The unfittedness of the universe for life; languages that do or don’t have a word for the color blue; telescopes as time machines; how scientists solved the ozone layer; critical thinking.
Lawrence M. Krauss, The Globe and Mail, 2 Oct 21: The not-so-strange ‘unfittedness’ of the universe for life.
Before reading: I suspect his point is that, overall, extremely little of the universe is suited for life. That includes most of the surface of the planet Earth, first because 2/3 of it is water, second because much of the land — mountains, deserts, swamps — isn’t habitable either.
Furthermore, the Earth is a tiny, tiny fragment in immensity of empty space…which is not habitable. We know of no other habitable planets. Most of the matter in the universe consists of stars. Which are not habitable.
As I wrote once before, if God intended the universe to be a place for his creations to live, why *isn’t* the universe simply a circular plot of land with oceans above and below, as described in Genesis?
The idea that the universe as it exists somehow confirms God’s plan for humanity is cherry-picking, or motivated reasoning — paying attention only to the tiny bit of evidence that supports the thesis, and ignoring everything else. (And failing to have any imagination for how the universe, for an omnipotent god, might have been different than it apparently is.)
Let’s see what Krauss says.
Yes, that’s basically it, with detail about sizes of galaxies, that of the universe, the issue of dark energy, and so on.
In the face of all of this evidence against fitness, why do so many people like Mr. Douthat, Mr. Meyer and others who lean toward the notion of a divine designer continue to think the opposite is true? It is probably easiest to answer this statement by returning to a mindset before the results of Charles Darwin’s successful realization that natural selection is the mechanism that governs to evolution of the diversity of life on Earth.
Before Darwin, the remarkable compatibility between diverse living things and their local environments seemed certain evidence for divine creation. After Darwin, it was realized that focusing on the apparent strange fitness of the Earth for life was putting the cart before the horse. Instead, natural selection produces forms of life that are fine tuned to fit their environment, and not the other way around.
So too, as we examine our universe, focusing on the qualities of our universe that appear to make it fit for life is misplaced. Life on Earth is fine-tuned to fit the characteristics of our region of the universe. One should expect no less. It would be remarkable to find life evolving qualities incompatible with its environment.
[W]e [can] rejoice that life found an accidental hospitable niche here on Earth. Or one can choose to believe that God created such a niche. But either way, it is simply false to claim the universe in which that niche exists is kind or welcoming, and as a result, designed.
Science, 30 Sep 21: Sunlight affects whether languages have a word for ‘blue’, subtitled, “Culture and topography also play important roles.”
On not quite the same topic, I’ve read in more than one place that some “primitive” (using the word advisedly) societies have relatively few different color for words. Here’s a reference; here’s another. From the second:
The most widely accepted explanation for the differences goes back to two linguists, Brent Berlin and Paul Kay. In their early work in the 1960s, they gathered color-naming data from 20 languages. They observed some commonalities among sets of color terms across languages: If a language had only two terms, they were always black and white; if there was a third, it was red; the fourth and fifth were always green and yellow (in either order); the sixth was blue; the seventh was brown; and so on.
So the current article would seem to address a subset of this larger issue: why *do* different languages have different numbers of color words? Bottom line:
Light exposure played a big role in whether languages separate blue from green, the researchers conclude this week in Scientific Reports. In brighter places (either those that were closer to the equator or had less annual cloud cover) such as Central America and East Africa, languages were significantly less likely to separate “green” from “blue.” That suggests a lifetime of exposure to bright light pushes whole communities away from baking a blue-green distinction into their language.
But the team also found support for the other two theories: Living near a lake increased the chance of having a separate word for “blue.” So did living in a larger society. That means visual perception, culture, and environment all play a role in shaping how a language carves up the color spectrum, Dediu says.
This is a relatively incidental example of a theme explored by science fiction: the way creatures from different environments may perceive reality quite differently. Which in turn undermines the notion that any of us perceives “actual” reality without bias. We are all subject to the biases of our environments and perceptions.
Vox, Brian Resnick, 29 Sep 21: How telescopes make the universe self-aware, subtitled, “Telescopes are time machines. Someday, they could take us to a time before starlight.”
Vox, Kelsey Piper, 3 Oct 21: When the world actually solved an environmental crisis, subtitled, “If you haven’t heard about the ozone hole in years, that’s because scientists did a pretty good job saving us from ourselves.”
Salon, Christina Wyman, 3 Oct 21: Teaching students to think has become a risky proposition, subtitled, “A climate of disinformation in students’ home lives is making it harder to teach critical thinking.”