“Is our Universe natural?” by Sean M. Carroll, Nature, 440, 1132, April 2006


... for the Journal of Scientific Exploration (Issue 20-4)
                   by Professor Richard Conn Henry

Physicists have for some time been grappling with the fact that the Universe that is observed, by both physicists and astronomers, does not look natural: it looks, forgive me, intelligently designed. In this “insight review” in Nature, Sean Carroll describes the situation nicely, and he also paints a clear picture of what are currently being considered as escapes from what is, to many, an unpalatable situation.

I have heard speakers on this subject give an excellent analogy to both the situation, and the proposed solutions: suppose interstellar space were opaque, and we thought, incorrectly, that our solar system was “all that there is.” We would look with amazement at the beautiful circularity of Earth’s orbit, and its perfect placement at a distance from the sun that has allowed life to appear, and we would conclude, quite incorrectly, that this could not be an accident; it must be intelligent design.

But in fact interstellar space is pretty transparent, so we do see the 200 billion other stars in our galaxy, and thus we are able to relax: the chance of having ONE of these (our star) with a planet that is in the delicate state that is needed for life, is natural indeed.

That is an extremely good analogy!

Today, we see that our Universe⎯as much of it as we can observe⎯has hugely unnatural features, features that are crucial to our own existence, and so we postulate that what we see is only the tiniest fraction of a vastly larger Universe in which our patch could well arise just by chance. However, the interstellar medium IS transparent, so we KNOW that our “escape,” in the case of the analogy, is real. In contrast, we do NOT know if our observed Universe is simply a patch in a multiverse, as it is called. So, where do we go from here? Well, we simply keep on investigating! Our track record over the last 400 years is excellent on things like this. Mining the theory and the observations with diligence and energy, we slowly expand our understanding.

I want in no way to suggest any diminution of that ongoing effort, which is of huge value whether the Universe is, or is not, “natural,” but I must mention that in my own opinion, the whole problem was solved in 1925 with the discovery of quantum mechanics. In the conventional, majority, Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, all that is real is the observations themselves⎯plus, of course, your perceiving mind (which is the one thing that you know is real). Now, physics has never even suggested what “an observation” is, or what “mind” is. Yet these are the only things that actually exist, according to that same physics! The observations, our minds discover, have the character of numbers, and in practice what physics is, is the successful search for relationships among these numbers. At least, it keeps us busy!

So, to resolve the big question, all you need to do is to decide whether your mind (on which the observations persist in intruding) is natural, or is unnatural: for that is the Universe⎯you need to decide whether or not that Universe is, as Pope Benedict XVI recently asserted it to be, “an intelligent project.” Good luck!

                    RICHARD CONN HENRY

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