Goldilocks, Philosophy of Science, and the Observable World


Robert Lanza recently wrote a great piece on the basis of our understanding of the objective world. Essentially taking the Cartesian, “Cogito, ergo Sum” idea and placing it at the feet of Modern Quantum Mechanics. His basic premise is that the world is only real through our observation of it. And because of this, the study of Biology is the natural forerunner in the quest for an all encompassing theory of everything.

He’s a brilliant guy. And I agree with much of the article, including how Biology is a fundamental science that is only now starting to be fully understood. But, I have some quarrels over a few points, that I can’t let go of.

First, his insistence that because the world is currently perfectly ballanced for the life we have on earth to exist and that it’s in a fragile equilibrium state, that the universe was necessarily designed with this life in mind (not by God, per se, but “fate” or what have you):

As we have seen, the world appears to be designed for life not just at the microscopic scale of the atom, but at the level of the universe itself. In cosmology, scientists have discovered that the universe has a long list of traits that make it appear as if everything it contains—from atoms to stars—was tailor-made for us. Many are calling this revelation the Goldilocks principle, because the cosmos is not too this or too that, but just right for life. Others are calling it the anthropic principle, because the universe appears to be human centered. And still others are calling it intelligent design, because they believe it’s no accident that the heavens are so ideally suited for us. By any name, the discovery is causing a huge commotion within the astrophysics community and beyond.

This is a classic case of people misunderstanding one of the basic principles of Game Theory (A field of Mathematics–think John Nash of “A Beautiful Mind”–highly applicable to both the quantum world and Biology and Genetics). Players (in this case quantum particles reacting with one another) do NOT set out toward some equilibrium (the equilibrium that is currently allowing life to exist in the universe), but instead simply “do their own thing”, each under the invisible hand of causation.

If it seems like the Universe was built for the Earth and all of its life forms, it is because that is where we are.  IF there was a God who had SET OUT to create this particular universe, THEN it would seem magical that he was able to do it. But, retroactively imbuing a present state with a historically motivated existence is to miss the point entirely.

It’s just probability. There could have been any number of universes. And we have no Idea what may or may not have existed in them. Under different laws of physics in a different possible universe, life could be based, not on Carbon, but on Silicon, or something else, that doesn’t even exist in ours.

But because this is where we are, people seem to think that it HAD to be this way.  That is, for it to be this way, it had to be this way. True! But, that kind of circular logic that doesn’t mean anything.

Another Point of contention:

What we interpret as the world is brought into existence inside our head. Sensory information does not impress upon the brain, as particles of light impress upon the film in a camera. The images you see are a construction by the brain.

The IMAGES are constructions by the brain. But that says NOTHING about the objects themselves. We may all live in our own spheres of reality, but that doesn’t mean there is no external objective reality outside of our ability to understand it.

That is confusing the observer with the observed. It is certainly true that we can’t know for sure if there is an external reality at all beyond our own consciousness. But, by the same token, we can’t know if there isn’t. Rejecting it outright is just as fallacious as accepting it.

The material world is analogous to God. There is no way to know whether either exists. We could call this Material Agnosticism: We don’t know if it exists, but we’re gonna try to observe it anyway.

Robert Lanza’s key premise that we must take seriously the role of human perception in science is dead right. We must, lest we ignore the first step in the observation process, the first step in the act of science itself.

But, following his own cautions, we mustn’t pretend to know things we don’t know. In this case, whether there is indeed a material world proper, or if the Universe as it is, was designed to be this way.


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