View Full Version : Episode 45: The Important Numbers in the Universe

2007-Jul-17, 02:42 AM
This week we wanted to give you a basic physics lesson. This isn't easy physics, this is a lesson on the basic numbers of the Universe. Each of these numbers define a key aspect of our Universe. If they had different values, the Universe would be a changed place, and life here on Earth would never have arisen.

<strong><a href="http://media.libsyn.com/media/astronomycast/AstroCast-070716.mp3">Episode 45: The Important Numbers in the Universe (12.4MB)</a></strong><br />&nbsp;<br />

Read the full blog entry (http://www.astronomycast.com/cosmology/episode-45-the-important-numbers-in-the-universe/)

2007-Jul-17, 07:13 AM
This was a very interesting episode ; the ideas expressed here has even permeated into the world of comedy.

There is one comedian here in the UK who has a joke that if we ever work out why the universe works the way it does, if we ever formulate a viable Grand Unified Theory, then the entire fabric of the universe will vanish in an instant and a huge display unit would then flash up a sign 'Level 2'.

I found it funny - but then I used to swap quantum mechanics and complex analysis jokes with my lecturers at university. :lol:

2007-Jul-17, 07:50 AM
(This episode is not showing up in iTunes).

2007-Jul-17, 08:13 AM
(This episode is not showing up in iTunes).

It's showing alright in iTunes for me...

2007-Jul-17, 08:35 AM
It's showing alright in iTunes for me...
That's weird.

When I posted my last message, I had refreshed my Podcasts library in iTunes, and it still didn't download, and I checked the iTunes podcast directory and it wasn't listed there either.

Just now, I checked again and iTunes had since downloaded the episode to my computer, but so far, it still isn't showing up in the podcast directory (see attached).

2007-Jul-17, 03:50 PM
Great show guys, but i just wanted to take a second to address the issue of the anthropic principle in all this. I'm not sure i heard it mentioned directly at all, and i know i heard the very weighted term "design" more than once. I don't think i mean to offer criticism here as much as hear what others think on the subject.
I may very well be inferring an unbalanced emphasis, unintentional or otherwise, based on my own prejudice, and should probably listen to the show again (in fact i will, but mostly for the information). My point is simply this in our current climate of scientific illiteracy, shouldn't scientist and scientific educators be careful about fostering unscientific ideas. Let's face it, the majority of american's pay lip service to the idea of a biblical god and though many of them will reject science when it contradicts the tenants of their faith, when a scientist gives the slightest indication of design in the universe, many will see it as a vindication of their entire religious doctrine and make no distinction between the concepts of conscious and unconscious design. Deist notions about the origins of our universe cannot really be effectively addressed by science as of yet. One can be intellectually honest, a good scientist, and still choose to hold deistic notions about the origins of the universe, and if these are Pamela's belief's then she has not lost any of the respect she has already gained from me in helping me to understand the universe.... that being said i also understand that we can't walk around worrying about how everything we say is going to be constrewed by others. I'm just terribly frustrated at the level of our intellectual dishonesty in this country.... it's not your fault. thank you for the show. i feel better now.
sorry about all the typo's.
any one want to talk about the anthropic principle?

2007-Jul-17, 05:52 PM
i just listened to the pod cast again and i have to say it is fairly innocuous... i think i over reacted.... i'm sorry.... i'm so sensitive these days :)

2007-Jul-17, 06:00 PM
I think Pamela summarized it as any good scientist would.

Basically, science cannot address nor accept the fact that there is a god until there is proof of it's existence, but of course, that doesn't mean one isn't there.

Scientists are supposed to be as unbiased as possible, and until there's evidence pointing in either direction, the issue can't be addressed.

...And Pamela, please correct me if I'm wrong; I don't want to put words in your mouth. :)

2007-Jul-17, 06:15 PM
quite right.... i agree. i ask that my former comments be stricken from the record :) ...and i offer an official and personal apology to Dr. Gay

Does any one know a good resource for delving further into the idea of pockets of inflation in the universe with "constants" in variance to our "neck o' the woods"?

2007-Jul-17, 06:32 PM
Even without a "god" the word design makes sense. Just throwing stuff into a soup (the universe) doesn't make it work.

Remember the old story.....

If I put all the parts of a wristwatch into a bag....how long would I have to shake it for it to turn into a working wristwatch?

2007-Jul-17, 07:16 PM
the word design does make sense, but in the same way that it would be applicable in biology terms. In evolution the "universe" "does" make the random permutations (or soup if you like) work. inadvertently selecting/ designing the out come through environmental conditioning. the environment simply being the outcome of the interrelationship of it's constituent parts with no end in "mind". By saying "just throwing stuff into... (the universe) doesn't make it work" seems to suggest something outside the universe does. maybe i am mis-understanding you? ... And while i agree that there is not, to my knowledge, an exact cosmological equivalent to descent with modification, i don't see how our current understanding of the physical properties of the universe give us any cause to think them incapable of explanation through it's own constituent parts and their relationships.

2007-Jul-19, 01:33 AM
I never cared for the use of the word "design" to describe the outcome of natural processes.

2007-Jul-19, 04:03 AM
I was just wondering if Plank's constant had any place here? would changing the value of individual quanta fundamentally alter our reality? Also has anyone read Martin Rees's book, and would you recommend it?

Steve Limpus
2007-Jul-20, 12:51 PM
quite right.... i agree. i ask that my former comments be stricken from the record :) ...and i offer an official and personal apology to Dr. Gay

Does any one know a good resource for delving further into the idea of pockets of inflation in the universe with "constants" in variance to our "neck o' the woods"?

Hi Cepheidstar

I read your post and had been working through similar thoughts and I'm sure people won't find your post offensive. You were interested what others made of the show...

I thought it was a fascinating show and agree the Anthropic Principle was floating around unmentioned in the background (it would probably rate a show of it's own).

I've read some compelling logical arguments that the existence of a multiverse would account for the constants being as they are. My favorite one uses the analogy of waking up in a hotel of many different rooms; perhaps someone else remembers exactly how it goes. In any case I'll try to find a link later.

Personally I think the term Intelligent Design is bogus and wish people who use it would just be straight up and talk about God. Even if an individual believed there was an intelligent designer who was perhaps an alien or something else, said alien would surely qualify as God-like!

I hope we do one day learn that there is an underlying theory of everything that explains all the constants in our universe. But even so, I think there is still room for the idea of God. Let's say we discover a theory of everything. We discover it originated in the Big Bang. Imagine we discover our Big Bang is one of many in the multiverse. Who created the multiverse? And on it goes.

What does bug me are those people who choose to attack science and fail to see that science leaves room for God. If there is a God, didn't He create science too? (Or at least those truths the scientific method reveals.)

I choose not to deny the possibility of God, even though I haven't got the faintest idea what God would be like, and don't prescrible to any of mans ideas of what God would be like. I simply feel a sense of wonder at the universe. If it was good enough for Einstein it's good enough for me:

If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.
A. Einstein

2007-Jul-21, 12:43 PM
IIRC it was the originators of the Anthropic principal who used the term design, and they hated it as they were non believers

Steve Limpus
2007-Jul-22, 09:00 AM
I've read some compelling logical arguments that a multiverse would account for the constants being as they are. My favorite one uses the analogy of waking up in a hotel of many different rooms; perhaps someone else remembers exactly how it goes. In any case I'll try to find a link later.

Here is the quote I was thinking of:

"Although we cannot interact with other Level II parallel universes, cosmologists can infer their presence indirectly, because their existence can account for unexplained coincidences in our universe. To give an analogy, suppose you check into a hotel, are assigned room 1967 and note that this is the year you were born. What a coincidence, you say. After a moment of reflection, however, you conclude that this is not so surprising after all. The hotel has hundreds of rooms, and you would not have been having these thoughts in the first place if you had been assigned one with a number that meant nothing to you. The lesson is that even if you knew nothing about hotels, you could infer the existence of other hotel rooms to explain the coincidence."
Prof. Max Tegmark


Prof. Max Tegmark's website:


2007-Jul-25, 10:40 PM
It's not a constant of the Universe, but isn't it the ratio of the circumference to the diameter, rather than the radius? Am i going to have to memorize 1.57079632679489661922 or 6.28318530717958647688? And is pi day now Jan 5, or June 28th?

BTW, i liked the show.

2007-Aug-07, 03:59 PM
I think that the most important part of the podcast is Pamela's statement that many of these numbers emerge because we cannot trace phenomenon back to first principles. We may not need the fine structure constant if the complete structure of an atom were really understood.

2007-Aug-14, 05:18 PM
I'm new to the forum and I'm not sure whether someone else has posted this question before.
How feasible is the idea that our basic physics constants vary over spacetime? For example, it's logically possible that constants could vary very slowly over large distances, or vary slowly over time. I wonder whether serious physicists have studied this possibility in earnest and whether this hypothesis would resolve any outstanding issues.

2007-Dec-14, 07:55 PM
An episode with ontological overtones! Excellent show and excellent feed back.

I find the combination of Euler's "Level 2" joke and Cepheidstar's anthropic principle discussion most intriguing. When considering the concept of God, I've often thought that our existence and relationship to Him isn't any different than the relationship of an avatar in a computer game to the software programmer. The cosmological constants for the game's avatar is the binary code, and, similar to anthropic consequences, if any of the binary digits were changed from a 0 to a 1, it would crash the game. Basically, video games that run properly do so because the 'programmer' has succeeded in creating a virtual anthropic principle!

The 'cosmological argument' states that if all existing things depend on something else for it to exist, then it follows that for the cosmos as a whole to exist it must depend on something external to it as well - therefore there is a God. Again, the game analogy shows the same characteristics - its' existence is contingent on the external reality of the programmer.

So - are we all just avatars in someone's game? Perhaps determinism is accurate after all???

2007-Dec-17, 07:55 PM
What about: the universe is just an algorithmic process?

I think it's wrong to look at a waterfall and see the art of a designer, however beautiful and creative it may appear. It once was the case (and still is here and there) that Homo sapiens saw a designer in all things created by natural algorithms, such as coastal arches, mountains, or baboons. To do so with the universe is to put unnecessary and possibly supernatural speculation into the gaps of our understanding. We don't need to do that anymore.

The sun isn't a god. We cracked that one.

We like to see designers because we are designers. Instead we should teach ourselves (raise our consciousness) to see natural algorithms; untutored, unsculpted, unheeded. After all, we are the result of such a process. We weren't designed, and I see no reason whatsoever to think the universe was, however comforting the notion.

I find it helps to remember that the universe wants to kill us a lot more than it wants to keep us alive.

Steve Limpus
2007-Dec-18, 12:47 AM
So - are we all just avatars in someone's game?

I think yes - but I have in mind Gordon Gekko more than John the Baptist... :(

2007-Dec-18, 11:42 AM
I find it helps to remember that the universe wants to kill us a lot more than it wants to keep us alive.

now that is funny !!lololol:lol::lol::lol:

just as a side note to no one in particular it drives me mad that people misrepresent the anthropic principle

all it says is that you live in a universe you can live in

thats it and all about it:hand::hand:

my vote for fav number goes to zero

as queen said

nothing really matters....:doh:

137 is ringing a few bells...

Steve Limpus
2007-Dec-18, 09:35 PM
My least favourite number is infinity... it's like reality flippin' us the bird.

2007-Dec-21, 12:08 AM
lol yeah when infininty plus infinity times infinty divided by infinity plus infinity equals infinity? ouch

2008-Mar-13, 10:36 AM
Martin Rees's book "Just Six Numbers" in an excellent book on this topic.