Summary of Our Improbable Universe
How did human reality come into being? What are we? What might we become? What is it all worth? These are the central questions of this book. The search for the answers starts with the earliest moment of the Big Bang explosion which gave birth to this most improbable universe. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that many details of the physical structure of this universe had to be exactly the way that they are for us to be here. If any single phenomena in a list of Fourteen Stepping Stones to Life were significantly altered, this universe could not have evolved witnesses such as ourselves. For example, a small change in a single detail of nuclear physics would result in stars that burn too fast or stars that do not burn at all. In either case complex life would not have enough time to evolve. At a deeper level, a slight change in the structure of sub-nuclear physics would produce a universe that was devoid of any long lived matter. At every level, from the microscopic to the cosmic, there are features of physical reality that must be exactly the way that they are for this universe to have been able to evolve the raw energy of the Big Bang into people.
Was this life begetting structure carefully planned by a creator? Was a creator clever enough to build a structure which would automatically evolve the energy of the Big Bang into matter and ultimately into intelligent life? Or is this universe amongst a tiny minority of fertile sub-universes that exist in a gigantic collection of randomly structured universes. Nearly all of these universes would be sterile for lack of one or more of the fourteen stepping stones to life. The very improbable universes, that were fertile, would appear to be designed even if they were not. Only these universes would evolve witnesses that could marvel at the complexity of their universe. This alternate explanation for the fortuitous structure of existence is known as the Anthropic Principle. Both the Creation hypotheses and the Anthropic hypothesis are explored in detail throughout this work. Evidence for each of these approaches is discussed. The philosophic implications of each are explored in depth. Though these two approaches start off in opposite directions they ultimately end up in similar places. This universe and the life that it contains has fundamental value whether it was created or not.
The value of this universe is its unique creativity. We are all part of its ongoing creative process. Instead of a desert, that might have existed for less than a microsecond, we have this incredibly creative place. Energy created sub-nuclear matter. Sub-nuclear matter stuck together to make nuclear matter. Nuclear matter trapped electrons to make simple atoms. Simple atoms gravitated together to make first generation stars. These first generation stars then cooked up the complex elements of life and blew them out into space to form giant molecular clouds. These clouds in turn condensed to make second generation solar systems like our own.
Second generation solar systems are rich in complex atoms and chemicals. In these places, biological life spontaneously arises with a high probability. Even though the life begetting structure itself is very improbable, the evolution of life from this universe is very probable. Once life has begun, environmental crises conspire to flog it up the evolutionary ladder. But each rung on this ladder is a biological stepping stone in its own right. There is a race between the evolution of technology based civilization and the overheating of the sun. If the evolutionary process stalled for too long at any level on the ladder, the steady increase in the heat from the sun would boil the ocean before anyone could do anything about it. If we had to, we could fix the problem today.
Out of the great diversity that results from biological evolution, beings with individual and collective intelligence arose. The collectivity of human minds now forms a new media in which evolution can occur without the life and death struggles that characterize evolution in the biosphere. Within this higher sphere of existence, people are the creators and the created. The collection of thoughts within an individual mind are, in large measure, the being of that mind. The evolution of this mental content is now where the action is. Individuals shape ideas and ideas shape individuals.
The rate of change in the sphere of mind, the Noosphere, is far higher than can occur through the biological evolution of DNA. This ability to change rapidly was the primary evolutionary driving force that brought this new reality into existence. It has tremendous adaptive power. But the dizzying rate of change that is occurring today gives cause for alarm. What happens next? Will we blow it all in a political or an ecological crisis? The potential for both types of disaster is imbedded in the DNA that we inherited from hundreds of millions of years of evolution by natural selection.
The ecological disaster that hangs over our heads is routed in the successes of our ancestors. In the past, unabridged fecundity and environmental exploitation were very successful strategies. For a while the environment could stand it. The people who subscribed to this life style became the way of the future. Their DNA is now ours and we have to deal with it in a world that can no longer stand the stress. The crisis that is upon us began sixty thousand years ago in Africa. Over hunting drove many big game species into extinction there. The blight spread to Europe, Australia, and Asia within twenty thousand years. Within a few thousand years of the entry of people into the Americas, all of the indigenous big game was gone.
When the really big game was gone in Europe our ancestors turned to farming and the supportable population density sky rocketed. Now the atmosphere, the ocean the climate and the entire ecosystem are on the block. If our genetically programmed greed goes unchecked, we will negate a billion years of the creativity of this planet. We will negate the material and mental quality of our own lives as well. The only answer to this threat is the rapid evolution of our minds. We must become beings who live in a sustainable and ecologically balanced fashion.
Political crisis goes hand in hand with economic and ecological crisis. The result has usually been war, death and destruction. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will ride as never before, if we do not learn to control nuclear weapons. The end of the cold war was a major first step in meeting a challenge that was placed in our earth. Minerals that contain Uranium and Thorium exist in such abundance that the development of nuclear weapons is inevitable. The existence of the elements from which nuclear weapons can be made was not required for intelligent life to evolve. It is therefore not required by the Anthropic Principle. On the surface it appears that this feature would work against the evolution of sustained intelligence. A detailed examination of this issue indicates that a randomly structured universe would be a Nuclear Weapons Free Universe with a high probability. A 1/3% increase in the fundament charge of the electron would result in this kind of universe. The improbability of getting our kind of universe hints at the deistic hypothesis of deliberate design.
If the occurrence of the raw material for nuclear technology was deliberately built into the structure of our universe, what was the purpose? Though nuclear energy could ease the ecological crisis, it is not the only way. Perhaps the intention was to make the peaceful creatures that evolve in this universe safe from Nazi like beings. Safe from monsters who would destroy themselves, given the chance. Perhaps the designer was uncomfortable with the use of natural selection as the only tool for creating. The prospect that the meanest junk yard dog would inherit the universe may not have been palatable. Was this nuclear material planted in our earth as a sign post that points to the path of peace. Was it also a guarantee of the destruction of those who would obstinately choose the path of war?
Whether or not the universe was designed, the ability to coexist with this nuclear capability is one of the final criteria of natural selection in this universe. Any being that has evolved twentieth century technology must live with this challenge forever. We have only begun to prove ourselves. We have had a rough and scary sixty years. If we do not rapidly evolve the way we think, the odds for getting through the next several centuries will not be very good.
At first this situation appears to be very bad luck or very bad design. However, it is undoubtedly very good luck for any peace loving neighbors that we may have in near by solar systems. If we can not coexist with the bomb, then they do not have to coexist with us. If we reverse the situation, it is easy to see that we need not fear the invasion of extra-terrestrial Nazis either. Before any technical civilization can build a nuclear star ship, they will have had many centuries to prove their worth in this respect. This kind of international and interstellar political reality did not have to be. If universes are structured by a thoughtless process, then the vast majority are dominated by Nazi like beings. These monsters are free to pursue their dominance games for all time and across the their entire galaxy. Only the finite speed of light, the renewed acceleration of the universe, and the limitation of finite time would prevent them from extending their monoculture across the entire universe.
We do not live in a Nuclear Weapons Free Universe that is dominated by fiends. The subtle providence of this is not accounted for by Anthropic thinking. Self reflective intelligence evolves before nuclear weapons become an issue. Therefore the improbability of finding ourselves in a Nuclear Weapons Universe is either a matter of luck (it is good luck or bad luck depending on how we handle it), or it is evidence that hints in favor of the hypothesis of deliberate creation. If it was deliberate creation, then some very tough love was built into it and we had better grow up fast. If it was simply bad luck, then we had better grow up fast. In either case it is up to us to grow into beings who can live with this reality.
The potential political and ecological crises discussed above demand that we evolve our individual and collective natures. We must grow into sustainable beings if we are to meet these challenges. If we do this, we may ultimately join an interstellar collectivity of being that will open our minds as never before. Whether or not the human species evolves to this point does not change the fact that this whole panorama is incredible. If this creative universe was designed with care then it has built in value. That value is its creativity and we are part of it. If this fertile universe is a unique island of life in a vast sea of sterile universes, then it is a rare gem that spontaneously exudes creativity. It is a fundamentally valuable place whether it was designed by a higher being or not. If we don't value it the way we should, be assured that other beings will and do value it. The ongoing creativity of our improbable universe is happening and will continue to happen. Our choice is whether or not to be part of it.