Cosmology day at Cambridge

Today was cosmology day at the Faraday conference (see above). Due to a mishap in scheduled speakers, course director Rodney Holder gave an impromptu talk on ‘God, the multiverse and everything’. Essentially, this was two talks: an introduction to Big Bang theory, inflation and the multiverse, followed by a discourse on the philosophical and theological implications of the multiverse model. It was a super overview and highlighted many of the limitations of the proposition of the multiverse.

That said, it must be remembered that the mutiverse model is at a very early stage of development (indeed, it seemed to me that a separate introductory talk on the status of inflation and the mutiverse might have been helpful for non-physicists in the audience). You can find Rodney’s excellent book on the subject here

Rodney’s talk was followed by a presentation by the renowned Irish philosopher Ernan McMullin on ‘Fine tuning and the ‘The anthropic principle’. This was an excellent talk which I won’t attempt to summarize (it will be soon be available on the Faraday website). It culminated in an outline of 4 main explanations for fine tuning


2. Almost all fine-tuning constants found to be related by future theories (bearing in mind that we know GR and qt are incomplete)

3. Anthropic argument

4. Arguments from natural theology

Ernan in full flight

Later in the day, we had a fascinating talk on ‘Habitable exoplanets and the implications for human significance’ by Jennifer Wiseman, director of the search for exo-planets at NASA. This was a super overview of the methods of the search for earth-like planets orbiting suns, either our own or in other solar systems and the recent successes. The talk finished with a brief overview of the philosophical implications of the discovery of life on other planets.

This was a fascinating talk, but I can’t help thinking that there is a fundamental paradox here: given the size of the universe, it may well be that there are lots of planets in the right zones, all teeming with life – but we will probably not find them, due to the same size of the universe! Jennifer answered this by pointing out that the rate of discovery is very exciting – just think of the excitement if we did find one in the right zone and it did have life!

As ever, the day finished with panel discussion, where the speakers answered a variety of questions based on all the talks.

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