Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Cosmic Natural Selection: Where to start?

  1. Jun 14, 2006 #1
    Can anyone offer a suggested article or website to understand Lee Smolin's idea of Cosmic Natural Selection (CNS)?

    Which of his books (if any) fully describes this concept? (Perhaps "The Life of the Cosmos") Since Smolin first came up with this idea, has he refined it in regards to the criticism he has received? (e.g. Leonard Susskind totally rejects Smolin's logic on this issue.)

    What has been the general response of the physics community?


  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 14, 2006 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2015 Award
    Dearly Missed

    the community in general has ignored CNS, at least until recently

    some minor objections have been raised and Smolin has replied to them but so far there has been no sustained effort to try out the idea

    that may be changing
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2006
  4. Jun 14, 2006 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2015 Award
    Dearly Missed

    Smolin's book would be a natural place to look if you have the bucks.

    However there is stuff online, for free.
    especially if you are willing to read EXERPTS of longer articles. Like xeroxing just the 2 or 3 pages you need.

    A German philosophy of science expert named Rüdiger Vaas did a critical study around 2002. I don't agree with Vaas, I think he points to weak points that actually are not there. But it is a careful study of some 30 pages with a long bibliography----i.e. it is scholarship. And it is free for download.

    Smolin has some articles from around 1994 and 1995 on arxiv. they are free.

    For me, the best source has been about 3-5 pages out of Smolin's 2004 essay---Scientific Alternatives to the Anthropic Principle. Also free, on arxiv.

    I will get some links, maybe some other people have more sources.

    Is there a Darwinian Evolution of the Cosmos? - Some Comments on Lee Smolin's Theory of the Origin of Universes by Means of Natural Selection
    Ruediger Vaas
    20 pages; extended version of a contribution to the MicroCosmos - MacroCosmos conference in Aachen, Germany, September 2-5 1998; finished in late 1998 and published in the conference proceedings (this http URL)

    Vaas asserts that Smolin does not have a falsifiable central claim. He is wrong. Smolin has a central claim that is falsifiable (challenge: you can't point to a small change in the parameters that would result in having more stars collapse to form black holes----if you can, that falsifies the claim that the parameters are at a local maximum)

    Smolin makes his main falsifiable claim here, explicitly and rigorously, what he calles "statement S"
    at the bottom of page 29 here:
    Scientific alternatives to the anthropic principle
    Lee Smolin
    Contribution to "Universe or Multiverse", ed. by Bernard Carr et. al., to be published by Cambridge University Press.

    need to start reading at page 28 to get the definitions.
    observational predictions (like a mass bound on neutron stars) are discussed starting page 30.


    some good news for the CNS idea was when Elsevier publishing house decided to do a HANDBOOK OF PHILOSOPHY OF PHYSICS and they chose GFR Ellis (a cosmologists and co-author of Hawking) to write a 70 page chapter on Philosophical Issues in Cosmology. His draft handbook chapter is online, and Smolin gets discussion on pages 41 and 46.
    Issues in the Philosophy of Cosmology
    George F. R. Ellis
    To appear in the Handbook in Philosophy of Physics, Ed J Butterfield and J Earman (Elsevier, 2006).

    that is something that happened this year that makes me think the right time for CNS may be coming
    another thing is the growing impatience with the Anthropic Principle as reported e.g. by Sean Carroll (a prominent and with-it young cosmologist----I often disagree with him but he's a bellweather)
    another thing is some talk from people connected with FQX (foundational questions institute) that makes me think they have CNS more on their minds, maybe not accepting it but taking trouble thinking about it, looking for serious reasons to reject (instead of halfbake trivial reasons people come up with when they arent thinking). so there is this gradual sea-change around the CNS idea
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2006
  5. Jun 16, 2006 #4

    I found and downloaded the articles you mentioned; I printed out the article by Ellis, since it is such a comprehensive review. I find them informing and interesting, especially Smolin's article.

    I also found the debate between Lee Smolin and Leonard Susskind on the use (or non-use) of the anthropic principle in science. If anyone wants a fascinating read of a vigorous yet polite scientific debate, check this out:


    From the introduction:

    Recently, I received a copy of an email sent by Leonard Susskind to a group of physicists which included an attached file entitled "Answer to Smolin". This was the opening salvo of an intense email exchange between Susskind and Smolin concerning Smolin's argument that "the Anthropic Principle (AP) cannot yield any falsifiable predictions, and therefore cannot be a part of science".

    After reading several postings by each of the physicists, I asked each if (a) they would consider posting the comments on Edge, and (b) if they would write a new, and final "letter".

    Both agreed, but only after a negotiation: (1) No more than 1 letter each; (2) Neither sees the other's letter in advance; (3) No changes after the fact. A physics shoot-out.

    While this is a conversation written by physicists for physicists, it should nonetheless be of interest for Edge readers as it's in the context of previous Edge features with the authors, it's instructive as to how science is done, and it's a debate that clarifies, not detracts. And finally it's a good example of what Edge is all about, where contributors share the boundaries of their knowledge and experience with each other and respond to challenges, comments, criticisms, and insights. The constant shifting of metaphors, the intensity with which we advance our ideas to each other — this is what intellectuals do. Edge draws attention to the larger context of intellectual life.
  6. Jun 16, 2006 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2015 Award
    Dearly Missed

    thanks for posting the link to that fascinating Edge debate! Glad to be reminded! it definitely belongs to the library of CNS/Anthropic-related links we have put together here. Rich bunch of study materials, yes?

    Also I was very glad that you shared my interest in the wide range of cosmology issues raised in Ellis handbook article. I also think the full article worth reading---many questions to think about---not just the pages 41 and 46 that I flagged in connection with CNS
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2006
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?