This week's Brainy Lecture considers the Finely Tuned Universe and notices that if one of 20 physical constants were slightly different that life, the universe and everything may not exist. Is this evidence for our extreme good luck, someone fiddling with the dials on our behalf, or that we live in a multiverse.
We continue our series of Sports that should Definitely be in the Olympics with the ancient and hazardous pursuit of cheese rolling. Talking of food, A Sauce a Sauce, my kingdom for a Sauce has a cherry brandy enriched Cranberry Sauce, whilst those preferring the World’s Worst Recipe then we will explain why people Are Losing Their Minds Over our Dirt Mushroom Pretzels. It's controversial.
In Literally the Last Section we re-visit One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and reevaluate just who in fact were the villains and who were the heroes.
Hello, and welcome to Frenzied and Sustained.
In this week’s podcast for a post stupid society our Brainy Lecture considers the Finely Tuned Universe and notices that if one of 20 physical constants were slightly different that life, the universe and everything may not exist. Is this evidence for our extreme good luck, someone fiddling with the dials on our behalf, or that we live in a multiverse.
We continue our series of Sports that should Definitely be in the Olympics with the ancient and hazardous pursuit of cheese rolling. In A Sauce a Sauce, my kingdom for a Sauce we just have time to squeeze in a Cranberry Sauce. For those preferring the World’s Worst Recipe then we will explain why people Are Losing Their Minds Over our Dirt Mushroom Pretzels. It's controversial.
In Literally the Last Section we re-visit One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and reevaluate just who in fact were the villains and who were the heroes.
And now it’s time for our Brainy Lecture
The Finely Tuned Universe
The standard model of particle physics and the theory of general relativity are spectacularly accurate. But there are constants in these equations that do not have an explanation. They have to be measured, and appear to be just properties of the universe.
We are talking about things like the mass of the quarks, electrons, muons, Higgs and the strength of the strong, weak and electrostatic forces and the Higgs field plus the relationship between the gravitational force and the other forces, and the rate of expansion of the universe. And let us not forget the speed of light, the Planck Constant. There may be around 20 key values.
And the universe appears to be exquisitely sensitive to the values of these constants. So were you to change
them slightly in either direction, positively or negatively, it could lead to a completely different universe with no life at all.
We seem to live in a fine-tuned universe - a goldilocks universe - and this seems to imply one of the following must be true: 1) we got lucky - the 20-odd dials just happened to land in the very narrow range of numbers that allow life to form. Or
2) someone fiddled with the dials - be it god or whoever built the simulation. Or
3) we didn’t get lucky and there was no fiddling - it’s just that there are enough universes that somewhere the dials
had to end up with the right settings for life, and naturally that’s where we find ourselves.
This last option introduces the strong anthropic principle,
The universe must be such as to admit the creation of observers within it at some stage.
And this was going to be the subject of this week’s Brainy Lecture. We would have looked at some of the parameters, tweaked them and considered the implication. We then would have considered whether this seemingly finely tuned universe is evidence for the multiverse where there are an almost infinite number of other universes that have different values of these parameters and perhaps those universes are better or some are just rubbish with a little energy wafting around a field but no atoms thus no stars or Apple Watches. I was anxious to discuss the theory that a big bang happens in every black hole and each resulting universe inherits some traits of the old universe but it allows some kind of evolution so universes that gave rise to lots of black holes would evolve faster and have a higher chance of developing intelligent life, or even non-intelligent life to work in Post Offices.
But, it turns out that the finely tuned universe is the new hill that religion has chosen to fight on. And research into the finely tuned universe more often than not will turn up websites and youtube videos purporting to be scientific research but are written by the theists to hijack the science and present it as evidence for a teleological universe, that is one designed to be this way. Now I have no problem with people believing whatever they want, for example Intelligent Design is certainly no more compelling than the theory that the perceived force of gravity being as a result of the Flying Spaghetti Monster pushing down on everything with His Noodly Appendage. These Pastafarians also were the first to observe the inverse relationship between the decline in the number of pirates in the 1800s and the increase in global warming. If, as adherents insist, this is a genuine religion (which several governments, including that of New Zealand, have recognised), there’s no reason we shouldn’t take them at their word. After all, it’s no more ridiculous to believe that there’s a beer volcano in heaven than it is to believe that 72 virgins await every martyr in Paradise. oh, 71 virgins So now I feel scrub that 70
What’s gong on? Has Mat Gaetz died????
So now I feel that we will have to explain why a seemingly finely tuned universe is not evidence for god.
Let me first start with the famous quote from Douglas Adams, author of the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy. He was talking about the risk of assuming just because life in this universe seems to suit us that it was built for us. He said,
“this is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking this is an interesting world. I find myself in an interesting hole that fits me rather neatly doesn't it. In fact it fits me staggeringly well it must have been made to have me in it.
This is such a powerful idea that as the Sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as gradually the puddle gets smaller and smaller it's still frantically hanging onto the notion that everything's going to be alright because this world was meant to have him in it was built to have him in it so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise”
Let’s address the claim that if you change the parameters of nature our local conditions that we observe around us would change by a lot. This certainly may be true but does not prove that Intelligent life could not develop. In fact, where do the theists set out the physical characteristics of a universe that can support life, and what will that life look like, and what chemistry exists in that universe. Sure the intelligent life may not look exactly like Adam and Even, but even in that story what happened to the talking snake? Were Adam and Eve Parselmouths or did the snake speak in English. According to Harry Potter all Parselmouths descended from Salazar Slytherin. But that makes no sense as Adam and Eve were the first people. The problem with this claim is that it presumes a narrow definition of life based on the anthropic view that life has to be the of the kind that we see on earth, in a universe that has the properties of our universe. Even if it were true that a universe with different constants could not support life as we know it, it does not follow that the laws we have are the only ones conducive to life.
Now, to be fair, Fred Hoyle pointed out in the 1980s that a slight tweak to the carbon nucleus would have left us with very small amounts of carbon. The way the universe’s constants landed made carbon settle down into a stable form. So I am not saying that carbon based life is the only life possible, just that the carbon we know is really useful starting point if you want life. If the strength of the strong nuclear force was not exactly as it is then the stars may have produced far less oxygen.
If the strong force were a bit stronger, protons would be able to bind to each other to form a diproton - a neutron-free version of helium which is unstable in our universe. But if it were stable, this stuff would burn like billyho meaning all stars
in the universe would have burned quickly then died out before life ever got a chance.
On the other hand, if the strong force were a bit weaker then deuterium - heavy hydrogen
- becomes unstable, eliminating one of the key steps in the fusion process inside stars - so stars like our sun wouldn’t burn at all.
But these parameters cannot be taken in isolation. A weaker force gravity may slow down the diproton guzzling stars and allow the planets to warm up and life to start. But the fine tuning is still present, now in the combination of the variables.
The stability of atoms and the rate of fusion in stars and in the early universe depends on the balance between electromagnetism and the strong force. Muck around with these too much and the universe remains a mist of subatomic particles.
Even the weak nuclear force is important; it regulates the conversion of protons into neutrons, and it seems to have about the right strength to ensure that there are about the same number of protons as neutrons in the early universe.
Without neutrons, no elements heavier than hydrogen would be possible.
Also, the range of these numbers is vast and seemingly they could have taken on any value. The strong force is some 10 to the power 40 bigger than gravity.
The masses of the elementary particles also seem to be tuned for life. Thus if quarks or electrons had significantly different masses we’d once again be in a chemistry-free cosmos. But again I say that not really considering if there could be a combination of the 20 or so dials that could be adjusted to give us back our chemistry.
Now do you remember when we discussed the most wrong answer to any question in the history of the universe, where we calculated the vacuum energy and came up with a value that was 10 to the 120 times too big. On the one hand that seems like evidence against fine tuning as a universe with that value should have only survived a few nanoseconds. But given that our universe is still around, at least at the time of recording, then there must be some other factor that is cancelling this out. In fact, it is more weird than that, it is almost completely but not quite cancelling it out. That does seem to be some weapons grade fine tuning right there.
We don’t know why the dials of our universe are set the way they are. But we do know some of them.
There's a famous example that theists like to give that the expansion rate of the early universe is tuned to within
one part in 10 to the 60th. But if you bother to go into the equations of general relativity there is a correct rigorous
derivation of the probability and were you to use the correct equations you find that a probability is one.
Now I don’t know if all the other parameters will ultimately succumb to the march of knowledge, but we cannot concede that either we got staggeringly lucky or the guy behind the curtain did a great job setting his dials.
So if we do want to go with option three, the multiverse, how do we get enough universes to ensure that we get some working ones. In fact there are a number of theories.
Andre Linde’s eternal inflation is perhaps the most popular - bubble universes forming in a foam in a larger exponentially expanding spacetime, and in each bubble the constants of nature - and especially the vacuum energy - taking on different values.
Or Lee Smolin’s idea that universes are born when black holes form, with each new universe having slightly different fundamental constants to its parents.
These are just two of several multiverse ideas suggested by modern cosmological models, including ideas that emerge from string theory, as well as the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics that we met in Episode 2 as a solution to the strange fruit that is quantum entanglement.
No known principle rules out the existence of multiple universes.
Science may someday have a theory from which the values of the existing physical constants can be derived or explained. What looks like fine tuning may really be due to our ignorance of the underlying mathematics that would explain these constants. Nature may ultimately reduce to a single principle from which all these constants could arise. But we are not there yet.
You could argue that if God is not in the constants, then she must be in the laws that underlie the constants – the laws of quantum mechanics and general relativity. After all, if the universe follows fundamental laws, there must be a law giver.
But the problem with this argument is that you are replacing something like the laws of physics that may be eternal, with something else that is eternal but more complicated.
God is more complicated because she is infinitely complex, and does not have to obey the laws of physics.
Does it make more sense to say the universe came into being because of a set of preexisting laws, or the universe came into being because a preexisting entity created eternal laws which allowed the universe to come into existence.
According to professor David Johnson of Kings College. It will be trying to explain the currently unexplained, with something that is inexplicable.
Of course the theological argument against god is that god doesn't need to fine-tune anything. Are we really saying that god can be bothered to faff around with a cosmic screwdriver futzing, fiddling and adjusting twenty odd parameters to find a version that is good and she saw that it was good. You can imagine the scene, god finally gets a configuration that seems to work and her prokaryotic universe is up and running generating bacteria and blue-green algae just as she wanted. Then suddenly this ridiculous life form wrapped its genetic material in a nuclear envelope, dragged itself out of the swamp, built nuclear weapons and blew everything up. I don’t mean to be racist but it does seem to always be the eukaryotes that ruin everything. No doubt Paul McCartney will write a song about prokaryotes and eukaryotes living together in perfect harmony.
If there is going to be a god with superpowers then let’s at least go all the way and have one that can make life out of electrons of any mass, a vacuum energy of any value. Surely if she felt like it god could wrangle bare quarks and mould them into life. And, no doubt, at some point in that reality we would have people pointing out the sheer magnitude of the the luck that the universe looked just like it did as surely there could be no other way.
So if you have got this far and still believe the universe to be finely tuned and naturalism cannot solve it then
theism certainly does not solve it.
You can work this out for yourself by imagining the universe that god would build to support humans, unless you are cheating and looking out the window at our universe then surely ours is not the one you would choose. Why would she bother with the vastness of the universe when even the Milky Way is way too extravagant for us. We will never go into all the rooms. And wasps? seriously?
Let me throw in a few more arguments against theism and for naturalism. Why is the evidence for god so thin on the ground. No one really denies gravity and surely god is much more fundamental then why does she only reveal herself to specific tribes cunningly way before we all had phones to film her burning bush exploits. Under naturalism you'd expect different religious beliefs inconsistent with each other to grow up. Currently we have around 3000 different religions so I guess a small amount of comfort can be gathered from the fact that the most ardent theist is within 0.033% agreement with the most ardent naturalist’s assessment of the numbers of religions that are the true representation of reality.
If the religious doctrines were divine writings to help humanity then why were they of no help pointing us to a vaccine for the SARS-Cov 2 virus, or against the Giant Asian Murder hornets. Sure, they told us to wash our hands before eating. But how did god prioritise telling us not to wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (Leviticus 19:19) when she should have been finishing off giving aids to babies in Africa. And why did we need 100 000 different species of wasps, or any for that matter.
It just feels that the theistic view is dangerously close to Douglas Adams’s puddle, the universe fits us so well it must have been created for us.
Einstein noted in 1936 that “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility … The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle.”
We have been going on way too long and I have not yet even got into some of the multiverse models. Let’s save that for next week. As it is I am going to have to choose a really quick sauce and if you are waiting for some anagram poetry, or rather My Tarragon Pea then you just may be Coitus Folk Hut.
Sports that Definitely should be in the olympics.
Cheese Rolling is has a world wide reputation for being one of the world’s weirdest sports, or as they call it in Gloucestershire a sport.
Each May, thousands will gather around Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire in the south west of England to watch around 40 people who really ought to know better throw caution to the wind and themselves down Cooper’s Hill.
The attraction are the hardy, some might say foolhardy, souls who chase a large wheel of Double Gloucester Cheese down a hill that is rough and is steeper than 1 in 2.
The event harks back to English tomfoolery of a bygone age. Entrance form - none, risk assessment - none, entrance fee - none, qualifying round, medical assessment, protective clothing, none, none, none. In fact the only obvious safety measure is the local rugby club who wait for the contestants at the bottom to tackle them to a standstill lest they end up overtaking a National Express Coach on the A46. (That of course is a joke. Nothing has ever overtaken a National Express Coach).
Upwards of 40 contests annually attempt to chase a rolling cheese wheel down the hill for what may be the strangest competition in the history of mankind. However, the rich tradition dates back several hundred years validating the race as a world-famous event. The legacy lives on without a conclusive origin nor a justifiable excuse, yet many attest that it spawned during the early 1800s to celebrate the turn of winter and a fresh batch of crops.
At the very top of Cooper’s Hill, the master of Ceremonies will release a nine-pound wheel of Double Gloucester cheese which can take on speeds of over 70 miles an hour. The first runner to get to the bottom of the hill wins the contest and a whole lot of cheese, literally. Why, out of every sport in the world, does this venture need the allure of fermented milk products to participate. You don’t see pole vaulters demanding acupuncture sets the other side of the bar, or cyclists chasing after a taxi who just cut them up or Morris dancers who are promised friends if they compete. Are they no further evolved than the greyhounds at the track. In fact why not replace the cheese with a greyhound and merge the two activities.
The momentum of the Double Gloucester is over 130 kg m/s, many spectator injuries are of the cheese versus human variety. That is the equivalent of being hit on the nose by a black faced sheep travelling at 20 mph. That is the equivalent of being hit in the face by a pigeon travelling at 968mph, that is a pigeon flying 1.3 times faster than the speed of sound. Happily you will not be hit in the face by an F35 jet doing mach 1.3 because it turns out that causes structural damage to the horizontal tail. Notwithstanding that huge limitation the F35 is not really that manoeuvrable and in trials lost out in dogfights to the F16 it is replacing. Many pilots believe that a well flown MiG-21 designed in the 1950s will defeat it. Another sad example of a plane designed by a committee to be used in multiple roles by multiple countries that ends up as a staggeringly highly priced mistake. In fact each Concorde cost $33.6m and it cruised at Mach 2.02 and could carry upto 128 passengers. Unlike the $122 million F35B, Concorde served 1996 Château Margaux and even at 60 000ft the sweetness of the black forest fruit was intense and accessible. Could you please make a sign if you ever suspect that I am getting off topic. Raise your hand or something.
Cheese rolling is unique amongst elite sports in that the spectators seem to incur approximately the same numbers of injuries as the competitors. Given that the safest place to be is behind the cheese with the momentum of a supersonic pigeon, you may as well hurl yourself down the hill and perhaps you will take home the Double Gloucester.
A Sauce A Sauce My kingdom for a Sauce
Here s a delightful little sauce that is so easy am I frankly baffled why anyone would ever buy it. Cranberry Sauce.
Pop everything in a pan and boil it until all the cranberries are splitting. I crush some and leave others whole. You can vary this with half a teaspoon of cinnamon, port instead of cherry brandy and orange juice instead if lemon. Try it this way first and please use it all year round.
For those wanting something more edgy then perhaps you should look into our section called
World’s Worst Recipes.
This week we are making Dirt Mushroom Pretzels.
The chelated turnips that you threw out last week
17g macerated egg whites
50g badly tempered girole mushrooms (ask Jacques)
100ml whipped potting compost, John Innes number 3
200g caramelised bread flour
100ml pond water
Please, put those turnips in the bin, what are you thinking
gargle the pond water with the egg whites
mix the giroles, flour and potting compost then add to the pond water suspension
carbonate lightly for 2 hours
drop kick into a hot oven and leave until septuagesima
No wonder everyone in Helsinki is talking about it.
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And we just have time for one local news story, this is from 7 News in Sydney. “Deep shock and grief over death of Chimpanzee Mogli”. Sydney Zoo primate curator Lou Grossfeldt remembered the animal as “adventurous” and “cheeky”.
“Today we lost a family member. Mogli had a personality that was larger than life,” Grossfeldt said.
“He will be remembered for his adventurous spirit, piercing amber eyes and cheeky smile.
“This has been a very sad day for everyone”.
The zoo is encouraging people to leave condolences to Mogli on their Facebook page.
7 News continued, In other news, an old man died in Windsor Castle, England
And now it is
Literally the Last Section
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Jack Nicholson as Randle Patrick McMurphy
And now it is time for a confession. I have been had, conned, had the wool puled over my eyes by none other than Jack Nicholson.
I first watched One flew over the cuckoo’s nest in the 80s and enjoyed it as it was billed, a comedy as Jack Nicholson played Randle McMurphy, the quick-witted, hell-raising, free spirited, people’s championing, adjective compounding spokesman and justice crusader. He was pitched against the tyrannical Nurse Ratched who rules her ward in an Oregon State mental hospital with a strict and unbending routine, unopposed by her patients, who remain cowed by mind-numbing medication and the threat of electroshock therapy.
Ratched’s regime is disrupted by the arrival of McMurphy - the swaggering, fun-loving trickster with a devilish grin who resolves to oppose her rules on behalf of his fellow inmates. His struggle is seen through the eyes of Chief Bromden, a seemingly mute half-Indian patient who understands McMurphy's heroic attempt to do battle with the powers that keep them imprisoned.
Mac McMurphy, the subversive wildman and incorrigible troublemaker, sent down for statutory rape, whose unstable behaviour act gets him a transfer to what he clearly thinks will be the cushy option of the mental institution.
All too late, Mac discovers that the set term of his prison sentence has been changed to an open-ended incarceration, dependent on psychiatric assessment. So Mac leads a revolt against the spirit-crushing regime of pills and electroconvulsive treatment and against the icy control of Nurse Ratched. He is the sacrificial holy fool who at one stage leads a breakout, commandeering a bus, in his efforts to save the souls of the other inmates.
I am no longer able to paint Ratched as a simple villain, despite her vindictive humiliation of poor, shy Billy, and more like a professional who refuses to be bullied by a bunch of men. The often forgotten case-study scene shows her to be thoughtful and caring, plus she had a sense of fairness by saying that Mac could watch the World Series if he could get a majority vote.
But I have totally changed my view of MacMurphy. I cannot see him any more as a playfull disrupter of the ward's routines.
Reading through Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, DSM-5 I considered the following differential Diagnosis
When viewed from a clinical point of view, Nicholson's representation of McMurphy's behaviour achieved exactly what antisocial patients seek: He charmed the audience into believing he was the good guy; he wasn't at fault; and that he had been treated unfairly. Therein lies the true accomplishment of Nicholson's work
McMurphy rebels for the sake of rebellion, not for the sake of any principle. Although he is painted as a symbol of self‐determination in the film, he is actually stumbling irresponsibly through life, reacting dysfunctionally to each challenge, and blaming others every step of the way. He has committed many crimes, including several assaults, theft, and now rape of a 15 year old. He lies and manipulates others to get his way. Over a blackjack game, McMurphy characterises himself to the men as a grifter who excels at assessing other people’s weaknesses to get what he wants from them. He does this whilst cheating the men out of money.
McMurphy is described as belligerent, lazy, and resentful toward work; he is vulgar and sexually preoccupied, and he enjoys making people uncomfortable. Although he attempts to charm the psychiatrist with feigned interest to “cooperate 100%,” McMurphy has no intention of receiving treatment or making any personal changes. He fails to foresee the consequences of his attempted ruse and becomes enraged when he learns that the staff have the power to treat him as an inpatient—indefinitely. Authority figures are to be manipulated. He shows little concern for the safety of his ward mates on their fishing trip, recklessly placing vulnerable patients in harm's way to satisfy his own agenda. All of these traits satisfy the DSM–V criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder.
When he demands a vote for World Series television‐viewing privileges, he manipulates not convinces several confused patients on the ward and aggressively orders them to raise their hands in support of his request. McMurphy's motivation is not to encourage them to interact or to support a democratic ward process, or even to ensure an enjoyable group event—it is his own desire not to miss the game. This scene is intended to demonstrate McMurphy's power to liberate the patients from the system, but it also shows how one patient with poor impulse control, no concern for rules or consequences, and no remorse can disrupt the therapeutic environment. Of all the patients Nicholson’s arc was the smallest, he never learned anything from the patients, wardens, nurse Ratched or therapy. Well, other than the effects of his lobotomy and death by pillow treatment. He never took notice of the consequences on the other patients
When he realises that Nurse Ratched can keep him on the ward indefinitely Mac says “You got to swallow your pride sometimes and keep an eye out for old Number One.” At this point, McMurphy values self-preservation more than he values victory, and he sees his battle with Nurse Ratched as a game he wants to win by getting his personal freedom. But he cannot help wage his petty, pointless and futile war on Ratched, even though it would cost him his liberty. He had his new fandom and he was playing to the rafters. It became a twisted co-dependancy where he was coming to need the patients more than they needed him.
There is little to suggest that McMurphy would behave any differently in a psychiatric unit today.
So I first watched this film and was deeply saddened about how the System won, how McMurphy was lobotomised then killed, how the plucky, cheeky intelligent hero had been broken and left like a trophy for Ratched on the ward (well, at least after the lobotomy and before smothering). But I was taken in by this s physically violent sex pest felon who doesn't like rules, doesn't care about consequences, and rationalises his crimes without remorse.
Ultimately Jack Nicholson played a perfect rendition of a patient with antisocial Personality Disorder, so much so that I missed his diagnosis for 25 years.
Still not impressed, take another actor with antisocial Personality Disorder, Scar from the Lion King. He grew up in the shadow of his older brother, Mufasa. He always felt massively inferior to Mufasa, and that fuelled his thirst for superiority. This led to the brutal killing of Mufasa. Scar shows no remorse for what he does. In addition, he manipulates and abuses the hyenas to get what he needs. His cold behaviour is exhibited not only to the hyenas, but to every animal he encounters. I did not once side with Scar, but I guess that is why Nicholson won the Oscar and Scar did not.
And that is the end of Literally the Last Section. It is also the end of this week’s podcast. In next week’s Frenzied and Sustained our Brainy lecture continues to consider the multiverse, for our next sport that definitely should be in the olympics we head back to Finland (and socially back 200 years) for the extremely extreme sport of Wife Carrying. Literally the Last Section scrubs its fingers and dons latex gloves as it explores Shakespeare’s exceptionally deep knowledge of medicine including the observation that disease can be transmitted by asymptomatic patients, some 400 years before many politicians.