Which one correctly identifies our role in the universe? First let’s see the basis behind each principle.
The Copernican principle states that there is nothing special about our place in the universe. So far, every astronomical discovery seems to vindicate this point of view. Not only did Copernicus banish Earth from the center of the universe, Hubble displaced the entire Milky Way galaxy from the center of the universe, giving us instead an expanding universe of billions of galaxies. The recent discovery of dark matter and dark energy underscores the fact that the higher chemical elements that make up our bodies comprise only of 0.03 percent of the total matter/energy content of the universe. With the inflation theory, we must contemplate the fact that the visible universe is like a grain of sand embedded in a much larger, flat universe, and that this universe itself may be constantly sprouting new universes.
But at the other end we have the Anthropic Principle, which makes us realize that a miraculous set of “accidents” makes consciousness possible in this three-dimensional universe of ours. There is a ridiculously narrow band of parameters that makes intelligent life a reality, and we happen to thrive in this band. The stability of the proton, the size of the stars, the existence of higher elements, and so on, all seem to be finely tuned to allow for complex forms of life and consciousness. One can debate whether this fortuitous circumstance is one of design or accident, but no one can dispute the intricate tuning necessary to make us possible.
We often fail to appreciate how precious life and consciousness really are. We forget something as simple as liquid water is one of the most precious substances in the universe, that only Earth (and perhaps Europa, a moon of Jupiter) has liquid water in any quantity in the solar system, perhaps even in this sector of the galaxy. It is also likely that the human brain is the most complex object nature has created in the solar system, perhaps out to the nearest star. When we view the vivid pictures of the lifeless terrain of Mars or Venus, we are struck by the fact that those surfaces are totally barren of cities and lights or even complex organic chemicals of life. Countless worlds exist in deep space devoid of life, much less of intelligence. It should make us appreciate how delicate life is, and what a miracle it is that it flourishes on Earth.
The Copernican Principle and the Anthropic Principle are in some sense opposite perspectives which bracket the extremes of our existence and help us to understand our true role in the universe. While the Copernican principle forces us to confront the sheer enormity of the universe, and perhaps the multiverse, the anthropic principle forces us to realize how rare life and consciousness really are.
This explanation of these two principles was written by world renown physicist Michio Kaku on pages 347-349 in his latest book Parallel Worlds. Parallel Worlds explores our cosmos, black holes, time machines, multidimensional space and, the possibility that parallel universes may lie alongside our own. A very interesting and intriguing book to say the least.
However I must warn you that this book places a heavy emphasis on physics terms so if your not into physics this book may not be for you. I also recommend his other books as well HyperSpace and Visions as these two are well written, easy reading books that really make you open your eyes and mind to the enormous possibilities of our existence and what may lie ahead.
After reading about each principle and giving it some thought, please leave a comment that describes which one you believe in more.