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The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? (2006)

de Paul Davies

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Physicist Paul Davies shows how recent scientific discoveries point to a perplexing fact: many basic features of the physical universe--from the speed of light to the most humble carbon atom--seem tailor-made to produce life. A radical new theory says it's because our universe is just one of an infinite number of universes, each one slightly different. Our universe is bio-friendly by accident; we just happened to win the cosmic jackpot. While this multiverse theory is compelling, it has bizarre implications, from infinite copies of each of us to Matrix-like simulated universes. Davies believes there's a more satisfying solution to the question of existence: the observations we make today could help shape the nature of reality in the remote past. If this is true, then life and, ultimately, consciousness aren't just incidental byproducts of nature, but central players in the formation of the universe.--From publisher description.… (mais)
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De natuurkundige Paul Davies kijkt in dit boek kritisch naar de diverse wetenschappelijke opvattingen over het ontstaan van de kosmos en van het leven sinds de spectaculaire vorderingen in de kosmologie door metingen met de Hubble Space Telescope, WMAP-satelliet en de ontdekking van 'donkere energie'. Hij draagt het boek op aan de theoretisch natuurkundige John Archibald Wheeler, die hem inspireerde en meer dan dertig jaar grote belangstelling had voor zijn werk en zijn boeken. Wheeler werkte in de jaren dertig van de vorige eeuw met Niehls Bohr samen aan bepaalde aspecten van kernfusie, zette het werk van Einstein voort over de zwaartekrachttheorie en bedacht de termen 'zwart gat' en 'wormgat'. Hij was overtuigd van de noodzaak om de algemene relativiteitstheorie en de kwantummechanica in één theorie van kwantumzwaartekracht te verenigen. Hij was ongelukkig met de scheiding tussen de concepten van materie en informatie en stelde het idee voor van it from bit (d.w.z. het verschijnen van deeltjes uit informatie). Verandering stond bij Wheeler voorop, niets is in zijn visie absoluut, ook niet de wetten van de kosmos.

In zekere zin is het voorliggende boek een vervolg op het eerdere werk van Paul Davies The Mind of God (1992), maar ondanks de nadruk op het diepe en zinvolle dient het tevens als introductie op de moderne kosmologie en de fundamentele natuurkunde. Davies doet daarbij telkens een beroep op wetenschappelijk onderzoek en op de rede, teneinde de grote vragen van het bestaan aan de orde te stellen. Hij maakt daarbij een scherp onderscheid tussen betrouwbare feiten, redelijk speculeren en wild giswerk.

Veel wetenschappers die zich inspannen om een allesomvattende theorie van het fysische universum te construeren, geven openlijk toe dat een deel van hun motivatie is оm nu eindelijk eens van God af te raken, die ze als een gevaarlijke en infantiele misvatting zien. En niet alleen God, maar elk restje gepraat over God, zoals 'zin' of 'doel' of 'ontwerp' in de natuur. Deze wetenschappers beschouwen wetenschap en religie als twee onverbiddelijk tegengestelde wereldbeelden. Zo niet Paul Davies. Hij erkent dat het concept 'God' voor vele mensen een andere inhoud heeft, maar ook dat "de God van de geleerde theologen [...] de rol van een wijze kosmische architect [heeft], wiens bestaan zich via de rationele orde van de kosmos kenbaar maakt, een orde die in feite door de wetenschap wordt geopenbaard"(p.31/32).

Een centraal thema van dit boek is de biovriendelijkheid van het universum. Daarbij komt ook het godsbewijs van Paley ter sprake. Het leven zit zo ingenieus in elkaar, dat men wel zou moeten uitgaan van een intelligente ontwerper. Davies wijst er echter op, dat Darwins evolutietheorie haar succes juist te danken heeft aan het vermogen om de schijn van ontwerp te verklаrеn zonder een beroep op een ontwerper(-God) te doen. Het leven zou op grond van de natuurwetten door blind toeval kunnen zijn ontstaan (het argument van de blinde horlogemaker van Richard Dawkins). In de kosmologie daarentegen is het ontwerpargument grotendeels immuun voor een darwiniaanse aanval, omdat daarop het mechanisme van variatie, overerving en selectie niet gemakkelijk kan worden toegepast. Davies staat uitvoerig stil bij de multiversumtheorie(ën) die gecombineerd met het antropische principe een selectiecriterium invoeren om de schijn van ontwerp te verklaren en zo de Intelligent-Design-beweging de wind uit de zeilen te nemen. Met instemming citeert hij daarbij uit het artikel van kardinaal Christoph Schönborn1 in de New York Times:

Nu aan het begin van de eenentwintigste eeuw, geconfronteerd met wetenschappelijke claims als neodarwinisme en dе multiversumhypothese in kosmologie, die zijn bedacht om het overweldigende bewijs voor doel en ontwerp te vermijden dat in moderne wetenschap wordt gevonden, zal de Katholieke Kerk opnieuw menselijke redenen verdedigen dооr te verkondigen dat het immanente ontwerp dat evident is in dе natuur, echt is. Wetenschappelijke theorieлn die het vóórkomen van ontwerp als het resultaat vаn 'kans en noodzakelijkheid' proberen weg te redeneren, zijn helemaal niet wetenschappelijk, maar zoals hij [paus Johannes Paulus II - red.] het stelde, een abdicatie van menselijke intelligentie". (p. 222/223)

Ook Paul Davies vindt: "Ontwerp-door-wetten is onvergelijkbaar intelligenter dan ontwerp-door-wonderen. [Want] een serie wetten uitkiezen die zonder enig periodiek regelen en micromanagement een universum laten ontstaan en zelforganisatie, zelfcomplexifícatie en zelfassemblage van leven en bewustzijn teweegbrengen - kijk, dat ziet er nou zeer ingenieus uit!" (p. 223). "De ontwerper-van-wetten is verantwoordelijk voor het universum. [...]Het tyре God dat ik beschrijf, benadert, denk ik, dicht het type waarin veel geleerde theologen - en ... heel wat wetenschappers - beweren te geloven. [...]Een kosmische ontwerper moet buiten de tijd liggen." (p. 224)

In een verbazingwekkend scherpe analyse van de argumenten vóór en tegen bespreekt Davies achtereenvolgens de standpunten die door gerenommeerde wetenschappers en filosofen worden verdedigd: A. het absurde universum (zonder zin of doel); B. het unieke universum (berustend op wiskundige aannames; en dàt sinds Gödels 'onvolledigheidsstelling' - zie p. 310, vtn. 26); C. het multiversum (en waarom dat gauw leidt tot nepuniversa en nepfysica); D. Intelligent Design (dat ook op een ontwerpende supercomputer zou kunnen slaan); E. het levensprincipe (dat het universum dwingt naar leven en geest te evolueren); F. het zichzelf verklarende universum; G. het nepuniversum en H. alle mogelijkheden buiten A t.m. G.

Aan het slot lezen we zijn 'geloofsbelijdenis': Veel wetenschappers zullen mijn E/F-neiging als cryptoreligieus bekritiseren. [...] En dit terwijl ik geloof dat Homo sapiens niet meer dan een toevallig bijproduct van lukrake natuurlijke processen is. Maar toch geloof ik dat leven en geest diep in de structuur van het heelal zijn geëtst, misschien viа een schimmig, vaag gezien levensprincipe, en als ik eerlijk moet zijn, dan moet ik toegeven dat ik dit uitgangspunt meer in mijn hart dan in mijn hoofd voel. Dus misschien is dat wel ееn bepaald soort religieuze overtuiging.

Het zou een goede zaak zijn als dit boek in combinatie met de werken van Teilhard en Alfred North Whitehead door een groot aantal fysici werd gelezen. Voor eenvoudige 'gelovigen' is het mogelijk vaak te moeilijk, al zal het in menig opzicht boeien. HvB
  aitastaes | Jul 22, 2013 |
The Goldilocks Enigma actually is a pretty good book—a far better book than I’d expected going in. I’d seen Paul Davies on the Discovery Channel in 2011, discussing with physicist Sean Carroll, and some others, whether evidence from physics contradicts the hypothesis of a divine creator of the universe. In that exchange, I pegged Davies as an accomodationist in the long-running hostilities between naturalism and religion. That was, I now recognize, at least a slightly unfair characterization.

Davies’ book begins with a survey tour of the current state of physics, paying special attention to the properties of the universe that are both (1) necessary for the emergence of life similar to that found on earth, and (2) difficult or impossible to account for on any orthodox theory of cosmology. This introductory material—truth be told, approximately two-thirds of the book’s length—is actually valuable in its own right as a readable physics popularization. Sure, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably been through much of it before with Stephen Hawking or Michio Kaku or Brian Greene—and Davies is definitely no Brian Greene—but I for one find it useful to rehear this stuff in different mind-voices. If one author can’t make the material stick in my head, sometimes a different one can. My point being: even leaving aside the special mission of The Goldilocks Enigma—to evaluate the cosmologies that are proposed to mitigate the mystery of the existence of life—it’s not a total waste of time if you just read it as a run-of-the-mill book of popular physics.

Davies then turns to explications and evaluations of the various cosmologies proposed by physicists to account for the fact that life exists when nothing inherent in the laws physics seems to insist that life must exist. He gives them names: the Absurd Universe (in which it is total random chance that the laws of physics allow for the emergence of life); the Unique Universe (in which a final physical theory nails down all the parameters of physical law, thus establishing that the only universe that could exist is the one that does exist); the Multiverse (in which a potentially infinite number of universes are generated, and it’s no surprise that we find ourselves in one of the ones whose physical laws are congenial to our existence); the Designed Universe (in which a transcendent being twiddled the knobs of physical law to ensure that life would emerge); the Fake Universe (in which a non-transcendent being in a higher universe is just simulating our universe on his computer, as a science fair project, presumably); and the Self-Explaining/Biophilic Universe (in which the future state of the universe somehow influences the past state of the universe in such a way as to cause the emergence of physical laws which in turn will lead to the emergence of conscious observers, which are pivotal under the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, so that the future universe will exist… the way it wants to?... is this making sense anymore?)

It is notable that of the cosmologies laid out above, Davies prefers the Self-Explaining/Biophilic Universe—the one that both he and I are finding impossible to articulate without sounding like the burnout you met in college at that party that one time (you know who I mean).

In support of what can only be called his “predilection” for the Self-Explaining/Biophilic Universe, Davies trots out the old theistic hobby horse that the canonical cosmologies he surveys yield universes that are “meaningless”—he includes the Designed Universe in this characterization, by the way. Apparently, he intends to avoid this fate for his Self-Explaining/Biophilic Universe by cobbling it together entirely out of sentences that are themselves wholly meaningless. I joke, because I think that Davies has taken too seriously the idea that meaning and meaninglessness are important factors to consider in evaluating cosmologies. He misses the mark for two reasons.

First, he is too quick to assume that there is a class of ultimate cosmological explanations that preserve the importance and meaningfulness of human life. On the contrary, I think it’s just in the nature of cosmological explanations that ultimate meaning will have to be jettisoned. Think about it. Once you have a set of laws expressed in the language of mathematics that completely describes all possible interactions of matter and energy from the beginning of time until its end, how is it possible to justify yourself as the special little snowflake that you perceive yourself to be? A final theory of cosmology, whatever its content, will necessarily be an existential letdown. Whether we succeed in mathematically proving ourselves to be products of chance on the one hand, or of necessity on the other, we will have unleashed an inevitable nihilism on the cosmological scale.

But secondly, and on a more weirdly indomitable note, Davies underestimates the ease with which a sense of meaning can emerge even in an absurd cosmos. Near the end of The Goldilocks Enigma, in dismissing the idea that ours is a fake/simulated universe, Davies reasons, “If the universe is a sham, why bother to figure out how it works?” Maybe he’s just being glib, but this sounds like an obvious instance of bad faith to me. Would Davies really call an end to his career in physics if he found out that the universe was a simulation? I sort of doubt it. I think that he, like pretty much every other physicist, finds a sense of meaning in the quest for an explanation of how this universe works, irrespective of its provenance. Who would care about physics in a simulated universe? You better fucking believe I would, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. To generalize on this point, there’s a flipside to the observation that any scientific cosmology ultimately leads to nihilism at the largest scales: no scientific cosmology can compel nihilism at the human scale. Irrespective of how and whether the ultimate laws of physics place constraints on the kinds of universe that could or can emerge, you and I will go on loving, hating, fearing, and aspiring.
  polutropon | Jan 26, 2012 |
Davies sees some amount of wonder at the bio-friendliness of the universe. Is it just random chance that our universe got it right on the first go? Is there a multi-verse or a bunch of universes, only those of which have observers are observed? Are there an infinite number of universes, or even fake universes? Did God do it? Did the universe create itself? Is life and mind an integral law of the universe?

Such questions Davies seeks to answer. It doesnt seem that he satisfactorily answers them for himself, but the journey provided in the book is very explicative and enlightening. He ends up near the camp that the universe is inextricably interwoven with life, and that it is probable that the universe caused its own existence through some sort of quantum (or other?) mechanism.

Regardless of one's assumptive answer to the above questions, much of one's suppositions is based on faith. Faith in the universe, faith in God, faith on unobserved theoretical physics....its turtles all the way down; pick your super-turtle. ( )
  mbaland | Mar 5, 2010 |
First half of the book's a good introduction into quantum physics and cosmology. The second half's much more interesting and abstract. WHY aren't the laws of physics different than we notice? If we believe in the multiverse do you HAVE to believe in God? It become a little too philosophical for me at the end but nonetheless interesting and thought-provoking book. ( )
  TheCrow2 | Feb 19, 2010 |
  georgematt | Dec 26, 2009 |
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Physicist Paul Davies shows how recent scientific discoveries point to a perplexing fact: many basic features of the physical universe--from the speed of light to the most humble carbon atom--seem tailor-made to produce life. A radical new theory says it's because our universe is just one of an infinite number of universes, each one slightly different. Our universe is bio-friendly by accident; we just happened to win the cosmic jackpot. While this multiverse theory is compelling, it has bizarre implications, from infinite copies of each of us to Matrix-like simulated universes. Davies believes there's a more satisfying solution to the question of existence: the observations we make today could help shape the nature of reality in the remote past. If this is true, then life and, ultimately, consciousness aren't just incidental byproducts of nature, but central players in the formation of the universe.--From publisher description.

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