Why can't the Universe exist merely due to dumb luck?

I was reading this article on how some scientists from Stanford believe the Universe should have some ‘cause’ that forced it to be the way it is. The basic argument is that the chances of our universe being the way it is are unimaginably small…there are many more initial configuations that would have lead to something completely different and quite likely unable to support life.

I know some of you are already typing ‘Anthropic Principle’ into your keyboard but the article I linked to above says it doesn’t help in this case. Also, for the creationists out there, they likewise say you can take a seat again but I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Still, Anthropic Principle and Stanford researchers aside, why can’t the universe be the way it is just because? Just blind, dumb luck it all worked out? I understand it is human nature to seek causes but in some cases can’t you just throw up your hands and say it was merely a roll of the dice AND for that to be an acceptable position?

If you think about it ‘slim chances’ are all around us. The chances that you would be exactly YOU are incredibly tiny to the point of ridiculousness. One sperm out of millions chose an egg that was released from dozens to make you. A different sperm and a different egg and you wouldn’t be you…you’d be your brother or sister or someone else. Now consider the chances of your parents getting together on that particular day to make you or the chances that your parents ever even met each other in the first place. Now extrapolate that back through time to the first life on earth. If one proto-human didn’t avoid that sabertooth tiger or one bug got squashed by a dinosaur or just about anything and exactly you might not exist today. Do we look for causes on how it came to be ‘just so’ that you exist or would most people just say, “Wow, it was an amazing string of coincidence and chance.”?

Why not let it be so with the Universe?

Bingo. Now, what’s really going to cook your noodle… What is causing us to seek the causes? :smiley:

As for the chances of our current universe being the way it is being “unimaginably small”-- of course the chances are small. At every branch in a timeline, every “choice”, an entire hierarchy of possible existences is cast aside. I could be sitting in Guam right now if I had chosen the 5-speed bike rather than the 10-speed on my eighth birthday. I’m not in Guam. Is this because some underlying force demanded I get the 10-speed?

Exactly my point so why are people falling over themselves to figure out something that is presumably not possible to figure out? I can see why it’d be fun to talk about it especially over a beer or something but for paid research (I assume the Stanford researchers are paid)?

The idea that the odds are against our universe could mean there have been untold other universes that didn’t support life, and eventually ours came up too. Just because probability is against something doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Again that’s exactly my point. My question is why cosmologists feel that saying the chances of our universe existing the way it is is so improbable that it is necessary to assume something else must be at work here besides random chance?

The idea that the odds are against our universe could mean there have been untold other universes that didn’t support life, and eventually ours came up too. Just because probability is against something doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Whoops! Sorry. You’re right whack.

Yes. You already told us the underlying force: Your desire for gratification. That is the cause of the chain of events you just described. You wanted the 10-speed instead of the 5. That caused something else to happen, which in turn caused something else, and so on. Eventually one of the effects was your failure to live in Guam.

There doesn’t necessarily need to be a bigger will underlying yours (though I believe there is), But you can’t have an effect without a cause. Things don’t happen “just because”. There’s always a cause for things that happen, even if it’s not a profound one.

Did anyone understand this paragraph?

Seems to me that they are making a tacit assumption that the only kind of “life” that’s possible is the carbon-based variety that happens to exist on our planet right now. Perhaps, had the universe spun out in some other manner, life-forms that we cannot even conceive of may have come into existence, and those life-forms would be sitting there unable to conceive of carbon and DNA and the like, and wondering what special intervening force allowed them to exist.

Any random event seems unlikely if you start with your result and then wonder how you got there. If I drop a glass on the floor and it shatters, the odds are almost infinitely against the shards of glass arranging themselves in exactly the same way again. So what?

Joe, my desire for gratification aside, I think we have an issue of semantics here. Nobody will deny that there is always a “cause” associated with an “effect.” That is, when I look at something that has happened I can invariably say, “Well, what came before? What made that happen?” This can go on until we wander back to the beginning of existence.
Where did the universe start? Was it God? What caused God? ect…
Eventually the abstraction becomes so dense that this line of reasoning is more an exercise in thought than a pursuit of an answer. I may be wrong on this- and I’m sorry if I am- but it seems to me that Whack-a-Mole isn’t trying to ask why the universe isn’t “just because.” It seems he would like to know why people (like yourself) need to identify some specific underlying plan. Why do people look for patterns/coincidences and then decide that, rather than just happening, these things are somehow orchestrated?
I suppose it has something to do with humanity’s innate need to understand everything. On some level, saying “just because” is irritating to the part of your mind that wants to understand. Blame the way humanity perceives/conceptualizes reality.

Just because. :smiley:


I’d appreciate your explaining that just a bit. I know that “life” is hard to define and that, in fact, there is much controversy among biologists as to what exactly constitutes life. But where do you personally draw the line? How do you know that a rock isn’t the kind of life-form that you’re talking about?

A few thoughts:

There’s a large difference between the origin of the universe and dropping a glass on the floor - it’s a pretty bad analogy. With the universe, there are an overwhelming number of possible initial configurations, and most of them would have led to a universe in which life was impossible (not just “as we know it”, but life, period). There is something very special about this particular configuration of the universe, in that we can exist at all. With a glass, yes, there are infinite numbers of configurations of the shards, but they’re all pretty much the same; no one arrangement is really different from any other.

To bring up an oft-used example, say you put a bunch of watch parts in a box, and shook the box up. It’s theoretically possible for shaking the box to cause the pieces to reassemble themselves. But if anybody ever saw this happen, I guarantee you they’d be looking for some sort of cause, rather than saying, “Hey, must just be lucky.”

In addition, there’s the fact that anything exists, period. Yeah, the universe could have formed in any number of configurations, once it was determined that a universe was going to come into being. But why make a universe at all? Isn’t nothing a more likely occurence than something? If a beach ball were to appear in front of you, you would suspect something caused it. But an entire universe just appears, and it’s “Whoa, who’da thunk?”


Another classic one is the idea of a hurricane running through a junkyard and assembling a perfect 747.

Another athiestic response I’ve heard about the universe’s “perfection” (I dunno if this is what the OP is getting at) is that there’s an infinite number of universes, each of which turned out a little bit differently. (I.e., in one universe, the sun is a little too hot, so Earth has no life; in another, the Earth is a little too big, so gravity is too strong and Earth has no life, etc.) Hence, the only reason we live in such a “perfect” universe is that we have the virtue of being here to observe it.

It left a bad taste in my mouth, though, because we’ve never seen any other universe. I felt that whomever came up with the argument was cheating to prove a random universe.

Hmmmmm, mole seems to have wandered off, so I will (kinda) hijack his thread…
Is there any value at in in discussing where things like the universe “came from”? One who does so long enough will necessarily- whether or not one believes in a deity- reach the conclusion that, at some point nothing gave rise to something. Existence as we understand it comes in two flavors-- you either are or you are not. Where am I going with this? I am no longer sure…

Still, it’s possible, and it seems that at this point in history, we’re still pretty much coming down to an argument of belief. Some people believe in a creator, some believe in random chance. I personally believe in the random chance option. The universe just doesn’t NEED an intelligent creator.

I remembered where I was going. My point is that our notion of existence is fundamentally flawed. Yup, thats it. Oh yeah, drop an “all” in my previous post where needed.

Yeah, I agree that it all comes down to a matter of faith. You have faith in a God, or you have faith that there isn’t a God, and neither one is really more rational than the other. As to the question of whether there’s any value to such a discussion? In a grand cosmic sense, no, not really, but it helps stretch the ol’ brain muscle. :slight_smile:


—Why can’t the Universe exist merely due to dumb luck?—

Because this raises the question: how did the dice get rolled? :slight_smile:

—Hence, the only reason we live in such a “perfect” universe is that we have the virtue of being here to observe it.
It left a bad taste in my mouth, though, because we’ve never seen any other universe.—

But this can be turned around: if we’ve never seen any other universe, how can we possibly claim that this one is so extrodinary? What are we comparing it to?

Further, it remains true that if the universe had been different, then no one would have existed to comment on the fact. We are here to comment on the fact: but it’s not clear that this shows much beyond the fact that, yes, we are here.

The only real statement we can make about probability of an event, when all we know is that it has happened, is that it is 1: it is 100% likely.

To know the probability of an event, you’d have to first know something about how the various outcomes are generated (either that, or simply infer it from enough trials, which isn’t an option for us).
So the real problem with speculation like this is that, ultimately, we don’t know how the initial coniditons of the universe were generated, if at all. We don’t even really know the ranges in which they can actually fluctuate, or why.

This is like saying that it’s miraculous that an initial roll of the dice comes up with a side labeled 43, the age of the researcher. It’s meaningless until we know how many sides this particular die has (for all we know, it could only have two sides, both of which have a 43 on them)

On a side note, the theory put forth by these guys also seems a little off the wall: the idea infinate time can guarantee of “anything happening,” especially considering the effect that the universe spreading out into near nothingness have upon time itself, is a very controversial position.

I’m suprised no one mentioned, at least by name yet, the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Probably a lot of people actually reading this thread already know about it and can skip the rest of this post.

From what I understand of it, the supposition is that all possible continuations along any timeline, including events with vanishingly small probability are manifested, but they are all mutally unobservable (the timeline bifurcates).

This idea has a number of interesting corollaries, including the idea of quantum immortality. For example, suppose a scenario was set up such as the only way (or at least the overwhelmingly most likely way) you could continue to exist and observe the universe around you is if you had to put disassembled watch pieces into an empty box, shake it, and retrieve a now perfectly assembled watch from this box. Otherwise, you’d die (say by a highly redundant (failproof) remote controlled nuclear bomb going off at your location, controlled by the experimenter). If the experiment is set up properly, from your subjective-viewpoint, you could expect to have a fully assembled watch at the end of the experiment, because in the vast majority of cases where this is not the case, you would no longer continue to exist (and thus no subjective observation).

Maybe an “expert” on MWI can explain it better than I. It is, however, quite intriguing, though not without it’s detractors.

I assume you have a very good reason for believing that, and would be willing to share it with the board.

That argument has always seemed to me to be begging the question. If you assume that the universe exists for the purpose of spawning us, then yes, it would seem special. If you instead see us as an unforseen consequence of random events, then what’s so special about it?

No, each arrangement of glass is unique. The different arrangements just aren’t significant to YOU. What is your reason for believing that this particular arrangement of matter called the universe is significant for any reason besides the fact that you live in it, and one of the main functions of your mind is to impose meaning on your surroundings?

Now THAT’S a bad analogy. The result of the shaking is already known to you, i.e. you already know what a watch is, AND you already know that watches are built by people. Frankly, I’m surprised this analogy gets repeated so much. You are assuming your conclusion, that somehow the universe “knew” what a human being was before we came into existence.

Since “nothing” is not the state of the universe, I would say no. On what are you basing your belief that “nothing” is more likely than “something”?

Sorry, I don’t follow you. Seems like you are making some sort of tangent “first-cause” argument, but I’m not really sure where you’re going with it.