30 December 2014

Rocket launch in a fine-tuned universe

We can imagine planets where the gravitation is too big to leave the surface with chemical rocket propellants. We are in a good position from this aspect. Obviously, there are heavenly bodies, where the gradation is small enough to get the outer space using only muscle power. But it is probable, that intelligent life isn’t able to appear on them, as their environments aren’t complex enough. Opposite to it, a planet with huge gravitation can be a cradle of intelligent species, although they wouldn’t be able to leave it with traditional rockets.
The space travel is limited by some qualities of the host planets (size, mass, etc.).
Another limit is the inhabitants’ biology, since the acceleration is inseparable form rocket launch. It is hard to believe that if a planet’s features provides an opportunity for space travel by chemical propellants, then its dwellers necessarily strong enough to survive the start. Thus it seems to be possible, that some intelligent beings unable to leave their planet by rocket.
But it would be a mistake to overrate its importance. In the absence of chemical propellants, we can use atomic energy; if acceleration is unbearable for our body, then we can try to build a space elevator, etc.
Although it is not totally indifferent the date when a civilization can leave its planet, technology seems to be a panacea for this problem. Probably there are cultures who can leave the surface at an early time of their technological development, and there are others, to whom it is a more difficult problem, but this difficulty is surely not a solution for the Fermi paradox.
Similar statements can be done about living in space. A broad scale of living beings from bacteria to tortoises, dogs and human can survive a launch, but the majority of them would die quickly without the aid of technology. It is not a surprising, after all, evolution adapted them to survive in a totally different environment.
This raises some questions.
Whether an intelligent being can live in space as easy and naturally as in Central-Europe? Notice we neither can live on the ISS nor in Budapest for a longer time without the help of technology (including buildings, warm clothes, etc.). This can be interpreted as only a difference of degree, not as a substantial difference. All in all, humans are technology dependent beings, and we have a reason to believe that every intelligent race is formed by their evolutionary past and uses technology to survive harsh environments. So it is likely, that unless their original environment wasn’t the outer space, they would be adapted to it.
What follows form this?
The Strong Anthropic Principle states that our Universe is “fine-tuned” for our existence in a certain way. There are three possible interpretation of the fact, that our cosmic environment is hostile to us.
  • ·         It is possible (although it seems to be improbable), that there is no a better solution (Universe) for an intelligent being. The “fine-tuning” perhaps takes into consideration not only our biology, but our technology, as well. In this case this Universe is not “fine-tuned” for us, but for us with our technological capabilities.
  • ·         There is a superior being somewhere in the Universe, whose “natural environment” is the whole Universe, which is fine-tuned for him/her (it is theoretically possible, too, that we will be that superior being in the distant future, but it seems to be a far-fetched explanation).
  • ·         Universe is not fine-tuned, since it is fundamentally not life- or intelligence friendly, as it turned out.
This interpretation is rather prosaic, but I vote for this.

29 December 2014

The Galileo question

It was a common argument at the beginning of the 17th century against the use of telescope in astronomy, that we knew the terrestrial circumstances, so it was possible to “correct a range of apparent instrumental distortions” [Steven Shapin: The Scientific Revolution, p. 73]. But in the case of heavenly bodies, the situation was different, since neither Galileo nor any other scientist had a reliable, new theory about the human vision. So there was no an opportunity to ascertain whether an astronomical observation was true or a mere optical illusion.
Despite of this problem, the astronomers of that age were able to work out some reliable hypothesis about the Solar System and its objects. To give an example, generalizing their mundane observations, they supposed, that the planets were fundamentally similar to the Earth, and there were mountains and valleys on their surfaces (for example, on the Moon). Obviously, these generalizations were misleading, when they tried to draw conclusions in connection with the Martian life and some other, not detectable phenomena, but it is remarkable, that their method in many cases worked.
It is not a surprise that our evolutionary past trained us to interpret usually correctly the terrestrial environment’s events – after all, it was a criterion of our survival. But this does not mean necessarily, that our mundane experiences should be extendable to the astronomical objects.
In other words: why the laws, which govern both earthly and the celestial world, can be interpreted in the same way, using our everyday experience as a starting point, while in case of quantum physics the situation is really different?
This raises two questions.
  • It would be interesting to know whether intelligent species living under the surface of an ocean or in another strange environment could extend their abilities effectively to understand the world above the atmosphere.
  • And it is another interesting question, whether it is a necessity that an intelligent being’s larger-scale environment can be relatively well described using their planet-based observations. 
After all, we cannot exclude the theoretical possibility of a universe where the differences between these two levels are as big as between the physics of the humans' and the quantum scale.