Today, we try living in a universe made just for
us. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
A wild new scientific
principle is gaining ground. It's called the
Anthropic Principle, and it says:
Our Universe must have those properties which
allow life to develop within it ...
Scientists are agreed on part of this.
It's clear we wouldn't have carbon-based life if our
physical laws were just a little different. We
wouldn't be around in any other universe. Different
worlds might have other kinds of intelligent life,
but our world produced us. So in its weakest form,
the Anthropic Principle is easy to accept. All it
The observed physical quantities all take on
values that make it possible for carbon based life
to evolve ...
But if that's true, the only universe
that can ever be known is one that has thinking
observers in it. The universe itself is wed to the
nature of its observers. That threatens the old idea
of objective science -- the idea that science isn't
tangled in human nature.
You have to stretch this only a little bit, and it
comes out in far more startling ways. Able people
have recast it in some very strange forms. John
Wheeler at the University of Texas asks us to try
Observers are necessary to bring the universe into
being. Another wrinkle says that if a species comes
into being and then dies out again, it takes back
the universe's existence. That gives us the wildest
form of the Principle so far:
Intelligent information-processing must come
into existence in the Universe, and, once it does,
it will never die out.
We don't know how much of the Anthropic
Principle will still be around after people have
thought it over. But the idea behind it has been with
us for a long time. It's an old idea with a new place
to stand. 2500 years ago, the Greek thinker
Anaxagoras put the human mind at the center of things
when he wrote:
... what is now and what will be -- all these
the mind ordered.
And 200 years ago the poet William Blake
also spoke for a kind of naturalism that centered on
us. When Blake said,
Where man is not, nature is barren,
he was very close to this new physical
hypothesis that the world is bent to fit its people.
Scientists have always struggled to keep their own
subjective nature out of science. If any of the
stronger forms of the Anthropic Principle gain a
footing, that failing could well turn into a
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds