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The Messy Numbers that Signify Cosmic Design

David Klinghoffer
Photo: Violin fine tuners, Kyle McDonald, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

If you’ve ever tuned a violin, you’ll know that the arrangement of the fine tuners on the tailpiece, once you’re done, looks arbitrary. Some are sticking up a little more, some less. That seems to be in the nature of tuning for an optimum effect: the geometry, the numbers do not give a tidy appearance. And if the tuning is off just a little, a sensitive ear will hear it. Full disclosure: I don’t have a particularly sensitive ear.

With the fine-tuning of the physical constants and laws of the universe, it’s that way but even more so. At Mind Matters, Denyse O’Leary rounds up some of the odd “magic” numbers needed to ensure the continuing existence of everything.  

Okay, first, it’s not literally “magic.” But some numbers are very important in the structure of our universe. In this case they are refining a very important but very strange number that links the forces of our universe:

“This pure number, with no units and dimensions, is key to the workings of the standard model of physics. Scientists were able to improve its precision 2.5 times or 81 parts per trillion (p.p.t.), determining the value of the constant to be α = 1/137.03599920611 (with the last two digits still being uncertain).”


The numbers that matter are not necessarily the ones we might expect. How about 1/137?:

“Numerically, the fine-structure constant, denoted by the Greek letter α (alpha), comes very close to the ratio 1/137. It commonly appears in formulas governing light and matter. ‘It’s like in architecture, there’s the golden ratio,’ said Eric Cornell, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. ‘In the physics of low-energy matter — atoms, molecules, chemistry, biology — there’s always a ratio’ of bigger things to smaller things, he said. ‘Those ratios tend to be powers of the fine-structure constant.’”


Strangeness Is Standard

She gives a couple more illustrations — absolute zero and the Chandrasekhar limit — and concludes:

None of this is mystical, as such. But our universe seems designed in a certain way and fine-tuned to produce life. If so, certain numbers are necessarily more important than others, just as would be the case with any designed object that must have a physical structure and a means of operation.

Strangeness seems to be standard with these “magical” numbers. No, it’s not mystical. On the contrary, the messy look is what you’d expect from as mundane an activity as tuning a violin. I mean, if that’s how it is with a routine musical instrument, then with the near-infinitely exact fine-tuning of the universe from the Big Bang, wouldn’t you expect it all the more? Read the rest at Mind Matters, published by Discovery Institute’s Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.