My Take on Why We’re Here

Ultimately, we’re here because of symmetry breaking. In other words, if God exists, He started with some grand symmetrical Thing and blew it apart at the big bang. The big bang universe is the breaking of a super-symmetry into hydrogen atoms. The universe then expanded and cooled from there.

To absorb how strange this is, let’s think of those hydrogen atoms a bit. Imagine them as a block of ice frozen into a bucket (ice, after all, consists of hydrogen and oxygen atoms).

Now, place that ice bucket over a fire. As the ice moves from one phase state to another (from a molecularly symmetrical solid to liquid to gas expanding into the open air, away from the heat source), imagine that, like a magician’s hat producing rabbits, out of the steaming bucket we see stars, planets, bacteria, flowers, zebras, brains, and Shakespeare hop out!

What the hell?

But that’s not at all far from what really happened. Water, recall, is just hydrogen and oxygen, and so, if anything, the analogy fails only because to do such a thing with water is less absurd than doing it with just hydrogen alone.

Absorb that. Our hot big bang universe started with hydrogen and physical laws bearing very particular physical constants. That’s basically all that was “In the beginning.” As the universe expanded and cooled, gravity pulled hydrogen together to form the stars that produced yet heavier elements, including carbon, and this led to carbon-based life (which led to the ghostly and god-like minds of human beings). In the universe we inhabit—with the physical constants set where they are—we can thus say that humans are a phase state of what hydrogen passes through as the universe expands and cools.

It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?

But true.

Let’s put this another way. When we gaze into the night sky, we’re perceiving what a single lowly seed—the Big Bang seed—achieved by dispersing and congealing hydrogen atoms under the governance of very specific physical laws. If we could have had a looksie at that original seed from 13.7 billion years ago, we would never have predicted the extraordinary cosmic tree that would emerge from it, and the strange fruits that it bares (stars, planets, life, and minds).

You can’t help but wonder if a Mind is behind the trick, however weird that Mind is.

An apple tree, after all, carries a blueprint in its seed, and so we don’t call its “fruits” random. It doesn’t make its “fruits” (its branches, leaves, blossoms, and apples) by accident. A program is at work.

The same appears to hold for the universe. It seems no more accidental than an individual tree is accidental. Given the conditions that this universe started with, it looks to have been as certain to “apple” life and minds as an apple tree is certain to “apple” apples and apple blossoms.

In a strict sense, the atheist must surely agree.

But are the universe’s “apples” products of a thought-out program running—a First Mind initiating a very specific kind of creation? Or is our universe the product of a contingent history?

At the big bang, Who (or what) broke the symmetry?

A tree, after all, has a history of natural selection behind it that shaped its DNA blueprint. Might our big bang universe have a history of natural selection behind it as well? Perhaps its life and mind-making “blueprint” is the product of a multiverse history, and not truly the beginning of space and time. 

A lot of physicists think this might be so. It’s the most obvious way to eliminate the God hypothesis from what we observe. If they’re right, the symmetry breaking that made our universe is more akin to the symmetry-breaking of a snow pack during an avalanche. The breaking of a snow pack’s symmetry might be initiated by a careless skier, or the blind radiation of heat from an indifferent sun. No gods or minds need apply in explanation of an avalanche and its effects. Maybe that’s true of our 13.7 billion year big bang universe if it’s actually embedded in a multiverse that is trillions upon trillions of years old. Given enough time, an accident of history that brings life and minds into existence is bound to occur. The multiverse can explain everything.

But is the multiverse explanation itself any more plausible (and less fanciful) than the God hypothesis? Is our universe:

  • an avalanche impersonating a tree; or
  • a tree?

When you look into the night sky, are you looking at something that is, ultimately, a chaos that looks like a cosmos, or a cosmos?

I don’t know how to decide this question. Do you?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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