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Guest post: Rick Ryals – “The Anthropic Principle” June 23, 2008

Posted by dorigo in cosmology, physics, science.
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Rick Ryals, a frequent visitor of this site, wrote a guest post here some time ago, on Dirac’s theory and the Einstein constant. He sent me today another text about his views on the Anthropic principle, which I am happy to host here. Of course, his views and mine need not be the same 😉 for me to find the following text fit for this site. -TD

Ever wonder why David Gross calls the inability of science to produce a “dynamical principle” that would “make the landscape go away”, the biggest failure of science in the last twenty years?

I would assert that it’s quite obviously because scientists can’t or won’t add one and one.

The anthropic principle is possibly the most misunderstood and misused observation in all of science, whose mere mention brings about the most extreme reactions from just about everyone who comes into contact with it. Creationists read-in the hand of god, while some String theorists find hope for a real theory, but most others find only utter disgust and complete disdain, as very few actually get the point. If this post was about a “variant interpretation”, then it would be called “The Unpopular Anthropic Principle”, because that’s exactly what it will be, since it includes all of the dirty little truths that nobody on any highly motivated side of the popular issues really wants to know about.

The physics concerns the unexpected carbon-life orientation of certain structure defining features of our universe that do not concur with the cosmological projections of modern physics.

The pointed nature of the physics indicates the direction that one might look in for the as yet undefined dynamical structure mechanism that is normally expected to explain why the universe is configured the way that it is, rather than some other way. Brandon Carter called this “a line of reasoning that requires further development”. But the Anthropic Principle was originally formalized by Carter as an ideological statement against the dogmatic non-scientific prejudices that scientists commonly harbor, that cause them to consciously deny anthropic relevance in the physics, so they instead tend to be willfully ignorant of just enough pertinent facts to maintain an irrational cosmological bias that leads to absurd, “Copernican-like” projections of mediocrity that contradict what is actually observed.

Carter was talking about an equally extreme form of counter-reaction-ism to old historical beliefs about geocentricism that cause scientists to automatically dismiss evidence for anthropic “privilege” right out of the realm of the observed reality. I intend to put very heavy emphasis on this point, because people go to unbelievable lengths to distort what Carter said on that fateful day in Poland, in order to willfully ignore this point as it applies to modern physics speculations and variant interpretations, which are neither, proven, nor definitively justified, theoretically.

Why do none of the popular definitions of the anthropic principle include what Carter actually said?
…a reaction against conscious and subconscious – anticentrist dogma.

This a the real problem for science.

Carter’s example was as follows:

Unfortunately, there has been a strong and not always subconscious tendency to extend this to a most questionable dogma to the effect that our situation cannot be privileged in any sense. This dogma (which in its most extreme form led to the “perfect cosmological principle” on which the steady state theory was based) is clearly untenable, as was pointed out by Dicke (Nature 192, 440,
-Brandon Carter

Carter expounded on the anthropic coincidence that Robert Dicke had deduced from Dirac’s Large Numbers Hypothesis. Dicke had noted that “the forces are not random, but are constrained by biological factors” that cause the universe to evolve contrarily to the standard cosmological prediction in a unique manner that favors carbon life. It is important to note that this evolving physics includes all carbon-based-life, and this also limits life to a very narrow range of time in the history of the universe. But this feature also dictates that the same combination of “homeostatic” environmental balances that define the Goldilocks Enigma will occur on similarly developed planets in similarly developed galaxies that exists along the same fine “layer” or time/location “plane” that our galaxy evolved on, so there is absolutely no apparent reason to assume that the physics applies exclusively to only one planet, or to a single form of carbon-based life.

Circumstellar Habitable Zone – Ecobalance – Ecosphere

How Carter’s anti-political statement applies, including its strength, depends on the cosmological model that physics is being applied to, so Brandon Carter’s own “strong” multiverse interpretation differs from what is actually observed. Carter’s point was that unscientific ideological bias should be honestly weighed into consideration whenever a scientist is faced with anomalous features of the universe that are also relevant to our place in it, in order to serve as a counterbalancing constraint on their preconceived prejudices against evidence for “preference” or “specialness”. Unfortunately for science, this is rarely the case, as these words will fly right past the theoretical confidence of the “cutting-edge”.

Add to that the creation/evolution “debate” and you have all the makings for a very bad situation for science, where zealots will either, embrace what physicists commonly call the “appearance of design”, as being just that, or, on the other side of the fanatical coin, anti-zealots will all together deny that there is any such implication for “specialness” in the physics whatsoever, while appealing to multiverses and quantum uncertainty, in lieu of causality and first principles. This is done in order to “explain-away” the evidence, rather than to honestly recognize and give credible time to the most readily apparent implication for a biocentric cosmological principle that is indicated by the “appearance of design”. The anticentrist’s tendency to deny the significance of the observation is an over-reaction to pressure from religious extremists and from ill-considered assumptions about human arrogance, which doesn’t even make sense if we’re spread-out across the universe like bacteria on a thin slide of time. Unfortunately for science, it is also a perfectly true example of Carter’s point, as anticentrists typically and wrongly believe that such an admission constitutes evidence in favor of the religious fanatic’s argument, so willful ignorance takes the place of science when the argument is a culture war between zealots and their antifanatical counterparts.

But it is an unavoidable fact that the anthropic physics is directly observed to be uniquely related to the structuring of the universe in a way that defies the most natural expectation for the evolution of the universe in a manner that is also highly-pointed toward the production of carbon based life at a specific time in its history, (and over an equally specific, fine-layer or region of the Goldilocks zone of the observed universe).

If you disallow unproven and speculative physics theory, then an evidentially supported implication does necessarily exist that carbon-based life is somehow intricately connected to the structure mechanism of the universe, and weak, multiverse interpretations do not super cede this fact, unless a multiverse is proven to be more than cutting-edge theoretical speculation.

That’s the “undeniable fact” that compels Richard Dawkins and Leonard Susskind to admit that the universe “appears designed” for life! There is no valid “weak” interpretation without a multiverse, because what is otherwise unexpectedly observed without the admission of speculation, is most-apparently geared toward the production of carbon-base life. Their confidence comes from the fact that their admissions are qualified by their shared “belief” in unproven multiverse theories, but their interpretation is strictly limited to equally non-evidenced “causes”, like supernatural forces and intelligent design.

These arguments do not erase the fact that the prevailing evidence still most apparently does indicate that we are somehow relevantly linked to the structure mechanism, until they prove it isn’t so, so we must remain open to evidence in support of this, or we are not honest scientists, and we are no better than those who would intentionally abuse the science. We certainly do not automatically dismiss the “appearance” by first looking for rationale around the most apparent implication of evidence.

That’s like pretending that your number one suspect doesn’t even exist! There can be nothing other than self-dishonesty and pre-conceived prejudicial anticipation of the meaning that motivates this approach, and often *automatically* elicits false, ill-considered, and, therefore, necessarily flawed assumptions, that most often elicit equally false accusations about “geocentricism” and “creationism”. That’s not science, it’s irrational reactionary skepticism that is driven without justification by sheer disbelief and denial.

And then along came this highly inconvenient… WHOOPS! WHAT’S THIS SUPPORTING HERESY that we must only work to explain-away?!?!

Does the motion of the solar system affect the microwave sky? http://cerncourier.com/cws/article/cern/29210

Lawrence Krauss even talks about this direct observation:

THE ENERGY OF EMPTY SPACE THAT ISN’T ZERO But when you look at CMB map, you also see that the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way, correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun. Is this Copernicus coming back to haunt us? That’s crazy. We’re looking out at the whole universe. <b>There’s no way there should be a correlation of structure with our motion of the earth around the sun — the plane of the earth around the sun — the ecliptic. That would say we are truly the center of the universe.
-Lawrence Krauss

“That’s Crazy”… “There’s no way”… Really, Larry?… Are you sure that it isn’t more-like… willful ignorance and denial?

Or isn’t it actually compounded supporting evidence for the life-oriented cosmological structure principle that we already have theoretical precedence for?

The problem here isn’t that we don’t have evidence, (make that, compounded evidence, and/or independently supportive evidence), the problem is that nobody is looking into this from any perspective that isn’t aimed at refuting the significance of the evidence.

They have had some success at this, too, because it has been discovered that the correlation applies to a specific region of galaxies like ours, but they act like they don’t have a clue, (and I’m sure that they don’t), that this is exactly what the Goldilocks Enigma predicts will be found.

It isn’t a case of not having evidence, rather, it is a matter of unscientific interpretation and an unwillingness to look at the physics straight-up, without automatically dragging some abstract and unproven assumptions about quantum observers into it, to see if maybe something that we do quite naturally might make us entirely necessary to the energy-economy of the physical process.

If you take Brandon Carter’s statement and bring it with you to the “consensus of opinion”, then you might begin to understand why the problem doesn’t get resolved:

And it ain’t pretty:



1. Kea - June 23, 2008

Firstly, as you may be aware, I am a proponent of a theory of quantum gravity which does indeed demand an investigation of life and suggests a perfect correlation between cosmic time and Hegelian consciousness. However, and this is a very big however, the term anthropic applies specifically to personkind, and the evidence does not single out our particular species over any other.

2. Erik - June 24, 2008

There are really no reason why a scientist should bother about the anthropic principle. Mainly because it can’t be used to predict or falsify anything. Sure, it could be used to justify, for example, why the standard model have some parameters. But it can’t be used to help derive those parameters out of a smaller set, or help to compress that information in any other way. On the contrary it is purely negative and unhelpful. It says don’t even bother trying to figure out the standard model, it is all random parameters. No additional information can be gained out of this principle, to say that a parameter has a certain value because of the anthropic principle, is exactly equivalent to just saying “that’s the way it is”. It says the exact same thing about the parameters in the periodic table.

3. Kea - June 24, 2008

Erik, I think the main point is precisely that the REAL ‘anthropic’ principle does allow one to constrain parameters. The problem is that that’s not the Anthropic Principle that the silly debates are all about.

4. goffredo - June 24, 2008

I didn’t understand much. The best non-technical description of Anthropic Principle I’ve read and will re-read (unlike this post), and learned from (unlike this post) is “The Goldilocks Enigma” by Paul Davies, 2006.

5. health - June 24, 2008

The thankings which have become a beautiful writing,

6. island - June 24, 2008

Whoops!… I didn’t realize that the post was already up, sorry.

Kea, thanks for covering for me, you’ve got it!

Eric… the variant interpretation that I have in mind is an energy conservation law, and it most definitely does derive the parameters of this universe from first principles, but the point was that this is the direction that scientists are being directed… that they won’t even look.

Goffredo, sorry, Paul Davies’ book is indeed very easy to read, (“unlike my post”), but he is much to nice of a guy to take on the job that he as undertaken. His own interpretation is similarly strong too, but he falls back on John Wheeler’s, observer-dependent interpretation for the lack of a better mechanism, and nobody is ever going to buy it. I think that he was very close to nailing the whole she-bang down in his studies of quantum fields on curved space-time. Close, but no cigar, and now Lawrence Krauss has joined him at ASU for reasons that I’ll never be able to fathom, since it’s quite obvious that Krauss wouldn’t recognize an anthropic principle if it hit him upside the head!

health… is that Haiku?… 😉

7. Neil B. - June 25, 2008

First, the true anthropic principle is why things are like this to begin with. It is not the silly point that of course outcomes are consistent with whatever initial conditions you had. The former can even be used to predict what the latter must have been like, but that’s not an explanation because it doesn’t say why those ICs and not some other. This works down to the whole challenge posed by the modal realists, like Max Tegmark in physics and David Lewis in philosophy proper. Modal realists believe, that possible worlds are as real as the actual world. It is based on the following notions: “… that possible worlds exist; possible worlds are not different in kind to the actual world; possible worlds are irreducible entities; the term “actual” in “actual world” is indexical.” [Wikipedia] The MR argument is logically impeccable and you have to ironically be a mystic to imagine something special about incarnation of some possible worlds and not others. (I dare you, try to do it without invoking consciousness or other mysterian notions. What a twist on the supposed “rationality” of materialism!)

If so, then there is never any point in explaining why things are the way the are because all possible worlds (descriptions, actually, and not just as “laws” because arbitrary matrices etc. are valid model entities) exist and this is just the one we’re in. However, consider the incredible ramifications of that. Given that we were already able to exist (in a world orderly enough for that), we wouldn’t have any significant Bayesian expectation of being in a *well*-ordered world. I mean, there are so many slightly “off” variant worlds with sloppy tiny differences between particles, their apparent force laws, etc. (since all “laws” are just apparent workings out of a particular pattern.)

Even worse, there are more descriptions that fail to continue to be orderly in like manner than do continue. It’s like: given you are in a card game that already has been all winning hands so far, what are your chances it will continue to be all winning hands? Not much at all, unless you fall for the gambler’s fallacy in reverse. So even being lucky enough to “find ourselves” in a world so seemingly lawful, our expectation set (rough as it is) would be to disintegrate into chaos in the next instant. (From all the descriptions where things started moving in every which way, appeared and disappeared, etc.) Some might argue you can’t get a measure etc. in such an infinite set. However, would you really consider e.g. your chance of getting diabetes to be irrelevant if the universe is infinite and therefore contains infinite numbers of humans and similar (which it then would of course have to contain.)

Hence, we are back to wondering why things are like they are. Then, the real question is why were those features life-friendly? I don’t know, but it is the sort of avoidance critiqued above to not even find that interesting, or even suggestive of some kind of “purpose.” If you don’t like personal type deities, there are Buddhist type ideas of a ground of being, the alaya vinyana, that contains the potential of all desires and works to express itself by manifesting worlds. (That’s what I get for combining religious, sociology, philosophy, and science courses to some extent back in the day.)

8. Louise - June 25, 2008

Thanks, things have been so busy that I only just came across John and Kea’s supportive comments in your previous guest post. Great article today too! The coincidences attributed to the anthropic principle can be the starting point for some important questions. You know that we can solve Dirac’s LNH by varying c proportional to t^{-1/3}. This also leads to a rest energy plus potential energy of any particle E + U = 0. The Universe could have energy of zero, the ultimate free lunch.

9. Kea - June 25, 2008

Hi Rick and Louise! Some good points, Neil. I would say that classical modal realism can be tempered/replaced with the selection of special choices of universe, such as one’s personal universe as a quantum observer, which can only interact with other universes under the assumption that these universes are also observed in the context of one’s own. This brings one immediately closer to the atman-brahman way of viewing Mach’s principle, which is what some of us take to be a very concrete way of constraining SM parameters. Carl, have you finished with the Koide fits for the meson masses yet?

10. island - June 25, 2008

I think that all realistically plausible natural solutions are what the physics is quite obviously saying deserves theoretical priority over other less-meaningful solutions, which was the point of my observational examples.

My other point being that the observed “appearance” for a strong anthropic constraint on the forces is also the most ignored avenue of exploration in science, since the AP only exists for string theorists, who only view it as a selection effect.

Get rid of the landscape and it melts to become a “fine-tuning” problem that is only expected to be “explained-away” by some imagined structure principle that disassociates anthropic relevance from the physics. Yeah, give it another twenty or thirty years of staring at unexplained, yet meaningful numbers that are scribbled on paper that’s stuck on a wall in the office, and then maybe we’ll actually consider a solution that includes the guy who is standing over the dead body holding the smoking gun.

But naturally expected theoretical plausibility is very important to any solution that connects carbon based life or intelligent life, to the *reason* for the initial conditions.

Given the falsifiable “goldilocks” knowledge, that we very-probably share our “privileged position” with an entire time-slice of similarly evolved life-forms, the most natural question arises as to what we might as do that constitutes a grand scale need for life to appear at a specific time and region of the evolving process.

I see this as a clear call back to Dirac’s expectation for an “answer that is provided by nature” to the values of dimensionless constants “that a PHYSICIST expects”.

Stuff that it’ll take an act of one of your gods to get done, I’m sure.

11. RenoInnonsife - August 3, 2008

Tahnks for posting

12. jowynn - July 22, 2009

I found this post by a Google search for “anthropic realism”, a term I encountered in Wolfgang Smith’s Christian Gnosis: From St. Paul to Meister Eckhart. Smith is a physicist who has written The Quantum Enigma and other works on physics and metaphysics. I was an English major, Blake scholar, and lately a student of fundamental physics–at age 72. This post is very helpful to my understanding, and I’m glad to have discovered your blog. Mine is at http://www.jowynn.wordpress.com.

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