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

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.

It's something of a triumph for Guth and the people who developed the inflation scenario that 25 years later we get this level of detail and confirmation of inflation.

Changing some of those laws by even a tiny amount would wreck the chances for life. Others seem to have a bit more flexibility. Overall, the total number of these coincidences, or special factors, is probably somewhere between a half a dozen and a dozen. I think most scientists would now agree that you couldn?t change things very much and still have life.

If I ever solve this problem, I'd like to emblazon my coffin with this number.

Just because the sun has risen every day of your life, there is no guarantee that it will rise tomorrow. The belief that it will - that there are indeed dependable regularities of nature - is an act of faith, but one which is indispensable to the progress of science.

A lot of people are hostile to science because it demystifies nature. They prefer the mystery. They would rather live in ignorance of the way the world works and our place within it. For me, the beauty of science is precisely the demystification, because it reveals just how truly wonderful the physical universe really is. It is impossible to be a scientist working at the frontier without being awed by the elegance, ingenuity, and harmony of the law-like order in nature. In my attempts to popularize science, I am driven by the desire to share my own sense of excitement and awe with the wider community; I want to tell people the good news. The fact that we are able to do science, that we can comprehend the hidden laws of nature, I regard as a gift of immense significance. Science, properly conducted, is a wonderfully enriching and humanizing enterprise. I cannot believe that using this gift called science-using it wisely, of course-is wrong. It is good that we should know.

Clearly, some creative thinking is badly needed if humans are to have a future beyond Earth. Returning to the Moon may be worthy and attainable, but it fails to capture the public's imagination. What does get people excited is the prospect of a mission to Mars.

If nature is so 'clever' as to exploit mechanisms that amaze us with their ingenuity, is that not persuasive evidence for the existence of intelligent design behind the universe? If the world's finest minds can unravel only with difficulty the deeper workings of nature, how could it be supposed that those workings are merely a mindless accident, a product of blind chance?

Laredo is a very good team, and we are going to have to work very hard to have a chance to win. But we've been playing well, and we are in the second round.

A permanent base on Mars would have a number of advantages beyond being a bonanza for planetary science and geology. If, as some evidence suggests, exotic micro-organisms have arisen independently of terrestrial life, studying them could revolutionize biology, medicine and biotechnology.

Consider the most general multiverse theories? where even laws are abandoned and anything at all can happen. At least some of these universes will feature miraculous events - water turning into wine, etc. They will also contain thoroughly convincing religious experiences, such as direct revelation of a transcendent God. It follows that a general multiverse set must contain a subset that conforms to traditional religious notions of God and design.

If there is a meaning or purpose to existence, as I believe there is, we are wrong to dwell too much on the originating event. The big bang is sometimes referred to as ?the creation,? but in truth nature has never ceased to be creative. This ongoing creativity, which manifests itself in the spontaneous emergence of novelty and complexity, and organization of physical systems, is permitted through, or guided by, the underlying mathematical laws that scientists are so busy discovering.

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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