cdreid, xynz

    We are here to explore every permutation of Murphy's Law, and all its corrallaries, known, unknown, and, in Rummie's famous phrase, unknown unknown.

  •  In some of the multi-verse theories (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower, melo

    that which we call the universe is just one of many.

    Although I cannot find a link right now, I have read articles about theories that if there were to be a "Big Crunch" -- Big Bang in reverse -- information could survive and be transmitted into a new universe.

    Stuff like values for certain cosmological constants.

    Thus, universes which are superior at passing on preferred cosmological constants would be selected for.

    And gasp! That is another form of evolution.

    = = =

    Is there a God? Does our consciousness survive after death?

    Rationally, I cannot argue either position as being proven or unproven and therefore must simply say:

    "I dunno"

    Poet John Keats offers a brilliant solution to all this (IMHO) when he calls this world the vale of soul making.

    As each human infant lives life, a unique human being is fashioned. Perhaps that is where souls come from.

    And IF "God" has sufficient bandwidth available, preserving that soul after we die would be child's play.

    HRC & 43 on foreign policy? Kinda like that Blues Brothers scene: "We play BOTH kinds of music, country & western!" Differences? Yes, but not enough.

    by Bill White on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:42:13 PM PST

  •  My favorite explanation (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hyperstation, mrkvica, farleftcoast

    http://www.multivax.com/...  <--- "The Last Question" by Asimov.  Worth reading if you can spare 10 minutes.  :)</p>

    Turtles, turtles, turtles all the way down.

    by cartwrightdale on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:43:18 PM PST

  •  Eastern Evolutionary Existentialism (3+ / 0-)

    According to Sri Aurobindo, for our world in particular—there are other worlds that follow a different process—there is taking place a gradual awakening of consciousness over time, an evolution of consciousness. Through its principle of exclusive concentration, the One became matter, losing all conscious awareness in the form of inanimate matter. From this base it is progressively awakening through the life of the plant, the beginnings of mind in the animal, the full emergence of mind in humanity, and is now stirring to awaken fully through the emergence of a greater consciousness than mind, the Supermind, in which the fullness of the undivided consciousness and infinite delight of the One will be manifest in individualities embodied here on earth. This evolution of consciousness, from the worm to the god, is the central process, aim, and significance of our existence.

    Initially, it emerges gradually in the stages of matter, life, and mind. First matter evolves from simple to complex forms, then life emerges in matter and evolves from simple to complex forms, finally mind emerges in life and evolves from rudimentary to higher forms of thought and reason. As each new principle emerges, the previous stages remain but are integrated into the higher principle. Humanity represents the stage of development of mind in complex material forms of life. The higher development of mind in the mass of humanity is not yet a secure possession. Reason and intellect still do not dominate the life of most human beings; rather, mind tends to be turned to the purposes of the life principle, which is focused on self-preservation, self-assertion, and satisfaction of personal need and desire.

    Aurobindo finally concluded that eventually, we will evolve into the supermind as a species, where 90% of our unused brain stem will hopefully bring us to a point of unity, compassion, peace, knowledge and truth.

    Tu es responsable de ta rose Le Petit Prince

    by Brahman Colorado on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:48:46 PM PST

    •  I've never studied this, but it speaks to me (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brahman Colorado

      as true.

      Buy a Boat. Save the Seed.

      by cumberland sibyl on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:17:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Western philosophy is all about matter (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cumberland sibyl

        and materialism. It reminds me of a hamster on a treadmill with it's many whys and hows.

        Eastern thought has yet to be discovered and practised as the exciting and fulfilling integration of matter and mind that the ascetics of the East teach.

        Tu es responsable de ta rose Le Petit Prince

        by Brahman Colorado on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 06:10:59 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  a correction (0+ / 0-)

      where 90% of our unused brain stem

      This is a very common perception, and it is absolutely wrong.  The idea that "we only use 10% of our brain" is demonstrably untrue. We use all of our brain.  Every bit of it.  There is no area of our brain that is "unused".  Not a one.  Zip.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.

      As for all the description of some guy's philosophical preaching about "superminds" and such, I prefer the Zen view of "vast emptiness and nothing holy in it".  Or the Taoist view that there is no mind to be taught, and nothing to be learned, and no path to be followed.

      Editor, Red and Black Publishers http://www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

      by Lenny Flank on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 08:25:56 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I dunno. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cdreid, farleftcoast

    So my observation and/or thoughts can turn my stapler into an apple danish?  Sounds kinda goofy to me.

  •  I always liked Gaia Theory myself (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cdreid, rscommon

    The idea that the Earth is a living being, inside the Cosmos "body".  Humans would probably be like brain cells of the Earth, with the trees being the lungs, the rivers - the circulatory system etc. etc.  Of course it now seems that certain cells (humans) have become like a cancer, metastasizing out of control, killing off other creatures, dumping toxic wastes everywhere and causing the Earth to have a fever.  Question now is, will the human "pathology" kill off the Earth, or will she find some medicine to get rid of her human "cancer"?

    •  There are cancer cells amongst us (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      farleftcoast, Anna M

      No doubt about that.  Are we all cancers?

      •  Your question could be taken several ways (0+ / 0-)

        Are we all cancers - is every single human a cancer?  Or are we all cancers - is it only humans and no other creature that behaves like a cancer?

        Other organisms on the Earth have spread out of control from time-to-time, but she seems to have mechanisms to clean them up and put everything back into balance again.  What might she do about and overpopulation of humans?

        I sometimes wonder about what killed off the dinosaurs.  They seemed to rule the whole Earth when they were alive; a very popular theory is that a large meteorite hit the Earth (Iceland?) and changed the atmosphere, which killed the big ones off.  Was it an accident, or was it a kind of "medicine" to get rid of them?  In any case, the Earth seems to take care of herself quite well - I wonder what she is going to do cure her human epidemic.

        •  I believe the meteor that wiped out the dinos... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Anna M, brentmack

          hit somewhere around the Yucatan Peninsula.  That would be the Gulf coast of Mexico.  I doubt it was any kind of "medicine" from above.  We all know that "shit happens".  We are in the unique position to make sure it doesn't "happen".  I can't envision T-Rex circling around the moon and saying "Houston, we have a problem."

          It is beyond a shadow of a doubt that God made us commanders of this mighty ship.  There is plenty that can be done to prevent us from making the ship unlivable.  If we do make it unlivable, it would be my hope that God has other pilots waiting in the wings.  Life is too great and too beautiful to be beholden to the greedy whims of men.

          •  No, T-Rex didn't make it to the Moon (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            farleftcoast

            but he also didn't use his supposedly "advanced" intellect to create technologically dazzling bombs and weapon systems in order to murder millions of his fellow dinosaurs.  The monkey advanced from the Neanderthal "cradle" to that higher level.  Unfortunately the part of his brain that holds the wisdom and compassion and a sense of higher purpose hasn't developed as quickly as the primitive, tribal, and technological part.

            I don't know if a God is responsible for us being here, but if he/she is, he/she must be highly pissed at the mess we're making of this beautiful planet.

        •  I may be wrong but (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mrkvica, farleftcoast, Anna M

          bacteria, when they become too abundant for whatever environment they happen to be in, end up poisoning themselves with their own waste.

          That sounds eerily familiar.  

  •  Remember Dr. Pangloss, the superoptimist (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xynz, One Opinion

    in Voltaire's Candide? "This is the best of all possible worlds." One of his examples was that the nose was created to support eyeglasses so that the eyes can
    see. On Tuesdays, when I observe the beauties of nature, I think the universe means something, is rational, and benign. On Wednesdays I believe that the world is one huge stroke of luck. There are 100 billion
    universes out there that ALMOST worked, and some that worked only briefly then faded to black. And on the other hand, how the hell do I know?

  •  Nothing to do with science (3+ / 0-)

    As is pointed out (though well hidden), the anthropic principle is philosophy.  Davies' point of view is also philosophical. It has nothing at all to do with science, other than it uses scientific language.  Please do not compare it so glibly with string theory: string theory is a research programme, while this is speculation based on some quantum mechanical principles that may or may not hold at times early in the universe when high-energy effects could dominate.

    By the way, Shiva was only the destroyer; Brahma was the creator.

  •  Is consciousness at the end or the beginning (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower, crose, Brahman Colorado

    of this process?

    Once we factor in emergent properties, and exponential increases in computing power, perhaps what we experience as consciousness (and later, divinity) is simply the emergent property of information concentrated far more densely than we can imagine.

    = = =

    Moses had 10 (12?) sentences carved onto stone tablets that had maybe 10 kilograms of mass.

    10 kg = 10 sentences.

    How much information can be coded onto 10 kg of papyrus?

    10 kg of air mail paper?

    10 kg 5.5 inch floppy disks?

    10 kg of DVDs?

    10 kg of exotic new forms of laser light based memory c

    HRC & 43 on foreign policy? Kinda like that Blues Brothers scene: "We play BOTH kinds of music, country & western!" Differences? Yes, but not enough.

    by Bill White on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:52:49 PM PST

  •  Poor Paul Davies (6+ / 0-)

    As a writing physicist he has spent much of his authorial time trying to reconcile his personal philosophy/religious beliefs with the inherent conflict that the reality of the observable world that he studies presents to him.

    You can figuratively hold his hand while reading The Mind of God (1992).

    It is a paen to the physical scientist gone astray down  the path of wrongheadedness, asking "why" in a case where good science demands "what" and "how."

    In the book is a chapter, "The Mathematical Secret," subhead, "Why Us?" that displays his muddled thinking.  He worries why science works; he should probably worry more about why math works.

    He is fascinated that the human mind, a pattern detecting nonpareil, can make "sense" out of its surroundings.  Can do science.  He believes that this is extraordinary.  He insists that the "mystery of all this is that human intellectual powers are presumably determined by Biological evolution, and have absolutely no connection with doing science."

    Mistake.  He wants to take a scientific puzzle and solve in by applying philosophical inquiry.  Time has proven that that is never a good path of examination when trying to solve the enigmas of the physical world.

    Our brains have evolved to interact with the environment in order to maintain life, and our brains have become very good at that because they are redundant and recursive; complex and adaptive.  As such, curiosity, present in all animals from the most basic (Can I move in that direction?) to much higher (If I move in that direction, what are the consequences?) is a paramount driving force because it is important to survival in the physical world.

    Truly, evolutionary biology makes clear that animals whose brains are not successful in the R&R and C&A areas, don't survive.  We are here because we are highly successful at R&R and C&A when and where it counts.

    Davies dislikes one of the underpinnings of physics.  Chance, or probability.  He should get over that aversion.  In fact,  his book should be retitled to be more in keeping with science than philosophy, or rewritten.  Davies just can't bring himself to confront The Chance of "God."  Chance happens first in the universe after "initial conditions."  Davies tends to commit the fallacy of reversal of cause and effect.  Darwin didn't.

    Strange that a trained physicist is so averse to chance, and a trained cleric was not.  Davies would rather bet on "design" than quantum mechanics, which are the rules for assigning relative probabilities to possibilities.

    They burn our children in their wars and grow rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

    by Limelite on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:55:21 PM PST

    •  I said the same type of thing somewhere in this (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Limelite

      but from a philosophical perspective.. you just said it more plainly. I used Cantor, the Geitier problem and epsitemonlogy to say hey.. Why is the non answerable product of an artist. What can be described more preciesly.. however.. it lives in the same vauge realm because the base axiums they both use are the same.. Like Measurment, Law of Contradiction, excluded middle etc... all non Apiori axiums.. although some philosophers (foundationalists) argue wrongheadedly the opposite.. this is what Davis has done.

      •  When Vanquishing Enemies (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Devilstower, farleftcoast

        don't you think it's always better to use their own words or arguments against them?

        Paul Davies has at least one very important accomplishment as far as the lay science enthusiast is concerned.  He compiled the best volume I've ever read, anthologizing top physicists who write about the most important developments in their area of specialization.  

        The book is The New Physics (1989).  Article authors who fall into the realm of "household names in physics" include Alan Guth (the inflationary universe), Stephen Hawking (the edge of spacetime), Frank Close (quark structure of matter), and Howard Georgi (grand unified theories).

        They burn our children in their wars and grow rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

        by Limelite on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:23:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Very true (0+ / 0-)

          It has always been my weakness to try to like Woffstorff to make a theory fit into my web and then decide if it does not fit in it.. then say why bassed upon my understanding of my world vie and not thiers.. because it is impossable for me to compleatly myself and them even less so...But your correct it is much better to do it the other way...just more difficult.. call me lazy.. my professor did..lol but he was a Aquinian prick...Alough I did love him..hehe..

  •  I like the concept of a Universe without shrimp. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cdreid, xynz, mrkvica

    And in that Universe, the Alternate-Devilstower posts a diary musing on the existence of Cocktail Sauce.

    I came in peace, seeking only gold and slaves

    by revenant on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 12:58:24 PM PST

  •  ny times says iraq war is a success. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cdreid, farleftcoast

    Link

    As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy.


    sickening.

  •  We're here for each other (0+ / 0-)

    "Lash those traitors and conservatives with the pen of gall and wormwood. Let them feel -- no temporising!" - Andrew Jackson to Francis Preston Blair, 1835

    by Ivan on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:18:08 PM PST

  •  Davies Op Ed in today's NY Times (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower, oldpro

    Rather more on-topic than the iraq post.

    Taking Science on Faith

    •  How did I miss that? (0+ / 0-)

      Thanks.

    •  I was a bit put off by the op-ed. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mrkvica, farleftcoast

      I don't think the analogy between religious faith and faith in the immutability of the laws of physics works very well.  On the one hand there is the fact that there are scientists who work very hard to detect changes over time in the fundamental constants, and if they should succeed they will be given prizes, not treated as heretics.  He says "it makes a mockery of science" if we don't find some reasons for why the fundamental laws are the way they are; I think that's ridiculous.  I see scientific knowledge as a series of models that have predictive power covering some range of phenomena.  Science should continue to expand that range, but it is not giving up to acknowledge that it may never encompass everything and that we will probably never know if there is an answer to the big "why?".  

  •  One has to be a little careful here. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    farleftcoast

    Firstly, the reason the multiverse idea has gained support is that the generation of multiple causally disconnected domains appears to be a generic prediction of inflation, a theory which neatly explains a number of known facts but is only recently beginning to be tested on its own.  Thus, it isn't pulled out of a hat, but a conclusion based upon existing accepted theory.  It may, of course, be completely wrong.

    Secondly, the most important thing we have learned in the past century is that it is important to ask "proper" questions.  That is, there are a number of nonsensical questions, which accordingly don't have answers.  Prior to an understanding of the underlying physics, however, these questions did not appear crazy.  In fact some seemed to make perfect sense.  Some obvious examples:

    (1) Given a particle moving at exactly 1 m/s, where exactly is it?
    (2) What time is it?
    (3) Where is the center of the universe?

    If you had asked Newton, he would be happy to write precise answers.  If you ask Heisenberg, Einstein, Robertson or Walker they would tell you that these simply don't have answers; the questions themselves are without meaning.

    So, what does this have to do with "Why?"?  Well, we haven't progressed to a state where we can even decide if it makes sense to ask that.  It may be that there is only one logically consistent way to create a reality, and that is the one we have.  Just because the origin of the parameters of the Standard Model are presently unknown (e.g., why is the electron mass what it is, why is the fine-structure constant what it is ...) doesn't mean that they don't have unique answers.

    IMPEACH=Rock+Hard Place! Let every Rethug either publicly support the least popular president in 30 years, or admit their president is a traitor.

    by zephron on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:21:42 PM PST

  •  A Healthy Injection of Skepticism (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mrkvica, Albanius

    Whoa...waaay too much mysticism and pseudoscience in this thread. Then again, maybe you didn't mean for this to be a scientific discussion.

    But if we do take this as a legitimate scientific question, however, then we cannot get past the "why" of "Why are we here?"

    When you say "why," I don't know what you are talking about. I think what you really mean is how.

    The concept of "why" does not apply to the innate functioning of the universe. It applies only where events are deliberate. "Why" is a question of intent and meaning...not of process, not of condition, and not of function.

    For example: Why do butter, eggs, cocoa, and flour turn into delicious cake? Easy! Because somebody wants them to do so. There is no such thing as a naturally occurring chocolate cake, and, even if there were, only the cakes we make could be put to the "why" question. But: How do butter, eggs, cocoa, and flour turn into butter? Ah, now that's where the science comes in!

    "How are we here?" is a valid and very perplexing question. But "Why are we here?" is gibberish unless there had been a universal creator to whom we could refer. And, as you have noticed, "God" is a question for which we currently have no answer.

    I think we should draw the distinction between "how" and "why" more clearly:

    "How?" is a scientific question that applies to every single thing in the universe.

    "Why?" is an intellectual question that applies only to that which occurs by somebody's intent. Even then, the "why" does not pertain directly to the physical phenomena of the underlying occurrences, but to the concept of these events as it exists in the intellectual space of the entity whose intent has caused the event to occur.

    I see that you are looking for meaning when you ask this question, but meaning is something we create. It isn't out there waiting for us to discover it. It exists only between our ears.

    We are here. Why? That is a question that will remain utterly nonsensical unless there had been a creator of this universe. Even if there were, the question will remain unanswerable until we can schedule some kind of interview. Don't listen to the superstitious nonsense gushing in the comments, not if you take the question seriously. There are way too many people floating around here who think they have an insight into fundamental cosmic truths, when the possibility of it is utterly nil at this point in our evolution, given our present understanding of the universe.

    So, in lieu of a satisfying answer to your question, consider this answer instead: We are here, at least some of us, because our parents wanted us to be. More importantly, we are here, with all my hopes, because we want to be.

    Let's roll with that!

    •  Correction (0+ / 0-)

      Er..."how do they turn into delicious chocolate cake"-- not "butter." (That would be an interesting phenomenon indeed.)

      So much for form. =)

    •  Yes, "how" rather than "why" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mrkvica, The Sinistral

      which I carelessly pondered in a post way above.  "How" is important --much more important than "why."  If we understand "how" --even if we cannot know it all, we are much closer to practical knowledge about ourselves than if we continuously ask, "why."  

      Of course, as a kid, I always asked "why," and then I'd get into an infinite digression.  Turtles on turtles and so on.

      I've discovered that "how" is important for us as a species, for us as human individuals; for our view of ourselves in the universe.  

      Answer more of the "hows, and the "whys will eventually become less important.

      How did we become conscious?  How did we acquire religious concepts?  How can we continue on a rational path without boxing ourselves in with our own rationality?  How can we work for a better existence when our utopian ideas get us into hot water? How do Daily Kos and Devilstower get us into deep philosophical quandaries?

    •  Not Easy... (0+ / 0-)

      But cake, no butter please!  Or wheat flour.  And adjust the recipe for altitude please.

      We are up a tad from the rest of the nation...

      Weeze Bakin'

      oo

  •  On the anthropic principle (0+ / 0-)

    Davies seems to make the absurd assumption that one can construct a rational, deductive explanation with no postulates.

    Here is my take on the anthropic principle,  from a diary on contemporary cosmology:

    The precise flatness of space-time on the cosmic scale is one of a number of conditions that make the Universe compatible with conscious life.  Several other basic constants of physics seem to be finely tuned to allow atoms to form, matter to aggregate into stars, heavy elements to be built up from hydrogen, and those conditions to continue long enough for life to evolve. The book Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees explains the specific conditions making the Universe just right for life. The remarkable "Goldilocks" character of this Universe is called the anthropic principle: the Universe is such that beings like us can exist to observe it.  

    There are two versions: the "weak anthropic principle" is the tautological idea that any Universe observed by conscious beings must be compatible with their existence.  There might be many other universes with different characteristics incompatible with life, perhaps an infinite number, but they would not be observable. The "strong anthropic principle" interprets the amazing luck making this Universe friendly to life as evidence that it must have been designed that way by a Creator.  But that begs the question – what conditions made a "Meta-Universe" compatible with the existence of a Creator?

    Such questions may be unanswerable by science, but scientists hope to discover basic principles to explain at least some of the life-friendly conditions.  For example, both the Cosmic Inflation and Cyclic Universe theories explain the flatness of space-time, as a natural consequence of inflation and dark energy respectively.  Maybe some of the other apparently arbitrary "fine-tunings" will follow from a more complete theory of fundamental physics.

    Here is a link to my whole essay:

    Endless Universe - Review

  •  I ascribe to the lyrics of an old time song: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oldpro, revenant, crose

    Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream.

    Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

    Life is but a dream.

  •  The on-going discovery (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    crose

    that ants, chimps, reptiles, fish, etc use tools and arrange objects and appearances for their benefit tends to confirm my bias:The universe itself is intrinsically intelligent, it's not a property limited to a portion of our brain.

    Until we break the corporate virtual monopoly on what we hear and see, we keep losing, don't matter what we do.

    by Jim P on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:37:42 PM PST

  •  Regarding a possible afterlife.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mrkvica, rscommon

    I believe post-croakation I will share the fate of the millions of electronic votes cast for democrats.

    Here's looking forward to a unconscience after-death devoid of any deep thinking "why" threads.

  •  We are here (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mrkvica, farleftcoast, crose, TIKI AL

    to impeach Bush.

    Short of that (wonderously, magisterially short), I suppose we can find some small satisfaction in anthropic cosmological navel gazing.

    The best hope for Republicans in 2008 is a Security State Dem administration.

  •  Just prior to reading this wonderful piece (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TIKI AL

    I read the "Is Huckabee Sane?" article from Rolling Stone.  Sheesh.  Talk about your alternate universe.

    O.K.  Back to reality and politics.  We need a Democratic president to keep my illusions in play.  Help!

    People?

    Anybody there...?

    Tell me how you spend your time and how you spend your money -- I'll tell you what your values are.

    by oldpro on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:50:33 PM PST

  •  Admittedly (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    melo, farleftcoast

    I didn't read every post here, but after reading about half and not seeing this, I felt I'd better insert it post haste, then get back to reading.

    Really speaks to the subject at hand, doesn't it?

    My view?  We're all meatheads and meatheads aren't likely to figure it out.  I mean, the universe is THIS big (at this point, I stretch my arms, and my hands leave the ends of my arms, racing outward at light speed, never returning - so let's pretend my demonstration is over so I can continue) and my (your/his/hers) head is this big (pointing to my head with my hand - we're pretending it's back).  The widdle bitty meathead is part of the universe, the universe is not part of the meathead.

    You don't REALLY think you're gonna fit all of THAT in THERE, do ya?

    Silly humans.

    Perspective is nine-tenths of perception.

    by rockin in the free world on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 01:56:08 PM PST

  •  Evolution and Paradigm glasses.... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    farleftcoast, brentmack

    ....everything in the universe is the way it is, because of evolution.

    Evolution is a consequence of probabilistically  self-reinforcing events.  The fundamental driving force behind evolution is the fact that: given enough time, anything that can happen, will happen. And if an event's occurrence increases the probability of it occurring again, then it will happen more and more frequently until:

    1. It saturates its capability for self-reinforcement and achieves a steady state.
    1. Another event occurs, one that breaks the chain of self-reinforcement of the first event and eventually extinguishes it.

    After the Earth was formed, it took about 500 million years for the first complex self-propagating biochemical event* to occur. Once that happened, its ability to reinforce its own recurrence through reproduction allowed it to keep on happening.  

    *(otherwise known as the appearance of first life form)  

    It took billions of years before something as unlikely as the first eukaryotic event to occur. But once it happened, its power of self-reinforcement was so strong that it triggered the Cambrian explosion.

    Evolution isn't just for lifeforms, it also works on the quantum level.  So, the principles of evolution can be applied to the laws of physics that we hold near and dear to our hearts.  In the very first moments of the universe's appearance, the universe may have been in a state where the values of "pi" and "e" were very fluid...but when the values that we know today occurred, for whatever reason, they self-reinforced their own recurrence.  

    This "theory" may be "testable": if it can be established that "pi" and "e" are not what they are "supposed to be" in high energy physics experiments simulating the earliest moments of the universe.  However, if it is not be possible to construct an experimental apparatus capable of high enough energies to test this, then it's no more scientific than the FSM theory of cosmology.

    Paradigm glasses:  
    Our ability to perceive and conceive the universe have evolved under self-selection pressures to find food and avoid becoming food.  Only recently have we tried to use these "tiger avoiding" and "tapir eating" tools to understand quasars and quanta.  So, when we explore the universe with tools developed primarily for biological and social interactions, we end up with some conceptual illusions.  A conceptual illusion is exactly analogous to an optical one, when we are attempting to endow a two-dimensional object with the 3-dimensional characteristics of the tiger and tapir world.

    Our "creation" of the events we observe is partially due to our interaction with them. But this "creation" is mainly because we are incapable of constructing a perfect conceptual model of the universe. So we end up cramming square phenomena into round theories and inevitably end up "creating" squond observations (like wavicles).

    -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

    by xynz on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 02:00:37 PM PST

    •  pie was open to negotiation (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      farleftcoast, crose

      I never heard that one.

    •  Not quite (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      farleftcoast

      In the very first moments of the universe's appearance, the universe may have been in a state where the values of "pi" and "e" were very fluid...but when the values that we know today occurred, for whatever reason, they self-reinforced their own recurrence.  

      Pi and e are defined mathematically, independent of ANY laws of physics.

      Whether physical circles have a ratio of circumference to diameter equal to pi depends on the curvature of space, or rather spacetime, which is an empirical question.

      Physical constants like c and h are also specific attributes of this universe, which might differ in other universes, if any.

      IMO it would violate Occam's razor  - the principle that scientific models should be as simple as possible - to try to construct a model of the very early universe in which the  physical constants become variables.

      Defining scales under conditions of extreme spacetime curvature and extreme temperature and density is a difficult problem. But any meaningful statements about those conditions require some scale of measurement, and it would be much simpler to  measure variable parameters in terms of the known constants.    

      •  That sounds problematic (0+ / 0-)

        "Defining scales under conditions of extreme spacetime curvature and extreme temperature and density is a difficult problem. But any meaningful statements about those conditions require some scale of measurement, and it would be much simpler to  measure variable parameters in terms of the known constants."

        I always whip out the "Beetlejuice constant".  pi = something or another.    

      •  Pi and e have their current mathematical values.. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MahFellaMerkins, farleftcoast

        ....because of the underlying assumptions of the mathematics used to produce them.  Those mathematical assumptions have evolved in order to model a universe where "pi" and "e" have those values.

        "e" is computed from a power series whose first derivative returns the same series.  That is because the derivative of the exponential function returns an exponential function.  That particular type of function is very useful in this universe.

        If we lived in a universe where "pi" and "e" had different values, then the mathematical formalisms that evolved to describe that universe would produce different values for "pi" and "e". In that universe, the function whose derivative was itself might not be as useful as it is here.

        Your invocation of Occam's razor is inappropriate.  We are discussing how "e" and "pi" have come to be the values that they are. The simplest explanation is indeed "just because they are".

        -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

        by xynz on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 04:02:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Pi and e have their eternal mathematical values (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          farleftcoast

          ...entirely independent of the laws of physics or the constants of nature, other than the fact that they require sentient beings to define them.

          I agree that

          "e" and "pi" have come to be the values that they are. The simplest explanation is indeed "just because they are".

          But those values flow directly from their mathematical definitions and could not be different.

          No possible universe could have different values of Pi and e, but it is possible that beings in other universes might find other mathematics more useful.

          My invocation of Occam's razor addressed the different question of whether it would be frutiful to consider whether physical constants such as c -- the speed of light -- might have varied in the vicinity of the Big Bang.  

          My argument is that some constant is needed to define a distance scale for different spacetime regimes, and that Einstein was right to postulate that c is invariant.  In all spacetime that has been observed, at least within this universe, the laws of physics are much simpler with this assumption.  

          •  The mathematical definitions.... (0+ / 0-)

            ...are products of mathematical formalisms that were created by minds that evolved in a universe where "pi" and "e" have their current familiar values.

            The connection between our conception of "pi" and "e" and the "pi" and "e" observed in nature are the result of that common grounding: our minds and the universe operate by the same set of fundamental rules.  The coincidence of mathematics with nature occurs when we formulate a dynamic rule structure that is similar to the one that nature follows.

            You are correct about the simpler explanations for this universe.  I'm saying that this universe was set in the initial moments of the Big Bang.  I'm saying that the simplicity you are citing is a consequence of the events in those first few moments. I'm saying that if things had gone differently during that crucial moment in time, then the simpler things would have been different than they are now.

            -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

            by xynz on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 12:31:47 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  nonsense (0+ / 0-)

      Evolution is based on differential reproduction.

      The laws of physics don't reproduce.

      Evolutuion is irrelevant to them.

      This is all just philosophical gibberish.

      Editor, Red and Black Publishers http://www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

      by Lenny Flank on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 08:29:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm saying that the fundamentals that.... (0+ / 0-)

        ...give us biological evolution, also give us other kinds of system evolution.

        Biological evolution is the emergence of order out of chaos, a process by which more complex life forms have evolved over time. This fact seems to violate the second law of thermodynamics (to the glee of creationists everywhere). The thermodynamic rules that govern this very curious expression of entropy also operate in the physical realm. Prigogine won his Nobel prize for his theory explaining how order arises out of chaos in physical systems and still preserves the second law.

        I'm saying that the laws of physics are an order that emerged out of the chaos of the Big Bang. I'm saying that this emergence of order obeys the same rules governing every other emergence of order in the universe.

        The grand unifying principle of the universe is that patterns that can propagate themselves are the patterns that emerge to dominate.  

        You are assuming that the only form of propagation is reproduction.

        However, if I have to address reproduction, then every moment is the child of the last moment. This is true in both the physical and philosophical sense. The universe propagates itself, in a physical sense, from one moment to the next.

        -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

        by xynz on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 01:02:55 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  and I'm saying that . . . (0+ / 0-)

          . . . you're wrong.

          The fundamentals of biological evolution consist of differential reproduction.

          If it doesn't reproduce, mutate, and reproduce its mutations, then it doesn't have diddley to do with the principles of biological evolution.

          Sorry if your personal philosophy requires otherwise.  Of course, science doesn't give a flying fig about your personal philosophy.  If it makes you feel any better, science doesn't give a flying fig about my personal philosophy, either.  (shrug)

          Editor, Red and Black Publishers http://www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

          by Lenny Flank on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 01:29:50 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Just so we're clear.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    crose

    and an infinite number of universes without shrimp.

    I am SO not going to any of those universes.

    "In the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it." -- Senator Barack Obama.

    by blue vertigo on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 02:04:23 PM PST

  •  I stopped thinking about this kind of stuff in (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    brentmack

    1953.

    Walt Whitman said it well:

    When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
    When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
    When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
    When I, sitting, heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
    How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
    Till, rising and gliding out, I wandered off by myself,
    In the mystical moist night-air, and, from time to time,
    Looked up in perfect silence at the stars.

    The reason I stopped in 1953 was that I heard my father talking with Uncle John, who said, "The purpose of life is to reproduce."  Sounded good to me, I was nearly 14 after all.  

    My father responded, "Well, John, I think the purpose of life is to find a way to live forever."

    But that was not the end of it.  My father went on to say that many people contend that an Irresistible Force and an Immovable Object cannot simultaneously exist in the Universe.  "But," he said, "they can.  The immovable object is the amount of things we don't know about the universe.  The irresistible force is humankind's drive to know everything.  Humans will have to learn to live forever in order to satisfy that drive."  

    If you don't have an earth-shaking idea, get one, you'll love building a better world.

    by hestal on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 02:05:05 PM PST

  •  Tweeking the cosmos... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    farleftcoast
    Reading about the idea that by observing dark matter, the observers had reset the cosmic pinball made me recall a recent news report on a traffic accident.

      A highway patrolman had pulled over a woman and her child for not wearing seatbelts.  After ticketing and reminding them of the importance of wearing one's seatbelt, the officer then sent them on their way.  Moments later their vehicle was involved in an accident with a semi-truck.  Their car was destroyed, but both mother and child survived.  The officer that pulled them over was credited with saving their lives by having them fasten their seatbelts.  If the officer had not observed them without their seatbelts would the accident have happened?

    Only "Cosmo" knows for sure.

  •  My view.... (4+ / 0-)

    That's why we have an obligation to survive, to completely understand the observable universe, and to understand it well enough to control it--and even if we never reach that point, the attempt is what will matter.

    That's why I'm a liberal/progressive, I think those ideas will help us survive long enough to do that.

    There's something attractive about invincible ignorance... for the first 5 seconds.

    by MNPundit on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 02:15:03 PM PST

  •  Okay Devilstower... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower, crose

    About an hour ago I saw a commercial for The Golden Compass (a movie that will open soon), starring Daniel Craig, the newest James Bond. My wife thought one of the gals in The Golden Compass looked familiar, believing her to be Craig's co-star in Casino Royale.

    So I looked her up. Eva Green.

    Then I read your article. Eva Green.

    Wonder which theory of the Universe that fits into...

    Trust those who seek the truth. Doubt those who find it. - Andre Gide

    by slapper95 on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 02:35:42 PM PST

  •  If You've Ever Been in South Texas in Summertime (0+ / 0-)

    You'd know that all the conditions are not exactly perfect.

  •  Beware of Stephen J Gould (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MahFellaMerkins, mrkvica

    A relevant article:

    Beware of Stephen J Gould

  •  Hey, I don't have a recommend button (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wayoutinthestix

    on this diary. Nor a italicized blurb about it being past time. I'm offended, because I really wanted to rec this one.

    Virginia Wilderness Bill passes House! Thanks for the help, kossacks!

    by emmasnacker on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 03:24:46 PM PST

  •  Thought you might enjoy this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    melo, One Opinion

    I discovered this last summer. I have been reading everything I can get my hands on from this British Zen professor.

    The Creation Myth

       "Myth, then, is the form in which I try to answer when children ask me those fundamental questions which come so readily to their minds: 'Where did the world come from?' 'Why did God make the world?' 'Where was I before I was born? 'Where do people go when they die?' Again and again I have found that they seem to be satified with a simple and very ancient story, which goes something like this:

       'There was never a time when the world began, because it goes round and round like a circle, and there is no place on a circle where it begins. Look at my watch, which tells the time; it goes round, and so the world repeats itself again and again. But just as the hour-hand of the watch goes up to twelve and down to six, so, too, there is day and night, waking and sleeping, living and dying, summer and winter. You can't have any one of these without the other, because you wouldn't be able to know what black is unless you had seen it side-by-side with white, or white unless side-by-side with black.

       'In the same way, there are times when the world is, and times when it isn't, for if the world when on and on without rest for ever and ever, it would get horribly tired of itself. It comes and goes. Now you see it; now you don't. So because it doesn't get tired of itself, it always comes back again after it disappears. It's like your breath: it goes in and out, in and out, and if you try to hold it in all the time you feel terrible. It's also like the game of hide-and-seek, because it's always fun to find new ways of hiding, and to seek for someone who doesn't always hide in the same place.

       'God also likes to play hide-and-seek, but because there is nothing outside God, he has no one but himself to play with. But he gets over this difficulty by pretending that he is not himself. This is his way of hiding from himself. He pretends that he is you and I and all the people in the world, all the animals, all the plants, all the rocks, and all the stars. In this way he has strange and wonderful adventures, some of which are terrible and frightening. But these are just like bad dreams, for when he wakes up they will disappear.

       'Now when God plays hide and pretends that he is you and I, he does it so well that it takes him a long time to remember where and how he hid himself. But that's the whole fun of it-just what he wanted to do. He doesn't want to find himself too quickly, for that would spoil the game. That is why it is so difficult for you and me to find out that we are God in disquise, pretending not to be himself. But when the game has gone on long enough, all of us will wake up, stop pretending, and remember that we are all one single Self-the God who is all that there is and who lives for ever and ever.

       'Of course, you must remember that God isn't shaped like a person. People have skins and there is always something outside our skins. If there weren't, we wouldn't know the difference between what is inside and what is outside our bodies. But God has no skin and no shape because there isn't any outside to him. [With a sufficiently intelligent child, I illustrate this with a Mobius strip-a ring of paper tape twisted once in such a way that it has only one side and one edge.] The inside and the outside of God are the same. Amd though I have been talking about God as 'he' and not as 'she,' God isn't a man or a women. I didn't say 'it' because we usually say 'it' for things that aren't alive.

       'God is the Self of the world, but you can't see God for the same reason that, without a mirror, you can't see your own eyes, and you certainly can't bite your own teeth or look inside your head. Your self is that cleverly hidden because it is God hiding.

       'You may ask why God sometimes hides in the form of horrible people, or pretends to be people who suffer great disease and pain. Remember, too, that in almost all the stories you enjoy there have to be bad people as well as good people, for the thrill of the tale is to find out how the good people will get the better of the bad. It's the same as when we play cards. At the beginning of the game we shuffle them all into a mess, which is like the bad things in the world, but the point of the game is to put the mess into good order, and the one who does it best is the winner. Then we shuffle the cards once more and play again, and so it goes with the world.'

    From: Alan Watts, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

    •  Pretty complicated answer (0+ / 0-)

      to some simple questions.

      "The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers." --Leia

      by crose on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 06:26:45 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Watts (0+ / 0-)

      Alan Watts was an odd mixture of things. Anglican, Buddhist, Taoist, father, lover, and alcoholic. I like reading his work, too, catfishkatfish. I don't ascribe any great truth to his writings, but like R.G.H. Siu, he writes great musings.

      Vote with your conscience, O Progressive, for there are many Conservatives who will vote without one.

      by MahFellaMerkins on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 07:39:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  From Firesign Theater: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    crose

    Before the beginning, there was this turtle. And the turtle was alone. And he looked around, and he saw his neighbor, which was his mother. And he lay down on top of his neighbor, and behold! she bore him in tears an oak tree, which grew all day and then fell over -- like a bridge. And lo! underneath the bridge there came a catfish. And he was very big. And he was walking. And he was the biggest he had seen. And so were the fiery balls of this fish, one of which is the sun, and the other, they called the moon.

    I think that pretty well explains it.

    911 Shortchanged Everything

    by kitebro on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 03:53:35 PM PST

  •  We're a product of our environment (8+ / 0-)

    I've seen this exact discussion so many times online, and I don't understand why so many very smart people don't see how ass-backwards and egocentric the question is.  What are the odds that the universe would be perfect for us to live in?  You can't start the question with us and work your way backwards.  We're a product of our environment.  We (and I don't just mean people, but all living things, the planets, the stars, etc.) are here because the universe is the way it is.  If the universe were different, we'd be different.

    Or, put another way, there'd be something else here that grew up around a different set of universal constants and rules.  The above post assumes that life=us and us=life.  If the universe were different, there'd be life, as Spock said, but not as we know it.

    Let's scale the argument down to a more manageable arena - Earth.  We're carbon-based life forms who are 80% water.  Now, you can look around and say, "wow, good thing there's so much carbon and water on this planet - it's like we hit the lottery!"  Or you can say, "hmm.. there's so much carbon and water - no wonder that's what we're made out of."  Which one makes more sense?

    Now just apply the same logic to the universe.  Are we unfathomably lucky that the universe is tailored to us?  Or maybe, Spock, just maybe, are we actually not the center of creation, and instead are a product of the universe and not the other way around?

    •  Great Comment (0+ / 0-)

      Just musing here, but perhaps we are 'vain' in this way, seeing ourselves as centers of importance, because it is a driver of self-preservation. Hopefully, we can look outside of that for just a moment and see that we are asking the same sorts of questions over and over.

      Vote your conscience, O Progressive, for there are many Conservatives who will vote without one.

      by MahFellaMerkins on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 07:34:01 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Davies' "weak version" of the Anthropic Principle (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mrkvica, crose, Moderation

    simply falls to pieces unless one blindly accepts the unlikely hypothesis that humanity is actually an intelligent life form.

    Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable - JFK

    by SecondComing on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 04:36:46 PM PST

  •  My letter to the Times re: Davies OP-ED (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    farleftcoast, brentmack

    Dear Editors,

    Mr. Davies' article, though well presented, is "old news".  Western culture has emphasized dualism for thousands of years.  Though terms such as science, faith, gods, God, universal laws, and The Law of The Universe mean different things to different people; any serious study of the Buddhist concept of the "middleway" will quickly reveal that Buddhist culture has never perceived any conflict or contradiction between science and faith. Could Mr. Davies be stuck in a futile attempt to find Aristotle's "Unmoved Mover"?  If instead he became content with the Buddhist concept of dependent origination and an endless series of cause and effect, he could move on scientifically to discover what part of the ultimately Mystic Law of the Universe he can de-mystify.  If there is one thing all scientists and philosophers agree upon, it is that proven answers always lead to more interesting questions.

    Best wishes,

    Republican't Leadership is a dangerous combination of cut-backs and incompetence.

    by casamurphy on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 04:41:20 PM PST

    •  Sometime I think it´s a semantic problem (0+ / 0-)

      Instead of the word God perhaps "The reason why there is something rather than nothing" might be more acceptable.

      The Truth is such that it cannot be seen and not be believed. Wm. Blake

      by John L on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 05:24:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  42 (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Roland X, mrkvica, java4every1, crose

    somebody had to say it.

    "Teach the children quietly, for someday sons and daughters, will rise up and fight while we stood still!" -Mike Rutheford

    by Bulldawg on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 05:06:45 PM PST

  •  From a religious point of view (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mrkvica

    I always figured we're "here" because we fucked up in our past lives.

    But then I don't believe in a magic sky wizard, so that leaves me up a stump.

    "When I was an alien, cultures weren't opinions" ~ Kurt Cobain, Territorial Pissings

    by Subterranean on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 05:37:36 PM PST

  •  I think you start answering the question of (3+ / 0-)

    why are we here by asking, why wouldn't we be? We are a very successful adaption to the ecologies around us. The biological abilities we've evolved are no doubt the reason we exist. To go beyond that would require explaining why matter exists and how nothing could yield something. No one has presented a good theory on that yet.

    "I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self." --Aristotle

    by java4every1 on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 05:43:18 PM PST

  •  IANAQM (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    farleftcoast

    "Instead, Davies goes for contestant number three, one that might be called the Sampson of Strong Anthropic theories.  He thinks we're doing it.  Just as the act of observation interferes with particles in quantum states, Davies posits that our observation shapes the universe, not just now, but from the very beginning.  In the ultimate closed system, our thoughts -- in a way unspecified -- shape the universe into one that can be observed.  Poof!  We are all become that other aspect of Shiva, creator of worlds."

    Doesn't the act of observing usually affect the observed in a way that makes it harder to observe, rather then easier?  If you measure the velocity, its position becomes fuzzier, and if you measure the position, the velocity becomes fuzzier.  

    IOW, not only is his model totally unscientific, it also runs contrary to the prevailing shape of the real phenomenon he is metaphorically invoking.

    Oh, and you'd have to reverse cause and effect too.

  •  We ARE all extremely lucky. (0+ / 0-)

    As you say, we are the product of billions of tosses of the coin that came up heads every time.

    The really unlucky creatures are those whose galactic parent didn't ever form after the big bang.  There are so many possibly 'tails' scenarios between then and now where potential sentients were wiped out that only the very luckiest end up actually evolving.

    So it's no wonder we think we're so special.  No wonder we believe in luck and supernatural beings who look out for us.

    I wonder how many lucky others there are out there.

  •  The problem seems to be... (4+ / 0-)

    around the meaning and utility of the semantic construction known as "Why."

    It is a little word, and has accrued tons and tons of "accretions" over time, and yet, if you ask a scientist or theologian to define "why" there is a never ending self=referential series of ever-smaller particles.

    I propose this answer: "Why?" is not the question, it is the answer. The Universe is a giant WhyGenerator. A Possibility Machine. There.  

    Figures don't lie, but liars do figure-Mark Twain

    by OregonOak on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 07:10:39 PM PST

  •  Visited the old campus Princeton bookstore (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mrkvica, WI Dem

    this weekend.  It is shutting down and had a few books left at deep discount.  One rather specialized book was just a list of the brighter known galaxies that have been observed and cataloged.  There was just three lines of small print of coordinates, magnitudes, ect for each galaxy.  The entire book was a listing of these, cover-to-cover.  It was one-inch thick.

    I was thinking, three little lines for our own huge galaxy, among a book this size, and this just a list of prominent galaxies?  It was just mind-boggling, and made me think, there's got to be things out there we can't even dream of.

  •  Sounds silly to me (0+ / 0-)

    It's trying to turn causality on it's head.

    The universe is. Period.

    Our existing in the universe did not cause the universe to evolve to allow us to exist.

    Now all that being said, I'm not smart enough or knowledgeable enough to know the true answer of why we exist, but Davies' theories strikes me as, at best, backwards.

    "The chief weapon of the sea pirates was their capacity to astonish." Kurt Vonnegut

    by Thorby Baslim on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 08:10:00 PM PST

  •  "Why?" is a human question. (0+ / 0-)

    The human mind seeks purposeful causality, that is how it "makes sense" of the quantum frothiness.

    Ponder how unlikely it is that a creature whose primary sense organ is sight would pick the speed of light as the upper bound, the Prime Constant?

    Think also, that while perhaps among the billions of galaxies and googols of stars in our one universe, in the four dimensions we can comprehend, it seems miraculous that "life" (again, according to how we define it) should appear, what of the billions of other universes that may well exist?  What of "life" that takes a form unrecognizable to us as such?

    Look at rock-eating bacteria living in basalt a mile below the ocean floor.  Do we really know all the forms that life can take?

    -9.00, -5.85
    The reward for courage is trust. -- John Edwards

    by Wintermute on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 08:46:39 PM PST

  •  I have to comment on this (0+ / 0-)

    Quantum physics is one of my big hobbies, and handwaving it away to claim a universe of (even rough) pinball mechanics is not even a cheat -- even a cursory examination of the quantum states that make up the underpinnings of what we laughingly call reality makes such a statement blatantly, obviously false. Clockwork reality For The Loss. The scientific community is still trying to dealing with that.

    Sometimes, they deal with it badly, because quantum indeterminacy flies in the face of the entire scientific process of observation. (For those of you completely unfamiliar with quantum study, the short and ugly version is that directly 'observing' quantum reactions affects the reaction, making a truly objective study effectively impossible at this time.) I'm amazed that given the admission of the "mess" of quantum existence, Devilstower could make a statement like "there seems little room for facts not resolvable within the magisteria of science." We're here, and science seems to have thrown up its hands regarding "how" and "why."

    Which brings me to Davies' theory. As much as I love weird theorizing about the 'why are we heres,' I have to say that he takes the absurdity of the predestination paradox to a whole new level. While I'm very understanding of having difficulty with believing that an old man on a cloud made the universe, I can't help but find the notion that we 'just happened' absurd. This theory basically tries to have the 'we just happened' cake and eat it too -- we're 'just happening,' basically. It's pantheism without the spiritual element, which would be okay if its non-origin didn't make it absurd on its face.
    --
    (/) Roland X
    Unapologetic New Ager

  •  He's missing a key piece of data (0+ / 0-)

    We're using the best instruments we can imagine and create to look inward to the sub-atomic, quantum realm and outward to the beginning of time.  We take the points of data along each path and extrapolate from there. The problem is we interpret what we find using glorified ape brains.  We think we're the crown of creation when we were living in caves the day before yesterday and drawing pictures on the walls.

    Basically, we're using four-bit processors and 1K of RAM and trying to come up with 42.  A man has to know his limitations, as Dirty Harry reminds us.

  •  Trick question! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MahFellaMerkins

    "Why are we here?"  Devilstower knows damn good and well why we are here.  We're here for the expressed purpose of electing progressive and enlightened democrats.  It is long established policy on this site that conspiracy diaries are "forbidden fruit".  Devilstower is treading periously close to the line with this posting and I have no doubt that the "Great and powerful KOS" is following the thread closely.

     Having spent many hours now monitoring the conversation here and drinking cheap beer, I have concluded it is far past time for all of us to get back to the task at hand...i.e., manning the tower walls, preparing the boiling vats of hot lard, stones for the catapults, and sharpened arrows for the inevitable forthcoming assault from our republican adversaries!  Back to work, Kossacks!  Enough of this idle speculation on the origin of the universe.

    (/snark)  

  •  There is a God (0+ / 0-)

    It is hard to believe there is a God but harder still to believe there is no God.

    --someone said that.

    Where did it all begin ---Big Bang?   What started the Big Bang?

    Fully fund an 18 month withdrawal to be crafted by committee of military, foreign diplomacy experts and Sunni-Shiite reconciliation leaders, etc

    by timber on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 08:50:59 AM PST

    •  why just one, then? (0+ / 0-)

      Why not ten, or fifteen, or a hundred?

      Editor, Red and Black Publishers http://www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

      by Lenny Flank on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 09:28:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Didnt God appear to Abraham and Moses (0+ / 0-)

        Did he say there were many Gods?

        Hindus believe in many gods but Christians, Jews and Muslims believe in one God.

        Different cultures interpret God base on their own culture.  

        It is harder to believe that we are accidents of nature.  Perhaps a virus can be an accident but an intelligent human being -- hard to believe.

        Fully fund an 18 month withdrawal to be crafted by committee of military, foreign diplomacy experts and Sunni-Shiite reconciliation leaders, etc

        by timber on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 12:35:38 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  didn't Apollo appear to the Oracles at Delphi? (0+ / 0-)

          Did he say there was only one god?

          As for what you find "hard to believe", well, I'm sorry for your lack of imagination.  (shrug)

          Editor, Red and Black Publishers http://www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

          by Lenny Flank on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 05:20:19 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  I disagree... (0+ / 0-)

      In my opinion, it is much harder to believe there is a God, because a God requires paradox to fundamentally exist at all:

      Reality is the sum of all that exists.
      If God exists, God must by necessity by a part of reality.
      God cannot be outside of reality, because the moment He exists, He becomes a part of reality.  
      If God is not a part of reality, God does not exist.
      Reality can exist without God, but God cannot exist without reality.
      Thus, reality is greater than God.

      On the other hand, an infinite reality simply was, is, and always shall be.  There is no paradoxical creator that can exist without existing, or that can exist outside of existence (which immediately becomes a part of existence, ceasing to be outside of it).  Our universe's Big Bang can easily exist in a greater, infinite reality with infinite universes.  With God, you still have, and will always have the question, "Where did God come from?".

      BTW, before you ask what was before reality, my answer is:  There is no before reality, it has always existed.  I do not understand why the concept of an infinite future is so easy to grasp, such as an infinite afterlife, without the question, "What comes after that?"  Yet, an infinite past is so difficult to grasp, and the question is always asked, "What came before that?".

  •  anything to fill pages and sell a book (0+ / 0-)

    How do you move books off the science section of the bookstore? You write hundreds of pages of convoluted logically inconsistent non-science. Then everyone says, wow, this makes absolutely no sense, it must be deep, I have to buy this!

    This guy strikes me as being a candidate for the Dionne Warwick psychic science medal.

  •  Observing the Cosmos (0+ / 0-)

    It is my supposition that it isn't observation that causes the wave function to collapse, its interaction. The point being made by Erwin Schrödinger,(Schrödinger Cat) is that observation means interaction and thus affecting the quantity being measured. Light from a distant supernova would be interacting with the earth regardless of whether it were there being observed by scientist or not.

    "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -- Margaret Mead

    by Helen of Troy on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 08:14:53 PM PST

  •  As weak as watered tea for me (0+ / 0-)

    The anthropic principle is a useless argument for me. Been destroyed ever since Douglas Adams wrote a terrific analogy for it:

    Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.

    "Sit back and marvel at the fact that a quarter was tossed a few billion times, and it came up heads every time" is another great way to put it, too, I think. Not much beyond that to me.

  •  like the bumpersticker says, (0+ / 0-)

    "We're all here because we're not all there"

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