Carr and Barr

Before 1973, scientists regarded the laws of physics as elegantly simple and arbitrary in their details. And life was thought to be an opportunistic exploiter of whatever physics is available to build self-reproducing machines.

Bernard Carr was a graduate student of the most eminent cosmologist in the world, Martin Rees. Only with Rees’s endorsement could the two publish a paper pointing out that some details of physical law like the strength of gravity and the mass of the electron were just right to make an interesting, complex universe in which life is possible. If you imagine the set of all possible physical universes, the vast majority of them are simple, uniform, dull and lifeless.

The basic features of galaxies, stars, planets and the everyday world are essentially determined by a few microphysical constants and by the effects of gravitation. Many interrelations between different scales that at first sight seem surprising are straightforward consequences of simple physical arguments. But several aspects of our Universe—some of which seem to be prerequisites for the evolution of any form of life—depend rather delicately on apparent ‘coincidences’ among the physical constants.

[In fact Carr and Rees articulated and popularized an idea that had been derived from Brandon Carter, Richard Dicke and others.]

Carr went on to a dual career as an accomplished astrophysics researcher and also a mystic, becoming head of Britain’s Society for Psychical Research. 

Stephen Barr is a UDel professor of physics who explains these “anthropic coincidences” and how an evolving physics community has regarded them. His own preference is to explain the “coincidences” as the handiwork of a personal God, but he is eminently fair in explaining other hypotheses.

(My own view is closer to Carr than Barr,and is not mentioned in Barr’s video. I think of a universal Consciousness that is more fundamental than physics, rather than a personal God.)

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