Article

The Anthropic Principle

Alasdair Richmond

in Philosophy

ISBN: 9780195396577
Published online August 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0135
The Anthropic Principle

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The enduringly controversial “anthropic principle” was baptized by Brandon Carter in 1974. Seeking a balance between excessive anthropocentrism and excessive insistence on human typicality, Carter sought to summarize the complex interrelations between our existence as observers and the physical conditions we observe. All anthropic arguments note that conditions needed to produce context-sensitive observers set restrictions on the conditions such observers will probably observe. As Carter stresses, anthropic reasoning applies to observers tout court and not exclusively to human beings. (If you are a silicon-based observer, expect to live in conditions conducive to silicon-based life.) Likewise, anthropic reasoning need not carry teleological or design overtones. The most widely accepted anthropic principle is the weak anthropic principle (WAP): “What we can expect to observe must be restricted by the conditions necessary for our presence as observers” (Carter 1974, p. 291, cited under General Overviews). Thus, observers who require a delicate range of conditions will almost certainly be found only where those conditions are met. Context-sensitive observers will likely find themselves observing areas of space-time, which may well be atypical of the universe at large. Hence, WAP suggests we should beware of extrapolating the conditions we observe in our neighborhood to the universe as a whole. Thus, some claim anthropic reasoning offsets the Copernican “principle of mediocrity,” which counsels us to view ourselves as being as typical as possible. However, any tension between anthropic and Copernican thinking may be more apparent than real (see, e.g., Bostrom 2002, cited under General Overviews, or Roush 2003, cited under Ancestors of Anthropic Reasoning). The strong anthropic principle (SAP) generalizes WAP and says the presence of context-sensitive observers suggests the universe must be amenable to the evolution of such observers: “The Universe must have those properties which allow life to develop within it at some stage in its history” (Barrow and Tipler 1986, p. 21, cited under General Overviews). Further extensions of anthropic reasoning include the participatory anthropic principle (PAP) and the final anthropic principle (FAP). PAP generally specifies that observers in some sense determine or create the physical properties they observe, whereas FAP states that life, once created, will (or must) endure for all future time. This article offers brief guidance on overviews and anthologies, anthropic design arguments, testing anthropic arguments, and the notorious anthropic-related doomsday and simulation arguments. The primary focus is on philosophical anthropic works. Hence, little attention is paid to teleology in physics or biology, still less to quantum measurement problems or natural selection. Some less well-known pieces have been chosen partly in hopes they become better known.

Article.  7368 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art ; Epistemology ; Feminist Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Moral Philosophy ; Non-Western Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Law ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Religion ; Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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