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Does The Universe have a purpose?

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On March 2nd, 2012, YouTuber Max Schlickenmeyer uploaded a video featuring Tyson’s answer to a Time Magazine reader who asked “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?”, to which Tyson responded with the fact that the same atoms in his body were once part of the stars that make up the entire universe (shown below). Within one year, the video received more than 4.3 million views and 17,000 comments. On November 27th, YouTuber MinutePhysics uploaded a animated video in which Tyson’s answers the question “Does the universe have a purpose?” (shown above). Within three months, the video received over 1.7 million views and 25,000 comments.

io9 has one possible purpose for the universe:

The more we learn about the universe, the more we discover just how diverse all its planets, stars, nebulae and unexplained chunks of matter really are. So what is all this matter doing in our universe, other than just floating in space?

Well, it just so happens that there is a theory that gives a kind of raison d'etre to our universe and all the objects flying through it. If true, it would mean that our universe is nothing more than a black hole generator, or a means to produce as many baby universes as possible. To learn more, we spoke to the man who came up with the idea.

It's called the theory of Cosmological Natural Selection and it was conjured by Lee Smolin, a researcher at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and and an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Waterloo.


In his book, The Life of the Cosmos, Smolin proposed that Darwinian processes still apply at the extreme macro-scale and to non-biological entities. Because the universe is a potentially replicative unit, he suggests that it's subject to selectional pressures. Consequently, nearly everything the universedoes is geared toward replication.

"It's a scenario that explains how the laws of nature are chosen," Smolin told io9, "and if true, these parameters are geared to maximize the number of black holes made in the universe."

Of cosmological singularities and baby universes

Indeed, black holes — and the cosmological singularities they produce — are central to Smolin's theory. These are regions of space-time where the quantities used to measure gravitational fields or temperature become infinite. It's also where general relativity stops being useful, making any kind of prediction impossible. Classical general relativity says that a singularity exists inside each black hole. But both string theory and loop quantum gravity suggest that black hole singularities can be eliminated — and when this happens, it may be possible to describe the future evolution of the space-time region within it.


"Everything that falls into a black hole doesn't just hit the cosmological singularity and just stop evolving so that time simply comes to an end," he says, "Time continues and everything that fell into the black hole would have a future where the singularity was, and that region is what we call a baby universe."

Moreover, Smolin says these baby universes are immune to whatever happens in the parent universe, including eternal inflation and its ultimate heat death.

"Black holes are predicted to evaporate by making radiation — what's called the Hawking Process," he says, "but only until they get down to an equilibrium with the temperature of the cosmic microwave background." This process, says Smolin, has to do with the properties of the horizon — and it's only the horizon that evaporates.

"The baby universe may come into a kind of contact with the original universe in a way it didn't before, but whether this happens or not depends on the details of the quantum gravity theory," he says.

We asked Smolin if life in the universe is therefore an accident — that humans and all other organisms are mere epiphenomenon, a sideshow to a much larger process.

"If the hypothesis of Cosmological Natural Selection is true, then life — and the universe being biofriendly — is a consequence of the universe being finely-tuned to produce black holes by producing many, many massive stars."

But he added: "Those if statements are important."

Other scientists have conversely argued that the universe is freakishly biophilic — that the laws of nature appear to be geared towards making life. Some even suggest that this is the ultimate purpose of the universe — that it's fine-tuned to spawn biological organisms (the so-called biocosm hypothesis).


What is the purpose of the Universe? Here is one possible answer.

What is the purpose of the Universe? Here is one possible answer.  What is the purpose of the Universe? Here is one possible answer.

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