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A Physicist Asks, Was the Universe Made For Us? She Says No

But the question is more complicated than it appears at first

Sabine Hossenfelder thinks there is no way to determine an answer to the question of whether the universe was made for us because we have access to only one universe for data:

There is no way to ever quantify this probability because we will never measure a constant of nature that has a value other than the one it does have. If you want to quantify a probability you have to collect a sample of data. You could do that, for example, if you were throwing dice.Throw them often enough, and you get an empirically supported probability distribution.

But we do not have an empirically supported probability distribution for the constants of nature. And why is that. It’s because… they are constant. Saying that the only value we have ever observed is “unlikely” is a scientifically meaningless statement. We have no data, and will never have data, which allow us to quantify the probability of something we cannot observe. There’s nothing quantifiably unlikely, therefore, there’s nothing in need of explanation.

Sabine Hossenfelder, “Was the universe made for us?” at BackRe(Action)

Experimental physicist Rob Sheldon agrees with Hossenfelder on the main point. He writes to say,

Sabine and I are on the same page — with a total data set of 1, we cannot say anything about statistics or probability of the fine-tuning constants of the observable universe.

What then can we say?

Well, we could say that it was well-designed. But that is exactly the point. To “design” something is to say that “it could have been otherwise,” which presupposes the same probability distribution” we don’t have.

The fine-tuning argument is much stronger because it simply says that the universe shows considerable evidence of being fine-tuned to allow life to exist, if not specifically “us”:

This from Natalie Wolchover at Quanta Magazine: “As things stand, the known elementary particles, codified in a 40-year-old set of equations called the ‘Standard Model,’ lack a sensible pattern and seem astonishingly fine-tuned for life.” Why does being fine-tuned for life “lack a sensible pattern”? What if that is the pattern?

The alternative sounds like saying that the letters STOP on a sign do not form a sensible pattern.

Denyse O’Leary, “What Becomes of Science When the Evidence Does Not Matter?” at Evolution News and Science Today

Arguments about whether the universe is only about us, specifically, are more complex and doubtful than arguments about fine-tuning for life.

At any rate, there is another way to look at the question: Each of us is a unique individual. What if you have an experience that matters a great deal to you but no one else has had that specific experience? Will you ignore it because you can’t find fifty people who have had that experience? Or will you decide, “I know what I saw, heard, and felt. I will stand by that.”

At that point, it really is about you, actually.

So we hold all these ideas in tension and keep talking.


Note: Sabine Hossenfelder often raises very interesting questions:

A theoretical physicist grapples with the math of consciousness Looking at the various theories, she is not very happy.

and

Can physics prove there is no free will? No, but it can make physicists incoherent when they write about free will. (Michael Egnor)


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A Physicist Asks, Was the Universe Made For Us? She Says No