So this post is dedicated to Matthew Smith, my partner in crime on "The Existential Files". He keeps banging on about why the universe exists. If everything is pointless, why does the universe go to all this bother in the first place? Why, oh why, oh why, oh why? Ha. Well we've all been there. I often find the existence of the universe itself to be an irksome fact. But first thing that pops into my head is, how could we find ourselves in anything but a universe that is capable of supporting life? So of course, this is the anthropic principle.
Let's consider a perfect universe. See the picture. We have two examples of a perfect universe. On the left is the perfect void. Nothingness. The abyss. Not a dickiebird. Lovely. Certainly fulfills the definition of perfectness. No sharp edges. No roughness. Just nothingness. Mmmmmm. On the right hand side is another perfect universe. The perfect solid. Beautiful uniformity as far as the eye can see. Gaze in wonder. Dazzling straightness. Not a piece out of place.
It should be obvious that life cannot exist in the perfect void. No matter. No energy. There is nothing. So we're obviously not going to evolve in a universe that looks like that. Shame. Life also cannot exist in the perfect solid. I mean there's matter here. But it's all locked up inside the uniformity of the structure. No work can be done. Just endless repetition and regularity. Ahhhhh sweet.
So we call this the anthropic principle. The universe looks like it was made for us (so say some). But we cannot even hope to find ourselves in a "perfect" universe. So it stands to reason that we're only going to find ourselves in a universe capable of supporting life. But it certainly doesn't follow that because this universe supports life, that the universe itself was made to do so. Oh no, no, no. This is a visibility bias. We don't have the extra data that would allow us to see that what looks like a unique frame of reference, is in fact just one configuration of a much larger number of possible states the universe can take. We see the same thing when we look at star systems in the universe. How many earth-like planets have we discovered? How many actually have life on them? There are far more planets which are inhospitable to life (you might even call them anti-biotic). It would be wrong to conclude that because life exists here on earth that a) we are an important planet in the universe (we're not) or that b) all planets are capable of supporting life (they're not). Visibility bias.
It seems to me that it's quite possible that why type questions are just not appropriate to ask of the universe. When language first developed (no groaning at the back) it was used to describe local (parochial) issues. Although it may be appropriate to ask "Why is that guy humping that hole?", it doesn't follow that it is appropriate to ask why of all things. As I have said in an as-yet unreleased podcast, just because you can put your dick into it, doesn't mean that it's what your dick was made for putting in (I'm looking at you at the back!).
But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it isn't ludicrous to ask the universe why it's going to all the bother in the first place. All this time and effort. Madness personified. Absurdity writ large. Do we have any clue as to why it gets out of the bed in the morning? Well, I think that firstly we can be sure that the universe is a natural object. Like a mountain, or a black hole.
Take a line from every book in the library. Doesn't matter which library. Each sentence is put inside a single tome. This book contains millions of sentences. Each one had meaning. Was constructed by an intelligent being. Meant something. But this whole? It's a garbled, nonsensical behemoth. No semblance of plot. Nothing that an intelligent being could read (maybe a dadaist). Meaning subsumed in a large whole of nonsense. A metaphor for the universe then. Parts of the universe can have meaning. We share books full of meaning. This post has meaning. It is trying to communicate ideas to those capable of understanding them (think not my cat). But the universe is not a book written by an intelligent person.
Do we have any idea what it is? Well, if I'm allowed to wildly speculate. I personally favour the idea of nothingness: for a moment it forgets it was supposed to be nothing, becomes something and then returns to nothingness again. We see similar ideas within the quantum world (and if we are in any way believers in science, quantum theory is perhaps science's best tested theory). Edward Tryon suggested something similar in the 1970s:
If it is true that our Universe has a zero net value for all conserved quantities, then it may simply be a fluctuation of the vacuum of some larger space in which our Universe is embedded. In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.
Perhaps the net information, the net energy of the universe adds up to a big fat zero. This is all an absurd, transitory moment, in a nonsensical tome (à la Rick and Morty). The end. Ha. Of course the existentialist in me says, so what? Still have to live (or not). Still have to put one foot in front of the other (or not). Indeed. But you asked, so I offer my opinion. Anyway, I don't think god gets us anywhere better (nor does the idea we are living in a simulation). No. Absurdity abounds (good title for a book—preferably one that isn't made of random sentences) and nobody is going to be able to help us. Not really. Sucks to be us.Go Top