Essay 4: Just a Coincidence?
We hope to make decisions and choices in our lives that will lead to the best outcomes. Our choices are dependent on the information we have at our disposal. We employ this information to predict the probability of each of the possible outcomes of those choices. Even though we may not be conscious of the process, everyone does this every day.
If our information is incorrect or incomplete, we will be hindered in our decision-making process. For decades, people smoked cigarettes without knowledge of the potential consequences. They had no idea that smoking caused lung and other cancers, that it led to heart disease and stroke, and that doing so might prevent them from performing even the most simple activities later in life. Once that information became widely known, the number of people smoking dropped precipitously. Those that continued at least were well-warned of the consequences. Knowledge is power.
The hard clues that we have reviewed–the nature of time and the quantum world–have given us new information. They have proven that, were we to rely solely on what seems real, we would be sorely misinformed about the nature of our world. We now know that fundamental processes that we thought we understood do not accurately represent the way things are. We can return to our Oz metaphor. When Toto pulled back the curtain, Dorothy and her friends discovered that what had seemed real was mere illusion. Einstein and his colleagues did the same.
The Many Worlds explanation for quantum physics I briefly mentioned in the previous essay (Essay 3: The Quantum World) is one attempt to explain the results of quantum events. In brief, it says that every possible outcome of an event does indeed occur in one of the near infinite universes. We only witness a single one of those outcomes in our particular universe. We cannot appreciate the other outcomes even though they are just as real as the one we experience.
There are deeply significant implications to that concept. In our world, there are daily tragedies. Children get terminal diseases. Mother Nature repeatedly wreaks one form of havoc or another–a flood, a tornado, a hurricane, an earthquake. Lives are lost daily. These are heartbreaking events, but none of us is all that surprised. We shrug our shoulders and call it life. It’s just the way it is.
It’s just the way it is in one specific universe–ours. Other universes likely exist where the laws of gravity and quantum physics don’t apply or are different. This is not science fiction. This is a natural consequence of what we have learned from Stephen Hawking and other brilliant physicists.
In those other universes, it could be that no tragedy ever occurred. No tornadoes, no earthquakes, no floods. We can extend the analogy. DNA, the information that instructs our cells on what to do, could be written differently. DNA is software. Change the input, change the output. It could include information on how to renew each cell so that no cell ever dies and, extrapolating from the cell to the whole, no organism ever succumbs. “Life is short” might be an expression unique to our universe. In others, that might have no meaning at all.
Why is life possible on earth? Because there is oxygen in the air at the optimum concentration. Because the forces that hold atoms and molecules together are perfect for the job. Were they any stronger or weaker, matter would not exist. Because water is most dense at four degrees Celsius instead of at its freezing point of zero degrees Celsius. If not, lakes and rivers would freeze from the bottom up, a catastrophic situation that would eliminate much aquatic life. Why does a ball we throw up into the air come back down? Gravity. Earth’s gravity is just right for the processes we take for granted to occur. Were we to have Jupiter’s gravity, it would be a far different story.
The world in which we live turns out to be optimal for life. If any of the forces that compose nature were different, life as we know it would not exist. Make enough changes and pretty much nothing would exist.
Once you understand that our world is quite specific, that everything could be different–remember, this is a consequence of quantum physics, not a wild imagination–then the fact that we find ourselves in this particular universe is a potential clue.
There are scientists who would scoff at this idea, not because they don’t agree that it is possible that there are other universes with different physical laws. Their argument is that this is the only universe in which we could exist. If it were different, we simply wouldn’t be here, and we wouldn’t be discussing any of this. They insist that we can draw no further conclusions.
Those scientists have a point. Their assessment could be the correct one. It might be purely random that we inhabit this universe with its own set of physical laws, with the tragedies we witness every day, with DNA that is programmed for cell death and limited lifespans. It is certainly the simplest explanation, and the simplest solutions are often the winners. We would have to believe some crazy ideas about our world just to entertain alternate theories. Crazy ideas like:
–Each of us carries our own unique clock and will not be in agreement with what happens at any particular moment with someone who is in motion.
–The past, present, and even the future all exist.
–An electron or photon will behave as a wave if no one is looking and like a particle if someone is, even if that looking occurs long after it had to decide which one to emulate.
Who would ever believe such crazy things?
We have not reached the point where we either need or are ready to draw any conclusions. What we have discovered so far should at least allow us to entertain the idea that something else might be going on, that there just might be a reason we live in this particular universe.
There are still clues to uncover, clues that might just change those scientists’ minds. And yours.
Next: Digging a Bit Deeper
When: April 13, 2022