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

Life is a phenomenon associated with a whole society of specialized molecules, millions of them, cooperation in surprising and novel ways. No single molecule carries the spark of life, no chain of atoms alone constitutes an organism. Even DNA, the biological super-molecule, is not alive. Pluck the DNA form a living cell and it would be stranded, unable to carry out its familiar role. Only within the context of a highly specific molecular milieu will a given molecule play its role in life. To function properly, DNA must be part of a large team, with each molecule executing its assigned task alongside the others in a cooperative manner.

Acknowledging the interdependability of the component molecules within a living organism immediately presents with a stark philosophical puzzle. If everything needs everything else, how did the community of molecules ever arise in the first place?

Cosmologists have attempted to account for the day-to-day laws you find in textbooks in terms of fundamental 'superlaws,' but the superlaws themselves must still be accepted as brute facts. So maybe the ultimate laws of nature will always be off-limits to science.

If we do discover more than one type of life on Earth, we can be fairly certain that the universe is teeming with it, for it would be inconceivable that life started twice here but never on all the other earth-like planets.

Man-made computers are limited in their performance by finite processing speed and memory. So, too, the cosmic computer is limited in power by its age and the finite speed of light.

Albert Einstein showed us that time and space are part of the physical world, just as much as matter and energy. Indeed, time can be manipulated in the laboratory. Dramatic time warps occur, for example, when subatomic particles are accelerated to near the speed of light. Black holes stretch time by an infinite amount. It is therefore wrong to think of time as simply "there," as a universal, eternal backdrop to existence. So a complete theory of the universe needs to explain not only how matter and energy came to exist, it must also explain the origin of time.

David Park is a physicist and philosopher at Williams College in Massachusetts with a lifelong interest in a time which he too thinks doesn't pass. For Park, the passage of time is not so much an illusion as a myth, because it involves no deception of the senses.... One cannot perform any experiment to tell unambiguously whether time passes or not. This is certainly a telling argument. After all, what reality can be attached to a phenomenon that can never be demonstrated experimentally? In fact, it is not even clear how to think about demonstrating the flow of time experimentally. As the apparatus, laboratory, experimenter, technicians, humanity generally and the universe as a whole are apparently caught up in the same inescapable flow, how can any bit of the universe be stopped in time in order to register the flow going on in the rest of it? It is analogous to claiming that the whole universe is moving through space at the same speed?or, to make the analogy closer, that space is moving through space. How can such a claim ever be tested?

Imagine a civilization that's way in advance of us wants to communicate with us, and assist us in our development. The information we provide to them must reflect our highest aspirations and ideals, and not just be some crazy person's bizarre politics or religion.

Many people envisage God as a sort of cosmic magician who existed for all eternity and then, at some moment in the past, created the universe in a gigantic supernatural act. Unfortunately, this scenario raises some awkward questions. What was God doing before he created the universe? If God is a perfect, unchanging being, what prompted him to act then rather than sooner? The fifth-century theologian St. Augustine neatly solved the problem by proclaiming that the world was made with time and not in time. In other words, time itself is part of God's creation.

All my career, I?ve been fascinated by the fact that the universe looks not just beautiful but in some sense deeply ingenious. It looks like it?s been put together in a way that makes it work exceptionally well. I suppose the most striking example is that the laws of physics and the various parameters that go into those laws seem to be just right for life. If they were even slightly different, it?s quite likely there would be no life, no observers, and no people like you and me having this conversation.

Everyone plays a little tighter, and I'm just trying to create something. If you can get a turnover and convert it, it's a big lift for the team.

Important though this demonstration was Pasteur's conclusion came into direct conflict with Darwin's theory of evolution. Darwin's celebrated tome On the Origin of Species, which had been published just three years before Pasteur's experiments, sought to discredit the need for God to create the species by showing how one species can transmute into another. But Darwin's account left open the problem of how the first living thing came to exist. Unless life had always existed, at least one species -- the first -- cannot have come to exist by transmutation from another species, only by transmutation from nonliving matter. Darwin himself wrote, some years later: "I have met with no evidence that seems in the least trustworthy, in favor of so-called Spontaneous Generation." Yet, in the absence of a miracle, life could have originated only by some sort of spontaneous generation. Darwin's theory of evolution and Pasteur's theory that only life begets life cannot both have been completely right.

Moreover, if I am right that the universe is fundamentally creative in a pervasive and continuing manner, and that the laws of nature encourage matter and energy to self-organize and self-complexify to the point that life and consciousness emerge naturally, then there will be a universal trend or directionality towards the emergence of great complexity and diversity. We might then expect life and consciousness to exist throughout the universe. That is why I attach such importance to the search for extraterrestrial organisms, be they bacteria on Mars or advanced technological communities on the other side of the galaxy. The search may prove hopeless-the distances and numbers are certainly daunting-but it is a glorious quest. If we are alone in the universe, if the Earth is the only life-bearing planet among countless trillions, then the choice is stark. Either we are the product of a unique supernatural event in a universe of profligate over-provision, or else an accident of mind-numbing improbability and irrelevance. On the other hand, if life and mind are universal phenomena, if they are written into nature at its deepest level, then the case for an ultimate purpose to existence would be compelling.

There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all....It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature's numbers to make the Universe....The impression of design is overwhelming.

We’re talking about why the universe looks like it’s been fixed up for habitation. For most people, the first interpretation is, “Well, God did it.” What I’m saying is that that gets us nowhere at all. It just shoves the problem off to some other realm. But saying “God did it” is no worse than saying “the laws of physics did it.” They both basically appeal to something outside the universe.

The problem with saying God did it is that God himself or herself is unexplained, so you’re appealing to an unexplained designer. It doesn’t actually explain anything; it just shoves the problem off.

The mechanism of the coming-into-being of the universe, as discussed in modern science, is actually much more profound than the biblical version because it does not merely involve order emerging out of chaos. It’s not just a matter of imposing some sort of organisation or structure upon a previous incoherent state, but literally the coming-into-being of all physical things from nothing.

When I was a child, I often used to lie awake at night, in fearful anticipation of some unpleasant event the following day, such as a visit to the dentist, and wish I could press some sort of button that would have the effect of instantly transporting me twenty-four hours into the future. The following night, I would wonder whether that magic button was in fact real, and that the trick had indeed worked. After all, it was twenty-four hours later, and though I could remember the visit to the dentist, it was, at that time, only a memory of an experience, not an experience.

To see the problem, imagine playing God with the cosmos. Before you is a designer machine that lets you tinker with the basics of physics. Twiddle this knob and you make all electrons a bit lighter, twiddle that one and you make gravity a bit stronger, and so on. It happens that you need to set thirtysomething knobs to fully describe the world about us. The crucial point is that some of those metaphorical knobs must be tuned very precisely, or the universe would be sterile.

There is no misunderstanding about the scholar-offenses under the larger of the growing belief that they are individuals who are cold, hard, and without life.

The universe contains vastly more order than Earth-life could ever demand. All those distant galaxies, irrelevant for our existence, seem as equally well-ordered as our own.

The sun always shines above the clouds.

Scientists will accept the existence of timeless eternal laws just like (theists) accept the existence of a timeless eternal God. And that these laws exist necessarily and that they are not chosen by anybody or any agency but are simply there, that they are universal and there is a linear time, it's all just taken straight from theology.

Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth - the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient coincidences and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal. Fred Hoyle, the distinguished cosmologist, once said it was as if a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics.

Science and the Ultimate Reality: Quantum Theory, Cosmology, and Complexity.

On What the Bleep: I think there's an awful lot of what we might call flaky pop science, where people look at modern physics, because it's a sort of wonderland of abstract ideas and they look at quantum mechanics and black holes and at a very superficial level think that it opens the way to spiritual enlightenment without fully understanding what these subjects are about.

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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