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The Cosmic Blueprint
A review by Desmond Tarrant.
Paul Davies was Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He left there for the sunshine of Australia apparently in disgust at the apathy nearly everywhere here towards the things of importance.
His book is a major contribution to a new approach to physics which may well introduce a much more hopeful, positive understanding of our place in the Universe.
To begin with he points out that matter and energy are self-organising, that complexity wherever it is found reveals certain common holistic principles. By holism is understood that the components of a living organism are arranged in a coherent and cooperative fashion as though to a common or agreed plan giving it a discrete identity, the sum being greater than the parts. This has major consequences ultimately spiritual. Thus this book constitutes a real challenge to the currently fashionable view of a dying universe and the reductionist assertion that the physical world is nothing but a meaningless collection of particles.
Paul Davies stresses that more and more scientists recognise that the ability of the physical world to organise itself constitutes a fundamental and deeply mysterious property of the universe. Nature embodies and expresses a creative power – surely an immanent force? – and is able to produce a progressively richer variety of complex forms and structures. This challenges the very foundation of contemporary science. Karl Popper noted that “The greatest riddle of cosmology may well be … that the universe is… creative.”
A central question of this book is “What is the source of this creative potency?” We find order, unity and harmony in nature as the mystics pointed out long ago. Aristotle believed in a cosmic blueprint, a guiding plan or destiny – that there is Purpose at work. Fred Hoyle echoes this in his therapeutic book The Intelligent Universe (1983).
The concept of increasing entropy leading to the death of the universe led many to despair, including Bertrand Russell. However there is plenty of ‘time’ in which the work of art can be completed so why despair? The idea of the heat death can be counterbalanced by the steady growth of structure, organisation and complexity. Paul Davies notes that this unidirectional advance we could call the optimistic arrow as opposed to the pessimistic arrow of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This could be said to strike a great blow on behalf of the Spirit of Romance making things not as they are but as they ought to be, opening the door to ethics, values and aspiration once more.
The universe itself is evolving to the ever more elaborate. This new approach, synthetic and holistic as opposed to analytic and reductionist, is nothing less than a brand new start in our understanding of nature.
It is often maintained that unpredictability and indeterminism go together. Now it can be seen as not necessarily so. One can visualise a completely deterministic universe in which the future is unknown and unknowable. The implication is profound: even if the laws of physics are strictly deterministic it is still possible for the universe to be creative and bring forth novelty which, to us, is unforeseeable.
A Laplacian deity knowing all the forces at work would not perceive the world as random. But for mere mortals apparent ‘randomness’ is inescapable. In fact everything seems to be preprogrammed with an unbelievable mathematical precision. Everything that happens, happens ‘of necessity’. Even behind chaos there is an underlying order. We can now obtain a broad understanding of the principles governing this complexity.
The growing organism seems to be being directed towards its final state by some sort of global supervisory agency (p.103). Paul Davies maintains that teleology is involved, that there is overwhelming evidence of purpose and design in the universe. As for the living organism, he says that if there is a blueprint the information must be in the DNA of the original fertilised egg. The ‘plan’ is molecular in nature.
There must be new general principles yet to be discovered, not only new laws of nature but new ways of thinking about nature that depart radically from traditional science. He says that his approach may seem shamefully mystical or vitalistic – anti scientific but the current negative approach could be no more than prejudice. An immanent Maker would account for it all as, first, we ask questions then, eventually, answer them in cycles.
It cannot be denied that modern physics is acquiring a holistic and teleological flavour. The physicist David Bohm draws parallels with oriental philosophy seeing quantum physics as embodying a new conception of order and organisation going beyond subatomic physics to consciousness itself.
The physicist James Crutchfield believes that ‘chaos’ allows for free-will in an apparently deterministic universe. Is this not a selfcontradiction?
In concluding his fine book, Paul Davies says that many will find in predestination support for belief in a cosmic blueprint, a preconceived plan designed by an all-powerful deity. He does justice to all sides of the argument while maintaining that our presence in the universe represents something fundamental. We may well be the object of the exercise. He believes this to be “a deep and satisfying basis for human dignity”, that the creativity of the universe based on laws leading to consciousness, the fact that the universe has organised its own self-awareness, is for him powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all and that this gives a meaning to life.
This implies a Creator with a Purpose, a Prime Mover who does indeed have us in his heart and Mind, that life is not just a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing.
Thus this book helps considerably in the process that now seems well-launched in opening a new, more positive and hopeful, chapter in our evolving understanding of what we are, why we are here, and where we are going as, at long last, we graduate from Earth’s kindergarten.
© Desmond Tarrant 1992
The Cosmic Blueprint by Paul Davies, published by Unwin Paperbacks at £5.99