Monday, February 11, 2008

Song 11 of 26 - The Anthropic Viewpoint

The eleventh of the 26 songs is called "The Anthropic Viewpoint". Scroll down below the following videos for the lyrics and a brief discussion of how this song ties into the project. A blog post which lists all 26 songs, including 1 video for each song can be found by clicking here.

A direct link to the above video is at

A direct link to the above video is at

A direct link to the above karaoke version is at

music and lyrics (c) by Rob Bryanton (SOCAN)

(This song combines the concept of the “Anthropic Principle” as advanced by Stephen Hawking in his “The Universe in a Nutshell” with Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems, one of the central points of Douglas Hofstadter’s amazing “Gödel, Escher, Bach”, and throws in some strange ideas of my own. And it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.)

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain
The only thing that I know for certain
In everything that you say and do
The only thing you know for sure is you
Believe in that and you will be okay
You could live to fight another day, some day

Pay no mind to those tiny little voices
Every day you gotta make some choices
Make ‘em right and you can carry on
Make ‘em wrong and you will soon be gone
And if it seems just a little unfair
Get used to it, cause the stars don’t care, don’t care

In the anthropic viewpoint
The reason we’re here is because we’re here
And if it were impossible
Then we wouldn’t be

If there’s other worlds then we’ve just missed ‘em
No way to know what’s outside our system
We’re like goldfish livin in a bowl
What’s beyond it we can never know
All we can do is theorize
Cause we can never… get outside, outside

In the anthropic viewpoint…

So here we are in the Hydrogen Conspiracy
That’s the way that it certainly appears to be
What’s the reason, where’s the rhyme
How’d we end up on this line
All those other possibilities
They’re just as real, but they don’t have me
It’s no big deal, not worth a fuss
They’re just as real, but they don’t have us, have us

In the anthropic viewpoint
The reason we’re here is because we’re here
And if it were impossible
Then we wouldn’t be

As I say in a previous blog entry about this song, the poor ol' Anthropic Principle has certainly had a rough ride, some people just plain refuse to take this idea seriously. In the wikipedia article about the anthropic principle, you will see there are many different flavors of this idea. Let me try to describe the particular version that appeals to me in the context of what we're imagining here: if there is a multiverse of universes, with each universe springing from its own unique set of initial conditions, most of these universes would be uninhabitable by life as we know it. So how did we get so lucky as to be in a universe fine-tuned to our needs? The answer is that we couldn't exist in those other universes, so that's why "we" (that is to say, "life as we know it") aren't in them. The upshot of that idea, though, is that some of those other universes with completely different basic forces and structures could have within them organized bits of matter and energy that are completely and utterly alien to what we think of as life, and they could be marvelling at how miraculous it is that the universe they live in has been so finely tuned to their own unique needs!

By now it should be clear that even though we are imagining ten dimensions, a concept from string theory (and the jury, of course, is still out on string theory or the need for higher dimensions at this time), most of what we are really talking about with this project is the fascinating world of quantum mechanics. A recurring theme here is that there are surprising leaps that we can make when we recognize that our physical reality of probabilistic outcomes from chance and choice is completely analogous to the quantum world and Everett's many-worlds interpretation. In a blog entry called Infinity and the Boltzmann Brains, we saw one of the ways to take this idea to an extreme. Could every possible universe, no matter how fragmentary or unstable, still have a quantum observer within it? For me, this relates back to the conundrum of what happened in our own universe before life began - how was any version of the wavefunction observed/collapsed when there were no quantum observers? In my blog entry "Boredom and Consciousness Part One", I talk about respected physicist John Wheeler, whose famous diagram of an eyeball looking back at its own tail representing the big bang would be one of the startling ways of resolving this question - could a certain amount of information about our universe have been in an indeterminate state for billions of years, and it wasn't until life began observing/collapsing the wavefunction that the initial conditions for our universe were fine-tuned? Such a wild idea would, I suspect, have been immediately rejected as science fiction if it had not come from an accepted member of the mainstream physics community.

I'm a big fan of the anthropic viewpoint, because it helps us to put things into that biggest-picture-of-all perspective that I'm such a fan of. Because our own universe is already so unimaginably huge, it can be very easy for us to think that's all there is, and could possibly be. With this way of visualizing reality, by the time we've imagined three dimensions of space, three dimensions of time/probability, and three dimensions of organizing patterns that may or may not end up being expressed as probabilistic time or space, and wrapped all of that up into the enfolded, unobserved whole which I describe as the tenth dimension, our own universe is just an infinitesimally tiny subset of all that. Still. With all the different possible expressions of matter and energy which exist as potential within the quantum fabric underlying reality, isn't it an amazing and humbling thing that we get to be a part of all that? That's why the chorus of this song is so gosh-darned happy.

I agree that when you glibly sum up the anthropic principle as "the reason we're here is because we're here", it's easy to dismiss the concept as faulty, circuitous logic. Nonetheless, this song sticks by its guns: all of those other universes exist as potential within the multiverse, and the reason we're in the one we're in is because we couldn't possibly exist in the other universes that would not allow us to. This idea even extends to the parallel universe created by all of the other timelines for own universe which are not accessible to us from our current "now": if it were impossible for us to be in the universe where it was 2008 and the twin towers in New York were still standing, then we wouldn't be. And sure enough, we aren't in that version of our universe! We'll explore that idea more when we get to song 15, "What Was Done Today".

Some of the other blog entries that talk about the ideas from this song:

You Can't Get There From Here
Evidence of Parallel Universes
The Multiverse and Dark Matter
Time as a Spatial Dimension

Many of the videos for my songs are also available at YouTube, if you search for videos by 10thdim. You can audition and buy a high-quality mp3 of this song (and others by Rob Bryanton) at Included at amiestreet are 6 channel "stems" of this song and some of the others for remixing and mashups (and you can click here to play with a six-channel mixer that lets you audition and play with those stems). There is also an instrumental track of this song (and others) available from amiestreet for karaoke purposes. Finally, you can also download this song and other items from the tenthdimension digital store, and the items at that store are released under a Creative Commons license.

Next song: 12 of 26 - The End of the World


Geoffrey Thomas said...

Geoffrey Thomas

Fan of the first session of the TV series the sliders.

I was inspired by to duplicate Quinn Malay’s antigravity experiment in my room to travel to world of parallel universes.

Soon I began to realise wormholes could only be created in the centre of black holes not an artificial one created by a aniotgravity experiemnt in a loacl student's basement here on earth.

All I got for my research is a lot of files on time travel and parallel universes. The fiels are posted to on my blog called Time travel and parallel universe says wormholes much less time travel should not be possible.


First session fan of the sliders

Rob Bryanton said...

Hi Geoffrey, you might enjoy the new issue of New Scientist magazine - the cover story is
"2008: Does time travel start here?" by Michael Brooks. Here's the first few paragraphs:

AS YOU may have heard, this will be the year. The Large Hadron Collider - the most powerful atom-smasher ever built - will be switched on, and particle physics will hit pay-dirt. Yet if a pair of Russian mathematicians are right, any advances in this area could be overshadowed by a truly extraordinary event. According to Irina Aref'eva and Igor Volovich, the LHC might just turn out to be the world's first time machine.

It is a highly speculative claim, that's for sure. But if Aref'eva and Volovich are correct, the LHC's debut at CERN, the European particle physics centre near Geneva in Switzerland, could provide a landmark in history. That's because travelling into the past is only possible - if it is possible at all - as far back as the creation of the first time machine, and that means 2008 could become Year Zero: a must-see for the discerning time traveller.

Aref'eva and Volovich are sensible and well-respected mathematicians, based at the Steklov Mathematical Institute in Moscow, so they are not actually suggesting that visitors from the future are imminent. What they are saying is that since causality - the idea that effect must follow cause - is one of the most fundamental principles of physics, the notion that it might be tested at the LHC is worth pushing as far as possible. Their work has yet to be recognised by a peer-reviewed journal, but that hasn't stopped some other physicists from taking a keen interest.

Thanks for writing,

Rob Bryanton

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