February 19, 2012
to be posted on nobabies.net

Guillermo Gonzalez
Physics Department
Rockwell 212B
Campus Box 3138
Grove City College
100 Campus Drive
Grove City, PA 10127
724 458 3883

Dear Guillermo Gonzalez:
I was delighted to find your book.  (Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards The Privileged Planet, Regency Publishing Inc.  2004)  I am preparing a lecture I hope to give to a science fiction convention next October with the subject, “The Fitness of the Universe for Life,” so of course your book will be extremely valuable.  (Also I like the way the book smells.  Good printer.)

I have sometimes thought that the Earth was exceptionally convenient to life, although based on less formal observations.  For instance were the amount of water to be such that the sea level was a mile higher or lower, then we would be essentially either a water world or a place where, instead of wetlands, we would have the sea meet the continental shelf drop offs looking more forbidding than the Cliffs of Moher. 

Your thesis is that so many things are right about the Earth that the issue of underlying design must be entertained.  This, of course, is a brimstone bath of controversy.  My own opinion is different from that of everybody else on the planet.  It gets a bit lonely, I confess. 

Guessing intent, of course, is delightfully tricky.  Take the “Face on Mars,” which you illustrate on page 299.   An early picture shows what might or might not be a bas relief of a face a mile from top to bottom.  We couldn’t have that, of course.  It would make us look inferior.  Then you show a later picture taken with greater detail that is supposed to debunk the first image.  While I describe it, see if you can see a pattern.  The most obvious thing about the later picture is that it has reduced contrast.  That increases the information bandpass but only if the darkest areas are as dark as the final image can produce and the lightest areas as light.  This is not the case.  Information has been lost.

The second thing is that when the second picture was first offered to us it was published upside down.  Faces look odd upside down under the best of conditions.

The third thing is that the image has been processed.  In the first image there are craters that look just like craters.  You did not include them on your vignette of the final image, but had you done so, you would have seen that they don’t look like craters at all.  They look like bulls eyes.  The processing has removed information that tells you about depth in favor of very short range detail.  But it was depth that was interesting.  Nobody ever said we were going to see pimples. 

A fourth thing is that, on the original image there were formations to the left as you look at the face.  True believers saw a lot in those formations that I really don’t follow.  But there is one that looks like a pyramid with the top fallen in.  This would be very interesting to see in high resolution, but this part of the image has not been offered.

Finally, at the limits of contrast resolution on the later image, it looks like the “eye” to your left has an eyelid.  Oops. 

Add to this the superstition that an undeveloped society will go into shock and collapse in the face of a more developed society so the government can’t let us peasants know if we are outclassed.  Balderdash.  When Cortez knocked off the Aztecs the Spanish had some advantages: 1 the horse, invaluable on wide fields, but less so on city streets.  The French learned at Agincourt what happens if your cavalry gets crowded.  2) Steel armor.  But they only had a few suits of it.  3) Guns.  But guns are just an excuse not to train.  An expert with a bow and arrow is more than a match for an expert with a blunderbuss, but an idiot with a blunderbuss will eat an idiot with a longbow for breakfast.  What the Spanish really had was a native uprising they inspired.  In all other respects, architecture, culture, agriculture and humane treatment of people (Sure the Aztecs cut people’s hearts out: the Spanish burned them at the stake.)  the Aztec culture was superior.  That’s standard.  Every developed society gets overrun by barbarians sooner or later.  The French Revolution is a pretty good example. 

So you see the pattern?  Paranoia.  You are ready for me to scream that it’s a government plot.  Well if so, they certainly did not put very good talent on doctoring up that picture.  It’s only stupidity.  I regard the question as open with strong prejudice in favor of no big deal.  If a million children are going to starve in Africa this year, I don’t really want to see resources spent getting an answer. 

The bottom line is that intention is hard to assess even if you are a lot smarter than the agency you question.  And if there was a design for the universe, that agency might just be smarter than we are. 

Your brilliant innovation is to say that not only is the Earth a really great place to live, but that any place where the living is easy is going to be a good place to learn about the universe.  At a stroke you dismiss the whole problem with exobiology: only one inhabited planet.  Instead there are many places where the seeing is going to be good if anybody is there to look. 

My own approach is that structure is needed at every level in order for there to be life.  Stir up the planet and we sizzle in magma.  Stir up the solar system and we freeze or cook.  Stir up the galaxy and we get zapped by those nasties at the core.  Stir up the positions of the galaxies … now it gets tricky.  They recently discovered that the “fine structure constant,” which governs certain aspects of the spectrum and which can be calculated from the charge of an electron, the gravitational constant and the speed of light, this “constant” in fact varies very slightly in space.  High above our north pole it is not exactly the same as it is high above the South Pole.  (By high I mean billions of light years.  There is a fairly narrow range of the fine structure constant that is compatible with life, and we hold a privileged position right in the middle of it.  Somewhere out there, far beyond our observational horizon, life cannot exist.  So stir up the positions of the galaxies and the chance we could survive is remote. 

So from the laws of nature, we come a circle and start pointing out that pulling our quarks apart would be bad, then subatomic particles, molecules, organelles, cells, tissues, organs and finally dismembering us would all result in the same thing. 

But what about society?  What about who marries whom?  There we are told that stirring things up is a really great idea, it can only make things better, if you have a problem with it get your head examined.

Odd, isn’t it?

In fact, mating strategy also demands structure, without which we all die.  For details go to nobabies.net and look at the Orlando entry. 

Now here is the issue.  For all of our existence we married cousins and had plenty of babies.  Now we do not marry cousins and we don’t have babies, not enough.  But there is a profound prejudice against marrying cousins.

I have the evidence.  I speak to smart people.  They are incorrigible.  So if we are here by design, it looks like our design specifically prevents us from having a technological society that last more than, oh three hundred years at best.  Kindly relay my squawk to any designer out there.  Or maybe you can break the mind lock.  If so, do let me know.  It is, after all, the tree of life.  There is nothing keeping you back but an angel with a flaming sword and he can’t hurt you.  All he can do is scare you.  So far, that has been enough. 

Oh, yes.  On the question of design.  There are a few things that seem undeniable.

  1. Yes, in many ways it looks like we were set up to succeed, that there has been a design.
  2. We are subjectively conscious and free to choose even though when you do an experiment we act like robots.
  3. We seem to have started out as a Big Bang, but that would have been a black hole.  Toy with dark energy all you like.  You just can’t get out. 
  4. All electrons coming out of beta decay spin the same direction.
  5. For that mater all electrons have the same charge.
  6. Dark energy or no, the universe does seem to be accelerating.  (There are two ways to explain this without resorting to anything weird.  Quite possibly they reduce to the same explanation; I’m not sure.)
  7. There is life even though there is not obvious physical restriction to the sun just blasting its power into the cold of space and there’s an end.
  8. It was only by extreme exertion that we could explain why we don’t have enough neutrinos coming from the sun.
  9. The future is different from the past and is predictable but only within limits. 
  10. People tend to believe in an afterlife.  (Not to be confused with afterbirth.) 
  11. There is a moral order to the universe; even those who don’t believe there is know what you’re talking about.


I can resolve all of these points with a single theory a child could understand.  In fact I can tell you how to make a universe out of a lot of nothing (a lot of nothing) that has all of these characteristics if you were to lend me a few trifling things.  It’s the “nothing” that’s the limiting factor.

But I don’t want to tell you unless you ask.  You would think me mad.  Tell me what you think about the fertility issue I raise in the Orlando entry and if we are still on speaking terms then, I’ll give you the answer.


M. Linton Herbert MD 

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