Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Anthropic Principle Explained

Instapundit posts on the unobserved impact of a comet or asteroid with the planet Jupiter.

UPDATE: Reader Dale Osborn writes: “So, Jupiter’s role in the solar system is to be the Big Hoover, vacuuming up most of the big rocks that could head Earth’s way. It’s like Someone designed the solar system that way.” Well, but sometimes it slingshots ‘em our way, too . . . .

This is an indirect appeal to the fine-tuned Universe argument, and it's really unnecessary for Dale Osborn to get so excited. Let us begin with the question as a question. Why are we here? We've learned enough hard lessons on this planet and seen enough things in the galaxy to know that it needn't be the case. Things could have gone otherwise, couldn't they? Actually, that's precisely the wrong answer. Things couldn't have gone otherwise, because they didn't. The anthropic principle says that the fact that we are asking the question is it's own answer. The fact that Jupiter is Hoovering up all the planet-killers is one reason, probably one among many reasons, that we are able to ask the question. Fred Bltziflc on planet number 4 and one half is not able to ask why he is there because planet number 4 and one half was reduced to rubble long ago and Fred never evolved from the slime mold. Maybe he wouldn't have evolved anyway, but it has nothing to do with the benevolence of Jupiter or even the intervention of any higher power than that. It is just that we are here because all these sensitive parameters and peculiar circumstances were lined up appropriately, and Fred isn't because they weren't. Hence, we ask why and Fred doesn't. If we are to invoke God's watchful protection, we need to have a little more respect for the subtlety of his Works.

The fact that we are here now also doesn't say too much about our future chances, so it seems like we ought to start paying better attention to the neighborhood.

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