The Anthropic Principle

Paradigm Shift

Anthropic Principle -- Planetary PhilosophyIn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn argued that normal science moves in a relatively smooth fashion, integrating new knowledge into preexisting theories, which exist within particular world views.  However, periodically there are scientific revolutions when the whole world view or, as he puts it, the paradigm changes.  Moving from a geocentric to a heliocentric solar system and from Newtonian to relativistic physics are two such examples of changing a paradigm.

From the perspective of Planetary Philosophy, we are in the middle of another, perhaps even more basic paradigm shift, from a mechanistic/probabilistic universe where human consciousness is a sort of accidental epiphenomenon that requires special explanation to a conscious universe in which human consciousness exists along a narrow band of a much broader spectrum of universal consciousness.

The Anthropic Principle

In Western thought, this paradigm shift has been formulated as the Anthropic Principle.   The standard form of the Anthropic Principle holds that observations of the physical universe must be compatible with the conscious life that observes it.  The strong form of the Anthropic Principle asserts that the universe must be compatible with conscious life, which means that it is most likely that the universe is a living place that contains a spectrum of consciousness.

There are two main schools of thought and lines of reasoning that derive from the Anthropic Principle.

The Accidental Universe:  One school is represented among others by Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist and cosmologist.  He suggests that the fact that human life on Earth exists – and can only exist – within a very narrow and improbable set of physical and biological tolerances is an accident.  In an infinite universe even the most improbable occurrences will happen somewhere.  By the Anthropic Principle, the universe we are observing has to be such that we can observe it i.e., we just happen to be here in this highly improbable reality and we shouldn’t draw any special conclusions from that fact.

The Universe by Design:  The other school, represented by the ‘intelligent design’ folks, asserts that the existence of our conscious life on Earth, within the very narrow and improbable tolerances required for it, implies that an intelligence created the universe (for us perhaps) and has some purpose in mind for it.

The Conscious Universe:  However, both schools seem to miss an important implication of the Anthropic Principle.  We each experience the universe through our consciousness.  That means that the universe is experiencing itself through an aspect of itself (each of us) that is conscious.  What we know most intimately is that aspects of the universe (each of us) are conscious and those aspects of the universe experience other aspects of the universe consciously.  Therefore, what we know most intimately is that we live in a conscious universe.

The Spectrum of Consciousness:  Given that its consciousness is what we know most intimately and profoundly about the universe, it is highly unlikely that our current form of consciousness is the only form of consciousness in the universe.  It is much more likely that there is a spectrum of consciousness in the universe and we inhabit one small aspect of that spectrum.

We know that the consciousness of people in other cultures differs from ours.  We know that the consciousness of highly trained Taoist and Yogic and Sufi and Kabbalistic masters differs from ordinary Western consciousness.  We know that the consciousness of animals differs from human consciousness.  All that, and much more, is evidence that we live in a conscious universe and experience a portion of the consciousness spectrum of that conscious universe.