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Dial L for Life*

You exist. You are a biological life form. Therefore, the Universe must be the sort of place that has the sorts of physics that permits the origin and evolution of life forms. That that weren’t the case, you wouldn’t exist. Now the question is, why is this - our bio-friendly Universe – so?

The fact that you exist makes some people quite uncomfortable. Specifically, the fact that the Universe – translated, the laws, constants and relationships of physics – is bio-friendly and allows for the origin, development, evolution, and overall the existence of living things makes some cosmologists and physicists uncomfortable. Current explanations of why the Universe should be bio-friendly don’t sit well with some subsets of this professional community.

Well, we’re here, and so are they, and so are millions of other species (past as well as present), so they just gotta deal with the situation as it presents itself.

Before we get to the ways and means they deal with as explanations for the bio-friendly situation, and why those ways and means can be uncomfortable, I need to point out that all these same laws, constants and relationships of physics also can be very bio-unfriendly – in spades; in the extreme.

Take the entire volume of our observable universe [we don’t know what the volume is of the Universe as a whole]. What fraction of that volume is bio-friendly to you? If you were somehow transported at random, by chance, to some other coordinates somewhere in that expanse of space, what are the odds you’d live to tell the tale? Bugger all! Winning a million dollar lottery a million times in a row I’d be happy to give you better odds on. In the vacuum of space, nobody can hear you die; if you happen to hit a star, nobody will see you fry.

Even Planet Earth is largely bio-unfriendly. Ten kilometres straight up, you’re dead; ditto ten kilometres straight down. You’re odds don’t improve greatly if you’re in your birthday suit and land in Antarctica, or the Sahara Desert, and how long can you tread water if dumped in the middle of the North Atlantic?

So, 99.999 [add a few more nines and then some] percent of our observable universe is NOT bio-friendly. The only place you know for sure of surviving, and even then maybe not for very long, is just on the very thin surface of the third rock outwards from Mother Sun.

Now that’s a rather bio-unfriendly observable universe to you, and other terrestrial complex life forms like cats and dogs – even cockroaches. It’s not quite as bio-unfriendly to simpler life forms, although the odds don’t improve all that much. Some microbes might survive inside outer space, but they’re not going to thrive, far less reproduce, and otherwise live the good microbial life. Now some non-terrestrial abodes in our solar system (and presumably other extra-solar systems) might be suitable habitats to our microbial ancestral kin, so from their point of view, the observable universe is a slightly more bio-friendly place – but suitable bio-friendly real estate is still pretty marginal relative to the overall volume of same.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the Universe is ultimately a bio-friendly place. How is this possible? And what are the uncomfortable aspects of explaining this?

Firstly, we assume that there was an alternative. Our Universe could have turned out to be an absolutely bio-unfriendly place. For sake of visualization, imagine that all those laws, constants and relationships part and parcel of physics are all represented by dials on this machine that ultimately runs or controls the Universe. Let’s say that all the dials that control the Universe (and its bio-friendliness) are all set at position #5. All dials at setting #5 make for a bio-friendly Universe.

We can perform imaginary thought experiments, a ‘what if’ game, by altering the position or setting of any one of those dials. Say one dial represents gravity. If we turn the gravity dial to #4, the force of gravity is weaker. If we turn the gravity dial to setting #6, gravity is stronger.

It turns out, nastily so, that changing the positions of even any one of the dials by even a small amount makes our Universe 100% bio-unfriendly. The position of the dials is fine-tuned to an incredible degree of precision to allow for a bio-friendly Universe; to allow for you and for me and for cats and dogs and cockroaches too.

Take the gravity dial. If gravity were ever so slightly weaker, stuff wouldn’t clump together; interstellar gas wouldn’t coalesce into stars, and if stars wouldn’t form, then no life. Life needs stars, because ultimately stars cook the heavier elements out of which life is made – like carbon and oxygen and nitrogen.

If gravity had been a shade greater, then the newly Big Bang expanding universe would have been aborted quick-smart as expansion would have turned into a contraction in fairly short order resulting in a Big Crunch. There would never have been time for life to even get started before Armageddon!

So, how did all the dials get stuck on the #5 position?

Well, maybe it all just happened by a random throw of the dice – all by chance. Some combination had to come up and bio-friendliness was one whose number came up. That makes some professionals queasy or uncomfortable in the same way as explaining someone winning a million dollar jackpot a million times in a row would. The odds are just too great against the possibility.

Well, maybe our bio-friendly Universe was the outcome of an intelligent designer. It was deliberately created to be bio-friendly, just like we humans can design a car to be driver-friendly. Lots of gadgets are advertised as being user-friendly. Why not therefore an entire Universe? Of course the agent(s), the designer(s), would have to have been outside our space-time continuum since presumably he / she / it / they existed before the creation of our space-time continuum. I guess that means that creator person(s) or thing(s) must have been supernatural in origin – God, in other words. Now the God concept or hypothesis, or intelligent designer theory also puts some professionals’ teeth on edge. Lots of folk reject that idea; lots of folk embrace that idea too.

Lastly, what if there are lots of universes – I means lots and lots and lots of them. Nearly all of them would have few, if any, dials set at #5. Maybe several have nearly all dials at #5 – close, but close don’t count. However, based on sheer probability, a couple, maybe just one, maybe two or three – a select few, won the all #5 dial lottery. Alas, multiple universes, the Multiverse concept, doesn’t sit well with all and sundry either. If you have lots of universes, maybe you have an infinite number, which then implies an infinite number of copies of everything – of you, of me, of every cat and dog – and every cockroach too.

But what if there’s no Multiverse in space, only a Multiverse in time. That is, a cyclic universe. Sooner or later, one cycle is going to produce #5, #5, #5, #5, #5, #5, etc. right on down the chain. Is ours, are we, that lucky cyclic Universe? Therein lies the rub. Our Universe doesn’t appear, based on current observational evidence, to be heading in a cyclic direction – towards a Big Crunch - now, or ever. So, if we are the last production of a previously endless cyclic process or chain, then we broke it!

So, all ideas explaining a, and in particular our, bio-friendly Universe have their plusses and minuses.

But wait, there’s more! What if our ‘what if’ game isn’t possible? Maybe there’s one, and only one physics possible. Maybe all the dials are super-glued at position #5 and just can’t be moved. I believe it was Einstein who asked whether God had any choice in creating our Universe’s parameters. Maybe not, in which case maybe God isn’t as all powerful as he / she / it / they is/are cracked up to be – but that’s another topic. If all dials are set on position #5, therefore any other laws, constants and relationships of physics are purely in the realm of abstract or hypothetical thought-experiments

There is however one other scenario, actually scenarios, that have a bearing on the issue. The laws and constants of physics have interrelationships, and thus, it might not be possible to alter one dial without affecting the position of other dials. The prime argument is that altering the position of any one dial makes the Universe bio-unfriendly. However, I wonder whether altering more than one dial might restore a bio-friendly Universe. Translated, we probably move into the life-not-as-we-know-it area, which traditionally has played around with replacing silicone for carbon; liquid methane or liquid ammonia for liquid water. But altering more than one dial has near limitless possibilities way above and beyond traditional life-not-as-we-know-it scenarios. Maybe changing dial one from #5 to number #4 makes a universe bio-unfriendly, but if dial seven is then changed to position #9 and dial number three is altered to position #2, then maybe a non-carbon based life-form might be possible. The possibilities, again, are near endless, although in general nearly all combinations of dials produce lifeless universes, maybe, just maybe, some combination, other that all #5’s, might also do the bio-friendly trick. I don’t know, but can it be ruled out of the question based on current understandings?

So why is the Universe bio-friendly? I’m not sure, but I strongly suspect that the ultimate key concept here is that of a Multiverse. But be it design or random probability, is it any different than asking why the Universe is chemistry-friendly, or for that matter even physics-friendly? Accept the fact that our Universe just is, uncomfortable as that might be to some, because if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be here writing this and you wouldn’t be there reading it!

*With apologies to the late Alfred Hitchcock for twisting around his “Dial M for Murder” phrase.

Further readings:

Barrow, John D.; The Constants of Nature: From Alpha to Omega; Vintage Books, London; 2003:

Barrow, John D. & Tipler, Frank J.; The Anthropic Cosmological Principle; Oxford University Press, Oxford; 1986:

Davies, Paul; The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life?; Allen Lane, London; 2006:

Morris, Simon Conway; Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans In A Lonely Universe; Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; 2003:

Rees, Martin; Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe; Phoenix, London; 2000:

Susskind, Leonard; The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design; Back Bay Books, New York; 2006:

By johnprytz
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5 comments

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0

Very interesting read!

Freedompath Level 8 Mar 5, 2019

Thank you!

0

The reason the universe is bio friendly is because if it wasn't there wouldn't be anyone here wondering about this question.

Stuttrboy Level 3 Mar 5, 2019

The fact that we exist is NOT the reason the reason that the Universe is bio-friendly but rather the result of having a bio-friendly Universe. Why the Universe is bio-friendly still requires an explanation.

@johnprytz no it doesn't. This is what happened and its why we can even ask the question. What are the odds? What are the odds you can pick the right numbers in a lottery? I guarantee you I can do it after the numbers have already been chosen.

What are the odds of being dealt ace thru king of the same suit in cards. Its exactly the same odds as any other permutation. It only has significance because we assigned it to the cards before hand and some hand had to be dealt.

"This is what happened and its why we can even ask the question."

This is true, but this does NOT actually address the "why" question. There are many ideas about "why" the Universe is bio-friendly from God (to god or gods and goddesses) to pure chance, to the concept of a Multiverse to even a computer programmer made it happen. Now what is your explanation for "why" this is what happened?

@johnprytz the fact that it happened is why. There very likely is no why. Absent some agent who caused the universe there is no why it just is. If you are asserting there is an agent then you need to show it to me before we can begin examining this why question.

"There very likely is no why. Absent some agent who caused the universe there is no why it just is."

Sorry, but there is, there must be, a "Why". It might be an agent (as in a computer programmer), but not necessarily. Now the "Why" could be just the pure luck of the draw - but that's still a "Why". Or, perhaps the "Why" is the fact there is a Multiverse each of which has differing values for the physical constants - those dials. But the bottom line is that there MUST be some sort of explanation. I gather your "Why" preference is just the luck of the draw - pure blind chance.

@johnprytz a why reflects a causal agent but we have no idea what might have caused the universe. In fact we don't even know if one was needed. The furthest back we have been able to investigate is Planck time. When you confirm the cause then we can discuds the why.

"...a why reflects a causal agent but we have no idea what might have caused the universe."

I absolutely disagree with that statement. For example, "Why" does the Sun rise and set? There absolutely is a "Why" answer, and it is because the Earth rotates. However, there is no causal agent involved. "Why" do you catch the flu? Because a flu virus has invaded and infected your body. Again, no causal agent - unless you consider a virus a causal agent. There are thousands of "Why" questions that have answers that do not involve an actual causal agent, as in "Why" thunder or "Why" solar eclipses?

"When you confirm the cause then we can discuds the why."

Okay, the cause is a Multiverse. Now tell me "Why" that explains our bio-friendly Universe.

@johnprytz this sounds more like a how question. how discusses mechanics while why assumes reason.

There are clearly cases where the "how" and the "why" are the same. How does the Sun rise and set is exactly akin to why does the Sun rise and set.

Now you didn't answer my question: Okay, the cause is a Multiverse. Now tell me "Why" that explains our bio-friendly Universe, or if you prefer "How" that explains our bio-friendly Universe. Same difference.

@johnprytz show me how you determined there was a multiverse and ill happily explore it with you.

You asked me to pick a cause so I picked one of the four causes that could explain our bio-friendly Universe.

So I have determined - via reading relevant literature - that the cause has to be one of four differing concepts. So, instead of giving me a "Why" or a "How" answer to one - which may or may not be the actual cause - address all four since one of them must apparently be the cause. Either that or quit procrastinating / stalling.

0

Ive posted this elsewhere. However, i think it bears repeating, and is in context.

"If you are intelligent and reasonable you cannot be the product of a mechanical and meaningless universe. Figs do not grow on thistles. Grapes do not grow on thorns, and therefore you, as an expression of the universe, as an aperture through which the universe is observing itself, cannot be a mere fluke. Because if this world peoples as an apple tree apples then the universe itself, the energy underlying everything, what it's all about, the ground of being, must be intelligent.

Now, when you come to that conclusion you must be very careful, because you may make an unwarranted jump. Namely, the jump to the conclusion that that intelligence, that marvelous designing power which produces all this, is the biblical God. Be careful."

Alan Watts

Metahuman Level 5 Mar 3, 2019

The Universe is bio-friendly of necessity since biology exists no matter how rare that biology might be in the overall context of the properties of that Universe. Now the next question is "why?" and of course one lacking any evidence that answers that "why" question can only speculate. Many throughout the millennia have not just speculated but stated with certainty that God (or god, or the gods and goddesses) were responsible. However, that hypothesis still remains in the realm of speculation and alternatives are possible, even plausible.

John 1:1 In thr beginning was the word, the word was with god and was god. Lets look at the biblical beginning Genesis 1:3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

Science believes that the word in the beginning was the word BANG and they theorize it was a big word that gave off light.

Singularity is infinate mathematical thingie containing all energy-matter with some power? "God" is accused of being infinately powerful.

"Ruach" is a force. it is like breath or wind. Breath or wind is a mass of air moving with kinetic energy.

The intelligence is within the Universe itself. Beyond measure and we have just scratched the surface. It has nothing to do with the biblical god.

0

Yes, there might be a Multiverse, but I do not buy the pseudo-logic of a finely-tuned universe. As you you yourself have stated, our universe is 99.999% plus NOT bio-friendly. Our universe is extremely hostile to life. So, if there is a creator god, why is he so incredibly incompetent, wasteful and sloppy?
Also, it is not necessarily true that if these "dials" were not all set to 5's there would not be any life. Just not life as we know and understand it. It is our extremely human-centric pride and lack of imagination that causes us to assume that if life were not as we know it, it couldn't exist.

Heraclitus Level 7 Mar 3, 2019

"So, if there is a creator god, why is he so incredibly incompetent, wasteful and sloppy?"

Which is an excellent point and thus one might therefore argue that one needs to look elsewhere for an explanation(s).

"Also, it is not necessarily true that if these "dials" were not all set to 5's there would not be any life. Just not life as we know and understand it."

Indeed, one can only in the here-and-now talk about life-as-we-know-it. It could well be the case that if the various dials were set on different settings that some like of life-not-as-we-know-it might have taken center stage.

Ya, I agree. If the universe is so bio-friendly, lets see life begin inside a star.

2

TLDR

Bio friendly universe? You mean the one that is mostly empty space and plasma?

indirect76 Level 7 Mar 3, 2019

Right, 99.999...% vacuum and -273 degrees Celsius not so friendly,

As long as one tiny, tiny, tiny part of the Universe is bio-friendly, then one can't deny that the Universe is bio-friendly. If a billion people enter into a lottery then there is one lottery-friendly winner and a whole lot of lottery-unfriendly losers. But you cannot deny that the lottery was friendly to that one person.

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