Fine-Tuning From The Bottom Up

Against all the odds the cosmos exists. Stuff exists. Atoms and molecules exist. Non-living things like stars and planets exist. Life exists and ‘intelligent’ life exists too. The cosmos would appear to be fine-tuned to allow for an orderly system containing life, the Universe and well everything to exist. It didn’t have to be that way of course. Absolute nothingness, randomness, pure unstructured chaos was a far more likely scenario since there are a vastly greater ways of producing a mess than something with structure and substance. So again the cosmos is fine-tuned to produce, against all the odds, something with structure and substance. Why is it so? Let’s explore the in’s and out’s.

The apparent fine-tuning of the Universe that allows human beings to exist, that so called Anthropic Principle* is just the top of the apex of the pyramid. There are many other levels below humans that could and should equally claim fine tuning for their existence.

The most important level is the base level, the base of the pyramid, the ground floor. If the base level of the pyramid crumbles, then all else above that level crashes in a heap. For example, if the parameters of physics were such that energy couldn’t convert into matter, then there would be little point in postulating the existence of any kind of stuff even a nanosecond post the Big Bang event. However, that’s not the case so we can start to build up the fine-tuning pyramid from the ground up.

In the beginning there was something rather than just nothing, in fact a mix of something and nothing. That’s the first of numerous fine-tuning qualifications required on the road to humanity. That’s the ground floor.

* What was that something? Well in the beginning there was the standard model of particle physics. You had photons, gravitons, quarks, electrons, neutrinos, and so on and so forth. There was an apparent fine-tuning parameter ‘in the beginning’ in that there was asymmetry between the amount of matter brought forth and the amount of antimatter brought forth. If they had been exactly equal, as well as exactly opposite, the Universe would have been just a sea of pure energy which would not have augured well for the evolution of stuff on down the line; stuff like biological stuff.

* One critical throw of the dice fine-tuning is the ‘in the beginning’ play of forces between push (the Big Bang oomph plus inflation’s oomph plus the addition oomph provided by Dark Energy) and pull (gravity). Too much pull relative to push and the Universe wouldn’t have existed for very long. There would have been a collapse and a Big Crunch in way, way less time than it would take for interesting and more complex things to happen. The lifespan of the newborn Universe could have been measured in mere seconds. Too much push relative to pull on the other hand would result in a Universe where all the individual bits and pieces, the fundamental particles, were dispersed and diluted so fast that no clumping into atoms or molecules and on up the line could have or would have occurred – so no stellar systems of stars and planets would ever have come into being. The Universe would have one vast soup of particles, getting more and more dilute every passing second.

The first things that had to be brought together were atomic nuclei – those quarks that make up protons and neutrons. You might call this the first floor of fine-tuning.

* Quarks are electromagnetic in nature and form the positive protons and the neutral neutrons. Alas, the electromagnetic force would like to push protons apart, but the strong nuclear force holds them together. Thus, the strong nuclear ‘pull’ force has to be fine-tuned enough to be at least equal to, if not stronger than, the electromagnetic ‘push’ force.

* It might have been just as probable that from the get-go the Universe was just fated to be a sea of quarks and electrons (as well as photons, gravitons, neutrinos with a few Higgs Bosons thrown in for good measure) but then if that had been the case we wouldn’t be here to ponder that sort of probability.

From that standard model of particle physics, there was a fine-tuning that allowed atoms to form. An atom would say that it exists because of fine-tuning that allowed all the particular entities comprising the standard model of particle physics to come together to form atoms. Since we’ve now added electrons into the equation, this is your second story.

* The critical fine-tuning bit, now that electrons are added into the mix, is that in order to allow atoms to be electrically neutral, the electromagnetic charge on the electron has to be exactly equal and opposite to that on the proton. Exactly equal to as many decimal places as one can measure. Given that protons and electrons differ in every other aspect, like mass, (electrons are fundamental; protons are not elementary being comprised of quarks) this charge balance is quite astounding and defies explanation. Anyway, atoms are our third floor as we climb towards the anthropic apex of the fine-tuning pyramid.

* Of course it is not sufficient to have just one or two or even three different types of atoms that can form. Things have to be fine-tuned enough to allow for a vast array or variety of different types of atoms to form, but given the complex nature of all of the various interplays and interactions between the strong nuclear, weak nuclear and electromagnetic forces, that is, on the surface, not at all a given or even probable.

* Atomic Fine-Tuning Number One: This requires that there be stars and that stars can cook up the heavier (more complex) elements. So things have to be tuned just so to allow for structures we call stars to exist and for them to initiate a process we call nuclear fusion.

* Atomic Fine-Tuning Number Two: The nuclear pathways taken to create various complex elements (or their atoms) are so improbable – on the surface in many cases – that you’d expect these elements to be rarer than hen’s teeth. However, these elements are common enough – like Carbon – such that the prevalence of such elements (or their atoms) almost seems like a miracle. It turns out that special, unexpected resonance properties (i.e. – fine-tuning), comes to the fore to make the improbable, probable.

Atoms combine to form molecules. Molecules would say that they exist because the relationships between atoms are such to allow molecules to form. This is the third floor of the pyramid.

* There are various electromagnetic forces that enable chemical bonding between atoms to happen – covalent and ionic bonding if memory serves from high school chemistry. It’s all rather mysterious to me anyway why electrons “want” to fill up orbital shells, but it suggests to me a form of fine-tuning since I don’t see any reason of necessity why sodium electrons would “want” to join forces with chlorine electrons to form table salt.

Molecules can clump together to form “stuff” like stars, planets, and so on down the line. “Stuff” would say that they exist because of the fine-tuning that allows stuff to clump. Stuff occupies the fourth floor.

* One example of fine-tuning is the stuff we call ice and the stuff we call water. Normally one would expect the solid form of a substance to sink in the liquid form of that same substance since the solid form is denser. However, that’s not true for ice and water. Ice floats on water and that was probably a critical factor in allowing Planet Earth to be a bio-friendly planet.

Molecules can combine to form a form of proto-life.

* Despite generations of detailed theoretical work, laboratory experiments galore, and other musings on the origin of life, no one has yet been able to create life (as opposed to complex organic molecules) in a test tube. That suggests that ‘life wasn’t meant to be easy’ and there must be some special bit of fine-tuning required to ‘make it so’. What that fine-tuning is nobody knows, otherwise we’d have already created life in a test tube.

Single cells can combine to form multi-cellular clusters (tissues, organs, organisms).

* Something has to be fine-tuned, or deliberately designed, that enables or requires generalist single cells (or micro-organisms) to clump together and become specialists as part of a larger, albeit composite, organism. This seems highly improbable. If you’re surviving and thriving on your own, what need do you have for joining or clumping with another, either of or not of your kind? If environmental conditions are such as to be unfavourable to you, things are not going to improve by shacking up next to your twin since the both of you now have to share resources. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Any benefit of joining together has to be immediate in order to be selected for. Two cells sticking together don’t seem to offer much more in the way of additional ‘survival of the fittest’. By the time natural selection, biological evolution has shown such clumping to be really advantageous (i.e. – much larger size), you’re history. So, again, the advantage of producing a clumping of two has to be present from the get-go.

* The fact that roughly 3.5 billion elapsed between the origin of proto-life and the origin of multi-cellular life shows just how difficult and improbable multi-cellular life is. Even today, single-celled critters outnumber multi-celled critters by millions, if not billions, to one.

And in at least one case, multi-cellular organisms have given rise to an ‘intelligent’ species of multi-cellular organism that’s capable of asking about the issue of fine-tuning.

* Arguing from a data point of just one example, it would appear that it takes four billion years to go from proto-life to intelligent life – “intelligent” defined as being of our calibre of IQ. So a star has to last and be stable for at least four billion years (plus the time it takes to develop proto-life – another half billion years if Earth is typical of such happenings. Things are fine-tuned enough to allow some, not all, stars to go the distance required – it didn’t have to be so. Massive, very short-lived stars, could have been the standard.

* Though not normally considered a part of the concept of fine-tuning, there have been various one-off happenings that have directly led to the human species. Since without these happenings we wouldn’t be here, it’s logical and interesting to consider these one-off’s part of our fine-tuning pathway that leads to us.

* Once such fine-tuning event was the asteroid/comet impact 65 million years ago that wiped out the Age of Reptiles and ushered in the Age of Mammals, of which we are one species. There have been other mass extinction events prior to that which may have had a hand in deciding in favour of our fate; our ultimate existence.

* Another apparent fine-tuning event was climate change back in Africa millions of years ago which fine-tuned one primate species to leave the trees and take to the ground and develop a bipedal gait and a large brain and the use of tools, etc. There must have been other fine-tuning happenings which led us to culture and eventually to settlements and ‘civilization’.

* Two other happenings must be noted here. In order for life on Earth to survive, even if not always thrive, both the Sun and the Earth had to be relatively stable and in the case of Planet Earth, exist in a relatively benign region of the cosmos free from nearby supernovae and gamma-ray bursts and rouge planets slamming into it. Our Planet was in a stellar region that was ‘fine-tuned’ to be relatively benign – it didn’t have to be so, but if it were otherwise odds are we wouldn’t be here. In the case of the Sun, we needed our parent star not to be such that it nova-burped again and again. One could say that our Sun was ‘fine-tuned’ for solar stability – it didn’t have to be so, but again if it was otherwise we wouldn’t be here.


There is the argument by intelligent design. A designer fine-tuned the physics for life, the Universe and everything.

* The cosmos is a book which we are reading and comprehending. But take a standard book and cut out each and every individual word and toss the lot of those words into a (very) large hat all shaken and stirred. Then pull out these words one at a time at random and string them together in the same order to form a new book. What are the odds that this ‘new and improved’ book would make any sense? The odds are just about nil. So the obvious conclusion here is that the author is the ‘fine-tuned’ instrument of design behind the comprehensible book. No fine-tuning, no comprehensibility.

* In a similar way, if one were to chop up a musical composition measure-by-measure and then reassemble them at random, odds are again you’d end up with a compositional and probable atonal mess even if you did that experiment over and over and over again and again and again.

* Please note that such a designer doesn’t of necessity have to be a supernatural deity or deities. Ultra-advanced, technologically sophisticated extraterrestrials do nicely.

* Please note that such a designer doesn’t of necessity have to have designed a really real cosmos for us to ultimately play in. Ultra-advanced, technologically sophisticated extraterrestrials, or perhaps humans in our far, far future, have designed a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe. We survive and thrive in a virtual landscape, and our designer is just a computer/software programmer, albeit a very advanced one.

There is the argument that one and only one type of physics is possible, or as Einstein phrased it, “did God have any choice in the matter when He created the cosmos”?

* One major problem is that all of the various values for the parameters that related to the fine-tuning issue cannot be theoretically calculated from first principles but only experimentally established. The related problem therefore is that we can envision many other types of physics and parameters of physics with other values that seem to have equal plausibility. We only have a statistical set comprised of only our physics and physicists can’t really do a valid job of comparing and contrasting differing physics with just one data point to work with.

There is the argument that although many types of physics are possible, nearly all of which are highly unfriendly to produce life, the Universe and everything, nevertheless we lucked out and by pure chance or accident or the luck of the deal or the draw, we got the winning physics hand.

* That’s akin to being directly dealt a Royal Flush on your very first hand in your very first PokerGalaxy game. While someone has to win the sperm-egg lottery, it is not overly satisfying to attribute our existence to pure luck. While I’m sure the cosmos doesn’t give a damn about our state of existence or non-existence, it would be nice to think we were somehow wanted!

There is the argument that there are thousands, millions, trillions, of separate and apart universes (the Multiverse) each with different laws, principles and relationships of physics, a tiny fraction of which allow life, the Universe itself and everything in it. It is no surprise therefore that we find ourselves in such a Universe. It’s akin to the fact that in terms of cosmic real estate here in the solar system, of all the possible abodes, only one has properties suitable for us to exist and ask nasty philosophical and scientific questions.

* I have some issues with the Multiverse concept. Problem Number One: You can travel intrastate from one city to another city. You can go intra-country from one state to another state or from one country to another country. You can travel from Planet Earth to the rest of the solar system and (in theory) from our stellar system (our star) to other interstellar systems (other stars) and by extension from our galaxy to other galaxies. So if there is a spatial Multiverse (as opposed to a temporal Multiverse) then in theory what’s to prevent one from travelling from our Universe to another universe that’s part of this Multiverse? Except, if you travel to another universe, doesn’t it make sense, if one can do that, why not just call that other universe part of our Universe?

* Problem Number Two: It is assumed that there will be differing laws, principles and relationships in physics in all the other differing universes that make up the Multiverse. That’s a requirement to explain our fine-tuning. But that assumption is all just pie-in-the-sky, pure theoretical speculation backed up by absolutely nothing.

* Problem Number Three: The entire concept of a Multiverse is just pure speculation. There is not one shred of actual experimental or observational evidence that the Mltiverse has any credibility or degree of actual reality at all. It would be nice in theory to boldly go and explore other universes and see for ourselves how closely they mirror our own Universe.

Lastly, there is the argument that there is no fine-tuning. Nearly any combination of laws, principles and relationships of physics will tend to produce some kind of life, some form of universe, and some kind of, well, everything. Translated, there will be life Jim, but not as we know it.

* It would be nice to have other extraterrestrial life forms to compare and contrast terrestrial life to. That’s the only way to know for sure if there is life Jim, but not as we know it. Perhaps CHON life (Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen based biology) is the only kind of life which would suggest fine-tuning. There might only be one kind of biology possible, so If God created life, then perhaps again God had no choice in the matter of ‘how’ God had to follow an instruction manual not of His authorship.


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