Letters + Opinion » Mailbox

A Burning Question



I am always glad to read Barry Evans' columns — as much for his writing skill as for his insight and subject matter. I was amused by a moment in his last offering ("Physics' Beautiful Crisis," Dec. 6). It concerned one of science's "biggest questions:" How can we explain 'fine tuning,' whereby if the values of fundamental constants were just slightly different we wouldn't be here.

It seems to me that's the type of "what if?" better left to science fiction. The simple fact is that we, indeed, are here. And we are the ones who developed these fundamental constants to explain this very real universe to ourselves. Once the little blip we think of as human intelligence extinguishes itself from the arc of eternity — along with our particular constants and words and numbers and names — the universe will continue on according to its inherent laws and rhythms. 

Da Vinci could have given Mona Lisa a frown and Beethoven could have written Eroica a half step down to D. Those would have been bad choices. But fundamental constants aren't choices — they are simply the results of earnest scientific inquiry. They are based on the observable data of what is and what has been. 

Last week I went out the front door on Tuesday morning at 10:17 — that's a piece of observable data. I could spend time wondering how my life would have changed had I gone out the back door instead or left the house at 10:30 — but my musings would be neither observable nor useful data. The fact is that I went out the front door Tuesday morning at 10:17 — and any scientific inquiry, or fundamental constant concerning my personal motion, starts and ends there.

I tend to simplify things. Nonetheless, why does one of science's "biggest questions" appear to be a "what if?" matter — one that seems irrelevant given the fact that we humans do exist? Barry Evans, help me out here.

Alan Sanborn, Arcata

Add a comment