Fecund Universes

Fecund [fee-kuhnduniverses is a multiverse theory by American theoretical physicist Lee Smolin, also called cosmological natural selection theory, suggesting that a process analogous to biological natural selection applies at the grandest scales. Smolin summarized the idea in a book aimed at a lay audience called ‘The Life of the Cosmos.’ The theory surmises that a collapsing black hole causes the emergence of a new universe on the ‘other side,’ whose fundamental constant parameters (speed of light, Planck length, and so forth) may differ slightly from those of the universe where the black hole collapsed. Each universe therefore gives rise to as many new universes as it has black holes.

Thus the theory contains the evolutionary ideas of ‘reproduction’ and ‘mutation’ of universes, but has no direct analogue of natural selection. However, given any universe that can produce black holes that successfully spawn new universes, it is possible that some number of those universes will reach heat death with unsuccessful parameters. So, in a sense, fecundity cosmological natural selection is one where universes could die off before successfully reproducing, just as any biological being can die without having offspring.

Leonard Susskind, Director of the Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics, who promotes a similar string theory landscape, stated: ‘I’m not sure why Smolin’s idea didn’t attract much attention. I actually think it deserved far more than it got.’ Smolin has noted that the string theory landscape is not Popper falsifiable (testable by science) if other universes are not observable. This is the subject of the Smolin-Susskind debate. There are then only two ways out: traversable wormholes connecting the different parallel universes and ‘signal nonlocality,’ as described by Antony Valentini, a scientist and colleague of Smolin’s at the Perimeter Institute at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

In a critical review of ‘The Life of the Cosmos,’ the astrophysicist Joe Silk suggested that our universe falls short by about four orders of magnitude of being maximal for the production of black holes. In his book ‘Questions of Truth,’ particle physicist John Polkinghorne expresses another difficulty with Smolin’s thesis, in that one cannot impose the consistent multiversal time which would be required to make the evolutionary dynamics work, since otherwise short-lived universes with few descendants would dominate long-lived universes with many.

When Smolin published the theory in 1992, he proposed as a prediction of his theory that no neutron star should exist with a mass of more than 1.6 times the mass of the sun. If a more massive neutron star was ever observed, it would show that our universe’s natural laws were not tuned for maximum black hole production, because the mass of the strange quark could be retuned to lower the mass threshold for production of a black hole. A 2-solar-mass pulsar (a rotating neutron star) was discovered in 2010, indicating if Smolin’s theory is correct, the universe is still evolving to increase fitness. Nevertheless, others have observed that in biological natural selection, organisms are never tuned for maximum reproduction, only for fecundity (fertility). Fecundity (reproductive and germline processes) is always regulated by somatic (organismic adaptation) and environmental (resource, population density) processes, and complex tradeoffs exist.

Cosmology (the study of the origins and eventual fate of the universe) has a very different standard of evidence and burden of proof than is required for models of our universe only, which humans (using mathematics) can observe and exchange knowledge on. It is hard to separate science from religion on such questions. It may be a simple matter of preference whether one wants to see one’s universe as part of a system like biology or like mechanics – clockwork. Smolin’s theory is important mostly because it challenges the mechanistic paradigm.

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