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Mandi

http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2007/07/03/paul_davies/print.html

We are meant to be here

People are not the result of a cosmic accident, but of laws of the universe that grant our lives meaning and purpose, says physicist Paul Davies.

By Steve Paulson

Jul. 03, 2007 | Forget science fiction. If you want to hear some really crazy ideas about the universe, just listen to our leading theoretical physicists. Wish you could travel back in time? You can, according to some interpretations of quantum mechanics. Could there be an infinite number of parallel worlds? Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg considers this a real possibility. Even the big bang, which for decades has been the standard explanation for how the universe started, is getting a second look. Now, many cosmologists speculate that we live in a "multiverse," with big bangs exploding all over the cosmos, each creating its own bubble universe with its own laws of physics. And lucky for us, our bubble turned out to be life-friendly.

But if you really want to start an argument, ask a room full of physicists this question: Are the laws of physics fine-tuned to support life? Many scientists hate this idea -- what's often called "the anthropic principle." They suspect it's a trick to argue for a designer God. But more and more physicists point to various laws of nature that have to be calibrated just right for stars and planets to form and for life to appear. For instance, if gravity were just slightly stronger, the universe would have collapsed long before life evolved. But if gravity were a tiny bit weaker, no galaxies or stars could have formed. If the strong nuclear force had been slightly different, red giant stars would never produce the fusion needed to form heavier atoms like carbon, and the universe would be a vast, lifeless desert. Are these just happy coincidences? The late cosmologist Fred Hoyle called the universe "a put-up job." Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson has suggested that the universe, in some sense, "knew we were coming."

British-born cosmologist Paul Davies calls this cosmic fine-tuning the "Goldilocks Enigma." Like the porridge for the three bears, he says the universe is "just right" for life. Davies is an eminent physicist who's received numerous awards, including the Templeton Prize and the Faraday Prize from the Royal Society in London. His 1992 book "The Mind of God" has become a classic of popular science writing. But his new book, "The Cosmic Jackpot," will challenge even the most open-minded readers. Without ever invoking God, Davies argues for a grand cosmic plan. The universe, he believes, is filled with meaning and purpose.

What Davies proposes is truly mind-bending. Drawing on the bizarre principles of quantum mechanics, he suggests that human beings -- through the sheer act of observation -- may have helped shape the laws of physics billions of years ago. What's more, he says the universe seems to work like a giant computer. Indeed, it's possible that's exactly what it is, and we -- like Neo in "The Matrix" -- might just be living in a simulated virtual world.

Davies recently moved from Australia to set up a research institute at Arizona State University. I spoke with him about some of the controversies now raging in physics, and why he's so determined to find meaning in the cosmos.