For example, brilliant physicist Richard Feynman called 1/137, the fine structure constant, “a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man”:
In Carl Sagan’s Contact, the extraterrestrials embedded a message in the irrational number pi (the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter). But some other numbers are critical to the structure of our universe too — and why they are critical does not make obvious sense.
➤ Perhaps the most fundamental and mysterious one is the fine structure constant of the universe:
A seemingly harmless, random number with no units or dimensions has cropped up in so many places in physics and seems to control one of the most fundamental interactions in the universe.
Its name is the fine-structure constant, and it’s a measure of the strength of the interaction between charged particles and the electromagnetic force. The current estimate of the fine-structure constant is 0.007 297 352 5693, with an uncertainty of 11 on the last two digits. The number is easier to remember by its inverse, approximately 1/137.
If it had any other value, life as we know it would be impossible. And yet we have no idea where it comes from.PAUL SUTTER, “LIFE AS WE KNOW IT WOULD NOT EXIST WITHOUT THIS HIGHLY UNUSUAL NUMBER” AT SPACE.COM (MARCH 24, 2022)
Many famous scientists have reflected on 1/137
News, “Unexplained — maybe unexplainable — numbers control the universe” at Mind Matters News (March 26, 2022)
Takehome: Nobelist Wolfgang Pauli (1945) is said to have remarked, “When I die, my first question to the devil will be: What is the meaning of the fine structure constant?” At any rate, he thought about it a great deal during his life.
You may also wish to read: Why the unknowable number exists but is uncomputable. Sensing that a computer program is “elegant” requires discernment. Proving mathematically that it is elegant is, Chaitin shows, impossible. Gregory Chaitin walks readers through his proof of unknowability, which is based on the Law of Non-contradiction.