Paul Davies


English Physicist, Author and Broadcaster, Professor at Arizona State University, Chair of SETI, Director of BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science

Author Quotes

No planet is more earth-like than Earth itself, so if life really does pop up readily in earth-like conditions, then surely it should have arisen many times right here on our home planet? And how do we know it didn't? The truth is, nobody has looked.

Should we find a second form of life right here on our doorstep, we could be confident that life is a truly cosmic phenomenon. If so, there may well be sentient beings somewhere in the galaxy wondering, as do we, if they are not alone in the universe.

The position I have presented to you today is radically different. It is one that regards the universe, not as the plaything of a capricious Deity, but as a coherent, rational, elegant, and harmonious expression of a deep and purposeful meaning. I believe the time has now come for those theologians who share this vision to join me and my scientific colleagues to take the message to the people.

Until now, I've been writing about now as if it were literally an instant of time, but of course human faculties are not infinitely precise. It is simplistic to suppose that physical events and mental events march along exactly in step, with the stream of actual moments in the outside world and the stream of conscious awareness of them perfectly synchronized. The cinema industry depends on the phenomenon that what seems to us a movie is really a succession of still pictures, running at twenty-five [sic] frames per second. We don't notice the joins. Evidently the now of our conscious awareness stretches over at least 1/25 of a second. In fact, psychologists are convinced it can last a lot longer than that. Take he familiar tick-tock of the clock. Well, the clock doesn't go tick-tock at all; it goes tick-tick, every tick producing the same sound. It's just that our consciousness runs two successive ticks into a singe tick-tock experience?but only if the duration between ticks is less than about three seconds. A really bug pendulum clock just goes tock . . . tock . . . tock, whereas a bedside clock chatters away: ticktockticktock... Two to three seconds seems to be the duration over which our minds integrate sense data into a unitary experience, a fact reflected in the structure of human music and poetry.

Nobody can really object to the ?weak anthropic principle.? It just says that the laws and conditions of the universe must be consistent with life; otherwise, we wouldn?t be here. But if we combine it with the multiverse hypothesis, then we?re in business. The multiverse hypothesis says that what we?ve been calling the universe is nothing of the kind. It?s just a bubble, a little local region in a much vaster and more elaborate system called the multiverse. And the multiverse consists of lots of universes. There are different ways you can arrange this. One way is to have them scattered throughout space, and each universe would be a gigantic bubble, much bigger than the size of what we can see at the moment, but there would be many, many bubbles. And each of these bubbles would come with its own set of laws.

So how can we test the idea that the transition from nonlife to life is simple enough to happen repeatedly? The most obvious and straightforward way is to search for a second form of life on Earth. No planet is more Earth-like than Earth itself, so if the path to life is easy, then life should have started up many times over right here.

The problem with this neat separation into ?non-overlapping magisteria,? as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn?t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.

We can now see that Augustine was right, and popular religion wrong, to envisage God as a super-being dwelling within the stream of time prior to the creation. Professional theologians acknowledge this. The doctrine of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) does not mean God pushing a metaphysical button and making a Big Bang, then sitting back to watch the action. It means God sustaining the existence of the universe, and its laws, at all times, from a location outside of space and time.

Astonishingly, in spite of decades of research, there is no agreed theory of cancer, no explanation for why, inside almost all healthy cells, there lurks a highly efficient cancer subroutine that can be activated by a variety of agents - radiation, chemicals, inflammation and infection.

I personally think we can draw the conclusion that we live in a universe that?s deeply imbued with meaning and purpose.

It is often said that science cannot prove the existence of God. Yet science does have value in theological debate because it gives us new concepts that sometimes make popular notions of God untenable. One of these concerns the nature of time.

Astronauts have been stuck in low-Earth orbit, boldly going nowhere. American attempts to kick-start a new phase of lunar exploration have stalled amid the realization that NASA's budget is too small for the job.

I think there?s a misunderstanding by religious people if they think that creation ex nihilo is anything like the big bang. People misunderstand what creation ex nihilo is about. It?s not that there existed a God within time who was there for all eternity and then at some particular moment, on a whim, decided, ?I?m going to make a universe? and then pressed a button that made the big bang. That raises exactly the objection that Augustine was addressing: What was God doing before making the universe? If the universe was a good idea, why wasn?t it made an infinite time ago?

It is possible that a scientific discovery will be made that humans will later regret because it has awful consequences. The problem is, we probably would not know in advance and, once the discovery is made, it cannot be undiscovered.

Can the mighty edifice of physical order we perceive in the world about us ultimately be rooted in reasonless absurdity? If so, then nature is a fiendishly clever bit of trickery: meaninglessness and absurdity somehow masquerading as ingenious order and rationality.

I want to stay away from a pre-existing cosmic magician who is there within time, for all eternity, and then brings the universe into being as part of a preconceived plan. I think that?s just a naive, silly idea that doesn?t fit the leanings of most theologians these days and doesn?t fit the scientific facts. I don?t want that. That?s a horrible idea. But I see no reason why there can?t be a teleological component in the evolution of the universe, which includes things like meaning and purpose. So instead of appealing to something outside the universe ? a completely unexplained being ? I?m talking about something that emerges within the universe. It?s a more natural view. We?re trying to construct a picture of the universe which is based thoroughly on science but where there is still room for something like meaning and purpose. So people can see their own individual lives as part of a grand cosmic scheme that has some meaning to it. We?re not just, as Steven Weinberg would say, pointless accidents in a universe that has no meaning or purpose. I think we can do better than that.

It is pretty far-fetched until you stop to think that there is nothing in the laws of physics that singles out one direction of time over another. The laws of physics work forward in time and backward in time equally well. Wheeler was one of the pioneers of this underlying time symmetry in the laws of physics. So he was steeped in the fact that we shouldn?t be prejudiced between past and future when it comes to causation. The particular mechanism that Wheeler had in mind has to do with quantum physics. Now, quantum physics is based on Heisenberg?s uncertainty principle. In its usual formulation, it means that there?s some uncertainty at a later time how an atom is going to behave. You might be able to predict the betting odds that the atom will do this or that, but you can?t know for certain in advance what?s going to happen. Now, this uncertainty principle works both ways in time. There?s no doubt about this. If we make an observation of an atom in a certain state now, then its past is uncertain just as its future is uncertain.

Cancer cells come pre-programmed to execute a well-defined cascade of changes, seemingly designed to facilitate both their enhanced survival and their dissemination through the bloodstream. There is even an air of conspiracy in the way that tumors use chemical signals to create cancer-friendly niches in remote organs.

I was hoping that someone was going to get to it, and John was able to put it in.

It may be bizarre, but in my opinion, science offers a sure path to God and religion.

Cancer is such a ruthless adversary because it behaves as if it has its own fiendishly cunning agenda.

I?m not saying that an intelligent designer figured it all out and created the universe with a set of laws that would bring intelligent beings into existence.

It will be in the convergence of evolutionary biology, developmental biology and cancer biology that the answer to cancer will lie. Nor will this confluence be a one-way street.

Cancer touches every family in one way or another. As other diseases are brought under control, cancer is set to become the number one killer, and is already in epidemic proportions worldwide.

If future scientists are human beings, they may be stuck with the same problems that we have. The way we think, the way we like to analyze problems, the categories that we define ? like cause and effect, space-time and matter, meaning and purpose ? are really human categories that cannot be separated from our evolutionary heritage. We have to face up to the fact that there may be fundamental limitations just from the way our brains have been put together. So we could have reached our own human limits. But that doesn?t mean there aren?t intelligent systems somewhere in the universe, maybe some time in the future that could ultimately come to understand. Ultimately, it may not be living intelligence or embodied intelligence but some sort of intelligent information-processing system that could become omniscient and fill the entire universe. That?s a grand vision that I rather like. Whether it?s true or not is another matter entirely.

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English Physicist, Author and Broadcaster, Professor at Arizona State University, Chair of SETI, Director of BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science