The fine tuning “problem”

An interesting article byJonathan Borwein and David H. Bailey on why science needs philosophy.

When renowned scientists now talk seriously about millions of multiverses, the old question “are we alone?” gets a whole new meaning.

Our ever-expanding universe is incomprehensibly large – and its rate of growth is apparently accelerating – but if so it’s actually in a very delicate balance.

It’s then incredible that the universe exists at all. Let us explain.

via When science and philosophy collide in a ‘fine-tuned’ universe | Machines Like Us.

While I totally agree that science does need philosophy (actually I think science is a philosophy so I see them as inextricably intertwined), I’ve never been able to see the problem in the “fine tuning problem”.

Yes, the probability of the universe having the correct constants to produce the universe we have is incredibly infinitesimal.  So what?  If I toss a group of dice 100 times, recording every result, the probability of the resulting sequence, no matter what it is, will be extremely low, but would that say that my dice tossing was “fine tuned” to produce the result?

The universe is fine tuned to produce the universe we have.  If it wasn’t, we’d have a radically different universe.  (I have no faith in the calculations that claim there’d be nothing, far too many variables.)

Would life exist in those other universes?  I think it’s short sighted to even ask that question.  The correct one is whether there would be complex and dynamic patterns that might function similarly to life.  I suspect we’d be surprised by how often there would be.

The universe isn’t fine tuned for us.  If you were magically instantly transported to a random location in our universe, in all but the most infinitesimal fraction of locations, you would die instantly.  Even saying the Earth is fine tuned for us ignores the fact that most of us wouldn’t live long if we were magically transported to most locations on the planet.

The fact is that we are fine tuned to our environment, which makes sense since we evolved in it.  We’re fine tuned to select portions of Earth’s biosphere.  And our core mechanisms are fine tuned to the universe to some extent, again because we evolved here.

I haven’t read or heard anything that makes me feel I need to invert that relationship as the fine turning arguments keep doing.  But maybe I’m missing something?

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45 Responses to The fine tuning “problem”

  1. agrudzinsky says:

    Probabilities are in our heads only. Things are the way they are. Period. I refuse to speculate on how things could, might, or should be. It’s just a waste of time.

    Does the probability of getting some rare disease matter for people with that disease? For the passengers on the missing Malaysian flight, does it matter that such case of complete disappearance of an airplane is extremely rare?

    At the time when I was born, there were 4 billion people in the world. The probability of me being born to my particular mother and father was pretty small. I could have been born to an eskimo couple or to a couple on a Pacific island. There are virtually infinite possibilities of who my parents could have been. Does it matter? No.

    There are over 3,000 cities in the world. Yet, I was born in one particular city. What a coincidence!

    I also think, it’s a great coincidence that Asian elephants live in Asia, and African elephants live in Africa and not on any other continent. Isn’t it amazing?

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    • Exactly not!

      🙂

      I must confess I have quite a negative gut reaction to comments such as these. They illustrate a profound incuriosity I find troubling. Yes, it’s not surprising that you are born in a particular city, but probabilities are real, even in a sense for things that have already happened.

      Think about it. If thirty old acquaintances called you out of the blue on a particular day to ask how you were doing, would you seek an explanation for the coincidence, or would you be happy to accept that that just happened by accident?

      So there’s a question to answer. Are the apparent coincidences revealed by modern physics more like being born in a particular city or more like being called by thirty acquaintances out of the blue? Whichever it is, that’s a question we ought to be interested in answering. Those like me who think there is a fine-tuning problem to solve feel it is more like the latter. If you disagree, that’s OK, but I hope that you have more to back up your position that an incurious dismissal of all probability!

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      • agrudzinsky says:

        You made me think, what raises curiosity. I might say, it’s something unusual, something we don’t see every day or some change in our surroundings. For instance, if those 30 acquaintances did not call me for years and then call me on a particular day, it’s unusual. So, yes, I might wonder why. But if these people call me every day, the event would not raise any questions.

        If I am used to see black ravens and happen to see a blue one, it’s, certainly, interesting, why that raven is blue. But if I have never seen any ravens and don’t know that they are “usually black” and happen to see a blue one, I doubt I will ask myself why this bird is blue.

        With universe, the situation is a bit different. We only have one universe. We cannot compare it to anything else and conclude that it’s “unusual”.

        With things I am used to, I might ask myself, why ravens are black, for example, and get an answer that they have a certain pigment. But why do they have that pigment? There might be a reason for that too. Etc. ad infinitum. At some point, these “whys” lose meaning and I would have to settle with the same “that’s the way it is”.

        I might ask myself, “what if the ravens were orange instead of black?” Good question. Well, then the ravens would be orange and I would wonder why they are not black. Otherwise, I see little difference.

        Also, what raises curiosity is a personal thing. Some people are excited about studying elephant poop and have little interest in cosmology. Ask why. I don’t think, there are questions we “ought to be interested in answering”. It’s the same deal. There are questions that we happen to be interested in answering, for no particular reason, purely out of irrational emotions.

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        • “For instance, if those 30 acquaintances did not call me for years and then call me on a particular day, it’s unusual. So, yes, I might wonder why.”

          This is what I had in mind. So clearly sometimes strange coincidences will make you seek an explanation.

          A blue raven is not a coincidence. Striking coincidences always make us wonder if there is some explanation for what we see. Sometimes there is not, but it is often worth looking for one.

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  2. Hi SAP,

    As indicated above, I take a diametrically opposite viewpoint to your own.

    “Yes, the probability of the universe having the correct constants to produce the universe we have is incredibly infinitesimal.”

    That’s not the argument though. The argument is that tweaking the constants would seem to yield a universe that would be very simple and uninteresting. Either everything collapses to a singularity, or everything expands to a featureless vacuum, or we never get atoms or we never get big atoms or we never get sources of energy such as stars.

    Now, we could be suffering from a failure of imagination, but the work of the best cosmologists and biologists seems to support the idea that there is something special about this universe. And that’s not something to dismissed so lightly, in my view. We could be wrong about fine-tuning, but there’s no solid reason to think that this is the case. Assuming that the universe is not actually fine-tuned even though it appears to be is incuriosity, plain and simple.

    “The universe isn’t fine tuned for us.”

    This is really quite a poor argument in my view. Those who think the universe is fine-tuned are not arguing that the universe is tuned for life to be plentiful, they are arguing that it is tuned for life to be possible at all, since most possible universes seem to have no ability to support life whatsoever. The argument you present here may be a kind of weak attack on intelligent design, but is entirely ineffective as a rebuttal to those who explain fine tuning with reference to a multiverse.

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    • “The correct one is whether there would be complex and dynamic patterns that might function similarly to life.”

      By the way, I think that is just what most commentators are referring to when they discuss the possibility of life in other universes. It is what I mean in any case.

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    • agrudzinsky says:

      the work of the best cosmologists and biologists seems to support the idea that there is something special about this universe.

      There is something very special about me. I don’t know any other person with exact combination of my first and last name. I have a combination of multiple qualities making me very unique in many respects. A probability of such combination of qualities in one person is infinitesimal. I am a living miracle. I am unique… just like everybody else. 🙂

      Could I have been born different from what I am? Absolutely! So, why am I the person that I am? That’s a deep philosophical question. Am I incurious for not trying to answer it? Or am I wise? (Whatever that word might mean).

      The universe is fine-tuned for us.

      It’s not fine-tuned for anything. The universe just is. Most environments in the universe are hostile to life. Vast majority of planets are lifeless. Even most places on this planet are hostile to humans or even to life in general. I cannot call this state of affairs “fine-tuned” for anything. It’s not “something to be dismissed”. It’s something to be accepted as a fact.

      Those who think the universe is fine-tuned are not arguing that the universe is tuned for life to be plentiful, they are arguing that it is tuned for life to be possible at all, since most possible universes seem to have no ability to support life whatsoever.

      One known planet out of trillions of trillions of planets with life on it existing for a short few millions of years out of billions of years of that planet’s existence can hardly be called “plentiful”. However, considering the vast amount of galaxies/stars/planets in the universe, it hardly surprises me that there is, at least, one planet with life — ours. And it hardly surprises me that we live on it and not somewhere else for a simple reason that we cannot live anywhere where life is not possible.

      We can talk about “possible universes” when we observe a few of them and find out that life exists in our universe only. But, unfortunately, all we see is just one universe. So, I’m not even sure if we can talk about “possible universes”.

      “Vast”, “infinitesimal”, “plentiful”, “scarce”, “fine-tuned”, “coarsely-tuned”, “possible”, “impossible”, “likely”, “unlikely” are not factual statements. These words are relative and can change meaning depending on the context. The context of “universe” which seems to include everything is not specific enough to make these words meaningful.

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      • “I am unique… just like everybody else. ”

        Exactly. So there’s no coincidence. So it’s not a fair comparison. There seems to be a profound coincidence at work at the level of the fundamental laws of physics.

        “That’s a deep philosophical question. Am I incurious for not trying to answer it? Or am I wise?”

        Wise, because there is no coincidence to explain.

        “It’s not fine-tuned for anything.”

        Except that it seems to be to cosmologists. Don’t interpret fine-tuning to mean a fine-tuner. Fine-tuning just means that there is likely more to the explanation of what we see than “it just happened that way”.

        “Vast majority of planets are lifeless.”

        That’s a weak argument for reasons explained elsewhere. Maybe theists should predict life should be everywhere but it’s strange enough that life is possible anywhere.

        “can hardly be called “plentiful”.”

        Which is why I didn’t call it plentiful. I’m saying that I’m not predicting that it should be plentiful, which is what you and SAP seem to think fine-tuning demands.

        ” it hardly surprises me that there is, at least, one planet with life”

        I really think you’re not appreciating how improbable it seems to be that any planets and stars could exist at all. Yes, given a universe like ours, it’s not surprising that one planet at least has life. But what is surprising is that the universe is like ours, given that most possible universes seem to be dull and lifeless based on the math.

        “So, I’m not even sure if we can talk about “possible universes”.”

        Sure we can. We can conduct simulations. This gives us a view of other ways the universe could apparently have been. Again, I’m not saying that we can speak definitively about other universes, but I am saying that they are fair game for analysis and food for thought. Most configurations seem dull and lifeless (e.g. no stars) so it’s prima facie surprising that our universe is not.

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        • agrudzinsky says:

          Except that it seems to be to cosmologists. Don’t interpret fine-tuning to mean a fine-tuner. Fine-tuning just means that there is likely more to the explanation of what we see than “it just happened that way”.

          I don’t imply any “fine-tuners” (although it’s a valid way of looking at things). But isn’t this “fuzzy feeling” that there is “more” than just a coincidence akin to the intuitions that give rise to superstitions and conspiracy theories?

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          • It’s also akin to the intuitions that led Newton to explain the connection between earthly gravity and the motions of the planets.

            Yes, pattern-detection can go awry, but we evolved it for a reason. It’s a good thing that when we notice some coincidence or pattern that we are motivated to investigate. We avoid the “conspiracy theory trap” by careful analysis and discussion. We don’t let fear of the “consipiracy theory trap” cause us to pre-emptively avoid investigating patterns altogether, which is how your argument comes across to me.

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  3. Ignostic Atheist says:

    Part of the presupposition of the fine tuning argument is that we are the only kind of life there can be.

    You know, because we’ve really done a thorough check of our own universe, never mind others…

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    • I don’t think that’s true at all. Very few assumptions are made.

      Yes, it is assumed that life depends on having atoms and reasonably complex chemistry, and that it needs a source of energy. I think those are reasonable assumptions.

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      • Ignostic Atheist says:

        We are just trillions of packets of energy walking around in concert, held together by virtue of seeking the lowest energy level. When you think about it, that’s rather strange. I think assuming that atoms as we know them are required for life is quite an assumption. All you know is that fiddling with a universal constant would result in a universe unlike ours. Even if our particular combination is never rolled again in all the multiverse, life stranger than you can imagine could exist all over the place.

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        • I acknowledge that that could be true, but it seems rather unlikely, especially in light of the extreme complexity that seems to be required for life in this universe. My argument is that we should not simply assume that life is inevitable. We should take seriously the apparent fact that life is an unlikely feature of an arbitarily chosen universe. We could be wrong about this, but there’s no reason to assume that we are.

          For some atheists (not all), I get the sense that the aversion to fine-tuning arises out of a desire not to give theists ground to argue for intelligent design. I think intellectual honesty demands a more robust answer than hand-waving it away.

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  4. agrudzinsky says:

    The more I think of it, the more it seems to me that the question “why our universe is fine-tuned” needs to be scratched out from the list of scientific questions. This question seems to originate from a theological argument. It raises a lot of interesting philosophical issues and is, perhaps, useful in this respect. But before we involve science in answering this question, let’s first discover, at least, one universe other than ours or, at least, one planet with life other than ours. Then we can meaningfully discuss the similarities and differences between the two universes or forms and conditions of life.

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    • I think the very definition of universe means that we can in principle never observe other universes directly. Other possible universes can only be “discovered” by mathematical analysis.

      Perhaps you’re right that these questions are not scientific, but they are still good questions and worth discussing from a philosophical perspective.

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  5. Hi DM,
    So, I don’t consider myself to be hand waving anything away. And I’m profoundly curious about why the physical constants are what they are, or why we have the laws of physics that we do. But I’m also fairly skeptical of anyone who claims to be able to predict what another universe would be like if the constants were different, when from everything I read we can’t even predict the universe we have now with the known constants. There are still too many holes in our knowledge. Incidentally, Vic Stenger, a physicist, has looked at this closely and concluded that the assertion of barren alternate universes is overstated.

    As I finished in my post, I’m open to the possibility that I’m missing something. Regarding your note on intelligent design, I think if there is fine tuning, we’d have to admit that some form of it was a possibility, one we couldn’t rule out until one of the other possibilities had conclusive evidence. Real intellectual honesty remains being open minded about all possible answers. But as I said, I just don’t see the fine tuning issue itself compelling.

    BTW, Ethan Siegel has a post up arguing that multiverses (which he accepts) have become too much of a blanket explanation, an excuse, for too many unanswered questions.
    View story at Medium.com

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    • Hi SAP,

      “I don’t consider myself to be hand waving anything away.”

      Well, that’s how it appears to me, though I imagine “the multiverse did it” could be seen as being just as hand-wavy.

      Where you seem to me to be hand-waving to me is where you assume that life will find a way, that all those other possible configurations of the universe that seem so dead and lifeless are actually likely to be filled with life, despite the best understanding of cosmologists and biologists.

      That’s what you’re doing when you assert “I suspect we’d be surprised by how often there would be.”

      “But I’m also fairly skeptical of anyone who claims to be able to predict what another universe would be like if the constants were different, when from everything I read we can’t even predict the universe we have now with the known constants.”

      And well you should be. But there are some pretty robust gross conclusions we can make about universes that are very similar to ours but slightly different. We’re not talking about delicate details like predicting in detail which compounds are stable at what temperatures and pressures, we’re talking about big dumb processes like whether a star collapses to form a black hole. Our empirical understanding of our universe has allowed us to build a mathematical model to describe it, and by tweaking this model in very subtle ways we can see that the structures on which any conceivable form of life would depend (e.g. stars, atoms, etc) are very brittle and do not form in most universes.

      “Incidentally, Vic Stenger, a physicist, has looked at this closely and concluded that the assertion of barren alternate universes is overstated.”

      Yes. And this is the best attack you can make against fine-tuning. Really it should have taken pride of place in the original article. Vic Stenger’s argument is the only one that makes any kind of sense to me, but I don’t think it is well regarded by cosmologists. He seems to be the only mainstream cosmologist that doesn’t think there is a fine-tuning problem, so though I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with his argument my suspicion is that it doesn’t work. The mainstream consensus view among cosmologists is increasingly that the universe is fine-tuned.

      “But as I said, I just don’t see the fine tuning issue itself compelling.”

      I think you would find it more compelling if you had a better understanding of cosmology. It’s really not that easily dismissed, unless you think that most cosmologists are missing something that you have seen.

      I disagree strongly with the Ethan Siegel piece. If the multiverse exists, especially if the MUH is correct, the anthropic principle explains why the constants have the values they have. This is a clear possibility, though Siegel wants to dismiss it out of hand because he finds it too defeatist. He wants to be able to find empirically verifiable explanations for the constants so he refuses to entertain an explanation that could well be true.

      Furthermore, his project is doomed to failure, because even if he can find an explanation for the mass of the electron, this is necessarily going to arise out of some deeper principles. You can never get to a ground level that explains everything because each level is either arbitrary or explained by going a level down. At some point we have to admit that it’s just that way because that’s the way it is, and at this point the MUH is the best explanation.

      I think we need to accept that the multiverse is likely the ultimate explanation for why the universe is the way it is, but that doesn’t mean we ever stop looking for deeper explanations of what we observe. The anthropic principle is the bedrock, but we can never be sure we have hit the bedrock, so there is always scope to keep searching. The cop out Siegel is afraid of does not actually pose a barrier to scientific understanding.

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      • I think you might have misread Siegel. He accepts multiverses as a candidate for reality. Actually, so do I although I’d have to call myself more skeptically agnostic on it than he is. What I object to is people’s certitude about it.

        But what Siegel objects to is the same objection that scientists, including religious ones, have to the phrase “God did it”, since it tends to end inquiry. I agree with that stance. Multiverses are a possible explanation, but until we have conclusive evidence, they should remain firmly in the “possible” column. I think we agree that we shouldn’t stop looking for alternate explanations.

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  6. Steve Morris says:

    I am optimistic that when we understand where the “constants” of nature come from, we will find that they must be what they are. The idea that we “got lucky” strikes me as one of the most unsatisfactory “explanations” in the whole of science.

    Until we know why they are what they are I find such discussions largely fruitless. However, I acknowledge the fact that *if* the universe is *just right* for life, and that even tiny variations would have made life impossible, then that is something that demands explanation. Trouble is, we can’t be certain of that and even if we were we don’t have an explanation.

    For instance, arguing about why the gravitational constant is fine-tuned to produce galaxies misses the point. We could imagine a universe in which there are not four forces, but 40. We could imagine a universe in which there are 10 flavours of Higgs particles. The “fundamental” constants of nature are but a tiny detail of our universe. There might be an unimaginable number of possible universes that could harbour life. We just don’t know.

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    • Well said. Of course, once we do understand why the constants are what they are, we’ll immediately start wondering why the why exists.

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    • The hope that the constants must be what they are was long the dominant view among physicists.

      But it doesn’t work, and this is increasingly obvious. If they could have no other values, then that means there really is an extraordinary coincidence with no explanation: the only possible values happen to be those that support life. We’re still incredibly lucky, only now we can’t even appeal to multiverses or God as the explanation. We have only mathematical necessity, and there’s no understanding why necessity should give rise to life.

      “We could imagine a universe in which there are not four forces, but 40.”

      Exactly. But to me this seems to ask us not only why are the constants just right for life, but why are the laws themselves right for life. The universe could have been an empty void without even quantum fluctuations to bring stuff into existence. It could have had no analogue of time. Indeed, It could have been any conceivable consistent mathematical object, and most of those we study don’t seem to offer much hope for finding life within.

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      • Steve Morris says:

        It is not increasingly obvious to me. And it is premature to talk of explanations for why the universe is as it is when we do not yet know. All we have is puzzles and clues.

        To borrow your analogy of why 30 friends call you up on the same day, it’s an excellent question. It would be foolish not to ask it. But what is the answer? We do not know. We lack the necessary information or understanding.

        All we can say with certainty is that asking why the universe is like we find it is a good question to ask. It is what scientists do. We are looking for explanations, but we cannot jump ahead of what we know.

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        • You’re right of course that there is little cause for certainty. My main pet peeve regarding fine tuning is the impulse to simply dismiss or unask the question by claiming to be unimpressed by the coincidences cosmologists report.

          As far as I can see, there are only three reasonable approaches to fine tuning:

          1) Vic Stenger’s (i.e. argue that a reasonable proportion of possible universes are life-supporting)
          2) Intelligent design
          3) Anthropic principle.

          The argument from necessity and the argument that the universe is not fine tuned because it is mostly lifeless both miss the point in my view.

          To again borrow my analogy of the 30 friends, I think I can explain why necessity is not a good answer. If the universe is the way it is because it could be no other way, that’s like explaining that 30 friends called you out of the blue by appeal to determinism – it could have happened no other way. It’s easy to see in this example that necessity is not really an explanation at all, and I don’t think the situation is any better for the constants and laws of the physical universe.

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          • Other really bad approaches to fine tuning we have seen here are to deny all probability and to misconstrue the fine tuning problem as simply amazement that the universe is precisely the way it is instead of at the actual coincidences evident in nature. Let’s focus on the good arguments and please agree that these others are not sensible objections.

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          • agrudzinsky says:

            It could have happened in any other way, but it is the way it is. It does not have to be this way or any other way, in particular. It even does not have to be at all. But it is. And it is the way it is.

            You may call it an “amazing coincidence”, but, to me, it seems to be a trivial tautology. I can’t understand why seeing and accepting things as they are is a “bad” approach. This approach of not seeing more than there is also saves me from falling for conspiracy theories and other forms of paranoia. It’s a form of skepticism so praised by the so-called “rational thinkers”. I don’t think it’s a bad approach at all. It works for me very well :-).

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          • “I can’t understand why seeing and accepting things as they are is a “bad” approach.”

            But you can understand why you might want to investigate why 30 old acquaintances might suddenly call you out of the blue, and you can understand why Newton sought to unify gravity and orbital motion, and you can understand why Darwin sought to explain the co-incidental similarities he saw between species which later turned out to be related through common descent.

            “It’s just like that” is not an explanation. It’s defeatist incuriosity which gets us nowhere.

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          • agrudzinsky says:

            I made this post a while ago. I think, it’s an interesting point of view.

            http://thousayest.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/negative-capability/

            I don’t mind curiosity, but I’d like to note that trying too hard to see patterns that are not there may lead to distorted view of reality when we try to fit reality into our expectations.

            Another note is that there is no rule about what people should be curious about. Question like “what would the universe be like if the gravitational constant had been different?” seems to lack any practical significance to me. I consciously steer away from such questions. It’s in the same category as “why didn’t I buy Apple stock in 1980s?”

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          • Ah Keats. That incurious sod.

            Do not all charms fly
            At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
            There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
            We know her woof, her texture; she is given
            In the dull catalogue of common things.
            Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
            Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
            Empty the haunted air, and gnomèd mine—
            Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
            The tender-person’d Lamia melt into a shade.

            In other words, Keats prefers mystery and ignorance to understanding.

            I cannot abide this way of looking at things.

            “I’d like to note that trying too hard to see patterns that are not there may lead to distorted view of reality when we try to fit reality into our expectations.”

            Of course. But we must pay attention to the patterns that are there.

            “Another note is that there is no rule about what people should be curious about.”

            I would say that ideally we should be curious about everything. That ideal is impossible because there are so many things to learn about, so each of us cultivates our own particular interests. If the big questions at the foundations of cosmology do not interest you, that’s fine, because there are plenty of people who are curious about them. Where I take issue is with you is when you seem to dismiss such questions as intrinsically unworthy of curiosity. If your viewpoint is only that you find them personally uninteresting then you probably don’t need to bother commenting, for the same reason that I don’t routinely comment on sports blogs to say how I find discussions about sport to be uninteresting.

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          • agrudzinsky says:

            Apparently, the question of fine-tuning interests me (otherwise I wouldn’t bother to comment). However, it’s not the answer that interests me, but the question itself. I wonder if it’s worth asking at all. I wonder if it has a verifiable answer in principle. I wonder if we need to explain everything and why. I wonder if understanding is a requisite of satisfaction. Do all things have causes? To what extent can we imply causality? What is the definition of cause and effect? If all things have causes, then what can we call a “random event” or “coincidence”?

            To me, these questions are more interesting than the answer to a single silly question whether the universe is fine-tuned.

            To understand anything, I need to understand what understanding means and whether I need it or not. 🙂

            (I guess, this is why some scientists hate philosophy. If we concern ourselves with questions like these, we will never learn anything practical.)

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          • I guess I find the questions interesting too, but I have strong opinions on the answers. Curiosity is always preferable to incuriosity. We don’t *need* the answers, but we should seek them regardless. Not all things have causes, but all things should have explanations.

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          • agrudzinsky says:

            How about “curiosity killed the cat”?

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          • Woe is me. I have been defeated with unassailable logic. Excuse me while I go to join the cat.

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          • agrudzinsky says:

            There is no logic in my or your arguments. Just emotional attitudes. 🙂

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  7. Hi all,

    I have been a bit cranky in some of my comments, as some of the arguments put forth here are pet peeves of mine. Let me try to reign myself in and give my thoughts on these issues, which are a major interest of mine and something I have been thinking about for a long time.

    It seems to be that there are a number of coincidences in the way the universe is set up. These coincidences are not of the trivial sort that might lead us to ask “Why is the universe exactly like it is” in much the same way we might ask “Why was I born in this city and not this other city?” There seems to be something rather special about the particular configuration the universe has as against the background of configurations it could have had.

    So I think this warrants an explanation, much like all interesting patterns or phenomena we observe in nature. “It’s just like that” is not an explanation, and adopting this attitude with regard to other problems would call a halt to all scientific discovery.

    Yet we must be careful not to observe patterns where there is no real phenomenon to explain. Vic Stenger has championed the idea that our universe is not so special after all, and he has done so with great rigour and plausibility. Paying attention to the arguments of those such as Stenger is how we avoid falling into the trap of spurious pattern recognition as we see happening with conspiracy theories and superstition.

    But as worthwhile as Stenger’s work is, it has failed to persuade much of the cosmological community. Most leading cosmologists seem to agree that there is a question in need of an answer, and it would be arrogant of we amateurs to reject this near-consensus without good reason.

    I think there are various skeptical approaches to fine-tuning which are much less successful than Stenger’s. The argument that the universe is not fine-tuned simply because life appears to be extremely rare fails to account for the apparent coincidences we need to explain. The argument that the universe is necessarily the way it is is no explanation at all, because it doesn’t account for why the only possible configuration happens to support life.

    Assuming the consensus is right, and there is something remarkable about the way the universe is set up, it seems to me we are left with a handful of alternatives.

    1) The universe has a purpose, (e.g. Intelligent Design)
    2) The universe has evolved via a natural selective process which favours life (e.g.Cosmological Natural Selection proposed by Lee Smolin)
    3) The Anthropic Principle
    4) The universe is a fluke
    5) Some unknown alternative explanation

    Any of these is possible, however I think that (2) and (3) are the most plausible. But because there are a number of alternatives, you are all quite right that certainty of the multiverse on anthropic grounds is not justified.

    But the Anthropic Principle remains in my view the most compelling answer, and it ought not to be dismissed too easily.

    As it happens, I am pretty certain of the multiverse, but not because of the Anthropic Principle. As far as I can see, the multiverse (specifically that of the MUH) must necessarily exist if both naturalism and the computational theory of mind are true, and I am pretty certain of both of these. The anthropic principle is just circumstantially supporting gravy.

    (My argument also depends on mathematical Platonism, but in my view this is not a question that is true or false but a preference with regard to how the concept “existence” is defined).

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    • Hi DM,
      I appreciate your thoughts, and passion. I actually do agree that coincidences in physical laws and constants must be investigated and that there are definitely ones out there. The question is whether those coincidences amount to “fine tuning”.

      I have one additional alternative for your list, for which I’m going to quote from Sean Carroll.

      1. Life is extremely robust, and would be likely to arise even if the parameters were very different, whether or not we understand what form it would take.

      Carroll follows with this discussion.

      Generally, not nearly enough credence is given to option #1 in this list. We know very little about the conditions under which complexity, and intelligent life in particular, can possibly form. If, for example, we were handed the Standard Model of particle physics but had no actual knowledge of the real world, it would be very difficult to derive the periodic table of the elements, much less the atoms and molecules on which Earth-based life depends. Life may be very fragile, but for all we know it may be ubiquitous (in parameter space); we have a great deal of trouble even defining “life” or for that matter “complexity,” not to mention “intelligence.” At the least, the tentative nature of our current understanding of these issues should make us reluctant to draw grand conclusions about the nature of reality from the fact that our universe allows for the existence of life.

      http://preposterousuniverse.com/writings/dtung/

      I think my thoughts on this matter mirror this observation pretty closely.

      BTW, now in the meat of Tegmark’s book and enjoying it. Thanks for recommending it. Hope to be able to do a write up some time soon.

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      • I agree with pretty much everything Carroll says. When interpreting “not nearly enough credence”, I think it helpful to remember that the central thrust of this essay is whether God is a scientific hypothesis. Relative to God, option #1 is certainly more plausible.

        I don’t think I need to add any alternatives as this argument is of the same sort as Stenger’s and consists of entertaining the possibility that there is nothing particularly special about our universe, a possibility I acknowledge.

        I have no issue with Carroll because he does not ask us to dismiss fine tuning as just the way it is, nor does he suggest that necessity or the scarcity of life are good arguments.

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  8. guymax says:

    I feel that the phrase ‘fine-tuning’ is a mistake. It is as if it was not quite right and someone had to fix it. But things could not have been any other way, no tuning required. We wouldn’t call it a coincidence that F = MA, or ask how come the laws of motion have been so finely tuned. . .

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  9. Pingback: I was wrong | SelfAwarePatterns

  10. Do not forget that the universe you are talking about is only “humanly knowable universe” and not “universe” in the sense of all that actually exists. In other words, this “universe” you are talking about is “actual universe” as perceived from human perspective only. There is no reason to think that humans or any any other conscious entities knows all that is actually existing.
    So, the laws of this “humanly knowable universe” which humans make will be limited by human consciousness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • An interesting and thoughtful comment. Thank you.

      I agree. We never have access to the “actual universe”. Only to our sensory perceptions. All we can do is develop theories, models, about what’s actually “out there” by comparing our sensory perceptions, using rigorous observation procedures, etc. Absolute certain knowledge will never be attained.

      But we can get progressively closer. And the last four centuries have shown that that can make dramatic differences in our lives.

      Liked by 1 person

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