Coherence in the physical universe
There is scientific evidence that order in the universe is not short-lived, short-range, or accidental. There are two kinds of embracing order in the physical universe. One consists of numerical coincidences among its basic parameters, and the other of the harmonization or fine-tuning of its physical constants.
— Numerical coincidences. The mass of elementary particles, the number of particles, and the forces that exist between them exhibit recurrent ratios. Already in the 1930s Arthur Eddington and Paul Dirac remarked that the ratio of the electric force to the gravitational force is approximately 1040, and the ratio of the observable size of the universe to the size of elementary particles is likewise about 1040. This is surprising, since the ratio of the electric force to the gravitational force should be unchanging (these forces are assumed to be constant), whereas the ratio of the size of the universe to the size of elementary particles should be changing (since the universe is expanding). In his “large number hypothesis,” Dirac speculated that the agreement of these ratios, the one variable, the other not, is more than a coincidence and is not temporary. But if the coincidence is not temporary, either the universe is not expanding or the force of gravitation varies proportionately to its expansion.
Additional coincidences concern the ratio of elementary particles to the Planck-length (which is 1020) and the number of nucleons in the universe (“Eddington’s number” which is estimated at 2 x 1079). These are very large numbers, yet harmonic numbers can be constructed from them. Eddington’s number, for example, is close to the square of 1040.
There are further numerical coincidences. Observations indicate that the cosmic microwave background radiation is dominated by a large peak followed by smaller harmonic peaks. The series ends at the longest wavelength, which Smolins termed R. When R is divided by the speed of light we obtain a measure of time that agrees with the age of the universe. When the speed of light is divided by R, we get a frequency that equates to one cycle over the age of the universe. And when we square and divide the speed of light by R (c2/R) we get a measure of acceleration in the expansion of the galaxies that corresponds to the actually observed value.
Cosmologist Menas Kafatos showed that many of the coincidences can be interpreted on the one hand in terms of the relationship between the masses of elementary particles and the total number of nucleons in the universe, and on the other in terms of the relationship between the gravitational constant, the charge of the electron, Planck’s constant, and the speed of light. Scale-invariant relationships appear. The physical parameters of the universe turn out to be proportional to its overall dimensions.
—The fine-tuning of the values of the universal constants. The universe proves to be surprisingly coherent also in regard to the constants that define its physical processes. This coherence involves more than thirty factors and it is of staggering precision. If, for example, the expansion rate of the early universe had been one-billionth less than it was, the universe would have re-collapsed almost immediately; if it had been one-billionth more, it would have flown apart so fast that it could produce only dilute, cold gases. A similarly minute difference in the strength of the electromagnetic field relative to the gravitational field would have prevented the existence of hot and stable stars like the Sun, and hence the evolution of life on planets that can physically support life. And if the difference between the mass of the neutron and the proton were not precisely twice the mass of the electron, no substantial chemical reactions could take place, and if the electric charge of electrons and protons did not balance precisely, all configurations of matter would be unstable and the universe would consist merely of radiation and a nearly uniform mixture of gases.
That the universe is such as we find it—and is such that living beings like us can exist in it—is owing also to another series of coincidences. The existence of particles we call “matter” is due to a remarkable, and on first sight unlikely condition known as “CP violation” (where C is “charge conjugation” and P is “parity inversion”—the kind of inversion produced by reflection in a mirror). Given that the universe was born in a cosmic explosion and subsequent inflation, it should contain equal numbers of particles and antiparticles: matter and antimatter. But if that would have been the case, the particles and antiparticles would have annihilated each other and space would be empty—at any rate free of anything we could call matter. But because there has not been parity between the particles of matter and anti-matter that survived the initial chaos, there is a surplus of matter in the universe. This surplus forms the atoms of the elements that then condensed into stars, stellar systems, and galaxies. It now forms also the substance of our bodies.
These “coincidences” have no explanation in the physics of the universe. This does not mean, however, that they should not have an explanation in reference to the deep dimension I discuss in my book The Self-Actualizing Cosmos and summarize in the previous article. This dimension could underlie and “in-form” the universe we observe.
The physical universe proves to be astonishingly coherent, with laws and processes precisely tuned to favor the emergence of the complex systems we call living. We now look at the coherence that characterizes these systems themselves.
W know that the domain of the smallest observable entities that persist in space and time—the domain of the quantum—is highly, indeed quasi totally, coherent. Every particle is connected with, and responds to, every other particle. This phenomenon is called entanglement. It was believed that it only exists at the microscale at very low temperatures: higher levels of size and temperature create decoherence. However, this is not the case. Complex molecules, cells, and even living organisms exhibit quantum-type processes. This was first demonstrated by physicists Eric Cornell, Wolfgang Ketterle, and Carl E Wieman who received the 1995 Nobel Prize for their discovery. They showed that under certain conditions particles and atoms—they tested rubidium and sodium atoms—interpenetrate as waves.
In 1999 the atoms of a heavy isotope of carbon (“buckminsterfullerene”) were shown to be capable of entanglement: these atoms exhibit wave in addition to corpuscular properties. By 2005 also complex organic molecules could be entangled, and in 2007 biophysicists Gregory Engel and collaborators reported that quantum-type coherence is present in green sulphur bacteria: it acts as an energy “wire” that connects the light-harvesting chromosome to the bacterial reaction center. This allows living organisms to evolve through photosynthesis, converting the energy of the Sun to counterbalance the tendency of biophysical systems to tend toward thermal and chemical equilibrium.
Complex organisms could not have evolved and could not function in the absence of a quantum-type of order. The human body, for example, consists of 1014 cells, and each cell produces 10,000 bio-electro-chemical reactions every second. For a human organism to maintain itself in its environment these reactions must be constantly and precisely correlated. A viable organism is extraordinarily coherent, with all its molecules, cells and organs multidimensionally, dynamically, and in some cases instantly correlated with all its other parts. Such coherence could only have come about if there is a quantum-type resonance between the components.
The kind of coherence that maintains the organism in the living state is not limited to the organism itself: it obtains also among organisms. A multi-species ecology is a complex system of which the coherence is assured by multidimensional and multiscale connections among its elements. Each element is constantly “tuned” to all the other elements and jointly maintains the system in its physical and ecological environment. Without this kind of constant and active interconnection between the domain of coherence in the organism and the domains of coherence in the biosphere life would not be possible, and neither organic nor multiorganic systems could exist on the planet.
The evolution of complex forms of life in the biosphere is a clear indication of the coherence of living organisms with their environment. The genetic makeup of even a relatively simple organism is so complex, and its “fit” to the milieu so delicate, that in the absence of a significant level of coherence between the genetic information that defines the structure of that organism and its environment it could not sustain itself in the biosphere, and if threatened with extinction, could not mutate into a viable species. Random mutations would not be enough: the search-space of possible mutations is so high that the probability that viable species would result from a random re-arrangement of genetic information is totally insignificant. (Mathematical physicist Fred Hoyle remarked that this probability is about the same as that of a working airplane being assembled by a hurricane blowing through a scrapyard.)
Biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky noted that the creation of new species by genetic mutation would be nearly impossible even if new species would emerge only on a “quasi-geological scale.” However, new species emerge much faster. “Punctuated equilibrium” theorists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge showed that the populations that are most likely to mutate are peripherally isolated and relatively small. But changes in their genome can be fast and precise, and thus new species can emerge in the relatively brief span of five to ten thousand years. This transforms the time-frame of biological evolution from geological time into an evolutionary instant.
The evolution of complex species is due to the fact that, contrary to the classical Darwinian tenet, the genome of a species is not isolated from its phenome. They constitute an integral system that is coherent with its milieu. Mutations in the genome are not random but are tuned to the system’s environment. That there are human beings on Earth and not just bacteria and blue-green algae is due in the final count to an embracing and ongoing “dance” between genes, species, populations, and the whole web of life on the planet.
Erwin Laszlo, Consciousness in the Cosmos