Friday, January 31, 2014

Why We Shouldn't Exist: A Table of 18 Anthropic Requirements

Cross-posted from

The Standard Model is regarded as a highly “unnatural” theory. Aside from having a large number of different particles and forces, many of which seem surplus to requirement, it is also very precariously balanced. If you change any of the 20+ numbers that have to be put into the theory even a little, you rapidly find yourself living in a universe without atoms. This spooky fine-tuning worries many physicists, leaving the universe looking as though it has been set up in just the right way for life to exist.
Harry Cliff, Particle Physicist, in a Scientific American article

If you have not read much on the topic of the anthropic principle and the issue of possible fine-tuning in the universe, it may be hard to follow the topic. Discussions typically involves subatomic physics, cosmology, biology, evolution and some other subjects that don't exactly make light reading. I think that the topic will be easier to understand if we condense it into one simple table that summarizes the most relevant facts. I have created such a table, which appears below.

The left column of the table lists various items that appear in nature. The right column lists requirements of those items. The table is in chronological order. It starts out with requirements that must be met in the very beginning, near the time of the Big Bang, if the universe is ever going to end up with people like us, inhabitants of a technical civilization living near a sunlike star. Towards the end of the table are items that appeared billions of years later in time. The final item in the table is “Civilizations near sunlike stars.” It is interesting that for the last item to come into existence, all of the previous items in the list must previously come into existence. I have added color coding which makes the various interlinked dependencies much easier to follow. 

Anthropic Principle
Click to Expand

I will now explain why each item has the requirements I have listed.

Row 1 (Higgs field): The Higgs field (related to the Higgs boson) is said to give mass to other particles. Scientists are puzzled by why the Higgs field has the strength it has, and they say that it seems to require fine-tuning to 15 decimal places. This is a problem called the hierarchy problem or the naturalness problem. It is discussed in this scientific paper entitled The Higgs: so simple yet so unnatural. As a Daily Galaxy article put it, “Using theory as it currently stands, the mass of the Higgs boson can only be explained as the result of a random fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe at a level of accuracy of one in one quadrillion.”

Row 2 (up quarks and down quarks, electrons): The particles in the nuclei of atoms (protons and neutrons) are made up of smaller particles called up quarks and down quarks. A requirement of the large-scale existence of up quarks and down quarks (and also electrons) is what scientists call matter/antimatter asymmetry (a situation where matter is vastly more abundant than antimatter). This is a puzzle to scientists, because the standard model of physics seems to predict that matter and antimatter should have existed in equal amounts at the time of the Big Bang, which would have caused both types of particles to collide with each other and convert into energy, leaving almost nothing but energy in the universe. A requirement for electrons is the Higgs field, and on this page a physicist says that the electron would not have mass without the Higgs field. 

Row 3 (protons, neutrons): The simple requirement is that there be up quarks and down quarks, discussed in the previous paragraph.

Row 4 (hydrogen atoms): The requirement for a hydrogen atom is that you have one proton and one electron, and also the electromagnetic force, the force of attraction between a proton and an electron. Without that force, electrons would not have any tendency to orbit a nucleus.

Row 5 (galaxies): Galaxies are huge collections of stars. There are many requirements for the formation of galaxies after the Big Bang. The universe had to begin with a fine-tuned expansion rate, as a slighter higher rate would have caused an expansion too fast for galaxies to form, and a slightly slower rate would have caused all matter to collapse into superdense black holes. Scientists also say that numerous other things had to be just right (the other items listed in this row). One requirement is primordial density perturbations greater than .000001 and less than .0001, as explained here. One particularly severe requirement seems to involve dark energy, which is regarded pretty much the same as the cosmological constant. Cosmologists conclude that the level of dark energy seems to have been fine-tuned to something like 1 part in 1060 or one part in 10120. The issue, called the vacuum catastrophe, has been fretted over by many physicists. This paper refers to the “tremendous, unsolved naturalness problem” posed by the cosmological constant.
Row 6 (carbon atoms): This row refers to the abundant existence of carbon atoms, something which ends up having lots of requirements. Besides the previously mentioned requirements for the hydrogen atom (protons, electrons, and the electromagnetic force), there are the additional requirements of the neutron and the strong nuclear force (the two of them allow you to have a carbon nucleus that holds together, despite the mutual repulsion between the protons). There is also the requirement that you have a law of nature called the Pauli Exclusion Principle, something that is quite necessary for both solid matter and complex carbon bonds. Then there is an additional requirement for something called nuclear resonances, which assures that carbon is produced in abundant quantities by stars through a process called the triple alpha process. Without this additional requirement, there would not be enough carbon (which wasn't produced in the Big Bang). This point has been widely discussed by scientists such as Hoyle, and in this scientific paper stating that a 0.4% change in one parameter would have left us without a universe abundant in both carbon and oxygen. An additional requirement that I had no space to list in my table is the requirement that the neutron mass be higher than the proton mass.

Row 7 (oxygen atoms): Oxygen atoms have all the same requirements of carbon atoms, including the same special requirement involving nuclear resonances, necessary for oxygen to be produced by stars in abundant amounts. The scientific paper here argues that there would not be much oxygen without the weak nuclear force, so I have also listed that as a requirement. 

Row 8 (Heavier atoms): By heavier atoms I mean all atoms than have more than about 25 protons (which includes copper, lead, silver, gold, zinc, tin, and probably also iron). These types of atoms have most of the same requirements of carbon atoms and oxygen atoms, except that to have these atoms in abundance you don't need nuclear resonances but instead the stellar explosions called supernovae explosions (explosions of stars that produce heavy elements such as lead and iron). These supernovae explosions require a tiny particle called the neutrino and a force called the weak nuclear force.

Row 9 (Sunlike stars): I may define sunlike stars as those that are white, yellow, or orange (or some combination of those colors). Sunlike stars require galaxies (since if galaxies had not formed, there would be no stars). Sunlike stars also require a very delicate fine-tuning of some of the most fundamental constants of nature. The physicist Paul Davies says on page 73 of The Accidental Universe: “If gravity were very slightly weaker, or electromagnetism very slightly stronger (or the electron slightly less massive relative to the proton), all stars would be red dwarfs. A correspondingly tiny change the other way, and they would all be blue giants.” Blue giants are too-short lived for life to evolve near them, and red dwarf stars are not believed to be as favorable for life's evolution as sunlike stars. 

Row 10 (water): Water requires oxygen atoms and hydrogen atoms, as we can tell from its formula H20. Because of its remarkable features that make it unique among liquids, there are probably additional requirements for water, but I haven't listed them.

Row 11 (stable planets): One requirement for stable planets is gravitation, the force that holds planets and stars together. But there is another very interesting requirement: that the electric charge of the proton exactly match the electric charge of the electron, to many decimal places. Electromagnetism (the fundamental force involving electric charges) is roughly 1036 times stronger than gravitation, the weakest of the fundamental forces by far. Consequently a very slight mismatch between the charge of the electron and the proton would cause electromagnetism (roughly a trillion trillion trillion times stronger than gravitation) to completely overwhelm the gravity holding the planet together. In his book The Symbiotic Universe, astronomer George Greenstein (a professor emeritus at Amherst College) says this about the equality of the proton and electron charges: "Relatively small things like stones, people, and the like would fly apart if the two charges differed by as little as one part in 100 billion. Large structures like the Earth and the Sun require for their existence a yet more perfect balance of one part in a billion billion." In fact, experiments do indicate that the charge of the proton and the electron match to eighteen decimal places. 

proton electron charge
A curious coincidence

Row 12 (nucleotides): Nucleotides are molecules that are the building blocks of RNA and DNA, molecules essential for life. Nucleotides require three types of atoms mentioned above (carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms), as well as phosphorus atoms. They also require physics to be arranged in a way that allows for atoms to combine to make molecules consisting of multiple atoms.

Row 13 (genetic code): The genetic code is a semantic framework used by DNA and RNA, one in which particular combination of nucleotides stand for particular amino acids. The genetic code could roughly be called the software used by DNA and RNA. The origin of this code is one of science's great mysteries. We do not know how this code (required for all biological evolution) appeared from mere chemicals. This is the “code from chemicals” problem described in this blog post.

Row 14 (RNA): RNA is one of the two main molecules used by all living things, and it is believed to have preceded the more well-known and more complicated molecule DNA. It requires nucleotides (from which RNA is built), as well as the genetic code and water (as a substrate).

Row 15 (DNA): DNA requires nucleotides (from which it is built), as well as the genetic code and water. I also list RNA as a requirement since it is believed that RNA was a necessary predecessor of DNA.

Row 16 (Proteins, cells): Proteins are made by DNA and RNA using the genetic code. Requirements include water and amino acids (which I didn't list in the table for space reasons).

Row 17 (Photosynthesis): Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert sunlight to chemical energy. Recent studies suggest that photosynthesis uses exotic quantum effects.

Row 18 (Civilizations near sunlike stars): Now we come to the last and most important row, which mentions civilizations such as our civilization. There are many requirements for such a civilization. All of the items on the 17 previous rows on the table are indirect or direct requirements of civilizations near sunlike stars. The well-understood direct requirements of such civilizations are heavier atoms (needed so that the civilization can have the metals needed for technology), sunlike stars, stable planets, proteins, cells, and photosynthesis (the last one being necessary even if the beings in a civilization ate nothing but meat, because they would still rely on a food chain that would require photosynthesis).

There is also a poorly understood requirement that does not occur previously on the list – the requirement that somehow unconscious matter can produce Mind of the type that humans have. That is a huge additional requirement. It may require additional laws of nature, or perhaps exotic features of quantum mechanics, as Penrose and Hameoff have suggested. Penrose and Hameroff say here that their “orchestrated objective reduction” theory “suggests that there is a connection between the brainʼs biomolecular processes and the basic structure of the universe,” and yesterday's news reported a finding that supports such a theory. The matter is still undecided, but we do seem to have a huge additional requirement from nature in order to go from mere cellular life to conscious life.

The table I have created illustrates the great number of intertwining requirements needed for the universe to be consistent with the eventual appearance of civilizations such as ours. A huge amount of fine-tuning is required to meet these requirements, most notably in rows 1, 5, 9, and 11, each of which require “1 in a trillion” type coincidences with a very low likelihood of randomly occurring, We also have the very mysterious requirements of rows 13 and row 18, both of which almost seem to require “blood from stone” type of requirements (row 13 involving the origin of the genetic code from chemicals, and row 18 involving the origin of human-like consciousness from mere matter).

The severe improbability of accidentally meeting all these requirements by chance is the reason I have entitled this blog post “Why We Shouldn't Exist: A Table of 18 Anthropic Requirements.” We can say that we shouldn't exist, in the sense that our existence seems to require an almost miraculous conspiracy of conveniences, coincidences and fine-tuning within nature. As Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow said in their book The Grand Design (page 161), The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned, and very little in physical law can be altered without destroying the possibility of the development of life as we know it.”

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Origin of Life: Programmatically Predestined?

Cross-posted from
Let us now look at one of the great mysteries of the universe, the mystery of the origin of life, something that took place more than three billion years ago.

Some readers may be thinking along these lines: That's not such a mystery. Given a primordial soup and millions of years of time, there developed some self-replicating molecule. Once you had that, the development of everything else was just a case of things evolving from the simple to the more complex.

But such a glib explanation glosses over the great difficulties involved in explaining the origin of life on the early Earth. The fact is that there are huge difficulties in explaining how life began on our planet billions of years ago. In recent decades scientists have made relatively little progress in solving this problem.

Consider the progress of astronomy during the past 50 years. Since the year 1963 we have seen the discovery of the Big Bang, the discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and the discovery of more than 1000 extrasolar planets. But without doing a Google search, can you name one bit of progress that has been made in the past 50 years regarding the origin of life? You probably can't. When most of us think of scientific work on the origin of life, we think back to the Miller experiments involving amino acids, but they were done in the 1950's.

We can divide up the problem of the origin of life into three different problems: a necessary components problem, a combinatorial problem, and a computation problem.

The Necessary Components Problem

The basic units of life (below the cellular level) are things such as RNA, DNA, and proteins. Proteins are made of building blocks called amino acids. Some proteins are extremely complicated molecules built from very many amino acids. It was calculated long ago that the chance of some of these proteins forming from random combinations of amino acids is incredibly low, even given billions of years. But that's not necessarily a problem, because proteins are formed using the instructions in DNA. A DNA molecule is like a library of recipe books, with each of the recipes being a recipe for making a particular type of protein.

So if there is a mechanism for producing DNA from a chance combination of chemicals, we might have a way of explaining how all those complicated proteins came into existence. Unfortunately it seems DNA molecules appear to be way too complicated to have arisen from a chance combination of their constituent elements of nucleotides (which consist of sugars, phosphates, and nitrogenous bases), without assistance from something more complicated than nucleotides.

So the current leading hypothesis is that the first self-replicating molecule was not DNA but something simpler, presumably some version of RNA. This idea is called the RNA World hypothesis. The idea is that first there was RNA, and that DNA evolved later. However, the RNA World hypothesis is on shaky ground.

One problem is the difficulty of explaining the origin of all the necessary building blocks. The table below shows the various types of building blocks. As indicated below, there are reasons for doubting that the ribose sugars, purines, and nucleotides would have existed in sufficient quantity for DNA or RNA to originate.

Ribose sugars Harvard science web site: "In experiments ribose could not be made at the necessary quantities that would explain its abundance on early Earth because it was highly unstable."

Wikipedia article: some scientists have concluded that "the backbone of the first genetic material could not have contained ribose or other sugars because of their instability."

Pyrimidines (type of nitrogenous base) 2009 paper (Powner et. al) suggests possible path for abiotic origin.
Purines (type of nitrogenous base) More complex than pyrimidines. According to this paper, hard to explain abiotic origin, in a way compatible with formation of ribose sugars.
Nucleosides (combination of ribose sugar and pyrimidines or purines) and nucleotides (a nucleoside plus a phosphate) Wikipedia article:No known chemical pathways for the abiogenic synthesis of nucleotides from pyrimidine nucleobases cytosine and uracil under prebiotic conditions."

Amino Acids Found in a meteorite. Miller-Urey experiment produced amino acids from gases and continuous electricity.

The Combinatorial Problem

The combinatorial problem is the problem of getting anything like RNA or DNA to appear from the building blocks listed above. This scientific paper by Joyce and Orgel refers to the difficulty of joining together nucleosides (a combination of ribose sugar and pyrimidines or purines) and nucleotides (a nucleoside plus a phosphate). The wikipedia article on the RNA World hypothesis notes that “Joyce and Orgel further argued that nucleotides cannot link unless there is some activation of the phosphate group, whereas the only effective activating groups for this are 'totally implausible in any prebiotic scenario', particularly adenosine triphosphate.”

Well-known scientist Freeman Dyson has stated, “The results of thirty years of intensive chemical experimentation has shown that prebiotic synthesis of amino acids is easy to simulate in a reducing environment, but prebiotic synthesis of nucleotides is difficult in all environments...If it happened, it happened by some process that none of our chemists have been clever enough to reproduce.”

RNA is made of nucleotides, which are made of ribose sugar, phosphates, pyrimidines, and purines. Scientists have not been able to synthesize RNA through a simulation of the early earth, and in such simulations have not been able to make the simpler nucleotides either. As discussed in the table above, there are difficulties in assuming the availability of even some of the building blocks of the building blocks of RNA.

The Computational Problem

Perhaps the biggest problem involving the origin of life is the problem of accounting for the origin of the genetic code. The genetic code is a symbolic representation system used by all earthly life. It has been called a kind of miniature programming language. 

 The Genetic Code

It is fairly easy to explain the basics of how the code works. In the spiral staircase structure of the DNA molecule, the “steps” of the staircase are chemicals called nitrogenous bases: either purines (adenine or guanine) or pyrimidines (cytosine or uracil). Various combinations of three of these chemicals stand for different amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). For example, if there are three consecutive “steps” in the spiral staircase, and the first is cytosine, the second adenine, and the third guanine, that stands for the amino acid glutamine. There are 63 other cases where a sequence of three nitrogenous bases stands for a particular amino acid. (In the diagram above, the chemicals around the four edges of the square are the amino acids.)

Imagine if you liked to write down recipes, but you needed to write down many of them on a single piece of paper. You might invent a little “recipe language” in which MK1 stands for a half a cup of milk, MK2 stands for a full cup of milk, FL1 stands for a half a cup of flour, and so forth, with a total of 64 different three-character symbols (and some other characters standing for “end of recipe”). You might then write out recipes very concisely using this little language. That's quite similar to what the genetic code does, except the recipes are stored in the DNA molecule, and the recipes are instructions for making proteins from the building blocks of amino acids.

The big question is: how did this genetic code ever originate? It's hard to imagine it arising through anything like Darwinian evolution, as the genetic code seems to be required from the very beginning of biological evolution.

The genetic code can be considered an example of code, the term software developers use for the symbolic instructions they create. The baffling question is: how did nature go from chemicals to code? Code seems like something fundamentally different from chemicals, and the two seem as unrelated as an apple is to a bicycle.

The issue was highlighted by a paper by biologists J.T. Trevors and D.L. Abel:

"Peer-reviewed life-origin literature presupposes that, given enough time,
 genetic instructions arose via natural events. Thus far, no paper has provided
 a plausible mechanism for natural-process algorithm-writing...There is an
 immense gap from prebiotic chemistry and the lifeless Earth to a complex DNA  instruction set, code encryption into codonic sequences, and decryption
 (translation) into amino acid sequences...How did inanimate nature write
(1) the conceptual instructions needed to organize
(2) a language/operating system needed to symbolically
represent, record and replicate those instructions?
(3) a bijective coding scheme (a one-to-one correspondence
of symbol meaning) with planned redundancy
so as to reduce noise pollution between triplet codon
‘‘block code’’ symbols (‘‘bytes’’) and amino acid
We could even add a fourth question. How did
inanimate nature design and engineer
(4) a cell [Turing machine? (Turing, 1936)] capable of
implementing those coded instructions?" -- Trevors and Abel

In this article the widely read physics professor Paul Davies has discussed other difficulties in the “code from chemicals” scenario, the assumption that the genetic code arose from some kind of chemical evolution: 

"The language of genes is digital, consisting of discrete bits, cast in the language of a four-letter alphabet. By contrast, chemical processes are continuous. Continuous variables can also process information – so-called analogue computers work that way – but less reliably than digital. Whatever chemical system spawned life, it had to feature a transition from analogue to digital. The way life manages information involves a logical structure that differs fundamentally from mere complex chemistry. Therefore chemistry alone will not explain life's origin, any more than a study of silicon, copper and plastic will explain how a computer can execute a program." -- Davies

This problem of the origin of the genetic code recently got even more difficult to explain, because scientists recently announced the discovery of a second genetic code buried in DNA. Apparently many of the triple sequences have a double-meaning. Explaining one genetic code was a nightmare -- how can we explain two of them?

A New Approach to the Origin of Life

We might get around these difficulties by imagining that the origin of life on Earth required external intervention by a divine agent or perhaps extraterrestrials. But that would raise the question: why should our ordinary little rock have deserved such a special blessing? After all, modern astronomy tells us that planets are as common as apples in an apple orchard.

A more intellectually attractive idea is the daring concept that the origin of life was programmatically predestined. We can boldly postulate that long, long before there arose the programming in the genetic code, there was a more general programming woven into the fabric of the universe, a programming that drives the evolution of the universe, causing the frequent occurrence of things that might otherwise have very little or no chance of occurring. Under such a scenario, we can think that life is appearing throughout the universe, because that is the way the universe is programmed to behave. Under such a concept, we no longer have to imagine the origin of the genetic code by supposing a farfetched case of “code from chemicals.” We can instead plausibly imagine the origin of the genetic code as a case of “code from code” – the genetic code being a product of a more general cosmic software that is influencing cosmic destiny, propelling the universe forward towards desirable outcomes.

I speak here of the theory explained in other posts on this site: the theory of a programmed material universe. For more details, see my post The Theory of a Programmed Material Universe and my post Nature's Computation Needs Imply a Programmed Material Universe.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

We Do Not Understand How the Universe Came to Look This Way

Cross-posted from

From the time of the Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago, the universe has undergone an amazing evolution. Imagine if you had been there at the beginning, to witness the hot smooth density, in which supposedly all of our universe was packed into a microscopic size. If you knew nothing about the eventual outcome, you would not have been optimistic about what would have resulted from this explosive event. Your best bet might have been a mess of disorganized space junk, with no more order than the debris resulting from a hydrogen bomb explosion.

But almost 14 billion years later, we have a universe of remarkable order. Matter is organized into superclusters of galaxies consisting of clusters of galaxies consisting of galaxies consisting of solar systems. A large fraction of the galaxies are the particularly beautiful type called spiral galaxies. Do scientists really have a firm grip on how this improbable evolution occurred?

Difficulties in Explaining the Seeds of Structure

Scientists say that the current structure of the universe evolved from what are called primordial density fluctuations. They can see tiny fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation, which is uniform to about 1 part in 100,000. But how did those fluctuations get there?

Cosmic Background Radiation

The most common explanation is that the fluctuations began as quantum fluctuations (matter popping into existence in accordance with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle), and that these quantum fluctuations were then amplified by a period of cosmic inflation (exponential expansion) that occurred for a fraction of a second when the universe was less than a second old.

The difficulties in this explanation are many. For one thing, no one has ever actually observed a quantum fluctuation that caused matter to appear out of nowhere, not even a fluctuation big enough to produce an atom. Secondly, there are currently serious credibility issues associated with the theory of cosmic inflation, issues that have been highlighted by Princeton physicist Paul Steinhardt in this review. Among those issues are what Steinhardt calls an “unlikeliness” problem, plus the problem of creating an inflation theory that both begins and ends an inflation phase while remaining consistent with observations. Cal Tech physicist Sean Carroll says here, “When perturbations are taken into account, inflation only occurs in a negligibly small fraction of cosmological histories,” and then spells that out as a fraction less than 1 in 1.000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. The leading cosmologist Roger Penrose has described cosmic inflation as a thermalization process, and has stated, “There is, however, something fundamentally misconceived about trying to explain the uniformity of the early universe as resulting from a thermalization process.” He states that any thermalization process doing anything would have “been even more special before the thermalization than after” (The Road to Reality, page 755).

Third, the inflation theory requires a severe fine-tuning of its model parameters in order to perform the trick of inflating these quantum perturbations to be the right size. As one scientist puts it here:

A lumpiness of about 10-5 is essential for life to get a start. But is it easy to
arrange this amount of density contrast? The answer is most decidedly no! The
various parameters governing the inflating universe must be chosen with great
care in order to get the desired result.

In short, we do not yet have a good plausible explanation of how these “seeds of structure” appeared. The only explanations are ones that resort to extensive parameter tweaking, rather like in the graphic below.

Explaining the Growth of Structure: More Nebulous Fudge Factors

Scientists have done calculations regarding the formation of galaxies and the preservation of galactic structure, and have come up with the resounding conclusion that the gravity of visible matter is completely insufficient to explain the origin and persistence of galactic structure.

Consequently cosmologists have come up with some “fudge factors” to help explain things. The two biggest fudge factors are called dark energy and dark matter. Scientists say that dark matter is a mysterious type of matter that is invisible. Dark energy is supposed to be a mysterious unseen energy that pervades all of space. Scientists guess that the universe's mass-energy is 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter, and 5% regular matter.

Total unambiguous observations of dark matter: 0
Total unambiguous observations of dark energy: 0

It's not as if scientists haven't tried. They have spent many dollars and much time with some very fancy observation techniques, but have still come up short. But that hasn't stopped cosmologists from creating a “lambda cold dark matter” theory (called LCDM) designed to explain cosmic structure.

Besides the fact that it relies on dark matter (the existence of which has not been verified), there are problems in this LCDM theory. One of the main problems is that it predicts way too many satellite galaxies. The paper here describes the problem. According to this link the LCDM theory predicts that our galaxy should have thousands of satellite galaxies, but instead it only has about 26.

Another problem with the LCDM theory is that it predicts that almost all galaxies should have have large bulges in the center or be spherical. But between 58% and 74% of disk-shaped galaxies do not have a bulge.

Another problem with the LCDM theory is the difficulty of getting it to produce not just galaxies but a universe with as many beautiful spiral galaxies as we have in our universe.

A spiral galaxy

As this site says, "Cosmological evolution simulations do not generally produce universes containing large spiral galaxies. Rather they produce clumps of matter making up roughly spherical amorphous galaxies without anything like the broad disks and extended arms of a typical spiral galaxy." 

Strange Anomalies

In this story a scientist comments on strange findings he has discovered by studying deep space:

"The dark matter seems to 'know' how the visible matter is distributed. They seem to conspire with each other such that the gravity of the visible matter at the characteristic radius of the dark halo is always the same...It's like finding a zoo of animals of all ages and sizes miraculously having identical, say, weight in their backbones or something...It is possible that a non-gravitational fifth force is ruling the dark matter with an invisible hand, leaving the same fingerprints on all galaxies, irrespective of their ages, shapes and sizes."

Perhaps this is some strange cosmic conspiracy, or perhaps just a reason why we may need an explanation other than dark matter. Another strange finding is the discovery of a Vast Polar Structure (VPOS), which is basically about 26 dwarf galaxies above and below our galaxy, without any matching structure on the other two sides of our galaxy. This structure does not at all seem to be what we would  expect from a dark matter theory of the origin of structure (and may be hard to explain even with alternate theoretical models). If gravity alone is creating structure, why don't these companion galaxies exist in more of a sphere around our galaxy?

The limits of our understanding of cosmic structure may also have been highlighted by the recent discovery of the planet HD 106906 b, a planet 11 times the mass of Jupiter. HD 106906 b orbits its star at a distance 650 times the average distance between Earth and the Sun. That puts the planet 20 times farther away from its star than the planet Neptune is from the Sun. This finding seems to be quite incompatible with current theories of solar system formation. HD 106906 b is being called “the planet that shouldn't exist.”

Particle Physics Makes the Situation Even Worse

When we look in the world of particle physics for help with these problems in explaining large scale structure, we get no help.

The prevailing theory of large structure formation (the Lambda Cold Dark Matter theory) is based mainly on the hypothesis of dark matter, but dark matter is totally unaccounted for in the Standard Model of physics. Dark matter has no place in that model. That leaves dark matter as a kind of nebulous “some kind of something.” Do we know how many dark matter particles there are, or how much mass any dark matter particle has? We sure don't.

Modern quantum physics does predict that dark energy should exist. The problem is that quantum field theory predicts that the dark energy should be at least 1060 times (a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion times) larger (and probably 10120 times larger) than the maximum value that it can be, according to observations. This is known as the vacuum catastrophe problem or the cosmological constant problem. Quantum field theory predicts that every cubic meter full of vacuum should contain more energy than the maximum amount that the observable universe can contain.

In light of all these considerations, the graphic below summarizes the current very shaky state of our current understanding of the formation of cosmic structure. 

The difficulties of explaining the origins of cosmic structure are one of the reasons I have advanced the theory of a programmed material universe explained in other posts on this site. By postulating that the universe has had built-in programming from the beginning, we can more plausibly explain the origin of galaxies, life, and Mind.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why “Nature Has Math” Leads to “Nature Has Software”

It has long been recognized by many scientists that in a fundamental way nature seems to have mathematics embedded within it. One widely discussed essay that commented on this was a paper entitled The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences, written by the physicist Eugene Wigner in 1960. Wigner pointed out numerous cases where scientists took to using mathematical formulas to describe some little understood feature of nature, and such an approach ended up being successful beyond their wildest dreams. An example is Isaac Newton coming up with the formula for gravitation based on earthly experiences and a few astronomical observations, a formula which has been used ever since, and still holds up today as we study distant galaxies (notwithstanding the additional complications of general relativity). Another example is Maxwell coming up with some equations to describe electricity and magnetism, which also proved to be the right equations for radio waves, which were not even discovered until decades later.

Wigner stated, “The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve.”

This paper provoked widespread comment, and since then it has widely been stated that nature has math within it in some fundamental way. Let's use this as the starting point for a line of reasoning.

Premise 1: It is widely recognized by scientists that in some fundamental way, nature has mathematics kind of embedded within it, as shown by countless cases in which mathematical formulas are the correct way to describe fundamental regularities in nature.

There are numerous fundamental formulas of physics that could be cited to support this statement, such as Newton's law, Coulomb's law, the Schrodinger equation, Einstein's equation for time dilation, and Einstein's famous equation e= mc2. The nature of our universe is critically dependent upon such formulas.

Three formulas that dominate our universe

For an example of how impressed modern physicists are by the math within nature, you can look at this piece by physicist Max Tegmark entitled "Is the Universe Made of Math?"

Now let us consider: just what is mathematics? Mathematics is a very general term, which can refer to numbers, elements of geometry such as the circle and the circumference, and also simply logic, in the sense of mathematical algorithms and procedures. Most of what you learn in school when you study mathematics are procedures and algorithms for solving particular math problems.

In fact, mathematics seems to be mainly logic. Some famous philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead have argued that all mathematics can be reduced to logic, basically taking the position that math is just logic. A major branch of the philosophy of mathematics is called logicism, which maintains that all or most of math is just logic. So it therefore seems justified to state the next premise:

Premise 2: Very much of the math that we see operating within nature is a kind of logic.

If you doubt this premise, simply consider that almost every mathematical formula that appears in a physics text book can be stated in terms of logical statements such as “if/then” statements or algorithmic statements. For example, something such as Newton's law of gravity, which can be mathematically expressed by the formula shown above in the visual, can also be expressed by a logical statement such as “If two particles are separated by a particular distance, then the gravitational force of attraction between them is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them, and also proportional to a universal constant G.”

Now let us consider: what type of logic is it nature is applying as it behaves the way we observe it to behave? The answer is that nature uses a very precise logic of complete regularity. By way of contrast, consider the way logic is used by an entity much less regular, for example, a bigoted Southern sheriff of the 1960's. Such a person might have used logic in all kinds of irregular and unpredictable ways, perhaps applying the rule “If I see someone littering, I'll arrest him” if the person aroused the sheriff's prejudices, or if the sheriff was in a bad mood, but completely ignoring the rule if the person was someone who looked like the sheriff, or the sheriff was in a good mood. But nature doesn't act in that kind of mercurial or unpredictable way. When it comes to things such as gravitation, electromagnetism, and the Pauli Exclusion principle, nature applies logic in a completely regular, invariant, precise, and predictable way. The Apollo moon landing in 1969 depended critically on gravitation acting in a completely regular, invariant, precise, and predictable way. The mission designers knew there was absolutely zero chance that the astronauts would ever suffer from a “bad gravity” day caused by gravitation working in an irregular way.

Another aspect of the logic used by nature is that it uses constants, certain fundamental numbers that are always the same. Below are some of the most fundamental constants used by nature.

fundamental constants
Some fundamental constants of nature

So we must then state the next premise:

Premise 3: The logic we see operating within nature is a highly regular, invariant, precise, and predictable kind of logic, involving heavy use of fixed numerical constants.

Now we need merely ask ourselves: what are we talking about when we speak of the application of logic in a highly regular, invariant, precise, and predictable way, using numerical constants? This is not behavior that corresponds to the application of logic by human beings. Human beings are notoriously wavering and hard to predict, applying logic in all kinds of variant, biased, unpredictable, and inconsistent ways. The same political leader who will claim to be operating under fixed principles will then operate according to some other principles whenever it suits him politically.

But we do know of one type of system within our cities that does operate according to a highly regular, invariant, precise, and predictable kind of logic, making use of numerical constants. That system is a computer program. That leads to the next premise:

Premise 4: The application of logic in a highly regular, invariant, precise, and predictable kind of way, using fixed numerical constants, is a hallmark of programming.

This is the way computer programs operate. If I have a computer program that adds 1 to a total every time I press a key, the program will keep doing that with great regularity and predictability. It won't just do it 99 times out of 100. Computer programs also make use of fixed numerical constants, and all of the main programming languages have syntax support for declaring a constant within a program. For example, a computer program may have a line such as “const int AgeOfMajority = 18” which declares AgeOfMajority as a numerical constant. Then that constant will be used within the logic of the program, perhaps in a phrase beginning “if (AgeOfMajority >= 18).” 

It is a fair statement that nowadays when we see the application of logic in a highly regular, invariant, precise, and predictable kind of way, using fixed numerical constants, it is usually programming that we are seeing. 

Premise 5: It therefore seems that nature has programming.

This premise follows from premises 3 and 4, not as a matter of perfect certainty, but at least as a kind of likelihood (which is why I have used the word “seems”).

Now let's consider software. Is software something fundamentally different from programming? No. Most full-time software developers are called both computer programmers and also software developers. There's really no difference. So we can state this premise:

Premise 6: Software and programming are essentially the same thing.

Now from premise 5 and premise 6, this conclusion follows:

Conclusion: It therefore seems that nature has software.

This conclusion does not quite follow with metaphysical certainty, but this line of argument will do as a fairly simple bit of reasoning to support the claim that nature has built-in software.

For more elaborate arguments in support of the same conclusion that the universe must have built-in software, see my post The Theory of a Programmed Material Universe and my post Nature's Computation Needs Imply a Programmed Material Universe

As I explain in the first of these posts, once we realize that nature has built-in software, we can make much use of this idea as part of an explanatory framework, to help explain our universe's improbable evolution from an explosive beginning of supposedly infinite density to a place of fantastic harmony and order where life and Mind exist. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Theory of a Programmed Material Universe

Cross-posted from

In my previous blog post Nature's Computation Needs Imply a Programmed Material Universe, I introduced a theory that the universe has a computation layer that includes software. My reasoning was based on the argument that we must assume such a layer in order to properly explain the incredibly high level of computation that nature is apparently doing all of the time. The reasoning I presented in that post was only half of the case for such a theory. The other half of the case (which this blog post will explore) is the need for such a theory to help explain the amazing and improbable evolution of the universe since the time of the Big Bang. I may note that this theory of a programmed material universe postulates that the universe is quite real and not any type of illusion (in contrast to theories imagining that the universe is merely a simulation, theories I reject).
First, let us consider: if the universe does have a computation layer that includes software, how old is such a layer? If modern science told us that the universe existed for many billions of years in a state of complete disorder, and then gradually evolved over many, many billions of years to a state of somewhat greater order, then it might be plausible to advance some theory involving the gradual evolution of a computation layer within the lifetime of our universe. But that is not what modern science tells us about the past of our universe. Astronomers tell us that the universe began about 13 billion years ago in the Big Bang, a state of fantastically high density (indeed, infinitely high density if general relativity is to be believed). Cosmologists tell us that the behavior of the Big Bang was in several ways remarkably fine-tuned, and we know that nature has been behaving in an astonishingly orderly way from the very beginning. So if we are going to postulate a computation layer as part of the universe, we must assume that such a layer has existed from the very beginning, from the time of the Big Bang. 
Two Diagrams that Visualize the Theory

Below is a diagram showing how the theory of a programmed material universe can be related to the evolution of the universe (click the diagram to expand it):

Programmed Material Universe
Click to Expand

In this diagram we see one block marked “Primordial Programming” which includes constants, laws of nature, and software. The assumption of software existing from the very beginning is a new assumption made by the theory of a programmed material universe. Scientists have assumed that fundamental constants (such as the speed of light, the gravitational constant, and Planck's constant) have existed from the time of the Big Bang, and they have assumed that laws of nature have existed since the time of the Big Bang. But the assumption that software has existed from the beginning is a new theoretical element characteristic of the theory we are discussing (the theory of a programmed material universe). I use the term software to simply mean programming. One way to define programming is processing that produces desirable outputs, typically from a set of inputs. There is probably a better and more general way to define programming, but that definition will do for the moment.

Note that in this diagram I have a single rectangle that mixes together constants, laws of nature, and software. This is intentional, because we apparently need to imagine these things as being intermingled. Many of the laws of nature may need to be conceived as aspects of the software that has existed from the beginning, according to the theory of a programmed material universe. The fundamental constants of nature may also need to be conceived as elements that are part of the universe's software (just as constants are declared within computer programs).

Purely for space reasons, the diagram depicts the Big Bang rectangle as underneath the Primordial Programming rectangle, but from a chronological standpoint we can imagine these both originating at the same time, at the beginning of the observable universe some 13 billion years ago (the Big Bang).

Another diagram that illustrates the theory is the one used in my previous blog post, where I depict a computation layer co-existing with a mass-energy layer, as shown below. I mentioned that we should imagine these two layers as being intermingled (rather than one floating above the other).

Programmed Material Universe

What Could Have Caused Primordial Programming?

If we imagine that the universe has had from the beginning a computation layer that includes software, we then have the question of: where did this software come from? The answer given in the first rectangle of my first diagram is: unknown (as I indicate by using a big question mark). But I can briefly discuss some possibilities mentioned in the first rectangle of my first diagram. I discuss these reasons merely to show that there might be some explanation for why the universe might have a computation layer that includes software.

One possibility is the idea that the computational layer was put in place by a divine creator, perhaps a being with some attributes of great power and wisdom, as imagined by quite a few theologians or philosophers. The fact that the theory of a programmed material universe may lead many to think of such a possibility is no defect of the theory as compared to the regular theory of a Big Bang, because the regular theory of a Big Bang is also suggestive of such a possibility.

A second possibility is that the primordial programming may have been put in place by godlike aliens that arose in a phase of the universe prior to the Big Bang. General relativity indicates that nothing existed prior to the Big Bang, so this possibility is extremely speculative. But if there was some existence of the universe prior to the Big Bang (unlikely as that may be), there conceivably could have evolved some civilization lasting millions of years, and the beings in such a civilization might have developed godlike powers from eons of technological development. Just conceivably, such beings could have caused our universe to acquire the programming that it seems to have. I don't consider this to be a very likely possibility, but I am mentioning it for the sake of completeness.

A third possibility is that somehow the universe could have acquired its current programming (as postulated by the theory of a programmed material universe) through a process of software evolution that might have carried through one or more previous cycles or phases of the universe prior to the Big Bang. As someone who has written automatic code generators more than once, I know that software does not necessarily have to be produced directly by a conscious programmer. Very advanced software can also itself produce other software. So conceivably there could have been previous software in a previous cycle or phase of the universe (prior to the Big Bang), and that might have somehow spawned the programming that seems to have existed in our universe from the time of the Big Bang.

A fourth possibility is the possibility that there simply was some ex nihilo quantum event that brought our current universe into existence at the time of the Big Bang, along with the programming that our universe seems to have had since that time. Such a scenario is admittedly farfetched, but it only seems to be slightly more farfetched than the notion that the whole physical universe could have popped into existence from nothing (a possibility that quite a few physicists take seriously).

To accept the theory of a programmed material universe, it is not at all necessary to take any position on which of these possibilities is the correct one, or whether any of them is likely. We can simply leave the origin of the primordial programming as a great big question mark. That is pretty much what scientists do in regard to the Big Bang itself.

Given this wide range of possibilities, only one of which is theistic, we can say that the theory of a programmed material universe is a religiously neutral theory, and that it does not at all require any belief in the current existence of any deity. It could be argued, however, that the theory is a somewhat “theism-friendly” theory. But you could say the same thing about the Big Bang theory itself, with its unexplained sudden appearance of the universe.

A Software-Assisted Evolution of the Universe

You may note that in my first diagram there are four rectangles containing the phrase “software assisted,” one for the Big Bang, another for the origin of galaxies, another for the origin of life, and another for the origin of Mind. “Software assisted” here means the same as “aided by programming.” Why postulate that such momentous events were software-assisted?

The software that we know of often tends to be goal-oriented. For example, when you go to the Amazon web site, you do not encounter software that is indifferent to whether or not you will place an order at that web site. Instead you encounter software that has a goal, which in this case is the goal of encouraging and recording some purchase by you. So if we assume that the universe has had very complicated programming from the very time of the Big Bang 13 billion years ago, it is reasonable to assume that such software is to some degree goal-oriented. This does not at all mean that we have to assume any self-conscious wishes in such software. Unconscious software can have goals. After I die there will still remain in my computer files some computer programs that have particular goals, but such programs will be utterly unconscious.

But why is it that we might need to postulate that some primordial programming has assisted the universe throughout its evolution? The main reason is because of the great unlikelihood of the universe reaching so many milestones of success without any assistance from any such programming.

Here is a quick summary of the amazing history of the universe. Thirteen billion years ago the universe starts out in the Big Bang, in a state of apparently infinite density (according to general relativity). The universe manages to expand at just the right speed for galaxies to successfully form, even though scientists say that what is called the critical density had to be fine-tuned to fifty decimal places (an issue known as the flatness problem). Somehow even though the opposite regions of the universe were causally disconnected, they managed to somehow conspire to expand at an amazingly coordinated rate (the horizon problem), leaving us with a universe that is remarkably homogenous and suitable for the evolution of life. Then much later, from this explosive event of unimaginable heat and density, there somehow arose not a ruined wreck resembling the aftermath of an H-bomb, but instead a very orderly universe consisting of galaxies, with most stars existing in beautiful spiral galaxies. Billions of years later, there then somehow arose from mere heat and chemicals the marvelous bit of programming called the genetic code, required before biological evolution can even begin. There then arose life. Then much later from mere unconscious matter there somehow arose a completely different type of thing: self-conscious mind, of the type humans have.

This is a story of improbable success more mind-boggling than some Hollywood tale of a penniless street beggar marrying the princess of an exotic land. To make this story more believable, we need to postulate something extra. This is exactly what this theory of a programmed material universe can do, by describing a universe which had its evolution assisted by a computational layer that includes software that has existed since the beginning of the universe.

It is true that scientists have some theories that attempt to explain some of the remarkable evolution of the universe. There is an inflation theory designed to reduce the fine-tuning of the Big Bang. There is also a “lambda cold dark matter” theory designed to explain the origin of galactic structure. There is an RNA World theory designed to explain the origin of life. There are also attempts to explain the origin of human mental faculties from Darwinian evolution (which often resort to arguing that man is basically just a chimp, or man is like a robot, or that self-consciousness is merely a by-product of brain activity similar to the gravy that is a by-product of cooking a turkey).

But in general these theories are weak, cheesy, or insufficient. See my previous post We Do Not Understand How the Universe Came to Look This Way for a discussion of severe difficulties in the “lambda cold dark matter” theory designed to explain the origin of galaxies. See my previous post The Origin of Life: Programmatically Predestined? for a discussion of some severe difficulties in the RNA World theory, one of which is the near impossibility of explaining how the genetic code could have arisen through evolution from mere chemicals. See my previous post Darwinism is Good, But Fails to Explain Man's Higher Faculties for a full discussion of the very great difficulty in explaining the origin of self-conscious Mind from mere natural selection (a point that NYU professor Thomas Nagel has argued at great length in his book Man & Cosmos). I have not yet got around to putting up a post devoted to making a critique of the cosmic inflation theory, but I will do so. The Princeton cosmologist Paul Steinhardt has made some quite severe criticisms of that theory, in articles such as this one. There are so many special requirements of the cosmic inflation theory (for an inflation phase to both begin and end successfully) that even if you accept it you are still left with a great deal of unexplained fine-tuning in the Big Bang.

So we need something extra to explain the universe's amazingly successfully evolution from infinite density to planets where beings like us exist. The theory of a programmed material universe gives us that something extra. We can suppose that again and again throughout its history the universe has reached an outcome that was wildly improbable to occur by pure chance, because the universe behaved as it was programmed to behave from the beginning. 

But how is it that favorable events occurring in the universe's history could have been “software assisted” as I suggest in the first diagram? Think of it as I did in placing constants, laws of nature, and software in a single block labeled “Primordial Programming.” The three of these are intertwined. If there is programming behind the laws of nature (and if many of what we call the laws of nature or fundamental constants are simply aspects of that programming), then cosmic software or primordial programming is a kind of cosmic controller that can achieve any physical results. From this perspective, the programming doesn't have to follow the rules; instead the programming makes the rules, or to a large extent the programming and the rules are the same thing. So if we suppose programming has been behind the laws of nature from the beginning, we can envision that programming as a kind of teleological impetus that can achieve any physical result that is consistent with the programming itself.
If there were no reasons for believing in such a theory other than the usefulness of such a theory in explaining the universe's evolution, and the appearance of life and self-conscious Mind, then there might not be a sufficient warrant for such a theory. But in my previous blog post I did explain many other reasons for adopting such a theory. In that post I showed that when we examine the computation requirements of nature, we find again and again that nature seems to be doing almost infinite amounts of rule-based computation, that often bears an uncanny resemblance to what we see going on in computer programs. We therefore have a full spectrum of powerful reasons for postulating this theory of a programmed material universe. 
Optional Features of the Theory: “Luxury Accessories”

I will now discuss two additional parts of my first diagram: the “Synchronized Evolution?” box and the “Life After Death?” box. Both of these are very much “luxury accessories” of the theory of a programmed material universe, not at all integral parts of the theory (rather like optional features you may choose when ordering a car from a car dealer).

As for the “Life After Death” box, it is a fact that very many advanced software systems have a feature called auto-save, where the system says: I've detected something worth saving, so let me automatically save it. If we postulate that the universe has a built-in computation layer that includes software, it is then possible to imagine without too great a leap that the universe's primordial programming might include some functionality that automatically causes (or helps to cause) advanced consciousness to somehow survive death. From such a perspective it might conceivably be that life after death is just another feature in the feature set of the universe's programming. I will mainly leave it to others to debate how likely such a possibility may be, and at this time I have nothing but very vague thoughts about the matter.

Another “luxury accessory” of the theory of a programmed material universe is the possibility of synchronized evolution. If we assume that the universe's evolution is being assisted and perhaps even controlled by some computation layer of the universe that includes software, it is possible that rather than occurring at random time intervals, the evolution of intelligent life may occur in a synchronized manner. The universe could be programmed for intelligent life to appear throughout it at the same time. There may be throughout the universe a target date for the evolution of intelligent life, some date close to the present.

Why even consider such a possibility? The main reason is that such a possibility offers a new potential solution to one of the great mysteries of the universe: the “where is everybody?” mystery known as Fermi's Paradox. If intelligent life is appearing simultaneously throughout the universe, then the long-standing Fermi's Paradox mystery dissolves away, and we can say: they are not here, because they are no more evolved than we are. But I think this synchronized evolution possibility is somewhat unlikely, so I suggest it merely as an optional hypothesis.

These two possibilities (life after death and synchronized evolution) are not at all predictions of the theory of a programmed material universe; they are merely possibilities that might be more likely if such a theory is true.

Cosmic Fine Tuning and the Theory of a Programmed Material Universe

One of the most important discoveries during the past 40 years has been the discovery of cosmic fine tuning, the many ways in which the universe seems to be tailor-made for the evolution of intelligent life. Scientists have been extensively discussing the topic for about 40 years, often while discussing what is called the anthropic principle.

You can find a good introduction to the topic in this scientific paper and my long blog post Cosmic Fine Tuning Visualized. In that blog post I used a metaphor of a slot machine with 8 rows that must each have all matching symbols for the universe to be compatible with the appearance of intelligent life (the rows being labeled gravity, particle charges, entropy, expansion rate, particle masses, element abundances, and nuclear forces). The chance of pulling the lever and getting a match on all 8 rows is 1 in 1048, one chance in a trillion trillion trillion trillion.

cosmic fine tuning
Metaphorical Visualization of Cosmic Fine Tuning

The discoveries about cosmic fine tuning don't fit in with the tendency of physicists to regard the universe as being a blind and random thing ruled by chance. Modern physicists have generally reacted to the discoveries of cosmic fine tuning with a combination of interest and complete bafflement, rather like a deer caught in the headlights.

Some physicists have reacted to all the evidence for cosmic fine-tuning by "running scared" to a theory of a multiverse (an ensemble of a vast number of universes). But while the theory of a multiverse might make it seem more likely that some universe (1 in a "zillion") might randomly have the conditions necessary for intelligent life, such a theory does nothing at all to make it seem more likely that this universe would have had by chance the conditions necessary for intelligent life. (Although they sound very similar, there is a world of difference between “some x” and “this x.” For example, the chance of some lottery ticket holder winning the next Powerball lottery is 100%, but the chance of this lottery ticket holder – myself -- winning that lottery is less than 1 in a million.)

We are long, long overdue for a theory of the universe in which cosmic fine-tuning fits in naturally, rather than being some embarrassing exception that stands out like a sore thumb. The theory of a programmed material universe is such a theory. It meshes very well with what we know about cosmic fine-tuning.

Fine-tuning is something that one expects to see in any good software system. So under a theory that the universe has a vitally important computation layer in which software is a very important part, we should expect to see cosmic fine-tuning. In fact, many of the things that are cited as cosmic fine-tuning may simply be considered aspects of the universe's built-in programming.

Cosmic fine-tuning and a theory of a programmed material universe fit together like a hand and a glove, which is a strong advantage of this theory.

The Teleological Nature of the Theory

The theory I have advanced here is clearly teleological, in the sense of imagining nature moving towards goals (not because it is self-conscious, but because it includes goal-oriented programming). But this teleological aspect is no defect in the theory. In his book Mind & Cosmos, NYU Professor Thomas Nagel (himself an atheist) argues with great force that reductionist materialistic explanations for the origin of life and the origin of human consciousness have been insufficient. Nagel argues that we need some new teleological theory, one that postulates "a cosmic predisposition to the formation of life, consciousness, and the value that is inseparable from them." Lengthy excerpts from his book are here and here. The theory I have advanced may fit most of his prescription.