Dagdha's Blog

Copernican Principle vs Anthropic Principle

Posted in Uncategorized by dagdha on July 22, 2011

“There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made.  And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad.  But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly.  Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.”

These are the first words of The Silmarillion, the genesis mythology of Tolkein’s Middle Earth.  What has always struck me as extremely profound about this passage is Tolkein’s use of music and thought as the origin of life and the universe – this being written around the time that String Theory arose as a possible unified theory connecting Einstein’s Relativity and the Standard Model of particle physics.  Although an extremely bright scholar working at Oxford, I often wonder if he was familiar with the contemporary theory of resonating strings as the fundamental framework of the universe when he wrote it, or if it was some innate universal quality of music that inspired him.

The most elegantly succinct description of String Theory I’ve read was written by Michio Kaku: “String theory allows us to view the subatomic particles as notes on a vibrating string; the laws of chemistry correspond to the melodies one can play on these strings; the laws of physics correspond to the laws of harmony that govern these strings; the universe is a symphony of strings; and the mind of God can be viewed as cosmic music vibrating through hyperspace.”  He continues by then asking, “If this analogy is valid, one must ask the next question: is there a composer?  Did someone design the theory to allow for the richness of possible universes that we see in string theory?  If the universe is like a finely tuned watch, is there a watchmaker?”

There are only two possible answers to this question: Yes (Anthropic Principle) or No (Copernican Principle).  The Anthropic Principle states that the conditions of our universe, and especially those to support life within it, are so precise and finely tuned that there must be an architect behind its design.  Conversely, the Copernican Principle states that in an infinite universe (or perhaps multiverse) the laws of nature and subsequent conditions for life  are one of an infinite number of outcomes.  Logically, both can be reasoned.  The tragedy, however, is their incompatibility.

Every religion I know of subscribes in some manner to the Anthropic Principle.  In mankind’s quest to understand our place in the universe, we substitute a lack of knowledge for presumed wisdom in the form of organized belief systems.  As humans this is perfectly natural.  We’re primates, social creatures that depend on each other for survival, and rallying behind a communal understanding of a harsh reality makes us feel safe, taken care of, looked after.  Unfortunately, these systems of belief also create separation and prejudice on some level, even if it is only an intellectual prejudice, and I have difficulty reasoning the purpose of such a separation by a benevolent creator.  I admit I’m only human and extremely limited in my understanding of just about everything, but this perspective comes from intuition and years of religious study.

Personally, I think that religion is a lot like The Force in Star Wars, with a light and dark side that are both extremely powerful.  Nothing can uplift the soul, inspire selfless kindness, and bring people together quite like religion.  On the other hand, looking at things from a historical perspective, nothing has caused as many wars, injustices, and egotistical violence. Unlike the Force, however, it is impossible to fully separate the good from the bad.  Steven Weinberg summed up my sentiments best when he said, “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.”

If a creator does exist, I highly doubt it is the Abrahamic God found in the Bible, Torah, and Quran.  We have seen throughout history the folly of man’s belief in himself as the center of all things.  The idea that we were created in God’s image could simply mean that we are created out of the same physical matter, and yet the human ego interprets this to mean a bipedal humanoid.  Surely an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent architect of an inconceivably large universe would be more greatly concerned with other matters than one species on a tiny blue rock in the middle of an ever-expanding universe.

Out of all the numerous methods of philosophical attractive thought, I gravitate towards Existentialism.  I believe that the meaning in life lies in what a person does with his or her time and with whom that time is spent.  If everyone simply tried to leave the world a better place than when they arrived, peace would flourish, our lives would be more fulfilling, and things would be drastically different than they are today.  Wisdom, the key to creating a better world, is only gained through experience.

I  doubt I will ever subscribe to either the Copernican or Anthropic Principle with great conviction, but I am content with not knowing. Albert Einstein once wrote, “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.  It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of art and true science.  Whosoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.”


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