Dec 9, 2008

Why antropic principle stops to defend us

Posted by in categories: existential risks, futurism, space

In the volume “Global catastrophic risks” you could find excellent article of Milan Circovic “Observation selection effects and global catastrophic risks”, where he shows that we can’t use information from past records to estimating future rate of global catastrophes.
This has one more consequence which I investigate in my article: “Why antropic principle stops to defend us. Observation selection, future rate of natural disasters and fragility of our environment” — that is we could be in the end of the long period of stability, and some catastrophes may be long overdue and what is most important we could underestimate fragility of our environment which could be on the verge of bifurcation. It is because origination of intellectual life on the Earth is very rare event and it means that some critical parameters may lay near their bounds of stability and small anthropogenic influences could start catastrophic process in this century.…vironment–

Why antropic principle stops to defend us
Observation selection, future rate of natural disasters and fragility of our environment.

Alexei Turchin,
Russian Transhumanist movement

The previous version of this article was published on Russian in «Problems of management of risks and safety», Works of Institute of the System Analysis of the Russian Academy of Sciences, v. 31, 2007, p. 306–332.


The main idea of this article is not only that observation selection leads to underestimation of future rate of natural disasters, but that our environment is much more fragile to antropic influences (like overinflated toy balloon), also because of observation selection, and so we should much more carefully think about global warming and deep earth drilling.
The main idea of antropic principle (AP) is that our Universe has qualities that allow existence of the observers. In particular this means that global natural disasters that could prevent developing of intellectual life on the Earth never happened here. This is true only for the past but not for the future. So we cannot use information about frequency of global natural disasters in the past for extrapolation it to the future, except some special cases then we have additional information, as Circovic shoes in his paper. Therefore, an observer could find that all the important parametres for his/her survival (sun, temperature, asteroid risk etc.) start altogether inexplicably and quickly deteriorating – and possibly we could already find the signs of this process. In a few words: The anthropic principle has stopped to ‘defend’ humanity and we should take responsibility for our survival. Moreover, as origination of intellectual life on the Earth is very rare event it means that some critical parameters may lay near their bounds of stability and small antropogenic influences could start catastrophic process in this century.


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  1. The Destropic Principle
    By João Carlos Holland de Barcellos
    Translated by Débora Policastro

    Abstract: The “Destropic Principle” is an argument that establishes that every universe is equiprobable, and the possibility of life is not a more special feature than any other. This opposes to the “anthropic principle” when it is used to argue that there is a necessity for a divinity, or multiple universes, in order to explain the configuration of our universe, particularly, the capability of harboring life.

    In order to explain life in our universe, I will refute the “anthropic principle” when it is used as an argument of the necessity of a deity or multiple universes. I had already outlined this argument in my previous article on the theme, The Anthropic Principle and The Jocaxian-Nothingness” [1], but now I intend to go a little deeper in the analysis.
    It is not a very intuitive argument, and that is why we should use an analogy to understand the idea behind. But first, I will summarize the anthropic principle and how it is used by creationists and religious people in general to justify God:

    The physical laws, usually written in the form of mathematical equations, are considered to be responsible for the characteristics of the universe and its evolution in time. These laws, as we know today, are composed by equations in which we can see some numerical constants (parameters). As examples we can cite, among others: the speed of light, the mass of the electron, the electric charge of the proton, etc. [2]
    It is argued, without demonstration, that a little alteration (it is not clear what would the magnitude of this alteration be) in any of these constants would make the possibility of life in the universe not feasible. Those who claim that also conclude that a universe created with physical laws generated at random would hardly be able to trigger life.
    In all fairness, we need to note that a universe with random laws does not need to follow the pattern of physical laws we have in our universe, that is, the mathematical equations that would define a randomly generated universe could be totally different from the ones we have in our current universe (in principle it would not even be necessary to describe such universes through mathematical equations). That way, the parameters we have today would not apply to any of the equations in this random universe. Thus, it is totally FALSE to claim that all possible universes can be described maintaining the same equations of our particular universe and varying only the constants present in them.
    However, in order to refute the “anthropic principle” on its own support base, we should consider true the fact that all possible universes keep the same structure of equations as ours. We also assume that these equations are true, but knowing in advance that this is not true, since there is a theoretical incompatibility between the theory of relativity and the quantum mechanics. Besides that, we also suppose that any alteration in one of the fundamental constants would make the possibility of life impracticable, although no one has shown it yet.

    An analogy
    In order to understand the idea of the “Destropic Principle”, we will make an analogy with the real numbers of the equations which rule the several possible universes. Suppose that each of the possible universes can be represented by a real number between zero and ten. We can justify that by thinking that we can concatenate all the fundamental constants in a single numeric parameter.
    In our analogy, the parameter “4,22341”, for example, would represent an U1 universe, which would be different from an U2 universe, represented by the parameter “6,123333…”, and so on. Thus, each of these numeric parameters would completely define the characteristics of the universe represented by them.
    Suppose there is a machine that randomly generates real numbers between zero and ten. Each generated number would be the parameter that would define a universe. We can see that the possibility of predicting what number the machine will generate is very small, almost zero. However, the machine will certainly generate a number.
    Suppose our universe is represented by U1 (“4,22341”). Then we can ask: what is the probability of the number of our universe being chosen, once there are infinite possible numbers? There are infinite real numbers between zero and ten, therefore it is almost impossible to foresee that the number “4,22341”, which is the parameter that defines the characteristics of our universe, will be chosen.
    Thereby, when the machine generates a number representing a parameter of the universe, the answer to the question “How probable would the generation of a universe like ours be?” will be “As likely as the generation of any other specific universe”.

    In our model of random generation of universes all universes are equiprobable, since any real number between zero and ten would have the same probability of being generated. No universe is more likely to be generated than the other. So, whatever the number generated by the machine was, it would be as unlikely to be predicted as any other number. We then conclude that our universe is so likely to be generated as any other.

    However, someone could retort:
    “-Our universe is the only one where the possibility of life exists”.
    The possibility of life is a peculiarity of our universe. Any other generated universe would also have its specific peculiarities. For example: maybe one of them could be made of tiny colored crystal balls, the other could form elastic goos, others, perfect spheres, and so on. If, for example, the generated universe produced little blue crystal balls, then we could make the same exclamation:
    “-Only this universe produces little glowing balls!”
    “Only in this universe there is possibility of producing elastic goos!”
    And so on. For us, humans, life can be more important than little glowing balls, or elastic goos, but this is only a human valuation. There is no logic reason to suppose that a universe with life is more important than a universe that produces little glowing crystal balls, or elastic goos.
    Therefore, we cannot claim that our universe is special and unique, because it is as special and unique as any other universe that was generated at random. All universes would have their specific features, generated by their also unique physical constants.

    Another Formality
    In order to clarify this idea, we can redo our argument using another formality:
    Suppose the universes are described by six fundamental constants (the exact number does not matter, the following reasoning is for any number of constants).
    Thus, any U universe could be defined by a system of equations that uses six basic constants. We represent this dependence as follows:
    U= U (A, B, C, D, E, F).
    Our U1 universe in particular is described in that formality as:
    U1= U (A1, B1, C1, D1, E1, F1)

    Now, consider a U2 Universe with constants different from U1:
    U2 = U (A2, B2, C2, D2, E2, F2)
    As U1, by definition, contains the parameters of our universe, it will generate a universe that may harbor “life”, but cannot generate “lofe”. Similarly, U2 can generate “lofe”, but cannot generate “life”. “Lofe” is a random feature of U2, as the characteristic of being able to form a group of particles where the density is exactly 0,12221 (a random number), for example. Only U2 can generate “lofe”, and any change in the parameters would make the generation of “lofe” not feasible.
    Of course, the same way, another universe, U3, with other constants
    U3 = U (A3, B3, C3, D3, E3, F3)
    would not make “life” feasible, nor “lofe”, but would make “lufe” viable.
    “lufe” is a physical condition that occurs when the particles are subject to the regime of forces generated by the constants of U3 (A3…F3). Any change in one of these constants would make “lufe” not viable.

    Note that there is no INTRINSIC importance about the universe generating “life”, “lofe”, or “lufe”. It does not make any difference to the generating machine or to the universe itself. Especially because the universe and the random machine do not have consciousness or desires. What differs to the machine is the value of the fundamental constants, not what they will generate or not. For the generating machine and even for the generated universe, it is irrelevant if it will be able to harbor life, “lofe”, “lufe”, or present any other peculiarity. Each universe has its own feature. If U1 allows “life”, it does not allow “lofe”, nor “lufe”; if U2 allows “lofe”, it does not allow “life” nor “lufe”; if U3 allows “lufe”, it does not allow “life”, nor “lofe”. It goes that way for any generated universe.

    Thus, we can see that our universe does not have anything special, once nothing is intrinsically special. “Life” is as important as “Lofe” or “Lufe”. The universe is not worried if “lofe” generates consciousness or not, nor if “lufe” generates a cluster of an incredible yellow glow which would never exist in U1 or if “lofe” generates micro colored pyramids with their own indescribably beautiful glow. That matters to humans, little egocentric beings of U1 that care about “life”, maybe because they are alive.

    Thereby, the probability of generating a universe that has “lufe” is equivalent to another one that has “life” or “lofe”. There is nothing miraculous or magical about our universe that makes it REALLY special. Therefore, there is no sense in saying that the probability of our universe being that way is the work of some deity. Whatever the generated universe was, its probability of having that feature is exactly the same as the probability of our universe being exactly as it is.

    It is like choosing at random a real number between zero and ten. They are all equally probable and difficult to be chosen. None is more or less special than the others.

  2. Alexei Turchin says:

    I do not agree with you.

    But you pointed on one important question: What exactly AP is demending? And you show that it is not life.

    But I think that AP demand existense of intelligent beinhg which can understand AP. Life is not nessessery for it. It could also be robot or something else.

    But it should not only know about AP, but understand it. Understanding is qualia, not an information. So AP demand existing of qualia. This is my unpablished yet idea.