I’ve been reading Paul Davies’ book, The Goldilocks Enigma (published in the U.S. as “Cosmic Jackpot”) over the last week or so. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a full appreciation of scientist’s thinking about the world we live in. Davies is, IMO, the best expositor of the ‘popular science’ book. He blends, better than anyone else I’ve read, the more technical aspects of physics and real-world analogies that help one to grasp the technical depth he presents.
The Goldilocks Enigma is about what we would call the “anthropic principle”. But Davies, if you will, ups the ante with the inclusion of the implications he says derive from treating ‘dark energy’ in a quantum mechanical way (that is, including so-called ‘quantum fluctuations’). While all of life seems, from the free parameters that we measure, ‘fine-tuned’, the greatest ‘fine-tuning’ comes from the calculation that one does to determine the density of dark matter assuming quantum fluctuations all across the electro-magnetic spectrum up to, and including, EM waves having Planck length (about 10^-33 cm). This calculation results in a density figure of 10^93 grams/cubic centimeter. What is the actual density of dark energy as actually measured? 10^-28 gram/c.c. Thus, the calculation is off by a factor of 10^120. Davies also tells us that calculations have been made indicating that if the dark energy density was off by a factor of 10—that is, if it was 10^-27 instead of 10^-28, then galaxy formation would not be possible; and, hence, no life. This means that dark energy density is ‘fine-tuned’ to one in 10^120.
This last number gets Davies’ attention. Here is what he writes:
“Logically, it is possible that the laws of physics conspire to create an almost but not quite perfect cancellation [of the energy involved in the quantum fluctuations]. But then it would be an extraordinary coincidence that that level of cancellation—119 powers of ten, after all—just happened by chance to be what is needed to bring about a universe fit for life. How much chance can we buy in scientific explanation? One measure of what is involved can be given in terms of coin flipping: odds of 10^120 to one is like getting heads no fewer than four hundred times in a row. if the existence of life in the universe is completely independent of the big fix mechanism—if it’s just a coincidence—then those are the odds against our being here. That level of flukiness seems too much to swallow.” (italics in the original)
Well, anytime someone starts talking about science and coin flips, IDists are interested.
Isn’t it something that Davies finds such ‘odds’ disconcerting when it comes to physical constants, but doesn’t seem too troubled about it when it comes to similar ‘coin flip’ arguments when it comes to simple biology. Sir Fred Hoyle contented himself rather quickly that Darwinian evolution could not account for the diversity of life using a calculation for the probability of forming the DNA sequence coding for the cythochrome C protein—a protein that is remarkably similar along all lines of animals and which is absolutely necessary for cell division to take place. Cytochrome C is about 115 a.a long, equivalent to 345 nucleotides. 4^345, the probability that all those nucleotides came together through pure chance, is equivalent not to ‘four hundred heads in a row’, but 690 heads in a row. If ‘400 hundred heads in a row’ is a level of flukiness that seems too much to swallow, then are we IDists supposed to swallow the odds of 690 heads in a row coming up? Why is this kind of head-shaking taking place when it comes to physical constant, but not when it comes to biological reality?
I haven’t finished the book, but what Davies is proposing as a way around this ‘level of flukiness’ is the notion of ‘pocket universes’. If we assume that the Big Bang goes back all the way to a point, then in order to come up with an infinity of different possible universes — which overcomes the ‘odds’ — we have to have an infinite number of Big Bangs. That’s not very reasonable. However, if the Big Bang goes back to something ‘rounded off’, and not a ‘point’, with this ‘rounding off’ due to ‘quantum fluctuations’, then it is possible that when the original inflation of the early universe took place, the ‘inflation energy’ broke out, but in a quantum mechanical way, with different ‘fluctuations’ resulting in rare, higher-energy states, which would, in turn, begin to ‘inflate’ and result in a ‘pocket universe’; that is, a ‘universe’ within a ‘universe’. This would mean that only ONE Big Bang would be needed, and the rest could be explained by quantum fluctuations, with our ‘universe’ simply being a ‘pocket universe’ that, because of ‘inflation’, is cut-off from the rest of the hugely larger, real universe. This is the so-called “multiverse theory’.
Faced with the above, unacceptable ‘level of flukiness’, Davies writes this:
“What made a difference was the idea of a multiverse, which offers the opportunity to explain the weird bio-friendliness of the universe as a straightforward selection effect, without invoking divine providence.” (my emphasis) ‘Selection effect’? Yes, you read that correctly. It is Darwinism come to the rescue.
This is confirmed when a little further on Davies writes:
“If the universes vary at random, then we would be winners in a gigantic cosmic lottery [hence the U.S. title of “Cosmic Jackpot”], which created the illusion of design. Like many winners of national lotteries, we may mistakenly attribute some deep significance to our having won (being smiled on by Lady Luck, or suchlike), whereas our success really boils down to chance.” (my emphasis) I would think Richard Dawkins’ would be very happy with this wording.
I don’t know about you, but I sure feel lucky today!