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The Goldilocks Enigma is Paul Davies’s eagerly awaited return to cosmology the successor to his critically acclaimed bestseller The Mind of God Here he tackles all the big uestions including the biggest of them all Why does the universe seem so well adapted for life?In his characteristically clear and elegant style Davies shows how recent scientific discoveries point to a perplexing fact many different aspects of the cosmos from the properties of the humble carbon atom to the speed of light seem tailor made to produce life A radical new theory says it’s because our universe is just one of an infinite number of universes each one slightly different Our universe is bio friendly by accident we just happened to win the cosmic jackpotWhile this multiverse theory is compelling it has bizarre implications such as the existence of infinite copies of each of us and Matrix like simulated universes And it still leaves a lot unexplained Davies believes there’s a satisfying solution to the problem of existence the observations we make today could help shape the nature of reality in the remote past If this is true then life and ultimately consciousness aren’t just incidental byproducts of nature but central players in the evolution of the universe Whether he’s elucidating dark matter or dark energy M theory or the multiverse Davies brings the leading edge of science into sharp focus provoking us to think about the cosmos and our place within it in new and thrilling ways


10 thoughts on “The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life?

  1. says:

    I read Martin Rees's Before The Beginning a couple of weeks ago and found it remarkably interesting But as Nick said it's also about 15 years old I decided I needed something a little modern hence this bookWell if you're interested in Big uestions there's no doubt that The Goldilocks Enigma is a fun read The first half presents the core problem When you look at the fundamental laws of the universe a weird pattern emerges everything is tuned exactly right for life to be possible There is a whole row of these coincidences as they're generally called If the early universe just after the Big Bang had been slightly uneven then galaxies couldn't have formed If gravity were a bit stronger stars would have burned up uickly rather than shining for billions of years If carbon didn't have some very special properties no elements except hydrogen and helium would have been created If neutrinos didn't react just as strongly as they do with atomic nuclei supernovae wouldn't happen and there would be no heavy elements All of these things and others have to work for life to have a chance of emerging Davies covers or less the same material here as the Rees book but his treatment assumes less background; for example he explains how we know that the universe is expanding and what a uark is If you know this kind of thing already you'll be a little irritated and probably find the Rees enjoyable The rest of the book looks at possible explanations starting with the most mainstream ones and moving into and speculative territory Even the mainstream stuff is seriously mind blowing; we seem to be in the middle of a scientific revolution here One possibility is that the coincidences are just that It's possible but seems very much against the odds An explanation which has won some measure of respectability is some version of the multiverse People appear to have constructed reasonably plausible models of what happened in the early stages of the Big Bang when a mysterious process called inflation exponentially expanded the universe in a tiny fraction of a second from the size of a proton to the size of perhaps a few meters across As far as I can make out no one really understands what inflation is but it's the only theory that makes sense of the data in particular the fact that the universe is so homogeneous Many models of inflation predict that the process keeps on occurring in different places eternal inflation Every time it kicks in you get in effect a new Big Bang which creates a bubble of space time like the one we live in There is a huge perhaps infinite number of these bubbles separated by incredible distances which make the size of our own universe look tiny in comparison Moreover each bubble universe could come with different flavors of the physical laws; it is not impossible that parts of the laws are set when the universe cools down from its initial superhot state The strongest evidence to support this idea is the now generally accepted idea that the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces are the same thing at high enough energies; the two forces were the same in the early universe and then split apart It's speculative but maybe other and dramatic changes in the physical laws happened even earlier If this account is roughly correct and eternal inflation means that the Big Bang happened many times then you could indeed in effect have many universes all with or less different versions of the physical laws We just happen to be one of the ones which got the right combination of numbers It doesn't seem out of the uestion to investigate the multiverse hypothesis scientifically making testable predictions in particular statistical arguments suggest that when a constant needs to have a value in a particular range to make life possible we would usually expect it to have a value that's only just good enough rather than being in the middle of the range People have been trying to explore this line of reasoning using the strength of dark energy which is one of the critical numbers; so far the results are unclearThis was the section of the book I found most interesting Afterwards it got very speculative indeed and often seemed to be straying into what to me felt like science fiction or mysticism It was still fascinating to see Davies clearly the veteran of many cosmological bull sessions methodically going through the possibilities One explanation of course is that the universe was designed by a Higher Intelligence This is a solution but has no explanatory power; we have no way of knowing anything about the the Higher Intelligence and there is still the problem of where it came from Who created God? A twist I hadn't seen before is a cross between the multiverse and the idea that we are living in a simulation The Matrix If there are an infinite number of universes the argument goes then some of them must have advanced enough technologies that they can create simulated Matrix style universes It's much easier to create a simulated universe than a real one hence statistically we are most likely living in a simulation I'm afraid this idea sounded to me like pure bullshit but apparently some people like it Another way out suggestion may appeal to some mathematicians Perhaps the Platonic World of mathematics is the real world and every consistent mathematical theory exists merely by virtue of being consistent On this account the world we see as real is no than a mathematical abstraction Nothing needs to make it real; it already is I have had this thought myself and I can't actually see any flaw in the argument but it still feels too bizarre to be credible But the final chapters are the weirdest of all Davies thinks about formulations of uantum mechanics where the observer is an essential part of the theory Maybe the universe needs us because it has to have observers; without them it wouldn't exist Again this seems to be me ridiculous and just shows that those versions of uantum mechanics are mistaken But if as great a thinker as Wheeler took the argument seriously I'm probably being a bit hasty in dismissing it out of hand Okay okay freuently annoying but fun and thought provoking I couldn't put it down Next I'm reading Brian Greene's The Hidden Reality and Julian Barbour's The End Of Time I will report in due course


  2. says:

    This is a uite interesting thought provoking book by an author who is not scared of asking the Big uestions about the origins of what exists about the meaning of life and consciousness in the Universe about the bio friendliness of the Universe and its tendency to self organize into increasing levels of complexity The first part of the book is the least interesting it just looks like another of those popular science books at beginner level that describe the usual stuff CMB Inflation Theory Standard Model shape of the Universe relationship between M and GR dark matter and dark energy etc stuff that I have seen ad nauseam and at much detailed level – so this part did not arouse much of my interest at all and occasionally it irritated me to be honest On the other hand the section about symmetry breaking is actually done uite well and the author manages to explain this very important concept in a simple but very informative manner It must also be said to be fair to the author that even the initial part of the book is written in a nice compelling and informative way that will delight the beginner with no prior exposure to such subjects In the first part of the book the author also makes several examples of how when you look at the fundamental laws of the universe an interesting and unuestionable pattern emerges everything is tuned exactly right for life to be possible The extent of such remarkable “fine tuning” appears uite overwhelming The examples are run of the mill stuff relative strength of the fundamental forces relative mass of the neutron versus proton etc so nothing groundbreaking here but they are explained in a nice way and made interesting and easily comprehensible The rest of the book is far interesting and it looks at possible explanations to the “Goldilocks enigma”; in trying to address this enigma the author analyses all options in a open minded balanced but also rigorous manner within the limits of the subject matter where speculative analysis is unavoidable All options are analyzed and given a fair treatment from the most mainstream ones to the most speculative onesI enjoyed the open mindedness of the author his willingness to complement the scientific approach where necessary with a philosophically analytical approach the author manages to adopt philosophical arguments that at times can be pretty compelling and uite methodical; I also appreciated his intellectual honesty in highlighting the speculative character of some of the hypotheses being discussed in the book And even the most speculative options are analyzed methodically against the current scientific understanding and the available philosophical methods and ideas Where I personally draw the line as I am temperamentally very disinclined to this type of approaches to M is when the author uses the delayed choice experiment to highlight that the observer is an essential part of the theory and that backward causation can be argued for proposing that the the universe needs observers as without them it wouldn't exist This is a step too far IMHO But it must be said that a great scientist like Wheeler took the argument seriously so maybe the author was not wrong in not apriori discounting this optionI loved that the author included Max Tegmark's perspective which in my opinion has merits than some people are willing to concede and that he also included a variation of a particular option towards which I personally tend – the self explanatory teleologically structured causally looped Universe option which appears to be favored by the author himself This option tries to address the fact that the Universe has somewhat engineered its own awareness and self understandingIn general terms I agree with the author in his refusal to discount aprioristically that the Universe in its structure and tendency to increasing levels of complexity is “about something” He refuses to concede on a priori basis that complexity life and consciousness are just accident that do not reuire explanation I also like the author's refusal to be driven into an either theistic or atheistic type of intellectual bigotry What I also liked is that aspects of computational complexity and informational contents are taken into proper consideration We should not forget the incredible amount of information content presented by life and even by consciousness and intelligence Wheeler's famous “it from bit” is also explained I also really liked that the author tried to address even though he does it uite succinctly very important fundamental uestions about the relationship between mathematics mathematically idealized physical laws and reality as posed by Landauer and Chaitin Their important work and their potentially foundational conseuences to philosophy of mathematics and science have not always been taken fully into consideration Overall it is a well written thought provoking book pretty mind blowing in some parts and uite enjoyable to read


  3. says:

    I'm not sure that this book is entirely successful in answering or even trying to address the uestion posed on the cover why is the universe just right for life? It talks a lot about how the universe may have formed and what the laws of the universe are and it seems like it does a lot of describing rather than explaining Now of course that's because we don't really have an answer but it does seem a little misleadingDavies looks at a lot of different theories here some of them scientific than others he includes the philosophical side of things too including the religious point of view He's fairly even handed about this so it's hard to tell exactly where he'd put his money most of the time except that he's generally sceptical of the religion explanation because it's a non explanation it just shunts the uestion up a level Most of the explanations are clear though string theory remains utterly baffling to me or at least the rationale behind it doesOddly enough I'm left feeling that The Goldilocks Enigma is much positive about the idea that other intelligent life is out there than The Eerie Silence I haven't looked at publication order or anything but it was a little strange reading them one after the otherRegardless this was written before the Large Hadron Collider swung into action so no doubt it's out of date in some ways Still a good background in the various theories particularly the philosophical ones like the anthropic principles that aren't likely to change To his credit I now understand the anthropic principle a lot better than I did after GCSEA Level Religious Studies Sorry Mr B


  4. says:

    In the preface and acknowledgements Paul Davies cites his thanks to the John Templeton Foundation This is the foundation that is responsible for supporting ‘pro god’ science ahem and trying to suppress what it considers ‘anti god’ science This did not fill me with confidence with what was to come The first half of the book was however very interesting The latter stages went along with what you would expect from somebody who is supported by Templeton Although Paul Davies does not support the view that the universe popped into existence on the whim of a benevolent and omnipotent deity he does count this as a viable option alongside contemporary ideas based on science and mathematics then he goes onto postulate that at some point in the far future the universe itself may become god like and creates itself in the past I found the explanation for this to be somewhat dubious personally though admit I am no physicist and was ultimately felt that the purpose of the book was not to honestly try to explain why the universe is the way it is but to muddy the waters of existing rational explanations blind luck multiverse and to somehow suggest that there is a god after all


  5. says:

    This is a fascinating book on why the Universe is right for life It also goes into a basic uestion why does the Universe exist? While providing no final answers he delves into the subject in depth


  6. says:

    I was disappointed by the book A lot of material in the book was too technical for the average reader; I found the going tough despite having taken college physics so I wonder how those who have not take physics will cope The author explored ways in which the universe we life in and the one in which he wrote his book is perfect for life But then he goes about exploring the ‘Why the Universe is just right” uestion and ends up creating confusion then sense I won’t recommend this book to anyone unless someone is taking advanced college physics and wants some time out from differential euations


  7. says:

    Much of this book was at least a little over my head I might have taken the time to understand it if it was the book that I am looking for This is the second Goldilocks book that I've gotten that isn't the right one Someday I'll find it In the meanwhile the book itself is well written for an audience with knowledge of the subject than I have


  8. says:

    I suspect this is about as readable a book as can be written on this excruciatingly complex subject I needed about 15 I points than are available to fully grasp it


  9. says:

    You have to be extremely good to write about this subject without sounding like an idiot Well Paul you were brave to try


  10. says:

    All science is a search for unification Paul DaviesWhat is it that breathes fire into the euations and makes a universe for them to describe? Stephen HawkingA uick description of the book A small rant uotesBook A pretty pretty pretty good book written with the idea that people are smart and capable of figuring things out but not arrogant enough to think we have it all figured outThe Goldilocks Enigma is an interesting book Though I doubt it or anything will sway the hardened atheist it's the most scientific analysis of the miracle of life I've read Davies is a wonderful thinker driven by the most dangerous and powerful of all uestions why Why are the laws of physics and conditions of the universe conducive to life? Why does consciousness and life emerge in the universe? If life is not an accidental byproduct then it's miraculous If consciousness plays a direct role in shaping the physical world then wow Davies catalogues a number of fascinating examples of how perfectly the universe is situated to allow us to walk around marvel at the clouds construct theories build businesses and waste our time on celebrity gossipWhile comprehensive I don't think the book is going to change anyone's opinion A skeptic is still going to go so what and resort to the gap solution belief that we'll figure out all these uestions soon enough The gap solution belief is the opposite of the God of the gap theoryRant How the debate dissolved into a shouting matchThe uantum universe is weird Physics currently holds that the observer effects the observed that particles are better described as waves and that the future is uncertain When you ask that powerful uestion why you find it's turtles all the way down that's a science joke until you find your super turtle the answer or the uberturtle as Nietzsche might have said that's a philosophy joke The chain of causality leads to 3 possible options1 GOD2 TOE3 WTFGod Option one is to say God exists Usually God is tangled into religions but that is not a necessary relationship To draw an analogy we believe in freedom and different governments protect it but we would never say blank country is freedom So it is with God and religionToe Option two is to say there exists a theory of everything TOE and that science will discover it soon enough This relies on a confidence in our ability to figure things out It's like a sign at a bar that reads Free beer tomorrow Belief in TOE is similar to belief in God You cannot prove it using empirical methods ironic since science prides itself on exactly that point but its advocates believe we'll get there The deity in this system are the laws of natureWtf Option three is to say WTF mate there is no reason anything exists chaos rules It's not so much an answer to the uestion as it is a way of saying this isn't a uestion now step out of my sunlight and let me live in my barrel It's the cynical response impossible to argue against in the same way it's impossible to disprove a solipsist Try it on for a bit but this is a solution that in my mind is best discarded with the rest of your college postersThere's a phrase that's hard to say I'm sorry Perhaps we also have a hard time saying we don't know The ultimate why the super turtle will always be a debate Our intelligence and our methods of figuring things out are insufficient It's an eternal mystery which is either fascinating or infuriatingHere's the problem The discourse around this debate like the discourse around any idea nowadays has become a shouting match and name calling battle Take as an example the title of Richard Dawkins The God Delusion The implication is that any belief in God is akin to a mental illness That's not a healthy starting point for any debate As a man who has lived on all sides of this debate grew up in a radical Catholic sect spent several years a chest thumping atheist have settled into a kind of pantheism meets wonder and awe at the universal flux I see the fundamental problem as complete confidence in our own perspective a lack of respect for the opposing camp's starting position and a refusal to admit the built in assumptions in any position Yes TOE and science involve belief and assumptions but that's ok Yes God cannot be captured in an euation but that's ok It doesn't mean someone is a cold blooded spreadsheet the caricature of a scientist or a delusional idiot the caricature of a religious believerDavies is one of many scientists who acknowledges the divine He demonstrates its possible to both know and understand the scientific method our best invention for figuring things out but also recognizes its limitationsuotesJohn Archibald Wheeler's style was distinctive He was the master of the thought experiment taking an accepted idea and extrapolating it to the ultimate extreme to see if and when it would break downNot content with simply applying the laws of uantum mechanics he wanted to know where they came from 'How come the uantum?'These concepts led him to propose the 'participatory universe' an idea or as Wheeler preferred 'an idea for an idea' which has proved to be an important part of the multiverse anthropic discussion In his beliefs and attitudes Wheeler represented a large section of the scientific community committed wholeheartedly to the scientific method of inuiry but not afraid to tackle deep philosophical uestions; not conventionally religious but inspired by a reverence for nature and a deep sense that human beings are part of a grand scheme which we glimpse only incompletely; bold enough to follow the laws of physics wherever they lead but no so arrogant as to think we have all the answers XiiiAttempts to gain useful information about the world through magic mysticism and secret mathematical codes mostly led nowhere But about 350 years ago the greatest magician who ever lived finally stumbled on the key to the universe a cosmic code that would open the floodgates of knowledge This was Isaac Newton mystic theologian and alchemist and in spite of his mystical leanings he did than anyone to change the age of magic into the age of science 4Newton Galileo and other early scientists treated their investigations as a religious uest They though that by exposing the patterns woven into the process of nature they truly were glimpsing the mind of God 5Schoolchildren learn about this law as 'a fact of nature' and normally move on without giving it much further thought But I want to stop right there and ask the uestion whyThe fact that the physical world conforms to mathematical laws led Galileo to make a famous remark 'The great book of nature' he wrote 'can be read only by those who know the language in which it was written And this language is mathematics 9The idea of laws began as a way of formalizing patterns in nature that connect together physical events Physicists became so familiar with the laws that somewhere along the way the laws themselves as opposed to the events they describe became promoted to reality 13When it comes to actual physical phenomena science wins hands down against gods and miracleswhen it comes to metaphysical uestions such as 'why are there laws of nature?' the situation is less clear The God of scholarly theology is cast in the role of a wise Cosmic Architect whose existence is manifested through the rational order of the cosmos an order that is in fact revealed by science 16Instead of finding that space is filled with a dog's breakfast of unrelated bric a brac astronomers see an orchestrated and coherent unity On the largest scale of size there is order and uniformity I think the presence of beauty is one of the most compelling arguments for the cosmic creator the word cosmos in fact means beauty and order 21There is a horizon in space beyond which we cannot see This infinite red shift clearly is a fundamental limit we could not see beyond in space or this moment in time Cosmologists refer to this limit as a horizon The moment of the big bang in this simplified and idealized picture is a horizon in space beyond which we can never see even in principle however powerful our instrument and ignoring the opacity of the material 34The universe contains no net mass at all And that as we shall see later is yet another one of those 'coincidences' that is needed for a life permitting universeanother one of those bio friendly features in need of explanation 54uantum weirdness Wave particle duality is a basic feature Which aspect wave or particle depends on the type of experiment or observation performed It is not possible to say in general whether a photon or an electron is really a wave or a particle because it can behave like both Closely related to this vagueness is a central tenant of uantum mechanics called Heisenberg's uncertainty principle This forbids a uantum object from possessing a full set of familiar physical attributes at any given time 72Time itself began with the big bang Augustine's considered answer to what God was doing before creating the universe was that 'the world was made with time and not in time' Augustine's God is a being who transcends time a being located outside time altogether and responsible for creating time as well as space and matter 81Either the cosmic origin is a natural event or it is a supernatural event 92The Standard Model looks like a halfway house to a fully unified theory in which the strong and electroweak forces would be merged into a single superforceall science is a search for unification 116Uniformity and mediocrity are by no means the only features of the universe that must be explained There is one aspect that often gets left off the list of observed properties and this is the fact that there are observers to observe them 148The uestion of whether or not we are long in the universe is one of the great unsolved puzzles of science 150Our existence depends on the dark energy not being too large A factor of ten would suffice to preclude life if space contained ten times as much dark energy as it actually does the universe would fly apart too fast for galaxies to form A factor of ten is a pretty close call The cliché that 'life is balancing on a knife edge' is a staggering understatement in this case no knife in the universe could have an edge that fine 170The human brain alone has cells than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy 218One man's super turtle is another man's laughing stockYou can't use science to disprove the existence of a supernatural God and you can't use religion to disprove the existence of self supporting physical laws 247The strong anthropic principlethe laws of physics and the evolution of the universe are in some unspecified manner destined to bring forth life and mind 251Defining life is notoriously hard but three properties stand out The first is that biological organisms are a product of Darwinian evolutionthe second key uality is autonomy If you throw a dead bird into the air it will follow a simple geometrical path and land a predictable spot But if you throw a live bird into the air it is impossible to know how it will move or where it will landthe third distinctive property of living systems is how they handle information 254According to the Copenhagen interpretation the act of observation itself was the key step in forcing nature to 'make up its mind' left or right A few physicists saw this as evidence for consciousness playing a direct role in the physical world at the uantum level Most physicists however rejected that view 257We see that without introducing an observer we have a dead universe which does not evolve in time We are together the universe and us The moment you say that the universe exists without any observers I cannot make any sense out of that I cannot imagine a consistent theory of everything that ignores consciousness In the absence of observers our universe is dead Andrei LindeThere is a logic as well as a temporal loop here Conventional science assumes a linear logical seuence cosmos life mind Wheeler suggested closing this chain into a loop cosmos life mind cosmos He expressed the essential idea with characteristic economy of prose Physics gives rise to observer participancy; observer participancy gives rise to information; information gives rise to physics 281