Copernican Principle VS. Anthropic Principle

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.

7 thoughts on “Copernican Principle VS. Anthropic Principle

  1. I’m gonna have to get my hands on a copy of this Parallel Worlds book! lol…and if this comes across as…well…retarded–that means I have yet again over thought something that probably I shouldn’t have…lol
    but anyways…I’m torn between the two -__-…I probably lean more towards Copernican though. I like the grain of sand analogy. It makes sense. Earth is just a tiny speck on a grander scale. Also compared to the Anthropic principle–this seems more negative >_< …*no wonder I picked this one*

    On the Anthropic Principle: I want to know how the human brain can be the most complex object in nature? There are diseases out there that we haven’t figured out how to cure–now those are more complex that our brain to me. Also I would bring up oxygen with water being the most precious substances for us humans.

    On the two: Well it looks like the Copernican Principle is mostly about the universe while the Anthropic Principle also battles the debate of how humans came to be. Apparently we are a bunch of accidents of the universe…seems a little too intelligent design for me…however if I completely went with the Copernican principle then I would find Earth completely boring and would feel like a more negative person than I actually am. The Anthropic principle makes us seem–lets just say more interesting. I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that Earth is the only planet in the universe that has life–that makes absolutely no sense to me…There has to be more life somewhere.

    I use to be completely obsessed with blackholes and time machines…O_O…I read somewhere that if scientist could put two blackholes together and create I think it was a wormhole that they would have a makeshift time machine–I was just like…ummm good luck on not getting sucked in..and not getting crushed to death as you go back in time….

    Okay…I’ll stop there…lol

  2. Thanks Sierra for your valued feedback. I think your like me in that, things that deal with space, our existence, and what COULD be out there simply mesmerizes your mind.

    I too am torn between both. The Copernican principle makes me think of what could be possible within the universe. The Anthropic principle makes me realize all of the circumstances that had to come together the way they did in order for the planet, our sun, the moon, everything else to exist. Just thinking about how if the moon were in a slightly different location or, if our sun was in a different location, life as we know it might not exist.

    I love topics like these because it really opens up the mind to an endless amount of POSSIBILITIES.

  3. Oh good grief. There is no “either/or”… and Kaku acts like he hasn’t got the first clue that the whole reason that we have an antrhopic principle is because the copernican extension is not what is observed.

    Brandon Carter’s whole entire point was that he was only standing before the good “scientists” in Kracow Poland because they were full of ideologically motivated anticentrist dogma that caused them to project a copernican mentality that does not fit the observation.

    Nothing has changed, they’re still full of dog… ma.

    My educated opinion… Kaku is a string theory motivated idiot.

  4. I don’t think the anthropic principal can be used with regards to the complexity of the human brain as it is not a minute, 1 in a billion billion, chance that has caused this but a gradual process of compounded improvement.

    I would also suggest that the anthropic principle is an argument against design. No matter how unlikely an event is to happen, where that event is necessary for us to exist to observe it, then we know that it did happen. So while the probability of it happening may be a billion billion to 1 against, possibly even so unlikely that it will never happen again, provided it is not entirely impossible, we do not need to invent a designer to explain why it happened, only point out that it in fact did happen, as we are here to consider it.

    As for which is reality, it would seem the anthropic principle holds because we are here to ask the question.

  5. Andrew, that is a “variant” interpretation and only applies if you can prove that there really is a multiverse of possible universal configurations to choose from. It isn’t even a “principle”, it is only a tautological “selection effect”.

    While you *can* use it as an equally speculative counterargument to supernatural forces, you cannot use it against the implications of the anthropic physics in the observed universe, and you cannot call it science until or unless you can validate the alleged, “unobservable probabilities” with a complete and tested theory of quantum gravity or a ToE.

    Personally, (and even Richard Dawkins agrees), I think that using anthropic selection and un-established “possibilities” is much weaker argument against a supernatural entity than a true anthropic cosmological principle is. It’s a cop-out causality and first principles, the *natural expectation* for a dynamical structure principle that defines the observed configuration from first principles.

    Creationists will just hold up the “appearance” of design and the observed univerese and make you look foolish for thinking that these so-called probabilites are more plausible than design, which doesn’t require a supernatural agent. Then, as Dawkins has learned, you look like the fool.

  6. Island, I willingly give way to your, clearly, greater knowledge on the subject.

    I shan’t be arguing with any creationists in the near future. Not that there would be much point even if I could win the argument.

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