Sunday, January 16, 2005

the anthropic principle

Some folks were blogging about the anthropic principle a little while back (see Bill's great entry here, for instance).

My problem with the anthropic principle is the implied determinism-- an assumed inevitability such that, if certain initial cosmic conditions and/or constants had varied by the smallest fraction, humanity would not have arisen.

I don't know anything technical about quantum indeterminacy, but it seems to me that, if the universe possesses an objectively indeterminate aspect, it'll be impossible to confirm the inevitability of human life.

Plus, there's this: if initial conditions had been different in the primordial cosmos, it's possible that other forms of intelligent life would have arisen and engaged, at some point in their history, in exactly this kind of speculation, marveling at how the universe seems to have been fine-tuned to produce them.

A while back, I wrote a piece titled "the brown chowder splats louder." A paragraph from that post, which uses feces to address some Buddhist issues, is relevant here:

Where do your ass-babies come from? I think it's obvious that crap isn't a self-creating, self-sustaining thing-in-itself. No: your warm, steaming offspring are a labor of love, the result of the concerted efforts of your desire to eat, the dutiful (doodieful) choreography of your digestive system, the culture/society that makes certain forms of food available to you, the world history that gave birth to that culture/society, the galactic history that gave rise to our world, and the cosmic history that gave rise to our galaxy. You, right now, sitting on the toilet, asshole puckered and about to utter that maternal chocolate scream, are an event that's been billions of years in the making.

There's nothing to stop us from applying the anthropic principle to more than human beings. If we assume that every phenomenon is both (spatiotemporally) unique and causally interconnected with other phenomena, then it should be obvious* that every moment contains events that could not have happened had previous conditions been otherwise.

If the anthropic principle can be so readily applied to all other phenomena, does it add anything to the discussion? Why not talk about a scatological principle**, or a urological principle***? Why not a saurian or ornithoid or xenomorphic**** principle? I don't think the anthropic principle holds any explanatory power. It assumes a cosmic determinism our sciences appear to be refuting, and is too readily applicable outside the anthropic realm. If creationists are looking for an argument for the existence of a creator (of humans), they'll need to look elsewhere.

[NB: The anthropic principle suffers the same problem as Intelligent Design Theory: there's no reason for classical theists to assume the Judeo-Christian God is behind all this. Both the AP and IDT could be taken to imply some sort of massive alien engineering... at which point our speculations are running up against Occam's Razor.]

* If you agree with the implied determinism of the anthropic principle, I mean.
** Perhaps the universe's crowning purpose is to produce human shit.
*** Or piss.
**** Or lizards, or birds, or aliens.


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