Anthropic Arrogance

Welcome to the ‘anthropic principle’, a kind of Goldilocks phenomenon or ‘intelligent design’ for the whole Universe. It’s easy to describe, but difficult to categorize: it might be a scientific question, a philosophical concept, a religious argument—or some combination. The anthropic principle holds that if such phenomena as the gravitational constant, the exact electric charge on the proton, the mass of electrons and neutrons, and a number of other deep characteristics of the Universe differed at all, human life would be impossible. According to its proponents, the Universe is fine-tuned for human life.

This raises more than a few questions. For one, who was the presumed cosmic dial-twiddler? (Obvious answer, for those so inclined: God.) Second, what’s the basis for presuming that the key physical constants in such a Universe have been fine-tuned for us and not to ultimately give rise to the hairy-nosed wombats of Australia, or maybe the bacteria and viruses that outnumber us by many orders of magnitude? In Douglas Adams’s antic novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), mice are “hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings” who are responsible for the creation of the Earth. What if the Universe isn’t so much anthropic as mouse-thropic, and the appearance and proliferation of Homo sapiens was an unanticipated side effect, a “collateral benefit”?

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