Starts With A Bang

How the anthropic principle became the most abused idea in science (Synopsis)

That the Universe exists and that we are here to observe it tells us a lot. But it doesn't tell us as much as some people infer. Image credit: NASA / NExSS Collaboration.

“There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
‘I feel this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.’” -Shel Silverstein

When it was first proposed in 1973 by Brandon Carter, there were only two simple statements that one could hardly disagree with concerning the anthropic principle:

1.) We must be prepared to take account of the fact that our location in the Universe is necessarily privileged to the extent of being compatible with our existence as observers.
2.) The Universe (and hence the fundamental parameters on which it depends) must be as to admit the creation of observers within it at some stage.

A young star cluster in a star forming region, which may be giving rise to future observers right now. Image credit: ESO / T. Preibisch.

Somehow, that’s evolved into a line of thinking where you can make probabilistic arguments about the initial conditions that spawned the Universe, about the necessary emergence of humans or about the string landscape. In other words, what started as a reframing of the obvious has become an oft-abused scientific principle, yet one that still has a germ of validity and usefulness at its core, if only we can recover it.

The existence of complex, carbon-based molecules in star forming regions is interesting, but isn’t anthropically demanded. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / T. Pyle; Spitzer Space Telescope.

Come find out how the anthropic principle got twisted to be this way, and how we can put it back to its rightful place in science!