The Anthropic Cosmological Principle

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle


Ever since Copernicus, scientists have continually adjusted their view of human nature, moving it further and further from its ancient position at the center of Creation. But in recent years, a startling new concept has evolved that places it more firmly than ever in a special position. Known as the Anthropic Cosmological Principle, this collection of ideas holds that the existence of intelligent observers determines the fundamental structure of the Universe. In its most radical version, the Anthropic Principle asserts that "intelligent information-processing must come into existence in the Universe, and once it comes into existence, it will never die out." This wide-ranging and detailed book explores the many ramifications of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle, covering the whole spectrum of human inquiry from Aristotle to Z bosons. Bringing a unique combination of skills and knowledge to the subject, John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler--two of the world's leading cosmologists--cover the definition and nature of life, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and the interpretation of the quantum theory in relation to the existence of observers. The book will be of vital interest to philosophers, theologians, mathematicians, scientists, and historians, as well as to anyone concerned with the connection between the vastness of the universe of stars and galaxies and the existence of life within it on a small planet out in the suburbs of the Milky Way.


John A. Wheeler, Center for Theoretical Physics, University of Texas at Austin

'Conceive of a universe forever empty of life?' 'Of course not', a philosopher of old might have said, contemptuously dismissing the question, and adding, over his shoulder, as he walked away, 'It has no sense to talk about a universe unless there is somebody there to talk about it'.

That quick dismissal of the idea of a universe without life was not so easy after Copernicus. He dethroned man from a central place in the scheme of things. His model of the motions of the planets and the Earth taught us to look at the world as machine. Out of that beginning has grown a science which at first sight seems to have no special platform for man, mind, or meaning. Man? Pure biochemistry! Mind? Memory modelable by electronic circuitry! Meaning? Why ask after that puzzling and intangible commodity? 'Sire', some today might rephrase Laplace's famous reply to Napoleon, 'I have no need of that concept'.

What is man that the universe should be mindful of him? Telescopes bring light from distant quasi-stellar sources that lived billions of years before life on Earth, before there even was an Earth. Creation's still warm ashes we call 'natural radioactivity'. A thermometer and the relative abundance of the lighter elements today tell us the correlation between temperature and density in the first three minutes of the universe. Conditions still earlier and still more extreme we read out of particle physics. In the perspective of these violences of matter and field, of these ranges of heat and pressure, of these reaches of space and time, is not man an unimportant bit of dust on an unimportant planet in an unimportant galaxy in an unimportant region somewhere in the vastness of space?

No! The philosopher of old was right! Meaning is important, is even central. It is not only that man is adapted to the universe. The universe is adapted to man. Imagine a universe in which one or another of the fundamental dimensionless constants of physics is altered by a few percent one way or the other? Man could never come into being in such a universe. That is the central point of the anthropic principle. According to this principle, a life-giving factor lies at the centre of the whole machinery and design of the world.

What is the status of the anthropic principle? Is it a theorem? No. Is it a mere tautology, equivalent to the trivial statement, 'The universe has to be such as to admit life, somewhere, at some point in its history, because . . .

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