Out Of The Randomness

One argument that I tackled in an earlier post was the fine tuning argument. I thought about it for a while, and I thought of one of my interests: Astronomy. I realized that there are thousands of galaxies and millions of stars and planets out there. So are we really “fine tuned”? Why us and not any one of the other millions of planets? Why haven’t we found life on other planets? For those of you who do not know much about cosmology or astronomy there is a certain Goldilocks zone that a planet must be in to sustain liquid water. It is called the Goldilocks zone because the planet must have an eccentricity (orbit) of about .2. Kepler came up with a scale for measuring a planet’s orbit (his first law: The orbit of every planet is an ellipse with the Sun at one of the two foci) from a perfect circle to more of an oval (from 0 to 1). A 0 is a perfect circle while you get closer to 1 it becomes more of an oval. So is it by chance that the earth has an eccentricity of .2? Yes. This may be a disturbing and difficult concept for us to grasp, but it is true. Let me demonstrate with an example. Think of your birthday. Let’s say that it is today’s date April 1st. Imagine you are in a room with one other person, what is the chance that they will have the same birthday as you? Probably very low. As you add more people to the room the chance that someone will have the same birthday as you increases. When there are 34 people in a room with you there is a 4 to 1 chance that someone else will have the same birthday as you. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. With only 34 people in a room (35 including you) pass around a piece of paper and tell everyone to write down their birthday. You will get at least one other person in the room with the same birthday as you. So what does this prove? This shows us, that if there are millions of planets orbiting suns all over the Universe it is extremely likely that a few of them will be able to sustain intelligent life on them. So now I must ask, where is the fine tuning? This seems more like laws acting around us rather than some supernatural being fine tuning this planet to have intelligent life. With the small amount of space that we have explored, we can conclude that there are more than 4 trillion planets orbiting other suns. With a number like that there must be hundreds of planets that have intelligent life on them. Probably extremely far away from us, father than our telescopes of space ships can take us. However, statistically it is highly probable that we are not alone in this gigantic Universe, and so the fine tuning argument is dead.

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8 thoughts on “Out Of The Randomness

  1. 1) Sadly I’m afraid you’ve mangled the birthday example. There’s about a 9% chance that somebody will have the same birthday *as you* with 34 people in a room (1 – (364/365)^34 )) whereas there’s about an 80% chance that *some two people* among the 34 share a birthday (1 – ((364/365) x (363/365) x (362/365) x …) ) which is a slightly different thing.

    2) I was going to say the above correction probably doesn’t affect your point that much, except I think it illustrates the critique of the general argument. I guess the point you’re making is “seemingly unlikely things are actually likely when you take a big sample size”. Except given the example you used is still fairly unlikely this shows it is not universally true, and will depend on the details of the given context. So to extrapolate this anecdote to universal fine tuning is unjustified.

    3) In universal fine tuning in particular, a very crude way of doing so (for the Milky Way at least) is illustrated by The Drake Equation. However we lack far too much accuracy to draw meaningful conclusions from it. (Even in the non-academic wiki article we’re talking about a range of 10^(-20) to 10^10 planets expected in the Milky Way – obviously the first leaves it incredibly unlikely to find life, and the second life should be very prosperous). I haven’t looked at the debate in detail for a while so I’m forgetful, but wasn’t claims of fine tuning more to do with fundamental constants in physics (such as the fine structure constant) – such that if they were minisculely different very few/no atoms/molecules would form at all out of the more fundamental particles – rather than evaluating how often we come across life given the constants (and universe) we exist in?

    • There are a few nice articles on the fine structure constant / anthropic principle but the ones I’ve found seem to be blocked by paywalls, it’s mentioned in passing on wiki here citing one of the main articles.

    • I’m personally more skeptical in how meaningfully/confidently you can say what the universe would even be like (and so in particular that it could not support life) in universes with different fundamental constants, given we understand physics so imprecisely as it is. And even if we were to accept say that carbon isn’t produced, or stars don’t form, can we really say it is almost impossibly unlikely that other incredibly complex structures that give rise to life by another means wouldn’t exist?

      • Well I’m not really saying anything like that. I am not speculating what the Universe would be like if it had different physical constants. We really can’t know what it would be like. We can speculate that there may be other life forms that are not carbon based, but we can only base our knowledge on what we have (which is the life here on earth).

    • 1) Yes, I realize this. It was actually 34 people in a room there is a to 1 chance that ANY TWO people in the room will have the same birthday. My bad about that.
      2) Yea, as long as it gets the point across.
      3) Turns out my argument doesn’t really have much bearing on the actual argument. I misinterpreted fine tuning. The idea of fine tuning (not my idea) is that if the earth was a mile or two closer or further away from the sun then we wouldn’t have life on earth. That is the assumption they made (so I’m really not arguing against the fine tuning argument in the post above, which annoys me). In Stephen Hawking’s book, The Grand Design, he uses fine tuning in terms of physical constants and laws.

      • Hey, no worries, was an interesting post; always good to get people thinking about things!

        The Goldilocks Zone is still interesting but as far as I was aware it is merely a means of identification of planets that are possibly presently habitable; the zone for a particular system will change over time at the star(s) of the system age and conditions on particular planets change – it is possible that Mars was habitable in the past

        In terms of explaining why Earth happens to be in such a Goldilocks zone I would find the weak anthropic principle very satisfying, and so would lack the need to consider other explanations such as design (although equally this wouldn’t rule it out in and of itself).

        • That’s true! Thanks for the info on the appendix! I know I’m not always right (although I’d like think I am sometimes). Yea the Goldilocks zone just means a planet that is just far/close enough to a star so that is is just the right temp. to sustain liquid water. I have read the Mars stuff, finding what looks like (well used to be) rivers. It’s interesting, but I don’t think it could have sustained intelligent life. Simply because intelligent life (like us) takes millions of years of evolution to come into being. I am more inclined to believe that physical laws are a better explanation of how the earth is in this perfect little zone to sustain life rather than design.

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