The anthropicism that had to win

So, my Best Anthropicism Contest elicited almost 50 submissions. Thanks so much to everyone who entered — if not for you, this tautological tug-of-war would’ve been something other than what it was!

To choose the winning entry, the first rule I adopted was that, when I did find the winning entry, conditions would have to be such as to make it the winning entry, since otherwise it wouldn’t be the winning entry in the first place, but rather a losing entry. Since that didn’t get me very far, I quickly fell back on other criteria.

First, the winning entry would have to be short — longwinded explanations were out right away.

Second, it would have to make sense.

Third, it would have to illustrate the anthropic principle specifically, not some sort of generic Zen wisdom.

That already killed most of the entries. Among the ones left, many dealt Hofstadterifically with the contest itself:

wolfgang: Applying the principle of mediocrity I have to conclude that it is unlikely that I will win this contest.

Matt Wedel: Oh, c’mon! Just give me the prize! If I wasn’t going to win, I’d be living in a different universe where I didn’t win. BUT — I’m not. So give me the prize.

MX: Why am I entering this contest? Because if I weren’t, I wouldn’t be me, I would be a being very similar to me living in a universe in which I did not enter this contest.

Other entries worked well as parody:

sockatume: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck would? As much wood as a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck would, otherwise it wouldn’t be a woodchuck.

Bram Cohen: Why have all dates thus far come before January 1, 3000? Because the universe will cease to exist on that day.

In the end, though, I decided that what I was looking for wasn’t mere wit, but the real, genuine illusion of explanatory insight. And that’s why Lev R. takes the prize, with the following perspicacious pearl:

why aren’t physicists too interested in computational complexity? because if they were, they’d be computer scientists.

14 Responses to “The anthropicism that had to win”

  1. wolfgang Says:

    > why aren’t physicists too interested in computational complexity?

    because for a physicist computational complexity is simply the number of GOTOs in his FORTRAN 77 program.

    (I should add that I’m kidding.)

  2. Jeff Erickson Says:

    “why aren’t physicists too interested in computational complexity? because if they were, they’d be computer scientists.”

    Reminds me of a bad joke from elementary school: Why isn’t the Statue of Liberty’s nose twelve inches long? Because then it would be a foot!

  3. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    Now that you’ve had your fun, you should realize that the anthropic principle is true, even though it is the source of so much bad science. It has something in common with the Copernican principle, that the Earth is not in a special position in the universe. After all, why would anyone ever have thought that it does? That question has an obvious anthropic explanation.

    Ultimately I think that the anthropic principle is useful as a kind of scientific insecticide. Yes, it’s poisonous and you should stay away from it when you can, but it is also a necessary defense against other bad things.

  4. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    Ultimately I think that the anthropic principle is useful as a kind of scientific insecticide. Yes, it’s poisonous and you should stay away from it when you can, but it is also a necessary defense against other bad things.

    Excellent comment Greg!!

  5. michael vassar Says:

    My proposals weren’t short, but I thought that they did a good job at demonstrating that anthropicism can have practical implications.

  6. John Sidles Says:

    The contest ends, but the gratitude remains! Thanks for a fun post, Scott.

    Perhaps in a few months a limerick, acrostic, or palindrome, or clerihew contest?

  7. Scott Says:

    Perhaps in a few months a limerick, acrostic, or palindrome, or clerihew contest?

    No.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    1. Concerning
    “It is what it is because otherwise it was not what it is”

    Here is a nice poem by Erich Fried
    Is it antrophism related?

    WHAT IT IS

    It is nonsense
    says reason
    It is what it is
    says love

    It is misfortune
    says calculation
    It is nothing but pain
    says fear
    It is hopeless
    says insight
    It is what it is
    says love

    It is ridiculous
    says pride
    It is careless
    says caution
    It is impossible
    says experience
    It is what it is
    says love

    2. Scott said: “no”

    What about a contest on
    snapshots from a universe
    remotest to our own universe, then:

    e.g.

    “where scott isn’t funny”

    “where scott is always the last named coauthor”

    “without any form of optimization”

  9. Scott Says:

    Ugh — I don’t like that poem at all. (“But it’s beautiful!” you say. “It is what it is,” I reply.)

    “where scott is always the last named coauthor”

    A whole universe consisting of the towns in Scandinavia where Aanderaa and Aardal are from?

  10. Lev Reyzin Says:

    Scott,

    Thanks for the fun contest.

    For my question, I was going to ask something cs related, but decided instead to ask about something more arbitrary and fun: the end of the world.

    I like your “Earth Day, Doomsday, and Chicken Little” post, but you dodged the big question. Will the world end (humans go extinct) anytime soon? Or do you think that despite our best efforts, we’ll somehow end up not destroying ourselves?

  11. island Says:

    Greg Kuperberg
    Now that you’ve had your fun, you should realize that the anthropic principle is true, even though it is the source of so much bad science. It has something in common with the Copernican principle, that the Earth is not in a special position in the universe. After all, why would anyone ever have thought that it does? That question has an obvious anthropic explanation.

    Not quite. Neither the copernican principle, nor the principle of mediocrity apply in a universe that is observationally proven to be, “less-than-copernican”, and this is what Brandon Carter was saying.

    Although this *SHOULD* have an affect on dogmatic anticentrists… alas… it has none:

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/krauss06/krauss06.2_index.html
    Lawrence Krauss, after his vacation Pow-Wow with the rest of the leading physicists of day’s world:
    When you look at [the cosmic microwave background] map, you see that the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way, correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun. Is this Copernicus coming back to haunt us? That’s crazy. We’re looking out at the whole universe. There’s no way there should be a correlation of structure with our motion of the earth around the sun. That would say we are truly the center of the universe.

    I’d like to know when the game quits being one of “explaining-away” the hardest empirical evidence that exists in support of anthropic specialness, rather than to look for some good physical reason why the implication for specialness might be true.

    Where and when to scientists start acting like real scientists again, in other words.

    I’m guessing that never is too soon for most, and don’t pretend that I don’t have a damned good empirically supported point.

    I said the same thing to this this clown, but he didn’t have any problem at all admitting that he is a non-scientific loser:

    http://capitalistimperialistpig.blogspot.com/2006/07/misanthropic-me.html#comments

    I rest my case.

  12. Paraphrene Says:

    A lot of great discoveries came from non-scientific losers. E=MCC. Airplanes. America. Someone discovered how to make an airplane by playing with a box. Physics is mostly theoretical. America, I guess, is the most scientific discovery. They applied the scientific method to determine its existence, but they used no control group, and no placebo. For that, America’s existence is not yet proven. There seem to be other ways of establishing truth than just the scientific method. Scientists are contemporary soothsayers. They should use every means possible of proving a fact.

  13. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » America the nonexistent Says:

    [...] A commenter on a previous post writes: A lot of great discoveries came from non-scientific losers. E=MCC. Airplanes. America. Someone discovered how to make an airplane by playing with a box. Physics is mostly theoretical. America, I guess, is the most scientific discovery. They applied the scientific method to determine its existence, but they used no control group, and no placebo. For that, America’s existence is not yet proven. There seem to be other ways of establishing truth than just the scientific method. Scientists are contemporary soothsayers. They should use every means possible of proving a fact. [...]

  14. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » Bananas Says:

    [...] In the wake of my very public relativity humiliation, I’ve decided to sentence myself to a one-month punishment term of only blogging about things that I actually understand. That means, unfortunately, that from now until September 27 this blog is going to be quite boring and limited in scope. It also means that Lev R.’s prizewinning question, about the survival prospects of the human race, will need to be deferred until after the punishment term. [...]