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Friday, August 26 2011

Smart and Lucky


       I'm fascinated by what science is telling us about the origin of the universe.  Apparently, we (and I use the term loosely) have a pretty good idea of the story back to about 10 million trillion trillion trillionths of a second after the big bang, when the universe was so small you'd need a microscope to see it. 


       I'm amazed at how infinitesimally small the universe was at the beginning and how unimaginably huge it is now.  Talk about a growth spurt.


       My latest venture into that arena is an ambitious and delightful book by Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything.  Here are a couple quotes.  The first touches on just a couple of the hundreds of things that had to go absolutely, perfectly right in order for the universe to be what it is today. 


       "If the universe had formed just a tiny bit differently – if gravity were fractionally stronger or weaker, if the expansion had proceeded just a little more slowly or swiftly – then there might never have been stable elements to make you and me and the ground we stand on.  Had gravity been a trifle stronger, the universe itself might have collapsed like a badly erected tent, without precisely the right values to give it the right dimensions and density and component parts.  Had it been weaker, however, nothing would have coalesced.  The universe would have remained forever a dull scattered void."  (p. 15)


       From other reading, I know that a host of other things had to be just right.  For example, matter gets denser and contracts as it gets colder.  Water does, too – except just before it freezes, when it expands and becomes less dense.  Thus, icebergs and ice cubes float.  Were it not for this special and mysterious exception, earth would have quickly turned into a giant ice ball – certainly precluding our arrival.


       Speaking of our arrival, the second quote relates to the millions of things that had to go just so, in order for you and me to be alive.


       "If your two parents hadn't bonded just when they did – possibly to the second, possibly to the nanosecond – you wouldn’t be here.  And if their parents hadn't bonded in a precisely timely manner, you wouldn't be here either.  And if their parents hadn't done likewise, and their parents before them, and so on, obviously and indefinitely, you wouldn't be here."  (p. 397)


       If you go back 25 generations, he goes on to say, "there are no fewer than 33,554,432 men and women on whose devoted couplings your existence depends."  If any one of our 33 million ancestors meets someone else, dies prematurely, or gets a headache at the wrong time – no me or no you.


       As I sit in awe with this information and allow the amateur cosmologist in me to wonder what it all means, a short, and by no means complete, answer comes to me. 


       The universe is very, very smart.  I am very, very lucky.  And everything unfolds – just right.









Posted by: AT 12:03 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email

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