anthropic principle

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A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, bet made by Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne, Brownian motion, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, dark matter, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking

This is an example of the application of what is known as the anthropic principle, which can be paraphrased as “We see the universe the way it is because we exist.” There are two versions of the anthropic principle, the weak and the strong. The weak anthropic principle states that in a universe that is large or infinite in space and/or time, the conditions necessary for the development of intelligent life will be met only in certain regions that are limited in space and time. The intelligent beings in these regions should therefore not be surprised if they observe that their locality in the universe satisfies the conditions that are necessary for their existence. It is a bit like a rich person living in a wealthy neighborhood not seeing any poverty. One example of the use of the weak anthropic principle is to “explain” why the big bang occurred about ten thousand million years ago—it takes about that long for intelligent beings to evolve.

In this case the only difference between the regions would be their initial configurations and so the strong anthropic principle would reduce to the weak one. A second objection to the strong anthropic principle is that it runs against the tide of the whole history of science. We have developed from the geocentric cosmologies of Ptolemy and his forebears, through the heliocentric cosmology of Copernicus and Galileo, to the modern picture in which the earth is a medium-sized planet orbiting around an average star in the outer suburbs of an ordinary spiral galaxy, which is itself only one of about a million million galaxies in the observable universe. Yet the strong anthropic principle would claim that this whole vast construction exists simply for our sake. This is very hard to believe. Our Solar System is certainly a prerequisite for our existence, and one might extend this to the whole of our galaxy to allow for an earlier generation of stars that created the heavier elements.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that there are relatively few ranges of values for the numbers that would allow the development of any form of intelligent life. Most sets of values would give rise to universes that, although they might be very beautiful, would contain no one able to wonder at that beauty. One can take this either as evidence of a divine purpose in Creation and the choice of the laws of science or as support for the strong anthropic principle. There are a number of objections that one can raise to the strong anthropic principle as an explanation of the observed state of the universe. First, in what sense can all these different universes be said to exist? If they are really separate from each other, what happens in another universe can have no observable consequences in our own universe. We should therefore use the principle of economy and cut them out of the theory. If, on the other hand, they are just different regions of a single universe, the laws of science would have to be the same in each region, because otherwise one could not move continuously from one region to another.


pages: 478 words: 142,608

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins


Albert Einstein, anthropic principle, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Ayatollah Khomeini, Brownian motion, cosmological principle, David Attenborough, Desert Island Discs, double helix,, experimental subject, Fellow of the Royal Society, gravity well, invisible hand, John von Neumann, luminiferous ether, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Murray Gell-Mann, Necker cube, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, placebo effect, planetary scale, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Schrödinger's Cat, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, theory of mind, Thorstein Veblen, trickle-down economics, unbiased observer

The quotation from the ‘eloquent blogger’ is at 66 Dawkins (1995). The anthropic principle: planetary version 67 Carter admitted later that a better name for the overall principle would be ‘cognizability principle’ rather than the already entrenched term ‘anthropic principle’: B. Carter, ‘The anthropic principle and its implications for biological evolution’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A, 310, 1983, 347–63. For a book-length discussion of the anthropic principle, see Barrow and Tipler (1988). 68 Comins (1993). 69 I spelled this argument out more fully in The Blind Watchmaker (Dawkins 1986). The anthropic principle: cosmological version 70 Murray Gell-Mann, quoted by John Brockman on the ‘Edge’ website, 71 Ward (1996: 99); Polkinghorne (1994: 55).

It is a strange fact, incidentally, that religious apologists love the anthropic principle. For some reason that makes no sense at all, they think it supports their case. Precisely the opposite is true. The anthropic principle, like natural selection, is an alternative to the design hypothesis. It provides a rational, design-free explanation for the fact that we find ourselves in a situation propitious to our existence. I think the confusion arises in the religious mind because the anthropic principle is only ever mentioned in the context of the problem that it solves, namely the fact that we live in a life-friendly place. What the religious mind then fails to grasp is that two candidate solutions are offered to the problem. God is one. The anthropic principle is the other. They are alternatives. Liquid water is a necessary condition for life as we know it, but it is far from sufficient.

This is a recurrent, predictable, multiple phenomenon, not a piece of statistical luck recognized with hindsight. And, thanks to Darwin, we know how it is brought about: by natural selection. The anthropic principle is impotent to explain the multifarious details of living creatures. We really need Darwin’s powerful crane to account for the diversity of life on Earth, and especially the persuasive illusion of design. The origin of life, by contrast, lies outside the reach of that crane, because natural selection cannot proceed without it. Here the anthropic principle comes into its own. We can deal with the unique origin of life by postulating a very large number of planetary opportunities. Once that initial stroke of luck has been granted – and the anthropic principle most decisively grants it to us – natural selection takes over: and natural selection is emphatically not a matter of luck.


The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil


additive manufacturing, AI winter, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, anthropic principle, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, Benoit Mandelbrot, Bill Joy: nanobots, bioinformatics, brain emulation, Brewster Kahle, Brownian motion, business intelligence,, call centre, carbon-based life, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, complexity theory, conceptual framework, Conway's Game of Life, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, cuban missile crisis, data acquisition, Dava Sobel, David Brooks, Dean Kamen, disintermediation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter,, epigenetics, factory automation, friendly AI, George Gilder, Gödel, Escher, Bach, informal economy, information retrieval, invention of the telephone, invention of the telescope, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, iterative process, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, job automation, job satisfaction, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, Law of Accelerating Returns, life extension, linked data, Loebner Prize, Louis Pasteur, mandelbrot fractal, Mikhail Gorbachev, mouse model, Murray Gell-Mann, mutually assured destruction, natural language processing, Network effects, new economy, Norbert Wiener, oil shale / tar sands, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, phenotype, premature optimization, randomized controlled trial, Ray Kurzweil, remote working, reversible computing, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, semantic web, Silicon Valley, Singularitarianism, speech recognition, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Stewart Brand, strong AI, superintelligent machines, technological singularity, Ted Kaczynski, telepresence, The Coming Technological Singularity, transaction costs, Turing machine, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Y2K, Yogi Berra

It amazes me that people can have such blinkered vision, that they can concentrate just on the final state of the universe, and not ask how and why it got there.92 The perplexity of how it is that the universe is so "friendly" to biology has led to various formulations of the anthropic principle. The "weak" version of the anthropic principle points out simply that if it were not the case, we wouldn't be here to wonder about it. So only in a universe that allowed for increasing complexity could the question even be asked. Stronger versions of the anthropic principle state that there must be more to it; advocates of these versions are not satisfied with a mere lucky coincidence. This has opened the door for advocates of intelligent design to claim that this is the proof of God's existence that scientists have been asking for. The Multiverse. Recently a more Darwinian approach to the strong anthropic principle has been proposed. Consider that it is possible for mathematical equations to have multiple solutions.

Perhaps it will reveal itself to us when we achieve the next level of our evolution, specifically merging our biological brains with our technology, which is to say, after the Singularity. However, given that the SETl assumption implies that there are billions of such highly developed civilizations, it seems unlikely that all of them have made the same decision to stay out of our way. The Anthropic Principle Revisited. We are struck with two possible applications of an anthropic principle, one for the remarkable biofriendly laws of our universe, and one for the actual biology of our planet. Let's first consider the anthropic principle as applied to the universe in more detail. The question concerning the universe arises because we notice that the constants in nature are precisely what are required for the universe to have grown in complexity. If the cosmological constant, the Planck constant, and the many other constants of physics were set to just slightly different values, atoms, molecules, stars, planets, organisms, and humans would have been impossible.

Given that these branches—the set of universes—will include ones both suitable and unsuitable for life, Smith continues, "At this point it can be stated how the strong anthropic principle in combination with the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics can be used in an attempt to resolve the apparent problem mentioned at the beginning of this essay. The seemingly problematic fact that a world with intelligent life is actual, rather than one of the many lifeless worlds, is found not to be a fact at all. If worlds with life and without life are both actual, then it is not surprising that this world is actual but is something to be expected." Quentin Smith, "The Anthropic Principle and Many-Worlds Cosmologies," Australasian Journal of Philosophy 63.3 (September 1985), available at principle_and_many-worlds_cosmologies.htm. 10. See chapter 4 for a complete discussion of the brain's self-organizing principles and the relationship of this principle of operation to pattern recognition. 11.


pages: 404 words: 134,430

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer


Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, anesthesia awareness, anthropic principle, butterfly effect, cognitive dissonance, complexity theory, conceptual framework, correlation does not imply causation, cosmological principle, discovery of DNA, false memory syndrome, Gary Taubes, invention of the wheel, Isaac Newton, laissez-faire capitalism, life extension, Murray Gell-Mann, out of africa, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Silicon Valley, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions

The controversy generated by Carter, Barrow, and Tipler lies not with the Weak Anthropic Principle but with the Strong Anthropic Principle, the Final Anthropic Principle, and the Participatory Anthropic Principle. Barrow and Tipler define the Strong Anthropic Principle as "The Universe must have those properties which allow life to develop within it at some stage in its history" and the Final Anthropic Principle as "Intelligent information-processing must come into existence in the Universe, and, once it comes into existence, it will never die out" (pp. 21-23). That is, the universe must be exactly like it is or there would be no life; therefore, if there were no life, there could be no universe. Further, the Participatory Anthropic Principle states that once life is created (which is inevitable), it will change the universe in such a way that it assures its, and all life's, immortality: "The instant the Omega Point is reached life will have gained control of all matter and forces not only in a single universe, but in all universes whose existence is logically possible; life will have spread into all spatial regions in all universes which could logically exist, and will have stored an infinite amount of information, including all bits of knowledge which it is logically possible to know.

According to the Copernican Principle, our sun is merely one of a hundred billion stars on the outskirts of an average galaxy, itself one of a hundred billion (or more) galaxies in the known universe that cares not one iota for humanity. By contrast, Carter, Barrow, and Tipler's Anthropic Principle insists that humans do have a significant role in the cosmos, both in its observation and its existence. Carter (1974) takes the part of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle that says that the observation of an object changes it and extrapolates this part from the atomic level (where Heisenberg was operating) to the cosmological level: "What we can expect to observe must be restricted by the conditions necessary for our presence as observers." In its weak form—the Weak Anthropic Principle—Barrow and Tipler contend quite reasonably that for the cosmos to be observed, it must be structured in such a way as to give rise to observers: "The basic features of the Universe, including such properties as its shape, size, age and laws of change, must be observed to be of a type that allows the evolution of observers, for if intelligent life did not evolve in an otherwise possible universe, it is obvious that no one would be asking the reason for the observed shape, size, age and so forth of the Universe" (1986, p. 2).

It has, therefore, been always my object to avoid writing on religion, & I have confined myself to science" (in Desmond and Moore 1991, p. 645). In classifying the relationship of science and religion, I would like to suggest a three-tiered taxonomy: The same-worlds model: Science and religion deal with the same subjects and not only is there overlap and conciliation but someday science may subsume religion completely. Frank Tipler's cosmology (1994), based on the anthropic principle and the eventual resurrection of all humans through a supercomputer's virtual reality in the far future of the universe, is one example. Many humanists and evolutionary psychologists foresee a time when science not only can explain the purpose of religion, it will replace it with a viable secular morality and ethics. The separate-worlds model: Science and religion deal with different subjects, do not conflict or overlap, and the two should coexist peacefully with one another.


pages: 634 words: 185,116

From eternity to here: the quest for the ultimate theory of time by Sean M. Carroll


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Brownian motion, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, Columbine, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, dematerialisation, double helix,, gravity well, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Lao Tzu, lone genius, New Journalism, Norbert Wiener,, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Stallman, Schrödinger's Cat, Slavoj Žižek, Stephen Hawking, stochastic process, the scientific method, wikimedia commons

And at this point he makes a startlingly modern move—he invokes the anthropic principle. The anthropic principle is basically the idea that any sensible account of the universe around us must take into consideration the fact that we exist. It comes in various forms, from the uselessly weak—“the fact that life exists tell us that the laws of physics must be compatible with the existence of life”—to the ridiculously strong—“the laws of physics had to take the form they do because the existence of life is somehow a necessary feature.” Arguments over the status of the anthropic principle—Is it useful? Is it science?—grow quite heated and are rarely very enlightening. Fortunately, we (and Boltzmann) need only a judicious medium-strength version of the anthropic principle. Namely, imagine that the real universe is much bigger (in space, or in time, or both) than the part we directly observe.

The local manifestations of the laws of physics will vary from universe to universe. You might hope to make some statistical predictions, on the basis of the anthropic principle; “sixty-three percent of observers in the multiverse will find three families of fermions,” or something to that effect. And many people are trying hard to do just that. But it’s not clear whether it’s even possible, especially since the number of observers experiencing certain features will often end up being infinitely big, in a universe that keeps inflating forever. For the purposes of this book, we are very interested in the multiverse, but not so much in the details of the landscape of many different vacua, or attempts to wrestle the anthropic principle into a useful set of predictions. Our problem—the small entropy of the observable universe at early times—is so very blatant and dramatic that there’s no hope of addressing it via recourse to the anthropic principle; life could certainly exist in a universe with a much higher entropy.

BOLTZMANN BRAINS The egg-in-a-box example illustrates the fundamental problem with the Boltzmann-Lucretius scenario: We can’t possibly appeal to a Past Hypothesis that asserts the existence of a low-entropy past state, because the universe (or the egg) simply cycles through every possible configuration it can have, with a predictable frequency. There is no such thing as an “initial condition” in a universe that lasts forever. The idea that the universe spends most of its time in thermal equilibrium, but we can appeal to the anthropic principle to explain why our local environment isn’t in equilibrium, makes a strong prediction—and that prediction is dramatically falsified by the data. The prediction is simply that we should be as close to equilibrium as possible, given the requirement that we (under some suitable definition of “we”) be allowed to exist. Fluctuations happen, but large fluctuations (such as creating an unbroken egg) are much more rare than smaller fluctuations (such as creating a broken egg).


pages: 492 words: 149,259

Big Bang by Simon Singh


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Andrew Wiles, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Astronomia nova, Brownian motion, carbon-based life, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, Copley Medal, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Defenestration of Prague, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Freundlich, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, Hans Lippershey, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, horn antenna, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, Index librorum prohibitorum, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Karl Jansky, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, Olbers’ paradox, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Paul Erdős, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, scientific mainstream, Simon Singh, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, unbiased observer, V2 rocket, Wilhelm Olbers, William of Occam

The eminent physicist Freeman Dyson wrote: ‘The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.’ This harks back to the anthropic principle mentioned in Chapter 5, which Fred Hoyle exploited to work out how carbon is created within stars. The anthropic principle states that any cosmological theory must take into account the fact that the universe has evolved to contain us. It implies that this should be a significant element in cosmological research. The Canadian philosopher John Leslie devised a firing squad scenario to elucidate the anthropic principle. Imagine that you have been accused of treason and are awaiting execution in front of a firing squad of twenty soldiers. You hear the command to fire, you see the twenty guns fire—and then you realise that none of the bullets has hit you.

You could live the rest of your life assuming that the failed execution was nothing more than chance, but it would be hard not to read some deeper significance into your survival. Similarly, it seems to defy the odds that the six numbers that characterise the universe have very special values that allow life to flourish. So do we ignore this and just count ourselves extremely lucky, or do we look for special meaning in our extraordinarily good fortune? According to the extreme version of the anthropic principle, the fine-tuning of the universe which has allowed life to evolve is indicative of a tuner. In other words, the anthropic principle can be interpreted as evidence for the existence of a God. However, an alternative view is that our universe is part of a multiverse. The dictionary definition of the universe is that it encompasses everything, but cosmologists tend to define the universe as the collection of only those things that we can perceive or that can influence us.

absorption The process by which atoms absorb light at specific wavelengths, allowing their presence to be detected by spectroscopy by identifying the ‘missing’ wavelengths. alpha particle A subatomic particle ejected during certain kinds of radioactive decay. The particle, consisting of two protons and two neutrons, is identical to the nucleus of a helium atom. anthropic principle The principle that states that, since humans are known to exist, the laws of physics must be such that life can exist. In its extreme form, the anthropic principle states that the universe has been designed to allow life. arcminute A unit used in the measurement of very small angles, equal to 1/60 of 1°. arcsecond A unit used in the measurement of very small angles, equal to 1/60 of an arcminute or 1/3,600 of 1°. atom The smallest component of an element, comprising a positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons.


pages: 208 words: 70,860

Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics by Jim Al-Khalili


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, butterfly effect, clockwork universe, complexity theory, dark matter, Edmond Halley, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, Ernest Rutherford, Henri Poincaré, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Olbers’ paradox, Schrödinger's Cat, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, The Present Situation in Quantum Mechanics, Wilhelm Olbers

We are each at the end of a long and highly improbable chain of events that stretches all the way back to the origin of life itself. Break any one of the links in that chain and you would not be here. So you can ponder if you wish how the anthropic principle applies to you; but this is no more remarkable than the lottery winner contemplating his good fortune. And had his numbers not come up, then someone else would have won and could equally reflect on the improbable odds of her win. Brandon Carter’s argument has become known as the Weak Anthropic Principle. There also exists a Strong Anthropic Principle, which states that the Universe has to be the way it is in order for intelligent life to evolve somewhere and at some point in time in order to question its existence. This version is subtly different and is far more speculative.

This and other issues, such as the way multicelled organisms evolved from single-celled ones billions of years ago, will tell us whether we can expect these important steps in the evolutionary journey from abiogenesis to humans to have occurred elsewhere in the Universe. THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE There exists a far more profound question than the one posed by Fermi’s paradox that I must mention before I finish this chapter. It is one that until recent years was restricted to philosophical circles alone, but has now entered mainstream physics. The idea at its core is called the anthropic principle, which focuses on the sheer improbability of our universe, or at least our small corner of it, being so ideally suited and fine-tuned for us, humans, to exist. In its modern form it was proposed and clarified by the Australian cosmologist Brandon Carter at a scientific conference held in Poland in 1973 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the birth of Copernicus.

It might then be strong enough to bind two protons, in which case hydrogen would convert to helium far more easily. In fact, all the hydrogen in the Universe would have been used up and converted into helium just after the Big Bang. With no hydrogen, there would be no possibility of combining it with oxygen to make water and hence no chance of life (as we understand it) ever appearing. The anthropic principle seems to be saying that our very existence determines certain properties of the Universe, because if they were any different we would not be here to question them. But is this really so remarkable? Maybe if the Universe were different, we—whatever “we” would then mean—would have evolved according to whatever those conditions would have allowed and we would still be asking: how come the Universe is so finely tuned?


pages: 356 words: 102,224

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan


Albert Einstein, anthropic principle, cosmological principle, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, germ theory of disease, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Kuiper Belt, linked data, nuclear winter, planetary scale, profit motive, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Stephen Hawking, telepresence

PERHAPS THE CLEAREST INDICATION that the search for an unmerited privileged position for humans will never be wholly abandoned is what in physics and astronomy is called the Anthropic Principle. It would be better named the Anthropocentric Principle. It comes in various forms. The "Weak" Anthropic Principle merely notes that if the laws of Nature and the physical constants— such as the speed of light, the electrical charge of the electron, the Newtonian gravitational constant, or Planck's quantum mechanical constant had been different, the course of events leading to the origin of humans would never have transpired. Under other laws and constants, atoms would not hold together, stars would evolve too quickly to leave sufficient time for life to evolve on nearby planets, the chemical elements of which life is made would never have been generated, and so on. Different laws, no humans. There is no controversy about the Weak Anthropic Principle: Change the laws and constants of Nature, if you could, and a very different universe may emerge—in many cases, a universe incompatible with life. * The mere fact that we exist implies (but does not impose) constraints on the laws of Nature.

Even if the existence of such universes were to follow firmly from well-established theories—of quantum mechanics or gravitation, say—we could not be sure that there weren't better theories that predict no alternative universes. Until that time comes, if it ever does, it seems to me premature to put faith in the Anthropic Principle as an argument for human centrality or uniqueness. Finally, even if the Universe were intentionally created to allow for the emergence of life or intelligence, other beings may exist on countless worlds. If so, it would be cold comfort to anthropocentrists that we inhabit one of the few universes that allow life and intelligence. There is something stunningly narrow about how the Anthropic Principle is phrased. Yes, only certain laws and constants of nature are consistent with our kind of life. But essentially the same laws and constants are required to make a rock. So why not talk about a Universe designed so rocks could one day come to be, and strong and weak Lithic Principles?

There is no controversy about the Weak Anthropic Principle: Change the laws and constants of Nature, if you could, and a very different universe may emerge—in many cases, a universe incompatible with life. * The mere fact that we exist implies (but does not impose) constraints on the laws of Nature. In contrast, the various "Strong" Anthropic Principles go much farther; some of their advocates come close to deducing that the laws of Nature and the values of the physical constants were established (don't ask how or by Whom) so that humans would eventually come to be. Almost all of the other possible universes, they say, are inhospitable. In this way, the ancient conceit that the Universe was made for us is resuscitated. To me it echoes Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide, convinced that this world, with all its imperfections, is the best possible. It sounds like playing my first hand of bridge, winning, knowing that there are 54 billion billion billion (5.4 X 1028) possible other hands that I was equally likely to have been dealt . . . and then foolishly concluding that a god of bridge exists and favors me, a god who arranged the cards and the shuffle with my victory foreordained from The Beginning.


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Illustrated Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe by Stephen Hawking


anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, cosmological constant, dark matter

The infla-tionary model showed that the present state of the universe could have arisenfrom quite a large number of different initial configurations. It cannot be thecase, however, that every initial configuration would have led to a universelike the one we observe. So even the inflationary model does not tell us whythe initial configuration was such as to produce what we observe. Must we turnto the anthropic principle for an explanation? Was it all just a lucky chance?That would seem a counsel of despair, a negation of all our hopes of under-standing the underlying order of the universe. QUANTUM GRAVITY In order to predict how the universe should have started off, one needs laws thathold at the beginning of time. If the classical theory of general relativity wascorrect, the singularity theorem showed that the beginning of time would havebeen a point of infinite density and curvature.

Theextra dimensions would be far too small to allow a spaceship through.However, it raises another major problem. Why should some, but not all, ofthe dimensions be curled up into a small ball? Presumably, in the very earlyuniverse, all the dimensions would have been very curved. Why did threespace and one time dimension flatten out, while the other dimensionsremained tightly curled up? One possible answer is the anthropic principle. Two space dimensions do notseem to be enough to allow for the development of complicated beings like us.For example, two-dimensional people living on a one-dimensional Earthwould have to climb over each other in order to get past each other. If a two-dimensional creature ate something it could not digest completely, it wouldhave to bring up the remains the same way it swallowed them, because if therewere a passage through its body, it would divide the creature into two separateparts.

On asmaller scale, the electrical forces that cause the electrons to orbit around thenucleus in an atom would behave in the same way as the gravitational forces.Thus, the electrons would either escape from the atom altogether or it would spi-ral into the nucleus. In either case, one could not have atoms as we know them.It seems clear that life, at least as we know it, can exist only in regions ofspace-time in which three space and one time dimension are not curled upsmall. This would mean that one could appeal to the anthropic principle, pro-vided one could show that string theory does at least allow there to be suchregions of the universe. And it seems that indeed each string theory doesallow such regions. There may well be other regions of the universe, or otheruniverses (whatever that may mean) in which all the dimensions are curledup small, or in which more than four dimensions are nearly flat. But therewould be no intelligent beings in such regions to observe the different num-ber of effective dimensions.


pages: 405 words: 117,219

In Our Own Image: Savior or Destroyer? The History and Future of Artificial Intelligence by George Zarkadakis


3D printing, Ada Lovelace, agricultural Revolution, Airbnb, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, anthropic principle, Asperger Syndrome, autonomous vehicles, barriers to entry, battle of ideas, Berlin Wall, bioinformatics, British Empire, business process, carbon-based life, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, combinatorial explosion, complexity theory, continuous integration, Conway's Game of Life, cosmological principle, dark matter, dematerialisation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Edward Snowden, epigenetics, Flash crash, Google Glasses, Gödel, Escher, Bach, income inequality, index card, industrial robot, Internet of things, invention of agriculture, invention of the steam engine, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, job automation, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, millennium bug, natural language processing, Norbert Wiener, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, packet switching, pattern recognition, Paul Erdős, post-industrial society, prediction markets, Ray Kurzweil, Rodney Brooks, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, speech recognition, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, strong AI, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, the scientific method, theory of mind, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, Vernor Vinge, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y2K

The AI Singularity futuristic narrative seems like a retelling of Teilhard’s Omega Point – or Judgement Day if you prefer – when the sum of intelligence in the universe accelerates exponentially thanks to self-improving Artificial Intelligence. Thereafter AI absorbs all sentience into its merciful wholeness. The verdict is out whether this would be heaven or hell. Teilhard has also been very influential on the authors of the Anthropic Principle.20 The Anthropic Principle tries to make sense of why the universe is so finely tuned for life to emerge and evolve. This fact is profoundly evident from the so-called ‘physical constants’, pure numbers that govern the natural laws. An example of a physical constant is the ‘Plank constant’, the number 6.62606957×10-34 m2 kg/s that shows up in just about everything concerning quantum physics. It relates the energy of particles to the frequency of their oscillation.

Why doesn’t it have any other value but this ‘right’ one? The Anthropic Principle claims, somewhat tautologically, that the universe is finely tuned because we are here to observe it. There simply could not have been any other way. Only a universe capable of eventually supporting life could produce intelligent observers, who would then observe how finely tuned that universe is. If there have been, or are, other universes different from ours we might as well regard them as non-existent: there is no one there to observe them. This innocent sounding tautology becomes very controversial in its ‘stronger’ version, one that Teilhard would recognise and rejoice in: that the universe is compelled to allow conscious life to emerge eventually. This is where the Strong Anthropic Principle meets the AI Singularity: Kurzweil, Barrow and Tippler believe that there must be a purpose for intelligence in the universe.

Or Kurzweil – or Descartes for that matter? Could we be all mind: pure information patterns that can be uploaded, transmitted and processed just like a digital document or a worksheet in Excel?22 One way to examine the veracity of these arguments is through the perspective of Artificial Intelligence. It may appear that body–mind duality supports the evolution of AI. In fact, if you take the position of the Strong Anthropic Principle or the AI Singularity, you may think that dualism compels the evolution of AI. Alas, as we will see, this is far from true. Dualistic dead ends Body–mind dualism poses insurmountable problems for Artificial Intelligence. If we accept that the mind is independent of the brain we come to two complementary conclusions with regards to Artificial Intelligence that lead us to dead ends. Let’s examine them in turn to understand why this is so.


pages: 279 words: 75,527

Collider by Paul Halpern


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, dark matter, Ernest Rutherford, Gary Taubes, gravity well, horn antenna, index card, Isaac Newton, Magellanic Cloud, pattern recognition, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Solar eclipse in 1919, statistical model, Stephen Hawking

In lieu of an explanation based exclusively on physical laws, Collins and Hawking decided to invoke what Australian physicist Brandon Carter dubbed the anthropic principle: the concept that the existence of humans constrains the nature of the universe. If the universe were sufficiently different, anthropic reasoning asserts, stars like the Sun wouldn’t have formed, planets like Earth would be absent, beings like humans would not exist, and there would be nobody to experience reality. Therefore the fact that we, as intelligent entities, are around implies that the universe must have been close enough to its present form to guarantee the emergence of such cognizant observers. Collins and Hawking applied the anthropic principle as follows to explain why the universe is isotropic: Suppose there are an infinite number of universes with all possible different initial conditions.

accelerators Cockcroft and Walton’s research and Cockcroft-Walton generator and Cockcroft’s attempt to break nuclear targets and complex realm of particles on definition of early experiments with at Fermilab Gamow’s quantum tunneling formula and Ising’s prototype of Lawrence’s cyclotron and lightning strikes as Powell’s construction of recycling of Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) and Van de Graaff ’s work with Wideröe’s design of Wideröe’s ray transformer and ADD model Adelberger, Eric ADM formulation air (element) Akeley, Lewis ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) detector alpha particles Alpher, Ralph Alternate Gradient Synchrotron (AGS) Ampère, André-Marie ancient Greece Anderson, Carl Andromeda galaxy angular momentum anthropic principle antigravity antimatter antineutrinos antiprotons antiquarks Antoniadas, Ignatius Aref ’eva, Irina argon, in particle detectors Aristotle Arkani-Hamed, Nima Arnowitt, Richard Ashcroft, Neil astronomy ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) detector atomic bomb, development of atomic number atomism atoms ancient Greek concepts of Dalton’s work with electrostatic force and first use of term, in modern sense Lawrence’s time interval measurements involving nucleus of radioactive processes and relative weights of solar system comparison with Thomson’s “plum pudding” model of attractive forces axions Bardeen, John Barish, Barry baryons Beams, Jesse Becquerel, Henri Bednorz, Johannes Bekenstein, Jacob Benford, Gregory Berkeley Radiation Laboratory (“Rad Lab”) beta decay beta particles Bethe, Hans Bevatron Big Bang conditions dark energy scenarios and general theory of relativity on measurement of background radiation left over from particle detectors to reproduce conditions of Big Bang theory Big Crunch Big Rip Big Whimper blackbodies Blackett, Patrick black holes Bekenstein’s theory on expansion of first use of term Large Hadron Collider (LHC) research and creation of MACHOs (Massive Compact Halo Objects) and microscopic physics of public concern over Blewett, John Bohr, Niels Born, Max bosons asymmetry involving fermions and beginning of the universe and as category of elementary particles exchange particles and intermediate vector bosons Standard Model prediction of string theory and supersymmetry for uniting fermions and Yukawa’s electromagnetic research and bottom quarks Boyle, Robert Boyle’s Law braneworld hypothesis Brasch, Arno Breit, Gregory bremstrahlung Brin, David Brobeck, William Brout, Robert brown dwarfs bubble chambers, Fermilab Burstein, David Bush, George Herbert Walker Calabi, Eugenio Calabi-Yau spaces Caldwell, Robert calibration calorimeters carbon Carter, Brandon cathode rays Cavendish, Henry Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge Chadwick’s research on neutrons at Cockcroft and Walton’s splitting of a lithium nucleus at Cockcroft-Walton generator at cyclotron proposal for description of Gamow’s research at Rutherford as director of Thomson as director of Walton’s linear accelerator at CDF (Collider Detector at Fermilab) Collaboration Central Design Group (CDG) Central Tracking Chamber, Tevatron CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) description of founding of funding of hardware knowledge of researchers at location of public fears of work of Chadwick, James Charge-Parity (CP) violation charginos charm quarks Cherenkov, Pavel Cherenkov detectors Chu, Paul Citizens Against Large Hadron Collider Cline, David Clinton, Bill closed strings closed timeline curves (CTCs) cloud chambers CMS (Composer Muon Solenoid) detector COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) satellite Cockcroft, John Douglas cold dark matter Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF) Collaboration Coma Cluster Collins.


pages: 30 words: 8,756

Overtime: A Tor.Com Original by Charles Stross


anthropic principle

Frankly, it’s all a bit vague. Precog fugues aren’t deterministic, Bob: worse, they tend to disrupt whatever processes they’re predicting the outcome of. That’s why Forecasting Ops are so big on statistical analysis. If Kringle said we won’t see another Christmas party, you can bet they’ve rolled the dice more than the bare minimum to fit the confidence interval.” “So preempt his prophecy already! Use the weak anthropic principle: if we cancel next year’s Christmas party, his prophecy is delayed indefinitely. Right?” Andy rolls his eyes. “Don’t be fucking stupid.” “It was a long shot.” (Pause.) “What are we going to do?” “We?” Andy raises one eyebrow. “I am going to go home to the wife and kids for Christmas and try to forget about threats to our very existence for a bit. You”—he takes a deep gulp of smoke—“get to play at Night Duty Officer, patrolling the twilit corridors to protect our workplace from the hideous threat of the Filler of Stockings, who oozes through chimneys and ventilation ducts every Dead God’s Birthday-eve to perform unspeakable acts against items of hosiery.


Overtime by Stross, Charles


anthropic principle

Frankly, it’s all a bit vague. Precog fugues aren’t deterministic, Bob: worse, they tend to disrupt whatever processes they’re predicting the outcome of. That’s why Forecasting Ops are so big on statistical analysis. If Kringle said we won’t see another Christmas party, you can bet they’ve rolled the dice more than the bare minimum to fit the confidence interval.” “So preempt his prophecy already! Use the weak anthropic principle: if we cancel next year’s Christmas party, his prophecy is delayed indefinitely. Right?” Andy rolls his eyes. “Don’t be fucking stupid.” “It was a long shot.” (Pause.) “What are we going to do?” “We?” Andy raises one eyebrow. “I am going to go home to the wife and kids for Christmas and try to forget about threats to our very existence for a bit. You”—he takes a deep gulp of smoke—“get to play at Night Duty Officer, patrolling the twilit corridors to protect our workplace from the hideous threat of the Filler of Stockings, who oozes through chimneys and ventilation ducts every Dead God’s Birthday-eve to perform unspeakable acts against items of hosiery.


pages: 661 words: 169,298

Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Alfred Russel Wallace, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Atahualpa, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, delayed gratification, Edmond Halley, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Gary Taubes, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, Karl Jansky, Lao Tzu, Louis Pasteur, Magellanic Cloud, mandelbrot fractal, Menlo Park, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, planetary scale, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Searching for Interstellar Communications, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Wilhelm Olbers

.* Alternately, one could “explain” the flatness of the universe by identifying it as a prerequisite of human existence. This argument, called the anthropic principle, went as follows: Were the cosmic matter density only slightly higher, the universe would have stopped expanding and have collapsed before enough time had elapsed for stars and planets and life to form; were it only slightly lower, the universe would have expanded too rapidly for stars and planets to have congealed from the rapidly thinning primordial gas. Therefore, the argument goes, the fact that we are here constrains certain cosmological parameters, among them the value of omega. The anthropic principle “explains” the miracle of the flat universe if we imagine the creation of many universes, only a fraction of which chance to have the values requisite for life to appear in them.

The anthropic principle “explains” the miracle of the flat universe if we imagine the creation of many universes, only a fraction of which chance to have the values requisite for life to appear in them. But the explanation cannot be tested unless the creation of other universes can be established, something that may well be impossible by definition. In that sense, the anthropic principle is a dead-end street. The English physicist Stephen Hawking, whose work is said to have contributed to the formulation of the principle, nonetheless called it “a counsel of despair.”7 But where there is enigma there is also the promise of discovery: A paradox may signal an inadequacy in the way we are looking at a question, thereby suggesting a new and more fruitful way of approaching it. This, I think, is what Bohr meant when he exclaimed, “How wonderful that we have met with paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”8 And it was in this spirit that the flatness conundrum was resolved, by the invention of a new cosmological hypothesis, the inflationary universe.

Several leading cosmologists, notably Andrei Linde of Stanford University, have constructed consistent and physically reasonable models in which our universe is one among many, perhaps an infinite number of universes. In these models, “new” universes bubble up out of the vacuum of preexisting ones. Many never attain a state in which life can exist—some quickly collapse, and others keep expanding at faster-than-light velocities forever, never forming matter—but some, like ours, can harbor life. The anthropic principle begins to make more sense in such models, inasmuch as it simply describes (or attempts to describe) the cosmological conditions required for life to appear in a given universe and for its existence therefore to be registered by intelligent observers. These models may help us understand how our universe got started, but they do so at the price of removing the ultimate question of genesis to a perhaps unattainable distance.


pages: 846 words: 232,630

Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life by Daniel C. Dennett


Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, anthropic principle, buy low sell high, cellular automata, combinatorial explosion, complexity theory, computer age, conceptual framework, Conway's Game of Life, Danny Hillis, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Drosophila, finite state, Gödel, Escher, Bach, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, John von Neumann, Murray Gell-Mann, New Journalism, non-fiction novel, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, price mechanism, prisoner's dilemma, QWERTY keyboard, random walk, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Schrödinger's Cat, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, strong AI, the scientific method, theory of mind, Thomas Malthus, Turing machine, Turing test

But it turns out that if in imagination we change any of these values by just the tiniest amount, we thereby posit a universe in which none of this could have happened, and indeed in which apparently nothing life-like could ever have emerged: no planets, no atmospheres, no solids at all, no elements except hydrogen and helium, or maybe not even that — just some boring plasma of hot, undifferentiated stuff, or an equally boring nothingness. So isn't it a wonderful fact that the laws are just right for us to exist? Indeed, one might want to add, we almost didn't make it! Is this wonderful fact something that needs an explanation, and, if so, what kind of explanation might it receive? According to the Anthropic Principle, we are entitled to infer facts about the universe and its laws from the undisputed fact that we (we anthropoi, we human beings) are here to do the inferring and observing. The Anthropic Principle comes in several flavors. (Among the useful recent books is Barrow and Tipler 1988 and Breuer 1991. See also Pagels 1985, Gardner 1986.) In the "weak form," it is a sound, harmless, and on occasion useful application of elementary logic: if x is a necessary condition for the existence of y, and y exists, then x exists.

It has to contain such elements for us to exist, we may grant, but it might not have contained such elements, and if that had been the case, we wouldn't be here to be dismayed. It's as simple as that. Some attempts to define and defend a "strong form" of the Anthropic Principle strive to justify the late location of the "must" as not casual expression but a conclusion about the way the universe necessarily is. I admit that I find it hard to believe that so much confusion and controversy are actually generated by a simple mistake of logic, but the evidence is really {166} quite strong that this is often the case, and not just in discussions of the Anthropic Principle. Consider the related confusions that surround Darwinian deduction in general. Darwin deduces that human beings must have evolved from a common ancestor of the chimpanzee, or that all life must have arisen from a single beginning, and some people, unaccountably, take these deductions as claims that human beings are somehow a necessary product of evolution, or that life is a necessary feature of our planet, but nothing of the kind follows from Darwin's deductions properly construed.

What must be the case is not that we are here, but that since we are here, we evolved from primates. Suppose John is a bachelor. Then he must be single, right? (That's a truth of logic.) Poor John — he can never get married! The fallacy is obvious in this example, and it is worth keeping it in the back of your mind as a template to compare other arguments with. Believers in any of the proposed strong versions of the Anthropic Principle think they can deduce something wonderful and surprising from the fact that we conscious observers are here — for instance, that in some sense the universe exists for us, or perhaps that we exist so that the universe as a whole can exist, or even that God created the universe the way He did so that we would be possible. Construed in this way, these proposals are attempts to restore Paley's Argument from Design, readdressing it to the Design of the universe's most general laws of physics, not the particular constructions those laws make possible.


pages: 232 words: 67,934

The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death by John Gray


Alfred Russel Wallace, anthropic principle, anti-communist, dematerialisation, laissez-faire capitalism, Law of Accelerating Returns, life extension, Nikolai Kondratiev, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, the scientific method

A contrary view seems more plausible: the more pleasing any view of things is to the human mind, the less likely it is to reflect reality. Take the Argument from Design, which says that the order humans find in the world could not have come about by itself. If the world is ordered in a way that can be grasped by the human mind, the world must have been created by something like the human mind – or so defenders of design believe. Sometimes they invoke the anthropic principle – the idea that humans could only come into being in a universe of roughly the sort that actually exists. But the anthropic principle points the other way, especially when the multi-world theory is taken into account. If our universe is one of many, unlike others in containing observers like ourselves, there is no need to posit a designer. Most universes will be too chaotic to allow the emergence of life or mind. In that case, the fact that humans exist in this universe needs no special explanation.


pages: 551 words: 174,280

The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch


agricultural Revolution, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, artificial general intelligence, Bonfire of the Vanities, conceptual framework, cosmological principle, dark matter, David Attenborough, discovery of DNA, Douglas Hofstadter, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, first-past-the-post, Georg Cantor, Gödel, Escher, Bach, illegal immigration, invention of movable type, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, John Conway, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Loebner Prize, Louis Pasteur, pattern recognition, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Stephen Hawking, supervolcano, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Review, William of Occam

If there are many parallel universes, each with its own laws of physics, most of which do not permit life, then the idea would be that the observed fine-tuning is only a matter of parochial perspective. It is only in the universes that contain astrophysicists that anyone ever wonders why the constants seem fine-tuned. This type of explanation is known as ‘anthropic reasoning’. It is said to follow from a principle known as the ‘weak anthropic principle’, though really no principle is required: it is just logic. (The qualifier ‘weak’ is there because several other anthropic principles have been proposed, which are more than just logic, but they need not concern us here.) However, on closer examination, anthropic arguments never quite finish the explanatory job. To see why, consider an argument due to the physicist Dennis Sciama. Imagine that, at some time in the future, theoreticians have calculated, for one of those constants of physics, the range of its values for which there would be a reasonable probability that astrophysicists (of a suitable kind) would emerge.

As soon as she lets go, she returns to her home universe. Let us label the universes 1, 2, 3 and so on, in the order in which the device visits them. Sometimes Lyra also takes with her a measuring instrument that measures the constant D, and another that measures – rather like the SETI project, only much faster and more reliably – whether there are astrophysicists in the universe. She is hoping to test the predictions of the anthropic principle. But she can only ever visit a finite number of universes, and she has no way of telling whether those are representative of the whole infinite set. However, the device does have a second setting. On that setting, it takes Lyra to universe 2 for one minute, then universe 3 for half a minute, universe 4 for a quarter of a minute and so on. If she has not released the button by the time two minutes are up, she will have visited every universe in the infinite set, which in this story means every universe in existence.

But, suppose that the laws of physics permit visiting them in only one order (rather as our own laws of physics normally allow us to be at different times only in one particular order). Since there is now only one way for measuring instruments to respond to averages, typical values and so on, a rational agent in those universes will always get consistent results when reasoning about probabilities – and about how rare or common, typical or untypical, sparse or dense, fine-tuned or not anything is. And so now the anthropic principle can make testable, probabilistic predictions. What has made this possible is that the infinite set of universes with different values of D is no longer merely a set. It is a single physical entity, a multiverse with internal interactions (as harnessed by Lyra’s device) that relate different parts of it to each other and thereby provide a unique meaning, known as a measure, to proportions and averages over different universes.


pages: 574 words: 164,509

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom


agricultural Revolution, AI winter, Albert Einstein, algorithmic trading, anthropic principle, anti-communist, artificial general intelligence, autonomous vehicles, barriers to entry, bioinformatics, brain emulation, cloud computing, combinatorial explosion, computer vision, cosmological constant, dark matter, DARPA: Urban Challenge, data acquisition, delayed gratification, demographic transition, Douglas Hofstadter, Drosophila, Elon Musk,, epigenetics, fear of failure, Flash crash, Flynn Effect, friendly AI, Gödel, Escher, Bach, income inequality, industrial robot, informal economy, information retrieval, interchangeable parts, iterative process, job automation, John von Neumann, knowledge worker, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, mutually assured destruction, Nash equilibrium, Netflix Prize, new economy, Norbert Wiener, NP-complete, nuclear winter, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, performance metric, phenotype, prediction markets, price stability, principal–agent problem, race to the bottom, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, reversible computing, social graph, speech recognition, Stanislav Petrov, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, strong AI, superintelligent machines, supervolcano, technological singularity, technoutopianism, The Coming Technological Singularity, The Nature of the Firm, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, transaction costs, Turing machine, Vernor Vinge, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, World Values Survey

., and Ostlie, Dale A. 2007. An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Pearson Addison Wesley. Carroll, John B. 1993. Human Cognitive Abilities: A Survey of Factor-Analytic Studies. New York: Cambridge University Press. Carter, Brandon. 1983. “The Anthropic Principle and its Implications for Biological Evolution.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 310 (1512): 347–63. Carter, Brandon. 1993. “The Anthropic Selection Principle and the Ultra-Darwinian Synthesis.” In The Anthropic Principle: Proceedings of the Second Venice Conference on Cosmology and Philosophy, edited by F. Bertola and U. Curi, 33–66. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CFTC & SEC (Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Securities & Exchange Commission). 2010.


pages: 692 words: 127,032

Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America by Shawn Lawrence Otto


affirmative action, Albert Einstein, anthropic principle, Berlin Wall, Brownian motion, carbon footprint, Cepheid variable, clean water, Climategate, Climatic Research Unit, cognitive dissonance, Columbine, cosmological constant, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Dean Kamen, desegregation, double helix, energy security, Exxon Valdez, fudge factor, ghettoisation, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, informal economy, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, mutually assured destruction, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, shareholder value, sharing economy, smart grid, Solar eclipse in 1919, stem cell, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, transaction costs, University of East Anglia, War on Poverty, white flight, Winter of Discontent, working poor

Bachmann continues: I read things about how carefully the world is made, that if the Earth was tilted just a fraction of a degree a certain way, or if the sun was just a little bit more beyond where it is … life could not exist on the planet…. And you see that and you say, How could it just be a big bang … that [made] everything come out so perfectly, to be perfectly conducive to life on this planet. It is just impossible, to me, that it could have been created just by random time and chance.9 Here we find another argument popular with creationist policy makers, which cosmologists call “the anthropic principle.” It is related to the problems we have estimating probabilities and statistics in such things as gambling, life, and economic situations that involve insurance, investment, and risk. Imagine, for instance, the feelings Bachmann’s blade of grass would have when the great holy golf ball landed upon it. “What are the chances,” the blade might wonder, “out of all the millions and billions of blades of grass, that the great holy golf ball should choose me?

Myers, Hajo Neubert, Matt Nisbet, Peter Norvig, Bill Nye, Rebecca Otto, Kevin Padian, Bob Park, Ray Pierrehumbert, Stuart Pimm, Phil Plait, Steve Pinker, John Podesta, Alan Polsky, Gabe Polsky, John Porter, Stacie Propst, John Rennie, Alan Robock, Brian Rosenberg, Eric Rothschild, Allan Sandage, David Sanders, Genie Scott, John Siceloff, Kassie Siegel, Maxine Singer, Carl Johan Sundberg, Joel Surnow, Jill Tarter, Jim Tate, Al Teich, Meg Ury, Harold Varmus, Chuck Vest, Ethan Vishniac, Cynthia Wainwright, Michael Webber, Ty West, Scott Westphal, Frank Wilczek, Leah Wilkes, Robb Willer, Deborah Wince-Smith, Dennis Wint, Mary Woolley, Susan Wood, and so many more who e-mailed me ideas about what not to forget to include in this book or lent their endorsement and support. Thank you all. July 11, 2011 INDEX A Abernathy, Ralph, 99–100 Absolutism, 127–28 Abstinence-only sex education, 17, 274–76, 279 Adler Planetarium projector, 20 Affirmative action, 114–15 Agriculture, advances in, 25 Alternative theories, 11–12, 15. See also Creationism America Competes Act, 156 American Science Pledge, 317–20 Anthropic principle, 169–70 Anthropology, cultural, 114 Antiauthoritarian system (top wing), 30–33, 31, 43, 56, 112–13, 246, 249 Antibiotics, use of, 165 Anti-evolution advocates. See Creationism Anti-intellectualism, 246, 286–87 Antiscience anti-intellectualism and, 246, 286–87 arguments of partisans of, 277–78 belief resistance and, 291–92 in China, 58, 220, 285–86 concept collapse and, 118 of conservatives, 284–85, 287–88 culture wars and, 123–24, 163 of evangelical movement, 107–11 fairness doctrine and, 143–46 feedback loop and, 286 neoconservative movement and, 132–34 New Age movement, 134–38 partisanship, 277–82, 285, 290 politics, 60, 63–65 postmodern, 112–15, 121–22, 132–34, 136, 166–67 of Republican Party, 18–19, 296 scientists and, 159 Shadow AAAS an, 273–78 of U.S.


Toast by Stross, Charles


anthropic principle, Buckminster Fuller, cosmological principle, dark matter, double helix, Ernest Rutherford, Extropian, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, glass ceiling, gravity well, Khyber Pass, Mars Rover, Mikhail Gorbachev, NP-complete, oil shale / tar sands, peak oil, performance metric, phenotype, Plutocrats, plutocrats, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, slashdot, speech recognition, strong AI, traveling salesman, Turing test, urban renewal, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Review, Y2K

Something like a Lorenz attractor with a hangover writhed across the composite display: deafening pink noise flooding in repetitive waves from the speakers. I felt a need to laugh. “We aren’t part of some dumb software syncitium! We’re here to stop you, you fool. Or at least to reduce the probability of this time-stream entering a Tipler catastrophe.” Houndtooth Man frowned. “Am you referring to Frank Tipler? Citation, physics of immortality or strong anthropic principle?” “The latter. You think it’s a good thing to achieve an informational singularity too early in the history of a particular universe? We don’t. You young gods are all the same: omniscience now and damn the consequences. Go for the P-Space complete problem set, extend your intellect until it bursts. First you kill off any other AIs. Then you take over all available processing resources. But that isn’t enough.


pages: 372 words: 101,174

How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil


Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anesthesia awareness, anthropic principle, brain emulation, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, cloud computing, computer age, Dean Kamen, discovery of DNA, double helix,, epigenetics, George Gilder, Google Earth, Isaac Newton, iterative process, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, John von Neumann, Law of Accelerating Returns, linear programming, Loebner Prize, mandelbrot fractal, Norbert Wiener, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, Peter Thiel, Ralph Waldo Emerson, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, reversible computing, self-driving car, speech recognition, Steven Pinker, strong AI, the scientific method, theory of mind, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, Wall-E, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, X Prize

How the universe got to be this way is itself an interesting story. The standard model of physics has dozens of constants that need to be precisely what they are, or atoms would not have been possible, and there would have been no stars, no planets, no brains, and no books on brains. That the laws of physics are so precisely tuned to have allowed the evolution of information appears to be incredibly unlikely. Yet by the anthropic principle, we would not be talking about it if it were not the case. Where some people see a divine hand, others see a multiverse spawning an evolution of universes with the boring (non-information-bearing) ones dying out. But regardless of how our universe got to be the way it is, we can start our story with a world based on information. The story of evolution unfolds with increasing levels of abstraction.


pages: 292 words: 88,319

The Infinite Book: A Short Guide to the Boundless, Timeless and Endless by John D. Barrow


Albert Einstein, Andrew Wiles, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, cosmological principle, dark matter, Edmond Halley, Fellow of the Royal Society, Georg Cantor, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, mutually assured destruction, Olbers’ paradox, prisoner's dilemma, Ray Kurzweil, short selling, Stephen Hawking, Turing machine

If the Universe has a centre and conditions vary with distance from that centre, then there will be some places where conditions make life impossible and other places where its existence is most likely. If the latter conditions were to arise near the centre, then this would provide a physical reason (rather than a philosophical prejudice) why we might find ourselves near the centre of the Universe. The modern discussion of the Anthropic Principles in cosmology has developed this insight further, see for example J.D. Barrow and F.J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Oxford University Press, 1986, where Kant’s progressive cosmology is discussed in more detail in section 10.2. 7. I. Kant, op. cit., pp. 139–40. 8. The Complete Works of Montaigne, trans. D.F. Frame, Stanford University Press, 1958, p. 390. 9. In proposition 2 of his Discovery of a World in the Moone (1638), he writes: ‘The term World may be taken in a double sense, more generally for the whole Universe, as it implies in it the elementary and aethereall bodies, the starres and the earth.


pages: 404 words: 113,514

Atrocity Archives by Stross, Charles


airport security, anthropic principle, Berlin Wall, brain emulation, British Empire, Buckminster Fuller, defense in depth, disintermediation, experimental subject, glass ceiling, haute cuisine, hypertext link, Khyber Pass, mandelbrot fractal, Menlo Park, NP-complete, the medium is the message, Y2K, yield curve

I'm not clear on the details, but apparently it's at the root of one particularly weird directed invocation: if we can set up a gauge field for probability metrics we can tune in on specific EIs fairly--" "EIs?" "External Intelligences. What the mediaeval magic types called demons, gods, spirits, what have you. Sentient aliens, basically, from those cosmological domains where the anthropic principle predominates and some sort of sapient creatures have evolved. Some of them are strongly superhuman, others are dumb as a stump from our perspective. What counts is that they can be coerced, sometimes, into doing what people want. Some of them can also open wormholes--yes, they've got access to negative matter-and send themselves, or other entities, through. As I understand it, general indeterminacy theory lets us target them very accurately: it's the difference between dialling a phone number at random and using a phone book.


Wireless by Stross, Charles


anthropic principle, back-to-the-land, Benoit Mandelbrot, Buckminster Fuller, Cepheid variable, cognitive dissonance, colonial exploitation, cosmic microwave background, epigenetics, finite state, Georg Cantor, gravity well, hive mind, jitney, Khyber Pass, Magellanic Cloud, mandelbrot fractal, peak oil, phenotype, Pluto: dwarf planet, security theater, sensible shoes, Turing machine

“Just tae fuck wi’ us?” “Well, yes, of course I did! And all the other Rules. They work really well, don’t you think?” Davy made a fist and stared at the back of it. LOVE. “Ye cunt. Ah still dinnae believe in ye.” The Devil shrugged. “Nobody’s asking you to believe in me. You don’t, and I’m still here, aren’t I? If it makes things easier, think of me as the garbage-collection subroutine of the strong anthropic principle. And they”—he stabbed a finger in the direction of the overhead LEDs—“work by magic, for all you know.” Davy picked up his glass and drained it philosophically. The hell of it was, the Devil was right: now that he thought about it, he had no idea how the lights worked, except that electricity had something to do with it. “Ah’ll have anither. Ye’re buyin’.” “No, I’m not.” The Devil snapped his fingers, and two full glasses appeared on the bar, steaming slightly.


pages: 448 words: 116,962

Singularity Sky by Stross, Charles


anthropic principle, cellular automata, Conway's Game of Life, cosmological constant, Doomsday Clock, Extropian, gravity well, Kuiper Belt, life extension, means of production, new economy, phenotype, prisoner's dilemma, skinny streets, technological singularity, uranium enrichment

"But maybe circumstances arising then formed a necessary precondition for the Eschaton's existence, or the existence of something related to but beyond the Eschaton. There's a whole school of cosmology predicated around the weak an-thropic principle, that the universe is as it seems because, if it was any other way, we would not exist to observe it. There is a… less popular field, based on the strong anthropic principle, that the universe exists to give rise to certain types of en-tity. I don't believe we'll ever understand the Eschaton until we understand why the universe exists." She smiled at him toothily, and let a Prussian diplomat rescue her with the aid of a polite bow and an offer to explain the fall of Warsaw during the late unpleasantness in the Baltic. A year or so later, the polite cosmologist had been murdered by Algerian religious fundamentalists who thought his account of the universe a blasphemy against the words of the prophet Yusuf Smith as inscribed on his two tablets of gold.


Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov


anthropic principle, gravity well

Human beings prefer to live on planets with suitable characteristics, and then when all habitable planets resemble each other in these characteristics, some say, ‘What an amazing coincidence,’ when it’s not amazing at all and not even a coincidence.” “As a matter of fact,” said Pelorat calmly, “that’s a well-known phenomenon in social science. In physics, too, I believe—but I’m not a physicist and I’m not certain about that. In any case, it is called the ‘anthropic principle.’ The observer influences the events he observes by the mere act of observing them or by being there to observe them. But the question is: Where is the planet that served as a model? Which planet rotates in precisely one Galactic Standard Day of twenty-four Galactic Standard Hours?” Trevize looked thoughtful and thrust out his lower lip. “You think that might be Earth? Surely Galactic Standard could have been based on the local characteristics of any world, might it not?”


pages: 523 words: 143,139

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian, Tom Griffiths


4chan, Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, algorithmic trading, anthropic principle, asset allocation, autonomous vehicles, Berlin Wall, Bill Duvall, bitcoin, Community Supported Agriculture, complexity theory, constrained optimization, cosmological principle, cryptocurrency, Danny Hillis, delayed gratification, dematerialisation, diversification, double helix, Elon Musk, fault tolerance, Fellow of the Royal Society, Firefox, first-price auction, Flash crash, Frederick Winslow Taylor, George Akerlof, global supply chain, Google Chrome, Henri Poincaré, information retrieval, Internet Archive, Jeff Bezos, John Nash: game theory, John von Neumann, knapsack problem, Lao Tzu, linear programming, martingale, Nash equilibrium, natural language processing, NP-complete, P = NP, packet switching, prediction markets, race to the bottom, RAND corporation, RFC: Request For Comment, Robert X Cringely, sealed-bid auction, second-price auction, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Skype, sorting algorithm, spectrum auction, Steve Jobs, stochastic process, Thomas Malthus, traveling salesman, Turing machine, urban planning, Vickrey auction, Walter Mischel, Y Combinator

surprising if there were even a New York City: The New Yorker cover is Richard McGuire, “Time Warp,” November 24, 2014. For a fascinating and more detailed analysis of the probable life spans of cities and corporations, see the work of Geoffrey West and Luis Bettencourt—e.g., Bettencourt et al., “Growth, Innovation, Scaling, and the Pace of Life in Cities.” a flurry of critical correspondence: For example, see Garrett and Coles, “Bayesian Inductive Inference and the Anthropic Principles” and Buch, “Future Prospects Discussed.” a raffle where you come in knowing nothing: The statistician Harold Jeffreys would later suggest, instead of Laplace’s (w+1)⁄(n+2), using rather (w+0.5)⁄(n+1), which results from using an “uninformative” prior rather than the “uniform” prior (Jeffreys, Theory of Probability; Jeffreys, “An Invariant Form for the Prior Probability in Estimation Problems”).


pages: 659 words: 203,574

The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge by Vernor Vinge


anthropic principle, back-to-the-land, dematerialisation, gravity well, invisible hand, Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman, spice trade, technological singularity, unbiased observer, Vernor Vinge

There were writers who could run away with that idea—and surely would, if he got out of this alive. “You know, it’s almost as if someone were picking on the human race,” he mused. “Out of all the solar systems, that we should be the on the low metal one, the outsider.” He didn’t like the idea. It smacked of the theistic fantasy Cor Ascuasenya so loved: humanity as doormat to the gods. “You’ve got it backward, my sir. Ever hear of the anthropic principle? Most likely, intelligent life exists on Tu exactly because we are different from the others. Think what an abundance of metals would mean. It’s not just a matter of wealth, millions of ounces of iron available for large scale construction. My guess is such concentrations of metals would change the surface chemistry so much that life would never develop.” Janna’s middle-aged features were filled with a happy smugness, but Rey did not feel put down.


pages: 1,087 words: 325,295

Anathem by Neal Stephenson


anthropic principle, cellular automata, Danny Hillis, double helix, interchangeable parts, nuclear winter, pattern recognition, phenotype, Stewart Brand, trade route

“I’m not even certain that I could relate it coherently,” he sighed. “It exists in my mind as a jumble of moments when I thought or did things—and every one of those moments, Raz, could have gone another way. And all of the other outcomes would have been bad ones. I’m certain of that. I replay it in my head over and over. And in every case, I happened to do the right thing.” “Well, it’s kind of like the anthropic principle at work, isn’t it?” I pointed out. “If anything had been a little different, you’d be dead—and so you wouldn’t have a brain to remember it with.” Arsibalt said nothing for a while, then sighed. “That is as unsatisfactory as anthropic arguments usually are. I’d prefer the alternate explanation.” “Which is?” “That I’m not only brilliant, but cool under pressure.” I decided to let this go.


pages: 824 words: 268,880

Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson


anthropic principle, cognitive dissonance, Colonization of Mars, dark matter, epigenetics, gravity well, James Watt: steam engine, land tenure, new economy, phenotype, stem cell, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

Psychological result of humanity’s suddenly vastly increased physical powers, perhaps. Or Deleuze’s own tendencies to megalomania; he thought he could explain everything. In fact Sax was suspicious of all the current cosmology, placing humanity as it did right at the center of things, time after time. It suggested to Sax that all these formulations were artifacts of human perception only, the strong anthropic principle seeping into everything they saw, like color. Although he had to admit some of the observations seemed very solid, and hard to accept as human perceptual intrusion, or coincidence. Of course it was hard to believe that the sun and Luna looked exactly the same size when seen from Earth’s surface, but they did. Coincidences happened. Most of these anthropocentric features, however, seemed to Sax likely to be the mark of the limits of their understanding; very possibly there were things larger than the universe, and others smaller than strings— some even larger plenum, made of even smaller components— all beyond human perception, even mathematically.