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Archive for May 2010

Twiddling the Dials of the Universe

26 May, 2010 | Brian |

There is a widespread ignorance about the scale of the universe in which we live. It's like someone in Nebraska asking, mouth agape, if you mean as unimaginably far away as New York City. These are the people who tell each other that algebra is something you'll never use in the "real world."

To all of you I say emphatically No, the universe is not fine-tuned for human life. There is not a magic set of basic constants that, if ever-so-slightly modified, would snuff out our fluttering candle flames. We already live in that universe. If you would care to vacation for a month on Saturn, you might see my point. The volume of the known universe is boggling: 4.1 x 1034 cubic light years. The land surface area of the earth is 148,940,000 km2. Don't even pretend you comprehend the difference in scale, because you don't. If you divide one into the other you just get another number that will make as little practical sense as the two you started with. (And nevermind that the two numbers use totally different units. What are you, a brainiac?)

Put another way, the land surface area of the Earth is so small compared to the rest of the universe, that we might as well say 0% of the total available space. Let's be super-generous, though, and say that there are billions of other habitable worlds out there, which brings us to...I don't know, 0% of the total available space. Okay, let's pretend it's just barely above zero for argument's sake.

But have you ever spent February in the "fine-tuned" environment of northern Minnesota? You can't live there. Well, of course you can, but it is not what you would call habitation-friendly. That's what's common, though. We can't even survive well on most of our own surface area. About 75 percent of it isn't suitable! We cling to 25% of a scarcely nonzero number, and still we're killed off all the time by too-hot days and too-stormy weather.

So where is this universe designed for my benefit? I don't see it.