Saturday, 25 February 2017

privileged witness or over the hill

Nuancing the anthropic problem—that the Cosmos seems custom-tuned for nurturing the development of sentient life as we know it and if any universal constant were off by the slightest amount, there would be no stars in the sky nor carbon from the furnaces of the suns—Geoff Manaugh posits the truly profound scenario that beings living at this stage of the Universe’s development might be among the last that could understand the nature and the history of it.
Fast-forward to a race coming into existence billions of years in the future, and their skies will still be peppered with stars but only those of their parent galaxy, the accelerating force behind the expanding Cosmos having pushed galaxies so far distant that they lie below the fold and even the most powerful telescopes could not detect their estranged neighbours. And while coming of age in a much smaller, ahistoric and constant Cosmos—horizons only as far as one’s own galaxy and not inconceivable huge and ancient—seems bleak and desolate and the invitation for myth-making, it’s also somehow comforting and reassuring. As much as I think we should take pride in what we’ve learned about cosmology and are capable of producing models that reveal much of how physics works on all scales, our assumptions may be wrong, ill-informed because we too came of age at a time of historical disadvantage—too far separated or too closely embedded to take in a comprehensive view.