A Matter of Principle

John O. Barrow and Frank Tipler. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Clarendon Press, 1986.

If the myths of other periods were composed in poetry, those of our culture are increasingly composed in mathematics, This book represents such a mythology of the origin, destiny and purpose of life, the cosmos and everything as inaccessible to the layperson as any Tridentine Mass or Polynesian Creation Chant. The Anthropic Principle counters the old Copernican principle of mediocrity, it asserts that only in a cosmos like ours can there be observers, This may be because of the Weak Anthropic Principle: 'The observed values of all physical and cosmological quantities are not equally probable, but they take on values restricted by the requirement that there exist sites where carbon-based life can evolve, and by the requirement that the universe be old enough for it to already have done so'.

Or is it down to the Strong Anthropic Principle: "The universe must have those properties which allow life to develop within it at some stage in its history'? Thus life may be a basic part of the cosmos.

Tipler repeats his critique of the absence of ET life, arguing that it 'is human life which will be the first across the cosmos, On human shoulders stands the Final Anthropic Principle: "intelligent information procession must come into existence in the universe, and once it comes into existence it will never die out" - in some later stage of its development life will 'colonise' the universe to create a genuine bioverse .

Like all mythologies this has its childish anthropomorphisms. For trickster spiders and winged angels it substitutes van Neumann probes and intelligent computers which cannibalise the cosmos like metallic piranha fish. Strange repositories indeed for human values, as human values (or sore strictly mammalian values) are the product of our biology and sociology. So the von Neumann probes are symbols of some un-guessable transcendence of the present human condition.

The destiny humankind, or at least our remote descendants, is to enter the omega point, the final singularity or the collapse of all logical universes, where "life will have gained control of all matter and forces, not only in a single universe, but in all universes where life could logically exist, and will have stored an infinite amount of information including all bits of knowledge that it is logically possible to know. And this is the end", But would it? when ail the infinite possibilities of 1+1=2 are exhausted, why not the infinite possibilities of 1+1=3?

It is impossible to know whether such an account is 'true' or not, but the reader of Magonia is more likely to be interested in the origins and power of such a myth. In the absence of strong empirical evidence for ET life, I believe that We should take Pascal's gamble on the Anthropic Principle and assert that "living human beings (or at Most social animals) are the sole repository of consciousness and meaning in the cosmos, The use of nuclear 'weapons therefore threatens 'the balance of the universe', indeed in a profound sense its very existence. This is the message that the contactees gave out years ago, to our resounding jeers, What an irony then, that the truth of the contactees message may be contingent on there being no extraterrestrials at all! -- Peter Rogerson. From Magonia 26, June 1987.


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