Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Mind Biscuits

I was scanning a recent copy of Scientific American when I came across an article about the 'universal constants' of physics and how wonderfully amazing it is that all these numbers just happen to be exactly what they are - because if they weren't then the Earth wouldn't circle the Sun the same, atoms wouldn't form they way they do, and life just wouldn't be possible. Apparently these constants just happen to be fixed in the only configuration that could ever do.

Something about such a conclusion struck me as being a sort of circular logic, but not being a particularly well regarded physicist myself I mentally shrugged it off. Then I found the following quote Douglas Adams gave at a lecture at UC Santa Barbara:
It's rather like a puddle waking up one morning— - I know they don't normally do this, but allow me, I'm a science fiction writer.— A puddle wakes up one morning and thinks: "This is a very interesting world I find myself in. It fits me very neatly. In fact it fits me so neatly... I mean really precise isn't it?... It must have been made to have me in it." And the sun rises, and [the puddle is] continuing to narrate this story about how this hole must have been made to have him in it. And as the sun rises, and gradually the puddle is shrinking and shrinking and shrinking— and by the time the puddle ceases to exist, it's still thinking— - it's still trapped in this idea that -— that the hole was there for it.


Blogger Aanen said...

really makes you wonder doesn't it."Is there anybody out there?"

5/18/2005 9:50 AM  
Blogger Dædalux said...

Um...yeah - I was just wondering the exact same thing myself.

5/18/2005 1:41 PM  
Blogger TwistedNoggin said...

Great post. I miss having a Scientific American subscription, but I'm too broke right now. My SA in the mail was the highlight of each month for me. what a dork I am.
Love the post, though, and the perfect pic. It looks like some nebula or something with a bright star in it even more than it does a puddle.
If those constants were made differently, then perhaps the objects and matter that are ruled by them would have simply been different - much like the puddle would have fit a different dip in the earth. fascinating way of illustrating the thought.
As for life on other planets... the mathmatical odds are astronomically (no pun intended) weighted against the idea, but who's to say for certain.

5/20/2005 11:49 AM  
Blogger Dædalux said...

Thanks - I finally found the pic after a bit of searching but I loved that way it could be interpreted in so many different ways.
And although the post wasn't originally about life on other planets, I think the same sort of logic applies to that line of thinking too. We look at life here and see a very specific set of conditions and think, 'Wow, what are the chances these exact conditons exist elsewhere?' But seriously, how do we know what combinition of conditions might work? We have a very singular example set to work with (just Earth), and maybe we simply have too narrow a definition of what makes life possible.

5/21/2005 10:30 AM  
Blogger TwistedNoggin said...

Well, what makes life possible is certainly up for arguement. Many say carbon, O, H2O, blah blah blah... But who knows, maybe photons are a life form and that's why they sometimes act like waves (an example of social cohesion, moving like schools of fish).
But, I think we can accept as a given that whay makes life livable is Guinness, or whatever your sud of choice, and by making our calculations based on what atmospheres are capable of supporting some sort of grain-based agriculture we can easily figure the likelyhood of other intelligent species existing in the cosmos, since any that came to being would off eachother or themselves before attaining any sort of stable civilization.

Then again... what if certain atoms taste like guinness to a photon... that could bust my whole theory. Bah! What atom could possibly compare to a fine pint?

5/21/2005 6:16 PM  
Blogger Dædalux said...

You make a compelling argument. Life without Guinness is hardly worth living. I suddenly hope there isn't anyone out there, vainly suffering in this barren desert of a universe without the sweet sweet goodness that only exists in harmony with fine European beers, ales, and lagers. I mean, damn, did anybody even remember to put Guinness on Voyager?!?

Thank-you for rescuing this wayward post from a potentially disastrous decline into purely puerile ponderings, and back to more practicable matters. And yes, I am aware I am writing ridiculously obtuse sentences complete with asymmetric alliteration but this is only because I’m compensating for the fact I suddenly realized I misspelled ‘combination’ in my earlier comment and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. That and maybe because it’s 4AM and I still can’t sleep.

5/22/2005 3:01 AM  
Blogger RahX said...

I thought it was a picture of some solar system at first.

Profound thought was made during the reading of this post.

6/13/2005 10:58 PM  

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