We are lucky to live in a universe made for us

September 15, 2015 by Geraint Lewis, The Conversation
Like a cosmic roulette wheel, we exist because of a very lucky combination of factors. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

To a human, the universe might seem like a very inhospitable place. In the vacuum of space, you would rapidly suffocate, while on the surface of a star you would be burnt to a crisp. As far as we know, all life is confined to a sliver of an atmosphere surrounding the rocky planet we inhabit.

But while the origin of life on Earth remains mysterious, there are bigger questions to answer. Namely: why do the laws of physics permit any life at all?

Hang on, the laws of physics? Surely they are a universal given and life just gets on with it?

But remember that the is built of fundamental pieces, particles and forces, which are the building blocks of everything we see around us. And we simply don't know why these pieces have the properties they do.

There are many observational facts about our universe, such as electrons weighing almost nothing, while some of their quark cousins are thousands of times more massive. And gravity being incredibly weak compared to the immense forces that hold atomic nuclei together.

Why is our universe built this way? We just don't know.

But what if…?

This means we can ask "what if" questions. What if the electron was massive and quarks were fleeting? What if electromagnetism was stronger than the nuclear strong force? If so, what would that universe be like?

Let's consider carbon, an element forged in the hearts of massive stars, and an element essential to life as we know it.

Initial calculations of such stellar furnaces showed that they were apparently inefficient in making . Then the British astronomer Fred Hoyle realised the carbon nucleus possesses a special property, a resonance, that enhanced the efficiency.

But if the strength of the strong nuclear force was only fractionally different, it would wipe out this property and leave the universe relatively devoid of carbon – and, thus, life.

The story doesn't end there. Once carbon is made, it is ripe to be transmuted into heavier elements, particularly oxygen. It turns out that oxygen, due to the strength of the strong nuclear force, lacks the particular resonance properties that enhanced the efficiency of carbon creation.

This prevents all of the carbon being quickly consumed. The specific strength of the has thus resulted in a universe with an almost equal mix of carbon and oxygen, a bonus for life on Earth.

Death of a universe

This is but a single example. We can play "what if" games with the properties of all of the fundamental bits of the universe. With each change we can ask, "What would the universe be like?"

The answers are quite stark. Straying just a little from the convivial conditions that we experience in our universe typically leads to a sterile cosmos.

This might be a bland universe, without the complexity required to store and process the information central to life. Or a universe that expands too quickly for matter to condense into stars, galaxies and planets. Or one that completely re-collapses again in a matter of moments after being born. Any complex would be impossible!

The questions do not end there. In our universe, we live with the comfort of a certain mix of space and time, and a seemingly understandable mathematical framework that underpins science as we know it. Why is the universe so predictable and understandable? Would we be able to ask such a question if it wasn't?

Our universe appears to balance on a knife-edge of stability. But why?

One of a multiverse

To some, science will simply fix it all. Perhaps, if we discover the "Theory of Everything", uniting quantum mechanics with Einstein's relativity, all of the relative masses and strengths of the fundamental pieces will be absolutely defined, with no mysteries remaining. To others, this is little more than wishful thinking.

Some seek solace in a creator, an omnipotent being that finely-tuned the properties of the universe to allow us to be here. But the move from the scientific into the supernatural leaves many uncomfortable.

There is, however, another possible solution, one guided by the murky and confused musings at the edge of science. Super-strings or M-theory (or whatever these will evolve into) suggest that the fundamental properties of the universe are not unique, but are somehow chosen by some cosmic roll of the dice when it was born.

This gives us a possible explanation of the seemingly special properties of the universe in which we live.

We are not the only universe, but just one in a semi-infinite sea of universes, each with their own peculiar set of physical properties, laws and particles, lifetimes and ultimately mathematical frameworks. As we have seen, the vast majority of these other universes in the overall multiverse are dead and sterile.

They only way we can exist to ask the question "why are we here?" is that we happen to find ourselves in a universe conducive to our very existence. In any other universe, we simply wouldn't be around to wonder why we didn't exist.

If the multiverse picture is correct, we have to accept that the of the universe were ultimately dished out in a game of cosmic roulette, a spin of the wheel that we appear to have won.

Thus we truly live in a fortunate universe.

Explore further: The theory of parallel universes is not just maths – it is science that can be tested

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28 comments

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gculpex
3 / 5 (2) Sep 15, 2015
we are alone....
Mayday
1 / 5 (1) Sep 15, 2015
Could we be waking to the realization that we gave a party and nobody came? I wonder why...
plasmasrevenge
1 / 5 (3) Sep 15, 2015
Speaking of "what-if's" ... What if, every once in a while, the universe does some house-cleaning and sends a catastrophic event our way? It would be a natural consequence of cosmic plasmas resembling laboratory plasmas.

It's interesting that completely unsupported speculations like string theory get a mention, yet the mainstream refuses to ever question the models for the observable universe's fundamental state for matter.

The reason must be more than simply circumstance. It seems that science, since the time of Velikovsky, has an obvious bias against considering catastrophic events.
orti
1 / 5 (5) Sep 15, 2015
The cosmologists (the atheist ones – Hawking, et al) look at the evolutionists' circular arguments for 100% natural development of life with envy and invent their own version of it (natural selection of multiverses) out of whole cloth. The universe is everything we know and ever will know. I sincerely doubt if science will ever explain this universe's origin in the big bang (just luck doesn't cut it) – let alone why there is something instead of nothing.
malapropism
5 / 5 (6) Sep 16, 2015
just luck doesn't cut it

@orti
I'm curious to know why you say this. It seems to me that the article is positing that the Anthropic Principle, via the multiverse theory, may be an answer (or perhaps "the" answer) but besides this, surely from everyone's everyday experience and ignoring religious creationism as lacking explanatory power we do know that, sometimes, dumb luck does just happen.

Realistically, why could the answer not be that there is no answer? That it is the way it is because, in an infinity of potential opportunity, just this one time luck happened.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (8) Sep 16, 2015
"Lucky to live in a universe made for us"
?!?
It's not made for us...
We are here as a consequence of IT...
If the Universe was different, something ELSE would find it's way to awareness (intelligence)
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) Sep 16, 2015
Our universe appears to balance on a knife-edge of stability. But why?

That seems rather simple to answer: Every time you have a symmetry breaking the result is balanced along the edge. If it were not so then you'd have a runaway effect that either goes on forever (which gets you in all kinds of trouble with infinities) or until you get the next symmetry breaking event.

This gives us a possible explanation of the seemingly special properties of the universe in which we live.

We are not the only universe, but just one in a semi-infinite sea of universes,...

Without having any other indication of life out there or expertimental proof of other universes that's pointless musing.

Because there is an antirely different (possible) answer: If the universe were different - then 'life' might well be different. We have no clue what forms life can take and whether it isn't the norm, rather than the exception in universes - whatever their form.
Bloodyorphan
1 / 5 (3) Sep 16, 2015
Probability of Multiple Universes : 100%
Probability they are fundamentally different from our Universe: 0%

The persistence of matter and energy in our Universe makes a mockery of this "Knifes Edge" you speak of.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) Sep 16, 2015
The persistence of matter and energy in our Universe makes a mockery of this "Knifes Edge"

How so? Neutrons are incredibly unstable (half life of a few minutes if not bound up in an atomic nucleus). Protons may have a half life. If they do then for the overwhelming majority of the duration of a universe like ours there'd be no matter to speak of around.

Energy, too, will cease to be a meaningless quantity in a Big Rip or simply continual expansion scenario before too long.
Bloodyorphan
1 / 5 (3) Sep 16, 2015
Based on observations of particle colliders specifically designed to rip particles apart AAP.

Neutrinos are extremely persistent, as are photons electrons and virtually every other particle that occurs naturally.

I'd go as far as to say they are as persistent as space itself is, but of course many would disagree with me.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (5) Sep 16, 2015
Probability of Multiple Universes : 100%
Probability they are fundamentally different from our Universe: 0%

The persistence of matter and energy in our Universe makes a mockery of this "Knifes Edge" you speak of.

Unless, of course, it's the balance of matter vs energy as the mutual symmetrically breaking participants
Bloodyorphan
3 / 5 (3) Sep 16, 2015
Yes true WG, but even if there was an Anti-Matter based universe as an example, it would still be adhering to the same fundamental laws.

Like you say just a different balance, which may lead to different constructs etc. but fundamentally the same.

And I don't think that's even a real possibility, the thing we still don't really have a grip on is the properties of space itself, if I was to say dark matter is just a "state" of space itself people would think I'm nuts but it is a valid theory based on our observations, dark matter may not be a particle form at all.

We have no idea why particles persist is the truth of the matter.

8-)
Whydening Gyre
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 16, 2015
Yes true WG, but even if there was an Anti-Matter based universe as an example, it would still be adhering to the same fundamental laws.

Law...
1 + 1 = a new one...
Particles persist because - there is safety in numbers.... (ie - the more there are, the more they persist)
Simple English, sire....
Egleton
1 / 5 (3) Sep 16, 2015
What if there is No past? The records are adjusted to support the observed facts.
Then the beating heart of science, casualty, gets dumped.
Just another illusion. Persistent, as Einstein noted.
The quantum erasure experiment be bears this message.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Sep 16, 2015
What if there is No past? The records are adjusted to support the observed facts.
Then the beating heart of science, casualty, gets dumped.
Just another illusion. Persistent, as Einstein noted.
The quantum erasure experiment be bears this message.

Sorry, Eg - too existential....
antigoracle
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 16, 2015
Wonder how many alien civilizations out there, are staring in awe upon her beauty, pondering her mysteries and thinking the same; she was made for us.
Bloodyorphan
not rated yet Sep 16, 2015
I don't know if it's numbers game WG, when it comes to particles travelling through space their journey usually ends up a solitary one.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (4) Sep 17, 2015
Lots of problems with this article, apart from the unsolicited discussion of religious magic.

The Hoyle resonance, say, isn't required for producing carbon (as the article notes) and so more massive elements. And we now know from studies of the early universe that star formation started in highly heterogenous conditions, of at least 10^3 enrichment. A resonant less universe may still produce all that we see, except at a lower rate.

And so on. What if we stopped to ask useless questions, and instead develop theories like the weak anthropic theory that nicely predicts what we see from the putative variability of the particle field properties? That is the multiverse theory, except that selection bias works like natural selection in evolution: we are what we are because the environment decided it.

No magic and no mystery.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (4) Sep 17, 2015
@orti: "The cosmologists (the atheist ones – Hawking, et al) look at the evolutionists' circular arguments for 100% natural development of life".

First, understandably since science ha rejected magics by observation, the majority of scientists are irreligious. That comes from studying the facts of nature, besides the selection effect that rides on studying science - high IQ - low religiosity. Scientists are not dumb.

Second, biology ("evolution") is no more or less circular or argumentative or 100 % non-magic than all other sciences has turned out to be. Science is experiment, not philosophy, so is circular by its very nature: observation leads to hypotheses, that in turn predicts the observations. It is the rejection or improvement that breaks circularity at times, but a perfect 100 % match observation and theory is ... perfectly ... circular.

[tbcdt]
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (4) Sep 17, 2015
[ctd]

So all cosmologists, with few exceptions, study this. Multiverses turns up in physics and cosmology all the time: field theories has a "landscape" of a bias (cf the ground potential in electromagnetism), their basic theory of string theory has instead a landscape of manifolds; sufficient long inflation _has_ a multiverse; et cetera.

Finally, the Hot Big Bang is proved beyind reasonable doubt. [Wikipedia]. The process that resulted in a local Hot Big Bang (so likely multiverses) is inflation.

If you are interested in cosmology I hope you find the above facts & references useful. But if you are deluded by magic myths & rituals I can offer no hope. =D

[I should also add that statistics show that education and especially science studies correlates with increased irreligion. But so does improved social function, as per Paul's religion theory [2006]. Science and social function goes hand in hand. Cf Barber, who predicts the majority of the world will be irreligious 2038.]
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Sep 17, 2015
It is the rejection or improvement that breaks circularity at times, but a perfect 100 % match observation and theory is ... perfectly ... circular.

Which, oddly enough, is philosophically circular...:-)

Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Sep 17, 2015
I don't know if it's numbers game WG, when it comes to particles travelling through space their journey usually ends up a solitary one.

Not quite sure what you mean by this. The physical property of "mass" is one mechanism for defeating that solitude....:-)
Oops - I waxed philosophical...:-)
docile
Sep 19, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
rgw
not rated yet Sep 20, 2015
Semi infinite?
tj10
1 / 5 (2) Sep 22, 2015
"Some seek solace in a creator ... that finely-tuned the properties of the universe to allow us to be here. But the move from the scientific into the supernatural leaves many uncomfortable."

I see. Thank you for being honest. So now we see the reason for rejecting the possibility of a Creator. It makes people "uncomfortable". How scientific!

"There is, however, another possible solution, one guided by the murky and confused musings at the edge of science. Super-strings or M-theory (or whatever these will evolve into) suggest that the fundamental properties of the universe are not unique, but are somehow chosen by some cosmic roll of the DICE...."

Lewis would rather believe in some unknown future discovery that may or may not happen. He would rather trust the "murky & confused musings at the edge of science" than consider a Creator.
Chance or Purpose/Design. Couldn't the data also support a "Design" interpretation just as easily - if not better? Why not?
tj10
1 / 5 (2) Sep 22, 2015
Mr. Larsson says: "Finally, the Hot Big Bang is proved beyind reasonable doubt. [Wikipedia].

Wikipedia? LOL! I'm sorry, but I do hope that you don't base your beliefs on what Wikipedia says! Not all scientists agree with you, by the way.

"The process that resulted in a local Hot Big Bang (so likely multiverses) is inflation."

I'm not sure how you can know what you claim here, Mr. Larsson. Inflation is nothing more than a hypothesis at this point. If we are honest, the Big Bang is still a hypothesis even though it is dressed up with the word "theory".

There is some data that can be used to support it, but there have been so many rescue saving devices added to the Big Bang to prop it up that it is embarrassing. It is the best we have, but that doesn't make it right. Problems include: the lithium problem. inflation, dark matter, dark energy, etc.

http://kgov.com/e...big-bang

Read more at: http://phys.org/n...html#jCp
Zzzzzzzz
5 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2015
tj10..... you're a beliefs person.....why do you hang around in a science site.....aaahhhhhh.... desperately defending your delusion...... of course......
tj10
1 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2015
Zzzzzzz is deluded. He thinks only those who believe in God are "beliefs persons". If you have experimental evidence that can solve the problems mentioned, I'd love to hear it.

If not, welcome to the "Beliefs" club!

You do realize that secular beliefs also qualify a person to be a member of the club, right? Beliefs are beliefs whether they entail God or not.

Cheers!

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