fine-tuned for death


I’d like to propose that the universe we live is “designed” to make life unlikely. It’s a “misanthropic principle” that becomes clear when you look around.

  1. Let’s start with the obvious – 99.999% of everything is empty. It’s mostly a vacuum out there; where life as we know it can’t exist. It’s just dead, sterile space suffused with deadly cosmic radiation.
  2. An unbelievably small part of the universe consists of matter, and 80% of that is dark matter. Let’s look at that tiny, tiny fraction of the universe that consists of what we call ordinary matter. A lot of it is lonely hydrogen atoms, and where the mass clumps together you’ve got gas clouds and radiation-spewing nuclear fusion fire. Then there are burned or frozen chunks of rock. This is a place designed for the non-living.
  3. Further proof of the “death fine-tuning” is that only tiniest fraction of a fraction of a fraction of those rock chunks might be temporarily amenable to life. Most of that life, which is now looking accidental, is probably microbes. You could say the universe slips up once in a while, and in the equivalent of a single dust mote in the Grand Canyon, some microbial life bubbles up, but otherwise non-life reigns supreme.
  4. Now look at the vanishingly small fraction of those rock chunks that could harbor larger, more complicated life. Take earth, for example. In fact, right now that’s our only example. During the finite period of time that complex life can exist here, the planet is subject to doomsday asteroid strikes, horrendous magma-vomiting volcanism, and other catastrophes that beat down life from time to time. It’s not a place that favors the living.
  5. Let’s look at the period between these major disruptions when life thrives for a while. Does the universe care if most creatures with developed nervous systems die painful deaths? No. Animals are torn apart and eaten by other ones, or they starve, or are abandoned or diseased. If humans are somehow different and special (because they write blogs and go to the moon), then the universe is even crueler to them because they can foresee their own helpless doom. They know that they are plagued by deformities, random accidents, disease, and natural disasters.

As you can see, the universe is fine-tuned to treat life as rare and inconsequential. Next post: the bad news.

Okay, I’m purposely stretching this to make a point.I actually feel wonder and delight in the world around us, both living and non-living. It’s fantastic and mysterious and I feel fortunate to be here. I’m just not impressed with arguments that say our universe is perfectly calibrated to create beings like us. You could make a good argument for the opposite.




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